The Sleepytown Press Interview
with Joe Coxwell
SP: What would you like readers to know about
I've been fascinated with science my whole life,
especially astronomy, space science, and the space program. I enjoy teaching high school Chemistry and Physics, but my passion is space. I started reading science fiction in high school, almost to the exclusion of all other literature. I realized after a while that I was short-changing myself by such a limited diet, and tried to broaden my reading. I was able to attend the
Graduate Institute in Liberal Education at St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM and read from a curriculum based on the Great Books of western culture. I really enjoyed that. I feel far more enriched now than I did before.
SP: Tell us your latest news?
I'm currently finishing up the school year, and looking forward to spending more time on my writing and art work this summer. Summers are a re-generative time for me. I love being in the classroom and interacting with students during the year, but summers are "my" time, and time for my family. We almost always go on vacation. Last summer we visited my wife's youngest
sister in Poulsbo, Washington, across the Puget Sound from Seattle. She acted as a tour guide for us all over the Northwest. We went to the Pacific coast at Kalaloch, the Hoh Rain Forest, Mount St. Helens, and Mt. Ranier. I loved it. The more different environments I can experience, the greater wealth of detail I can bring to the settings of future stories.
SP: When and why did you begin writing?
I've been writing science fiction stories off and on since high school, but it has only been in the last 5-7 years that I began to work seriously at it, finally getting
enough confidence to make submissions. I've always had an imagination full of stories, interesting characters, and exotic, extraterrestrial scenes, so it
decided it was only reasonable to try to start writing those down.
SP: When did you first consider yourself a
I'm not sure I really do, yet. First and foremost, I feel like a teacher. Writing is something I do as an avocation, something to refresh my spirit and engage my imagination. I may not actually feel like a true writer until I can hold a copy of my first book in my hand.
SP: What inspired you to write your first book?
The first book, The Epsilon Wish, was based on an earlier short story. Friends who read it begged for me to tell the rest of the story. They said that there was so much more I could say, further character development
to do, and more environs to describe. So, mostly with my "audience" at Northeast High School in mind, I gradually expanded the story into about a 100,000+ word novel. I fed it chapter or two at a time to my friends serial-style. It took about two years of spare-time writing to complete the first draft. I can't over-emphasize the importance of supportive friends and
family to the novice writer. Their support was. and continues to be, a major source of drive and determination. Without the constant urging of my friends, especially Carole Lewis and the late Lyn Brown Radford, I might never have written the full story as a completed novel.
SP: Do you have a specific writing style?
I like to think I'm writing in the "hard-sci-fi" style or genre, as opposed to pure fantasy. I never really enjoyed fantasy stories much as a child. I wanted all the technical details rich with scientific plausibility. The reader is not likely to find dragons and demons, or vampires and werewolves in my stories. One thing
I have to combat in my own writing is the tendency to become overly technical. I have to walk that fine line between giving the reader an interesting dose of
good science and losing them in overwhelming theory or baffling technical jargon.
SP: What do you feel are your “three” best writing
1) I've heard this over and over: "Write what you know." That's why I write science fiction and not westerns or historical fiction. 2) Make time to write. Don't wait for a time to happen; make a concerted effort to set aside the time. Don't even think you have
to write complete stories in those intervals. Jot down ideas, scenes, fragments of dialog, anything that you can pull from as a source for later work. I regret the times I have "put-off" writing. I've lost the seed of many
stories that way. If only I had been disciplined enough to get those concepts down before they evaporated into oblivion. 3) Get a couple of good friends to
be your immediate "audience." They'll coax you into writing more. Even if they don't critique your work, at least you'll have someone to try out your stories
SP: What books have most influenced your life
Even though this might sound strange coming from a science guy, actually the Bible has been the book with the deepest, most pervasive influence on my life as a Christian. I'm one of those who choose to see areas of agreement between science and scripture, rather than conflict. I try to allow my faith to positively influence all aspects of my life, so it conseqently and necessarily is an influence on my writing. There would be stories I would feel very uncomfortable trying to tell; I have trouble writing characters who would say and do
things that are tremendously at odds with what I believe. For some, that may be considered as a weakness in writing, but I think for me, it is a strength.
SP: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
I absolutely love the work of Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, and they left quite a vacuum when they passed away. They influenced generations of science enthusiasts and writers. Gregory Benford and Greg Bear are more contemporary authors that I enjoy. They seem to have a science backgrounds I would enjoy exploring further. The late Cornell astronomer Carl Sagan was always an inspiration to me. One of
my favorite quotes by Sagan is: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
SP: What book are you reading now?
I haven't had time to read for pleasure recently, except for current science magazines like Discover and Astronomy. I recently read a book on dealing with Autism, especially Asberger's Syndrome. Last Christmas, I received as a gift and interesting book of random facts called the High IQ Bathroom Reader. I've mostly finished that. I recently read Hot, Flat and Crowded, a book about how increasing population and climate change affects the economy and such. I try to stay abreast of current events, especially in the areas of science that interest me. Typically, space.com is my almost daily source of news on space exploration and astronomy.
SP: What are your current projects?
I have some rough ideas in mind for a sequel to The Epsilon Wish, but before I write that, I'd love to finish several short stories I have in pieces, and pull 6-8 of them together into a collection. If The Epsilon Wish does well and builds something of an audience, I'd like to offer them the short story collection as another
publication, maybe next year. I'd also like to spend
some time next summer painting a few canvases. I don't want to neglect my art work at the expense of the writing; but on the other hand, I want to work on the writing, striking while the iron is hot. Sometimes my art and writing are synergistic -- a piece of space art can come from a story idea, or a scene from a story or idea can givve me the inspiration for a piece of artwork.
SP: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
As in my paintings, after its all done, I'm bound to spot imperfections. At the request of my daughter, I kept
the dialog clean and profanity-free. I'm not one for gratuitous obscenity either, but there was a place or two where I honestly felt that the character ought to say something profanely expressive. I've wrestled with that
question ever since I started writing for an audience. Do you have to use harsh language sometimes in order for the character to be believable in the situation
in which they find themselves? I think so, but I tried to balance that against the fact that many of my first readers are going to be my high school students. I know they hear worse, in their music and movies, but I feel an obligation to show them a proper role model. Ditto for my daughter. So, in the future, look for action and adventure from my writings, but don't look for characters who swear like salty fishermen (i.e. Deadliest Catch) who would have to have two out of every six words bleeped. I'll have to let my conscience guide my writing, and I'm pretty sure Randy Young at Sleeptown Press will be fine with that.
SP: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was always interested in writing. I loved to write for class in high school and college. Even research papers were not so much a chore as they were an opportunity. In college, I wrote for the University of West Alabama's Livingston Life student newspaper. That's the closest to actual journalism I ever got, but it
planted the seed of future writing.
SP: Could you share a little of your current work with us?
You might say that The Epsilon Wish is about
intelligent design in the Universe, and what difficulties humans might encounter if we contact an truly alien intelligence with an almost godlike superiority
over us. In that novel, I wanted to explore the notion of forces in the cosmos that act in opposition to the normal tendency for things to run down and go towards greater disorder or entropy. What winds up the Universe? Are there other forces or beings who seek to bring order to their surroundings, even on a cosmic scale? Would beings with godlike powers still acknowledge the existence of an ultimate creator God? I wrote the story to entertain, but there are some deeper things for those who wish to consider.
SP: Anything you find particularly challenging
in your writing?
I'm not formally trained as a writer or journalist, so every time I write, I feel like I'm flying by the seat of my
pants. I know my writing is a work in progress;
hopefully I'll become more proficient as time goes on. Practice makes (almost) perfect.
SP: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I've really enjoyed the stories of Larry Niven,
especially his collection called N-Space. I love the fact that his universe is built in "known space," and that he makes use of real science. It's difficult to lock my favorite author down to a single writer. Read The Epsilon Wish, and you will see the answer to that question by the references to other authors and details which were meant to be an homage to those writers.
SP: Which of your books is your favorite and why?
The Epsilon Wish is my first born. Hopefully it won't be my only child. As me again in ten years or so, and I
may have a better answer. Once I retire from the
classroom, I'd really like to be in a position to write a lot more often. Perhaps then I'll have a large enough body of published work to be able to chose a favorite.
SP: What do you feel is the hardest thing for a
Definitely, breaking into print. Or for that matter, getting an agent or editor to even read a submission. Of course, self-promotion and marketing is not going to be a piece of cake, either. The upside of that process is that I'm going to get to meet a lot of nice people, even if they don't want to buy a science fiction book.
SP: Did you learn anything from writing your
book and what was it?
Every time a writer reaches into himself to express an idea or story, there is the learning which comes from self-knowledge. As I wrote The Epsilon Wish, I was trying to imagine an alien Entity with almost limitless, godlike abilities. What I personally experienced was that as big as I made my alien Entity, I knew that my concept of a universal creator God was ever bigger. I don't consider my novel to be a work of religious fiction, but for those readers who have a Christian faith, they may read between the lines and find something to cherish.
SP: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Surround yourself with a circle of friends who will encourage your writing. You can search for the true
advice of critics later. The important thing is to keep engaged in writing and not have harsh comments, or even lack of interest, dash your enthusiasm. As you
write, write at first for those friends who are your immediate audience. Later, you can seek a wider audience. Join a writer's group, go to workshops, learn
all you can about the craft of writing, search yourself
and your life experiences and find those stories that need telling. Trust that someone out there wants to read a story exactly like the one you've written. You might not appeal to everyone, but you may yet become
someone's favorite author.
This interview originally appeared on the Sleepytown Press web
site as pre-publication promotion for The Epsilon Wish.
It is presented here with permission of the publisher.
site as pre-publication promotion for The Epsilon Wish.
It is presented here with permission of the publisher.