[An interview prepared for Chris Pavesic’s literary blog.]
This is a chance to learn a bit more about Jeb Kinnison, whose novel Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, was published in December 2014.
About the Author
I started writing when I took writing classes at MIT and Harvard, then worked with a writing group in Cambridge. After receiving rejection notices from some of the top magazines of the day (e.g., The New Yorker), I focused on my career in computer science and financial management – because paying the rent was important. I have returned to writing in retirement.
What I love most about writing is the creation of a new world, and the unexpected things your characters do after you’ve created them. It sounds trite, but they have their own ideas about what they should do, and it helps to be a little bit schizophrenic yourself so that they can exist as subprocesses in your head.
The toughest thing about writing is re-entering the real world after an extended period of living inside a fictional one. I cut myself off from most social activities to get the story out, so I can write a novel in three months but lose track of friends and family a bit. It’s hard to make small talk when the fate of the (fictional) world hangs in the balance!
The writer I most admire? That’s tough because different writers have different goals. If your goal is highly accessible and entertaining stories, J. K. Rowling wins the prize for our age. For extremely adult, intricate fiction of ideas that is also full of humor and fascinating characters (some of them spaceship AIs!), I’d have to pick the late Iain Banks.
My fiction is informed by my diverse background and multiple careers. I went to MIT and dropped out of a Ph.D. computer science program; I was a researcher at a famous think tank (Bolt Beranek and Newman) where the ‘@’ for email addresses was invented and half the work of designing the early Internet was done down the hall; worked at the Smithsonian Center for Short-Lived Phenomena for a summer writing up oil spills, earthquakes, and volcanos; did IT work for Electromagnetic Launch Research, which built the first practical railguns; developed a subdivision in British Columbia, which involved working with logging crews, pipelayers, and roadbuilders; was chief writer for a political campaign that failed; managed the family office for a Stanford professor and managed about a quarter of a billion dollars of his assets; wrote two popular books on attachment theory and its application to mate seeking and marriage.
Favorite Novels: Aside from Iain Banks and J. K. Rowling, I should mention Robert Heinlein as a strong influence, especially his juveniles, which were almost pure adolescent wish-fulfillment; e.g., Citizen of the Galaxy (where a poor slave boy finds his way to outer space, then discovers he must take his place as a long-lost heir with barely enough time to crack a ring of slavers being run by his own family’s companies.)
Favorite Movies: Magnolia, for its emotional honesty; Blade Runner; almost all Coen Bros. movies; and more recently, I approve of the Star Trek reboot by J. J. Abrams no matter what purists think!
Favorite Foods: I live on a simple, healthy, and most of all efficient diet of canned salmon from Costco, yogurts, vegetables, nuts, and chicken. The goal is to eat tasty, healthy, low-carb food without spending any more time than I have to preparing and cleaning up, so I can get back to work quickly.
Advice to aspiring authors: Keep writing. If your Plan B career is lucrative, specialize in that like I did, so you can save up enough money to go full-time later. While there are many young prodigies who write well, most lack the life experience needed to give their characters depth and diversity. As you get older your palette expands, and your fiction grows richer; so if you can’t live on fiction writing when you’re 21, do something else until you can, and you will have lost none of your abilities and gained much. You can also do nonfiction writing in your specialty to sharpen up skills before taking up fiction.
RED QUEEN: The Substrate Wars is a science fiction thriller set in the US of a not-too-distant future, when the Bill of Rights is ignored and the US is run by the Unity Party, combining the worst of Democrats and Republicans.
Red Queen is a story about young people searching for freedom and agency in a world dominated by bureaucrats, administrators, and propagandists. The world of Red Queen is a police state with its roots in today’s events: post-9/11 warrantless physical and electronic surveillance; the erosion of personal liberties for supposed security reasons, even when the government’s actions are shown to be ineffective or wrongheaded; and the rise of a penal-industrial complex that imprisons one in three black men, often for victimless crimes. When the next terrorist action occurs, there may be calls for even more restrictions on freedom and privacy. That’s where Red Queen begins.