– ‘The Magic of Wor(l)ds’ blog is a hobby, reviews and other bookish stuff on this site are done for free. –
Today I’m not on a blogtour, but doing my own interview with Vidar Hokstad, author of ‘The Year Before the End’, to promote his book!
Before I let you read my Q&As, I’ll first post some ‘basic’ information.
About the Author :
Vidar Hokstad grew up near Oslo, Norway. He started writing at an early age, but put it aside to focus on technology – his other passion. He has co-founded a number of technology companies, and moved to London with one of them in 2000.
Ca. 2016 he started thinking about an expansive series of sci-fi novels that became “Galaxy Bound”, but put aside for other commitments. In 2020 he picked it up again, and wrote and published the first Galaxy Bound novel.
Vidar lives in London with his son.
Forty years ago humanity found out we were not alone. The Centauri offered us the galaxy.
With one year to go before the gate is ready, Captain Zara Ortega learns of a conspiracy between Mars separatists and the Centauri to split the solar system between them. The crew of the ship Black Rain goes on a daring raid from one of the most well-guarded stations in the system to uncover the truth, but an attack on their ship raises more questions.
A meeting with their contact near Mars goes badly wrong and leads them into a chase through the asteroid belt in a desperate bid for survival.
Deceit and betrayal have put not just their lives on the line, but the future of humanity.
First of all thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I really appreciate it. Here we go! 🙂
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m 46, born and raised near Oslo, Norway. I started writing when I was around 15, mostly poetry but I also started on a draft of a very pretentiously literary novel that I worked on now and again for several years. I studied computer science, but left to found a company, and since then working one a tech startup or other consumed a huge portion of my time and I sort of relegated writing to the occasional little scribble, or technical writing.
Then recently I decided I wanted to pick it up again and actually complete a novel (someone cruel might make me feel old by suggesting it was a midlife crisis of sorts…) I started drafting ideas for a setting and quickly decided I wanted to write a series of novels that could be read as freestanding work but that also has an overarching story, so I could really expand on the universe and setting.
Which books did/do you love to read as a child/now as a grown-up?
As a child I was all-consuming when it came to books. Lots of sci-fi, ranging from the classics – Jules Verne, HG Wells etc. Westerns. Fantasy. Biographies. It’s very hard to pick favourites, but since she is an enduring influence, I’ll bring up two Ursula Le Guin novels that stand out: A Wizard of Earthsea (and all the rest of the Earthsea novels are amazing too), and Left Hand of Darkness. Le Guin brought her interest in anthropology to creating worlds that were not just patchworks of “cool stuff”, but that holds up when you look at the social structures and society. Both fantasy and scifi often suffer from writers that throw something in without considering how it would affect the society they’re describing.
As a grown up… To be honest what I read haven’t changed all that much. A larger portion might be scifi today. Apart from Le Guin, a few long time favourites would be Iain Banks Culture novels; anything by Philip K Dick; Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias and Mars trilogies. There’s a theme there, I think, of me liking books that does lots of world-building, and that questions reality (PKD in particular, but Three California’s are tree novels set in three different alternative future version of California). The world-building part is mirrored in my own writing (at least the volume of it). I might have picked up the worst of KSR’s habits in that respect, because they’re part of what I love about scifi.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Ursula Le Guin. Unfortunately she is dead. And frankly, more than advice, I’d just have liked to have been able to talk to her about anything. Judging from her writing – including her non-fiction writing, and her website and poems – she was just an amazing person. That she was also an amazing writer is almost secondary. I’d love to be able to write as well as she did, but she’d be interesting to talk to even if she’d never written a single book.
In terms of a specific why, I’d say the level of thought she put into making sure her worlds made sense is something I think about a lot, and would love to have her expand on.
If you could, which fictional character (from your own book(s) or someone else’s) would you like to invite for tea and why?
There are so many, and frankly I feel like my answer is in part because I know how the story will end for her: Clarice Morgan from my own novels, probably the version from where she’ll end up at the end of the series. She’s a geek like me, and a hacker, but with an attitude to life that is a lot more risk-taking and adventurous than me. As she starts out in the first book, she’s young and relatively inexperienced but have already on purpose replaced both her eyes with cybernetic replacements with all kinds of additional features. In book 2 she has brain surgery – on purpose – on an alien space station. She’s fearless, and as the story develops she’ll toughen up a lot.
She wasn’t really meant to be the hero, but one of the first comments back from my editor was that they thought I’d intended for Zo (the Captain) to be the main character, but really it seems like the main character is Clarice. There’s an ensemble, in the crew, and over time other characters, that are all important, and Zo is absolutely a critical character in that she drives a lot of the plot, but Clarice was more fun to write.
Do you have some rituals or habits whilst writing?
Not really. I write scene by scene, and the biggest challenge for me is to force myself to sit down and write. When I start, I can just sit and write for hours.
Where do you come up with your idea(s)? Do people in your life need to be worried? 😉
I’m quite the introvert, and frankly find it exhausting to smalltalk with people about their life. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just draining. Even with books I am rarely interested in the people, but the concepts and the world-building. That makes coming up with the characters challenging as well, because it’s not really what I want to read – or write. I have to force myself to write dialogue instead of all narrative.
So in terms of ideas, they’re all concept based, not character based. I hope I manage to make the characters relatable, and frankly I’ve come to enjoy particularly writing Zo (the Captain of the ship) and Clarice more than I thought, but the characters are there to support a larger story, not to be the story. Hence why I have not hesitated to kill off crew-members (twice so far…)
That’s the long way of saying people in my life don’t need to be worried, because I invent details to fit the story, rather than develop a character and build the story around them. Since nobody I know have been out adventuring in space, and my focus is on what they do, there’s not much to copy.
That said, at one point I just knew how the series (the overall meta-arc, not the current 6-book cycle) should end, and it ironically makes it a lot more character focused than I intended. In a sense it’s helpeful because it forces me to keep the character development in mind to get them where they need to be.
Really, the overall ideas tends to just come to me by thinking about an end-point, and focusing on the constraints of the setting, and then considering what needs to happen to create a conflict and resolve it within that, and iterate.
Are you a plotter or do you go with the flow, as a pantser?
I started writing The Year Before the End without a plan first time, and it did not work for me. I can write smaller chunks – ~3000 words or so, maybe – without a plan easily, and so I’ve not been used to plan writing before.
When I hit the wall on The Year Before the End first time around, I spent a few months trying to figure out what to do, and stumbled on Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake Method”. It’s basically based on the self-similarity of snowflakes – a mathematical idea called “fractals” – which applied to my computer science background. The quick and dirty summary is to start by describing your story and characters in a line, then expand to a paragraph. Fill in more details. Write a scene list. Each step takes the preceding and just expands on it. You can do that to an arbitrary level of detail. If you want, you can adapt it to write a full, huge outline. Or you can stop early.
For me, it turns out, what is enough is to write a paragraph, then expand that to a rough description of each part of a 3-act structure, and the a scene list. I’m not strict about following a 3-act structure, but it helps ensuring there’s a conflict, and a goal, and a clear point of no return, and a resolution, that sets constraints that the story can develop around. The last part – the scene list – is most important for me. It lets me set a rough word-count “budget” to write to. When I can break everything down to 1k-3k chunks, I know I have enough detail to just write. Suddenly I’m writing a few dozen short stories, and that comes easy.
Can you give novice writers some tips (do’s/don’ts)?
I think the above really is the best tip I have. Check out the Snowflake method. It may not be a perfect fit, but the point is that it’s easy to adapt. Think you can write a whole novel from a one paragraph synopsis? Go for it. If it doesn’t work, expand that paragraph into a page or four, and try continuing from that. Need a full outline? Just iterate and expand. I don’t believe in one size fits all solutions – I’ve not even been consistent about how I’ve used it for book 1, 2 and now when working on the third one. But it doesn’t matter.
Also don’t worry about writing something perfect. If I kept iterating until I was content, I’d never release anything. I on purpose have set myself very strict limits on how much editing I’m allowed to do, to force me to publish rather than keep polishing.
What are your futureplans as an author?
Basically I’ve mapped out an overarching plot that I can turn into ~60 books or so. I can do it in fewer, and I can probably stretch it out, but for the moment the plan is 60, following rouhgly a 3 act structure. Within that, there’s about 10 cycles of about 6 books each, with each cycle roughly following a 3 act structure with a plot of their own. So there’s a resolution within each cycle. So that leaves me with 58 books to write (one of which are in progress)…
On top of that I’m writing some short stories (some are on my website), in a different setting – much more concept-based (focused on AI, and the idea we might live in a simulation), and I have a lose idea of turning that into another ten or so books with a mix of short-stories and novels. But we’ll see.
So that should keep me busy for 15-25 years, if I can sustain it… I like big plans.
Last, but not least : Can you give my readers one teaser from your book, which is featured here on my blog, please?
This part introduces Clarice’s augmented eyes, and I think it also introduces her “hacker attitude” – the “why not?” as an answer to a question of why you want to try something, and part of what I like about her. I think it also gives some of the flavour – I’ll be honest and tell you and your reader that if you don’t like the level of “technical detail” here, my books might be frustrating at first. For me, this is me geeking out over an idea I absolutely love (incidentally, the idea comes from an article in Wired 10.09 about a real experiment to restore vision by directly interfacing to the brain):
Clarice smiled gently as her irises started glowing faintly blue and illuminated her pale face and straight black hair in a way that made her look ethereal.
Zo rolled her eyes in an exaggerated manner and smiled back.
Most of the crew were augmented in some way, but most in less obvious ways. Visible augmentation was not fashionable in most circles—only techies or those wanting to rebel would wear noticeable augmentation and ignore consideration of the status implications.
Zo knew Clarice had replaced her first eye at eighteen, her second less than a year later. Even most of those who went as far as that opted for eyes that would mimic biological eyes as closely as possible. Clarice’s did too, most of the time—but she could change eye color at will, or go for even more dramatic changes. That wasn’t why she’d augmented, though.
The rest of the crew settled for wearing contacts that doubled as screens, alternating between overlays or “blacking out” the iris as a polite signal to their surroundings that their whole field of view had been switched to screen mode.
But Clarice’s glowed faintly blue and pulsed slowly between different hues as she got busy reprogramming the navigation computer.
Unlike the contact screens, her eyes still took in everything, and computers processed the signal, ready to notify her or switch to regular sight at a moment’s notice if something happened. And when she did see, the lenses in her bionic eyes gave her far superior sight—able to widen her viewing angles, zoom in far beyond the capability of biological eyes, as well as improved night vision and various filtering.
When they first met, the captain asked her why. It wasn’t like she’d normally need any of that. Maybe now, on her crew, but not back then.
Clarice’s answer was, “Why not?” To her, technology was its own reason, and her limits on augmentation were down to cost and how exciting they seemed, not whether or not she needed it. The rest of the crew occasionally speculated about what else she had augmented that she hadn’t told them about, but didn’t dare ask.
Isn’t that a great reason to pick up this book and to find out more?!
Thanks once again for this lovely interview, Vidar Hokstad.
The Magic of Wor(l)ds
P.S. Are you an author (or publisher) who also wants a FREE interview like this? You can always contact me via e-mail!