Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today? I’m doing amazing, trying to be more disciplined in my outline for Maternal Vengeance, hoping it pays dividends in the amount of time it takes to write. I’ve also started some of the editorial reviews for Operation Breakout, which should be out ‘soon.’ I’ll have you a date once Boss Man decides when we’re going to publish it. Stay tuned, or join my mailing list for regular updates.
Now, let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting! Yes, I’ve gotten bit by the interview bug! I’ve started the Warrior Weekend Series, the Family Friday Series, and now the ‘SciFy Shenanigans’ series that only serves to talk with other authors of science fiction! Here goes nothing!
As I’ve mentioned, I created a template to talk to authors about their latest books and their process. They’ll be able to pitch the other stuff too, of course, but when authors have deep back catalogues it’s hard not to get into the weeds with them. Those weeds have grown too high, so I took a weed whacker to the mess. Here’s the final results! Now grab your popcorn and enjoy the ride!
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of All Ages,……
First, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
My name’s Yudhanjaya Wijeratne. I’m a 25-year-old writer and a data scientist from Sri Lanka. For the past two years I’ve been working on a very Orwellian novel, tentatively titled This is Society. Some elements of this are actually going to come true in this decade (they’ve already started). In the past, I’ve designed and programmed games, built news media properties, covered tech as a journalist, even worked retail selling custom gaming rigs…I’ve dabbled in quite a few things, most of them involving tech and wordsmithing.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m entirely self-taught. I’ve put my 10,000 hours into writing, and I take courses online – everything from data science at Johns Hopkins to Greek myth from Upenn. There’s really nothing you can’t learn with a proper online learning model.
I’ll go out on a limb and assume that if you write books you also enjoy reading them. What other genres do you enjoy reading, and how have they affected your writing?
I read almost anything except romance, but I’d have to say fantasy, sci-fi and biographies. I initially started reading biographies to understand how to convey detail about a person, and for a long while I found that I would default to interview mode when writing something – even the current novel was written from the point of view of a journalist exploring his subject. It’s a dance I’m familiar with.
Who are your biggest writing influences?
I’m not entire sure. People who read my work sometimes say I have a touch of Terry Pratchett about my words, but I’d be deluded to compare myself to his magic. I’d count Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta), Dianna Wynne Jones (Chrestomanci, Howl’s Moving Castle), Stephen King (Dark Tower, the Stand, Christine) and Sol Stein as my influences. I’ve certainly made a conscious effort to pattern myself after their advice.
Who are your favorite authors and books?
Terry Pratchett – the entire Discworld series. I really can’t pick. Okay, maybe Night Watch, Going Postal, Small Gods and Reaper Man.
Dan Simmons – Hyperion. Few books – especially sci-fi – can come close to Hyperion for me. It’s a very philosophical novel, with equal parts science and religion, and the narrative structure is genius.
Stephen King – Wizard and Glass. It’s everything every fantasy book tries to be. It’s grand, it’s surreal, it’s dystopian beyond measure, and it still breaks your heart a little bit before the end.
Phillip Pullman – I read His Dark Materials as a child. To this day I cannot think of the Christian heaven without thinking of Pullman’s version of Heaven and of humans laying siege to it. It’s perhaps the finest alternate reality ever written, because Lyra’s worlds seem so close, and yet so different from our own.
Daniel Mason – the Piano Tuner I credit for my obsession with the Ulysses myth.
Dante Aligheri – the Inferno. It’s a masterful work, not just of imagination, but political commentary.
The Signal and the Noise – by Nate Silver
Gormenghast – by Mervyn Peake for the sheer gothic beauty, scope and invention.
Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Matthew – by Shehan Karunatilake, a Sri Lankan author, and I’ve never read a book that captured the essence of Sri Lanka as well as this.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. I find that almost of today’s quack wisdom was essentially plagiarized from the last great emperor of Rome.
Watchmen by Alan Moore, for looking at the dark underbelly of the superhero myth.
What is your preferred writing style?
When did you get serious about your writing?
When I was about fifteen, I believe. Like every other naïve writer, I sat down and thought right, I’m going to create my epic. My magnum opus.
The result is a 130,000 word monster that sits on my desk as a testament to how not to write. It swung widely between sci-fi and fantasy, between chapter-long descriptions of cities and the hero going through a stupid amount of existential angst. I showed it to some publishers but they all laughed me away, which, in hindsight, was a good thing. It’s got some good ideas in it, but I need to take a blowtorch to it before it’s decent.
The good thing is that built up my writing discipline to the point where I could crank out regular articles and blog, and by the time I was done with school I was already known for my blogging and had a few journalism gigs lined up. I basically just made a career out of writing, and with the tech I drifted into working for a Silicon Valley middleware company.
About two years ago, I decided it was time to shelve the 1000-word sprints and go for the marathon, as it were, so every Saturday and Sunday I’d lock myself in my room and write.
What is your current novel? Tell us a little bit about the premise?
It’s called This is Society. It’s about a startup that figures out how to any human’s socioeconomic worth and standing in the social ladder, and sort of starts selling this as a very utopian, very Silicon Valley dream. And it’s really about how things change when you start quantifying people this way.
It’s not far out. I believe we’re already heading this way. The average degree of separation is now down to 3.1 (from 6). And we voluntarily share personal information to the point of being George Orwell’s wet dream – good data analysts can now predict your preferences better than your friends can (Click Here). As Yual Noah Harari pointed out, we’ll get to the point where Google might even be able to choose who you should marry – and because of the data it has on each person, it’ll know better than you yourself can.
Where did you find the inspiration for This is Society?
A combination of things. 1984. David Egger’s the Circle. And Experian, a company which does credit checking; after reading up on it, I realized that there really is this vast, multi-billion dollar industry, this empire that specializes in turning people into numbers, and it’s not just Facebook or Google. And it’s part of my job – and interests – to keep an eye on social media and search algorithms and developments, so after a while everything sort of started fusing in my head.
And on one fine day, I was sitting at a startup event at a café in Colombo. Entpreneurs entrepener’d. Investors sort of floated around the background. When two of the species met, they’d size each other up, trying to see how important this new person was. Who did they know? Where did they go to school? Everything clicked then. Not the whole plot, but the premise, the beginning and the end. The characters emerged from the story.
Your characters from This is Society are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins?
That would be Julius Common. He wouldn’t fight, but he’ll bribe the guys opposite him, get them to attack the stadium, and end up buying the entire business.
What do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence?
Silence is gold. A close second would be Ludovico Einaudi.
What is the most embarrassing thing you’ve looked up in the name of research – or what do you think the government has maybe flagged you for?
It’s either how to make napalm or Silicon Valley homeless. The searches were quite close together, so….
What was your favorite part of writing This is Society?
Learning. To write Society I threw into learning mode. It initially started with me studying the blockchain, and eventually it became a daily habit – listen to a podcast, read a couple of articles, go through two books a week – it’s really become this self-sustaining habit that’s been incredibly useful to me, not just in writing, but as a person.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from [Book Name]?
Mahershala Ali. Did you see his performance as Cottonmouth in Luke Cage? And Vincent d’ Onofrio, because that is Julius Common down to a T.
Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured?
Well, I have my day job, so I structure my writing around it. Weekdays are spent taking notes, brainstorming, drawing out plot lines. On Saturday and Sunday I sit from 5 am to 5 pm and write, take a break, and polish what I’ve written from 8 till 10 or so. On average this produces around 4000 good words a week.
Do you aim for a set amount of words/pages per day?
No. I tried that and, while it undoubtedly works for a lot of famous writers, I just end up producing bloated drivel. Instead I try to get chunks of the story done per week.
When you develop your characters, do you already have an idea of who they are before you write or do you let them develop as you go?
I always have an idea of who they are, as in background detail, but once I get into the meat of the writing I find myself thinking ‘no, she wouldn’t do that,’ or ‘that’s not like him.’ And I end up pruning and tweaking back and forth until the characters themselves are different to what I imagine. Julius, for example, started out as a thin, obsessed neurotic before I decided that wasn’t working. And Patrick Udo, who is the main character, was always black, but initially a seasoned journalist; now he’s a marketer. People change.
If This is Society had a theme song what would it be?
‘Don’t get in my way‘ by Zack Hemsey.
This is Society is full of many amazingly talented characters and I imagine it was really fun to create some of them, but which one was your favorite and why?
Definitely Julius Common. Not only is he the centerpiece of the story, but he’s also the most complex. He genuinely believes that he is making the world better. He is the hero of his own story.
What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?
Read Sol Stein on Writing.
Read William Zinsser on writing.
Find friends who will clap if you produce something good, and not just if you produce something.
Write wherever you are and whatever you do. Don’t wait for the perfect conditions – we all dream of that lovely writer’s cottage with the golden sunlight and all of that, but in reality, that’s a reward, not the fuel. The laptop and your own bed works fine. Use a computer, because despite the charming image of the writer hammering away at his typewriter, there’s really nothing more convenient than to be able to cut, splice and revise at will.
I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about Yudhanjaya, then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the internet (www.icaruswept.com)! If they don’t like it, beat ‘em with a carrot and keep on truckin’!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are screen shots taken by JR Handley and used under the Fair Use Doctrine.
–> Some of these interview questions were inspired by my good friend TeacherofYA, and are used with her permission. If you have kids who love to read, she’s the girl who’ll make the literary introductions! You should check her out, after a lifetime of reading, your kids will thank you.