An hour-long conversation with Anna Mocikat, the award-nominated, internationally published author of the Behind Blue Eyes cyberpunk series, as well as the Tales of the Shadow City series, and the MUC series.
Anna Mocikat is the award-nominated, internationally published author of Behind Blue Eyes, the Tales of the Shadow City series, and the MUC series. Born in Warsaw, Poland, she spent most of her life in Germany, where, before becoming a novelist, she graduated from film school and worked as a screenwriter and game writer for more than a decade. Her MUC novels, published by a major German publisher, were nominated for Germany’s most prestigious awards for fantasy and science fiction.
In 2016, Anna moved to the US, where she continues her writing career in English. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
The (Lightly Edited) Transcript
So, Anna, welcome to The Worldshapers!
Hi, Ed, thank you very much for inviting me.
OK, I’m going to tell what happened because . . . we started, and I realized about five minutes in that I had pressed record. So, this is take two.
Well, you’re human, you know. You’re not a cyborg or something like that. So, you’re entitled to making mistakes. That’s OK.
I don’t mind telling listeners. I’m a stage actor, and if there’s one thing you learn as a stage actor, it’s that what audiences really like is to see something go wrong.
Oh, yeah, definitely. That’s also why all the fail videos are so, so popular on YouTube. People love it just to watch how people fail with whatever, right?
Blooper reels and all that sort of thing.
Fall from a bicycle or all kinds of stuff, that’s just the best. You know, you laugh about something and are happy it didn’t happen to you.
So, I guess I should repeat again what I said the first time around, that failed to record, which is that my only connection that . . . we’ve never met, but I’ve been to Warsaw, and it was a long time ago when it was still a communist country, Poland, in the mid-1980s. And I went there as a singer with my choir from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. So, we went down there with a bunch of Southerners, we were in Poland, and it was a very interesting tour all over Europe. I mean, it wasn’t just Poland, obviously. We were in Hungary, and we came through Checkpoint Charlie when we came out of Eastern Europe into Western Europe. And if you told me in 1987 that that wall would be gone a year later, it would have I wouldn’t have believed it. So, I’m glad I got to go then, but I’m glad it’s not like that now.
Oh, yeah, me too. Definitely. I think everybody is.
So, we will start by taking you back into the mists of time, as I like to say, to when you were growing up and how did the whole writing thing come about for you?
So, I basically was a writer, a storyteller, always, since earliest childhood. From what my family is telling me, I basically, as soon as I started talking, I started storytelling, basically, and I was really very much into books. As long as I couldn’t read myself, somebody always had to read something to me, and I memorized it and then told it to other people. So then, I learned writing before I went to school. And I was already, when I started, \basically was writing, you know, like very, very little things. And later on, in elementary school, I went away from writing and started making little films with my dad’s VHS camera. He got this fantastic, huge thing where you could put in VHS tapes. And so that’s how I made my first films. And everybody in the neighborhood had to participate if they wanted or not.
So, were there any you . . . you mentioned that you liked books, were there any particular books that had an impact on you at that time?
I don’t really remember the early childhood stuff. I don’t really remember. I only know it from what a family member has been telling me. So, I don’t know if there was a particular book I really, really liked when I was little. I know that I liked poetry, like children’s poetry. That’s the only thing I remember. And later, yeah, I think I read most of the common children’s books, which are at least common in Europe. I think it’s different over here. So, in Europe, Astrid Lindgren books were extremely popular for kids. So, I read all of them when I was a kid, and I loved them. And then I basically jumped directly from kids’ books to adult books. I skipped the young adult.
Those early films that you made, were they, you know, gritty realism, or was there some fantastical element?
I’m not sure anymore, to be honest. I think it was fantastical. I think there were all kinds of fantastic creatures in there and people in silly outfits and so on. So, I’m really, thinking back on it, I’m really surprised that anyone wanted to participate in that. But apparently, it was fun, and yes. So, for me, it was like from earliest time, everybody always was convinced that I would do something in this area. So, there was no doubt about it at any point in my life.
When you got a little bit older in high school, were you focused then very much more on the film side than on the sort of writing story side, or are you still writing just prose stories as well as your interest in writing films?
I think when I was in high school, there was a time where I really started writing, where I started to . . . you know, I wrote short stories, I wrote a little novella, that kind of stuff, and I really began to be interested in how it works. I also went to classes, which had been organized in Munich in the theater, one of the big state theaters. And they had basically, like, a scholarship for high school students, and I got, won a place there. And that was the earliest where I really learned a little bit of professional writing. It was drama writing we learned there. And from there, I took the step to screenwriting. So, I guess this early experience, I was, I don’t know, maybe seventeen or something, was quite important for me later for the decision to go into screenwriting and into moviemaking.
When you went to film school, then, was there a strong screenwriting component to what you studied, or was it like all the aspects—you also studied, you know, camera work?
And so, I studied screenwriting in particular. Originally, I wanted to do directing, but that didn’t work out. So, it worked out . . . they basically didn’t take me for directing. They took me for screenwriting. So, I took that. And the film school system back then, at least in Germany, was that I think there were only three film schools, and everyone only took ten candidates each year, for each branch. So, there would be ten directors and producers, ten screenwriters and cinematographers. So, for me, that was actually a great thing to even get in there at this point. And in the end, it was very, very useful because I learned professional screenwriting and professional writing, which is something most writers don’t. So, I’m very grateful for this opportunity and experience.
I always ask writers about their formal training, and some have had it, and some haven’t, and some who have had it, especially if they took, like, a creative writing class, especially in the science fiction/fantasy field, they sometimes find that it was not very helpful because they had teachers who were dead set against that kind of genre stuff. But I’ve never heard of that being something that comes up in screenwriting.
No, I didn’t write science fiction. Until I became a novelist, I never wrote science fiction. And that has a very, very simple explanation: it’s just very expensive to produce. Science fiction still is, but it got better with all the digital stuff. But you have to imagine, when I was at film school, it was the year 2002, and so back then we didn’t have all of the digital stuff. So, we really made the film like in earlier times, you know, we shot on film and then and we did all the stuff. It was really complicated. It was so much more complicated than it is now. And it was just very, very expensive to produce a film. So, you choose, especially when you’re at the beginning of your career, you choose a genre that is cheap to produce. So, science fiction was completely off the table because it’s one of the most expensive genres you can pick for film production. So, what I did is I went into horror because that’s much cheaper. But I had some problems with that because back then in Germany, in the early 2000s, if you were a young woman and wanted to do horror, that was really, really an issue. So, my professors and so on, they really didn’t understand what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.
Well, horror still falls into what is sometimes called the dark fantasy side of the fantastical genre for sure. And I have interviewed some horror writers, like F. Paul Wilson and people like that on here as well. So, you also then at some point . . . well, first of all, you’re a screenwriter. Did you have stuff produced while you were a screenwriter?
So, in two different ways. So, after my screenwriting education, I actually produced my own films, mostly short films and commercials. So, I actually acted as a director and a producer. It was a scholarship I got, and so I did that for a couple of years. And besides that, I wrote other stuff for, you know, TV and such kind. I was in the writers’ room for a TV station and that kind of stuff.
And then you also did some writing for games.
Yes, that was later. That was . . . I wanted to try something new, and that’s why I went from screenwriting to game writing for a little bit.
What kind of games are you writing?
So, what I was involved most with was a strategy game, so it wasn’t very exciting, actually. It’s like, yeah, you know, the kind of stuff where you send your people somewhere, and they fight other little people, and then they build stuff and that kind of thing.
So, not a lot of, you know, the cut screens and the cut scenes and the branching possibilities. And you have to write dialogue for every possibility, that sort of thing, you know. That’s what I was thinking of.
Because it was Germany . . . you know, the gaming industry in Germany is really, really little, and there are only a couple of game studios, and most of them don’t make the cool stuff. So that was one of the problems I had, that the possibilities to be a game writer in Germany were really, really very limited. So, I had the choice between, like, a strategy game or, I don’t know, mobile games and that kind of stuff. And this was completely not interesting to me, which is why I then quickly went, after only a couple of years, I then decided to basically make my long dream come true and publish novels.
The writing . . . and I’ve done plays as well, and I’m a stage actor, and I’ve written plays, I mean, it’s . . . scriptwriting and novel writing is quite different. And the way that you have to tell the story, because, of course, in scriptwriting, especially plays, maybe in screenwriting there’s a little more freedom because you have more freedom outside of that sort of limited set that you can usually do in a play. But, you know, it’s very much dialogue-driven and kind of external because you can’t get inside people’s heads only through what they say and what they do. So how did that translate over to when you started writing prose and you started to write your novels? Do your novels still have that kind of screenwriting feel, or how did that all play out for you? Did your style change, or what happened? That was a very long-winded question.
I think my style changed over time, but it’s still very much influenced by screenwriting. I think that’s . . . when I tell people that that’s where I’m coming from, most people say, oh, yeah, OK, that shows. So, I hear it all the time that my books are very, very cinematic. And so, what I basically do is I see a movie in my head, but I write it down in prose. And I think actually that screenwriting and novel writing isn’t so far away from each other because both have the same principles of storytelling, which are universal. And I can apply almost everything I learned in screenwriting to novel writing, and I even think that it’s a very good way to start, to try to learn writing, because you really learn how to tell a story that makes sense from beginning to the end. Sometimes people who are, you know, novelists without an education, they just start writing something that comes in their head, and then it doesn’t make so much sense in the end. So, this can’t happen to you when you’re a screenwriter because you always have to know what a story is going. And you have between 90 and 120 pages to tell that. So, that’s how a screenplay, the length of a screenplay should be. Only in, I don’t know, big blockbusters and stuff like that, they can be longer than that, sometimes 130 minutes or something like that. But usually, a movie shouldn’t be longer than two hours. So that’s how you learn to put the story, the complete story, into that. And I think it’s very useful. It’s a skill I can only recommend writers to learn.
I think pacing is something that certainly you get in movies, the way that scenes cut back and forth, but just the whole keeping the story moving forward and not getting bogged down, which sometimes happens in novels. I mean, on the other hand, people sometimes read novels because they want long, leisurely, you know, long literary prose sections which maybe don’t advance the story but are really interesting. So, I mean, there’s all sorts of tastes when it comes to novels.
That’s true. Definitely. That’s absolutely true, of course. And, I mean, there are plenty of bad movies out there.
Yeah, I’ve seen a few of those . . .
So, it’s not that movies are good, and books are not, right? I mean, unfortunately, there is more trash than good stuff.
Well, in science fiction, we famously talk about Sturgeon’s Law, named after Theodore Sturgeon, who said that of course, 90 percent of science fiction is crap, 90 percent of everything is crap. So, you want to try to be in the 10 percent. So, the first novels—the MUC books, were those first your first novels?
So, I wrote one novel before, but that was when I was still working as a screenwriter, and that was just like testing out the waters a little bit, and that was a novel I self-published. But later, the MUC novels were like my official debut novels because they had been picked up by a major publisher in Germany and brought out really widely all over the country, or the three German-speaking countries. And so, this was a huge success for me to bring out those. So, I have been working with one of the top five publishers in Germany. And so, I know that the side of traditional publishing and self-publishing quite well.
What were they about?
So, they are . . . that’s a post-apocalyptic story set in Germany 100 years after a horrible virus which has rotted out 98-percent of the population, and the only ones who have survived are the ones who have a mutation on Chromosome 16. And the mutation on Chromosome 16 is something that shows in many little things like the immunity to the virus and also to red hair. So, it’s a world where there are only red-haired people alive.
That’d make a visual in a movie. So already, in that one, I mean, I don’t know, would you consider that cyberpunk, your writing cyberpunk? Did tht have elements of what you consider cyberpunk?
No, not at all. So, it’s more like a dystopian postapocalyptic thing, something like the Hunger Games, like this. You know, that’s why I went in this direction.
Now you’re in the US, and you’re writing in English. What brought you to the US?
So, I always wanted to write in English because I loved the language and I think it’s easier to express yourself in English than in German. It’s really much easier for me, at least, to write dialogues and stuff that sounds good in English. Yeah, it might be a little bit strange, but that’s how I feel about it.
And the other thing is that I basically . . . in Germany, I basically was stuck in that kind of direction, literarily that direction, like, this kind of dystopian more young-adult stuff. And I wanted to publish real science fiction and go really go into this whole genre and more adult stories. And that wasn’t possible. It wasn’t possible with my publisher, it wasn’t possible with my agent, because they all said you can’t do that as a woman. And so, there was also the point for me when I said, OK, I need to go to the English-speaking market because it’s much bigger and I have much more possibilities here.
And your first English one, was that The Shadow City?
Yes. Mm-hmm. So, I tested the waters with this one a little bit. And this is also, there are two books out now, and the third one will finish it, it was set for a trilogy, and then was Behind Blue Eyes. I basically brought out the story, which I always wanted to write and to tell. This is also planned to be multiple books.
Well, let’s talk about Behind Blue Eyes, then, as an example of your creative process, how you go about creating your books. So, let’s start at the very beginning. I know it’s a cliche, but I still ask it because it is a legitimate question. And it is . . . I hate to say where do you get your ideas, so I always say something like, what was the seed from which this book grew, and where do these seeds for stories come to you? Which sounds more poetic than where do you get your ideas.
Honestly, honestly, I don’t know. I think that’s probably something that many, many authors would tell you. I think there is somehow, like, a reality behind our reality, and that’s where human creativity is coming from. You can call it, like, a divine spark or something like that. I think most of us creatives don’t really know where it is coming from. It just comes, and it’s there. So, it’s the same for me. I just have ideas out of nowhere. And then . . . I mean, I have a notebook full of ideas for stories. I usually write them down, and some will work on me for years, and then I finally write them down or not. I mean, I was the case with Behind Blue Eyes. I had the original idea probably ten years ago, or something like that or longer, and that was brewing inside me for a long time before I finally decided to work it out and then bring it to paper.
And I guess before we go too much further, I should have you give a synopsis of Behind Blue Eyes or an explanation of what it’s about, without spoiling anything you don’t want to spoil.
OK, so, it’s a cyberpunk story with now two books out in the series. The second book just came out two weeks ago, so I’m really excited about that. And it’s the story of Nephilim. Nephilim is a killer cyborg in the year 2095, and she lives in a system which claims to be a utopia, where life is perfect for everybody, and everybody can be whatever they wish to be, and in truth, this is just a fake utopia. In truth, it’s a dystopia that controls every aspect of people’s lives. And the cyborgs like Nephilim have been created to hunt down humans who disagree with the system. And one day, she starts doubting the system, and then she ultimately decides to take a stand against it.
Nephilim, of course, is a half human, half angel. Isn’t that the offspring . . .?
Yes, yes. So, they’re . . . the cyborg squads, they have the name, they are the Guardian Angels of Olympias, Olympias, the society. And they have been called Guardian Angels. And that’s why, it’s explained in the book why they have been called like this. And every one of them, I mean, they are basically introduced into this as children and trained and educated and genetically manipulated. And then eventually, they will get all the machine parts into them, and then they are fully developed cyborgs, or angels, as they are called. And then every single one of them will get an angel name. And so that’s why Nephilim is called Nephilim. There are also many other angel names in this book,
And the Behind Blue Eyes is quite literal, is it? I’m judging from the cover art, I admit. But they actually do have blue eyes.
Yes, they have, they have neon-blue glowing eyes. And yes, so the title refers to that, but it also refers to the song. I really love the song. And the song was actually really important for the story, so if someone knows the song text, it’s a little bit like a red ribbon through the whole story. And in the end of Book One, I think it’s pretty clear who it refers to.
So, you have the idea, which brewed for a while, and then you decided you were finally going to write it. What does your planning process look like? Are you a detailed outliner or do you wing it? How does it work for you?
Mm-hmm. So, I . . . because I come from screenwriting, I am a plotter, so I usually plot out the whole story and then write it down. It’s not that I plot every single scene. I always call it, like, the skeleton of the story. So, I have the basic plot lines and the side plots and the characters and know where everything is going. I usually know the final scene in the showdown when I start writing the first sentence of the book. But on the way, I fill it up with little stuff, little scenes, so it’s not that I completely stick to the plan once it is there, I leave myself some room for improvisation.
How long would your initial outline be?
Not long. The skeleton is actually not so long, maybe two pages or something, because I just write it down in a couple of words, everything. And the funniest thing about it is that I never look at it again. I write it down, and I memorize it, and when I write the book, I never have to look at the outline I wrote. So, I basically just write it to have it kind of set into words, and after that, I won’t need it again.
Well, as plotters go, that’s a fairly low-key level of preplanning. I like to mention Peter V. Brett, who wrote an internationally bestselling series called The Demon Cycle. He told me that he writes a 150-page outline before he writes anything else, which is the most extreme outline thing I’ve run into.
So, that’s what you do in screenwriting, actually. So, I hated that when I was a screenwriter because you have to write this outline. It’s called a treatment, and it’s usually about fifty pages. And it’s really just a story. Every scene that is supposed to be in the screenplay, you will have to write the scene down and outline it and put in there what characters are there and what they’re doing, and so on. So later, you basically only enter the dialogues and the more precise action that happens.
And I always hated that because it was too much for me. So that’s why, now, when I outline it’s, yeah, it’s really just a skeleton. So personally, I just need to know what is going to happen next. And as long as I know that, I’m fine.
Do you do any preliminary work on characters, like character sketches or anything like that, or do you kind of discover them as you write? How do you decide what characters you need and how do you develop them?
So, I think that’s something . . . that’s actually a very, very good question and something I would like to suggest to a newbie author who starts out writing. It is extremely helpful to write down little character biographies for each character you have in your story and in your book. I think that’s extremely helpful. So, that’s what I usually do. I used to do it much, much more extensively. You do that as a screenwriter, too, by the way. You write a bio of a couple of pages for every character. I used to do that. Now I keep it shorter, but usually, I outline the character design precisely. Sometimes that would change in the process. Sometimes characters become more . . .develop in a different direction than I originally wanted. But usually, they stay in a certain way.
I suppose if you think of it in screenwriting or playwriting terms, you may have an idea of what the character’s going to be, but then when the actor gets hold of the lines, the character can change because of what the actor brings to it. In a way, the characters we write in our books may change our initial idea of what they’re going to be like as they come on stage and start acting. That’s the way it feels to me, anyway.
Yes. Yes, of course. I mean, they are the ones who then ultimately bring it to life. And often, once you have actors there who actually act and speak what you’ve written, you will know this stuff that works only on paper, but not as a scene.
Yes, I’ve had that experience, too, in the few plays I’ve written, and I had to change things because it sounded good in my head, but boy, did it sound stupid on stage.
So, what does your actual writing process look like? Are you a fast writer, slow writer, or do you write at home or out—well, everybody’s been writing at home, but you know, when you can, do you go out and write somewhere, in a coffee shop or something? How does that all work for you?
So, I have no idea how people can do that, that they go into a coffee shop and write. I really don’t. That’s a complete mystery to me because I wouldn’t get done anything. I would just sit there and watch people.
And so no, no way. Plus, I really need it very quiet for my writing process. So, I live in the city—Greenville is not a big city, but it’s still a city. So, I live in the city but around me everything is green, and there is a little pond and woods and so on I look at when I work, and that’s exactly the environment I need for being creative. I need it really quiet and nothing going on around me, and that’s how I like it, how I am productive the best.
I’ve actually found that I’ve been less productive when I haven’t been able to go out and write and coffee shops or pubs.
It’s not that I . . . when I’m in those locations, I tune everything out, I mean, I can look up after, you know, somebody may be sitting down having lunch or whatever at another table, and I will look up after a bit, and they’ve gone. And I never knew they were gone. I never knew they left. But for some reason, I find getting away from home, actually, more productive.
That’s really interesting.
I can manage a bit of white noise, you know, conversation. If I can tune in on words. I have to put on headphones and listen to music. I have to shut that out. But the actual movement and stuff doesn’t bother me.
Oh. So yeah, for me, I am absolutely sensitive to noise. I hate noise. So, if I would have even people in the next room talking to each other, I would already be distracted. So, I usually work . . . even though I live in a quiet place, I always work with headphones and with music so I really can completely focus on the thing I’m working on. I think that’s the thing for me. I am horrible at my multitasking. I can’t multitask. So, I really have to focus 100 percent on what I’m doing, and then I’m good at it.
Do you listen to any particular kind of music? Do you change it as you’re writing different scenes? I’ve heard of authors who, you know, put on symphonic movie music which, you know, would accompany a battle or something if they’re writing a battle, I mean, something different for other scenes.
So, I have my playlist, and the playlist is filled with movie soundtracks and video game soundtracks, which are all a little bit sci-fi, cyberpunk style. And that’s basically what I’m listening to all the time, hundreds and hundreds of times. I think it’s a playlist that is twenty hours long or something like that. And so, I have listened to all the songs on it many times.
Well, at this point, your brain has probably made the connections that when it hears that music you’re writing, and it all kind of works together like that, I would imagine.
Oh, yes. Yes, I even have themes for four different characters. So sometimes I pick them. If I’m writing a scene with a certain character and it’s a very important scene, I put on the music that I associate with this character, and then I can listen to the same song for a hundred times in a loop.
That’s very movie-like, too, having the theme music for a character.
Yes. Yeah, I make a movie in my head. I really do. I mean, I always . . . when I write action scenes, I visualize every single detail in an action scene like it would be on the screen. And I watch it in my head many times before I write it down. So, I write it down, including the, you know, the cuts you would have in a film.
Well, that was something I was going to ask you about carrying over from screenwriting job writing. I find that people who have had acting experience on stage or theatrical experience or movie experience, authors tend to sometimes have a firmer grasp of like where characters are in relationship to each other in a particular scene, and especially in an action scene, and all that kind of thing, I think the visualization that you have to do to put something on stage or in a screenplay maybe is very helpful when you’re writing prose and trying to get that same kind of visceral visualization of an action scene. Does that make sense to you?
Yeah, absolutely. It makes absolute sense to me. Yeah. And also . . . so in screenwriting, every sentence basically is one cut. So, when you make the dots, the period, at the end of the sentence, the director knows that’s supposed to be a cut. So, a screenplay is very much like a recipe, like a cooking recipe which you try to write as precisely as possible so that the director, when they are professional and they know what they’re doing, they read a screenplay and they will instantly see the movie the way the screenwriter saw it. So, um, and also other people who, like the cinematographer and others, they . . .it’s all written in such a particular way that all those people, when they read it, will see, of course, not the same, but a very similar movie to what the screenwriter saw. And there is a lot of precision required for that, of course. And that’s what I brought into my, uh, my prose writing. So that’s why it . . . probably the action scenes are my best because they’re extremely precisely written.
Are you a fast writer as you’re working away in silence?
Not as fast as I would like to. I always thought I am relatively fast, but then I found out there are people who write 100,000 words a month. So compared to them, I’m really slow.
I did that once. I wrote 100,000 words in a month.
So, I can’t do that.
I don’t do it regularly. It’s just everything worked that time around. So, once you have, you’ve gotten to the end, do you do rolling revisions as you go along, or do you write a single draft and then go back? What’s your revision process like once you get to the end of the book?
Um, so I always revise on the run. So, what I wrote yesterday, now, when we finish this conversation, I will start working. So, first of all, I will read a couple of pages I wrote yesterday and adjust them and make corrections. And so that’s like the first edit I do. And then, I will write the next scenes and edit them tomorrow. And then, once I’m finished with the whole book, I will start the editing process. So, I would edit it myself and read through it and make changes and then have an editor work over it and then edit it myself one more time and then be finished. But I usually don’t make big changes in the story and the scenes because I plan them in advance. So, I usually know if things are working or not. So, I won’t . . . it’s not like, some authors like throw out 50 pages they have written because they realize it doesn’t work or it doesn’t further the story or anything. So, this never has happened to me. But the downside is that I am slower than others because it takes a lot of effort to do that, everything on the run. So, 1,500 to 2,000 words a day, that’s like a good output for me.
Well, everybody’s different. That’s one of the great things about this podcast is finding out . . . I’ve talked to very, very fast writers, I’ve talked to very, very slow writers and people who revise as they go and people who don’t touch it ’til they get to the end and all that sort of thing. Do you use . . . you didn’t mention them, so I presume you don’t . . . beta readers, which some people like to use, or they have a group of people that they share it with before the final . . .
Yes, yes. I use beta readers, usually maybe four people or something like that. So, they get . . . not the edited version. They basically get the version right when I’m finished writing. So, they get this version, and then I tell them, OK, ignore, like, grammar stuff and then so on, just focus on the story, because that way if something really is not working, hopefully, those people would pick it up.
Have you had any challenge . . . you said you like writing in English more than German. Were there any challenges in switching from one language to the next? I mean, do any German mannerisms creep over into your English that you have to watch out for?
Yes, sometimes they do. It’s getting better. I think I’m getting better daily and that’s something that’s really encouraging and makes me very happy because I work very hard on it. I would like to be as good as a native speaker or someday, which I clearly am not yet. I make grammar mistakes and sometimes . . . so the typical grammar mistakes I make is that I scramble up . . . write a sentence and put the words in the wrong order. You know, one or two words need to be exchanged in the order, something like that. That is typical for me because that’s where the German comes into play. The grammar is different. So, the whole syntax is different in German. And then sometimes I, totally unconsciously, I will bring that into English. And another thing is that sometimes I use a wrong expression because they’re used differently in German than in English. So, I have that in my last book. They used the word plump, and this is, in English, a word which you can only apply to, like, a body of somebody, right? He has a plump body. But in German this word is used also . . . you can use it for a body, but you can also use it when someone has, for example, a primitive way of speaking.
Yeah. So, I used this word wrong, you know. I used it like somebody is trying to convince another person in a very obvious, primitive way to do something. And I used the word plump and the editor said, no, that’s not working.
Well, I’m very impressed. I’ve talked to other authors who’ve written in two languages. And, you know, I live in Canada, and we’re officially a bilingual country, but my French is limited to reading cereal boxes, which is what you do as a kid growing up. You read the French and the English side by side on the cereal box in French.
It’s difficult. I can’t blame you. It’s really difficult.
You know, they have French immersion schools that some people go to, but I didn’t, I just had school French, and it’s pretty useless to me now, I’m afraid. So, I wanted to ask you about cyberpunk.
You’re my second cyberpunk author now in fairly short order. How do you define cyberpunk, and what has drawn you into that style of science fiction writing?
Hmm. So, I guess you’re talking about Mark Everglade, who you had recently.
Yes, he’s quite passionate about cyberpunk.
Yeah. He’s very, very passionate about cyberpunk. We are friends, he’s a wonderful guy, but we disagree on a couple of points about cyberpunk, which is OK because I think no genre is set in stone. There are certain tropes that maybe should be there, but, um, yeah, it’s I mean, it’s not like rocket science where you have to put the exact numbers, or the rocket will crash. So, fortunately, we have more freedoms as authors with the stories.
So, for me, cyberpunk is more focused on cyber than the punk. Let’s say it like that. For me, it goes very much into the direction of hard science fiction. So, it has . . . everything I write always has a scientific logic and scientific reason behind it, and I research everything really thoroughly. So, like in my cyborgs, the muscles they have, the silicate muscles, how they work and why and so on and that they don’t sweat and other things, you know, everything about them. I designed them very precisely, so it makes sense how they are and how the technology inside them works. This is very important for me. So, for me, this is very much the hard sci-fi aspect which I see in cyberpunk. Whereas other sci-fi genres are more open to, let’s say, fantasy, for me, that that’s not part of cyberpunk.
What it also always should have is an urban setting, an urban, futuristic, urban setting, big cities, very often dystopian, but not necessarily. And one of the most important aspects for me is this question about the dark side of technology and how it will influence people’s lives in the future and where the human stops and the machine starts and vice versa. And my absolute favorite example of cyberpunk is Ghost in the Shell, which is a manga and anime from Japan, very famous. And that’s for me, everything that cyberpunk should have. That’s, for me, the perfect, perfect cyberpunk movie. And I think it inspired me more than anything else on my own work.
I’m glad you mentioned the research. I was going to ask you about that, but you’ve kind of answered that question. So, once the book came out—this particular series, all of your books, I guess, in English—have you been pleased with the response? Are you getting good feedback from readers, or how has that been?
So, that’s actually a funny story because I am . . . I almost had writer’s block for the first time in my life when I was writing Behind Blue Eyes 2, Fallen Angels. When I was writing it last year, I got stuck in the first hundred pages and not because I didn’t know what to write because obviously, I already had the story lined out, but because I was so horrified of failure and because this book, the first book was received so well by my readers and reviewers and bloggers. So, basically, everybody likes it or loves it. And I mean, I have written and published many books in my life, and I never experienced something like this, that really everybody would tell you, “OK, this is just fantastic. This is great. I love it.”
I still haven’t experienced that, where everybody says they love it.
So, I had no nobody who would . . . I mean, I have two one-star ratings, they are not reviews, just ratings. Otherwise, I basically only have five-star and four-star, and so that’s the ones that are actually reviews where people have written down what they like. And that’s something I never had because usually, you would always have people who say, “Uh, well, meh,” and I didn’t have that was this book. So, this gigantic amount of love I received should have been motivating for me, but it was a little bit the opposite because I was so scared I couldn’t keep up the quality, and I was . . . so I was horrified. “OK, so this was the best book I have ever written in my life. So that’s that. That’s it. I now can die because nothing better would come.” And that was a little bit the mindset I was in. And as it turns out, the second book in the series, apparently, really meets the standard, and so far, people like it as much as the first or even more, so I think I can keep going and write some more books.
Well, that’s good. OK, so now I’m going. . . I mentioned off the top, before we started recording, the big philosophical questions, which I always kind of wrap these things up with. And I guess there are three. The first one is, why do you write? What do you get out of writing? The second one is, why do you think people write? Why do you think human beings write and tell stories? And then the third one is, why stories of the fantastic? You’ve done horror and you’ve done post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk. Why do you think people tell stories like that instead of just stories about the here and now? So, there you go. Three questions.
OK, so, question number one, why do I write? Because I have no other choice. It’s essential for me. It’s like breathing. It’s really, I can’t live without being creative on a daily basis, and so that’s why I have to do it. I basically was born like that, and that’s how I am and always will be. So, this is an easy, easy question for me to answer.
Then the second was, why do people write? I think that’s a universal thing, actually. Humans create art, and that’s something, in my opinion, extremely fascinating about humans, that we are capable of creating art. That’s absolutely unique. And where this is really coming from and why and how we are able to create in the way we do, that goes beyond my imagination, to be honest with you, because humans create such incredible art, be it music or paintings or books or whatever it is. Honestly, I don’t know where this is coming from, but it’s really something very, very special about the human nature and the human mind and the human . . . I don’t know what. And why fantastic? Because that’s the stuff I like, you know, that’s the stuff I like to read, to watch.
So do I.
So, I don’t really like realism. If I want realism, I leave the house and walk into town, and there I have realism. So that’s not really interesting for me. I like the fantastic.
And what are you working on now?
So right now, I’m working on a new completely new story, a new book which I am planning to release in fall, and then right after that, the next would be Behind Blue Eyes 3, and then there will be an audiobook of the Behind Blue Eyes books in the next couple of months. So, I’m pretty busy.
And where can people find you online?
Yeah. So, I’m on social media. I am on Twitter. I’m on Facebook. I am on Instagram. I am on YouTube, and I have a newsletter. So, there are many, many ways to get into contact with me. And that’s something I enjoy very much, when readers get in touch. So, the easiest way for that is probably to sign up for my newsletter on my website, which is just my first name and my last name written together, dot com. And, um, otherwise, if someone wants to find my books, that’s really very easy. Don’t go by my name because you can misspell it. Just put in “Behind Blue Eyes” into Amazon, and the very first thing that comes up, at least on Amazon.com, will be my book. So, my book is above The Who. I don’t know how that happened, I really don’t, but it’s how it is. So, if you want to find me, think of the song “Behind Blue Eyes,” type it into Amazon, and there you go.
Well, that kind of brings us to the end here. So, thanks so much for the conversation. That was great. I enjoyed it. I hope you did, too.
Oh, very much so. That was a great conversation, and you asked me some really interesting questions, and I loved answering them. So, thank you very much.
Thank you. And bye for now.
Bye. Thank you, Ed.