An avid reader of science fiction, Mark Everglade takes both its warnings and opportunities for change to heart. His first novel, Hemispheres, published through RockHill Publishing, has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon and went to number five in its category during its launch week.
Mark holds a Master’s of Science in Conflict Theory. His previous works have been featured in Expolanet Magazine and Unrealpolitik. He has appeared on numerous podcasts and newscasts for his books and social activism.
Equally serious about music, Mark has jammed with one of the Rolling Stones, met Randy Bachman, and used to have Jim Morrison’s stage equipment in his basement.
He currently resides in Florida with his wife and four children.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, Mark, welcome to The Worldshapers.
Thank you, Ed, great to be here.
Great to have you. And thanks for reaching out. A lot of these podcasts are people I’ve, you know, I encounter, or I just see somebody online, and I think they’d make a good interview. But you reached out to me, and I’m glad you did because I think this should be an interesting conversation. You’re down in Florida, I understand, where spring has probably already sprung. We’re still kind of waiting for it here.
I was walking around the lake this morning, which is not far from the house, and the lake is still quite frozen. I wouldn’t want to go to the ice, but the geese are still on the ice without worrying about it.
So, we’re going to start, as I always do, by taking you back into the mists of time—I don’t know how far back that is for you, it’s getting further back for me—to find out how you . . . well, first of all, where you grew up and your education and all that, but especially how you got interested in science fiction. And probably you started as a reader and then moved into the writing side of it. But how did that all work for you? Where did you grow up, and how did you get interested in writing?
Absolutely. Well, I grew up about 20 miles north of Baltimore City, Maryland, U.S. And I’m 40 now, but growing up, I was very interested in some of the books that came out in the ’80s and ’90s that were cyberpunk books that really got me involved in science fiction, science fiction such as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. And I was reading a lot of that at the time, but I was also reading a lot of philosophy, a lot of Hegel and Kant and transcendental idealism, and the classic transcendentalists in America, Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, et cetera. And that really generated an interest in me in studying society, so I went on to move to the South and got a Masters of Science degree in sociology. And I’m currently employed as a professional IT manager and sociologist with the state.
Looking at, yeah, those early books, though, like Snow Crash and Pattern Recognition, you know, I saw that . . . I eventually kind of branched off into shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, decades after the rest of the world had already discovered them. You know, books like 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, you know, all the classics that we all agree are at the top of the list, although I never read Dune until about five years ago and I wish I would have read it as a boy. Of course, I realized there was something truly unique and intellectual going on here that wasn’t really about futuristic science. It was about the present day’s cultural conflicts. And perhaps nowhere is that more distinguished than in some of the cyberpunk and early proto-cyberpunk literature.
So, when did you decide to try your own hand at writing it? I see from what you have on your website that that was pretty early. You felt that you could write better endings than you were seeing in some of these stories.
Yes. And so, yeah, I was just revising, like, X-Men episodes and other things, you know, writing, writing endings of things, even in sixth grade. However, over time I wrote about four or five novels, but none of them were really up to par. And so, I just destroyed them over the years, cut bits and pieces out from them, until finally arrived at Hemispheres, which took about 4,500 hours to write. And part of that has to do with the planning process, which we’ll go into later. But a lot of that . . . some of those chapters, even though released last year, were written twenty-five years ago that just became kind of cut and paste from all these other works that I destroyed.
So this is something that’s been simmering around in your head for a long time.
Well, are you . . . did you have any formal writing training at any point, or is this something you just kind of taught yourself?
Yeah, I started out as an English major and took some creative writing classes in college, but then switched over to social sciences, psychology, and then sociology, and I feel like when you do that, when you have that social science understanding, you’re able to create a character’s interiority and motivations and kind of create that complex cognitive dissidence in a character really, really well. On the other hand, without having a full creative writing background, some of the easier things, such as the dialogue, for instance, were very, very challenging to write without having that practice in a formal institutional atmosphere.
Oh, I don’t know. I always ask that question of authors, and an awful lot of them, especially in the science fiction and fantasy field, who did have some sort of formal creative writing classes, they found that they were of limited use because you so often run into a pushback against the very idea of writing that science fiction and fantasy stuff, so some people still run into that even today. You’d think that mindset would be in the past, but it apparently still exists in some creative writing programs.
I never took creative writing myself, exactly. I took one class. I went into journalism. And that’s where my, you know, first-hand writing experience was. So, everybody comes to it from a different direction.
Yeah. Do you feel that science fiction and fantasy are less respected in the literary world than other genres?
I still think there’s some of that around. I think there’s hopefully less than there used to be. But when I talk to different authors, they’ve had different experiences. It also depends on the age of the author. And, you know, when they had these classes and that sort of thing. And others, you know, have gotten the full Master of Fine Arts approach. So, one thing I’ve found in this podcast is that everybody does it differently. And that’s one of the interesting things about it.
So, you’re currently still working as a sociologist. You’re not a full-time writer or anything like that. It seems clear from what you’ve said that your career that you went into is very much informing your fiction.
Oh, yeah, absolutely, and the whole . . . and sociological theory and the writers such as Hegel and Durkheim, et cetera, all of this kind of neo-Marxist theory, the book is not overly political, but there is a lot of social conflict between classes, between the haves and the have nots, so to speak, that we can speak more about. But, yeah, those dialectical conflicts really inspire it, classism and things like that.
Well, and you also write quite a bit of commentary about cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is . . . it was a very new thing at one point, and now it almost seems old hat. Is there a renaissance happening in cyberpunk, do you think?
It’s definitely considered old hat in a lot of ways, even by the old writers. M<any of the older cyberpunk writers have told me they’ve given up the cyberpunk name, the title. They don’t associate themselves with it anymore. However, yes, there is a revival. The Cyberpunk Coalition is a group of about twenty-five published cyberpunk authors, including Eric Malikyte, Patrick Tilley, Matthew A. Goodwin, etc., and we’ve recently put out a Neo Cyberpunk anthology of short stories that showcased what is called the new wave of cyberpunk here that’s coming up. And a lot of it is a throwback to the early ‘80s, not so much the spacefaring cyberpunk that we had in novels such as cat’s World or Halo, for instance, or Frontera or Vacuum Flowers, not so much the space-oriented cyberpunk, but the more dystopian near-future cyberpunk, the Gibson style, that’s experienced like a full revival. And in fact, it’s somewhat a shame at times that William Gibson’s style was so definitive on the genre that it’s almost become inconceivable to write cyberpunk without paying homage to him.
I think my favorite story about that . . . Robert J. Sawyer, who’s a science fiction writer that I interviewed right off the bat, and I’ve known him for a long time because he’s Canadian, he often likes to point out as an example of how science changes in that the beginning of Gibson’s, I guess, Neuromancer, is “The sky over the port was the color of a TV tuned to a dead channel. And of course, that used to mean grey and cloudy, and now it means bright blue.
Yes, that’s true.
And of course, that is one of the things we’ll talk about when we talk about Hemispheres as well. You know, the shifting science and technology. So, before we get to that, first of all, how would you define cyberpunk? Do you have a definition for it?
I mean, it’s difficult to define it without destroying it because it should be something that’s a punk, that is to say, an opposition or reaction to the zeitgeist of the times, to the kind of dystopian times we find ourselves in. So, because those times are always changing, the definition should kind of change with it. But overall, it is a subgenre of science fiction that is dystopian and essentially explores antagonists that are global corporations that are manipulating people for profit and creating wage slaves and corporations that have become more powerful than countries and are relying on technology such as artificial intelligence and other things to oppress the masses and then a sort of anti-hero that goes against that system. Now, in post-cyberpunk, the anti-hero becomes basically a chosen one, like in The Matrix or to some degree in Hemispheres. So, you know, there is a more . . . and in post-cyberpunk, you find more optimistic views of technology than you did in the classic cyberpunk, but classic cyberpunk’s looking at that intersection of technology and culture and class.
OK, now give me a synopsis of Hemispheres before we start talking about it.
Sure. So, Hemispheres is a cyberpunk space opera novel about a tidally locked planet, Gliese 581 G. It’s solar-tidal locked, so it’s locked to the sun and only—It’s a real planet—and only one hemisphere receives light. It’s called Evig Natt, which means eternal darkness. So since one side of the hemisphere receives, or since one side of the planet receives light, this causes war over land, and eventually, there are disputes that come to be regulated by an AI in a sort of technocracy, we would call it. So, with one side, with one hemisphere always dark, the government has limited all sources of light, with even fire being banned, except for one source of light, fireflies. When the ship colonized the planet, fireflies occurred at just the right frequency to be both a light source and a suitable currency. And as new forms of light were redeveloped, those who had their wealth in fireflies resisted the processing of tungsten and other elements, meaning that the poor, using light as currency, they didn’t always have enough light to live by. And basically, the whole thing is a metaphor for how the poor are kept in the dark, both literally and metaphorically, by the elites.
So anyway, Severum Rivenshear works for this government as a mercenary. And he’s previously been a terraformer, but now he’s involved in militant actions, and he has second thoughts about protecting a system that results in so much inequality. So, when a group of radicals attempts to increase the planet’s rotation to bring daylight cycles to both sides of the planet, he’s ordered to shut them down. If daylight comes to the dark hemisphere, the economy based on light would break down. On the other hand, if the planet’s rotation is increased, then it will result in ecological disasters such as floods, earthquakes, and environmental destruction. So, he’s kind of caught in this moral and ethical conundrum that’s almost very solarpunk in the ecological vibes.
OK, there’s a lot going on there.
Yeah, there is.
So, how did this all come about? You said some of it goes back 25 years. So how—this is the cliche question, “Where do you get your ideas?” but it’s a legitimate question because people are curious to know how things are inspired and how they come together. So, what was the process here for you? What brought this all together as an idea?
The process for me started when I was playing mandolin in the park outside of a college in the South, and I met this wonderful, beautiful woman who became my wife and came up with the idea for the novel.
Oh, that’s a good one.
So yeah, she came up with the idea. It was actually, you know, we were, you know, we keep up to date on science as much as possible, and Gleise 581G was one of these planets that had been discovered at that time as being just like Earth. The planet’s like a Goldilocks planet, it’s absolutely perfect to live on, except for the fact that it’s 20 million light-years away and, in addition, the planet is . . . half of it’s always dark, so half of it’s always frozen. And so those are things that are, you know, would have to be surmounted, but otherwise, it’s a perfect planet. So, studying the science really brought a lot of this inspiration of mine. And my wife came up with the idea and, you know, lay down some things, and then finally submitted it, got my first rejection letter from Philip K. Dick’s publisher, Twilight something, who has been absorbed by Kensington. And then, after I got one rejection, I put the book down for two years and said, it must be crap.
Then eventually, I got some feedback from beta readers, you know, which is very important, and from other editors, and eventually edited it. And I learned that Dune had been submitted twenty-nine times before it had finally been picked up by a publisher. And so, I decided I would submit Hemispheres twenty-nine times, and if it wasn’t published by a publisher at that point, I would give up on the twenty-ninth time. After twenty-eight rejections, Rockhill Publishing, a traditional publisher in Virginia, picked it up, and so that was that.
Now, I saw on your website, you had in your little “About You” there, you had said that you don’t plan, you don’t plan or outline. That’s usually my next question, is planning and outlining. So, what does that really mean? You must do some planning, at least mentally.
Yes. So, the planning is something that I’ve actually increasingly done over time because that’s one of the reasons that it took, you know, thousands of hours to write a book that’s 300 pages because of the lack of outlining and planning. I believe that if you create situations that are rife with conflict and that your characters have internal conflict as well and realistic motivations, that the plot kind of writes itself when they’re put into conflict, atmospheres of conflict. On the other hand, it’s really, you can really get your head underwater if you’re not careful with this approach.
Yes, well, this is the old what we call in the field plotting versus pantsing. So, it sounds like you’re a hero.
Yes, but I’m a wannabe plotter because when I plot even a simple, short, short story, the process goes, like, so much faster. You do feel at times that you’re kind of contrived to connect point A to point B, and it’s almost just like following a line path that’s already developed. It kind of takes away some of the free will and spontaneity of the writing, I think. But at the same time, it keeps the plot intact and compelling and cohesive and comprehensible.
Well, certainly, the authors I’ve talked to run the gamut from complete pantser, or, you know, well, “I have a couple of characters and, you know, two characters go into a bar, and a novel comes out.” And there’s also the other extreme, and I’ve mentioned it several times, I hope he doesn’t mind, Peter V. Brett, who wrote an internationally bestselling series called The Demon Cycle. He writes 150-page outlines before he begins writing, and then he just fills in the blanks. So, he puts all of that creativity into the outline. And other people say, “Well, I couldn’t write like that. It would spoil the fun.” He says, “Well, it’s not supposed to be fun. It’s a job.”
So that’s the thing. You know, five percent of it is the writing, and ninety-five percent is the editing, the marketing, and everything else. And it’s work.
So, your actual writing process, then you’re obviously just writing. But that process, I mean, do you sit with a pen and use parchment under a tree or do you like to go out of your house for variety, do you write in an office, what’s your process like?
You know, interruption is really the main enemy of writing, I think. And I have to do it on the computer because I have to constantly reorganize entire pages and paragraphs for flow and, you know, constantly jumbling them back together in different orders. But, you know, a couple of glasses of sake helps lubricate the narratives as well, especially with some of the more intimate scenes. I think they come across a lot easier for someone who’s a little bit more bashful like me there.
There is a whiskey that I’ve run across called Writers’ Tears. I think it’s from Ireland, which would make sense.
Perfect. What a history of writing there.
So, do you work in long, uninterrupted stretches, or do you have to snatch bits and pieces when you can, what with having a full-time job?
Yeah, I have four kids, so I wrote ten minutes here and ten minutes there. You know, if I could, I would spend 12 hours a day just unmoving like I did in college, writing, you know, whatever. But you have to create that work/life balance and the family hobby balance as well. It’s very easy to become self-absorbed when you do this as you’re creating these whole very immersive worlds, and with me being extremely introverted anyway, you really have to balance that with familial duties and responsibilities and, you know, kind of letting the ego go away and setting limits for yourself and how much . . . sometimes writing can be a very selfish process because it’s an individual process. I look at other arts, and lots of arts are group arts. They’re creative arts, where you can get a whole band together or get their family together and play five or six instruments at a time, and it’s wonderful. But writing is an isolated process. So, I’m becoming increasingly hesitant to isolate myself for long periods on end because of the impacts that can have on the family, especially when you’re spending thousands of hours on a book.
Yeah, I do this, writing, but I’ve also done professional theatre, which is on the other end of the scale of being surrounded by people and working, you know, that way. And yet, I also like to say that, see what you think about this, that although writing is solitary and it’s something you do by yourself, the end product is really a collaborative product. So, you’re putting ideas in other people’s heads, but they don’t really exist until those people reassemble those ideas inside their heads. So, you’re really collaborating with readers all the time that you’re writing.
You know, that’s an excellent point, because once you’re done, the whole interpretation of the book becomes a collective discourse, either literally, like in situations like this, or like you said, tacitly when the readers are reading it, it’s almost a conversation between the writer and the reader.
Now, you mentioned that you, you know, are moving stuff around. Do you work in Word, or do you use something like Scrivner, which makes that process perhaps a little easier? What do you use?
Just word. I mean, most people I know use Scrivner, however.
Yeah, I have it, but I don’t use it. I keep meaning to learn. But it’s like, well, there’s this learning curve, and I just want to write. So, I haven’t done that yet.
So, OK, you’re writing a . . . how long a process was writing this book. Do you end up with what you’d call a first draft, or are you doing so much revision as you go that when you get to the end, it’s kind of finished, and you’re past just an initial draft kind of stage?
I do so much editing that it destroys the writing to some degree. You know, editing things for conciseness, editing things for tone and everything. You can actually over-edit a book. I was talking to Jeff Vandermeer, who did the Annihilation movie and books, you know, and Jeff told me that if he wants a character to really read a certain way, like Rawls, he just doesn’t edit their text at all. He doesn’t edit those sections because he told me there’s a risk when you edit and edit the same thing over and over, yes, it can look more concise and more proper and everything else, but you lose some of that tone, which is really hard to maintain as a writer, a unique tone of voice. So, yeah, I read it.
So, you end up with something that’s fairly polished when you get to the point where you say “The End”?
And then go straight into the . . . well, you mentioned beta readers, so tell me about those. Where did you find them and how many do you use, and what do they do for you?
It’s important for any author to have an author group. I have a few that I’ve I’ve been in. And for me, I reached out to a cyberpunk author, Matthew Goodwin, who was putting together an author group. And we ended up . . . he ended up coming up with a concept of Cyberpunk Day, and it’s cyberpunkday.com, to recognize cyberpunk as a cultural phenomenon and celebrate it every year on October 10th, 1010, like binary code. So, because of that, having an event and having one day a year and having an author group, you know, that surrounds it with projects like coming up with anthologies and all, it really inspires you to write. But you also get that kind of reciprocity of beta feedback. And so, you know, authors have to join together, especially if they’re indie authors, like many of these authors are, who are self-published, then they have no choice but to constantly envelop themselves in the author community.
So, what kind of feedback do you get?
Half the people say that the book is way too slow, and the other half say that it is way too fast-paced. And som that’s the kind of feedback you get. There are editors, there are other writers, there are critics, and then there’s your reader, and it’s hard to please even one or two of those groups. And so, if you can please a couple of those groups, you’re doing well. But that’s about . . . you have to know, say, in cyberpunk, people expect it to be disorienting, fast-paced, you know, but the average hard science fiction reader is going to expect a very gradual, slow exposition. So, you have to know your target audience.
So, with conflicting responses coming back, how do you ultimately decide which advice to take in and which to set aside?
I read the classics, most of the cyberpunk classics, and then tried to decide, well, what was the pacing like in those books? And when I read Neuromancer or Vacuum Flowers, it’s extremely fast-paced and they’re very disorienting. And I kind of copy that style of just throwing the reader into the action without a whole lot of exposition and then kind of feel their way through it, you know. And cyberpunk authors love that. But the average sci-fi reader is sometimes turned off by the lack of not having ten pages of infodump worldbuilding first.
Yeah, it very much depends on the reader. I mean, I’ve always found that part of the excitement of reading science fiction is being simply thrown into a strange situation and figuring out what’s going on.
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
So, I’ve never had a problem with the kind of, you know . . . and I wasn’t able to finish Hemispheres, but I started it, and I never have that problem with being thrown into something like that and trying to figure it out. But, yeah. And I think non-genre readers have an even bigger problem with it and trying to orient themselves. And it’s one thing that turns off people that say they don’t like science fiction or fantasy is that “I don’t know what’s going on” feeling.
Oh, yeah. Even in fantasy, you have so many different terms and different races and everything, and sometimes, you know, you’re left to kind of figure it out.
Do you get any, like, line-by-line feedback from beta readers, or is that something you’re looking more towards the editing?
Sure. Sure. Both from editor and beta readers, you get line-by-line feedback, and it’s hard to take sometimes. The same line that somebody likes another person may not like. The main difference seems to be the level of metaphor that people like. I like extremely dense, metaphorical, poetic prose. Some people say, oh, they love the book for that reason. Others say that it makes it too obtuse and slow to read, you know, having to piece out all the metaphors constantly. So, you know, that’s one thing that science fiction in general, a lot of the people who read it, I think, want more concrete texts that are less abstract or philosophical and less poetic and flowery prose. Well, I think in fantasy, you can get away with some of the more eloquent, poetic prose and aphorisms.
Well, and as you said about finding your audience, there are so many niches and so many different readers out there.
You can now, you can now write for a fairly small niche and still find quite a few readers if you can just connect with them.
Oh, absolutely, absolutely.
And yes, your prose is quite . . . quite dense. That just comes naturally to you? That’s just the way you write?
No, it comes from the overhead editing, you know, constantly taking away. And, you know, when writing it, the first editor, before I signed with RockHill, asked me to cut 20,000 words before they would consider it. So, those 20,000 words that got cut. Yeah, that’s part of the reason why everything became more dense. That’s not always a bad thing.
And with RockHill, you’re working then with an editor at some point. What’s the editorial process like for you?
Well, the editors greater. Athina Paris is an author herself, and she’ll, you know, read through it, and then I read through it a few times, and we both, you know, go back and forth. You know, if we argue about anything, it’s just a single comma, usually. And so, it’s a very amicable process. It’s a back and forth. But when you’re with a small publisher that may produce a dozen books a year like RockHill, then you have to be part of that publishing group and part of their weekly meetings and part of their marketing strategy and, you know, giving your skills, whether it’s graphic design, marketing, et cetera, you know, giving your skills to that group. Small publishers really benefit from the participation of their authors. But I think that’s becoming the case even with the larger publishers now. I look at large, very popular authors who stopped promoting themselves, say, on social media. And within a couple of years, they disappear, and people just don’t know them as much.
Yeah . . . it’s interesting with this because really, really long-established authors seem to do fine without doing a lot on social media, but it seems like anybody starting up or that perhaps does not have, like, decades and decades of fan support built up, seems to rely more and more on doing their own marketing. I know, I’m, you know, I’m constantly posting this and that and the other thing.
The one thing I remember from . . . because I studied public relations, among other things, when I got my journalism degree, which was in Arkansas, by the way, closer to Florida than I have now . . . was one thing I remember was that 90 percent of public relations is wasted, but nobody knows which 90 percent it is. It certainly seems to hold true for marketing in general.
Oh, absolutely. I mean, there’s the two methods, the spraying method, spray and pray, I think they call it, where you just try to reach 100,000 people, you know, at random. Or you can try to put the effort in to reach those 100 people that are actually in your niche and might read your book. And, you know, that’s my method. It’s just reaching that small group. When you’re in a niche like cyberpunk, you want to reach that specific audience.
Now, when did the book officially come out?
So, what . . . well, first of all, you brought out your first book when there were a few other things going on in the world last year.
How did that affect you?
The formatting ended up getting rushed in some ways. The final product, things like the cover, the resolution and contrast, a lot of things ended up kind of . . . everything was very hurried, I felt. And all publishing was in the tubes right then. You know, originally we had planned on releasing it, like, maybe in April, but that didn’t seem good. But you don’t want to delay these things inevitably. You know, I was going to do a book tour, but any kind of physical book tour was canceled. So that’s why I relied on, you know, great podcasts like yours to kind of, you know, be the book tour and get the word out. So that’s really helped.
Yeah. And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future and we may be able to start doing physical book launches and things again. That would be nice.
I’ve missed . . . I sell a lot of my books . . . I do, you know, I go to a couple of local ComicCon-type things, and I’ve always sold, you know, I’ll sell a thousand dollars worth of books off my table over the weekend, which is, you know, not insignificant.
And that was all gone last year. So right now, I’m looking forward to that coming back. And of course, even the books that are in bookstores, bookstores have been closed. And, yeah, it’s been crazy.
I tried to get . . . oh, I reached out to 200, you know, independent bookstores, and nine of them picked the book up, but a lot of them, they said they were asking me, actually saying, “We can’t buy your book right now. Can you make a donation so we can keep our doors open?”
And so a lot of them are going out and . . .
Yeah, hopefully, there’ll be a bounce back after this is all over, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
But once you had the actual book, I mean, that’s always exciting. Your first physical book in hand. What was your reaction when it came out? How did that feel to you?
Overwhelming. I mean, there was an immediate like 500 hours of things I had to do to build my author platform. You know, your author platform needs to be built two years before you publish your book. No less than one year. But I had about three months to build my author platform before I launched. And so that, you know, took 125 hours to develop my website, you know, just the initial version of it, for instance, and all those things that, you know, that you have to do, creation of your marketing plan and meeting with the marketers, etc. It takes a tremendous amount of time, and it’s very overwhelming.
This is also why you don’t want to figure out your income from writing on an hourly basis.
It wouldn’t make sense. It’d be pennies on the hour, no matter how much you sold.
So, how was the reaction? What has the reaction to it been? And have you been pleased with the way people reacted to it?
Absolutely. It went to number five in this category during the launch week and had a few hundred readers pick it up, you know, just during the launch weekend. And so, yeah, it did very well at first. Sales tapered off over time as I marketed it less and less. But, you know, really, today, if I put one an hour into marketing, you know, you may get a few book sales if you’re doing . . . but you have to constantly be at it. That’s the thing. Releasing more books, however . . . I’ve just written twenty thousand words to a sequel, for instance, and I have a couple of other things that are out there being queried and reviewed. But yeah, that kind of, you know, hopefully, a sequel would, you know, help promote the original book as well.
You had a couple of short stories, did you not? In a couple of other collections.
Yeah, I’ve had about dozen by now published in a variety of different areas.
So how do you find the difference between writing, for you, writing short fiction as opposed to writing a novel?
It’s much harder, and I have to plan it and outline it. A three-page short story, you know, could be sold for thirty dollars, but it may also take twenty hours to write three pages. It’s more difficult to write concisely and try to put a plot and a character arc into, you know, into the normal three or four thousand words than it is to write it in a novel. I think the short story is the most challenging form.
There’s . . . I don’t remember who it was who famously wrote in a letter, “I’m sorry for the length of this letter, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter,” or something like that.
Short fiction can feel like that for sure.
But with the short fiction, do you find that more or less satisfying than writing a novel? Which way do you think is really your natural storytelling length?
You know, they’re both satisfying in a sense that . . . you need quick wins to keep you encouraged and to keep you going. And if you can spend a weekend writing a short story and, you know, query it out and get it published in a competitive journal, that’s very inspiring. And people will read that and want to read your longer works. But at the same time, you know, having kind of all of your accomplishments in one place, you know, so to speak, and being able to plan the complexity of a novel, you know, there’s a lot of joy in that, too. But, you know, you need long-term goals and quick wins, or you stop doing it.
One thing I meant to ask about when we were talking about writing the novel, and because I touched on it earlier, was about the, you know, rapid pace of technological advancement.
That does seem to play . . . now, you’re writing cyberpunk set in the far future on a, you know, an interstellar setting.
But with the pace of technology changing, is that a challenge for cyberpunk writers so that you don’t? And I still remember watching an X Files where they were talking about, I think it was a T3, and how this was such an amazingly fast . . .
Oh, right. Right.
. . . cable. And even at the time that was in The X Files . . . my wife’s a telecommunications engineer, and I knew that the T3 was already old hat, and this was not the latest cutting-edge thing that they were trying to make it sound like.
Do you think there’s an issue like that with trying to write cyberpunk and trying to stay ahead of the advancement of artificial intelligence and all the other things that are going on?
I think that, you know, people are paying attention to cybernetic augmentations, you know, in prosthetics and, you know, false eyes and virtual reality and augmented reality. They’re paying attention to all those developments—nanomachines—but cyberpunk authors are not paying attention to little things like kitchen appliance technology or, you know, different types of technology that are in everyday common goods. There’s one video game, for instance, Techno Babylon, that’s a cyberpunk game that looks at small technological devices and how they can have a huge impact on society. You know, we look at the . . . I think major technology devices being like, you know, whether it’s the Internet or the radio or the TV, et cetera, but there are much smaller devices that are less significant that had large impacts based on kind of the technology that emerged out of them. But cyberpunk is really, technologically, it’s just interested in government monitoring technology and cybernetic augmentations. And that’s really a very limited perspective.
Well, it’s interesting when you look through the history of, you know, any advancement, the unexpected side effects of what seems like fairly minor things.
Think about how the automobile, for example, changed society, sexual mores, and everything else. You’re a sociologist. This must be something that sociology has studied and continues to study. Is it?
Absolutely. Like, ideas of the speed of transmission, looking at how fast different cultures can communicate and how it affects their military strategy and their economy, et cetera. For instance, they introduced cellphones to Indian fishing villages in Asia, and it entirely impacted everything because they could call local fishermen and—or local places where they would sell fish—and see if those fish that they caught that day were necessary or whether they would have a market if they went off to that location. But basically, this impacted the local fishermen because before, they would just randomly go from dock to dock to see which market needed their fish to sell. And a lot of the fish would die and become rotten by the time they actually found a market for that. So being able to increase the speed of their communication, increase the efficiency of their economy, reduce food waste and had an impact on the population, and then from a functionalist perspective, impacts on population then affect every other aspect of society because it causes things like gentrification, regentrification, cultural diffusion, etc.
Well, all of science fiction is supposed to be . . . well, that’s too broad a brush because there are so many different kinds of science fiction. But of course, the classic idea of science fiction is that there are two questions. “What if?” and “If this goes on . . . ” and if this goes on, is where you’re starting to get into all that kind of stuff. And again, that’s where the cyberpunk, I guess, comes in is, if this goes on with this level of technology and corporate control and all that, this might be where we end up.
Did you do any special research while you were writing Hemispheres?
The research I did was mostly on the astronomy of tidal planets and how they work, reading NASA research, reading about the physics of entropy and things like that, because that was outside of my field. And I touched very briefly in the book on the actual mechanisms of controlling the planet’s angular momentum to increase its rotation. The reason I don’t touch on it more than a few paragraphs here and there is because they say, write what you know, and as a sociologist, I’m able to write things, like, create a religion based around a panopticon. I could create a religion based on . . . in the book they worship this god, Orbis, who represents the panopticon of George Barclay, the Scottish philosopher. But in any regard, you kind of write what you know, you know, if you know religion, philosophy, you write that. I mainly had to study the astronomy side,
But it’s also worth noting, and certainly, in far-future science fiction, it’s not like we today go around and explain to each other how things work. We just accept it. That’s our world. And so, how much of that you have to explain very much has to do with what kind of story you’re telling, I think.
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
So, is Hemispheres a standalone? You are . . . you said you were working on a sequel, is that right?
Yes, the publisher has rights to an entire series, so the sequel will be out in a year. And, you know, the first twenty thousand words went very well, and now I’m stuck, and so, I’m going to have to reach out to a couple of guys that read my other work earlier and see if they can help me out with the plot.
Did you do more planning and outlining on this one, or are you winging it?
Far more planning and outlining, yes, but it all resolved within twenty thousand words. The whole conflict was resolved. The characters were too efficient.
Maybe it’s really a novella.
Right. Maybe so.
Well, we’re getting in the last ten, fifteen minutes here. So, I’ll ask you my big philosophical questions.
You’re a sociologist. You should be good with these. The first one is simply, why do you write? I mean, you started doing it when you were young. You spent years at it. All these hours you put into it, you’ve got a book. What is it that drives you to keep doing it? Why do you write?
I mean, I believe that there has to be a certain value that comes out of it that, you know, some kind of moral value that comes out of literature. You don’t want to overly moralize things, but to write for your entertainment purposes is somewhat vain, I think. You know, these values . . . in this case, I wanted to create two different sides and kind of mix up the conservatives and liberals, kind of mix up their beliefs, and show that they weren’t as different as they really appeared to be on the surface, to kind of break down . . . like all the characters or shades of gray. There’s no good and evil. And when you can create, you know, characters that are shades of gray, that are all flawed but still can work together to produce something good, you know, there’s a certain value statement that comes out of that. And so that’s, you know, one of the reasons. And it’s very cathartic and therapeutic. You know, most authors will say that it’s cathartic to write, and it’s getting out all this repressed stuff in the unconscious that emerges. Most writers, I think most writers are probably writing for more along the lines of entertainment. I do think there’s some degree, even in myself, of ego and narcissism involved. And to some degree, I think that you have to be a little bit narcissistic to be an author. You have to believe that you have something special and unique to contribute, even if you don’t and you’re standing on the shoulders of giants, simply to put up with 100 rejections, you know, all the rejection, the emails that you’ll get back, you kind of have some kind of shell there and believe that you have, you know, something to give. But I do find a lot of both sensitivity but also narcissism in the art community overall.
Yeah, I think I go along with that. And having worked as an actor as well, I can, yeah, I think I could see that. On the slightly bigger image, picture, you talk about why writers write, but why, as a human race, do we feel compelled to tell stories? Why do we feel compelled to make things up and tell stories?
Oh, it’s so fascinating. Yeah, I guess . . . first, the background question to that is how much do we make up? You know, have we socially constructed our entire reality, right down to religion and the gods? You know, is it all socially constructed, or, you know to what degree does the material world influence the social world? You look at what’s called cultural materialism and anthropology. I also have a degree in anthro. And in cultural materialism, we look at how nature and natural pressures shape culture and shape discourse and narrative and how those narratives serve different functions. Narratives that we tell in our society serve functions to replicate the system to a large degree, whether it’s replicating patriarchy or replicating our values, etc. They are ways of stabilizing the system. So that’s when it’s really special when you see something like cyberpunk, that’s very subversive, and it wants to undermine the most commonly accepted discourse on the subject, you know, making us examine things like the power that we give corporations and the lack of regulation and the abuses that come out of this. You know, these subversive literatures are very interesting for that reason. But I think a lot of our discourse is just replicating and keeping the status quo.
It must come from evolution ultimately. What is the survival benefit to the species of telling stories?
Well, metaphor itself has been linked to bridging societies together that . . . let me give you an example. I saw . . . there was a woman who was very racist and went into a Mexican restaurant and refused to try anything. But she was with a friend, and I watched her in line, and somebody said, “Oh, you got to try the quesadilla.” And they were able to convince her to try quesadillas by telling her that it is basically a grilled cheese. And when they said that, she tried the quesadilla, and then I looked over at the table, and she absolutely loved it. And so, I always remember that because it’s basically by making a metaphor there, that the quesadilla is like a grilled cheese. She was able to assimilate to an important aspect of Mexican culture, food, culinary culture. So, metaphors overall or how we interact with situations that we’re uncomfortable with or that we can’t anticipate, we relate them back to what we know. And so, promulgating what we know helps us adapt more to different environments and social environments and expectations. So that’s part of it, I think.
Well, then why take . . . and this is my third question . . . why take the next step and tell stories about things that are clearly not so or, you know, fantasy worlds of science fiction worlds, the far future? Why take that next step?
Well, there, it’s a lot of escapism? They did studies on, you know, the personality types of people who like science fiction, and they’re not necessarily extroverted or introverted, but they are people who are kind of pariahs to some degree or on the fringes of society in some way or another based on their personality characteristics, the status, their own choice, et cetera. So . . . and it binds them together, is what the study found, that by having a unique form of escapism that’s collectively acknowledged where we can all talk about, say, Star Wars or Star Trek, then it creates a subgroup identity for pariahs.
I can identify with that.
I can, too.
All right. Well, you’ve already mentioned what you’re working on. Is there anything else in the works beyond that sequel?
I wrote a story, a novel, Digital Enlightenment, and it is a new universe, and it’s basically about a society where they cannot write at all and another society where everything they think is written down across TV screens that stretch out across the city. And so, all their thoughts, you know, twelve thousand thoughts a day per person, are all on display for the entire world to see. And so, this woman from a culture that can’t write at all goes into a culture where everything that people think is written down and it’s about how those two societies interact, with a lot of satire on social media and what we choose to display to the world on social media.
And where can people find you online?
MarkEverglade.com would be probably the best place.
OK, are you on Twitter?
Yeah, @Mark Everglade or @MarkEverglade1, one of those two.
Well, thanks so much for being on The Worldshapers. That was a fascinating chat. I hope you enjoyed it.
Thank you, Ed. Absolutely. My pleasure.
And bye for now.