Interview with Paul Guthrie

Published 2013-10-09.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
1.Anything by William Gibson, especially "Idoru" and "Virtual Light." Gibson combines compelling speculation about technology that is just out of reach with insight about what people really do and why - and most of the "why" is fascinatingly perverse.
2."A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin. Swords and sorcery with blood and guts and sex, and background mysteries revealed tantalizingly slowly. Plus, you never know when he will kill off a character you thought was central.
3. "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. The best example I know of history told from the inside out. The Battle of Gettysburg with the real events and completely credible (but invented) dialog among the participants.
4. "Hyperion" by Dan Simmons. On the surface a space opera, but with so many subtleties and so much intellectual and literary depth you don't notice. How can you resist a church based on a symbiont life form (called the cruciform) which allows you to be resurrected, but binds you forever?
5. Assembling California" by John McPhee. A book about the geology of California - and about geology in general and about geologists and about learning about geology. McPhee is the master of narrative nonfiction and the detail that makes the story, and there are many levels to this one.
What's the story behind your latest book?
Before I began to write I was a working scientist, a physicist by training, and I read quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy - speculative fiction. "The Wrong God" is nominally speculative fiction, but it breaks with a lot of traditions. It began with an observation: in traditional fantasy, magic is old wisdom. There is a sacred text, a prophecy, and/or a really old wise-man to explain to the hero what must be done. As a scientist, this annoyed me. Where were the stories about the discovery of magic? Since magic in fantasy literature tends to be lethal, how did the poor, bumbling discoverers survive? So I set out to write such a story. It’s about two contemporary scientists, Andy and John, who discover magic and get into trouble. Here’s the pitch:

Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Is this an illusion or is it new physics? Why can John do things that other people can’t – things that will mark him in some eyes as a worker of miracles? And why does John think someone is watching him?

Someone is watching. Wendell Murchison is possibly the most powerful man in America. He controls wealth, his own cable news network, an army of evangelical political operatives, and the President of the United States, but he wants more. From the new America of terrorist sleeper cells, detention camps and legalized torture he sees a path to levels of power not seen since the Inquisition. He would make a new all-out war of religion; all he needs is a leader – the New Prophet, John Chalk. Whether John believes or not.

When John refuses and disappears, Andy is left to face an adversary who will offer bribes, publish lies, send goon squads to beat him - whatever it takes to force him to betray John. Under constant surveillance and unsure who he can trust, Andy can’t stand alone; he has to find John. But even together, what can they do against Murchison? Levitating pens won’t stop him and there’s no point in hoping for miracles if you don’t believe in anybody’s gods.
What do you read for pleasure?
All kinds of things. For the last several years I have been fascinated (as well as frustrated) by the changes in American politics and the underlying changes in culture. Who would have predicted that we would have a major political party driven by people who actively and proudly reject science as a basis for knowledge? In terms of books, I have moods and I get curious. I may follow epic fantasy with nonfiction like Anton Zeilinger's "Dance of the Photons," which is about some of the stranger aspects of quantum physics.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a Nook and an iPad. They are both good, but I tend to favor the iPad a bit.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Getting reviews and having a presence on Goodreads, where I run a small, cheap online ad. I also occasionally write short stories and give them away fro free. I have one up on Smashwords called "The Rule."
Describe your desk
I have two. I write mostly in longhand on white lined paper on a lap desk with my feet up. Then, across the room, there is the computer and an attached shelf which is a complete mess, with stacks of paper.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up moving around fairly frequently. The place that influenced me the most was Indonesia, where we moved when I was 10. My father was a professor on an exchange program. We stayed for 18 months and I was introduced to a different language and a different culture. "Normal" was never quite the same after that.
When did you first start writing?
In 2002.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Primarily the difficulty of getting through the agent/editor gateway. As a new author writing across genres, I rarely even saw an acknowledgement of a submission. I was also encouraged by my test readers to believe that my work has an audience, so it seemed worth the time and effort to make it widely available. Fortunately Smashwords made it easier than I expected.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
By providing quality conversion tools for multiple ebook formats and wide distribution to retailers.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Being told that a reader enjoyed reading my words.
What do your fans mean to you?
They provide the motivation to keep writing, and especially rewriting. Hearing from someone that they really liked a particular scene or character gives me an anchor to decide what works in the next story - what will make the fans keep reading.
What are you working on next?
I have finally gotten back to the story of John Chalk and Andy Taggart that began in "The Wrong God."
Who are your favorite authors?
Depends on my mood. Could be William Gibson, could be John LeCarre, could be George R.R. Martin, could be John McPhee, could be Larry Niven. Elmore Leonard and John D. MacDonald are two that I miss.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Lately, checking out the latest absurdities of American politics.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
Reading, doing research,exercising, cooking, wandering the internet.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Tips from friends, mostly. And reviews on Goodreads.
What is your writing process?
I usually start with an idea about an event or a conflict, which leads to the first approximation of the central characters. After that it becomes iterative as the plot and characters both evolve. There are pauses to do research – how did anyone write without Google? I often get stuck for days, then figure out an answer and write in a burst. I write in long hand on a white pad, then begin to edit as I bang it in on the keyboard.
How do you approach cover design?
I get help from a graphic designer...not one of my strengths
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes. It was terrible.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
No. It was a long, long time ago.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author or publisher.

Books by This Author

The Rule
Price: Free! Words: 2,040. Language: English. Published: April 6, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Historical
(4.00 from 1 review)
For a Romany girl in Ireland in 1692 there are no rights, only rules. Who she can marry. Where her family may camp. And a special rule if she can work the tatcho dook, the true magic.
The Wrong God
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 109,800. Language: English. Published: August 18, 2010. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » General
Since the beginnings of history people have believed in magic, but California science writer Andy Taggart is not one of them. Until the day that John Chalk, his old friend from grad school, makes a ballpoint pen rise to stand on end – untouched. From that moment Andy is caught up in John’s mystery. Why can John do things that other people can’t? And why does he think someone is watching him?