What is your occupation and what is your typical workday like?
I am a writer. Typically, I start writing around 10 am and work till 1, break for lunch, then return and work till perhaps 6 pm. But writing is a flexible thing. When I first started, I saw a newspaper column where the writer said "What other people don't understand is that writers are working when they're staring out the window." Which is true ... but if you spend all your time staring out the window, you're not working. Writing requires both the freedom to think and to plan, and the self-discipline to put the words on paper.
What do you like best about your job?
Telling stories. I enjoy both the story itself -- figuring out the plot and the characters -- and the telling of the story to other people.
What is the worst part of your job?
Like any freelance work, writing doesn't come with a weekly paycheck.
What subjects did you like best when you were in elementary and high school?
Languages (Spanish and German) and math. I could always write but I never took any courses in it beyond standard English courses. On the other hand, foreign languages and math are both "logic" courses, which teach you to work with logical structures to say what you want to say, and this certainly played a part in my ability to craft stories.
Which subjects helped you most towards your career? Were there any that were particularly difficult for you or that you didn't like? If so, what did you do about it?
There are Creative Writing classes, but I didn't go there; I learned to write by writing and by observing the world around me. In college, I got my degree in Psychology, because I wanted to learn more about why people act the way they do -- but I decided after a while that I picked up more information that was useful to me through observation than through theories. I went ahead and got my degree, but I can't say that any particular class I took at any time in my school career directly affected my career. Rather, they all affected my career by enlarging the number of areas I can draw on when creating. See, whether I'm telling the story of the Wright Brothers or writing a screenplay or a comic book, I'm trying to replicate the real world (even when writing superheroes), so the more I know about the real world the better I can do that. I've never been an Ohio bicycle mechanic with an analytical mind and big dreams in 1899, but it's my job to understand what that's like and then convey that understanding, and that comes from a general familiarity with people and their dreams, married to good research on the specifics of those people in that time. If I'd never gone to school at all, I might have the same feeling for people, but I wouldn't know how to research Ohio in 1899. If I'd spent all my time in the library, I might know Ohio but I wouldn't know people. So I believe a writer needs a generalized sense of the world, plus the ability to do the "schoolwork" needed to add accurate detail. That's how you "re-create" reality.
Were there any that were particularly difficult for you or that you didn't like? If so, what did you do about it?
say the classes I disliked most were the ones that dealt
in theory, whatever the theory might be. I hated
Economics in college because there was no "reality"
to it. Nobody really understands why the economy
does what it does. So I finished out one semester
and never took another.
How did you get involved writing comics? Do you also illustrate them?
I got interested in comics while in college, and since my college (Wesleyan, in Connecticut) was just two hours out of New York, where comics were produced, I was able to go visit the companies and see that actual people produced the stories. I liked those people and I liked comics, so I thought about going in that direction. But I wanted to go as an artist. I had drawn all my life, and that's what I thought I would do. After graduating college (and a stint in the Army, this being during the Vietnam war), I was able to get some work as an artist ... but I soon realized that I had a long way to go to be a really good artist. About that time, I was offered a job as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics, and that led to my being offered a 6-page monster story to write. I enjoyed the writing, the editor enjoyed what I wrote, so he offered me more writing, and pretty soon I was a writer. I did a few jobs around that time that I both wrote and drew, but soon I left art behind.
there's no moral to this story, other than never knowing
what life will offer you -- and my previous one, that if
I had taken classes to further my career, they'd
have been art classes, and thus for the wrong career.
When you designed video games, did you also program them? What were some of your most popular game designs?
No, programming in games is like art in comics: I work with the people who do it but I don't do it myself. My most popular games were Spider-Man for Sega and Bard's Tale IV for Electronic Arts, though I expect to add Tron 2.0 for Disney when it comes out this Christmas. I did a Mark Twain game for Brøderbund which was supposed to add a high-school tier to their Carmen Sandiego franchise, but they decided not to go forward for the older kids.
What did you think when you first found out that NASA was using your book (Countdown to Flight!) as recommended reading and an integral part of their curriculum on aviation? Were you surprised?
I was very surprised. The book had been well received but I had no idea NASA would select it as the best of its kind for kids. On the other hand, I had wanted to write a book that would be useful for kids, which is why it had the information NASA liked.
I remember when I was a kid, adults often talked down to me, assuming I was dumber than I was. And this wasn't because I was so smart, but because adults tend to forget how smart kids are in general. I told myself that when I grew up, I'd always figure kids were smarter than I'd think they were. So when I write for kids, I don't write down to them.
How difficult is it to get a book published? Is it any easier today that it was a decade or two ago? Does the Internet and technology make the process easier or more difficult?
It's not supremely easy to get published, but it depends on the book. Publishers want books they think people are already interested in, so if you have something they happen to be looking for, it's very easy. The publishing business right now is going in two directions at once. On the one hand, the Internet has siphoned off some readers from traditional books, and the publishers are primarily components of multinational corporations which don't care about the literary merits of things, so it's harder to get published. On the other hand, the Internet and computers have made it easier for people to publish themselves, so there are probably more books than ever.
When you get a book published, who owns the rights? If a book goes out of print, what does it take for the author to get it back in print?
The writer owns the rights, but the publisher has exclusive access for a certain amount of time (usually as long as the book sells). Once the publisher decides the book has finished selling, the writer regains control. If the publisher is right, the control isn't worth much, but if the writer can find a new market, then he can sell the book a second time. That's what I did when I moved Countdown to Flight and the others to a second publisher.
How did your comics lead to involvement in Hollywood? Do you write screenplays, provide ideas, consult or what?
created a character called the Night Man for comics, and
he was sold to television, so I went along. On the
TV show, I wrote three episodes. I have since come
*this close* to selling a second series, and *this close*
to being a staff writer on Charmed, but neither of those
deals went through in the end -- which is the most "Hollywood"
part of them.
Is your wife also a writer by profession? What is it like to collaborate and publish books together?
My wife Terry is actually a gerontologist, which means she works to help old people, but she likes to write and was in fact my co-writer on our DNAgers series. On those books, we worked out the story together, then wrote different chapters and edited the ones written by the other. It wasn't as formal as "every other chapter" or anything like that; we each did the ones we thought we'd be best at. But when all the chapters were written, I, as the professional writer, did the final once-over to make sure the book had just one voice. We enjoyed the collaboration and would love to do more DNAgers.
What advice do you have for students who would like to grow up to do what you do? What difficulties might they encounter in entering your profession?
As I said above, learn about people. You can research details but you have to know people. The amount of difficulty entering the profession is closely related to the quality of the writing; if you have something an agent thinks will sell and a publisher thinks will sell, you're in. If not...
Who were your favorite authors when you were a child?
everything, but if I may say, one of my favorites was
Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote the Perry Mason books
about a lawyer. They were a series, which I like;
they were mysteries, which I like; and they were neither
violent nor sexy, which my parents liked.
What made you want to become a writer? When did you know that is what you wanted to do?
I found out, when asked to write that monster story, that I liked writing. I had always written, but until that point, I didn't know I wanted to make a career of it.
more information about Steve, read his bio at:
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- 30 May 2002
31 May 2002
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