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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jason Stoddard

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF edited by Jetse de Vries.]

Jason Stoddard is trying to answer the question, ‘Can business and writing coexist?’ with varying degrees of success. Writing-wise, he has two books coming out in 2010 from Prime Books: Winning Mars and Eternal Franchise. He’s also been seen in Sci Fiction, Interzone, Strange Horizons, Futurismic, Talebones, and many other publications. He’s a finalist for the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and the Sidewise Award. On the other side, Jason leads Centric/Agency of Change, a marketing agency he founded in 1994. In this role, he’s a popular speaker on social media and virtual worlds at venues like Harvard University, The Directors Guild of America, Internet Strategy Forum, Loyola Marymount University, and Inverge. Jason lives in Los Angeles with his wife, who writes romance as Ashleigh Raine.

 


Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what is it about science fiction that interests you?

Jason Stoddard: Science fiction allows me to explore huge ideas. It’s so much more freeing than any other genre of fiction. Want to look at something over the span of 1000 years? Sure. Want to speculate how society will completely change? No problem. Interested in exploring the “what ifs” that come from rewriting history? You bet. Science fiction is a huge canvas–and that’s a whole lot of fun.


CT: What made you decide to write science fiction?

JS: No decision necessary. I can’t write anything else. I’m really not interested in “mainstream” fiction, or literary fiction. I’ve tried fantasy and horror, and absolutely suck at them, so that’s out, too. So it’s SF for me.

CT: In the Shine anthology, Jetse has a very flattering introduction of you and your website’s title, Strange and Happy, is a perfect fit for Jetse’s vision. How did you develop such a positive outlook?

JS: Force of will. I’m not a constitutionally positive person, and it takes effort to see the positive changes within the hail of negativity we’re surrounded by. Insulation from mass media helps–I tend to ignore news, public opinion, celeb antics, doom-mongers of all stripes, and celebrities, unless it’s meaningful to writing or to the day job. It helps even more that my wife, Rina Slayter, IS a constitutionally positive person, and is the first to remind me when I start falling into a dark viewpoint.

CT: What are the challenges in juggling your day job with writing, or to paraphrase your antho bio, “Can business and writing coexist?”

JS: Ha. Mainly lack of time. Writing is a full-time job. Running your own business is more than a full-time job. I get around it by being a very focused workaholic–when I sit down to write, I have to write, because I know work is right around the corner. And vice-versa.

CT: Has your job impacted your fiction? How about vice versa?

JS: Yes in both respects. My job has informed my fiction in that I have to go out, every day, meet a lot of people from a whole bunch of different disciplines (including some really cutting-edge tech), and translate what they’re doing into something that is appealing to an audience–sometimes avery small, very focused audience, sometimes very general. This gives me perspective on how things *really* get done in the *real* world, what technologies are just around the corner, and how to engage an audience–all very useful in fiction. On the flip-side, my near-future fiction has given me great credibility with companies working on next-gen technology, because they immediately think, “Wow, this guy really gets where this is going.”

CT: Do you think science fiction is capable of changing the world? How?

JS: Absolutely, and it already has. Science fiction illuminates a path that *can be.* This path can be positive, or it can be negative. In the golden age of SF pulps, you could argue that the glib, perfect future they depicted helped many kids and teens choose scientific or engineering careers–I mean, hey, who wouldn’t want to be part of that perfect future with flying cars, household robots, and cool midcentury modern suburban homes? Of course, that future was far too perfect to be true. We know that now. But let’s wonder what might have happened if kids in the 40s and 50s hadn’t been inspired to help create that future. Would we have the computing and automation technologies we have today?

CT: In your writing career, what was the most difficult challenge you ran into? How did you overcome it?

JS: Getting published for the first time. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy path to overcoming it. I got the motivation when my wife published her first novel (after nodding and saying, “Yeah, that’s nice,” when she announced that she and a friend were going to try their hand at writing.) And did it by writing a story a week, and submitting to every market, every contest, every venue I could possibly find, for a period of about a year. Eventually I won the Writers of the Future Contest, published Winning Mars in Interzone, and shortly after started selling semi-regularly. I still get plenty of rejections, though.

CT: Which format are you more comfortable with: short stories or novels? What are the strengths of each? Do you think it’s possible write an optimistic SF piece that’s lengthier, such as in the space of a novel?

JS: A year ago, I would have said “novellas.” Today, I’m getting more comfortable with novels. And yes, absolutely, I think it is possible to write an optimistic SF novel. You could argue that the novel-length version of Winning Mars (out this year) *is* optimistic, if you can get past the cynical machinations that lead to the outcome. You could say the same for Eternal Franchise, another novel of mine slated for release by Prime books, though it’s a fairly terrible universe they trek through in order to get there.

CT: One of the themes of SF is expansion outside of Earth and “Overhead” touches upon that theme. Do you think that’s the future of humanity, or is living in a sustainable Earth possible? (Or both!)

JS: Both. Though I do believe that sustainability *alone* is dangerous. Sustainability implies order, which implies stasis, which implies “trap.” It may very well be an extremely comfortable trap, but it still scares the heck out of me. I think it’s much more believable to imagine a future of degenerate humans worshipping all-powerful AIs set in a sustainable, single-planet future, rather than against the rigors of space. So, yes–space is necessary. It’s not just a frontier–I think it is the only way we’ll truly advance.

CT: Anything else you want to plug?

JS: Nope, I think I got in the obligatory book-plug. Hopefully I’ll have lots of new things to talk about shortly!

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