Q: What was your first published sci-fi book and your background as a writer?
I started writing as soon as I was able to pick up a pencil. My first novel was about a kid who got kidnapped off a sailboat by some aliens who lived under the ocean. I started it when I was seven or eight. It was never published-or even finished--and the manuscript has since mysteriously vanished. If I saw it now, I'd probably be torn between embarrassment and fascination.
My second novel was about two magicians locked in an endless magical battle. I started writing it because at the time very little fantasy was available at my local library, and I wanted more. Even then, I realized my plot was a little thin and I added a subplot involving a third magician. I wrote it in pencil on brown notebook paper and kept it in a big black binder. I remember re-reading pieces of it and realizing my prose was clunky and even stupid, but I didn't know how to fix it. It frustrated me because I couldn't think of anything to do except keep writing. This solution was exactly the right one, but I didn't know it at the time. This was when I was fourteen.
Over the next several years, I wrote the first few chapters of a bunch of different novels, all of them fantasy or science fiction, but I never finished any of them. That was probably for the best. One of them was about a boy who, at age eleven, discovered he was actually a wizard descended from a long line of wizards, and he would have to go to a special magical school. No lie! Though I had nothing on J.K. Rowling. This book was actually a major breakthrough for me because by then I had learned to type and actually started this book on my mother's old manual typewriter. (Personal computers back then weren't even on the radar screen.) I discovered what true speed could be, and after that, I never did anything by hand if I could help it.
Years later, in 1990, I was newly married and living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A friend of mine by chance mentioned a role-playing game he played in which the local magical library was run by a dragon and the book were the dragon's hoard. The idea of a dragon having a hoard of books instead of gold stuck in my head and wouldn't go away. A couple days later, I sat down at my computer-which had a single disk drive and no hard drive back then-and in a single sitting wrote a short story using that idea. Over the next week, I gave it a major rewrite and several minor edits. Then, on a whim, I submitted it to Marion Zimmer Bradley for Sword and Sorceress IX. I did this because I had heard Marion would reject stories with comments, and I wanted to improve my writing. But to my complete astonishment, she bought the story instead. "Hoard" appeared in print a year later.
I started my first real novel-a science fiction book-in 1994. By now I had sold several short stories, most of them to Marion Bradley, but I really wanted to write novels. One day I got an idea for a character, and he wouldn't leave me alone. Lance had it all-he was fantastically good-looking, he was smart, he was athletic. But he was cripplingly shy and he stuttered. This poked at me. Why was he so shy? Why did he stutter? But most of all, why was he so good-looking? This was science fiction, after all, and I could ask cool questions like, "Is he handsome because he was born that way or because he was made that way?"
Someone who was made to be handsome was way more interesting than someone who was just born that way, especially once I started asking the other questions: "Who made him that way? And why? Did Lance want to be made good-looking?"
By the end of these mental gymnastics, I had someone I really wanted to write about. Trouble was, Lance had no story. What exactly was he supposed to do? Then, over vacation one year, I read Sybil, which is about a woman with multiple personalities. Sybil met Lance, and something went ping in my head. I had a story.
Two years later, I had finished In the Company of Mind, and I sold it to Baen Books. Jim Baen offered a two-book contract, so I also wrote its sequel Corporate Mentality. Both books are now out of print, so I'm working on converting them into PDF format. When that's done, I'm going to make them available for free download on my web site. Keep checking there!
Q: With this BG novel you're under a pseudonym. Is this your idea or your publishers'? And why?
I write both as Steven Piziks (my real name) and as Steven Harper. Which name I write under actually depends on what the publisher wants. Tor wanted me as Steven Harper, so that's the name I used. I'm used to answering to both names at this point, so I'm happy either way.
Q: BG: UNITY is like a mega-episode, as the storyline concerns a virus that can wipe out all humans. What guidelines did you have to follow in regard to the Battlestar Galactica show? Also, a storyline concerning a virus by the Cylons was in the recent run of the new BG comic-coincidence?
I swear I should apply for a job with Ronald Moore. The first idea for a book that I ran past the studio was nixed because they were already filming an episode that was similar to it, and I had to start completely over. I went for a biological warfare and held my breath. The studio approved the idea, and I went to work. Not long after I submitted the finished manuscript, I learned that the show was doing a disease episode. And they also did an algae-planet episode! Gah!
As far as guidelines go, I could explore but not change, and I couldn't do anything that was too similar to a previous or upcoming episode. That was about it. The hardest part was finding a point in the show where I could insert a new story-the episodes seem to take place so close together. I finally found a spot just before the Pegasus shows up where at least a week seems to have passed, and I could slip in an extra adventure.
The show actually wiped out one of the character bits I created. At the time I was writing the book, we knew that Kara (Starbuck) had been abused as a child and that the abusive parent had broken her fingers. I made extensive references in the book to the abuse coming from her father. Several months after Unity came out, we learned that Starbuck's mother broke her fingers. Oh well. You shrug and go on. It's community storytelling, and glitches will show up.
Q: I like it that you reveal more facets of Starbuck, such as how she had a teenaged crush on the rock star-and that the ultimately gets to fulfill that teenage dream of hers. I'm assuming Starbuck is one of your favorite characters from the series?
I do like her. I barely remember the original series-I was just a little kid when it was on-so I'm not one of those people who continually compares the original show with the new one. I read Internet sites where people complain about Starbuck's character and how much they hate her, yada yada yada . . . but I can't help but notice these same people never miss an episode.
I do have to say, though, that she was the absolute, most horrible, bitch-kitty hard character to write. I just could not get her voice right when I wrote from her point of view. It was awful. I was under a tight deadline for this book, too, so I didn't have time to mess around and experiment. I had to get it right, and I had to get it right now. I deleted more paragraphs written from her point of view than anyone else. I was getting panicky. Everything that came from her point of view was stilted or stupid or just plain wrong. At long last, something broke free and I found her voice, but I was sweating for long time.
The most pleasant character to write, incidentally, was Laura Roslin, and I wasn't expecting that. I wish I could have done more from her point of view because she was such an unexpected pleasure. I don't why this was, but it's true.
Q: Are you writing anymore BG books?
Not at the moment, but I'd love to do another one, one that explored more of Laura Roslin. Maybe I liked her so much because she used to be a teacher and I still am one.
Q: On your website you are very informative about answering "How to get published questions". Why so helpful?
Marion Zimmer Bradley. She was my example and my mentor when it came to writing. I sold my first short story to her, and over the years, I sold her several more. I never met her, but I talked to her on the phone a few times, and one of my bigger regrets is that I didn't have a chance to meet her in person before she died.
Marion was my mentor in that she told me why she rejected my stories. And she did reject them, even after buying that first one. One time she scribbled, "A little dialect goes a long way" at the bottom of a rejection letter. I remember thinking that if an enormously busy person like her took the time to hand-write a piece of advice like that, I had better listen.
I also learned a lot about the submission process from the editorials she wrote for Marion Zimmer Bradley's FANTASY Magazine and from the introductions to the various volumes of Sword & Sorceress. There is simply no way I can pay back that kind of help, so I pay forward by giving other people the same information.
Q: What is your web site address?
My web site is at www.sff.net/people/spiziks/ . It includes my blog, a section about how to format manuscripts for novels and for short stories, and how to submit them to editors. Two years ago, my wife and I adopted two boys from Ukraine, and my journal of the trip is posted there as well.