Yes, it’s almost an hour, but it’s a good chat!
Some of my favorite bits from this interview:
- Weir serialized The Martian on his website and offered it for free. As its popularity grew, so did interest from agents and publishers.
- Weir had no contacts in aerospace early on…he just did a lot of Google research and watched many documentaries. (In fact, Chris Hadfield was amazed to hear Weir didn’t have contacts inside NASA after reading the advanced reading copy.)
- While Weir always wanted to be a writer, he was realistic about the chances of one making a living writing fiction: “I always wanted to be a writer, but I also like to eat regularly and have a place to live that’s not a cardboard box.”
- Early fan corrections from chapters of The Martian posted to his website served as subject matter expert reviews to make the story more realistic
- Weir doesn’t like team conflict in space stories. Astronauts are chosen to get along well and function as professionals. Cooperation is essential — not strife.
- When asked if he wants to go back and change things after being corrected a couple times, Weir replied, “Not really.” He’s happy with what he’s written as it is.
I know it’s common for some people who have struggled with trying to get published to almost resent those who “make it” on their first try, but Weir’s story is one of perseverance, and I like that. And The Martian is not his first novel…he wrote at least two other novels before The Martian.
Like so many people, he worked away at his day job (computer programming) and wrote fiction in his spare time. Weir’s story is a reminder that while the odds are slim, good things do still happen…
Yes, I know…I mention Tiny Sense of Accomplishment quite a bit, here. But I love the damn show! And I love when Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter do live shows in front of an audience.
The latest episode has Alexie and Walter returning to their home town of Spokane, Washington for a chat and reading some works-in-progress.
What I like most about the live appearances is they show that while writers are expected to do more marketing than ever, that there are natural ways to do it. Alexie will always be a bit nervous on stage, but he’s so natural at talking to a crowd. The two are hysterical, the way they play off one another…and they could easily take what they do in live shows to small stages across the country. (Hell, I’d make a road trip to Austin or Houston to see them if they skipped Dallas.)
Reading Out Loud
One of the boldest things Alexie and Walter do on episodes of their podcast is read works-in-progress. So many writers hold back until something is totally ready and even published before sharing with others. It’s obvious what these two read aren’t first drafts, but it takes a certain courage to read unpublished work to a an audience in person and online.
What Alexie reads is a story that must be read out loud. Not only does Alexie change the way he talks during this reading, but the singing aspect of the story matters so much more hearing it read by someone who grew up on a reservation. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve started reading all my writing out loud during edits, and the story Alexie reads makes me think even more about how important hearing some stories out loud can be.
The final chapter of my first novel (and first podcast) features singing near the end. (The chapter can be found here, and the singing part comes in between the 15:43 – 16:28 mark). Hearing a group singing a familiar song — at least for me and some people I’ve heard from — makes it much better than singing the song in your head when read silently. The ending of the story Sherman Alexie reads in this episode of their podcast seems like it must be read out loud. (I could not do it the justice Alexie gives to the end if only hearing it in my head.)
And Walter’s poem…it’s hysterical. Again, so much is gained by being read out loud.
I’ve been to a fair handful of author readings and I’ll be completely honest: most have almost put me to sleep. It’s not that I expected fireworks and cymbal crashes, but there’s something to doing more than this:
Hello, I am Shy Author obviously doing this against my will at the command of my publisher, and I will not make eye contact with any of you as I stumble through this reading and leave as quickly as I can…
I won’t fault those authors, because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but attending some of the better author readings I’ve seen in person, watched online, and listened to as podcasts…it’s clear that it’s worth any author’s time to practice reading out loud…and maybe even finding another author doing similar things with whom they can team up.