Q&A on Jack McDevitt
Interviewed by PJ Hultstrand
Jack is a former English teacher, naval officer, Philadelphia taxi driver, customs officer, and motivational trainer.
With the nomination of Echo, his work has been on the final Nebula ballot nine of the last ten years. He won the award in 2007 for Seeker. His first novel, The Hercules Text, was published in the celebrated Ace Specials series, and won the Philip K. Dick Special Award.
In 1991, he received the first $10,000 UPC International Prize for his novella "Ships in the Night."
The Engines of God was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and his novella "Time Travelers Never Die" was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula.
Omega received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel, 2003.
McDevitt's novels frequently raise questions which he does not attempt to answer. He prefers to leave ambiguities to puzzle and intrigue his readers: "Some things are best left to the reader's very able imagination."
McDevitt lives in Georgia with his wife Maureen, where he plays chess, reads mysteries, and eats lunch regularly with his cronies.
And Jack McDevitt will be available at LepreCon 39, May 9-12th. You can find him in panels and the dealers' room during several autograph sessions all weekend.
More about Jack can be found at: www.JackMcDevitt.com
PJ - What did you read when you were young?
I started reading comics when I was about four. (That's actually where I learned to read, as did a lot of the kids I grew up with.) The first books I can remember were Red Ryder, Joyce of the Secret Squadron, The Shadow, and so on. My mom used to buy them for me in the five and ten. I discovered Conan and the Burroughs Mars books when I was about nine or ten. Those got me started looking for SF. The problem in that era was that there were no paperbacks.
They showed up at around the end of the war, at about the same time I was discovering Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder. The world became a different place. By the time I was ready to join the Boy Scouts, I'd become a rabid fan of Bradbury, Heinlein, and Asimov.
- Who influenced your writing?
Hemingway, Bradbury, James Thurber, Arthur Clarke, Heinlein.
- What was the first story you remember writing?
Alien invaders pick up a Buck Rogers radio broadcast. They think it's actually happening, turn around, and clear out. Nobody wants to face this guy. I wrote it when I was about 14. Sent it to F&SF, and got an encouraging response from Anthony Boucher. I didn't realize the significance of that, and read it as a rejection, pure and simple.
Four years later, I wrote a story, "Pound of Cure," for the LaSalle College Freshman Short Story contest. It won, and they published it in the school's literary magazine, Four Quarters. As you can imagine, I was excited.
- Do you have any writing habits? Favorite place to write? Time of day?
I start as soon as I can, and set out a goal for the day, a specific scene, or a given number of words. It works much better than working a given number of hours. When I do that, I spend too much time looking out the window.
- Did you ever get mentored by any other writer early in your career?
No. I was strictly on my own. But I got enormous encouragement from Greg Benford, who treated me like an equal. Harlan Ellison performed a similar service. Being taken seriously by those guys provided an incredible lift.
- What did you do before you were writing regularly?
I was a naval officer for five years. Briefly, a taxi driver. An English teacher for ten. Then I became a customs officer, and eventually a training officer for the Customs Service. It was during those years that I started my writing career.
- How long you have been writing?
A little over thirty years. My first professional story was "The Emerson Effect."
- When were you able to stop working your real job to become a full time author?
I loved my Customs job.I was a management trainer, had a good boss, and a good crew to work with, and I had no real interest in leaving. So I stayed on until I became eligible for retirement.
- What do you find is easier to write; articles, short stories, or novels? And why?
Short stories. Novels take a year to do, a short story can happen in an evening. I've never really had much enthusiasm for writing articles. I guess I like to get behind somebody's eyes and try to solve problems.
- When you started writing regularly, what did your family think about this?
My mother would have preferred to see me writing historical novels or westerns. (She never had a taste for SF.) My dad didn't live long enough to see it happen. I know, though, he'd have been proud. My wife, of course, has been part of the process. Needless to say, she's been delighted.
- What is coming up next for you in writing?
A Priscilla Hutchins prequel, Starhawk, will be released in November. Priscilla gets caught in a battle that rages when the first terraforming processes are discovered to be killing off the native life forms.
- What haven't you done yet in your life that you hope to accomplish or at least try?
This doesn't exactly fit the description of something I can accomplish. But I would like very much to live long enough to be here when evidence arrives that there is life elsewhere. Better yet: Intelligence elsewhere.
- What premise or idea for Science-fiction stories do you think has been overused?
Military SF. Reading about starships that do nothing but shoot at one another....
- What idea for a science-fiction story do you think needs revisited or tried?
The way we'll actually go into interstellar space, if indeed we do at all. It will be automated for a long time to come. At least. And we might use whole fleets of nanoships to investigate worlds in other systems.
- Do you feel that technology of today is the reason that science-fiction ideas have slowed down?
It's probably not so much the technology as that the ideas themselves might have limits. I suspect it's more difficult now to come up with an original concept than it was in, say, 1920.
- What BIG THING do you think is in the near future of humanity?
Genetic manipulation. Maybe we will be able to arrange people's genetic structure so they will be healthy, which is good. What about good-looking? Enhanced intelligence? Being happy? (Would we really want to be married to someone who's always happy? No matter what?)
- While in Arizona for LepreCon, what do you hope to go see or do while here?
I like Arizona because it has open country. I like prairies. And deserts. And mountains.
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