An Exclusive Interview with Galactic Exploration Author, Peter Cawdron

by on November 21, 2012

in Entertainment

Galactic Exploration book review

The following is an interview via email that author Peter Cawdron was gracious enough to grant myself.  Peter is the author of a collected series of science fiction stories stories titled Galactic Exploration.  I found it to be an engaging read. [Book review]

Through a series of most fortunate events, I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to chat with Peter.

The following is an exclusive email interview exchange with the author, where I ask him abut his inspirations and processes he used to approach writing the collection of stories.

Bruce

After reading the compilation of short stories titled Galactic Exploration, I found it to be an easy-to-read science fiction platform.  And the science in the story was made easy in how it was explained to the reader.

I found the concept of the reach of humanity out to the deep recesses of space to be nicely explained and the process of the journey, entertaining.

So I have to ask…

Q: How long have you been writing?

Peter Cawdron InterviewI’ve been dabbling with writing science fiction for about a decade, most of it unpublished. There’s a learning curve in writing novels, so those early works were important, if only for me to mature and develop as a writer.  
Q: What got you started writing?

I’d find myself reading classic works of science fiction, loving the concepts being put forward, being enthralled by the story line, only to run into some hitch that threw me out of the narrative. More often than not, it was filler sections, a bunch of backstory thrown in somewhere after the halfway point in the novel to pad out the story. And I’d find myself wondering why the writer went in this or that direction. In my mind’s eye, I’d rewrite that section, coming up with different motivations, scenarios, etc for the characters. After a while, I figured, rather than rewrite mentally, why not give writing a crack myself.  

I enjoy the challenge of communicating ideas. Writing is a more structured form of expression than speech. In a speech, you’ve one shot, then and there. In a novel, you can revise and rewrite, polishing and refining a concept until it works the way you intend. In that regard, writing is like sculpting clay, you’re starting with the same lump as everyone else, the same dictionary of words, but what you come up with is entirely unique, and that fascinates me. 

I’m not a plotter. I don’t build convoluted plans or story-lines to follow. I have a vague, general idea where a story is going and some key points I want to hit along the way. Then I do my best to paint the character into a corner. Often, I’ll be stumped on how to get them out of a certain predicament, but I think that makes their escape more natural than contrived.  

Q: Do you come by this talent of yours naturally, or did you go to school and build these skills?

Just picked it up along the way. The hardest thing for any writer to do is to divorce themselves from their stories and see their writing critically. Like every other writer, I’d like to think I’ve just written the next NY Times best seller, but the reality is that’s for the readers to decide, not the writer. I’m forever re-reading something I wrote and critiquing it further.

Q: On Galactic Exploration: What sparked this idea for this collection of shorts?  Which one was first?
Serengeti was the first of the stories. It was written several years ago, and I think that shows, as the style and content of the other three stories (Trixie & Me, Savannah and War) are much more developed. But Serengeti was a story I really liked because of how it explored the Rare Earth Hypothesis. 
Q: Did it require a ton of research on your part or is science a sort of second language to you?  (I ask because of how in-depth you spell it out, yet in easy to grasp terms)

I’m glad to hear you think it comes across in easy-to-grasp terms, as that’s something that worries me about Galactic Exploration. It’s a bit too heady and nerdy. There’s some great scientific concepts in the story, but stories are about characters on a journey, not hard scientific concepts, so I’ve toned things down in my latest novel, Monsters, focusing more on character. 

As for research, yes, my browser bookmarks are full of references to various key concepts that were woven into Galactic Exploration. I don’t know that most people realize just how powerful Google is in this regard. And by Google, I don’t mean the regular search engine, I mean the ability to search through millions of printed books and scientific research papers. Never before has so much accurate information been so freely accessible in the history of mankind. It’s like sneaking into Aladdin’s cave.

Q: I also loved how you presented your work of fiction and then followed it up with explanations of different aspects that pertained to these stories was a wonderful end-cap.  What inspired you to do that?

The afterwords were fun, allowing me to crystallize some of the science behind the stories. I wanted to include them so readers would realize that science fiction isn’t just fiction set in a futuristic realm, with a few lasers and rockets thrown in for good measure. Science fiction is fiction that would fall apart without the science. 

And science fiction has a history peppered with genuinely good ideas. Often, these ideas originate elsewhere, in serious research, but they were popularised and highlighted by science fiction. Herman Potocnik, as an example, came up with the idea of geostationary satellites, but Arthur C. Clarke popularised the notion and realized how useful they would be, raising public awareness. In a similar manner, the TV show Star Trek popularised the notion of portable, handheld communicators and non-invasive medical scanners, both of which are now common place. 

Science fiction can be more than frivolous entertainment, it can inspire new areas for research. I don’t think anything will come of Galactic Exploration, but I do think that Serengeti raises a valid point. We assume our place in the universe is normal/average, but we may very well be living in the galactic equivalent of polar regions. We don’t see intelligent space-faring aliens all around us, but there are hundreds of billions of galaxies out there, rather than being the norm, we could be the exception, and the Serengeti is out there, in a galaxy far, far away… 



Q: When you come up with an idea… do you research if it’s been done before or do you charge head-long into it and not worry about it?

Oh, I tend to dive headlong into it. In the words of Cory Doctorow, “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but that’s far enough to make it the whole way home.” (or, at least, that’s my paraphrase)
As for ideas being “done before,” I’m reminded of TS Eliot, who said, “immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” The same has been said of writing, that good writers borrow, great writers steal, but seldom do you hear the rest of the concept, that great writers develop ideas into something different, something better. Plagiarism is never called for, but enlarging on great ideas is a wonderful way to write. My novel Anomaly was criticised as being a “fanfic” ripoff of Carl Sagan’s Contact, and I openly acknowledge the influence and inspiration of Contact in the afterword, but Anomaly is not fan fiction, it is an entirely different approach to the possibility of first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial aliens. That’s not to say Anomaly is better, but it is refreshingly different and I hope it inspires other writers to explore other possibilities and extend the idea further.I understand why that particular Amazon reviewer called Anomaly fan fiction, though, in that it is heavy on the scientific, technical details and lacks strong characterisation. So that review was a good reminder for me to avoid information dumps and to weave more of a character journey into subsequent stories. And that’s the thing about criticism, it need not be crippling, it can be formative.


Thanks for your interest in my writing, and thanks for taking the time to conduct this virtual interview.

Kind regards,

Peter Cawdron

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If you enjoy smart science fiction, I recommend checking out this indie collective of stories.

Galactic Exploration on Amazon

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