For the past four years, the man known as Republibot 3.0 has been the driving
force behind the Web site you're currently reading. His unique perspective and
outspoken opinions have informed and entertained thousands of people.
When I first happened across the Republibot site, I developed an admiration for R3's easy conversational style. And now that I've been trying to fill his
metaphorical shoes, that admiration has grown into a sense of awe and wonder.
Awe, that any mortal could do this job with such aplomb, and wonder as to how on Earth he kept it up for so long!
And so now, R3 is retiring, and I thought it might make a fitting finale to his
tenure as editor and chief writer at Republibot to conduct an interview with
the guy who made it all look so easy. Read on, for a glimpse of the man behind the icon, Republibot 3.0...
Republibot 4.0: When did you realize you had a gift for writing, and what did
you do to develop it?
Republibot 3.0: Honestly? Testing out typewriters at Service Merchandise when I was bored one day. I had time to kill, and I started describing a scene from Robotech, but I didn't do it in a literal way, just did it all moody-like, while killing time waiting for a friend. The sales guy read it over my shoulder and said "Holy crap, that's great!" It wasn't great, but it probably was better than "The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog while coming to the aid of his country."
I'd been diddling around with writing since I was a senior in high school,
which was really only a couple years earlier at that point, but it wasn't
really until that moment that I realized I was any good at it, that I had any
kind of knack. Everything I'd tried to write up to that point was laborious
As to developing it? That's a much longer story. The short version is I just
wrote a lot. 15 minutes a day, and more. I took lots of notes, really over-
thought stuff, and basically just drilled all the fun out of it, and I told
people about too much of my stories while I was trying to write them. Then I
read something from Ray Bradbury where he commented that authors shouldn't talk about their stories before they're written, and I realized that, yeah, there's
a class of person who likes the accolades of "Oh, you're so clever!" but
doesn't like doing the work, and I was - dammit - that kind of person. So I
shut my yap about my stories. So lesson 1 was "Don't talk so much."
Lesson 2 - the harder of the two - was to stop thinking so much. For some
people, exacting planning is helpful, but I'm not at root a long-form author.
I'm a burger-and-fries kinda' guy. Short attention span. In my case, taking
5000 words of notes on a 2000 word short story is just ridiculous, you know? It drums all the ooomph out of it. So eventually, I just stopped planning and kind
of began trusting my instincts to know where the story needed to go, and not
beat myself up about gerund useage and other trivia like that.
So I've been writing on and off since about 1984 or '85, and I gradually got
technically more proficient at it, but I don't think I could really write worth
a damn until I learned that second trick in late 2006. So about 20 or 21 years
to nail it.
That's not too depressing, is it? <G>
R4: Not at all. So what inspired you to create the Republibot web site?
R3: The fact that you never hear "Republican" and "Science Fiction" in the same
breath, or "Republican" and "Thought provoking" or anything like that. In fact,
many Republicans, particularly those on the hard right, actively dislike
science fiction and even fear it.
That's just ridiculous. I suppose it's understandable. The essence of being a
really far-right conservative is that you just naturally assume you've already
got all the answers figured out, and don't need to question them. If that's the
case, then why would you ever want to contemplate that there's stuff you don't
know the answer to? So I suppose I can understand that, but it's no less
ridiculous for being understandable. I mean, a sense of wonder should be for everyone, right? Not just people on one side of the political spectrum?
Science Fiction is a passion. I love it. I write it. I read it. I swim in it.
To a lesser degree, I love science and technology as well - which are also
things many conservatives are afraid of. Yes, SF is somewhat left of center,
but that's ok because it's also basically hypothetical. "If this happens, what
are our options?" which is a lot different than saying "The government must
provide abortions and gay marriages on demand." But a lot of people on the
right think the latter is really what it's all about.
So basically the plan was to create a Conservative-friendly SF site that would
attract people who maybe had a little interest in the subject, but kinda'
didn't know where to get started, and didn't feel comfortable asking questions
because sites like Pink Raygun and Io9 just make fun of people like us. It was
intended basically as a gateway drug for the SF-curious conservative. And maybe a little like Consumer Reports. Reviews tend to stress what the average
conservative will probably like, dislike, etc.
The secret agenda, of course, was that through SF we could expose some
conservatives to the larger real world of science and technology and stuff in a
nonthreatening way, and by so doing decrease the fear of such things among our
kind. Neither of those worked out really well in the end, I guess. I still
think it was a really good idea, I just wish we had the staff and money to
really push it for all it was worth. But of course you know what I mean, right?
R4: I'm getting a greater appreciation of that every day, believe me. How did
you acquire your vast knowledge of the science fiction genre?
R3: Watching crappy UHF TV, mostly. As a kid, we had three UHF stations in range of my house on a good cool night. They endlessly ran old Irwin Allen shows and spy movies and crappy cheezeball SF films and monster movies and I just gobbled 'em up. They also ran TOS and Space: 1999 more or less constantly. Honestly, though, I don't think my knowledge is all that vast. I aquired a more-or-less equal knowledge of 60s sitcoms and cop shows the exact same way at the exact same time, but it's not as apparent because no one ever really wants to talk about Green Acres, you know?
When I was 10 Starlog Magazine came out, and suddenly I realized there were
other people like me who liked this kind of thing, and then later that year
Star Wars came out, and the people who'd beat me up when I was 9 wouldn't shut up about aliens when I was 11. So I got the magazines, started reading books, I've always been a library rat.
Add to that my being more-than-a-bit OCD and with a semi-photographic memory, and, well, there you have it.
But honestly, my knowledge isn't that vast. R2's fingernail clipplings know
more about Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov than my entire body ever will in my
entire life. Ginrummy probably reads more books in a month than I do in a year
or so. They're seriously hardcore and learned, and they blow my puny
I know basically just enough to be fascinated, but never enough to get bored
with it, which is a nice balance, I think.
R4: Your op ed pieces are entertaining due to your opinions, mixed with humor. Your articles garner a crazy number of hits on the site, so lots of people
enjoy your writing style--
R3: Aw, shucks...
R4: --Were you always so opinionated, or was this something which developed
R3: Do you think I'm really all that opinionated? R2 describes himself as being
"Somewhat to the right of Atilla the Hun," so comparatively, I'm probably not so much. <G>
R4: Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to get a little more personal. If you're
not comfortable with the question, just say so and we'll move on. You've
mentioned that you have a sort of mental illness, and that one of your kids has
a learning disability. Would you care to elaborate on the nature of these
afflictions, and how they affect your writing?
R3: I've got Pediatric Onset Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder, high-functioning
Aspergers, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and a few other trendy neurological
disorders, most of no real consequence. One of my kids has basically the same
thing, but it's more severe in that case than it was in mine, so that's more of
I can't speak for everyone of course, but having been manic depressive -
very manic depressive - since I was a kid has given me some coping mechanisms that people who get it later in life might not have, or that people who get it worse than me early in life might not have developed yet. One of those coping mechanisms - for me - is to pour myself into creating something with my absolute attention.
When you're manic, your brain works faster and it *feels* like it's more
efficient sometimes. I don't know if it is or not, but it feels it. I can do
five or six things at once, all pretty well. Conversely, when I'm on the other
end of the cycle, it's all I can do to get out of bed, and I can only barely
remember the manic stuff. There's some pretty hilarious stories about things I
did in manic episodes before I was medicated.
Anyway: the meds take the edge off, but the problem is still there, and
sometimes you can use it to your advantage. Some people can even trigger it at
opprotune times, like, say, finals week in college, when you need to get
amazing amounts of work done in short periods of time with no sleep for three
or five days. Well, when I'm level, that's impossible, but when I'm good and
manic, no problemo! Of course you pay for it afterwards, but still...
Anyway: one of my coping mechanisms it to pour all my mania into writing, and
just trust my instincts that I'm doing it. There's a kind of holy fire that
comes over you that's hard to explain, and you just have to have faith that
you're getting any piece of it down on paper. It helps that I can type fast, I
guess. So it hits, I get an idea, I plant myself down, and don't move -
excepting bathroom breaks - until the story's done or the manic episode has
The upswing is that I can get some pretty amazing amounts of work done in short periods of time. I can do 10,000 words in 8 hours, no problem. Sometimes it's crap, but the full crazy energy that goes into it usually gives it an edge that more planned-out stuff doesn't have. The downswing, of coruse, is that I'm more-or-less constitutionally incapable of writing book-length fiction.
R4: You mention the "holy fire" that is inspired writing. And you've
frequently made references to your personal odyssey of faith. You make no
secret of being a deeply religious man who lost his faith, then found it again.
This aspect of your personality has informed a lot of your commentary on the
site. A lot of conservative Christians tend to view science as a "tool of the
Devil," and science fiction as dangerous, seductive nonsense--
R3: Yeah, that kind of thinking really bothers me.
R4: Is it at all difficult for you to equalize your love of science fiction with the viewpoints of fundamentalist Christianity, and have you come up with your own personal creed in order to justify these two often opposing viewpoints, or are you able to keep the two so seperated in your head that one never comes into contradiction with the other?
R3: Have I come up with my own personal creed? Yeah, probably. I'm not a Fundamentalist. I used to be, but as you said, I lost my faith for a long time because it wasn't meeting my needs. There was something I was looking for, and I just wasn't finding it, so, "Seek and ye shall find." I tried on a lot of other beliefs and religions. I almost became a Baha'I at one point. Eventually, however, I found an angle on Christianity that made it make sense to me again, and it's not just a cold belief or "Well, I had kids so I decided to start going' back to church" or whatever. It's a real thing for me, but it's not Fundamentalism.
Basically, you lose your faith and you can go be an atheist, or you can glom on to the first thing that comes along ("Hooray! I'm a trendy Buddhist now!") or you can set out looking for some eternal verities and enlightenment. Being naturally curious, and having a lot of time to kill, I did the latter. If you go on a journey like that, and you stick with it long enough to reach some kind
of solid conclusion and, well, it changes you. Which is sort of the point. Even if you come full circle (Which I didn't), you're stil different than when you left, you still end up wtih something of a 'personal creed' I guess. As a friend of mine once said, "No two people ever meet the same Jesus." It's an aspect of that, I guess.
As to my writing, well, I don't write tracts. I don't write religious or political propaganda. I'm not trying to convert people, but I do tend to hit on religious themes a lot, mostly because they interest me. Sometimes it's obvious - as with "Just Moments Before the End of the Age," and sometimes it's more subtle, like with "The Truth About Lions and Lambs." I'm just asking questions that I find are interesting. I don't neccisarily have an answer for 'em. When I'm exploring religious themes in my stories, I think it's an outgrowth from - or an extension of - my long years of religious wandering. So they're related, but not in any ideological sense. I mean, heck, I've got the Pope comitting suicide in an anti-abortion story in which atheist alien dogs are the heroes. I'm not really preaching to the choir, you know? Something to offend everyone.
A lot of my stories don't really have any overt religious aspect, though. A lot of them are simply about feeling displaced and disposessed. Pretty much the entire Redneck Universe series is about alienation, from society, from nature, from politics, from time, and how do you find meaning for your life when contending with all that crap. I don't have answers to that, but I find the questions fascinating and fun to explore. There's nothing *religious* in, say, "The Cetian Sky" for example, but there's a sense of "Clean, Well-Lighted Place" angst in there that, for me, comes from a very numinous place, even if no one in the story ever mentions Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or Zoroaster or Baha'u'llah or whomever.
My only real real religious qualm is whether or not I use too much profanity in my stories. I'm perfectly ok showing fairly dark stuff, or questioning aspects of my own faith and the faith of others, and trying to be intellectually honest about it while telling a good yarn, that's all well and good. But I often wonder if I've said "Fuck" or "Goddamn" too much while I'm doing it. I'm a little kid at root. I still feel a little guilty saying "Shit."
R4: Just out of curiosity, what was your major in college?
R3: From when to when? Short attention span. I had a lot of 'em: Communications, history, political science/pre-law.
R4: What advice would you give to someone who's thinking about getting into writing science fiction?
R3: I guess it would depend on *why* they want to get into writing it.
Writing is a creative act, and you get a lot of self-actualization out of it, it's good for you. Any form of artistic creation is good for you, for your self image, good for your soul, even if it's terrible. So, as Harlan Ellison once told me, "Writing is a noble enterprise, even if you're just putting it in a shoebox under the bed when you're done." That's writing because you like writing, in which case, there's really no advice to give, other than "Keep goin', brother!"
If you're writing because you like writing, and you like having your stories read - and this is the category I fit into - then you need to write a lot, and quickly. A little bit every day if possible. There are a billion websites out there, and all of 'em are continually hurting for content, so someone, somewhere will be happy to run your stuff, and probably beg for more. For me,
anyway, the rush is knowing that, say, 60,000 total strangers have read "Superheroes are Gay." It's having Larry Niven stumble across "The Undead at War" and having him tell me he liked it. It's about catching the attention of people who have no reason to pay attention to you, etertaining them in a hopefully-memorable fashion, and in the process showing them a little bologna-slice of your soul.
If you're writing because you want to be rich, and you think you can be the next EL James or JK Rowling, then you should forget it, stop writing, and go be a plumber. The world needs plumbers more than it needs another writer, and it's willing to pay a lot more for plumbers as a result. Tens of thousands of my closest personal friends and I are all hawking our E-books on Amazon and Smashwords. I, myself have three full-length books. They're well-reviewed, name authors like my work, I had a reasonably high-profile job on Republibot for like half a decade. You know how much money I've made off of all my work? Less than $100.
So if you think you're going to be the next big thing, you're probably not. I know plenty of authors who are FAR better than me, who can't crack the market. Hell, I know name authors who have a hard time getting their stuff published. And even if you're a name author with a long publishing history, it still doesn't pay much. I've talked with authors who've worked steadily for fifty
years, who can barely meet their expenses, or who have to keep a day job in addition to writing. Writing SF was simply not all that lucrative back in the days when there was a real publishing industry, and it's vastly harder now. Your chances of being "The Next Big Thing" are considerably less likely than winning the lottery. So if you're only interested in the money, go be a plumber.
But in general my advice is this:
1) Read a lot. Don't just read SF, read outside the genre. Read straight fiction, and try to read at least one thing a year that you have absolutely no interest in besides that. You gain a lot from broadening your horizons.
2) Write, don't tell. If you tell your story for the praise and adulation of your friends, what incentive is there to write it? Instead, write it, and then let your friends read it. Then you've got the adulation *AND* something to show for it besides.
3) Collaborations with other authors are hard. Really hard. Harder than writing on your own. It doesn't sound like that makes sense, but it just *is,* and everyone who's ever done it agrees. If you're just starting out, trying to find your own voice, do NOT co-write. That's more a thing for established writers.
4) Finding your own voice is really important, but that comes from experience and learning to trust your own instincts. Don't worry if your stuff doesn't sound like 'you' at first. The fact that you're writing is enough to start out with. The experience is worth more than the bells and whistles if you're new.
5) It's a cliche, but art is never finished, just abandoned. Write a story, finish the story, and then move on. You can do an editing pass or two, but do not obsess, just move on. I know people who've tinkered with the same tales for ten, fifteen, twenty years, never finishing them, and they never really get any better either, just polished in different ways. Don't do that. Finish it and move on. Don't fuss.
6) Never, never, never, never, never, never, under ANY circumstances, ask any published author if he/she'd like to read your manuscript. (http://www.deadline.com/2009/09/why-he-will-not-read-your-fucking-script/ ) What, you gain audience with the gods, and you want to try to impress them with your card tricks? Bad form, man. Bad form. If someone of note *wants* to read your stuff, they'll ask. Don't bug them. Rather, just enjoy their company, get 'em to tell you funny stories. Don't be needy. No one likes needy people, even other needy people.
7) A writer writes because he or she physically can NOT do otherwise. Do it for love. There is no other reason.
R4: That advice brings me to my next question: You have made the aquaintence of several big-name authors. Could you share with us how you went about gaining an intro to these people, and what are those relationships like--are they just guys (and gals,) or do you always have a sense of awe about them? I remember listening to an interview with the actor and comedian, Steve Martin, who did a banjo album with musician Earl Scruggs. He said, "Even though I knew this guy, I kept thinking, 'Oh my God, this is Earl Scruggs! I'm playing in a band with Earl Scruggs!'" So even a guy who's a huge star in his own right still has god-heroes to admire.
R3: Oh, I know what you mean. I used to be massively into The Kinks. The first *REAL* concert I ever went to was The Kinks on the "Word of Mouth" tour. They take the stage, and I'm like ten feet away because it's 1984 or '85, and really no one but me is into The Kinks anymore. The lead singer comes out, and I'm completely overwhelmed, like "Wow! That's Ray Davies! THE Ray Davies! I'm close enough that I could hit him with a shoe!" Then I started thinking about hitting him with a shoe. I didn't of course, I have no idea where that thought came from, but the point is: I know what you mean about being in the room with your heroes.
The fact is, I've done absolutely nothing to gain audeince. It was just a consequence of being a blogger. I wrote a review of "The God Engines" that praised the book, then warned people not to read it, which was intriguingly weird enough that John Scalzi contacted me about it. I reviewed an unpublished script for "World War Z" that I found under a couch cushion, and Joe
Straczynski - who wrote it - politely emailed me and asked me to take it down. I willingly obliged, and asked if I could bore him with a short interview. He said 'yeah.' I was on the Larry Niven mailing list for a few years, and wrote a few Niven-related articles on this site and others, which drew some comments
from him. Somehow - I'm not entirely sure - he read one of my short stories on Republibot, and said he liked it, and he obliged me with an interview. I wrote a behemoth review of a Harlan Ellison book that we published in three parts here on the site that attracted Harlan's attention, and he contacted me. For the most part, it's me just making a lot of noise, and them coming by to see
what the hell I'm doing.
Sometimes it's more direct. I met Tessa Dick through the Totaldickhead.com website, and we just sort of hit it off. Uhm....I contacted John Varley through his website and asked for an interview, and he said "yeah." I contacted Rudy Rucker through his site, and asked him for an interview, and he said 'no' for
political reasons, but he was extremely polite about it, every bit the Southern gentleman, even if he is a self-described political radical. Nick Soapdish tracked down Ron Goulart for me, and he and I had a really nice chat on the phone for 90 minutes or so, but he declined to be interviewed. Generally I do better when they find me than when I find them.
I don't want to give the false impression that I'm best buddies with any of these guys, though. The only two that have ever legitimately called me 'Friend' were Tessa and Harlan. And I don't want to give the impression that Harlan and I were boon companions or anything. He just liked something I wrote, agreed to an interview, we hit it off and stayed in touch for a while by mail and on the phone. Once or twice he called me up telling me I should check out thus-and-such movie. Also, he spent several months on and off trying to get a nonfiction piece I wrote published, but ultimately he couldn't do it. The publishing industry ain't what it used to be. But again: we weren't long-walk-in-the-park-staring-at-the-moon-and-asking-each-other-what's-it-all-about-Alfie kind of friends. We were just sort of casual pals.
I haven't actually spoken to him in quite a while, since he got really sick. Our last phone conversation was probably going on two years ago, and he sounded terrible and was clearly very unwell. He's very focused on completing as much of his work as possible before he passes, and I got to feeling really guilty for eating up his time. Our last conversation - which was about Larry Niven actually - had an unstated quality of 'goodbye' to it. I suppose I could have misinterpreted it. He could be sitting by the phone wondering why in hell R3 hasn't called, but I seriously doubt that. <G> And I'm not the kind of guy to make a final, emotional, tear-stained farewell, then bust back into the room five minutes later asking who wants to go get ice cream. So.... there you have it. I haven't even sent him a copy of my book, even though I thank him in the forward. If he actually wasted time reading my tommyrot, I'd feel hopelessly guilty. Even if he liked it, I'd feel guilty.
As to the others, I doubt they remember me or have any idea who I am. John Varley and I did chat a few times, but nothing very substantial. He might possibly remember me because I told him the story of how I ate one of his books once, and he seemed to think that was pretty funny.
R4: You ate one of his books?
R3: I ate one of his books.
R4: That's like a metaphor or something, right?
R3: No sir, it is not.
R4: Okaaaayyyy. Speaking of eating books--besides writing, what other interests or hobbies do you enjoy?
R3: I sing. I've been in a lot of bands since college. None of them have ever been particularly good, but they're fun. Generally we do original songs because no one really notices if you screw up original songs. Conversely, everyone knows if you blow a cover. Two members of my last band died in a very short period of time, and our drummer is homeless, so I'm kind of taking a break from that for the moment, until I get my head together. It's hard to just jump back into it with other musicians after something like that.
I sculpt. Usually weird looking things - large snails with cartoon eyes and lobster bibs holding knives and forks, stuff like that. I also do the occasional Pokemon or spacecraft or whatever.
I'm interested in pretty much anything connected to theology, religious history, the relationship between religion and culture and science and human psychology. I read a lot on that. I'm particularly fond of the Gnostics, but I go through phases. A couple of years ago, I was heavy into the Baha'I. A few years before that it was the Gnostics again. Before that, Zoroastrians.
Zoroastrians kick ass.
(I just realized I may well be the only person in history to have ever uttered that sentence. It's true, of course, they really do, but it's not the kind of thing one tends to hear shouted out at baseball games or whatever.)
I'm fascinated with the glory days of the US Space program, and with the design and development of space colonies, particularly LaGrange colonies. I'm also kind of fascinated with World's Fairs, Theme Park design, and Googie architecture, all of which are probably somewhat overlapping interests if I look at it objectively. I'm particularly fascinated at the moment between the
differences between what Walt Disney intended for EPCOT ("Progress City") and what we actually got. It drives me crazy that they just threw out the old huge city model they used to have at the original Carousel of Progress in the '60s. Ah well.
I go to church usually between 3 and 8 times a month. I volunteer at my kid's school. I think that's probably the only stuff of note. Everything else is fairly mundane - a lot of time spent watching TV and reading crappy books, you know?
R4: And you still managed to put in a massive amount of effort on the Republibot site. Amazing.
I really want to thank you for all the time you dedicated to this project, R3--both over the years, and for this interview. I'm acutally kind of amazed--your answers are more honest and insightful than I'd expected them to be, and the information you pass along is truly inspiring.
R3: A curiously backhanded compliment. What were you expecting? <G>
R4: I was actually expecting much shorter replies, like "Aw, heck, I just like writing, it beats self-flagellation. Next question?" The ones you gave are not only interesting insights into your thought process, but they can be helpful to others who want to get into writing. They're far more helpful than answers I would have come up with would have been.
R3: Well, you're probably not as conceited as me. I spend a lot of time thinking about myself. <G>
But, no, if you're gonna' ask questions, and if part of Republibot's mission has traditionally been to help new writers, then I gotta' be as helpful as I can, right?
R4: Well, on that note, I have one final question for you--
R3: It's the book thing, right?
R4: No, no...well, okay. Yeah. You ate a book...?
R3: Ok, Here's the story I told him: years ago I was reading "Steel Beach" by John Varley, and for reasons I honestly remember now - I assume I was manic at the time - I got really obsessed with the idea that not only was this a bad book, this was the worst book I'd ever read, and simply throwing it out was too good for it. I had to punish it. I had to make the book pay.
So I got a fish tank, and I caught a catfish, and I put it in the tank with my copy of the book, and over the next couple weeks, the fish ate the book. Then I ate the fish. I cooked it first, of course.
R4: Hey, that's cheating!
R3: No it's not, it's VICTORY!
Quite a few years and quite a bit of medication later, I sort of haltingly told this to Varley, who apparently thought it was hilarious, and told me that he kind of wished he'd thought of it, and that there were several "Fishworthy" books he'd suffered through over the years. He was probably just being polite around the dangerous crazy guy, but I like the idea that I made him laugh.
R4: And that's the most important thing, isn't it--to always leave 'em laughing? Now that you've retired as editor of Republibot, what's the next project on your horizon?
R3: Shameless self-promotion. I'm selfishly focusing on getting my stories
published in one form or another, and developing enough of a web presence to
get people interested in reading, and maybe even buying them. I've also got a
writing-for-hire site. People tell me what they want, and for a nominal fee I
write their story for them. So those are my two enterprises: Plugging my own
crap, and plugging my crap-for-hire. Also, I intend to re-read "Steel Beach" and see if maybe I overreacted back in the day.
R4: I wish you well, my friend. If you ever get bored, or nostalgic, you know
where the spare key to the office door is. Your crap will always be welcome here...but we'll have to keep you on the same old pay scale. ;)
R3: Will do. Best of luck to you and your staff with the site!
R4: On behalf of myself, and everyone at Republibot--thanks for everything.
R3: You're welcome. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have turned this place over to.