COLLINS: WRITER WITH A FUTURE
To understand Ron Collins, you only need to know one thing: the title of one of his websites is "Persistence." He's been writing and garnering rejection slips for nearly a decade, always with his sights set on one goal: to become a professional fiction writer. In the last several years, Ron has broken through the glass ceiling with sales to Analog, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, Writers of the Future, Adventures of Sword and Sorcery, and a host of other publications. He's a mechanical engineer until such time as he earns his writing wings for good.
Scott Nicholson: When did you first become interested in writing?
RON: The obvious answer is when I was a kid--I can remember writing stories and binding them up in hand-colored covers with self-made blurbs on the "jacket", you know? But I think you're asking when did I become serious about writing as a profession. The answer to that is sometime around February of 1990 or 1991.
I worked for the Federal government at the time, and had been sent on what turned out to be a six week posting to Washington D.C. They put me up in a furnished apartment that had a dilapidated PC and a television. I had been considering trying to write previously but never felt like I had gotten the time. Well, here it was.
But I went into it with a business attitude even then. Before I started writing, I went to a bookstore in Crystal City and bought a copy of the Novel and Short Story Writers Market. Then I poured over it trying to discover how much money a writer might be able to make. You see, I wanted to write--but even then, I wanted to write for money.
I think that's an important mindset that set me off from some other new writers, who wanted to write--but didn't know why. By the way, I'm not saying that "I write to make money" should be anyone else's mindset, only that I think it helps to have a mindset, and that was mine.
Before you think my motivation was mindless greed, however, I should finish the question by saying that I wrote my very first short story that following weekend after visiting the Vietnam War Memorial. I was quite proud of it, and it's made a few folks cry--including an ex-member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. So I'm not impervious to the more existential elements that make people want to write.
SN: You have seen your share of rejections, but now you're really starting to break into the sf/fantasy field. What kept you going through the lean times?
RON: I wanted to write. And I looked at it like I was going to college to prepare to get a job, I guess. I remember talking to Mike Resnick a few years ago and saying I felt like I was a Sophomore, trying to pass a few more credits to become a Junior. He smiled in the way that only Mike can, then said "You'll make it. But you realize the goal is to get a job, right?"
As you get further into the business, you find rejections don't really mean much, but new writers get all in a huff over them--one of my friends calls it "Rejectomancy", I think. I guess at some point I just started looking at rejections in themselves as a badge of courage type thing, you know? I mean in order to get 100 rejections in a year, you have to be producing some material--which should be the goal of a new writer.
You can't get any better if you don't write. And when you're a new writer, you don't know how to write. So you'll get a lot of rejections.
It's a fairly simple equation that olds true for everyone except those rare individuals who sell the first thing out the box and keep selling--but of course we don't like those people very much, now, do we? (laughing)
SN: Your family is very important to you, yet you still make time for your writing. How do you balance those two worlds?
RON: Actually, I balance three worlds--family, work, and writing.
It sounds trite, but my family is the most important thing in my life. My goal is to make sure I show them that by the way I spend my time. This means I wake up at about 4:00 every day and write in the wee hours of the morning. I also do writing related-stuff some evenings, but that's a time where the family comes first, and I'll drop watever I'm doing if they need me for anything.
You can get a lot of writing done in three hours a day. Last year I wrote two novels and ten or twenty short stories in that time. This year it's been short stories and a novel rewrite, and I intend to write the first draft of a new novel from Thanksgiving to New Years Day. Heck, I wrote the first drafts of eight stories the week I was at Writers of the Future--at least three of which I think can be made into something pretty good.
Making my writing work amid our family used to be the hardest thing I had to do in regard to my not-so-secret life as a writer, though. It's gotten easier over time because Lisa (my wife) and Brigid (my daughter) are two very special people. After I got home from the Writers of the Future thing, I found they had worked to put together this big "Writers Party". We had brownies and ice cream and we played origami games. It took us two days to get through all the events they had planned! That reception probably meant more to me than the week in LA.
So, I guess the answer to your question is that I know what I want from life twenty years from now. It's more important to me to have a strong family than anything else, so I focus on them. And then they release me to do what I want in the rest of my life. It's all wonderfully symbiotic, I guess, like this strange multi-dimensional dynamic jigsaw puzzle that fits together perfectly. But the whole mish-mash is based on a very few simple principles. Wish I could explain it better.
SN: You've collaborated with Mike Resnick. What form did that working relationship take, and what did you learn from the experience that you couldn't have discovered on your own?
RON: He asked me if I wanted to work with him on a short story for the MOB MAGIC anthology. I gave him four or five plot ideas. He took one and redid it, and it looked great to me, so I wrote the first draft and sent it to him. He liked it, tweaked it here and there, giving the character quite a bit more depth that the character had in my effort, and he sent it in.
A few days later the check arrived. It was clean, easy, and it resulted in "Stan", a short story that I think is a pretty good read.
What did I learn that I couldn't have learned on my own? I'm assuming you're talking about the writing craft, so I'll answer "Nothing." Let's face it, this is a learn on your own business. I could have learned as much about writing by reading critically, then writing like mad. But not to sound too overly pompous, I'm already a decent writer. The best part was experiencing the business end of it with Mike as a guide. Professionals hit deadlines with professional material. It's really quite simple. But, I had already sold a story to Mike's RETURN OF THE DINOSAURS anthology, so I had already been through it earlier.
After a point, you learn how to behave and how to interact with people in the business by watching other people do it. Don't underplay this skill. I've learned a lot more from Mike and other professional writers by watching how they handle themselves in various public situations than I could ever learn from them as a writer. Don't get me wrong, though. Mike's a fantastic writer.
SN: What writers do you most admire?
RON: Well, Mike Resnick, for one. I think his Kirinyaga material is among the finest science fiction ever written. I admire folks like Geoff Landis and Stephen Baxter, folks that can make science leap off the page and still tell a good story. I've yet to read a story by Kris Rusch that I didn't love--and I mean that. I admire Maureen McHugh's characters.
I admire Lisa Silverthorne, who is a good friend of mine. She's a fine writer who has been in a lot of good places (including placing a story on last year's preliminary Nebula Ballot), but I admire her for what she brings to the keyboard from every angle--her goals and her determination, her outlook. She'll make it as far as she'll get because of her love for the publishing environment as a whole. Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead, and all.
SN: What projects are you currently working on?
RON: My, my. My plans for the next two months include finishing three short stories and the first draft of a novel (the second in a series). I may need to add another short story in there somewhere, or replace one of my planned works with a new effort, because a friend of mine proposed an idea that's just too tasty to pass up.
So my guess is I'll write some 110,000 to 130,000 words in the next two months. Not counting web site updates. (grinning)
SN: What are your long-range goals?
RON: I'm going to write novels for a living some day. And I intend to write short stories that mean something, and short stories that are just for fun. I have every intention of writing full time somewhere down the line, even if that time doesn't come until after I hit retirement age!
To learn more about Ron, visit his website and journals at Typosphere
-Copyright 1999 by Scott Nicholson
BACK TO MORE INTERVIEWS AT GHOSTWRITER
Scott Nicholson copyright 2001ŠAll rights reserved