A conversation with SF author Kerry Nietz
By Jim Denney
With apologies, it’s been a while since I’ve posted to the Writing in Overdrive blog. I promise to be more faithful in posting new content that you can use to be a more productive and creatively inspired writer. I’ve got some exciting content lined up for this site, especially for this special time of year, National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo).
I want to kick off this new series of inspiring and motivational posts with an interview with my friend Kerry Nietz, award-winning science fiction author. He has more than a half dozen speculative novels in print, along with a novella, a couple short stories, and a non-fiction book, FoxTales.
I’ve read and I highly recommend Kerry’s novel A Star Curiously Singing, which won the Readers Favorite Gold Medal Award for Christian Science Fiction. It’s a dystopian thriller with a strong cyberpunk flavor. It has more than a hundred five-star reviews on Amazon and is often mentioned on “Best of” lists.
You’ve probably heard of Kerry’s most talked-about novel (which I’ve also read and recommend), the genre-bending Amish Vampires in Space. The title might lead you to assume it’s a campy satire on the vampire and Amish genres, but Kerry wrote a credible, enthralling Amish-themed science-fantasy tale with believable characters and an absorbing plot. Amish Vampires in Space attracted attention on NBC’s Tonight Show and in The Washington Post, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly. Newsweek called it “a welcome departure from the typical Amish fare.”
Kerry describes himself as “a refugee from the software industry” who “spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits, first as one of the principal developers of the database product FoxPro for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates’s minions at Microsoft.” Kerry is a husband, a father, a technophile, and a movie buff. I wanted to know more about Kerry’s roots as a writer and his creative process. Here’s the interview:
Q: Why do you write, Kerry? Who or what inspired you or influenced you to become a novelist?
Kerry Nietz: The simple answer is: It’s something I always wanted to do. I grew up reading. I was the kid who would badger his parents for “just one more book” when the Scholastic catalog arrived every month. And they often bought all those “more books” for me, despite being a rural family where money always seemed tight. I dabbled in writing back then too. Writing little scraps of stories. Fun ideas that never really turned into anything.
Anyone who knows me knows I communicate in stories. I love a fun anecdote. Life is a collection of stories to me.
Q: It’s said that there are two kinds of fiction writers — those who outline and those who “write by the seat of their pants.” Accordingly, the non-outliners are often called “pantsers,” but I’ve never liked that term. I prefer the term Ray Bradbury coined when he told writers, “You’ve got to jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” He was urging writers not to outline, but to simply leap off the cliff and into the story and discover the plot and characters as they write their way down through the story. So my preferred term for writing without outline is “cliff-jumping.” Kerry, I know that you’re a cliff-jumper. Does cliff-jumping enable you to be a faster writer? Or does it slow you down?
Kerry Nietz: It probably doesn’t make me faster. I’m sure that, if I were able to outline, the actual writing would be quick. But the outlining might take a long time, and I’m averse to that. Sitting for weeks or even months without putting actual words to the story would kill me.
Q: From page 1 to “The End,” how long does it usually take you to write a novel?
Kerry Nietz: The average time to write a novel, from start to final draft, is around nine months. Depends on the story and the number of viewpoints I need to service. First person stories are quicker.
Q: Are you meticulous about buffing and polishing your first draft as you go? Or do you write quickly and spontaneously in first draft, never looking back?
Kerry Nietz: There is a level of polishing that occurs as I go, because I like to lightly edit yesterday’s work in preparation for today’s. I usually stop for the day in the middle of scene. That gives me something to read and edit the next day and makes it easy to get into the flow of writing again.
Q: Have you ever written a section, then wondered “Why did I write that?” and later discovered that it became an important subplot or storyline?
Kerry Nietz: Yes, often. Same goes for characters and situations. They sometimes seem, initially, to be superfluous or simply window-dressing to help paint the tone or setting. But later they become pivotal. The “serendipity-ness” of it becomes even more amazing when it occurs over the course of a series. For instance, in one of my series, I had no idea who the final “big bad” was until my protagonist walked into the room with him. Then it became blindingly obvious — and it was someone I’d created two books previous.
Q: How much of the story do you know before you start? Do you know how you want it to end? Does a better ending usually occur to you than the one you originally had in mind?
Kerry Nietz: It has happened both ways. Sometimes I have a concrete idea of the finale and it ends that way. Other times it is vague and becomes clearer as I close in on it. All my Amish science fiction novels have been like that. I have no idea how they end, other than “something big,” but when I get there, the “big” becomes obvious.
Q: Ray Bradbury claimed he almost never experienced writer’s block because he trusted his unconscious mind to supply what he needed when he needed it. Theodore Sturgeon, who also advocated cliff jumping (he called it “the narrative push” approach), was chronically afflicted with writer’s block. Do you ever get stuck or blocked?
Kerry Nietz: I rarely get blocked. I mean, there have been times when I’ve set for a few minutes not knowing what part of the story to tell next, but eventually I just pick a path and start writing. Usually turns out fine.
Habit helps with that too. If you’re used to writing at the same time each day then your mind is ready to write when it’s that time. A writer can’t wait until they are “feeling it.” Some of the best writing was during those times when I felt I was grudgingly pushing through, simply committed to getting my word count in for the day.
Q: Do you see writing fiction as primarily a conscious process or an unconscious process? In your experience, where do ideas and inspiration come from? Is writing related to dreaming, in your view?
Kerry Nietz: Writing is a faith walk for me. I start the journey with the expectation that it will go somewhere. I pray about it. I keep the habits, putting in my daily time, during my usual writing window, committed to at least a couple pages. Before you know it, you’re at dozens of pages, then hundreds. So, I guess it is a mixture of conscious and unconscious. Conscious in the habit. Unconscious to where the ideas are all going to come from. All I need is enough for today, and that’s what I get, thankfully.
My profound thanks to Kerry Nietz for giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse into his imaginative and highly productive writing world. Follow or message Kerry on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1wYR9NU. Follow him on Twitter at http://bit.ly/1DQKzLM. Visit his website at www.KerryNietz.com. Most important of all, read his work:
Fraught (DarkTrench Shadow Number 2) — Paperback
The DarkTrench Saga Complete Collection: A Star Curiously Singing, The Superlative Stream, Freeheads — Kindle Edition:
Amish Vampires in Space (Peril in Plain Space Book 1) Paperback
Amish Vampires in Space — Kindle Edition
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