When did you first discover that you had a predilection for reading and writing? When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I was a late bloomer–real late. I wasn’t an avid reader growing up. I’m a product of eighties public education, and never did much reading outside what was required reading in school. Never was a writer. It wasn’t until my time deployed in Iraq that I developed a love for science fiction, fantasy, and horror, starting when I discovered a paperback of Dean Koontz’s Hideaway in one of the many care packages that had been shipped from the kind and generous folks at Operation Paperback and Books for Soldiers. I’ve been hooked on the genres ever since.
What were the earliest influences on your reading/writing?
Besides all the books sent in those care packages to the troops serving in Iraq? That was it, really. It all started in Iraq, with the books in those care packages.
What was the impact of these early influences, and what, if anything, has changed in how they influence you today?
The impact was significant. Finding those books in the care packages got me hooked on reading. I love movies and video games, however, in Iraq, there wasn’t always a computer, television, playstation, etc. around. That wasn’t a problem with a paperback. And reading books has stuck with me, obviously. I’d say the greatest change in how they influence me today is that, while I still enjoy watching movies and playing video games, those mediums aren’t the only things that occupy my time anymore. Now, I spend a large portion of my time reading.
As a veteran, has your military service affected your writing and reading habits? How has it changed you?
Clearly, in a big way. As I said, I didn’t do much reading until I got to Iraq. Then I went from no reading, to “couldn’t get enough.” Whenever I had downtime from missions, patrols, etc., I was reading. It changed me significantly because it opened whole new worlds that I had never known before. It massively broadened my horizons and tastes. It’s also the main reason why I started Red Sun Magazine and why the Red Giant exists.
Who are some of your favorite authors and how have they influenced your preferences?
After I got hooked reading Koontz, I’d have to say he was my earliest influence, and of course, Stephen King. But also I developed a love for Military Science Fiction, so of course there’s the biggies, Heinlein and Haldeman. Frank Herbert’s Dune. Also, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, and Philip K. Dick, to name a few other major influences. Other than Starship Troopers, to be honest I’m not much interested in the rest of Heinlein’s work; and although Starship Troopers didn’t have near enough of the kind of action I like in a story, it had a lot of interesting things to say about military, honor, duty, etc., what it means to serve, i.e. selfless service (one of the seven Army Values), and also consequences, that appeals to a (ex) soldier like me. Same for Haldeman’s The Forever War. I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the messaging of these stories, but having been in the military and fought in a war (not that I necessarily agreed with everything about the Iraq War, either), Heinlein and Haldeman definitely appeal to that facet of me. I just wish they had more action. Speaking of action, Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs rate high on my list of influences solely for that reason (not that I agree with their outdated depictions of cultures and peoples). Other big influences are Ray Bradbury and Ursula K. Le Guin for their literary style and influence–same with J.R.R. Tolkien and Lord Dunsany. I also like the reality-bending in Philip K. Dick’s works, and questions of what is existence, what it means to be “real” or “alive,” e.g. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and alternate-realities and histories, such as The Man in the High Castle.
Authors like these have had a huge impact on what I like to see in a story, and have profoundly influenced me in a way that, say, an author like Koontz or King never could. When I first started getting into reading SF/F/H, it was Koontz and King that got me interested because they were fun reads. Reading their works was like watching a movie, eating popcorn. But later, reading Bradbury, Tolkien, Dunsany, et al, the reading got much more serious, profound. It was like the difference between watching a big blockbuster movie, such as Avengers: Infinity War, and watching Citizen Kane. However, I still like action/adventure, so for me, the perfect blend would be perhaps something with messaging, with literary merit, and good amount of story and action.
What do you look for in a story?
I like story and action, world-building and setting, and character, in that order. So a tale wherein characters, how they feel, their relationships, their emotional struggles, etc. take center stage at the cost of story and action will probably not win me over. Whereas, a tale with a good story and action, world-building/setting, wherein characterization is still present but secondary, will probably win me over. But that’s just me. You must also first get past the other editors on the Red Sun staff before your submission even makes it to me and their tastes are varied. Ultimately, I am the final gatekeeper, and what I want is story and action, etc. If it sounds like a double-edged sword, it is. That’s because like all the arts, writing is entirely subjective. And that’s why writing is a tough business. But I’m probably telling you what you already know. The light at the end of the tunnel is that I read from the slush, too, and so it might be possible for you to bypass the other gatekeepers and reach me directly; however, that is a matter of luck of the draw.
What do you not look for in a story? Is there anything that you would consider a deal-breaker and would make you stop reading? If so, what is the number one thing in a story that turns you off the most, enough to make you stop reading?
In addition to what I already stated above, I like messaging, but not if it’s done with a nuke. Red Sun is first and foremost for entertainment! For escapism! I want to be entertained and escape into your imagination. Having a message, something to say, is fine, but if it’s heavy-handed and gets in the way of the story and action, I’ll probably pass. Please keep that in mind if considering the Red Giant for your SF/F/H. That said, good luck, and I look forward to seeing what you create!