TW: How did you get started writing? Any specific influences?
TST: Well, my love has always been science. When I was in the 3rd grade I decided that I was going to be a scientist and an astronaut. Well, I got half of that so far. Even though I've always focused on science and engineering, I have always loved the fantastic realm of science fiction.TW: What are some of the best perks of being a science fiction writer?
Actually, when I was in the 8th grade I wrote a novella about a post-nuclear-war America from the viewpoint of a 8th grader. I remember it being on notebook paper and in pen and being about 100 pages long. I have no idea what ever happened to that thing. I think I had to do a creative writing assignment in the Alabama Talented and Gifted Class I was in first. The story I wrote for the assignment was about an aerospace engineer who carried a bullwhip and used this little flying wing that he'd invented to go around spying on the Soviets. I got so excited by writing that story that I wrote the post-nuclear-war thing. My teacher didn't really like either one of them, by my recollection. I think they were too violent, political (yes, I was in the 8th grade and political), and I remember her saying I spent too much time talking about the gadgets than talking about the people.
I wrote a lot of stuff in high school and was on the school paper - although I didn't care much for journalism. Then as a freshman in college I started writing a next generation physics book I call "Cosmic Soup". Everyday after classes I'd come back to my apartment, crack open a few beers, and start writing down notes about how in the heck we would ever be able to build a warp drive. I still have those notes, still add to them every now and then, and maybe one day...
Then in my first year of graduate school I got into theater. I was in a few plays and I wrote a comedy called Scared of the Dark and Dumb as Rocks. It really was funny. I even had a group of folks rehearsing it for a few weeks but graduate school and full-time work took priority and I set it aside--kinda like my rock'n'roll career--but that's another story. I still have the play and I break it out every now and then and read it and laugh.
Then back in 2001 I was reading a sci-fi book, I forget which one. I'll never forget this moment as long as I live because it changed my life. I was sitting on the couch next to my wife and I finished the book and set it down and said, "Bleck! That was one of the most horrible sci-fi books I've ever read. Sci-fi nowadays is all space opera with no basis in science and is really fantasy. It's crap. It's just crap."
My wife looked at me and said, "Well, if you think you can do better go write one yourself."
So I looked over at her, then thought for about five minutes about it. Then I got up and went into my study and opened up Word and started typing.
I needed a style and I needed to remember some good science fiction as I tried writing. So throughout the process of writing my first book I pulled out The Puppet Masters, Glory Road, and Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and reread them each while writing the story. I didn't steal from Heinlein, what I did was learn from him. Before when I read his stuff I just read and enjoyed it. This time through I was a student trying to gather tips from the master. I know it sounds mushy but it's the damned truth and exactly what I did.
And about 6 months after that night on the couch I had Warp Speed in my hands, uh, hard drive.
TST: Well, I'm really new to it, but I will say that I really dig the fans giving me free beers at the cons. Other than that, I enjoy getting to be on the panels and discuss things of great importance like warp drives, flying cars, nanotechnology, longevity, etc., with the very imaginative groups that are out there at conventions and here at Baen's Bar.TW: Do you have any favorites among your characters?
TST: Sure I do. My favorite is the one I'm writing about at the moment. That was a easy way to dodge the question, wasn't it?TW: What was the first sf story you ever read?
If I have to pick, it will be the main character of Warp Speed, although the main character of The Quantum Connection is really cool and sort of super human. But Neil Anson Clemons is the epitome of what all Buckaroo Banzai wannabe scientists/rockers/martial artists/super heroes would like to be. It's my plan to have him filter through the Warp Speed universe like Lazarus does in Heinlein's. That is, of course, assuming the first two books do well enough for Jim to buy more - hint hint, wink wink, nudge nudge.
TST: Well, I'm not certain exactly which one it was but I remember which of the 3 it was. The first science fiction book I ever checked out of the elementary school library was called Marooned, by Martin Caidin--it was about these 3 Apollo astronauts who get stranded in orbit after a 5-month mission. That book later became a movie or already was at the time, I'm not sure. I read it in the 3rd or 4th grade.TW: Who are some of your favorite non-sf authors?
Now around the same time somebody gave me a paperback copy of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. I remember reading that out loud to the class. I thought it was cool, real cool, and pretty much right--aliens are gonna come eat us one day.
Also, some time in there I read this book that my Aunt Dee gave me for being in her wedding. It was called Terran Authority Handbook, Spacecraft 2000 to 2100 AD by Stewart Cowley. It was illustrated with real cool spaceship pictures. Wow, I still have that book and still look at it and read it every now and then.
Of course, then Star Wars came out. I read that, over and over.
So one of those above was first, just not sure which. That is, if you don't count Superman, Batman, The Incredible Hulk,Uncanny X-Men, and The Amazing Spiderman. Read a lot of those.
TST: Well, that's a hard one. Regular fiction never has appealed that much to me. I mean, I've read some of the classics and I think a lot of it is just inflated egos and not that interesting. I mean come on, did Fitzgerald really mean for that green light at the end of the pier to be symbolic of the main character's envy of the rich in The Great Gatsby? If so, so what? Just as a get and a kudo, I sneaked some of that kind of nonsense into Warp Speed in homage to my high school English teacher. Don't tell Jim. Now, I liked most of Mark Twain's stuff on the other hand. He said what he meant and meant what he said.TW: Are you a morning writer, an evening writer or a catch-as-catch-can writer?
I spend most of my non-sf reading in non-fiction, like Yeager's autobiography. I read that in the 11th grade. There is this book by Nobel physicist Sheldon Glashow called Interactions. I liked that one in the 12th grade. Most of the famous physicists have written non-fiction books I've read. Some were good, some not, but I don't really have a favorite. I really liked L. Sprague De Camp's The Ancient Engineers. And there is this one book by Dunnigan called How to Make War. It is a textbook on modern war theory that I study quite often. And of course, Space Mission Analysis and Design or the "SMAD" by Jim Wertz you'll find on my desk, in my Jeep, at my office, in my luggage, etc., on a daily basis. If it ain't the SMAD, it's Gravitation by Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler (MTW, as it is called).
Oh, and I can't forget my good buddy Dr. Greg Matloff's Starflight Handbook (with Eugene Mallove) and Deep Space Probes. Check those out. They are really cool.
For the most part, if it ain't sf its some sort of textbook or nonfiction. Like right now I'm scouring through the 9/11 commission report. It is amazing how much is in that thing that has never been mentioned in the media. If people would just READ it...they'd be really pissed at a previous administration and realize that there is no doubt that Usama was tied to Saddam--and the warlords in Somalia for that matter. We can even thank UBL for the Blackhawk Down thing.
TST: Yes.TW: Who would you like to see play your series hero (if app.) in a movie?
TST: Ah yes! I've thought about this a lot. Michael Bien or Kurt Russell would be awesome. I like Rebecca Romijn Stamos or Nicole Kidman (if she could speak Texan) for the female main role.TW: What invention or scientific leap in understanding would you most like to see made in your lifetime?
TST: No question--warp drive! But then again, I'm torn. If I hold out for longevity, then I would live long enough to see a warp drive. Hmmm...TW: If you could go back to one incident in all of history to watch as a spectator what would it be?
TST: Since you can't really pinpoint any real dates from ancient theological references I think that would be too big a gamble. So, probably to New Mexico in June of 1947 to see what really happened--if anything--at Roswell.