For our Featured Guest Interview this month, we had the exciting opportunity to talk with science fiction writer A.G. Riddle, author of Departure. Starting his writing career later in life, Riddle has written several novels including the Atlantis Gene that has been picked up by CBS Films and is in the works of becoming a major motion picture.
With his latest novel Departure, the book has been well received and become extremely successful, also landing a movie deal. To get to know Riddle better, take a look at our interview below!
Hi Gerry, thanks for taking the time to answer some of our questions!
When did you first become interested in writing?
At a young age, but I never dreamed of writing as a career. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina and always dreamed of being in business. I started an internet company in college and did that for ten years. When I sold my last company, I decided to try a different career.
The Kindle had become my constant companion in the hours after work, and I thought with the emergence of self-publishing that it would be a great time to test the waters and publish my first novel.
What is the biggest change you experienced switching from starting up internet companies to writing books?
Starting from scratch-skill wise. I was in my thirties and had been very successful in my start-up career. When I sat down to write, I was brutally honest with myself–my early work wasn’t great. It was very hard to go from working every day and succeeding and making progress on something to writing and feeling like you’re not making much progress (and wondering if you should be doing something else).
I dug in and learned everything I could about writing. A lot of what I’ve learned about writing has come from actually writing–there comes a point at which reading about the craft in a book or course can’t help you any more–you have to just sit down and write. And reassess, and learn, and write some more. I think if you’re in school or have recently graduated, learning to write fiction is maybe a little easier.
At the same time, I believe life experience is perhaps the greatest asset any writer has: we infuse our stories with those experiences and they help shape our characters, making the stories more real and meaningful to us. I’ve gained a lot of respect for anyone who comes to writing later in life (or who switches careers and learns any new trade from scratch).
Do you have a special place you go to write? Where and why?
I typically write in my office or on the back porch if the weather is nice.
What is your process when you write?
I do a lot of research up front. I start with a scientific or historic idea that fascinates me. Then I work on characters. I look for someone who would be involved in the plot in an interesting way. I write bios, as detailed as I can, then a broad outline.
Once I have an outline, and especially an ending I think is compelling, I’ll start my first draft. When I’m composing, I try my best to write every day. I find it makes the narrative flow more consistent and helps readability. I can typically only write for four or five hours per day when I’m doing a draft; much past that and I find that the writing quality suffers. I typically write in the morning and return emails and knock out other tasks in the afternoon or evening.
What was the inspiration behind your latest novel, Departure?
The future, mostly. I started with a simple question: how might the world end? What if a global catastrophe occurred and the only way to save the last survivors on Earth was to bring a group of people from the past to the future?
What was it like to find out that CBS wanted to turn The Atlantis Gene in a major motion picture?
It was wild. It happened so early in my career that it didn’t seem real at first. I’ve been very fortunate, and it’s given me a lot of motivation to keep writing.
How involved are you with the shift of modes from novel to movie?
Not much. They call from time-to-time, but I think that’s mostly to keep me in the loop. They’re good at making movies; I just stick to writing novels.
Who would be your ideal cast if you could choose?
No idea. I try not to get too invested in the cast or process (makes it easier if the movie doesn’t happen for years or decades, as is often the case).
Have you found you’ve changed anything about your writing now you’ve been approached about movie rights?
Not really. My style was already very cinematic (or so I’ve been told).
Are there any characters in your books that are modeled after people you know in your life?
Definitely. I’ll keep the identities a secret to protect the innocent!
Do you identify with any character and who is your favorite?
My favorite from The Atlantis Gene is Josh Cohen. From Departure, I’m quite partial to Yul Tan. They’re both driven, a little bit geeky, and have their hearts in the right place.
What made you decide to write science fiction?
Science fiction is the genre I enjoy reading the most; it’s been a life-long passion and was really the only genre I thought about writing in.
Are you interested in writing for other genres? Which and why?
Not really. My passion is for science fiction and high-concept stories. I’ve considered writing sci-fi books with younger protagonists.
What struggles did you face when you published your first book?
Well, I think getting noticed is probably the biggest one that we all face. Then I think it’s integrating feedback–from editors and readers–and improving your skills and making your next book better. At the same time, you’ve got to stay motivated, and that’s not always easy when you’re getting so much feedback (some of which might not be positive).
What are, in your mind, three PROs of self publishing?
-You learn a lot. By offering your novels an attractive price, you’re more apt to attract readers willing to take a chance on a new author; that means more reviews and emails from readers. I learned a lot from those early reviews and emails.
-You earn more. This is a generalization, not a rule, but I think it’s true for most authors.
-You have your freedom–for better or worse. As authors, we don’t always make the right decisions. But it’s always nice to be able to make the decision. And change course if it was the wrong one. Self-publishing allows you to turn the ship if you need to.
When you first started to write, did your idea start one way and completely change as time went by?
When I plan a novel, I go through a lot of ideas and narrow them down a good bit in the outlining process. Once I have an outline and begin writing, the story generally stays on course, though some things do change.
What is the most rewarding aspect for you when you write?
I love it when the characters start to surprise me, when they take on a life on their own, and the story sort of starts to on fold naturally. It’s a lot of fun.
Your success with your novels has been amazing. What advice do you have for those who are starting their writing career later in life?
Don’t let anyone else define success for you.
Success for you might mean writing a story you’re proud of—the story you’ve always wanted to tell. Or paying the mortgage and putting your kids through college. Or achieving your dream of typing “The End” on the story inside you and holding the paperback proof in your hand.
Figure out what you want from writing, and hold yourself to your own standard. Don’t believe anyone who says you have to sell X number of copies to be successful, or get on some list, or be published by some organization. That’s their definition of success and may or may not have anything to do with you.
Bottom line: I believe success as a writer comes in an infinite number of shapes and sizes, just like humans.
What are you working on now?
A new series. I hope to announce something soon.
Where can we go to find out more about you and your works?