The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer is an annual award for, well, the best new SF/F author. (Meaning someone whose SF/F was first professionally published within the past two years.) I’ll be interviewing all five of this year’s nominees, beginning with Brad Torgersen, who was selected to go first by the highly scientific process of being the first to get back to me with answers…
1) In exactly 23 words, who is Brad Torgersen?
Full-time healthcare nerd by day, part-time Chief Warrant Officer on the weekend, science fiction writer by night. Hugo, Campbell, Nebula nominee.
2) Tell us about the kind of fiction you write, and where we can find some of it!
I do mostly science fiction, with multiple appearances in Analog Science Fiction and Fact magazine. My Hugo and Nebula nominee, “Ray of Light,” was the cover story for the December 2011 issue of Analog. It’s also available on-line through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble as an e-novelette, along with many of my other previously published stories. I also have some collaborative work coming out soon. “Peacekeeper” is a military science fiction story I did with Mike Resnick. It’s in Ian Watson’s anthology, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF SF WARS. Mike and I also have another military SF piece, “Guard Dog,” now out in SPACE BATTLES, edited by Bryan Schmidt. And there is the rarity — a fantasy tale — also by myself and Mike, already out in Phil Athans’s THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS shared world project. Coming in Analog later this year I’ve got a piece I did with friend and fellow Analog author, Alastair Mayer, called, “Strobe Effect.” As well as a solo military SF story called, “The Exchange Officers.”
3) What has been the best moment of your writing career thus far? What about the worst?
I think I have to quote actor Geoffrey Lewis on this: the best one, is the next one. It was a magnificent thrill to (finally!) be published in Writers of the Future 26, as well as the November 2010 issue of Analog — my double debut. It was a thrill selling my third story, and then my fourth, and then my fifth… I’m well over a dozen sold stories now, including collaborations, and each one of them has been a pleasure to write, sell, and see in print. Whether it’s been in concert with mentors and friends like Mike Resnick or Al Mayer, or solo. Heck, before I landed on the big awards ballots, I got a readers’ choice award for my novelette, “Outbound,” which was my first Analog publication. Before that story, I’d gotten dozens of rejections from Stan Schmidt. To see my first Analog story win the AnLab was a remarkable thing. I think all the many, long years of frustration and endless rejection have taught me to treasure the (new) successes, however humble they may be. Now, when I sell a story, or I make an awards ballot, I treat it like it’s a silver dollar discovered on the sidewalk: I scoop it up, I count myself lucky, I savor the sensation of it in my pocket as I go about my daily business. It’s a wonderful thing to be publishing and garnering acclaim, both from peers, and from readers. Simply wonderful.
As for the worst moment… I don’t dwell on those much, but I can say I was positively crestfallen when my first Finalist story for Writers of the Future did not win. It was summer 2009, and I was going through a hell of a hard time at my civilian job, as well as enduring the crucible of Warrant Officer Candidate School on the Reserve side. When I found out I was a Writers of the Future Finalist, I was certain my moment had come. At last! It was the best story I’d ever written, period. And it didn’t win! I went home from work that day and just sat at the kitchen: the picture of despair. My best work, and it didn’t even win Writers of the Future; supposedly the “entry level” market. How could I possibly hope to succeed with bigger markets, after so many years of zilch? It was a massive blow to my hopes and aspirations. But it was not fatal, thankfully. By that point I was old enough and had experienced enough hard knocks to realize that this too would pass. So I got back to work, after licking my hurt ego for a few days. The next story out the door, “Exanastasis,” actually did win Writers of the Future. Even better still: the non-winner, “Outbound,” was the story that went to Analog, and got the AnLab award, and has sold (and keeps selling) to new markets overseas. I think of it as my phoenix story. From the ashes…
4) And now for the most important question of the interview: What is the correct orientation for putting a new roll of toilet paper on the holder?
HAH! We’re bohemians in my household. We have vertical TP holders from Ikea. It’s not a question of over or under, it’s a question of left or right. And on that matter, I don’t think anyone in my family cares. (grin)
5) After years of worldwide bathroom conflicts, you’ve chosen vertical toilet paper? What madness is this? HAVE WE LIVED AND FOUGHT IN VAIN???
Ahem. What I meant to say was, as a writer, where would you like to be in ten years?
Still publishing a few stories a year in Analog magazine. Hopefully publishing books with one or more major publishers. Perhaps some ancillary projects like video games or even something for Hollywood? Again, the years of failure have taught me to value the recent successes, big or small. Everything that comes to me now? It’s like a great big Halloween candy bowl. I can’t complain. I’m getting more sales and more recognition in my first two years as a published pro than I ever dared hope for when I was unpublished and struggling. I am moving forward with reserved optimism. Working as hard as I can on the next manuscript, and then the next one after that, and then the next one after that. Et cetera.
6) You’re currently nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula awards as well as the Campbell. (Congratulations, by the way!) If you could only win one, which would you pick and why?
That’s a tough call. I think the odds are best for the Campbell, though this award tends to go to novelists rather than short story writers. I am told by men like Mike Resnick that the Hugo has the most prestige, among the three, and looking at the other writers who have novelettes next to mine on the Chicon 7 Hugo ballot, I have to say I think it’s an excellently represented category this year. Top drawer work by top drawer writers. I am honored to be listed. Then again my friend Eric James Stone took the Nebula last year, and since I was his room mate at the Nebula weekend I got to see his Nebula trophy up close and personal. It’s a lovely thing!
But really, even being on the short lists is satisfying in and of itself. I will forever after be able to count my name among the (very small) group of people who’ve managed to be on all three lists at once in their careers. People like Barry Longyear. Therefore my winning even one of these awards, much less more than one, is almost too much to hope for. There are so many talented, deserving men and women who are also on these ballots with me. It’s daunting. I know that’s a very wordy non-answer, but it’s the best I can do. (grin)
7) What’s the best piece of advice you can give to an aspiring author?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will your writing career. Very, very, very few authors ever sell their first books or stories right out of the box. Learning to be a proficient professional fiction writer isn’t much different from learning to play an instrument, or a sport, at the professional level. It takes exhaustive commitment and dedication. You have to burn for it, deep down, and you cannot let yourself fall into the trap of thinking and talking about writing, without actually writing. I advise setting monthly, weekly, even daily goals. One page a day. Five pages a days. Twenty pages a week. Whatever. Just make yourself sit down and do it. And don’t fret if the early books or stories don’t sell. It’s all part of your development. Embrace the struggle. Learn as you go. You will grow more as a writer through writing, than you will through almost any other type of activity.