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Interview with Steve Heiman

He fled the big city life at the age of ten to enjoy a healthy country upbringing on a farm. After decades of dreaming about writing a book, the Covid-19 Lockdown of 2020 became his golden opportunity to actually make it happen. A lifetime resident of the Northwest, he now lives in Portland and looks forward to a future life in the country with a dog and several cats while writing more zany escapades.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I used to be a semi-pro-level pool player.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
I am currently working on two books. The third book of the Jack Gripper series is titled Oops, Wrong Universe!, and a fantasy novel titled The Source of All Magic. I hope to release both books in 2023. So not too near, but certainly not years away. I’m hard at work!

Q.3 What inspired you to write the Jack Gripper series?
For most of my adult life, I have considered writing a novel but never really committed to the effort. When COVID hit, I was stuck at home unemployed for nearly four months and applied myself to writing. I was working on my very first book, a darker, more dystopian story, and it was absolutely depressing to write. 

One day on my walk, I was bemoaning this fact and wondering why I didn’t write something fun and uplifting when the entire story of Jack Gripper plopped into my head. I raced home and wrote the first chapters that afternoon.

Q.4 What is the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I think both genders struggle a little to accurately depict the other. I had a handful of female beta readers and made sure that was a pivotal point I wanted their input on, and I think that helped a ton. I can only hope my female readers approve of the result!

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I don’t follow typical writing approaches for story development. I don’t map out my plots or character arcs beforehand but simply lay out the bare bones of the story, then use chapter summaries to give myself a roadmap of the main elements. 

So I have main points I look to complete but let the characters dictate how I get there. I then address the story and character arc, check for plotholes, and balance narrative and dialogue. I do spend a fair amount of time considering the backstories of my characters for depth and nuance. I do the same with world-building.

Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwines with other literary genres?
Hopefully, expanding! I think sci-fi has one of the most diverse ranges of genres in literature. I think in that regard, it has already meshed with other genres and will continue in that direction. Our world is becoming increasingly technological, and science is catching up to some of our wildest speculations!

Q.7 How do you see the relationship between science fiction and culture? How about the boundaries between science fiction and reality?
For me, the art of all categories is a commentary on the human condition. It can reflect the pain, wonder, and joy of existence with our internal selves or our relationship with the world around us. I feel strongly that the importance of art in culture is critical and is directly related to its health. Science fiction as an art form is as valid as music or theater, both of which I adore.

Sci-fi has undoubtedly been a beacon for the potential of our future selves and has predicted or inspired countless scientific breakthroughs. We live in an exciting time where we are faced with dire environmental and sociological threats but are simultaneously making the most astonishing strides in the frontiers of science. The occurrence of major scientific breakthroughs is escalating at an exponential rate. The boundaries between speculation and reality are certainly thinning.

Q.8 To what extent can science fiction effect or improve the developments in science and technology in human life? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future?
Absolutely! I have long felt that the burden of helping guide us to a better future has sadly rested on the shoulders of science fiction and fantasy authors. There is no collective roadmap for humanity nor any long-range plan or actual goal. I feel this is much to our detriment. 

As writers, we model not just the possible technological advances but also our spiritual and physical relationship with them. The value to society of contemplating these potential futures and human experiences is not something that can be quantified, but I personally hold it in high regard as it pertains to us advancing as a species.

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the critical aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
Yes, I think so. I don’t know that we’ll ever have another classic era. At the time, the potential and edges of technology were very much underestimated. Some of the technology of today is not far from magic comparatively speaking, and yet culturally, we are far more blasé about it. Holographs? No big deal. Conquering the human genome? Been there and done that. Higgs boson? Tracked that little puppy! Spooky action at a distance? Proven! What else have you got?

With that perspective in mind, I would say the impact of classic sci-fi on society and science was far more significant then than it is now. It was almost literally ‘mind-blowing’ for some. While those glory days might be gone, we still have a responsibility to explore the edges and shadows of our scientific future.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped popularize the genre?
Science fiction is just fun! There really are no limits. And with so many authors' genre mixing, anything is fair game. The impact of movies like Star Wars absolutely took sci-fi from the fringe to the mainstream. Special effects have taken movies to the next level in depicting sci-fi. Now, if they can just get back to telling good stories again… Sigh.

Q.11 For long, humans have been looking for immortality at all costs. Do you think this will lead to our eventual dehumanization?
Great question. Mortality is the one thing we can all count on experience. Overcoming that would absolutely change our identity, so yes, we would no longer be human as we are now. It is impossible to say if this would be bad or good, but I am personally not inclined to want to live forever. 

Perhaps if we conquer space and inhabit other planets across the galaxy, that can be an option. But it isn’t a good idea in our current state on planet earth. I wouldn’t mind not suffering from the ailments of age, though!

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most influential period in the whole history of the genre?
Classic era for sure. That was the time of new ideas that genuinely had NEVER been written before. There is no question in my mind it was the most influential on both science and culture.

Q.13 If your book is made into a movie, whom would you like to play the role of Jack?
A. Jim Carrey
at twenty-five but played a bit straighter, not his full-on slapstick self. Jack is a goofball but also has a more reflective and spiritual aspect that must be present.

Q.14 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
Two - Greetings, Planet Earth and Help, I Lost My Planet. I would say I am prouder of the second as it proved my ability to continue as a writer. And the characters grew and became more nuanced, so I liked everyone more.

Q.15 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
Oh yes! I reread everything countless times and obsessively sculpt my sentences as I go. Not typical, but it works for me.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
With human names, I am careful to reflect existing cultural names. I struggled with my main female character and changed her name when I was nearly done with the first book. Otherwise, names come pretty quickly.

With alien names, I start with how it feels rolling off the tongue. I was always a fan of Lewis Carrol, and making up new English words or alien or foreign-sounding languages has long been a pet habit of mine. I check everything on Google, and it is surprising how difficult it is to come up with unique spellings and words. The human language is incredibly diverse.

Q.17 What do you want readers to take away from your books?
Two things. A sense of joy in life and also hope for our future as a species. Will we ever achieve a truly utopian society? It’s doubtful; the human spirit is too feisty. But I think we need to aspire to it in order for society to not become a self-defeating system.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
I struggled with this for a moment, then realized it had to be Leonardo Da Vinci, hands down. He was an artist and scientist extraordinaire. I like to dabble in stuff, and he made an impression on me early in life. His interest in the world and universe knew no bounds. He would be a fascinating man to meet.

Q.19 What is your favorite book and why?
Oh, you do ask tough questions! I think I’m gonna go with Tom Robbins's Skinny Legs and All. Like my work, it is utterly goofy (C’mon Can o’ Beans!) but poignantly addresses the topics of art in society, racism and sexism, and politics and spirituality vs. religion.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
The creative process is a blast but takes dedication and work. The promotional side of running a business as an Indie author is daunting. Book publishing is not for the faint of heart. 

But I absolutely adore the storytelling aspect. I am a lifelong fan of sci-fi and fantasy, have dabbled in metaphysics and quantum physics (for non-scientists), and was a theater major in college. I get to include all of that in my work. What could be better?

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