Today I’m joined at the campfire by sci-fi author Chris Lodwig.
- Hi Chris tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to write?
Well, I live in Seattle with my wife, daughter, and a pile of pets.
I have spent the last twenty-three years working for technology companies around Seattle. I coach soccer and fly fish in my spare time—when I’m not writing, of course.
I have degrees in both Comparative History of Ideas and Communications from the University of Washington in the United States.
As far as what inspires me to write, I love it when I have an image, or situation, or idea in my mind that I want to explain, and I have to struggle at it. I might try twenty different ways to get at the idea, and then, when I get it right, I go, “ah, that’s what I wanted to say.” I get this little shot of dopamine or oxytocin. It’s a bit addictive. And then, when I’m done and someone else reads it, and they get what I’m saying or see what I’m showing them, it’s the closest thing to telepathy I can imagine this side of the technologies I write about in my stories.
- What appeals to you most about the fantasy genre?
I read a fair amount of fantasy, but I don’t currently write it. I think that I like fantasy for the same reasons I like sci-fi. You’re allowed to bend the rules and write about the impossible and that allows you to stretch the boundaries of experience. Which gives you more room to speculate about what it means to be a human. What would you do if you could be all-powerful, or omniscient, or could have all your problems solved for you? What would you be willing to give up? What would that mean? I love those sorts of questions.
- Tell us a little bit about your latest project and the challenges you’ve faced putting it all together? (include release date etc here)
In June I released my debut sci-fi novel, Systemic.
It sits somewhere between a eutopia and dystopia depending on who you ask. It takes place several generations in the future. We’ve created a massive AI and for years, it’s been solving all of society’s problems. Of course, now the issue becomes, what happens to us when we don’t have any problems left to solve?
The story itself focuses on three strangers who are each making a pilgrimage to a small town in the middle of the Sagelands called Prower. Maik is hoping to find the woman he loves, Eryn wants to return to her childhood home, and Lem is out for revenge against the AI hosted in the town’s data center.
Without giving too much away, no one knows the real reasons they’re headed to Prower, but it has something to do with solving the problem of us not having any more problems.
Writing Systemic was actually quite easy. It all just sort of fell out of by brain. I feel more like I watched myself write it. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a ton of work, it certainly was. It took me about three years working in every spare moment to get it all down and edit it. I think I had four major editing passes, plus all my beta reader feedback, etc. But it wasn’t difficult or challenging. And that’s not normal for me. I just finished a thirteen-page short story, that I swear was harder to write than my 500+ page novel.
For me the most difficult thing has been promotion and sales. That’s a whole art and skill in and of itself and I’m not particularly good at it.
- What type of characters do you like to write the most and how much of yourself do you put into them?
I like to write characters who are different from me. I like to put myself in their shoes and figure out why they do the things that they do. Writing for me is about discovery, and I know myself pretty well, so puzzling together other people’s reality is just more fun and interesting.
As far as how I do that, I guess that requires me to put something of myself into them. So, for example, I might say, “This guy needs to do this really horrible/funny/selfish/dangerous thing. What would need to be true for me to do that thing?” So, I guess the thing I put in them is my assumptions about how I would come to that decision. In order for me to be a back-stabbing mob boss, I would need to have had a childhood that was so threatening to me that I would have needed to develop a me-verses-the-world mentality to survive.
- For any wannabe writers out there what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned?
We’re all wannabe writers, or artists, or musicians, or fishermen, or gardeners. The only difference is doing.
So, if you want to be a writer, write.
I think the hardest thing about writing, aside from just making the time to do it, is writer’s block. I think writer’s block comes from a desire to write something amazing, but then the thing that falls out of our brains is just some quivering pink embryo of an idea and we’re a bit too grossed out or ashamed to commit it to paper. But writing is a lot like sculpting. You need to have a block of words so that you have something to carve away. Let yourself write crap, just make sure to write a lot of it. No one needs to see anything you’ve written until you decide to show them.
I used to play in bands. It was a lot of fun. I play guitar pretty well, but I used to play thirteen other instruments poorly. But I was the guy up on stage doing it and that technically made me a trumpet/accordion/euphonium/musical saw etc. player. There were a hundred people in the audience who were probably better than me, but I was the one having a great time.
- What writing tricks do you utilise to hit your deadlines and keep your stories on track?
I simply force myself to write every single day. If I have writer’s block I write anyway. Which basically means I don’t let myself get writer’s block. And if I’m having a particularly bad day, I edit. Luckily, I enjoy editing almost as much as I enjoy writing.
One thing I have found that is particularly useful to me, is that I write many different ways using lots of different tools. So, one day I might be writing by hand, another dictating, then writing on my phone. I find each of these tools and techniques produces different sorts of work. If I’m experiencing friction with one, I switch to the other. I wrote around 70% of the first draft of Systemic on the bus on my phone with my thumbs. I have a blog post about it. https://chrislodwigauthor.com/2020/08/08/different-tools-for-different-jobs/
- Are you a plotter or a pantser (make it up as you go)?
While writing Systemic, I was definitely a pantser. The whole book just spilled out of me. I hadn’t written in so long that, I was driven more by my own curiosity about what I was writing than any idea that it was going to be a book. There is a major twist about two thirds the way through the book. Readers always tell me how surprising it was. Part of the reason it’s so shocking is because I didn’t know it was going to happen until about a paragraph before it did.
Now that I know the broader arc that Systemic fits into, I’ve become much more of a plotter. I worry sometimes that the much more ridged structure of the sequel will make it less organic. But I also think it will give the whole thing better bones to start with and might make the editing process much quicker. But who knows? I’m still learning, and I have to try new things. I’ll let you know how it all turns out when I’m done.
- What plans do you have for the future? A new series or perhaps a dip into other genres?
I’m about 300 pages into the sequel to Systemic. There are three main story lines, the first of which picks up Lem and Eryn’s story where Systemic left off. The other arcs deal with an outcast girl finding her purpose, and a band of professors, who have turned the Systemic writings into a psudo-religion and travel around like itinerant preachers teaching it to the masses. I’m starting to suspect it might actually be two books. So, it might be more accurate to say I’m 150 pages into the second and third books of the trilogy. I’ll have to see.
I’m currently finishing up a short story that has to do with transferring emotion and empathy to other people via a social network. It overlaps pretty heavily with the Systemic universe. It just came back from the editor and I need to start shopping it around.
A few months ago, I woke up with this paragraph in my head, and it keeps picking at my attention:
There is a long-standing debate about which of the world’s cities is the most magical. Some say Paris with its bright late nights and palpable romance, or London with its mists and fogs and blind alleys. Prague—which was never destroyed in the war—must be powerfully protected. Then there are Athens and Cairo whose labyrinthine streets have existed since humans began coming together to make their magic…
Maybe I have a fantasy story bouncing around in me. That would surprise and delight me.
- With the world the way it is at the moment what sort of tales do you prefer? Ones with heroes where good triumphs over evil or ones that take a darker approach?
That’s tough. Thinking about the books I’ve read lately, it’s hard to tell from the evidence which I prefer.
I recently re-read 1984, and really loved it. Not just because it’s poignant social commentary, but I was also surprised to discover how excellent the writing was. I know that shouldn’t surprise me, it is a classic after all. But being forced to read it in high school, you don’t really appreciate it. The one thing I came away after reading 1984 was that everyone is scared that book is our future, and I guarantee that both sides think the other one is who Mr. Orwell was warning us about.
I just read Neil Stephenson’s “Fall”, which had some really fun ideas about simulated reality, and some very dark social commentary.
But I’m also reading, “The Girl Who Drank The Moon,” which is charming and light—though with a few dark streaks. I can’t get enough of that book. And “The Crane Wife” which is lovely and magical, but with threads of sorrow coursing through it.
The one book I am actively advising people against reading is “The Handmaid’s Tale.” That’s just asking for trouble and despair.
What’s better, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?
This is not me punting, I promise. I really do feel this way. None of them are better. It’s like arguing over which color is best. Well, if I’m painting a rose, I’d say “red”, if it’s a sky we’re talking about I’d say “blue”.
So across which dimension of story are we talking about here? They are each nearly perfect platonic ideals of the mythical hero’s journey. But they all have such different qualities.
Harry Potter feels like a well-told kid’s story, it’s clever and cute, but the magic feels a bit predictable. There are wands, and pseudo-Latin spells, and crystal balls and the like. Which I get is part of the fun of the whole thing—the idea that all of those are real and are as common as protractors and #2 pencils for wizards. I imagine J.K. Rowling sitting upright in bed one morning as saying, “Get me a pen, I’ve had a great idea!”
Star Wars is a brilliant mash up of swashbuckling pirates, samurai movies, eastern mysticism, and sci-fi. So, it might win for genius if you measure genius by the ability to connect disparate things into a cohesive whole, which is one of my favourite definitions.
But if I had to choose, I would probably pick “Lord of the Rings” simply because it feels inevitable. Like it’s a true history scratched into a rock in some cave somewhere which was uncovered by archaeologists and translated from the dwarvish. That certainly comes from the fact that Tolkien put so much into the world and the depth of its history and mythology.
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