A funny-looking South African with freakishly long arms, lots of tattoos, a really weird accent, and bad hair. I spent a decade as a journalist being paid specifically to not make stuff up, and now I’m getting paid to do the exact opposite.
Your debut novel, Tracer, will be published by Orbit Books in July 2015. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a planned series?
Tracer is about a courier on a city-sized space station. Her name is Riley, she loves going as fast as humanly possible, and she makes a point of never asking what she carries. Of course, when she accidentally finds out what’s in one particular shipment, things go very wrong, very fast.
It’s the first book in a trilogy, and if you like space stations, parkour, killer gadgets, edible insects, explosions, psychotic villains or any combination of the above, you’re going to love it.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Honestly? I started writing it to see if I could do it. I enjoyed being a journalist, but writing was always the best part of the job. The damn thing took on a life of its own. It crawled out my ear, took up residence on my desk and demanded I pay attention to it.
I don’t have a typical science fiction background – I grew up reading mysteries from Ed McBain and Jeffrey Deaver. I also get a lot of my inspiration from action movies, old-school cartoons, videogames… and rap music, which I love, and which helped teach me how words work.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
The first one I remember reading was called Knights Of The Black Earth – wonderful, pulpy sci-fi, by Margaret Weiss. I don’t know where I got the copy I had, but it was dog-eared and much read. I remember that.
Growing up in Johannesburg, there wasn’t a lot of genre fiction around, but there was some, and I read all I could. It makes me so stoked to see people like Lauren Beukes blazing a trail for us.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s the best job in the world. I’m still new at it, so maybe the shine might wear off one day, but I dig being able to get up and invent things. I’m kind of screwed, because I can never go back to a regular day job.
It’s also interesting being in an industry that’s changing so fast. Everybody has a magic bullet, and none of them work, and nobody really knows what’s going to happen. I’m just trying to hold on and enjoy the ride.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
As pompous as it sounds, I try to be accurate. The journalist in me would get angry if I didn’t. So I like to research the physics, the biology, the finer details of what I’m writing. But outside of that, my approach is just to get up and knock out a couple thousand words a day until I have a book. I try not to think too hard about it, and I never share what I’m working on until it’s done.
I also try to hold fast to my own way of doing things. When I first wrote Tracer, I had no idea what I was doing. I wrote an outline, because it just seemed like the easiest way to do it. I found out later that a lot of authors despise them and advise against them, but really, Tracer was so much fun and has so much potential for success that I’m just going to keep doing it my own way.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
I wrote a lot of short stories in high school – all crap. I didn’t really write fiction again until ten years after I graduated – as long as I was a journalist, I could write, which made me happy. I didn’t really discriminate.
Of course, when I started dicking around with Tracer, I was like, why haven’t I been doing this for the past ten years? This is great!
But yeah, I do look back fondly on my first writing. Crap, like I said. But fun crap. The kind of crap you like to have around.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Despite the nonsense with the Hugo Awards, and the hand-wringing over what Larry Correia and company are up to, I think sci-fi is in an amazing place. I mean, Jesus, we’ve got people like Ann Leckie, Charlie Stross, John Scalzi, Nnedi Okorafor, Wesley Chu, Ken Liu… what’s not to like? The stories and writers are so much more diverse now.
As to where I fit into it… man. Good question. I was at Worldcon last year, chatting to some dude in the ticket line, and I mentioned I had a book coming out. He was like, “Hard scifi? Military scifi? Traditional scifi?” I couldn’t answer him. It’s just a kick-ass story that happens to be set in space.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Books two and three of the trilogy! I just finished the first draft of the third – I got pretty emotional towards the end, because by then, it felt like these characters were family, and they were going through some insane things. I was utterly exhausted by the end. Totally spent.
Anyway, now it’s all about editing. I do have one other, unrelated book that I’ve written, which I can’t say too much about. And I have a bunch of ideas for what I’m going to do next…
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Nick Cutter’s The Deep. Scary as hell. I love it.
I just finished The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, which is an unbelievable graphic novel. Seriously, read it. It’s next-level. And Touch, by my Orbit buddy Claire North. She raises the bar every time she puts pen to paper.
Non-fiction wise, Adam Lashinsky’s Inside Apple. Very readable, even if he insists on explaining that the Apple-focused dating service Cupidtino is a mash-up of the words ‘cupid’ and ‘Cupertino’ – yeah, thanks Adam, never would have worked that out myself.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I have no sense of smell.
I was in a bush camp in Zimbabwe, age four, and fell out of a tree I was climbing. I landed flat on my back and didn’t breathe for two minutes. When I came to, my smell was kaput. My taste still works – it’s a problem with my brain, and not my nose. So I’m technically brain-damaged.
It makes writing about smells interesting. When I first wrote Tracer, I gave everybody these implants to deaden their sense of smell, thinking that a cooped-up station would start to stink badly. My fiancee read it, and said, “Don’t be crazy. You’d get used to the smell.” And of course, I had no idea, because I’ve never experienced that.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
If I don’t say “Getting married”, my fiancee Nicole will kill me. But July 2nd, when Tracer comes out, is going to be a big day.