SciFy Shenanigans: R Max Tillsley




Hey Space Cadets, how’s everyone doing today?  I’m doing amazing… The Sleeping Legion series is complete.  I am almost finished with my super-duper secret project is and outlining the next one. I also have a new podcast that started this month, but enough about me!  Let’s get right to the point of my latest blog posting, another interview!  This week it is another ‘SciFy Shenanigans’ interview. This is my series that only serves to talk with other authors of science fiction!  Here goes nothing!

As you know, the purpose of this interview is talking to authors about their latest books as well as 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 weedwhacker to the mess.  Here’s the final results!  The questions are in no particular order, so grab onto your seat while your minions make your popcorn.  Enjoy the ride!


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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?

 I hail from Adelaide, Australia (a relaxed not-quite-country town of a million or so in the Southern part of Australia) and I don’t like hot summers, exactly like the those that occur in… Adelaide. I’ve always had an insatiable apetite for space, science and technology. I’m still waiting for the hovercar I was promised by The Jetsons, but I love the gadgets I have. My wife looks at me funny when I pat my laptop. I’m not sure why.

I have worked in technology, taught in primary school (elementary in the US?) and am now a full time author. I spent fifteen years in Sydney and a couple of years in a small town just north of London, UK, where I indulged my love of the medieval by visiting as many museums and castles as possible.



What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

I’m learning long sword fencing despite being middle aged, having osteoarthritis and weighing as much as two average people.

I believe the pinnacle of humanity’s culinary efforts is Vegemite on raisin toast.

I’m not good at choosing, so when someone asks me to pick one thing, I can’t.


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?

For a long time, I stopped reading. A poisonous part of modern working life is the lack of work/home barriers and my mind wasn’t able to slow down enough to focus on a book. Since dropping into a lower gear, I’ve retaught myself to enjoy reading, and that started with audiobooks, especially Dennis E. Taylor’s Bobiverse series. Yes, that’s sci-fi, but there you go.

I grew up reading fantasy and science fiction. Upheaval, adventure and a good cause always captured my imagination. The sense of high stakes where the normal rules don’t apply, the chance to reshape the world for the better— these throw open deep questions that the best books delve into without preaching or moving at a glacial pace. I love carefully crafted worlds as well as the clever exploration of magic e.g. Tad Williams, The War of the Flowers.

I really enjoy a good urban fantasy as long as there isn’t a vampire-werewolf-human love triangle. Laurel K. Hamilton, I’m talking to you. And angst. Spare me the angst.

I do wish to step out of my reading rut, and I have Vince Flynn’s The Third Option waiting for me when I finish rereading Roger Zelazny’s Amber books.


Who are your biggest writing influences?

 Oddly enough, I believe my writing is influenced as much by other media as by books. As a child, shows like The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Monkey and Doctor Who taught me the power of story arcs. A craving for impact has fed my writing. If the world is reset at the end of a story, did it matter?

I could not consider writing influences without referring to David Weber. His grand space battles, heroic warriors and distinct political outlook created a living, breathing universe. And so I had to write a science fiction novel about an auditor. That’s me for you.

There are many others, but I think a special mention must go to Jim Butcher for teaching me that sarcasm is perfectly acceptable and a little bit of humour is allowed amongst action and drama.


Who are your favorite authors and books?

 Jack McDevitt’s Eternity Road, Roger Zelazny’s Amber books, Peter Hamilton’s Pandora’s Star , Joe Haldemon’s The Forever War, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, Raymond E. Feist’s Magician (and the Empire Series with Janny Wurts), John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Timothy Zahn’s The Blackcollar Series, John Christopher’s The Tripods, and many more.

People should read John Wyndham. Seriously. Go do it now.


How did that love of reading lead you deep into the trenches of the writer’s life?

 The need to create brought me into writing. I reached a point where every time I read, watched or played something, I felt let down, that it didn’t go where I wanted, had lazy scripting or was retreading an idea for the fifty-billionth time without any new ingredients. Writing has actually lead me into more reading. Knowing that I have somewhere to put my own creative energy gives me the patience to explore and enjoy the creativity of others. Where did that need to create come from? It’s fair to say from reading for the first thirty years of my life. Circular, but true.


What is your preferred writing style?  Do you have a preferred point of view; first person, third person, etc.?  Feel free to answer as both a reader and as an author!

 For The Last Cruise Ship, I went with tight third person, single character. It allows the reader to empathize with them, while giving a little distance. My next project will flick between a couple of characters, but all third person. If I write first person, it will serve a specific function in the story. For example, Harry Dresden gives excuses and explains the world as ‘he’ narrates. If Honor Harrington was written in third person, her personality would drive me nuts.


When did you get serious about your writing as a career, as opposed to it having been just a hobby?

 After returning to Australia, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and that took me out of teaching for a while. I used the opportunity complete my first manuscript and realized that I could complete a novel, a pretty crappy novel. I was getting part way through my second and realized how much better it was. That gave me the confidence to give full time writing a go. I figure, a fulltime writer needs the discipline to put bum on chair, the ability to improve, and a way not to starve. Somehow, I had all three.


What is your current novel?  Can you tell us a little bit about the premise?

 The Last Cruise Ship was released on the 24th of October. Matt Kander is demoralized bureaucrat who accidently does his job and rattles a conspiracy. Set up to be the fall guy for a terrorist attack, he escapes on a luxury cruise liner that is more than it seems. Matt searches for answers, but it’s his choice to make a stand that grabbed me when writing. There is plenty of action but really the story is about Matt’s change from an apathetic loser into something more. Oh, and it is set in the distant future where technology is constrained by a distrust of networked systems.


The Last Cruise Ship is the first in a series, where can we expect it to go?

 I’m proud of the way The Last Cruise Ship finishes. It stands alone, while still leaving a lot of room to explore. The sequel will take Matt on-planet. He’s in for a rude awakening when he discovers some of the Commonwealth’s dirty secrets. Expect to see him racing across a continent, dodging plasma blasts and chasing a nuke. Up in the sky, there will be a mutiny.


Where did you find the inspiration for The Last Cruise Ship?

 I worked in a company where I couldn’t tell you what our product was and yet it went through millions. There is a soul-sucking desperation when working in a pointless role. Movies where characters escaped from this situation like The Matrix and Wanted, express a very human experience that I inflict on Matt Kander. As well, I have read many stories about space marines (go John Ringo!) but I wanted a main character that readers like me (without a military background) could relate to. Years ago, I read about Q-ships. I hope readers will note the inspiration, but I won’t reveal more.


Your characters from The Last Cruise Ship are sent into a gladiatorial death match. Who wins? 

 Answering that would be serious spoiler territory – but not Matt.


Changing course for a moment, what do you listen to while you write? Or do you prefer silence? 

 I’d like to be able to listen to music while writing, but most of the time it is too distracting. Occasionally, I’ll YouTube some instrumental mood music if I want to get myself into a specific frame of mind.


Okay, and here is another random question.  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?

 I’m writing an urban fantasy novel, and I’ve had to read up on fascism. Throw in a few murder techniques and I’m sure I’m in a database somewhere.


What was your favorite part of writing The Last Cruise Ship?

 The scenes where there are reveals. Juicy!


Which actor/actress would you like to see playing your main characters from The Last Cruise Ship?

 A younger Jack Black, playing Matt relatively straight. Idris Elba could do a decent Angus if he gets the accent down. Jessica Henwick would make a great Chan. I’m terrible with actors names, so that’s about as far as I’ve gotten when casting. Oh, and I’m tempted to give the AI, Artemis, to Tilda Swinton.


Do you have a special time to write or how is your day structured? 

 Sometime between dropping off my daughter at school and picking her up, I force myself into a chair.


Do you aim for a set number of words/pages per day?

 I aimed for around 2,000 words per day before I implemented cyclic editing. Now I expect a minimum of 1,000, but I’d like to get back to 2,000.


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?

 For my protagonist I have a fair idea, because I like to work out strong arcs. For others, I am less strict and like to find out who they are as I go.


How did writing The Last Cruise Ship differ from your writing your previous novels? 

 This time around, I had threaded my different character and plot arcs tightly together. I felt I had a mission. Every part of the novel is there for a solid reason and it doesn’t waste time. Writing only as Matt gave me the chance to delve deep into his insecurities, and his terrible sense of humour.


If The Last Cruise Ship had a theme song what would it be?

 We are the Champions, Queen.


The Last Cruise Ship 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?

 Actually, the key to this novel was taking characters who didn’t have the skills needed and letting them draw on who they were to fuel their actions. Each of the crew was a joy to write, but Matt has to be the stand out. His transition from someone pathetic but understandable to a hero always brings a smile.


What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

 I can only say what has worked for me. Listen to hundreds of writing podcast episodes. Take nothing as gospel and experiment. Write to completion no matter how much it might suck. Go with a specific feature to improve each time. Have others read it, think on feedback, but be true to the story you want to tell.


Finally, where can readers and future stalkers find you?



Social Media:


I hope you enjoy this little conversation, and if you want to find out more about R Max Tillsley then follow the rabbit trail to their warren in the internet!  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.

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