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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Brad R. Torgersen on “The Fathomless Abyss”

Brad R. Torgersen publishes in Analog magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, has won Analog’s reader’s choice award, and has been a Nebula, Hugo, and Campbell award nominee.  Hailing from Utah, he’s a computer geek in the healthcare industry by day, a United States Army Reserve Chief Warrant Officer on the weekend, and a science fiction writer at night.

SF Signal had the opportunity to talk with him about shared worlds and The Fathomless Abyss, a shared world anthology featuring stories from Jay, Mike Resnick, Cat Rambo, J.M. McDermott, Mel Odom, Brad Torgersen and Philip Athans. In The Fathomless Abyss, a bottomless pit opens who-knows-when onto who-knows-where, just long enough for new people from a thousand different worlds and a million different times to fall in and join the fight for survival in a place where the slightest misstep means an everlasting fall into eternity. In this world, the laws of physics work against you, there’s no way out, and time means nothing…

CHARLES TAN: Hi Brad! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you get involved with the Fathomless Abyss series?

BRAD R. TORGERSEN: That’s Mike Resnick’s doing.  I first met Mike when I went to Los Angeles to receive my Writers of the Future award from the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest.  Mike was the contest judge who just happened to be standing on the stage when I trotted up to get my trophy.  Mike remembered me (I was in uniform at the time) for a military anthology project a couple of months later, and invited me to work with him again when Phil Athans mentioned The Fathomless Abyss concept project.  It sounded like a lot of fun to me, and a chance to work with not only Mike, but Cat Rambo, Jay Lake, and several other splendid writers.

CT: What’s the appeal of working in a shared-world setting?

BRT: I think the primary appeal is seeing the same root concept approached differently from different perspective.  Each of us have taken different aspects of the world of The Fathomless Abyss and explored them from our own unique points of view, as authors.  Ergo, those problems or peculiarities which intrigued us, were the problems and peculiarities which showed up in our stories.  But it’s a challenge because none of us can stray too far off the reservation, lest we sever the links that keep each of the stories coherent within the whole.  So, it’s not only an exercise for the imagination, it’s a good way to test how well you (as the writer) can be unique while also making something that fits well into the larger picture.

CT: How did you end up collaborating with Mike Resnick? What’s the process like?

BRT: As noted earlier, Mike remembered me from Writers of the Future.  He said he doesn’t get too many invited to write stories for military-themed anthologies, and since he likes to help out new authors, when he got the invite for Ian Watson’s The Mammoth Book of SF Wars he tapped me on the shoulder (via Facebook) and said, “Hey kid, how about we work together?”  Now, it goes without saying that Mike’s reputation preceded him.  I spent the last quarter of 2010 gushing about what an honor it had been to walk up onto a stage at the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood, California, and have *the* Mike Resnick shake my hand and welcome me into the world of professional science fiction.  So when he contacted me for the Mil-SF collaboration, I jumped at the chance.  It went fairly well, Mike and I did a second Mil-SF story for another anthology, and then Mike got an invite from Phil Athans for The Fathomless Abyss.

At this point Mike and I have become very good friends.  But in 2011 it was somewhat intimidating to be working with Mike on our first story.  Peacekeeper took several revisions and a lot of work (on his part as well as mine) to come up with something that we both liked, but by the time we got to The Ascent for The Fathomless Abyss, it was a much smoother process.  Each time we’ve collaborated it’s usually been me who has done the core of the story, with Mike acting as both a kind of in-depth editor and a polisher.  It’s a rather humbling thing to have a man of Mike’s experience looking over your proverbial shoulder.  When things weren’t working, Mike had no problem telling me I was doing it wrong.  Which was fine for me because I’m not territorial with this stuff.  My goal in any collaboration – my friend Alastair Mayer and I have a new story we did together, and it’s appearing in the pages of the November 2012 issue of Analog right now, called Strobe Effect – is to arrive at a manuscript both parties believe represents a good showing for each.  And to have some fun along the way.  And that’s how I’ve approached each project with Mike too.

So we usually toss the manuscript back and forth in e-mail, Mike doing edits and polishing and me doing more tweaking and further polishing, until we’ve got something we like.  Mike’s obviously got rank on these as senior man, so I have usually waited for him to nod and say, “Good enough,” before we call it a finished project and send it off to the publisher.  For me it’s been a learning experience and for Mike it’s been a chance to work with someone he believes has a lot of potential in the field.  A win-win, I believe.

CT: How about the collaboration process with the editors and your fellow contributors?

BRT: So far Phil’s not had to do too much with anything Mike and I have sent him.  And we’ve not done any direct collaborations with Cat or Jay or the others.  I am not sure that kind of multi-author collaboration is in the cards at this point?  More than anything, Phil serves as a sounding board for questions regarding internal consistency.  As a concept, The Fathomless Abyss takes a little getting used to.  I know I had to wrap my head around it and there were many questions, so much so one of the other authors in the partnership had to gently suggest I was overthinking it.  It was a fantasy setting after all.  I, being the Analog “hard science” fiction man, had been working too hard to apply rules of physics which need not necessarily apply.  So I relaxed and just tried to have fun telling a story I thought would be interesting to tell.  Mike liked it quite a bit, and we’ve tended to just roll from there.

CT: Anything you can share with us regarding your upcoming novella?

BRT: Not at the moment.  Because Mike and I are still in the ping-pong mode of story collaboration I don’t want to put out any material which might later be contradicted due to editorial or author changes.  Suffice to say Mike and I will be done with it before the end of the year, and I am looking forward to seeing it join the other novellas in the series.

Charles Tan is the editor of Lauriat: A Filipino-Chinese Speculative Fiction Anthology.

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