Today I have the pleasure another author interview. This time it’s with W Lawrence, writer of the science fiction novel Syncing Forward.
Could you please start by telling us a bit about yourself and your books.
I’m a married man with two daughters who spent most of his life moving from place to place, but now live in Pennsylvania working as a corporate investigator. I like reading, shooting, and I’m a huge game fanatic. I’m often accused of being a pessimist, although I believe that label sells me short. I consider myself a realist who just happens to be able to see bad things coming before most people. And given my profession, I don’t always get to see the best in people.
My first venture into writing started several years ago when I put together a game supplement for the (now unsupported) game of Epic: Armageddon. I was recovering from a painful surgery, had some down time, and realized that as a game player I didn’t want to wait for Games Workshop to publish their next supplement rule book. I coordinated several dozen volunteers to produce a book called Epic: Raiders. It’s derivative intellectual property, so we could never profit from it, but we did print it at cost and it’s still available for a free download. The artwork is wonderful, the models were well painted, and the story was written (mostly) by me. If you aren’t a Warhammer 40,000 fan, it probably won’t resonate, but it was a fun venture regardless.
Skip ahead to 2012 and I found myself writing Syncing Forward after an odd bit of inspiration. Framing the story into one genre has been difficult for me because it covers so many; it’s speculative fiction, it’s a bit of a thriller, a bit of a mystery, most certainly dystopian, and it’s sci-fi. There are a lot of twists and the story will take you in directions you weren’t expecting. Most importantly, however, is this is a love story of the family, about how far we are willing to go for our children, our parents, our spouses. It deals with the cold truth of consequence and how we deal (or struggle) with our decisions.
The main character’s life is altered forever after he pushes a suspect for information on why equipment is being stolen from their company. One phrase, Tell me about the rat, sets him moving forward relentlessly through time. He is able to stake out moments with his family before he is carried forward again. His wife grows older. His children grow up. And he becomes a man increasingly out of place in the world.
Why did you pick that particular idea to explore in Syncing Forward?
I had a dream the likes of which I haven’t had since I was a child. No surreal mango fights or living in a swamp cooler with an orange pet chicken named Pepe. This was a vivid dream, tangible, substantive. I dreamt the plot of what is now my book, from beginning to end. When I woke I was so inspired I roused my wife to tell her about it. She told me, “You should turn that into a book!” Although in retrospect I believe she was placating me so I would let her get back to sleep.
Looking back, there are some changes to the storyline, some parts I simply couldn’t make work, other parts that I couldn’t recall. However, it’s pretty darn close.
You deal with both the positive achievements and the dark consequences of technology. Are you generally optimistic or pessimistic about where it’s taking us, and what are you hoping for from technology in the next couple of decades?
I was listening to National Public Radio one day and a guest –my apologies but I don’t recall who- made the bold comment that the internet is the greatest invention since language. While the automobile and a handful of other inventions might arguably take its place in the pole position, the fact is our world is forever changed due to its invention. We share information, commentary, art, desires, instruction, and finance in a way that could never be predicted 30 years ago.
And yet so many people are feeling increasingly detached from their neighbors, their spouses, their world. We make some of the vilest comments to complete strangers for one sole purpose: because we can. We text instead of talk. The internet has the dubious honor of simultaneously bringing us closer together and further apart. And this is just one technology.
We genetically modify foods with the hope of feeding more people (and making a buck), but the end result is the destruction of heirloom crops. We build smarter machines to help our dumber kids. We teach math with a calculator, not caring about the basics anymore. We are a world constantly propping itself upon the most recent developments, with very few people ask the question “Do we need this?”
There is a quote at the beginning of my book from Isaac Asimov: “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” I know all of this comes across as awfully hypocritical as I type this in my word processor and send it off at the speed of light to another computer. However, I’m not suggesting we give up electricity. I am saying that technology on every level -genetics, communication, nanotech, robotics- is evolving so rapidly that either human beings will falter or we will have to make incredible sacrifices to adapt. Syncing Forward’s plot explores the price of our technological successes, amongst other arcs.
One technological advance I am looking forward to seeing is Mars-One being a success. Sounds crazy, but I love the pioneer aspect of sending people on a one-way mission to a different planet.
You describe yourself as a part-time Catholic, and religion plays a part in Syncing Forward. Even as an atheist I find the appearance of religion in science fiction fascinating, so I wonder, what role do you think science fiction has in debates about and within religion? And what do you think religion brings to the science fiction table?
Religion definitely has a place in sci-fi. For one, the majority of people in the world believe in some type of higher power, something that can’t be explained by science. But religion makes for great science fiction stories too, be it Robert Heinleins’ Stranger in a Strange Land or Battlestar Galactica.
To clarify, Syncing Forward’s main character -Martin James- is a part time Catholic. I’m a full time Christian, but I have been exposed to Catholicism enough to write the character as such. He is a man who –like many people in the church- is bound more by tradition than faith. He relies on prayer as a last ditch effort, becomes angry with God when his pleas are ignored. It takes up a small portion of the book and doesn’t preach. For non-believers, they will find Martin to be trapped by social aspects of the church that are unnecessary. For believers, they may find the faith aspects to be lacking. I’m fine with that though. The purpose of the book is to tell a story, not rewrite the bible.
People frequently take the approach that science and religion are mutually exclusive topics. I feel comfortable both sharing a faith in God and loving all the cool aspects of science. I frequently tell my daughters that math is the language of God himself. There are several scholars who have theorized that our entire universe is a simulation. I won’t bore people to death, but one example is Planck length (the smallest measurable length), which alludes to the fact that we live in a digital environment. None of this is in the book, by the way, so if you think this is all nonsense you can still read the story.
You’ve worked as an interviewer/interrogator, which sounds absolutely fascinating. Could you please explain a bit about what was involved, and what if anything that experience has contributed to your writing.
I was trained by the U.S. Army Reserve as Counter-Intelligence Agent. They used to call it a 97B, although they may have changed it since then. There I was trained in interview and interrogation techniques. I found myself years later working for a large corporation in their security department and that skillset has proven invaluable. Sometimes it isn’t so fun when you are enthusiastically telling somebody about your day and you can tell they have zero interest, but so goes the hazards of reading faces.
Interviews for me are an art, and I’ve done well over 1,200 in my career – that’s more than most police detectives will ever do. It involves setting the interview room, how to speak, how far to position yourself from your subject, what tone to use, when to shut up, when to monologue, reading body posture, facial expressions, eye movement, micro-expressions (an interesting topic by itself), even counting a pulse rate on a person’s carotid artery. There are some great books out there on the topic of lie detection if you’re interested, as well as some excellent internet sites. Paul Ekman’s website is the best place to learn about micro-expressions.
The main character in my book is a corporate investigator. Hey, you write about what you know! Although his skills are on par with mine, the book doesn’t delve too deeply into the topic. It isn’t a detective novel. I just give the reader the highlights.
How did you go about getting published, and why did you pick that route?
I self-published, mainly because I am lazy and impatient. Writing Syncing Forward was a labor of love, but after two years I simply wanted the baby out of me. The idea of writing query letters over and over was unpalatable. My editor C.S. Lakin advised me to self-publish to maintain control of my work, so I took advantage of the technology we have (cry hypocrite here) and put it out to the world.
Last question – what have you read recently that you’ve really enjoyed, and what was so great about it?
I love non-fiction, and there is no better historical writer than Richard Zacks. While my favorite book of his was Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805, I just finished Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York. It is an opportunity to meet Teddy Roosevelt before his Presidency plus a fun look at the so-called debauchery of New York. And if you think the bickering between Republicans and Democrats is something new, read this and you will see –not similar, but- identical arguments from a hundred and twenty years ago. Zacks is a brilliant writer and if you email him, he will respond!
Currently I am reading Steven R. Boyett’s Mortality Bridge. So far, it is very well written and more than a little creepy. We shall see how it goes.
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Thanks to W Lawrence for the fascinating interview. You can find out more about him and his work over on his website.