Author Interview—Andrew Gudgel

Today I’m happy to welcome another fellow author who contributed a story to the Hides the Dark Tower anthology. It’s Andrew Gudgel, science fiction author, Chinese poetry translator, and a past winner of the Writers of the Future contest.

Andy GudgelHere’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: How did you get started writing? What prompted you?

Andrew Gudgel: I got interested in writing in high school–essays, poetry, stories. You name it, I tried writing it. I wrote a lot, all the way up through college. Then I went and joined the Army. For ten-plus years I did other things. Fortunately, writing was still waiting for me when I came back.

P.S.: Who are some of your influences? What are a few of your favorite books?

A.G.: I’m not sure I could nail it down to just a couple of authors because I feel a writer should be influenced by all the things he or she reads. But just to pick an example at random: Jorge Luis Borges’ “Ficciones.” He wrote such interesting stories, not only in terms of theme, but in style. Reviews of books that don’t exist. Descriptions of infinite libraries. Fictional worlds that become real and begin invading ours. Borges made me aware of possibilities in fiction that I’d never imagined existed.

I also think a writer–any writer–should read broadly in categories outside his or her preferred genre of writing, and for pleasure as much as for writerly education. For example, I read as much poetry and as many essays as I can, simply because I enjoy both.

P.S.: You recently completed a graduate degree at St. John’s College in their Great Books program. How has that affected your fiction writing?

A.G.: One of the best things about St. John’s is that you read the Classics in philosophy, religion, science, literature, politics, society and history. You learn that there are questions and themes that are eternal in literature and in life. (Plus it gives you plenty of neat ideas and material to snitch for use in your own stories.) It affected my fiction writing by making me more focused on character and what happens inside each and every one of us as we move through life. SF has the advantage that you can create situations and characters that don’t (or don’t yet) exist, which allows you to explore your characters and the human condition in ways other genres simply can’t.

P.S.: Your primary genre is SF, correct? How did you become interested in writing in that genre?

A.G.: I do primarily write SF, but will follow a story wherever it leads me, be that SF, fantasy or literary. I fell in love with SF early on–my father used to read Ray Bradbury stories to me and my brother on summer nights when we were little. And when I read H. Beam Piper’s “Space Viking,” it made enough of an impression that I still remember it, forty-odd years later. Plus I’ve always been fascinated by science, technology, and gadgets.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

A.G.: In terms of science fiction, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Charlie Stross, and Robert Heinlein. As for prose style, Seneca and Sir Francis Bacon. Both were writers of the short, pithy sentences I aspire to.

P.S.: In what way is your fiction different from that of other SF authors?

A.G.: I’m very interested in the human/character side of SF: how we interact with technology, how we’ll be different/the same in the future. I hear about these cool–but true–uses of technology that are completely unexpected, and that gets me excited and fired up to write. For example, in India, a tech company is using hand-woven silk strips for their diabetic test kits because it’s cheaper than imported plastic. That’s a low-tech/high-tech solution. Low tech in that it’s local weavers and hand-made fabric. High tech in that it’s a creative human solution to a pressing problem. When I write, I try to concentrate as much people on and how they solve their problems as on the technology itself.

P.S.: In Hides the Dark TowerPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001], your story is “The Long Road Home,” an exciting story involving an immense alien tower. Can you tell us about the protagonist?

A.G.: Wang Haimei is a “Tower Diver,” a person who uses parachutes and hydrogen balloons to explore the inside of a hollow building that’s ten-thousand stories tall. There’s nothing left of the aliens who inhabited the tower, except for the very rare artifact which makes the finder instantly (and incredibly) wealthy. Haimei has just the right combination of meticulous attention to detail, love of adventure, and desire to get rich that all true tower-divers have. But she lost her fiancé, Moustafa, in a tower-diving accident a year ago, and this trip is her first one back since then. When a jealous competitor sabotages her gear, Haimei decides to try and walk back up to the exit at the top of the tower, even though she knows she’ll die long before she gets there. She discovers a kind of quiet courage that keeps her from giving up. As she walks, she discovers she’s being followed—perhaps by an alien that’s remained behind, perhaps by the shade of one long gone. She comes to appreciate the company, though, and uses the time spent walking to come to terms with death–both Moustafa’s and hers.

P.S.: In addition to writing fiction, you translate Chinese poetry. Have you found that your translation work improves your writing of stories in English, or is there no connection between these pursuits?

A.G.: I’ve found that translating, and translating poetry, has had a big influence on my writing. Knowing another language lets you see the world in different ways and makes you aware of connections you might never have thought of. For example, in Chinese nouns have measure words. (They’re roughly equivalent to the word “cup” in “one cup of coffee.”) But every noun has a measure word in Chinese, and they’re often reused. Which groups nouns into “categories.” Snakes and rivers use the same measure word; clouds and flower blossoms share one, too; so there’s a linguistic relation between certain nouns in Chinese that doesn’t exist in English. Being able to see—and make—new connections has made my writing richer. And poetry is a compact, image-rich art form that requires you to pack a lot into a small space. Perfect for learning both imagery and economy of words.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

A.G.: I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire right now—revisions, that sort of thing. The one I’m currently working on is an alien invasion novel/novella, which focuses on different peoples’ experiences of the event, and in which the aliens are only ever glimpsed at. I was inspired by the fact that you never see the whole shark until near the end of “Jaws.” So the glimpses the characters get throughout the story—are they the aliens or just alien technology? I was also very interested on the effect of such as big disaster would have on people—both as individuals and in groups—and not making the aliens central to the story allows me to focus more on that aspect.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Andrew Gudgel: I’m a big fan of aphorisms and mottoes, so I’ll keep it short:

  1. Nulla dies sine linea — Pliny (“No day without a line” i.e. write something every day.)
  2. Read as broadly as possible.
  3. If you try, you might fail. But if you never try, you’ve failed already.
  4. As long as it fits the guidelines, don’t self-reject a piece by not submitting it.
  5. Write, submit, repeat as necessary.

These are all the old saws, but there’s a reason they’re still around: they work.

 

Thanks, Andrew! All my readers will want to surf over to your website to learn more about you.

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 24, 2016Permalink

Upcoming Anthology – Hides the Dark Tower

My short story, “Ancient Spin,” will appear in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower, scheduled to appear in October. It’s a new publisher, Pole-to-Pole Publishing, and I think this is their first anthology.

Hides the Dark Tower-Purchased_Artwork_72pxThe anthology’s editors, Kelly A. Harmon and Vonnie Winslow Crist, have been great to work with. They’ve selected a stunning piece of artwork for the cover, don’t you think?

The anthology features stories involving towers. There’s just something about towers. They represent man’s attempt to reach the heavens. Viewed from the ground, they’re mysterious and imposing. From the top, they provide a view that makes you feel commanding and godlike.

By now, you’re wondering where that title, Hides the Dark Tower, comes from. Glad you asked. It’s from the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” by Robert Browning. Here are two of the 34 verses (italics are mine):

What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guess’d what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch ’gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.

Browning, in turn, spun off his poem from Shakespeare’s King Lear, so maybe all literature just builds on other works, like bricks upon bricks. Like a tower.

As I mentioned, the anthology comes out this fall, and I’ll provide more details and reminders as the date nears. Looking down upon you all from the newly constructed, sky-scraping, world-record-holding tower here at Poseidon’s Scribe Enterprises, I’m—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Novels-in-Verse

If writing prose is getting boring,

If each new tale keeps getting worse,

To send your reader’s thoughts a’soaring,

Just try a novel writ in verse.

Verse novel it is called quite often.

Your muse’s heart you’ll have to soften,

For writing thus will take more time,

To work in meters, feet, and rhyme.

Free verse or Onegin-type stanza,

(Much like the blog you’re reading now.)

Done right, your readers will say “Wow!”

Your novel’s sales, a big bonanza.

Do other authors do it? Yes!

Like Margaret Wild and Karen Hesse.

 

When is Verse Novel form most useful?

When characters are more than few,

And besides—to be quite truthful—

When tale’s got many points of view.

When characters stir up commotion,

And in their heads is much emotion,

When using prose would seem far worst,

Each scene a momentary burst.

It’s quite in style for younger readers;

Verse Novels now are catching on;

For poetry, another dawn?

So, you might join this movement’s leaders,

Craft verse among that happy tribe!

Rhythmically Yours—

                                                 Poseidon’s Scribe

 

 

September 2, 2012Permalink

2 Indispensable Sites for All Short Story Writers

Well, I’ve found these two sites to be a great help to me over the years.  It would have been a great deal more difficult to find markets for my first short stories without them.  I’m talking about Duotrope and Ralan.

Duotrope is a dynamic, online database of fiction and poetry markets.  You’ve written a story and need to find out who might be looking for stories of your type.  Go to Duotrope, enter search terms such as genre, subgenre, number of words, payscale (pro, semi-pro, token, or non-paying) and your choice of a few others to narrow your search, then click Search.  You’ll see a list of potential markets for your story.  Clicking on any of the markets takes you to a Duotrope page with details about the market, with links to the market’s website, any restrictions on submissions, and statistics such as response time and acceptance rate.  Those statistics come from regular writers submitting their experiences to Duotrope, not from the markets themselves.

Before Duotrope, writers would go to the library to look at a reference book called Writer’s Market, published annually.  I do recommend the book, but Duotrope is online and free.  If you find Duotrope helps you connect with a market, you should contribute some money to them to help sustain their operation.

Using Duotrope, you can come up with a prioritized list of where you’ll send your story.  That list is tailored to your story so you’re not wasting your time, or some editor’s, with sending a story not suited to that market.

One more thing.  Duotrope is not just for short story writers, like me.  It’s also for novelists and poets too.

The other site I recommend is Ralan.  It’s operated by an author writing under the name Ralan Conley.  The full name of the site is Ralan’s SpecFic and Humor Webstravaganza.  SpecFic is Speculative Fiction.

There are several interesting features of this website to explore, but the part I used most is Antho.  That section can keep you up to date on what short story anthologies are looking for submissions.  You’ll see each open anthology listed, a general description, any limitations on submissions, pay scale, and a link to the market’s website about the anthology.

I’ve blogged about writing for anthologies before, and now you know where to find the information to get you started.  It’s fun, every now and then, to check the Antho list at Ralan to see what the anthology markets are looking for.  Every so often, this exercise will spark an idea for a story.  So in that sense this site can help at both ends of the writing process, both before and after the story is written.

Duotrope and Ralan are crucial resources for a beginning writer in providing guidance about where to market your stories, and even getting a sense of market trends.  Have you used them and have an experience to share, or are there other sites you’ve found helpful?  Send comments to–

                                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe

 

January 22, 2012Permalink

Prose’s Teacher, Poetry

Can reading or writing poetry improve your prose?  I’ll go with a yes on that.

First, allow me to give you my take on the differences.  Let’s consider Prose and Poetry as siblings, as brother and sister respectively, for they are related, both being offspring of language.

The sister, Poetry, keeps her work brief.  Her words are densely packed, tiny packages brimming with meaning.  She prides herself on juxtaposing words in a way to convey a clear impression without wasting syllables.  For her, only the right words will do, and she takes great pains to find them.  True, her brother Prose can be brief when he wants to, but he is not that way all the time.

To a greater degree than her brother, Poetry is in love with the sound of words.  She rhymes at certain times, and is often tending to play with words’ endings.  Albeit she also allows a lot of alternate alliteration.  Rhythm, too, is her forte.  Poetry is a close friend to Music, to whom Prose is only a casual acquaintance.  This focus on the sound of words themselves, not just their meanings, gives Poetry a majestic sound, a special and important sound.

For these reasons, most poetry should be read slower than most prose, to extract meaning and enjoyment.  Even though it’s shorter in length, poetry can therefore take just as long to read!

Having established the differences, we turn to my main point, whether familiarization with poetry can help a writer of prose.  We’ve all come across authors whose prose reads like poetry, where it’s clear the author loves the sounds and rhythms  and flow of words, where the word choices sweep and lull us along with the story as if we’re listening to a song.  The author that comes to my mind is Ray Bradbury.  Read any of his works and you’ll likely agree he must be a poet in the thin disguise of a prose writer.

You might argue there are plenty of fine prose authors whose works don’t read like poetry, and I concur.  But even these authors might dabble with poetry on occasion.  Perhaps they’ll have one character in their story who speaks in the manner of a poet, or who quotes poets like Shakespeare.  It’s one way to distinguish characters, to give them depth.

Another way poetry could help your prose (perhaps the most extreme way) is by shifting to poetry altogether.  The epic poem form of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey seems to be coming back now and gaining acceptance in the form of verse novels, or novels-in-verse, especially for teen fiction.

At the very least, a familiarity with poetry might influence your prose writing by making you more conscious of word choice, brevity, juxtaposition of unlike words, and the sound of words themselves.  You may find it adds flair to your prose.

I confess to being a part-time poet.  My poems are rather private, for family members on holidays, or people retiring at work.  Those poems are not worthy of submission for publication, but perhaps the experience of writing them has improved my prose; I like to think so.

To quote Gilbert & Sullivan, “Although we live by strife, We’re always sorry to begin it.  For what, we ask, is life, without a touch of Poetry in it?  Hail, Poetry!”

From Poetry’s glass you should imbibe; so say I–

            Poseidon’s Scribe