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TalkCity Interview


The people at TalkCity were kind enough to interview me live, online. We talked about religion and science fiction, how to break into the field, and the state of publishing today. I was away from home at interview time, so I answered questions over the phone and they typed my answers in for me. It was a lot of fun. Here is the transcript.


CCCanard: *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Welcome to SciFiLit's continuing celebration
CCCanard: of Science Fiction and Fantasy !!
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: TalkCity continues to bring you the best in
CCCanard: literary figures to converse with you, to
CCCanard: challenge you, to entertain you !!
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
CCCanard: Before I introduce our honored guest for
CCCanard: the evening, a reminder: this is a protocol
CCCanard: conference, as we want everyone to have a
CCCanard: chance to speak with our guest. So, once
CCCanard: the queue is open, please type a ? into the
CCCanard: room, and you will be added to the queue.
CCCanard: When you reach the head of the queue,
CCCanard: have your question ready, and wait for the
CCCanard: "Go Ahead" (GA) before asking your question.
CCCanard: I want to take a moment to thank you all for coming.
CCCanard: It is for you, our citizens, that we continue to bring you the authors that you love to read.
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Our guest today is Brian Dana Akers
CCCanard: .
BrianAkers: yayyyyyyy
BrianAkers: oh that's me!
BrianAkers: LOL
CCCanard: Brian Akers can no doubt relate to many new writers attempting to crack
CCCanard: into the business of science fiction publishing. His short story, "Death
CCCanard: Looked Down," was published in the anthology "New Altars: Science Fiction and
CCCanard: Fantasy Stories About Religion and Spirituality" by Dawn Albright and Sandra J. Hutchinson.
CCCanard: Please join me in welcoming Brian Dana Akers!!
BrianAkers: Hello to everyone!
CCCanard: Welcome Brian!!!
Cadet_Damien: Welcome Brian!
TCClaudia: Welcome Mr. Akers!
Handsome: Welcome Brian!!!!!
CCCanard: Thank you for joining us in TalkCity.
CCCanard: We are going to start off with some general questions regarding your background, style of writing and habits, and then we'll open up the queue!
BrianAkers: fine...go ahead
BrianAkers: ;-)
CCCanard: What was Brian Akers like as a boy? What were his hobbies and interests?
BrianAkers: I was just a generic kid up through 7th grade, then in 8th grade...
BrianAkers: I picked up four hobbies:
BrianAkers: first was amateur astronomy, second was war games....
BrianAkers: third was reading science fiction, and the fourth: Yoga
BrianAkers: In astronomy
BrianAkers: I built two telescopes, and witnessed two solar eclipses, one in Canada...
BrianAkers: and one off the coast of Africa...
BrianAkers: War games took a back seat to college...
BrianAkers: Science Fiction also got put aside during the college years, but I have since resumed reading it...
BrianAkers: and now, of course, writing it...
BrianAkers: and as for Yoga, I have kept it up since the age of 12.
BrianAkers: My university education followed up on Yoga...
BrianAkers: I went 6 years to the University of Michigan for undergraduate and graduate studies, and studied Indology, that is...
BrianAkers: Sanskrit, Hindi-Urdu, Telugu (another language), and Indian history.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: When you say 'War games' what are you referring to please?
BrianAkers: The board games, like the Avalon Hill games.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: When did the yen to write first hit you? Do you remember what your
CCCanard: first story was about?
BrianAkers: It first hit me in my late 20's (late 1980's)....because my work experience was too Dilbert-like...
BrianAkers: and thought it would be wonderful to sit at home with a computer dreaming up stories.
BrianAkers: The first story was about an Indo-Pakistani war in the early 21st century.
BrianAkers: A couple months back....
BrianAkers: with the nuclear tests in the news...
BrianAkers: the story was very prescient, due to its topic.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Science Fiction has not tackled religion very often, and sometimes
CCCanard: when it has, it has been an awkward meeting of the minds. Why do we assume
CCCanard: religion is not a good topic for science fiction?
BrianAkers: I think science fiction's attitude towards religion can be split into two parts...
BrianAkers: first, its attitude towards organized religion....
BrianAkers: and second, its attitude towards mysticism....
BrianAkers: Towards organized religion, it has antipathy...I think it looks at organized religion...
BrianAkers: as humanity's irrational childhood... an earlier stage of development...
BrianAkers: I think a core image in many science fiction readers' minds...
BrianAkers: is Galileo, bent down and muttering under his breath, "And yet it moves!"
CCCanard: ACTION chuckles
Cadet_Damien: ACTION laughs
BrianAkers: I think also that sometimes church bureaucrats take a similar position as government bureaucrats...
BrianAkers: in science fiction.
BrianAkers: There is also ignorance about religion now because in the last three or four decades of increased secularism of society....
TCClaudia: ACTION *chuckles*
BrianAkers: many peoples only experience with religion is seeing televangelism on direct experience.
BrianAkers: Yet another reason is science fiction's interest in any and all ideas, with an unwillingness...
BrianAkers: to accept just one dogma.
BrianAkers: SF's attitude towards mysticism is much warmer.
BrianAkers: That tends to blend into fantasy, and especially in the 40's and 50's, the stories....
BrianAkers: about PSI powers, blends also into the supernatural, shamanism, etc.
BrianAkers: And I guess I'm guilty of both tendencies, as I don't go to church, but practice Yoga every day, which is a subset of a mystical tradition. GA
KatMK: Brian... I was at a panel discussion recently where Religion and SF&F were discussed... the panel ( Lillian Csernica, Barbara Hambly, Diana Paxton and Dave Trobridge) talked about how religion was constantly used as a scapegoat or the villain in a great many stories... do you feel this is accurate?
BrianAkers: Yes, I guess so....
BrianAkers: I read Mary Doria Russell's "The Sparrow"....
BrianAkers: and in that book...
BrianAkers: religion wasn't used as the scapegoat...
BrianAkers: and I think the book has received a rather cool reception from the science fiction establishment. (But the readers love it.)
BrianAkers: GA
Minstrel: I find it interesting that you chose Sanskrit to this a good field for transcribing?
BrianAkers: Do you mean translating?
Minstrel: yes
BrianAkers: I hope so!!
BrianAkers: When I am not writing science fiction...
BrianAkers: my other main project is translating books on Yoga from Sanskrit into English!
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Does the Creation conflict (science's evolution versus traditional
CCCanard: religious creationism views) cause much of the incompatibility of religion
CCCanard: and science fiction for some authors, in your opinion?
BrianAkers: I think you could say yes, it's a question that should have been settled with the Scopes trial...
BrianAkers: but it just keeps coming back...and back...and back. GA
CCCanard: You have just embarked on the journey to being published, having
CCCanard: just been published. What can you tell our budding writers about broaching
CCCanard: the publishing world?
BrianAkers: It's a very slow process...
BrianAkers: It takes a long time to learn how to write..
BrianAkers: and the wheels of publishing turn very slowly...
BrianAkers: Often, it takes months for a magazine to respond to you..
BrianAkers: and then, even if they buy your story, they may hold it in inventory for years before printing it.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Do you write from an outline, or do you go directly to the
CCCanard: text? And do you always work chronologically, or do you work from the end
CCCanard: forward, or middle outwards?
BrianAkers: I usually work with an outline... and the longer the story...
BrianAkers: the more detailed the outline...
BrianAkers: and I usually just start at the beginning and go straight to the end, based on that outline. GA
CCCanard: Can you expand a little on the advice on getting published?
BrianAkers: First thing is to learn more about the field.
BrianAkers: 1) you can attend conventions.
BrianAkers: At conventions, you find authors
BrianAkers: artists
BrianAkers: editors
BrianAkers: publishers
BrianAkers: agents
BrianAkers: fans
BrianAkers: and also there are panels on different aspects of the business.
BrianAkers: 2) I suggest trade journals, such as "Locus" magazine and "Speculations" magazine.
BrianAkers: 3) Another good source is web sites...three big ones I remember
BrianAkers: one is called the SF Site...
BrianAkers: another is the science fiction resource guide...
BrianAkers: and a third one is the Ultimate Science Fiction Guide (or something close to that)....
BrianAkers: 4) a few good books are
BrianAkers: "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction" by John Clute
BrianAkers: "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Science Fiction" also by John Clute
BrianAkers: and Damon Knight's "Creating Short Fiction" that is good
BrianAkers: and "Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy" by the editors of Analog and Asimov's.
BrianAkers: One final book: Vincent Di Fate's "Infinite Worlds" -- a big coffee-table book of science fiction art.
BrianAkers: All of these are available. GA
Minstrel: Do you feel putting up a self promotion site... i.e. a summary of the book... snippets of chapters... is a good idea?
BrianAkers: Yes. I have a home page up, and I typically get one to two thousand hits a month
BrianAkers: and it's a good place for people to get information on the author, sample chapters, complete stories, photographs, biographies, bibliographies, review excerpts...
BrianAkers: Mine's at:
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Do you have a favorite place to write? Time of day? And do you
CCCanard: listen to music, or set a mood in any other fashion to make yourself more
CCCanard: productive?
BrianAkers: I always write in my home office, typically after dinner.
BrianAkers: I never play music or make any other noise.
BrianAkers: I sometimes carry around a little note pad with me, in case I get an idea, so I can jot it down...
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: How much time a day or week to you allot for your writing?
CCCanard: Do you work your writing around any other job? Does this cause any
CCCanard: conflicts in scheduling?
BrianAkers: I devote chunks of time to it, so when I am working on a story, it becomes a full-time job... When not, I don't devote much time to, no set schedule.
BrianAkers: The translating job is my regular job, the one I do every day.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: We ask all of our visiting guests this one: What is YOUR definition
CCCanard: of the difference between science fiction and science fantasy?
BrianAkers: My standard definition is that science fiction is both plausible and possible, while fantasy is plausible and impossible.
BrianAkers: Orson Scott Card once said, that in a fantasy story the villain will throw magic dust in the hero's eyes...
BrianAkers: and in science fiction, the villain will throw a handful of nanotech in the hero's eyes....
BrianAkers: so not TOO much difference. *grin*
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: ACTION chuckles
Cadet_Damien: ACTION chuckles
CCCanard: What do you see as the role of the internet on the future of
CCCanard: publishing? Will we see electronic publishing online? And will it make a
CCCanard: dent on the print versions?
BrianAkers: I think electronic publishing is going to be HUGE.
BrianAkers: The main reason is COST.
BrianAkers: When I was in high school, I used to buy new books every week
BrianAkers: at the full retail cost, which back then was 60 or 75 cents.
BrianAkers: Today, a mass market paperback is typically $6.00, and hardbacks are typically $25.00
BrianAkers: Often, the question of print versus electronic, is phrased in the terms of aesthetics
BrianAkers: People just love the feel of paper in their hands...
Cadet_Damien: ACTION loves the smell of a freshly printed book
BrianAkers: an LCD screen is not like a real book, etc.
BrianAkers: To me, it's mostly cost that will cause this to's only a question of how or when.
BrianAkers: The July issue of "Wired" magazine had an article on three different schemes...
BrianAkers: of electronic publishing that are going to be tried out this year...
BrianAkers: My feeling is that those three systems are a little bit too complex, too proprietary....
BrianAkers: and don't have enough disintermediation.
BrianAkers: That means getting rid of the middle man.
BrianAkers: They are trying to replicate present publishing systems, whereas I think something....
BrianAkers: simpler and more direct needs to be found.
BrianAkers: GA
BrianAkers: LOL Cadet_Damien
BrianAkers: Do you like the smell of a $20 paperback or a $50 hardcover?? Think about it!
BrianAkers: GA
Cadet_Damien: I would convince myself that the $50 book smells even better! LOL
BrianAkers: ROFL
TCClaudia: ACTION likes the smell of $50
BrianAkers: Damien, maybe you should be a publisher!
BrianAkers: LOL
Cadet_Damien: LOL--maybe I should at that!
CCCanard: We always like to ask each author one penetrating, insightful
CCCanard: question, one that strips away the veneer and exposes the core, the soul of
CCCanard: our tell us...on any given day, what can we find in your
CCCanard: refrigerator? ;-D
BrianAkers: ohhhhhhh
BrianAkers: Fruit juices, big selection...
BrianAkers: Frozen pocket sandwiches....
BrianAkers: No science projects! LOL
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Some of our past guests, such as Rob Sawyer and David Brin, feel
CCCanard: that publishing houses and book stores are, by the way they are conducting
CCCanard: business, dooming science fiction. Do you see any hope of the genre
CCCanard: turning around, with readers again discovering original works?
BrianAkers: I am not sure the problem is at the retail end..
BrianAkers: I think the most negative impact of media tie-in books, for example...
BrianAkers: is that they may stunt a writer's growth....
BrianAkers: and the reason for that is
BrianAkers: the characters are already a given...and the setting is already a given...
BrianAkers: and you can't really change the characters...
BrianAkers: because they have to be available for the next tie-in novel.
BrianAkers: So you have little room for creativity.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: Greg Bear said he sees some hope with what he calls the current
CCCanard: "Generation Y", as his re-issued novels in England have scored impressive
CCCanard: sales. What can be done to encourage this seeming growth in interest in
CCCanard: science fiction?
BrianAkers: I think the best way to get teenagers to read science fiction is a...
BrianAkers: word-of-mouth recommendation by another teenager.
BrianAkers: I've often recommended science fiction to my nieces and nephews, and even given them some books to read...
BrianAkers: but I haven't been too successful, probably because it came from an older person. *grin*
Cadet_Damien: ACTION chuckles
BrianAkers: So I guess the real question is how to get those first teenagers reading....
BrianAkers: GA
BrianAkers: No great strategies...any ideas out there?
TCClaudia: Pass out short stories at fairgrounds?
BrianAkers: LOL Claudia, there IS a guy who hands out free poetry books around the country...
BrianAkers: maybe we should get publishers to donate unsalable books to school libraries...
BrianAkers: LOL
TCClaudia: I didn't know that!, any volunteers?
Cadet_Damien: LOL Brian
Pluto91: why don't we try some positive advertisement for sci fi
CCCanard: Some authors, such as Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card, feel that
CCCanard: writing "tie-in fiction" (a la "Star Trek," "Star Wars." etc.) is weakening
CCCanard: the genre. Yet others, such as Vonda McIntyre, sees no harm in it, but
CCCanard: thinks of it as just visiting a playground of her youth for fun. How do
CCCanard: you feel about this trend in fiction?
BrianAkers: As I said earlier, I think it stunts the writer's growth.
BrianAkers: It has often been the hope among SF writers...
BrianAkers: that young readers will start out with the "media books'...
BrianAkers: and then "graduate" to the more original works.
BrianAkers: My understanding is that there isn't much follow through, that a writer who writes....
BrianAkers: a Star Trek book doesn't get many followers to his more literary pursuits.
BrianAkers: Which I think is unfortunate.
BrianAkers: I have also heard the common complaint...
BrianAkers: that the tie-in books take up too much shelf space, which I also think...
BrianAkers: is unfortunate.
BrianAkers: But personally, the tie-in books don't bother me, and I don't have a lot of anger towards them.
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: What authors did you grow up reading? Who had the most profound
CCCanard: influence on you, and why?
BrianAkers: Easy one...Arthur C. Clarke...Isaac Asimov....Robert Heinlein
BrianAkers: and then
BrianAkers: with the first two...I also read many of their science fact books.
BrianAkers: I read some Larry Niven...
BrianAkers: and a bit of Roger Zelazny
BrianAkers: GA
CCCanard: I see our time is running out. We do have two last questions.
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Do you have any advice for writers trying to break into the market?
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Is there anything you'd like to say the audience before we close for tonight?
BrianAkers: Advice for writers would be patience, practice and persistence.
BrianAkers: They will need the ability
BrianAkers: to teach themselves.
BrianAkers: They will be by themselves often...
BrianAkers: trying to figure out what needs to be done, what should the dialog be, does this plot development work...
BrianAkers: and while there are many how-to-write books...
BrianAkers: and writers' workshops...ultimately they must use their own judgment
BrianAkers: to determine what the proper thing is to write down.
BrianAkers: Thanks to everyone at Talk City for having me here, and all of you for showing up to greet me so warmly!
BrianAkers: Maybe in five or ten years...
BrianAkers: I won't be a brand new author anymore *grin*
CCCanard: Thank you so much for visiting with us today.
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Everyone, please give a warm round of applause for
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: Brian Dana Akers!!!
Minstrel: {}{}{}{} Yeah Mr. Akers
TCClaudia: Thanks you Mr. Akers!
Cadet_Damien: You're welcome, Brian. It was really nice meeting you.
TCClaudia: ACTION *stomps* and *claps*
sfccolt: thanx Brian(claps ,claps,claps,claps......)
BrianAkers: Great !
CCCanard: The following web site is available to read more about Brian Dana Akers:
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: *!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: This event has been brought to you by
CCCanard: The Talk City Network
CCCanard: Talk City Inc.
CCCanard: Copyright 1998, All Rights Reserved.
CCCanard: .
CCCanard: !*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*!*
CCCanard: If you would like to provide feedback on this chat
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CCCanard: Please join us again next Thursday for Dafyyd ab Hugh in TalkCity's Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Series
CCCanard: until then...thank you once again for joining in here!  


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