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Q&A with Grant J. Everett author of Totally, Utterly Screwed.

Posted 20/11/2019

How long have you been writing?

While I’ve always had an interest in writing, so far I’ve left behind quite a few half-finished, quarter-baked stories over the years. It was at the age of 20 that I took my first (foolish) plunge into writing an epic dystopian sci-fi trilogy, and while I put tons of work into it and had entire binders overflowing with technology notes, trees of command, full-colour sigil designs for the assorted bad guy Legions and reams of detailed history, I admit that I went too big too soon with the project and I was totally out of my depth. While I wouldn’t show a single page of that first attempt to anybody nowadays, I prefer to see that first unpublished trilogy as being a part of my “training” for becoming a writer. It might not have gone anywhere, but the experience taught me a lot.

What are your main influence/inspirations for your writing?

As science fiction comedy is such a rare genre, I adore the few truly stellar examples of it that I’ve read over the years. The Hitchhiker’s Guide books and the Red Dwarf novels are particular favourites of mine. I’ve also read and re-read so much Terry Pratchett (not just Discworld) that when he died it was like losing a family member. More recently, I was inspired by the Hal Spacejock novels. They’re written by an Australian author called Simon Haynes, and it was really encouraging to see that an Aussie is doing well in my genre of choice. Simon was even nice enough to respond when I sent him an email a few years back. Nice guy!

Did you always want to be a writer?

You know those kids at school who knew what they wanted to do with their lives? I wasn’t one of them. I had no idea what to do with my future. Zero. I was usually too busy being suspended. But for some reason I’ve always created little stories in my head, daydreams to distract me from how sucky life was. Funny how it’s gone from a coping mechanism to my life’s ambition!

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing?

Thinking way too much and not doing anything with it. Put my thoughts onto pages, I get a book. Leave it in my head, I spiral into a total mental breakdown. I honestly can’t picture my life without writing. It might be frustrating and difficult and take up heaps of my time and energy, but it’s here to stay.

Why should people read the Scum of the Universe books?

My entire goal with every single element of this trilogy was to create something that’s equal parts original and hilarious, the sort of thing that a reader could enjoy even if they aren’t into science fiction. I know that science fiction comedy is a little niche, but this series is filled with strong characters we can all identify with (even if we wouldn’t admit it out loud) who are cursed to endure interesting times in a universe that’s full of surprises. It’s a wild ride, and I encourage you to read the sample chapters so you can see for yourself. They’re free to check out!

Did you write as a child?

Not seriously. I never entered competitions or anything. But I loved to read. Always have.

What process do you use to come up with your characters?

It usually starts simply by needing someone to fulfill a function, which might be plot related or just to take the piss in some way. Then I come up with some noteworthy elements of that person/thing, which might be a personality defect, a strength, or, like the Menendez brothers, being born without heads (but doing well at TAFE despite their disability). I always found names tricky, though. Truthfully, nowadays I’m always mentally filing away words (and even parts of words) that sound cool, which is how I come up with names, especially alien ones.

How do you stay on track when writing something like the Scum of the Universe books?

Each installment of this trilogy is 150,000 words. I remind myself that even though writing and editing 150k words is a huge job, I have a year to get each one done. I aim to do 1500 words twice a week, which usually takes about 2 hours per session. I try not to get bogged down agonizing over every word, but I edit as I go. Honestly, it’s best not to torment yourself about word counts. If you put the time in, that’s what matters. Also, worth noting that I work full-time and have an active social life, so it IS possible to fit it all in.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently hard at work on the third and final part to the Scum of the Universe novels, which is called Where Did All The Humans Go? No spoilers! I also have some ideas for a novel that plunges way back into the often-hinted-at history of Bob Tuesday’s universe, way back in the ancient 22nd Century when the Scandinvaian Expansion ruled the Earth with an iron knytnave  and the earliest Wattson-Rice Drives were (occasionally) managing to arrive intact and totally-not-on-fire at new worlds. Oh, and that dystopian trilogy I attempted to write at 20? I’m tempted to reopen those old Word files and see what happens…

Any advice to aspiring science fiction authors out there?

Be original. Science fiction is the most freeing, mind-opening genre of all. You can go literally anywhere and do anything, so why would you possibly want to copy what other authors have already done? If you’re writing about something standard, like a starship hyperdrive or a designer drug, find some way to tweak it so it’s your own original creation. I recall in the first Red Dwarf novel, Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, that there was a drug called Bliss. Bliss makes you literally believe you’re God for 15 minutes, followed by 30 years of depression once you come down, and it’s so addictive that you get permanently hooked to the stuff just by looking at it. This was a light-bulb moment for me regarding creativity: I need to make what I write my own at all times. Oh, and please: go easy on the jargon. “Accelerating the warp core to lightspeed” will not float many boats nowadays.

Finally, I need to assure you that you don’t need to be the greatest comic alive to write some funny lines in a story. Unlike real life, it’s easy to be witty when you have a fortnight to think of a comeback…

Totally, Utterly Screwed is out now https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/987834