Interview with Hugo Fan Writer Nominee: Dave Freer!

1)      All the Sad Puppies selections came from a list of stories that fans felt were their favorites from 2014. What about your story do you think brought it to the attention of whomever suggested it?

Sperm Whales. No really, they’re large enough to get most people’s attention if they’re right in your face, as it were. http://madgeniusclub.com/2014/08/25/a-very-surprised-looking-sperm-whale-and-a-bowl-of-petunias/  or the fact I am mostly constructive, despite appearances. http://madgeniusclub.com/2014/11/10/we-build/

2)      What kind of stories do you write normally write? Is your nominated story in that tradition? Or is it a departure for you?

I’m a hack. I write stories people are willing to pay me to read. I know. It lowers the entire tone of the contest. They shouldn’t let lowly simians like me loose for fear people lose their sense of decorum (for the record, back in the dark ages when people were choosing lofty screen names for themselves, I adopted the nom-de-screen of “monkey”.  Occasionally, when I am being more villainous than usual, that rises to Doktor Von Monkenstein. Yes. I have a monster. And a Zombie Washing Machine.)  Seriously, I like to write. It’s a poor writer who cannot turn the need to do so, in any form, into something he quite enjoys. I have written a vast and varied range of things from Romance to Hard SF – but that wasn’t what they nominated me for. I am, I believe, nominated a fan writer – also known as a punkha wallah in that I allow fresh air into the stultifying halls of literature – or, in other words, poke fun at my betters. For this they nominated me, just as fools were made kings for a day to teach them and populace a lesson.  It’s a terrible mistake really, but it has successfully upset all sorts of people who consider themselves frightfully important, and are sufficiently horrified by my monkey-like capering and mockery. They have demanded I withdraw and suitably abase myself, or else!, which makes me laugh a lot, and poke fun at them even more. It’s no departure for me, although there are many shrieks of ‘off with his head’. That too is perfectly normal.

3) When did you start writing?

Oh so very long ago and all, when the world was young and both dinosaurs and Fax-machines roamed the earth. And yes, as rumored, it is true.  I did start in an outdoor toilet. Many people think it would have been a good thing if I remained there, and predict that I will return to my literary roots. They could well be right. It actually has some basis in fact. I came back from sea – my then job as Chief Scientist for the Commercial Shark Fishery in the Western Cape involved time on some very ‘interesting’ vessels, with dysentery. That is something which leaves you wishing you were dead, and can quite easily kill small children. We had, at that time, a young and precious and fragile baby in the house. We also had a second bathroom in a separate little building, attached by roofed verandah. I took myself, a mattress and a sleeping bag and a computer in there, in quarantine, as it were. I tried to write up a fisheries report, but as I was somewhat delirious, it turned into a story. It was less like fantasy and more plausible than fisheries statistics usually are, so I rather enjoyed it. I thought it might be pleasant to do that one day… and one day I did. Only it took me much more than one day.

3)      What do you do in life other than write?

Anything stupid, dangerous, illogical – there is such wide choice, but I am good at bad decisions, so I try to stick to that. In theory, writing is my job. I have no other. In practice I end up doing everything that a remote rural life throws at me (I live on an island off the South coast of Australia, with very few other people. I promise there were very few other people here even before I got here.) As a result I do everything from dipping sheep to helping cows to get their calves delivered (they need very big storks), and a great many agricultural things in between, most which seem to involve mud and the delicate scents of the finest manure. I am, as is traditional and accepted among sf writers, mildly batty (except of course _I_ take it to extremes, just because I can, although I delude myself I am sensible, sane and you’re all a little odd). We try to be self-sufficient, which means I shoot or rear or catch all our own protein, and grow or gather almost all our own veggies. That means a fair amount of time underwater, or in small boats, or stalking, and a lot more time digging, cleaning, butchering and preserving. Of course I am not over-the-top about this self-sufficiency lark. We do buy the two essential food groups we can’t raise or gather. Coffee and Chocolate have to be bought.

5) Who do you feel influenced your work? What other authors do you look up to? Whose work brought delight to your reading life?

Influence? The fees officers at my kids’ school and later, college, had a remarkable (and may I say, commendable) effect on my writing, and one I feel would improve the entire Hugo Award’s value: They wanted me to pay them, which in turn meant I had to write things for which people were pleased to give me that finest and most sincere form of flattery for: money. I learned to write to please an audience, and as a result I owe these gentlemen gratitude, but nothing else.

Look up to? I look up to most other authors. I am a short little monkey. On the other hand if there are trees or cliffs around I tend to look down on most of them. Look, given my genetics and culture, I give respect to God and very few men. I expect them to prove themselves, and to keep it up if they want that. I fail at it myself, so I can hardly hold it against others. I have found my friends Eric Flint and Sarah Hoyt provide me with much valuable guidance. I need a lot of that.  I role model myself on many authors, mostly conveniently dead, so they can’t object.  I wanted to write with the humor and warmth of Sir Terry Pratchett, the fast-paced style of Dick Francis, the gravitas of Dostoyevsky, the repartee of Georgette Heyer, and the multilayered brilliance of Zelazny… I believe I have succeeded with some of this, except I seem to have the order muddled. I  have the humor and warmth of Dostoyevsky, the fast-paced style of Heyer, the gravitas of Francis. Alas, Sir Terry and Zelazny are above me.

Delight? Oh the hard questions again.  I love to read. I read very fast to make up for the slowness of my writing. I revel in all sorts of things from Banjo Patterson poems to Louis L’Amour, from Heyer to Pratchett, From Douglas Adams to Frank Herbert.  Ah! You mean ‘Literature’.  Well, I’m a particular fan of Footrot Flats by Murray Ball.

6) Can you fill in the blank?  “You might enjoy my work if you are a fan of ______.”

Hulk Hogan? Bugs Bunny? Gimli? (I give up. Why such hard questions? The tears of me are wet.)

7) How did you come up with the idea for your current nominated story?

Eating cheese late at night. It was that or my concern for the state of a genre I love. I happen think all nice boys and girls should love sf and fantasy (and find sf and fantasy to love). I think all nasty boys and girls should too. I am delighted if the rare, nasty, odd, and possibly puke purple creatures crawling out of the East River do too. I just find it worrying when the latter group seems to have become so dominant that the rest lose interest and go and pursue other forms of entertainment and escapism.

8) Care to share with us any glimpses what you are working on for the future?

Besides continuing with the weekly ‘fan’ blog, aimed at other who would like to write (really it’s pay forward thing)? In the short term that would be the next Karres book. In medium term a book about an idealistic do-gooder trapped in a venal and rascally society, on a bizarre planet – a gas giant – which has no solid ground (or at least not where humans could get to it).  Oh and I want to squeeze in a late Renaissance romance (partly to prove I can) set in a decadent Venice with an unfortunate immortal who has to find his soul. Then a tale of an earnest humanity finally making it into interstellar space and a complex Alien society, to find that the Atlantis-dwellers beat them there by millenia, and that humans are both well-known and as welcome as the clap. And then I need to write another cozy murder mystery with my lady-priest-detective.  Yes, I am all over the place. That is the way I am.

Joy cometh in the morning