I really looked forward to talking to Simon Rose since I met him at Calgary Comic Con. He was pleasant, quick witted, and a very charming, engaging dude. He agreed to an interview and made arrangements. Simon is a multi talented dude – he writes, he teaches, and he works on summer camps with kids, teaching them how to write plays.
I was horribly late, and started Watching Simon working on his many projects. This isn’t quite one of my standard interviews. It’s more of an actual conversation, which is something I rarely get the chance to do. I enjoyed it and hopefully you guys will too.
Joshua Pantalleresco: What are you working on?
Simon Rose: Right this instant, a word search puzzle. I do them for all my books and put them on my website for my readers. With the new book coming out soon, I thought might as well get started.
JP: I remember doing word searches when I was a kid. I used to add all kinds of other words to be clever.
SR: Why not? The key when I do these is to make sure there aren’t any inappropriate words accidentally in there, once you add all the fake letters.
JP: What’s your next book called?
SR: The Sphere of Septimus, which is coming out in October, I believe.
JP: That’s cool. My book is coming out soon.
SR: Oh really? Not a comic?
JP: Poetry, actually.
SR: Fantasy or Science fiction of some kind?
JP: It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a slave boy escaping his dragon masters.
SR: It sounds like it’s more for teens. 14 years old or thereabouts?
JP: I think maybe a 12 year old or 10 year old can do it. It really depends on the parents. There’s violence in it, but there is violence only. There’s no
sexual stuff or anything like that. Do you think kids shouldn’t read violent stuff?
SR: Well, I think there’s a place for violence, as long as it’s part of the story. I have violence in my material, or at least the threat of it. The characters have to be in some danger, even if the reader has a strong suspicion that they aren’t going to get too hurt in the course of the story. But you need stakes of some kind in your stories.
When I started out, I remember reading a lot of kids books to kind of see what the market was like. I read a fair amount of time travel stories, but most of them involved the characters just going back in time and visiting a place. There’d be little or no conflict or any kind of real story. I would read this stuff and think to myself, what’s the point?
It’s nice to go back in time, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not very interesting if nothing exciting happens.
JP: I get that. I did a time travel story back in the day. I had him show up in Louisbourg, and he got held up at gunpoint.
SR: I don’t use guns very much. Guns are a little too easy to use in stories and can do damage from quite a distance. If you use blades, there’s a greater sense of danger and menace. You have to get very close to hurt someone with a sword or a knife, after all. But it really doesn’t matter, as long as there’s something happening. Otherwise why write it?
JP: Why kids books?
SR: Well, books for middle grades really, it’s important to make the distinction. When you tell people that you write books for kids, they assume you mean picture books and that perhaps you’re an illustrator as well as a writer. When I had young children I became familiar with lots of picture books, but I’m not an artist so once I was inspired to write, I couldn’t create those kinds of books. The little dog or cat that gets lost in the woods and has to find its way home, that kind of thing. I wanted to tell the kind of stories I thought my kids would like.
Although I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I realized that I didn’t want to write that type of fantasy. However, they were written for the age range I was interested in and had the desired danger level. In terms of subject matter, I wanted to write about the things that interested me at 8, 9 or 10 years old, like superheroes, parallel dimensions – stuff like that. Not so much wands, wizards and quests, not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact, I do have something of a quest theme in the upcoming novel.
When I began writing, I wanted to tell stories about the kinds of things that influenced me while growing up. Things like time travel, strange worlds, alternative universes, and so on, so that’s what I write about.
JP: Who were your influences as a kid?
SR: I don’t think there’s anyone who influenced me as a writer. Kids are often asked who their favourite writers are. I don’t have any simply because I read a book for the story, and not the author. If I enjoy a book by a particular writer, I could easily pick up another by the same person and be disappointed, so it’s the story for me, not the author. Take Stephen King, for example. Did you like everything he did?
JP: I love Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and enjoy his On Writing book. That said, I just can’t finish The Stand. It just drags on and on.
SR: Exactly! No one likes everything. I enjoyed the Harry Potter series and I read The Golden Compass.
JP: I loved the first two, I hated the third book.
SR: Yes, the first two books are brilliant but the third kind of went off the rails in places. I mean, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as impressive as the first two books in the series.
JP: It really went off the rails, which is such a shame. I loved the first two books. The idea of fighting against the creator of the universe was awesome. But then he just stopped and got into this weird rant. I expected some anti religion, but not a sermon.
SR: I really enjoyed The Subtle Knife. That knife that cuts through anything and opens portals to other worlds was just fascinating stuff. I looked up some of Pullman’s other books, but they just didn’t appeal to me as much as The Golden Compass ones. So, I guess I buy books for the stories, not because I’m a fan of the author.
I know quite a lot of children’s writers and do meet them from time to time, but sometimes it seems all you talk about is work, you know. I really enjoy conversations with people in other, but similar creative professions, such as musicians, children’s book illustrators, actors, comic book artists, that kind of thing.
JP: Interesting. How about things you watch on television?
SR: Things like Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Wars, science fiction a lot of the time. I remember watching weird stuff growing up such as The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and classic science fiction like Land of the Giants, The Time Tunnel, and so on. Even Thunderbirds and similar shows from the 60s, which had the primitive puppets, still had decent stories. A lot of this stuff goes back a long way, of course, except for The Next Generation.
JP: That was just an awesome show. It was science fiction the way it’s supposed to be. You’d have a problem and a real moral dilemma with how to solve it. That show thrived on it.
SR: It really was good. I didn’t get into Deep Space Nine, because the setting was, initially at least, a space station that people visited, rather than a ship traveling through space meeting different races and enemies. I always though that kind of went against what Star Trek was all about. I did watch Voyager, which I’ll say was entertaining enough.
JP: I loved the idea of Voyager. They took the classic Star Trek theme of exploring the galaxy and inversed it. Instead of seeking out new worlds, they are trying to make it back home, and along the way, discover new worlds.
I always thought the show never quite lived up to its potential. They didn’t go into some of the real moral dilemmas I thought they could have.
SR: They did a little bit, but what really separated Voyager from the Next Generation was the cast. The entire Next Generation cast were all stellar. Picard was nothing like Kirk, he was different and stood for different things. Then you could go on all down the line with Riker, Data, Geordi. Voyager’s cast just didn’t compare, although as I said the stories were entertaining enough.
I was thrilled to get to see the whole TNG cast two years ago at the Calgary Expo and listen to Patrick Stewart too. I got to listen to Stan Lee at the Expo that year as well.
JP: I wish I could have seen Stan Lee. I’m still to this day a huge Silver Surfer fan. It seems kind of far out there, but Stan really made it work.
SR: Surfer is a good character and he truly stands out. For me, it was Spider-man, plus the Fantastic Four. I liked Thor too, the Avengers, Iron Man, Daredevil, but the old stories are still really good and stand the test of time.
We’re talking about influences, right? Naturally, influences come from the things that are around you, particularly when you were a child. Not stuff like a movie scene in the woods or at a fairground or whatever, that just reminds you of your childhood. I’m talking about things you experienced then and are experiencing now. There’s stuff in the next book, The Sphere of Septimus, that draws a great deal on my childhood experiences.
JP: Any movies?
SR: Oh, and we can’t forget about movies. Sometimes I’ll have a great idea and am disappointed to learn it’s already been done, even though I wasn’t familiar with the existing book or movie.
I remember a few years ago I proposed an idea to the publisher about an island inhabited by clones that were being used for spare parts. Unfortunately, this had already been done and made into a movie called The Island with Ewan McGregor. However, I still had enough ideas for a clone theme and wrote The Clone Conspiracy that came out in 2005.
There was also a movie called The Sixth Day with Arnold Schwarzenegger that was about cloning that was something of an influence for that book. .
I recall coming up with what I though was a great idea about a magical TV remote that could allow you to travel to other worlds too. Although my idea was totally different, the remote was used as the device by which Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon traveled into a 50’s sitcom in Pleasantville. Still, I was still inspired enough by the idea to use a magical pen instead of a remote in The Emerald Curse, where Sam travels to a comic book universe.
Influences right? I’ve been influenced by historical events too. I could easily write about a medieval setting, for example, but it has to be an interesting time period like the Black Death, some war or revolution, or fascinating personalities.
At any given time, I have six or seven really well formed ideas that can become a novel. I’ve also got about thirty or forty ideas that are just kind of in outline mode. I’ll probably never use some of them, but that’s how it goes for writers really.
JP: You never know. I’ve used scenes from stories I’ve discarded that got incorporated into bigger stories eventually.
SR: Absolutely! The Time Camera novel started out as a story about ghosts. I had this idea about how light and the images it creates remains on an object, such as a stone wall, long after the object has left that location. If someone could invent a special type of camera, they could capture those images and take what basically amounts to ‘time photography’ from hundreds of years ago. The story evolved into The Time Camera but the idea of the ghosts is still there. One day I’m still going to write that story too.
I also have lots of ideas about amazing technology. However, you have to be careful with those kinds of stories in case you get bogged down in all the fine details especially with hardcore science fiction.
JP: I tend to not mind a page or two that explains things. Asimov and to a lesser extent, Bradbury was very good at that. But when it gets to about twenty pages, I start to wonder. Do I really need to know how it works?
SR: Exactly. Do you really understand the how your computer functions in order to use it? Or how all the mechanics of a car work together in order to drive it to where you’d like to go?
My feeling is that you don’t need to know exactly how the Enterprise operates in order to know how the warp drive works. You know they’re in a starship exploring the galaxy.
Besides, if you think too hard in some cases, the story falls apart. I mean, think about the number of times the Enterprise has to worry about ejecting the core, which appears to involve dumping the engine that drives the ship. They never do it. Geordi or Data or somebody always arrives at the last minute and it gets fixed, but you’d think after the first few times they’d start looking at better ways to travel, don’t you think?
JP: That’s true.
That will do for part one.
Part two we talk about holding the audience’s attention, and Simon’s foray into self publishing. Simon’s website is http://simon-rose.com/. Click on it, and check out Simon’s many books. I want to thank Simon Rose for his time, and insight. I enjoyed this interview. See you next week.