• Gary Ballard

Gary Ballard

SLP: The beginning is always a good starting point, Gary. Where and when were you born?

GB: I was born in 1971 in Meridian, Mississippi.

SLP: Did you spend your childhood there as well?

GB: I’ve lived in various parts of Mississippi. The first 12 years of my life were rural living — my family lived outside Meridian for about 8 years then moved five miles from an even smaller town, Quitman, for the next four years. From there, we moved to the suburbs of the state capital, Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve lived in the suburbs ever since.

SLP: Where were you educated?

GB: Public school, then to Belhaven College where I graduated entirely too many years ago with a Bachelor of Arts in Art.

SLP: Where do you currently reside?

GB: I live in the suburbs of Jackson, Mississippi.

SLP: Other than writing, what is your principal occupation?

GB: I work in my day job at a local marketing/advertising/PR firm, designing web sites and interactive presentations, and working on Internet marketing campaigns for search, social media and traditional web sites.

SLP: What do you write?

GB: The main genre I’m interested in at the moment is cyberpunk, which is a sub-genre of science-fiction. It’s mainly focused on near future dystopia, with super powerful megacorporations vying against rogue hackers in a world awash with technology and information.

SLP: What genres appeal to you as both writer and reader?

GB: I will read almost anything, except bodice-ripping romance. Fantasy, literary fiction, scifi, adventure, horror, political nonfiction. My writing is mostly scifi and cyberpunk, but I have ideas for fantasy as well as literary and philosophical fiction.

SLP: What writers have most influenced your work?

GB: The three big beat writers, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg; William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and Neal Stephenson for cyberpunk; Camus and Sartre, Kafka; Stephen King in my early years though not so much after The Stand; Tolkien and various role-playing games, especially Cyberpunk 2020 by Mike Pondsmith.

SLP: What other genres such as screenwriting, travel writing, etc., if any, have you considered?

GB: I have at least one idea for a novel that is pretty dark fantasy, some more futuristic scifi than the cyberpunk genre, and I’ve always wanted to do some screenwriting, with an eye to directing the movies I write.

SLP: Do you write primarily at home?

GB: Yes, most of my writing is at home, in my bedroom.

SLP: Do you ever write in public places such as coffee shops, etc.?

GB: I’ve never really tried writing in public places. Those places are great for sketching and drawing, but not writing.

SLP: Do you prefer writing mornings or evenings?

GB: I’m usually better when I write on the weekends, in late morning which usually spills over into early afternoon.

SLP: Do you set aside specific times to write? If so, when?

GB: The groove I’ve gotten into lately since setting myself the schedule of publishing one full chapter in two discrete chunks each week has worked well. On Saturday and sometimes Sunday morning, I’ll wake up, walk the dogs and watch a football match (preferably Liverpool), then write however much I’ve set aside to write until it’s time for lunch.

SLP: Do you feel you have sufficient time to write?

GB: Good God, no. Working a 40-hour work week severely limits my writing time, but I’m lucky in that I tend to write and think really fast.

SLP: How many hours per day do you devote to writing?

GB: I tried setting aside 30 minutes to an hour every day for writing, but I’m not that type of writer. That schedule doesn’t help me. Putting in the concentrated 1-3 hours on the weekend gives me better results.

SLP: If possible would you like to write full time, or do you have other overriding interests?

GB: My dream would be to make enough money to write full time from home. But one must pay the bills.

SLP: Why do you write? Do you feel compelled to write, or is it a hobby?

GB: I love writing. I think part of the driving focus behind writers in general doing what they do is ego. In my own case, I have this weird dichotomy — like most writers, I’m horribly insecure about my writing, so I crave the validation of positive feedback, which is such an ego stroke. But at the same time, I have this massive ego which all writers must have — as a writer, you are stating that what you have to say on whatever subject you choose is important enough for other people to read. When you charge for that writing, you are really saying that your words, your thoughts has significant value.

SLP: When and how did your interest in writing first manifest itself?

GB: I was eleven years old, and had gotten interested in fantasy literature by reading Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Through that interest, I discovered the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. I started writing stories based on the characters and classes of D&D on an old electric typewriter we had. From there, it morphed into writing derivative stories based on things I enjoyed reading, like gritty Mack Bolan action stories and King-like horror stories. Most were really bad, but I was learning.

SLP: Do you have any other creative outlets such as music, dance, or graphic arts?

GB: I’ve always been a creative person. I got a degree in art and used to love drawing, painting and photography, though most of those are sidelines these days. My work as a web site designer uses a lot of those artistic skills as well. I’ve dabbled in music, including putting together the music for my first book trailer.

SLP: Do you primarily write on a computer? If so, laptop or desktop?

GB: I write on a desktop. Laptop keyboards are way too small for my awkward fingers.

SLP: Are you a serious note-taker?

GB: I’m horrible about taking notes. I don’t even take notes in most meetings. I take notes in my head, which is unfortunate, because I have a deteriorating memory. But I’m constantly thinking about what I’m going to write while doing other mundane tasks, like driving or walking the dogs or showering. I’ll often write entire scenes in my head months before they are actually committed to disk.

SLP: Do you have a daily goal as to how much you write?

GB: No, I found that if I write in discrete chunks when I write, it comes together more cohesively than trying to force a specific amount of time per day.

SLP: Do you have a specific technique for priming the pump for the next day’s writing?

GB: I find my best ideas usually come while consuming other media — watching TV or movies, or listening to really good music while driving. I’ll see a concept or hear a phrase and my mind will take it and create a what-if scenario around that one kernel of an idea, or one bit of imagery.

SLP: How do you deal with writer’s block?

GB: I haven’t ever really had an issue with writer’s block, knock on wood.

SLP: What are your reading habits? How much do you read?

GB: Not nearly enough. I read so slowly that it’ll take me a month or more to get through one book, so I only read one at a time.

SLP: Who are a few of your favorite authors?

GB: See my influences above. Kerouac, Burroughs, Stephenson, Sterling, and Gibson all really resonate with me. Camus and Sartre are what I read when I really want to ponder life.

SLP: What are you currently reading?

GB: I’m knee deep in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age.

SLP: What would you estimate to be the ratio of fiction to nonfiction?

GB: It’s mostly fiction. Probably 75% fiction or more. Most of my nonfiction reading is on the web, or military history, or current event political controversy.

SLP: When discovering a book you’ve begun isn’t to your liking do you feel compelled to finish it?

GB: Not anymore. Life is too short and there are too many books I haven’t read to waste time on crappy books.

SLP: Do you prefer reading ebooks rather than paper books?

GB: I’ll read either. I love the convenience of ebooks, though it certainly doesn’t replace the tactile feel of a good paper book. But as a society that has to be conscious of the impact we are having on the planet we live in, I have to consider the benefits of the electronic transfer and storage of information. Paper books are inefficient, they destroy trees, they are horrible for personal storage and they deteriorate. Electronic storage of information can contain entire libraries in a bloody key chain. The entire Library of Congress and Alexandria could be saved and maintained for future generations to experience, to learn from. But in order to do that, we need electricity, and electricity is generated by burning things these days. So we really aren’t making much difference environmentally either way. But the future — the future requires us to think harder about how we generate power and how we transmit information.

SLP: Is Under The Amoral Bridge to any extent based on your own life experiences?

GB: There are interpersonal relationships in the book that are inspired by relationships I’ve had in the past, but for the most part, there are no events I can point to that the book is based on.

SLP: Do the high-tech/low-life aspects of the cyberpunk genre particularly appeal to you?

GB: Definitely. I have started to refer to cyberpunk as the ultimate expression of modern class warfare. The faceless oligarchic institutions of the modern corporation are oppressing the world, including the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The cyberpunk protagonist is usually someone with the intelligence and academic background of a petite bourgeoisie but the conditions of the corporate dominance have forced him into the life of a prole. There’s an essay in there somewhere.

SLP: Are any of the characters modeled on real people?

GB: Not directly, no, but there are aspects of people I’ve known in both the main character, Bridge, and in other characters throughout.

SLP: Do the political aspects of the story represent a special interest of yours?

GB: Yes, as you can probably tell by my discussion about class warfare above. As I’ve written the sequels to the book, I’ve poked around with the politics. None of the characters represent my actual political beliefs, but part of their beliefs I use to explore the consequences of those beliefs. What happens when this particular philosophy is taken to extremes? But I have also tried to balance the political and philosophical side to keep it from being didactic. It’s fiction — it has to be entertaining first.

SLP: Are the events in the book wholly a product of your imagination?

GB: Yes, I’ve been building the world in my head for over 15 years. It originally began as the setting for a role-playing game I created. That later became a novel which is set two years after the events in Bridge. The Bridge Chronicles series will be setting up a lot of the historical events for that original novel.

SLP: Did the story unfold easily or did you find it difficult to write?

GB: Once I picked the main character, the situation and had the ending in my head, it came pretty easily.

SLP: Approximately how long did the book take?

GB: I started writing in late 2007, probably around November or December. I began publishing the chapters on the web site in late January 2008, and was continually writing it through the last chapter and epilogue, which was completed around July 2008.

SLP: On the whole, do you consider your stories primarily character-driven or action-driven?

GB: I think my best writing is action scenes, specifically gun fights, but these are so few and far between that the stories really are character-driven. I have lots of scenes of people doing nothing more exciting than talking.

SLP: Did the characters ever seem to have minds of their own, taking the story in unforeseen directions?

GB: Most definitely. Bridge is intensely interesting to me, and I’m always thinking of how he reacts to things. At times, I know exactly how he’ll react but the interesting thing is realizing WHY he reacted that way in the first place.

SLP: Were you blocked at any point while writing the novel?

GB: Not at all.

SLP: Is writing strictly a linear process for you, or do you often switch between chapters?

GB: I write in a very linear fashion, one chapter to the next. But I’m always thinking about the stuff that’s yet to be written.

SLP: Do you work from a plot outline?

GB: I’m a terrible outliner. I will usually outline the first few chapters. I will have a specific ending in mind, often with the entire scene written in my head, and then I’ll work backwards from there to the outlined chapters. Finally, by the time I get to writing down the things I’ve outlined in my head, they are pretty well solidified.

SLP: Were there surprises when writing this particular book? If so, what were they?

GB: The surprises mostly dealt with how interesting I found the character of Bridge. He is a complete bastard, but he is a blast to write. Acerbic, witty, cynical, reprehensible, but at the same time there is a kernel of something there that he tries so hard to bury. And there’s this self-destructive nature to him that he doesn’t see. It’s something he criticizes his clients for, their self-destructive insistence on the horrible things he can get for them. Meanwhile, he’s spiraling into this same sort of behavior. Another surprise was the Paulie character. He’s fun to write as well.

SLP: Did the book end as you originally planned?

GB: Yes, in fact, the entire conversation with Thames was written out in my mind before I started on the first chapter.

SLP: Is the Arsenal Club modeled on an existing establishment?

GB: No, though I guess it’s kind of like a Hard Rock Cafe for football.

SLP: Do you believe cyberpunk to be growing in popularity?

GB: I think it’s one of those genres that will probably never be particularly mainstream. There is a lot of jargon it relies on, as well as some concepts that don’t translate well to some readers. But you have things like “The Matrix,” which while not purely cyberpunk (and wholly horrible past the first movie), have been at least successful enough to make it a useful comparison when someone asks “What’s cyberpunk?”

SLP: To what extent do you feel William Gibson and other prominent cyberpunk writers have influenced your work?

GB: Gibson certainly influenced me, if for no other reason than the impact he had on the genre as a whole. I’ve gotten some interesting ideas from reading his work, some of which have been incorporated in the later stories set in this world. Sterling has some fantastic ideas, and is the most down-to-earth of the three big cyberpunk writers. Stephenson showed me that you could be ironic and funny with cyberpunk without losing the edge.

SLP: What writing software do you use?

GB: I’ve been dabbling with StorYbook to make myself more organized, though I’ve mostly used it for keeping character names and descriptions straight. Other than that, I use an old copy of Word 97 to write the novels themselves.

SLP: What’s your next writing project? Is it underway?

GB: I’m currently writing the third novel in the Bridge Chronicles series. It’s set to be released serially on the blog in mid-February of 2010. At the same time, I’ll be releasing the sequel to Bridge, called The Know Circuit, in paperback and ebook formats. It was released serially on the web site last year.

SLP: Does it also have a cyberpunk theme?

GB: Yes, both are direct sequels of Under the Amoral Bridge — part of a series called The Bridge Chronicles.

SLP: When do you anticipate finishing it?

GB: I’m probably halfway through it now. I’m hoping to finish it between spring and the beginning of summer, with the last piece released serially in late summer.

SLP: Can you offer a ‘high concept’ or brief plot summary?

GB: The third novel will take place months after the events of The Know Circuit. Bridge will get caught in the middle of a gang war, thanks to his ties to Stonewall Ricardo. But as always, there’s something more to the gang war the obvious.

SLP: Concerning the state of digital publishing, what do you believe will be the short- and long-term impact of ebooks on the publishing industry?

GB: Ebooks have got to change the way we distribute books. The key will be creating a reader that is cheap cheap cheap — sub-$100 cheap, but still accessible enough to make it palatable to the readers and the general public. Short-term, we’ll hopefully see a lot of books that were out-of-print available again, and perhaps the publishing industry can use that to bolster their balance sheets during this crappy economy. Long-term, I think the industry really needs to examine the rather inefficient model of pushing paper around to brick and mortar stores. With print-on-demand (which is what my book uses), there’s little reason for print runs, major distribution to every town and burg in the country, or giant, big-box stores carrying thousands of titles. Why not carry millions of titles, stored on digital media, printable within days using POD machines, or immediately transferrable to an ebook reader? Sure, B&M stores can still carry plenty of existing copies of the best-sellers, but there’s no reason to carry one copy of my book which you have to reorder when it sells. Carry my book on disk, offer samples for reading in store on kiosks, then print to order. The only reason not to do this kind of thing is that it hasn’t been done before, and lots of people are employed at doing it the way it’s been done. Removing the distribution part of the chain is a hard thing to do, but it’s necessary long-term.

SLP: What do you think of the current publishers’ pricing structure for ebooks?

GB: Crap. Absolutely rubbish. I’m especially disappointed in the horror stories I’m hearing about publishers charging their authors to provide their novel in ebook format. If Smashwords can let you create an ebook for no cost, merely taking a small transaction fee every time it sells, there is no reason an ebook should cost as much as a hardback ever. But as an indie author, I’m struggling with my pricing for ebooks and paperbacks — too much and no one buys it, too little and no one respects it. I’ve decided that the paperback will be a little expensive, merely out of necessity, while the ebook will be much cheaper. In fact, I plan on keeping Under the Amoral Bridge available for $.99 cents permanently (both on Smashwords and the Kindle store). Since it’s the first in a series, I figure it will hook the reader with the cheap book, and show them the subsequent books are worth buying for a little more.

SLP: Do you currently own an ereader?

GB: Not a dedicated reader, no. I use Mobipocket Reader on the Blackberry provided by my day job.

SLP: That wraps up the interview portion. Now for a taste of Under The Amoral Bridge:

Bridge ordered a cheaper single-malt scotch to sip on, asking the waitress to tell the band he was in the building. His first client was Bobby Ardent, the male half of the Ardents duo. They were a brother and sister team, he the guitarist and songwriter, Candace playing the rest of the instruments. Their recordings were veritable walls of sound, ten and twenty instruments laid on top of each other. Candace would play the piano parts live while using her interface jack to control recordings of the other instruments. Bridge didn’t like much popular music, relying on his GlobalNet agents to find him obscure bands from Japan and Chechnya. But the Ardents were interesting, and not just because they were clients.

Bobby appeared in minutes, his demeanor the nervous anticipation of Bridge’s typical client. Bobby’s request was a simple one. He wanted to spy on his sister. Bobby wanted a full tap on his sister’s life, from cameras to GlobalNet to chat transcripts, especially her avatar’s actions in the GlobalNet. Of course, he would never admit why he wanted such a thing, and Bridge wouldn’t force him. Bridge didn’t care that Bobby was in love with his sister. That wasn’t germane to the business at hand. Bobby wanted something and Bridge knew a guy. Bobby’s excuse was that he wanted to make sure she didn’t get involved with the wrong guy. Maybe he even believed that. “Bobby! My favorite rock star!” Bridge greeted the musician with an ear-to-ear grin.

“Hey Bridge, you got it?” Bobby’s wrinkled face was coated in a thin film of sweat, his black goatee glistening. Bridge was somewhat distracted by the band’s video playing on the shoulder of Bobby’s jacket. “Is everything set up?”

“My guy is ready. He just needs the word from you to turn on the tap.” Bridge handed over a muted email bizchip. Bobby only had to fingerprint himself on the card and an email would be sent to the contact, a hacker who specialized in surveillance for private dicks, lawyers and tonight, pervy brothers.

“And these are undetectable? She won’t know it’s there?”

“@Rg0n0t is good. He’s the one who caught Shelley Tilton’s hubby fucking around on her. Motherfucker never knew what hit him.”

Bobby reached an unsteady hand towards the card. “There’s just the little matter of my fee,” Bridge interrupted.

Bobby pulled out a PDA, a clunky old tech relic. Bobby was a half-Naturalist, rebelling against technology by refusing to get an interface jack, but he wasn’t committed enough to the cause to join the Naturalist communes that were springing up in the remote areas of Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas. The most commitment to anything he’d mustered were a few PSA’s decrying the despoiling of the environment by multinational corporations like the one that owned his record label. “You’re taken care of. Ten grand in five-year.”

Bridge smiled and passed over the bizchip. Bobby grabbed it greedily in both hands, planting his thumbprint forcefully on the scanner. “Message sent,” replied the card. Bobby dropped it to the table like it had suddenly burst into flames.

“It’s done then,” he said as much to himself as to Bridge. Bridge just nodded. “You swear you won’t breathe a word of this to anybody?”

“Your priest will spill the beans before I will.”

“My priest was a son-of-a-bitch.”

“Ain’t they all?” Bridge quipped with a laugh. The humor escaped Bobby.

“I gotta go get ready. We’re on in ten.”

“Awesome. For real. Break a leg or something.” As Bobby walked away, Aristotle came over, pointing towards the door. Bridge’s next client had entered the hall. Bridge put @Rg0n0t’s card in the table’s ashtray and activated its self-destruct code, a program that not only caused the card’s physical material to break down, but sent a virus through the GlobalNet that erased the message trail from the card. The only evidence of the transaction was now in Bridge’s head and Bobby’s conscience.

SLP: Under The Amoral Bridge is available in both ebook and paper editions from leading bookstores and online sources. Up to the minute information on the entire Bridge Chronicles series can be found on Gary Ballard’s blog.

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Published on January 14, 2010 at 8:50 PM  Leave a Comment  

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