Aug 26, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Paul Melko

This week we are Keeping An Eye On Paul Melko. Like so many of the authors on SFSignal's Watchlist, Melko has debuted with a bang. His first novel, Singularity's Ring, was a SciFi essential book and, even more impressively, he managed to take home the 2009 Locus Award for Best First Novel. Since then he's published an unrelated second novel, The Walls of the Universe, based of a Hugo-, Nebula-, and Sturgeon-nominated novella of the same name. He's also got a short story collection out from Fairwood Press, chock full of the best and hard-to-find short fiction Paul has authored. One of the members of the surprisingly large Ohioan SF Revolution, Paul is also one of the relatively newer names of the watchlist and one of the names that SFSignal helped me discover.

Since then, Paul's been on my Watchlist and it was a pleasure to see what he's going to be up to in the immediate future. Read on to find out for yourself.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently? What are you writing now?

PM: What's coming next? Good question! In August I finish up my MBA at The Ohio State University. I hadn't expected it to put a halt on any new words from me for 18 months, but it did. During that time my second book (THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE) arrived and my first book (SINGULARITY'S RING) won some awards, so there's been a fair amount of writing business going on. I'm looking so forward to picking up some old projects that my brain is salivating. I have four choices on what I'm going to do:

  1. Write a sequel to THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE.
  2. Write a new stand-alone humorous SF novel based on my Cankerman short stories.
  3. Write a middle-grade hard science fiction novel with my friend Ben Rosenbaum.
  4. Write a middle-grade fantasy novel based on my Kirby Drogan stories.
Really, I'm ready to do any and all of them. The question is what to do first. Before a reader sees any of those, look for the trade paperback version of THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE, hopefully in stores sometime next year.

SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, cave painting, etc.) would you like them to read?

PM: If you, our hypothetical reader, have but a few minutes, then read my short story, "Ten Sigmas," which I think is my best short story, first published in Talebones and collected elsewhere. If you have an afternoon for me, read the novella version of "The Walls of the Universe." If you want to spend the next two days with me, read my first novel SINGULARITY'S RING.

SoY: Describe your writing style in haiku-form.


I write only prose,
as the frugal use of words
causes me much pain

SoY: Singularity’s Ring won both the Compton Crook Award and the Locus Award for Best First Novel. It’s the first novel you’ve had published. Was it also the first novel you wrote? Can you describe the journey between concept and sale for all of the aspiring writers who might be reading this?

PM: SINGULARITY'S RING started as a short story for Lou Anders' LIVE WITHOUT A NET. We had just been introduced, and he said he was editing an anthology in which the future of humanity did not depend on computers and hardware and Internets. I was struck by the idea for biological networks almost immediately, and I wrote "Singletons in Love" for Lou. It went on to get collected in the Year's Best SF by Gardner Dozois. I found the characters so intriguing that I wrote more stories in the same universe. "Strength Alone" in Asimov's became chapter 1 of the book. "Singletons in Love" was chapter 2. And a third story "The Summer of the Seven" was a prequel.

It was not the first novel I wrote. THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE, in radically different form was the first, sorta. There were several abortive attempts prior to that. But WALLS didn't cut the mustard, and so I pieced RING together into a novel when I realized I had 3 or 4 chapters just sitting around. "The Walls of the Universe" novella, a Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon nominee, was a distillation of the best parts of the crappy novel. I used that to write the second version of the novel.

RING sold to Tor, and WALLS sold after that.

SoY: What authors would you describe as your primary influences in developing your personal narrative style?

PM: Philip Jose Farmer, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison, Gregory McDonald.

SoY: Some of the other up and coming authors I’ve interviewed have mentioned how hard writing a novel is compared to their experiences writing shorter fiction. What did you find hardest about making that transition? Was it easier the second time around?

PM: Writing in general is hard. The skills required are slightly different for short and long fiction, and if you learn one set of skills, the other set of skills feel out of place in your brain until you get the hang of it.

Neither length seems any easier than the other to me at this point.

SoY: Every author has that one story they’ve always wanted to tell. Is either Singularity’s Ring or The Walls of the Universe that story? Or is that one still to come?

PM: THE WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE is probably the book I've always wanted to write.

SoY: Who wins in a battle to the death between Ender Wiggins, Paul Atreides, Gandalf, and Harlan Ellison?

PM: Honor Harrington

SoY: I’ve heard of the British SF revolution but you seem to be part of the Ohio SF revolution. Why are there so many up and coming genre authors coming out of Ohio. Is there something aspiring writers should know?

PM: Serendipity. I grew up in Ohio and luckily the town I grew up in had three great bookstores downtown, one of them a used bookstore with a trove of old SF. But that's true of practically all small towns in Ohio.

When I moved back to Ohio, I immediately looked for a writers workshop to attend. I ran into Charles Coleman Finlay and Tobias Buckell, and all three of us were at nearly the same points in our career. How unlikely is that event?

Writing is one of those things that is usually learned in isolation and for one's self. Having a cohort of writers at about the same level as you -- a gang of journeyman -- was a phenomenal help to me. And just as likely to happen any place as Ohio.

SoY: Are there any original stories left? Hollywood doesn’t seem to think so. Do you think the way most people consume their media today is influencing the creativity of our culture?

PM: I like the idea that we as a species evolved with story as a part of intelligence. When we see disconnected facts, our brains try to piece it together as narrative. This works to our advantage -- we can reason and strategize -- and disadvantage – we end up making stories (myths, astrology, religion, bad theories) to fit the facts. But in any case, we're hard-wired for prose, and that will not change. People will need story, but of course the medium of story will change, but the common characteristics will not. We need heroes, vivid description, plot, a moral, exotic settings, romance, interesting people doing interesting things.... And of course we'll need people to write those stories.

SoY: You’ve also got a short story anthology out from Fairwood Press. With developing authors, there can some times be an urgency to publish a collection as soon as they’ve got enough stories. How did you select the stories for Ten Sigmas & Other Unlikelihoods?

PM: I've had a enough stories to publish a collection for a while, but just recently I had enough science fiction prose alone to fill a collection. Looking through my oeuvre, I realized I had Hugo-, Nebula-, and Sturgeon-Award nominated works, stories that had appeared in the year's best anthologies, and stories that had only appeared in small press magazines. It seemed like a collection was in order.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? (can be as serious or as funny as you would like) Who do you nominate in your place?

PM: What could happen? Tor doesn't pick up my third book. I find another genre or media of interest. Life gets in the way. I get bored. It's really quite tenuous, isn't it. Read me while you can!

Jack Skillingstead, Mary Robinette Kowal, John Pitts, Ken Scholes can all have my spot.

Now Paul neglected to answer my question regarding ways to follow him online but I was able to find an official website as well as a blog. I'm guessing he wouldn't be opposed to me posting those here since they are overflowing with information on his work. I'd recommend checking him out, as well as picking up at least one of his two outstanding novels. I have a sneaking suspicious once you get one, the other might be on your bookshelf before long.

Thanks again to Paul for participating and if you enjoyed the interview, come back next week for more interviews. I've been getting a lot of responses lately, so I might be trying to move to a quicker release schedule in the coming weeks if I can find time.

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