Interview with Michel Clasquin-Johnson

When did you first start writing?
I can't remember a time when I wasn't writing. Even if the process was only happening in my head, lines of text would dance before my eyes day and night, begging to be committed to paper (and later, to pixels). As a child, I would create long, elaborate "handbooks" on subjects I knew nothing about, really - the copyright holders of several children's encyclopaedias will probably want to have a word ...
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I have a day job. I am a professor of Religious Studies. I also have a young son to look after. There are two motorcycles slowly rusting away in the garage, there are programs to write for an alternative operating system that hardly anybody uses ...

I don't understand people who say they are bored.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I have published conventionally, though not in fiction. My first indie project was to gather a bunch of my old, previously published articles published in paper format long before electronic rights existed, and put them out as an ebook. This was my way of ensuring that my material would survive into the electronic age.

From there I moved on to helping other people get their material electronically published, putting out two collections of short stories, then starting on the current series of flash fiction collections.

Let's be honest, I'm not outselling that Howey fellow. And that's OK. By the time I retire from my day job and I'm ready to write full-time, I will have a full backlist out there for my adoring fans to snap up. I didn't get into my current job overnight, and It's going to take a long time to break into something completely new. Indie publishing at least makes it possible. There are no guarantees, but just for the possibility to exist is enough.
Describe your desk
Abandon all hope, ye who search for anything here.
What is your writing process?
I sit in front of the screen. I type a sentence. Just a sentence that has been buzzing in the back of my mind all day. I stare at the screen for five minutes. Hesitantly a finger moves toward the keyboard. Click. Another. Click. Then something takes over. A circuit forms between the keyboard, fingertips and eyes that bypasses the brain completely. It is the story, desperate to get out. I wake up an hour later, drenched in sweat. Somehow, a story has cast itself upon the screen.

In Japanese archery they say "it shoots", "it" being the bow, arrow, target and archer all together as a unit. Well, "it writes".
What's the story behind your latest book?
My latest book is in the series "366 Squared". This book series comes from a challenge I set myself in September 2012: write a story a day for a year (and include a bonus story for February 29). I wanted to reinvent myself as a writer, and things were going … slowly. I needed a shock to the system, something to get myself to open that same file day after day and pound away on the keyboard. Even if I didn't work on anything else that day, at least I would have done this one little thing. By the end of one year, I would have created the equivalent of a 130 000 word novel.

And so, day after day, I opened up the usual This Day in History websites and saw what had happened that was interesting, that I might be able to weave a tale around. Naturally, the best-laid plans of mice and men ... Soon enough I found myself behind schedule. People get sick. People's kids get sick. People get fired up writing on other projects. It also became clear that the Table of Contents for such a book would become ridiculously unwieldy.

I just decided to be kind to myself: as soon as I had a month's worth of stories ready to go I would put them out there in a collection. If it took me more than a year to fill out the entire calendar, so mote it be!

Almost every story in this volume is based on a real event, a celebration, a birth or a death associated with a specific day. But it is just a reference to that day. The actual action in the story may take place slightly earlier or later in time. It may even be a reference transposed centuries into the past or future, or into an alternative universe influenced by what did (not) happen that day, in true science fiction style. And historians will sometimes disagree about the exact day on which something happened. Your source may date the Battle of Salamis a day or two later than mine.

I did say almost every story. For some days of the year, I just could not find something tied to that day in history to write anything interesting about. But fear not! You will receive your daily quota of words. For such days, there will be a little essay, a poem, well, something. And some days just lent themselves to a mini-essay rather than a story, which is why 1 January starts us off that way.

These are short-short stories, or flash fiction, if you prefer. I enjoy the discipline of writing to a precise limit, creating an entire world in a single page; it's a little like writing haiku poetry. I therefore considered limiting myself to an exact number of words, but on what basis? 100 words, 500 words, or what? The answer suggested itself: "366 366-word stories" has a nice ring to it, and that ended up giving me the title "366 Squared". I suppose if I ever go into the horror genre I'll just have to do "666 666-word stories". Or maybe not. Feel free to steal that idea. 366 Words per story it is, then. And yes, I use the term "story" loosely here: technically speaking some of them are vignettes rather than formal stories.

I still consider myself a science fiction writer, but in these stories I gave myself some leeway to experiment with other genres. A stream-of-consciousness story here, a ghost story there … if it isn't fun, why bother?
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I was reading ebooks on a Nokia 9300 before the term "ebook" was popular, and before that I read texts on a Psion Revo. I can read PDFs on an iMac for hours. But given a choice, my preference is for a full-size iPad.
Who are your favorite authors?
Isaac Asimov - the sheer volume he produced is astounding enough by itself, but that within that vast collection there are classics like "Nightfall" and the Foundation Trilogy makes his achievement even greater.

J R R Tolkien - Forget "The Hobbit". Ignore "Lord of the Rings". Read "The Silmarillion".

Jack L Chalker - A guilty pleasure. When he's good, he's great. When he's bad, he's really, shockingly bad.

Salman Rushdie - I weep at the thought of ever being able to have such a complete mastery of the English language.
What do you read for pleasure?
I am the kind of person who will read the label on a bottle of ketchup. But if we're talking about books ... science fiction. And I mean the old kind of science fiction, the kind that takes an idea and runs with it to see how far it will take us, not the touchy-feely story that just happens to be set in the future.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Joy? Writing is a bitter, painful business. I advise you to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.

You write because you must. You write because, well, because you are a writer.

If I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand.
Published 2014-05-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Programming with yab
Price: Free! Words: 27,510. Language: British English. Published: December 24, 2016. Categories: Nonfiction » Computers and Internet » Programming, Nonfiction » Computers and Internet » Programming
This e-book will teach you how to program in the yab programming language, one of the main platforms for writing applications for the Haiku Operating system.Yab is a procedural language, Despite that, you can do things with it for which you would normally require a much more complex object-oriented language. It has become one of the main ways to write GUI front-ends for Terminal commands.
Learning about Religion
Series: Learning about Religiobn. Price: Free! Words: 76,640. Language: English (South African dialect). Published: May 19, 2015. Categories: Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Comparative Religion, Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Religious history
A beginner's guide to the world's major religions and to the academic study of religion.
366 Squared Volume 3: March
Series: 366 Squared. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,140. Language: English (South African dialect). Published: May 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
This volume was published out of sequence. The reasons for that were explained in Volume 4. We are more than a year late. But we have three billion years before the sun expands into a red giant, swallows the Earth, and all this will be moot anyway. So, relax, pour yourself a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and enjoy this collection of brand new 366-word flash fiction stories.
366 Squared. Volume 6: June
Series: 366 Squared. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,810. Language: English (South African dialect). Published: August 27, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
If this is your first taste of the wacky world of 366 Squared, welcome. For the old hands, welcome back, and I trust you will enjoy the new collection of bite-sized stories, vignettes and essays based on the day of the year.
366 Squared Volume 5: May
Series: 366 Squared. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,170. Language: English (South African dialect). Published: June 3, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
For the merry, merry month of May, a collection of 31 short stories to wipe that spring-is-here smirk right off your face. As usual, a blend of science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction and the occasional mini-essay. As always, each story told in exactly 366 words.
366 Squared Volume 4: April
Series: 366 Squared. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 13,580. Language: English. Published: May 6, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
"Hey dude, what happened to March?" I know, I know. The last volume to come out was February. We moved. It was a big, traumatic move that involved a computer standing idle at the other house. There will be a volume 3 for March, I promise. Someday. Meanwhile, this is Vol 4: a little less fantasy,a little more historical fiction, and the usual dollop of science fiction. 366 words per day, as always.
366 Squared Volume 2: February
Series: 366 Squared. Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 12,840. Language: English. Published: April 1, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
This volume contains twenty-nine entries covering the month of February. It turned out to be a difficult month, and there are more mini-essays than I originally planned. There is also a lot more fantasy and less science fiction than I thought there would be. Oh well, I can only take this project where the source material allows me to. We'll see what happens in the next volume.
366 Squared Volume 1: January
Series: 366 Squared. Price: Free! Words: 13,560. Language: British English. Published: January 28, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Fantasy » Short stories
(4.00)
One day, one story, at exactly 366 words each, that is the promise of 366 SQUARED, the short-short story/flash fiction collection that raises the question "In the age of multi-novel book series, is this guy for real?" Yes he is, and 366 SQUARED is the launch of a new era in literature for busy people. Volume 1 contains 31 stories, vignettes or mini-essays, each at precisely 366 words.
Saving Anne and Other Stories
Series: Miscellaneous fiction. Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 12,350. Language: British English. Published: October 8, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories, Fiction » Science fiction » General
A collection of five somewhat funny, somewhat dark, occasionally raucous and, I hope, always thought-provoking science fiction stories. There's always a "what if" lurking behind the story itself. What if you were marooned in the distant past? What if your life was a lie invented by a writer in another universe? What if your civilisation depended on the horrible death of a teenage girl?
Former Selves and Other Stories
Series: Miscellaneous fiction. Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 8,570. Language: English. Published: June 28, 2012. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » General, Fiction » Science fiction » Short stories
A seeker after knowledge in the Himalayas. An old man whose kind secretly runs the world. A historian with an unusual source of knowledge about things past. A very ... special child. These are the characters that come to life in the four short stories in this collection. With four 100-word flash fiction stories as a bonus.
Common or Garden Dharma. Essays on Contemporary Buddhism, Volume 2
Series: Common or Garden Dharma. Essays on Contemporary Buddhism. Price: Free! Words: 64,180. Language: English. Published: March 17, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Philosophy » Asian philosophy, Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Buddhism
A number of shorter works that I have written over the years for which I never signed off the electronic rights - mostly because they didn't exist back then! This is the second book in the series.
Common or Garden Dharma. Essays on Contemporary Buddhism, Volume 1
Series: Common or Garden Dharma. Essays on Contemporary Buddhism. Price: Free! Words: 43,670. Language: English. Published: January 13, 2011. Categories: Nonfiction » Philosophy » Asian philosophy, Nonfiction » Religion and Spirituality » Buddhism
A number of shorter works that I have written over the years for which I never signed off the electronic rights - mostly because they didn't exist then! Some started out as academic articles and have been rewritten to appeal to a broader audience. Others were written in a popular style, but were tucked away in newsletters that were not archived or on defunct web sites.