It’s time to step into the review vault and catch up with some of the other literary chefs to enter its halls! That’s right, my friends, it’s time for more Starving Interviews.
- Please introduce yourself to my literary foodies!
I’m Merrill Richard Chapman, Rick to my friends. (My Dad was Merrill Joseph Chapman and I became Rick about five minutes after birth.) I grew up New York, The Bronx, specifically, and currently reside in Killingworth, CT. I’ve been married for almost 35 years to my wife, Ruth, and we have a daughter, Lilith. I’m also the caretaker of two cats, Hunter and Daphne, and a Schnauzer, Winston.
- Do you do any work outside of the writing kitchen? Any non-work interests?
Basketball, collecting vintage stereo (I own 15? turntables), board war games, and vinyl. I am a compulsive reader. I like owning strange and unreliable cars such as the TR-8. Loyal and ever suffering New York Jets fan. I also review other writer’s books on http://www.rule-set.com.
I’ve worked extensively in high-tech as a programmer and product and marketing manager. I was once the product manager of WordStar. For the last several years I’ve run a conference series on SaaS (Software as a Service).
- What is your latest dish to be served up? Are there any past pieces of literary cuisine you think we should take a bite out of?
My latest novel book is “Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver: A Story of Startups, Innovation, and Connectivity in the Clouds.” The book is about…err…selling Steve Jobs’ liver and follows the adventures of two serial-failure entrepreneurs who get their hands on the organ’s 1.0 version and proceed to “monetize” it while building a new high-tech firm called “Reliqueree.” It’s a satire, but the marketing and technology contents are accurate and up to date. The action of the novel takes place in San Francisco, Shenzen, China, and New York. More info at http://www.sellingstevejobsliver.com.”
My first novel is Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future. It’s blend of advanced particle physics, AI, quantum computing and…Japanese manga. I’m currently at work on the third book and fourth book in the series, “Vorpal Sword,” and “The Hawking Man,” respectively. More info at http://www.rule-set.com.
I’m also the author of “In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters” which is about exactly what it says. This book is published by Springer and has been released in two edition and I’ working the third. Excerpts up at http://www.insearchofstupidity.com.
- What made you want to put on the chef’s hat and whip up your own books?
I’ve been self-publishing since the mid-90s. I fell into the business by accident as a result of a consulting gig I had with IBM. However, I’m also formally published by Springer. I wrote and self- published very niche-oriented business books and still do, but the advent of the Kindle opened up the general audiences to self-publishing and I decided to move ahead.
- Do you have a genre of specialty or do you dabble? Why?
To date, I’ve written books in three genres, business, Sci-Fi and contemporary fiction. I was reading serious Sci-Fi in the third grade and always wanted to write my own yarns. So when my daughter got married, received her law degree, and moved to Virginia, I decided it was time to stop thinking about it and start doing it.
- Style! Every literary chef aspires to have their own unique one! What do you think sets yours apart and why?
Humor, for one thing. Humor is in short supply in most Sci-Fi these days. There are parodies and deliberate humorists such as Craig Gardner and most famously Douglas Adams and Terri Pratchett.
But my humor differs from theirs in that it’s not “arch.” The protagonist in “Rule-Set,” Clarence Hamilcar, is dragged kicking and screaming into a large pond while very strongly desiring to stay in a small one. He’s cursed by the fact that’s he’s smart enough to realize his plight and possesses the ability to express it via wit.
By contrast, Nate Pennington, the “hero” of “Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver,” is constitutionally amoral and oblivious of his inherent evil, which I think is funny. I was inspired to write the book by a recent contretemps in high-tech. If you buy the book, you’ll be able to figure it out.
- Even the best of us find inspiration is the dishes of others. Do you have any literary inspirations, heroes, and influences?
I have many. My favorite novel is “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and I’ve read every word she ever wrote. I’ve always been a voracious reader and when I was a boy spent several summers at my grandmother’s house in Fort Lauderdale. She had an extensive collection of Dickens, McGuffey’s Readers, many 19th century novels, “Pilgrim’s Progress,” etc. I enjoyed them all. To date, I’m the only person I know who thinks “Silas Marner”‘ is a ripping yarn.
In terms of more contemporary genres, I read the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in the original, “‘unauthorized” Ace Editions in sixth grade. I was blown away. I also devoured the “Skylark” and “Lensman” series by E.E. “Doc” Smith in the same time period, though those are no longer widely read. Loved Edgar Rice Burroughs, particularly the “John Carter of Mars” series. In regards to Doc Smith, I always thought that “Lensman” would make a great movie or TV, but that’s what I thought about John Carter and look how that turned out.
After that, my early heroes were Heinlein, Asimov (particularly “Pebble in the Sky,” the “I, Robot” series and “The Ugly Little Boy,” Murray Leinster, John Brunner, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, etc. In horror, I admired Robert Bloch, Bram Stoker, Lord Dunsany, and others. Not a huge fan of Lovecraft, though “Cool Air” was a “chilling” little tale. Kind of ripped off Poe, though.
I also loved the “Doctor Doolittle” books, though they’re politically incorrect these days. I live within walking distance of Hugh Lofting’s house.
- Let’s get into the meat and potatoes: the art and craft of writing itself! Do you have a preference of points-of-view when you write?
Both my novels are written in the first person and as far as “Rule-Set” goes, I’ll continue with that perspective through the series’ end. I’ve recently read an interesting novel, ‘Nighthawks at the Mission’ by Forbes West, which is written in the second person. This is hard to pull off, but he succeeds. I’m planning to write a novel in the future, “Swastika,” which is planned for the third person.
- Sparse or wordy, how do you like your descriptions served up? Are you a Hemmingway man or do you like some saucy adjectives with your nouns?
In many respects, I’m a minimalist, though I make no attempt to create the same “hard tone” as Hemingway. ‘The Sun Also Rises’ is a great novel but there’s not a lot of humor in it. Hemingway is not a funny guy.
Also, I stand with Elmore Leonard on speaker identification tags. ‘Said’ should be your go to choice 90%+.
But I do believe in stripping out every unnecessary word from a story. I particularly believe the adverb is usually an enemy of good writing and frankly think that the apostrophe is your friend. Helps pare down all those prepositional phrases into tighter prose.
When I finish writing a book, I use “find and replace” to find all the “ly’s,” “just abouts,” “‘gets,” “thats,” and so on. This is a very valuable exercise I suggest for every writer after finishing your first draft.
I also watch for “tics.” One of the worst examples I’ve seen was Heinlein in his later years. He developed a terrible habit of having his characters always say “uh” during dialog. It was the visual equivalent of having to listen to a Valley Girl constantly repeat “you know” or a millennial say “awesome” five times in two sentences. It reached the point where I couldn’t read him anymore.
Steven King is another writer who’s got the fidgets in too many of his novels. In King’s case, it’s his obsession with nose picking, ear wax, projectile vomiting, pee on the floor and on and on. I think I’d like to meet him, but not sure I’d want to shake his hand.
I also appreciate coherent plots. One of the things I can’t stand about many Sci-Fi and horror movies and books is incoherent writing that makes your eyes roll so hard they almost pop out of your head. Did you see “Oblivion?”‘ Oh, boy. For those of you who haven’t, here’s how the climactic scene goes (and no, I’m not going to apologize for the spoiler and yes, I’m exaggerating. But only a little bit):
The scene begins as TOM CRUISE maneuvers a space shuttle into the lair of The Giant Superhuman Intelligent Uber Machine That Has Conquered the Word and Is Sucking Up All the Earth’s Oceans.
TGSIUMTHCTWAISUATEO: Hey, Tom. Thanks for stopping by. Any reason for the visit?
TOM CRUISE. Oh, nothing in particular. Just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought I’d swing by and see how Earth’s permanent despoliation is moving along from a top-down view. Can I come in?
TGSIUMTHCTWAISUATEO: No problem, Tom. Always great when you visit. But first, could I ask why Morgan Freeman is hiding in the back of your spaceship?
TOM CRUISE. Oh, he’s not hiding. He’s just lying down because he’s space sick.
TGSIUMTHCTWAISUATEO: I see. Do you have any idea what’s in that package he’s clutching to his chest?
TOM CRUISE. Uh, that’s his lunch. A sub.
TGSIUMTHCTWAISUATEO: I thought you said he was space sick.
TOM CRUISE. Uh, that’s for later. When he’s feeling better. Can I come in now?
TGSIUMTHCTWAISUATEO: No problem! I’ll go pull a couple of cold ones out of the cooler.
I mean, really. Someone actually paid someone to write that scene.
- Picking off the menu of base literary conflicts, what’s your favorite and why?
Hmm. In Rule-Set, the main interaction is between a boy, girl, and a giant particle accelerator. Not so atypical for Sci-Fi. “Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver” is a bit different. There, it’s all about A Boy and His Startup. There is a subplot featuring two star-crossed geeks who find one another. Boy meets girl remains the most powerful trope in literature, I think. It’s why readers of “Great Expectations,” which in my opinion is the greatest novel in the English language, forced Dickens to add an alternate ending. The only theme that rivals it is the lust for power.
- What do you think is more important to your recipes, plot or characterization? Why?
IF I had to choose, characterization is the most important. But, let’s be honest. Some very significant Sci-Fi has been written that was plot-driven. The original “Foundation” series is an example. Other than Hari Seldon and the Mule, can you name or remember any of the different characters that appear in the trilogy? Sci-Fi tends to attract writers who are world and system hackers and it’s the mechanism, not the people, who most fascinate them.
“Stand on Zanzibar” is another plot-driven classic. The characters aren’t that memorable, but Brunner’s prescience is. He was one of the few Sci-Fi writer to predict the Internet with a high degree of accuracy. I’ve always found it interesting how Asimov, Heinlein, Vance, Leinster, Dick and many, many others failed to predict the rise of pervasive computing, social networks, digital technology, Cloud computing and so on.
In Rule-Set, I strive to create a balance between plot and technology. I’ve always lived with this dichotomy. When I was younger, I enjoyed programming and technology, but liked to go on dates too.
- We all know that the first taste means the most! What do you do to get that first bite hook with your readers?
In my first two novels, I use a prologue to set the table for the book. I think it’s an effective technique in many cases, and works well for me because in my novels I “write” the ending first and work my way to it. But I’ve used that technique twice now and am going to have to give it a rest for a bit.
- The most important of questions: Cake or pie?
I’m a pie guy. My favorite is mincemeat, but it’s fallen out favor and a good one is hard to find. My wonderful wife makes it for me when I’m on my best behavior.
- Finally, if you could give one piece of advice to aspiring literary chefs out there, what would it be?
Before you start writing your own book, find a really bad one and spend some time rewriting its worst scenes and sentences. This is the literary equivalent of going to the gym and lifting weights to transform yourself from a girly author into a real man. (Or George Eliot.) The increase in your skills and writing fluidity will be very valuable and translate into increased productivity in your own work.
If you find you can’t rewrite these sentences, this means your fundamental writing skills are weak and you need to build them up first before trying to write creatively.