This is a special interview; I’ve known Rob, on and off, for the best part of a decade. We were brought together through a mutual fanship and ran into each other repeatedly at DragonCon. I am thrilled that he has taken his considerable intelligence and abilities and turned them to the field of fiction!
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
To be honest, I first wanted to ACT what I read in books, and that turned into wanting to create my own content for a play. I was pretty young, though – that was fourth grade! I was in my forties before the urge to write hit again — I got sick and spent a LOT of time in a hospital bed and had a few ideas that felt like they could be science fiction novels. Still, it was another 10 years until I actually started writing, and another 5 years before I started submitting short stories.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Well, some of them come to me in dreams… no really, while I was sick, the medicines messed with my sleep cycle, and I had some very vivid dreams. Even though that was 20-some years ago, I can still remember the ones where I woke up and said “That would make a great story – pretty weird, but it’s like something I would read!” Aside from that, I like to look at my own experience with Boy Scouts, my education and research, and working with scientists and doctors and tell stories that arise from those situations.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
I binge write. I’ll start on a Friday afternoon, and write until about 2 AM, sleep about 8 hours, then get up, get my coffee and continue writing in about 4-hour bouts interspersed with a couple hour breaks throughout the weekend. I can manage about 10-15k words in a binge, but I can only binge a couple of times per month. The rest of the time I’ll write about 5-6k words in a week by squeezing in a couple of hours in the late evening. My best writing time is after 10 PM due to many years of having to wait until kids were asleep to start writing.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I read. I love to travel, and I have a long history with music – both listening and playing, singing, etc. I’m not doing as much of that the past few years, because everyday life became rather hectic.
My day job can be pretty intense. I’m a professor at a medical school and I run a research lab and have studies that work with patients in the epilepsy unit at our affiliated hospital. In years past, I ran the study at 4 separate hospitals, two in California, so it meant a lot of travel. COVID caused us to concentrate our effort only in the home hospital, but other research, teaching, and writing scientific papers takes up a LOT of my time.
What does your family think of your writing?
Hah! I’m sure my sons are tired of me describing every little bit of the stories while they are still in my head. It took my wife a little while to realize that I was serious about writing, but she’s quite supportive – even to the point that when I say I’m going to be writing, she checks to make sure I’m not goofing off or reading social media!
How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?
I mostly have short stories, about 20, and my favorites are “They Also Serve” from Riding the Red Horse (Castalia House) and “Angel” from We Dare (Theogony Press, Chris Kennedy Publishing). I combined elements of those two into my first solo novel – The Human Side (also from Theogony Press). That story is not yet complete. There will be two more books to complete the story. By the way, “Angel” is an expanded version of “Where Angels Dare” which received Honorable Mention in the 2017 TRADOC Mad Science Writing Contest. I had written Angel as a sequel to They Also Serve – both were at the request of RtRH editor Tom Kratman – and it was LOOOONG at over 12k words. The TRADOC competition came along, but wanted stories of only 5k word length. I brutally slashed the story, and was surprised and pleased that it was a finalist. Many years later, Jamie Ibson, editor for We Dare, wanted a milSF story about augmented humans, and I mentioned the long form of Angel. After it was published, Chris Kennedy asked me if I had ever considered writing more in that universe – thus resulting in the novel (series).
I do have another novel published – Do No Harm – part of Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy’s Four Horsemen Universe. It follows five different characters, and my two co-authors each wrote one of the characters so that they would each have their own “voice,” but the overall story is mine. There’s also 6 more novels in the pipeline – 2 sequels to The Human Side, 2 sequels to Do No Harm, and two separate projects that I haven’t released many details… yet.
I have also committed editorship twice. Les Johnson and I edited the mixed fiction/non-fiction anthology Stellaris: People of the Stars. It is derived from a symposium by the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop – now the Interstellar Research Group – which brings engineers, scientists, writers and artists together to discuss and inspire the future of space travel and colonization.
My absolute favorite, however, is The Founder Effect. It is a collection of stories exploring the future history of mankind’s first interstellar colony from the perspective of the people involved, and how history and legend record (and change) their stories. It has an absolute stellar (pun intended) group of authors and they were a joy to work with. My co-editor, Sandra Medlock, is my sister. She’s also my co-author on Do No Harm and sequels.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I do. They mostly say that they like how I bring real science into the stories. My funniest (negative) review, was a person who took exception and said the science in The Founder Effect wasn’t believable. What made it humorous was that the particular stories mentioned were ALL written by several of my fellow authors who are also trained in and/or involved in science in our day jobs!
What do you think makes a good story?
Characters that you can like, that have motivations that are understandable, doing a job that must be done – so that the readers can identify with the story.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
Astronaut, of course! Actually, I had planned to be a pilot and wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. I grew up in a town with a LOT of military, which meant competition was stiff. My grades would have been good enough (anywhere else) but I had some health issues. In later years I actually had an offer that would have allowed me to be a graduate student at U. Colorado, C. Springs and work in a lab at the Academy, but by that time I was on a trajectory for a PhD.
Second choice was to be a doctor developing “bionics” as in The Six Million Dollar Man. Funny thing is that while that field didn’t really exist when I went to school – it’s actually what I do in my day job!
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me. When the words are flowing, I stay up late writing and even when I stop, I can’t get to sleep because I’m either re-writing or writing the next part in my head.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Not finishing because every time you sit down to write, you go back over what’s already written and try to edit it. Frankly, I’m still guilty of that. I have to force myself not to do it.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Yes, and I have. For many years, being known as an SF author would have harmed my career as a scientist. Now I’m much more secure in the job. Besides, I found a way to turn my SF activities into public science education. It’s also made me a better communicator.
What other authors are you friends with, and
“It’s a trap!” I’m not sure it’s fair to list them all because I know and am friends with so many.
how do they help you become a better writer?
Oh, okay, I can answer this: Sarah A. Hoyt encouraged me to “just write” edit (and find markets) later. Tom Kratman gave me my first couple of opportunities to publish short stories. Charles E. Gannon showed me how to balance writing and profession (and professionalism). David Weber is such a good friend, and he has given me VERY good advice during a VERY difficult time. And of course, they all tell me to keep writing.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
My two existing novels are each part of series. One is a subseries within a larger universe, and book 2 is nearing completion. My other novel was supposed to be one book, but now it’s three – again, book 2 is in the works. Many of my short stories are in the universes tied to these books, and there are other subtle connections that are there simply because I had an idea and want to reference it later. I expect to have stand-alone novels as well.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
“Start writing now, don’t wait until you’re 50!”
What does literary success look like to you?
Having someone tell me they liked the book. Just one, that’s all it takes.
Thank you for taking the time to drop by! Anything else you’d like to add?
Why, yes. There’s a free sample story from The Founder Effect universe at Baen: https://www.baen.com/appleseed
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