In a previous career Craig Alanson dealt with IT financial reports while day-dreaming of something more. That something more became publishing several novels which have quickly developed a fan following. The latest of these novels being Critical Mass, which is book 10 of the Expeditionary Force series. The audio version of this book can be found on PodiumAudio and Audible. Wanting to learn more about Alanson’s background as well as Critical Mass, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Craig Alanson: Lord of the Rings, Dune, Dragonriders of Pern, Asimov’s Foundation series among many others. Over the past couple years, I have re-read some of those books and they hold up well.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Was there a moment this goal crystalized for you?
Alanson: I never considered becoming a full-time writer until the 2nd book of the ExForce series became a hit. It surprised my wife and me that the revenue from writing was exceeding income from my ‘real’ job. At that point, we had a discussion about whether I could, or should, quit my job to be a writer. It has worked out pretty well for us.
Yanes: You publish a lot of books fairly quickly. What is your writing schedule like? Do you have any advice for how other writers can write as fast?
Alanson: My writing pace averages 12,000 words per week, although I don’t write every week, because I need time off between books to outline the next book! My advice is: don’t sit to write, unless you have the scene sketched out in your head. Once you know what happens in a scene, the rest is just typing, and that goes quickly. The worst thing to do is to sit in front of a keyboard, staring at a blank screen. Go vacuum the house, or walk a dog, or ride a bike while you think of what to write next.
Yanes: In your last career you wrote financial reports for an IT service company. How do you think that experience prepared you for the business side of being a writer?
Alanson: The boredom gave me a lot of time to daydream about books I wanted to write.
Yanes: Your latest book is Critical Mass, which is part of the Expeditionary Force series. What were the goals you had for this story?
Alanson: The previous book ended on four major cliff-hangers, so my goal for Critical Mass was to resolve those storylines in a way that felt true to the characters. Also, the events in Critical Mass represent a major shift in the narrative of the series, I wanted the book to be a satisfying transition from one phase of the story arc to the next.
Yanes: Between outlining this story and writing it, was there a character or subplot in Critical Mass that took on a life of its own?
Alanson: All of them! I start writing every book with a detailed outline, but the characters sometimes tell me “No, doofus it wouldn’t happen that way”. Each book surprises me along the way
Yanes: Science fiction often echoes current political issues. What are some current events you noticed popping up in Critical Mass?
Alanson: The only politics in the ExForce series involves leaders sitting in comfortable offices, questioning the people who are risking their lives in the field.
Yanes: The Merry Band of Pirates have built a vocal and passionate fanbase. How does this fanbase shape the way you approach your characters? For instance, has a character been saved from death because you didn’t want to upset your readers?
Alanson: I have killed off popular characters. What surprised me is how popular characters like “Mr. Nukey” and the Jeraptha have become. Mr. Nukey was originally a short scene I wrote to amuse myself, but the readers loved it! Also, the gambling-obsessed gangster beetles, the ‘Jeraptha’, have become much more important than I originally intended. Which is great, because I love writing about those wiseguys.
Yanes: When people finish reading Critical Mass what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Alanson: I hope people think “Damn I can’t wait for the next book”, and “This HAS to be a TV show”!
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Alanson: Before the last ExForce book (#14 in the series) is published, I will start writing a new ‘urban fantasy’ series, about a wizard on present-day Earth. That’s all I can say about it now.