Mar 12 2020

An Interview with J. T. Nicholas, author of Re-Coil

Q. Every book has its own story about how it came to be conceived and written as it did. How did Re-Coil evolve?

A. It started out as a horror novel. Well, sci-fi horror. Think Alien or Event Horizon. I just had this image of a derelict ship full of bodies. Maximum creepiness. But as I was writing it and realizing that I needed some “why’s” I realized I wasn’t too interested in going the supernatural or “because aliens” route, so things started changing. Growing more in a mystery/thriller direction instead of horror, though I kept a few elements of those roots here and there.

Q. Do you write with any particular audience in mind? Are there any particular audiences you hope will connect with this story?

A. My number one goal is to be entertaining. I hope that anyone who likes a good action romp or mystery will be entertained by Re-Coil, and I think that is a pretty wide cross-section of potential audiences. Really, though, I just try and write the kinds of stories that I want to read. I think that’s all any author can do.

Q. One of my favorite things about Re-Coil was how, despite the leaps forward in transhumanism, the basic laws of physics were still strictly adhered to. How much of a science nerd are you when it comes to your science fiction?

A. I have to admit, I love both ends of the sci-fi spectrum (and everything in between). I love me some near-future, realistically extrapolated, built on a firm foundation of actual science science-fiction. And I also love universe-spanning, alien infested, Baroque space opera and science-fantasy. I am definitely a science nerd in that I like to look at emerging tech and think about what impact it’s going to have on society, and there’s a lot of cool stories to be had in that headspace.

Q. I also really enjoyed the social commentary in the book, showing what prejudices transhumanism manages to eradicate while also being sympathetic to innate body dysmorphia. Unfortunately, class consciousness and capitalist greed continue unabated. Would a sequel to Re-Coil attempt to grapple with how humanity might seek to redress those issues next, as I’m hoping the ending is hinting at?

A. If a sequel happens, then some of those issues would certainly be present and meaningful parts of the narrative (though I’m not sure a single book could hope to redress all of them). I like to think that Re-Coil ended with a call to action for the heroes, an awakening of a desire to do something about the problems plaguing society. I’d love to pick up that story line and run with it.

Sequels are, of course, not guaranteed in this business. Right now, I’m under contract for another novel with Titan, but not for a sequel to Re-Coil. If Re-Coil does well, then I’m certainly willing and ready to return to that world and pick up where I left off.

Q. What is the first book you read that made you think, “I have got to write something like this someday!”

A. I’m going to answer this twice. The first is just what did I read that made me want to write books, period. That was The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. It’s an old book – maybe ancient by modern standards – but the Prydain Series was probably the first works of fantasy that I read that made me want to write something of my own. I know Alexander didn’t invent the concept, but the whole notion of the assistant pig-keeper rising to become the high king (over the course of the series… oops… spoilers!) just caught up my imagination.

With regards specifically to science fiction, the first book I read that made me want to write sci-fi was Caves of Steel by Isaac Asminov. Again, old book, but I love the trope of the detective-story-meets-sci-fi and the whole what is and isn’t human angle.

Q. With the cyber-noir New Lyons trilogy and now Re-Coil under your belt, what do you think made you choose science fiction as your means of expression?

A. Well, chosen as my means of expression so far.  I hope to publish fantasy novels and even modern thrillers one of these days. Not “instead of” but rather “in addition to.” That’s rough, though, because building a following is hard and once you do build a following there are no guarantees that they will follow you to different genres.

Still, everything I write is pretty much a natural extension of what I like to read. Good stories can be found everywhere, in all genres of fiction, and in all the other forms of media as well. But I’ve always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy novels the best. I don’t think there was any deep conscious choice to writing sci-fi. I like sci-fi. I find it cool and entertaining and I’ve got tons of sci-fi ideas bouncing around in my head, so I started putting some of them on paper.

That’s true for fantasy as well. I’ve written two fantasy manuscripts, though years ago, that may one day see the light of day (though not without significant re-work). Oh, and I’ve got a young adult horror manuscript as well that I wrote and tried to sell for a bit before shelving to work on other things.

I think it’s safe to say that I hope to publish in multiple genres over the course of my career.

Q. How did you learn to write?

A. First and foremost, by reading. And I don’t mean reading books on how to write (though those can be helpful, too). I think you learn to write by reading the kind of books you’d like to write yourself. And then you start writing, and you don’t stop. Honestly, that’s the big secret. Writing is a skill… no one is good at it the first time they put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard). It takes practice, honing, and re-honing. I once had an author tell me that we all have a million words of junk in us. You have to get through those million words of junk before you start writing how you want to write. Of course, that’s a completely arbitrary number, but the idea is that you have to practice a bunch before you get good at it. Just like painting or music or sculpting or dance. There may be a few naturals out there in the world, a savant or two who are just awesome out of the gate, but for most of us, it’s work and time and effort.

I’ve also done a few writing courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I would say they were nice, but not necessary. They gave me some vocabulary to describe parts of the writing process and how stories are structured and that kind of thing, but academic understanding really isn’t a substitute for actual writing. My wife is a much more successful author than I am (Julie Kagawa – check her out!) and has zero formal training. She learned the old- fashioned way: read, write, repeat.

Q. Do you adhere to any particular writing regimen?

A. I try to treat it like a job, mostly on account of how it is, well, my job. I sit down at the keyboard in the morning and type 1,000 words. Sometimes more, rarely less. And when I’m done, I’m done for the day. A good day might only take a few hours. A bad day might take all day and well into the evening. But for me, particularly when deadlines are involved, consistency is key.

It’s important to note that the above is just my process. Different people write different ways. I’ve seen too many people say, “You have to do it this way or you aren’t a *real* writer” and that’s just BS. All you have to do to be a real writer is write. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.

Q. Are you a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants) or a plotter?

A. I’m natively a pantser but the publishing industry requires a bit more structure than that. So, I’m an in-betweener. I call it “high points.” I know the high points or main events of the story. As for how the characters get from event to event, well, I have no idea. That’s partly where the fun of writing comes in. I get to discover it along the way and (in my completely unbiased opinion) maybe have a flash of brilliance here or there.

Q. What can you tell us about your next project?

A. I can tell you that I’m working on another book for Titan. It is another sci-fi project, not set in the world of Re-Coil, but in a different imagining of a not-too-distant future for our solar system. It may or may not involve a scrappy starship crew that gets up to all kinds of shenanigans.

Q. Are there any new books or authors in science fiction that have you excited?

A. I’m not sure if it counts as sci-fi, but I’m super excited that Jim Butcher is releasing a new Harry Dresden novel soon. There’s also a book coming out in July that I know almost nothing about, but I love the title so much that I’m probably going to buy it for that reason alone. It’s called “Every Sky a Grave” by Jay Posey. And, again, not sure how things get classified these days, but fellow Titan author T. Kingfisher has “the twisted ones” coming out and I really like the premise of that one, too.

Q. What are you reading at the moment?

A. It’s almost embarrassing, but I’m re-reading all the Harry Dresden novels in anticipation of the new one coming out. Yeah, I’m a fan boy, what can I say…

Q. Tell us why you love Re-Coil!

A. For me, what makes Re-Coil great is the blend of action and mystery set against the backdrop of a world where humanity has conquered death. I love the idea that a technology that should bring only good things ends up twisting the world in ways we could have never imagined and creating as much hardship as good. That probably says something about me on a deep, psychological level, but hey, books without drama are boring, right?

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Re-Coil was published in the US on March 3rd, 2020 and may be found at all good booksellers. My review of the book itself may be found here.

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