I was fortunate to interview Ron Collins recently, as part of the science fiction month here on the blog, to celebrate the launch of New Star Rising (yesterday!).
I met Ron and his wife in Oregon last October, although I had been aware of his work before then. Ron is a well established, award-winning speculative fiction author, whose SF short stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and many others. Ron is also an Amazon #1 Best Seller.
Some of the covers on his books are among the most provocative I’ve ever seen—making you itch to pick the book up and read them. Browse through those covers here [link].
The coolest thing about Ron? He’s also a mechanical engineer!!! (I had Anna Hackett as a guest last month, and she is a mining engineer.) Those of you who read the Endurance series and have caught up with Junkyard Heroes know how I feel about mechanical engineers!
Let’s get to know Ron:
Thanks so much for being my guest today.
This is completely my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
I have to ask about the engineering degree first of all. How did you gravitate toward engineering?
Well, fact is that I’ve taken a bit of a winding path. First I went toward computer science and loved it until they started teaching me how to build computers rather than program them. Then I tried marine biology, but it turns I turn into mush if you ask me to remember long lists of things like genus and phylum. Heck, I can barely keep a grocery straight, you know? So, finally, I found myself back where I started from. By that, I mean my dad was an aeronautical engineer. Once I realized I had similar affinity—and I liked taking a few equations and applying them to complex problems—I suppose that was that.
Was it a rewarding profession? What were the drawbacks, if any? (And yes, there’s a possibility your answers might find their way into my next Endurance book!)
I loved it. I worked with some very romantic technology—lots of things that fly, and early GPS tech, and advanced communication systems among others. I worked for the civil service Navy for nearly ten years, and I always knew why what I was doing was important. When I moved to the private sector, some of that faded and I realized my real skill set was more aligned to dealing with the ambiguity that comes with running complex projects and dealing with groups of people. I’m really a project manager at heart, so that’s what I did in the last years of my corporate existence.
You call yourself a Dark Fantasy author, yet your publishing credits include a lot of “straight” science fiction. Would you prefer to write only fantasy?
I prefer to write across the spectrum, really. I’ve done a little contemporary fiction, SF, fantasy, historical. It’s all good. I started writing fantasy (I was a big fantasy reader in school), then quickly moved to SF (I was also a big SF reader earlier). Only in the past few years did I roll back to fantasy. Really, though, it’s all great.
Have you always read both genres?
Sure. I’ve always read widely. My earliest years were Golden Age SF stuff, Asimov, Pohl, Heinlein, Clarke. The standard fare, right?. Harlan Ellison. Ursulla LeGuin. Sherri Tepper. By the time I was in late high school and college, I was deep into fantasy, reading guys like Leiber and Moorcock. I could run through a bunch, of course.
You started off writing science fiction first…what made you move over to fantasy, or are you a Renaissance man?
Renaissance man. I like that. Maybe I’ll make that my web page runner. [grin] Seriously, for a person who tries to be self-aware, I don’t know that I can really answer that. It feels like trying to describe the color blue. I write what I get excited about.
You also have some fantastic covers, which I mentioned when we were talking in October. I have to ask, though, about the covers for the Saga of the God-Touched Mage, which are fantastic. They look a lot like the images associated with the Assassin’s Creed game. Was that a deliberate choice? Is the series similar to the set-up for Assassin’s Creed? (Check out the basic story here if you’re not familiar with it – it’s fascinating! – t.)
Those are awesome covers, aren’t they? I would love to take all the credit for them, but the truth is that they are mostly the brainchild of Rachel J Carpenter of Black Moon Books. She read the books before doing the artwork, and when she came back with these my eyes popped out of my head. She really captured the essence of the characters and the stories.
You have over 100 short stories and novellas published in various magazines and anthologies, which is a stupefying achievement. Do you prefer to write short stories? Why?
Thanks! I admit I prefer to READ short stories, but I wouldn’t say I deeply prefer writing one form over another. As a reader I think a brilliant short story changes you even more than a brilliant novel. That’s just me, though. And brilliant short stories can be harder to find. I suppose that could come through in my own writing. Maybe I’m strange, though. Genre and length doesn’t matter as much to me as character and voice. I love character and I love voice. And story, of course. Characters can’t come alive without some proper problem or other, can they?
Did your reading habits change when you became a professional writer? Who are your major influences these days?
I’m generally a more analytical writer than ever—and as an engineer, I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m a whole lotta analytical. As a new writer I was always analyzing plot and story, but these days I find that I spend a lot of time analyzing prose and dialog. I admire writers who can bring a certain perfect precision to the page, especially around the selection of the right details—you know, those telling items that help burn a scene into a reader’s memory. I’m not sure that’s really in my skillset, but I do try. (grin)
And what is your guilty pleasure, reading-wise? Why?
Short stories, mostly. Harlan Ellison. Neil Gaiman. Kris Rusch. Karen Joy Fowler. Lisa Silverthorne. I don’t know why, but I find that every now and again I find myself picking up work by one of these and spending time with it. They all find veins that make me feel things.
Do you read either print or ebooks exclusively?
The feel and smell of a real book is wonderful at times. The look of letters on paper gives me a visceral sense of reading that I’m sure I’ll always like. I find I swing in waves of several weeks both ways, though. I’ll read exclusively in e-format for a couple months, then swing back to paper books. I suppose that happens most when I go back to re-read some of my favorites.
How do you keep your personal library under control and organized?
If someone offered you immortality, but you could never write again…would you take the offer?
Only if it came with immortality for my sweetie, too. I wouldn’t mind seeing forever with her.
[awww…. – t.]
The Desiree Staccato
In honour of Desiree Holt who started this Saturday Night Live style tradition:
Favourite colour? Red
Favourite drink? The one that’s ice cold when you’re really thirsty.
Favourite writing outfit? Do pajamas count? How about we just say shorts and shirt, eh?
Favourite food(s)? Brownies. Lasagna. And brownies. Then, of course, ice cream. Did I mention brownies?
Favourite music? I’m a Stones guy from way back.
Favourite sport? College basketball.
Favourite spot in the world? Wherever my wife is.
Favourite movie? Seriously, can you do any better than A Fish Called Wanda
Favourite TV show? Orphan Black: great storytelling, better acting
Favourite thing to do at knock-off time? I listen to a lot of podcasts—generally social sciences and other interesting explorations of the world around us. I like thinking about weird situations and odd questions.
Do you have a current or upcoming title you’d like to share with us? A tidbit about the experience of writing it, or an experience that inspired it?
Glad you asked! This is a really busy span of time for me. Last November I launched Starflight, the first book of Stealing the Sun, a Science Fiction series that has been really well received. Book four (Starclash) came out in Mid-March. Book five (Starbound) should be happening, uh, real soon now. Maybe mid-April.
In the middle of all that, I put out The Knight Deception, which is a near-future thriller with very gentle ties to my skiffy roots. This one is my wife’s fave, so it’s got that going for it!
Thanks for letting me fillet you today, Ron – I really appreciate it.
Absolutely my pleasure!