Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interview with Tony Bertauski

Good day to you, lords and ladies! Please join me in warmly welcoming a good friend of mine, Tony Bertauski, author of The Socket Series!

What was your inspiration for writing the Socket Series?

I can’t get my daughter to stop reading. My son, though, he hates to read. I mean haaaaaaaate. When they were younger, I wrote some stories just for them. It became a project where we would come up with characters and a plot. My daughter loved it. My son, he hated it even more than reading. I eventually dropped it, but continued Socket on my own. He was just a compelling character that wouldn’t leave my head.

How did you come up with the new pieces/forms of technology that appear in the story?

Most of the technological elements in the story are extensions of things we already have. Think about it, how long before the whole phone concept is just integr

ated into our nervous system so that we see, feel and hear it? I don’t feel like anything is a stretch, really. I wanted everything to have some plausible element to it, like Yeah, that could happen. Many of the things I utilize are, to some degree, already in existence. There’s talk of nanobots that imitate blood cells, of technology that can record our entire lives, of back-reflecting gear that make things seem invisible.

Accepting who you are and friendship seem to be major themes in your book. Did you have a specific message you wanted to send to the readers?

I think I found Socket so compelling because of my own personal history. I’ve been practicing Zen for the past twentysome years. Before that, life didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, something many people can relate to. Especially teenagers. I wanted Socket to be entertaining, but most of all I wanted it to contain some elements of the human struggle and the spiritual journey it contains. Lastly, I wanted it to be an attractive story to reluctant readers, especially boys, so it’s quick-paced, gritty, and real (hence, the cursing).

One of the themes apparent in books 2 and 3 is where does technology cross the line? At some point, if we have the ability to start repla

cing our body parts and blood cells with technology, to enhance our mind’s ability to analyze and remember, then when do we become just an imitation of our true selves? And if we’re able to manipulate our environment, our bodies and minds to do whatever we want, then who decides what we should be and what we should have? Our thoughts? Is our species enlightened enough to make those decisions?

Ultimately, Socket Greeny begs the timeless question: Who am I? And do I matter?

Do you wish you could stop time or read people's thoughts?

No. Noooo, no, no. Socrates once said, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” I’m not far enough along in the human journey to accept that kind of power. I’m not sure anyone is.

What was your favorite part to write in The Discovery of Socket Greeny?

I’ve often compared writing to the joy of reading, only with writing you control the plot and the characters and you feel them, celebrate with them and mourn with them at a much deeper level. The great writers are able to take that story out of their heads and convey those emotions to the reader. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed following Socket through the last couple of years. And it’s nice when readers can come along for the ride and experience it at some level, too.

What was the most difficult part about writing The Discovery of Socket Greeny?

For me, learning how to write. My first several drafts, in hindsight, were horrible. Over the years, I’ve gotten better through study, editorial assistance and practice, but it’s always hard to judge whether the writing is any good. Even if someone likes it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s well-written.

Tell us a bit about your writing process. (This can be anything, from how long your write each time you sit down to work to what you like to drink when writing)

I’ve heard it explained there are two schools of fiction writers: those that use an outline and those that let the blank page lead them. Honestly, I can’t imagine writing with a blank page ahead of me. I start with an outline of where the story should start and end. Sometimes the details are very hazy, but at least I know where the story is going. In most cases, it turns in one direction or another before I get through the outline, but it works for me.

With time, I’ve learned to trust a subtle instinct when I write, something that tells me it’s not going in the right direction. That’s when I stop. Sometimes a new direction comes to me in a few days or weeks, but I know it when I feel it. Sometimes the words or scenes just unfold in my head on their own, like they just needed time to work themselves out. My wife can tell when I’m “writing” in my head, whether we’re eating or going for a walk. I guess something of a zombie look comes over me.

I can only write for a couple hours at a time. I don’t have the stamina of a Stephen King. After awhile, I start rushing the scenes and it becomes frustrating and poorly written. Usually, I need the house to be empty to really enjoy it, and that’s not often. Writing is a lonely business and can feel isolating to family, so I keep it in perspective.

Did you learn anything while writing? (Research related, about yourself, writing style, etc.)

The best thing about writing is learning how to handle rejection and criticism. It’s a great mode of personal growth. Any creative expression requires growth. Sometimes it’s hard not to take personally, but it’s the most important aspect to writing. The best feedback is usually the hardest to hear.

I think my strength as a writer is my voice. I’m not always the most articulate. I like it to feel real. That’s why my characters curse. High school kids don’t call each other poopyheads and fart-smellers. At least not where I grew up. I get why authors like Neal Shusterman write clean. His books are for middle-grade and YA. If he cut the language loose, he’d lose ½ his audience. I get that. I’ve always respected authors that write with honesty. I don’t pay my bills with my writing, so I can afford to call an asshole an asshole.

Did you have a favorite sci-fi series as a kid? Do you have a favorite sci-fi series now? (TV or book)

I grew up reading my grandfather’s endless shelves of science fiction. While I wouldn’t consider myself a hardcore sci-fi guy, I’ve always found that genre more appealing than anything else. Dune was a fantastic journey. And movies like Blade Runner and The Matrix exemplify my fascination with intelligence and the human soul.

If you could go back and change anything about your book, what would you go back and change?

As more people read it, I start to see patterns in their experience that highlight the weak points in the book. The hardest thing about writing is that you have the story in your head and you are never, ever afforded the luxury of the beginner’s experience. As the author, you already know all the details so you completely lose the reader’s perspective.

What are you working on now?

I’ve had a novella lurking around my skull for quite some time featuring a character named Drayton, which is a new twist on a compassionate sort of “vampire” thing. It’s not really YA, though, given some of the graphic scenes. Lately, I’ve been spending time writing memoirs (not meant to be released to anyone) and finishing The Legend of Socket Greeny, the last book in the trilogy. I’m looking forward to having the Socket story complete since it’s been in the works for so many years.

Thanks a lot, Tony! For more information about Tony and his work, please visit his webpage at Also, for more information about the first book in The Socket Series, please check out my review.


Jenny said...

Really fabulous interview, I really love what he said about learning to deal with criticism and how it can inspire growth. I work in an industry where my work is critiqued on a daily basis as well, and that was one of the hardest things to learn, so I absolutely relate. This series is new to me, but I'll be checking them out!

Kristina Barnes♥ said...

Oh, awesome interview! I loved his answer about reading thoughts and/or stopping time - anybody who quotes Socrates is awesome in my book. There's something very humble about authors who claim that the most difficult part about writing a novel is the actual writing itself. I loved that he brought up that just because a novel is loved doesn't mean it's well written - that's totally true, and I've seen so many novels out there that are poorly written but have huge fan bases. It's a shame for all those novels that are wonderfully written. :/

Anyway, your review of his novel already assured me that I'd be reading this book, but this interview totally sold me. :)

Thank you Tony for this interview!

Alison said...

Fabulous interview. I always love hearing authors talk about the writing process, since I aspire to write more.
I must say - as interesting as Socket sounds, the compassionate vampire thing sounds even more interesting.

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