I’m very excited to have Ted Kosmatka on the blog today! Ted is the author of the brand new thriller, The Games (out today!!), and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Also, we’ve got a copy of The Games up for grabs, so be sure to check out the detail at the bottom of the post!
Please welcome Ted to the blog!
Ted, you’re the author of numerous short stories and have been nominated for the Nebula and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial award. What was it like to take the plunge and write your first novel?
Sort of daunting. A novel is a very different animal than a short story. It’s a much larger commitment, and for better or worse it seems to be the most basic unit of story-telling to commonly enjoy any kind of propagation outside a very narrow range of literary culture. I can write a hundred short stories, and unless I’m very, very good, my grandma will never stumble across any of them on accident. (I base all measure of cultural penetration on whether my grandmother has heard of something.) Novels sit on those shelves in the book stores, and they either collect dust, or get bought, but either way, they’re out there in the mix for a while, defending their valuable few inches of commercial real estate largely on the strength of their own merits. If you publish a mediocre short story, it’s not really going to hurt the magazine, I don’t think. But if you publish a mediocre novel, you’ll find out pretty quickly when nobody buys the darn thing, and the book will disappear fairly quickly.
How did you celebrate when you found out it would be published?
I think I was too stunned to really celebrate. I just stood there frozen on the phone, unable to even process it. There are writers out there who sell some of the first things they ever write and then quickly move on to successful writing careers. I’m more from the got-rejected-for-a decade camp. Rejection I understand. Rejection I have down pat. But acceptance, at least on the novel level, caught me totally off guard.
In addition to studying biology in college, you’ve held quite a variety of jobs. Did this experience help in writing The Games?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t know what to even write about if not for work. Work plays a huge part in almost all my writing because it has always played such a big part in my life. I started working when I got my first paper route at ten years old, and I’ve been at it pretty much constantly since then, in some form or another. I come from a family of steelworkers, so a strong work ethic was ingrained in me from an early age.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I’ve long been a fan of Mathew Stover, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, and Ben Bova, and I think all of those writers had an impact on my style and the kinds of stories I tend to be interested in writing. One of the best writers in the English language, in my opinion, is a guy named Jeff Manes. He’s what I consider to be a fearless writer, and I hope he’s had some influence on me in that regard. There is another writer, Michael Poore, who has influenced me because we spent about five years batting stories back and forth to each other in a small writers’ group in Indiana. This started before either of us had sold much, and now we both have our first novels coming out from different publishers just a few months apart, so I kind of feel like we’ve come up together. Some other writers I like are Jay Lake, Merrie Haskell and Brad R. Torgersen. Tina Connolly has a book coming out that I’m really looking forward to reading.
What are you reading now?
I just started a novel called Lamentation which I really like, by Ken Scholes. There’s some great world building there. The most recent novel I finished was Reamde by Neal Stephenson, another good read, and one of his best, in my opinion.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be, and why?
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver was an all-engrossing read for me. I loved the poetry of the language, and I remember just being blown away by it. Another book I’d like to read again for the first time would be Neuromancer, by William Gibson. Science fiction was forever changed for me after reading that book. Mutiny on the Bounty is another one I’d like to experience again for the first time.
Do you have any unusual writing quirks?
I have my share, no doubt, but as I’ve mentioned in other interviews, the big one is my tendency to lay the pages of a manuscript out on the floor once I think it’s close to being done. This helps me visualize the pacing of the story, and the whole thing turns into a kind of timeline that can be measured in physical space. If you spend five and a half feet before the introducing the main character, you’ve probably done something wrong.
Is there anyone you’d like to meet that would bring out the fanboy in you?
The biggest possible fanboy moment already happened for me. It happened when I flew down to attend the Nebula ceremonies in Florida in 2010. The event organizers seated me at a table next to Ben Bova, and I could barely contain my excitement. Talk about meeting your heroes. Ben Bova’s novel Orion was the first book I ever read, and it changed my life. It was the summer between second and third grade, and I was in the hospital with spinal meningitis, stuck flat on my back with nothing to do but focus on the periodical spinal taps that were making my life a waking nightmare. There was no TV in the room. At one point, my mother bought me the book Orion in the Hospital gift shop, and since I literally had nothing else to do, I tried to read it. It was way over my head, and there was a lot that I didn’t understand. But one thing I did understand was that I was transported out of that damn hospital bed, and I was on an adventure, and I wanted more. That really started my interest in books, and after that, I kept reading everything I could get my hands on. So flash forward about 27 years, and there I am sitting at this table with Ben Bova, the author of that book, and we’re both sitting there at the Nebula Awards. I wanted to tell him all that, of course, but I couldn’t, and didn’t.
If (fingers crossed) The Games were to be made into a movie, who do you picture as Silas and Vidonia?
You’re the first person to ever ask me that question, but I’ve got an answer pre-loaded and ready to go: For Silas, I’d have to pick Terrance Howard. He’s one of my favorite actors and pretty much makes every movie better. For Vidonia, I’d pick Eva Mendes or Thandie Newton. For Evan, I’d go with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. For Ben, Chris O’Dowd. For Baskov, I’ll go with Nick Nolte, at his most intimidating.
When you’re not busy writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I spend a lot of time with my kids, honestly. It’s sort of a boring answer, but true. I’m also having fun exploring the Pacific Northwest. This area is the most beautiful place I’ve ever known. The trees, and the mountains, and the water that seems to be everywhere all around. I don’t think the wonder will ever wear off. I also do a lot of gaming. The main culprit right now is Dota 2, which I’m completely addicted to although it’s also a game I’m doing writing for. You’d think I’d be sick of it after working on it all the time, but it’s like the opposite is happening. I end up logging onto the private beta and playing it on weekends for fun. (And I usually get utterly destroyed by the other players who seem to revel in calling me a noob when I do something stupid, which is pretty much constantly) I also watch a lot of movies and TV series. Some of the best writing being done right now is happening in television and cable series. I particularly like Justified, Mad Men, and Game of Thrones.
Ok, I must know about that sucker punch.
I knew that Ted’s Been page would come back to haunt me. It was a long time ago, back when I was a teenager, and it showed me what it was like to be knocked out. Everything goes black for this quick flash, and then you’re suddenly no longer standing where you’d been standing, and you’re missing time. The movie Narc captured the experience perfectly. There’s an amazing knock-out in that movie, captured from the point of view of the guy who was hit. Regarding my own experience, it also showed me that walking away from a fight isn’t always possible. Sometimes you’re in one, whether you want to be or not. Then later, the only thing you’re pissed about is that you didn’t get at least one shot in, too. That’s what you end up regretting. Not that you lost, or whatever. But that you tried to walk away.
Is there any other news of upcoming projects and events that you’d like to share with us?
Well, in addition to The Games, I just finished the first draft of a second novel called, tentatively, The Prophet of Bone. It’s an alternate history where science has proven that the Earth is really 5,000 years old. It should be coming out sometime in 2013, I think.
Thanks for having me!
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