Author Interview - July 2021
Questions by fantasy author Suzanna J. Linton
My name is Nicolas Lemieux and I live in Montreal with my wife Marie-Claude in a third-storey apartment overlooking an interesting, green back-alley.
Although French is my first language, I like to write in English primarily. My chosen writing genre is science fiction, principally space opera.
I get my kicks out of dreaming up astonishing worlds packed with a sharp palette of badass, quirky characters who get tangled up in all manners of meaningful trouble. Often funny, sometimes disquieting, always exciting.
I believe stories have the power to stretch our imagination in all kinds of ways. They expand our worldview and give us practical tools for living. They ignite our curiosity on all kinds of subject matters. They make us thirsty for more exploration, more ways to look at the world, more pondering and more discoveries.
Link to download “Cradle”
Questions and Answers
1. Nicolas Lemieux, what inspired you to be a writer?
I had no ambition to become a writer to start with, and no real notion of “paying forward”, but this is what it really became over time: to me, writing books of my own is the best contribution to the world I could ever think of.
I used to read adventure stories as a kid. Once when I was eight, I wrote a novel. It was about a mica-eating monster who lived down an active volcano. Very scary. I wrote the whole story and I was proud of myself. It didn’t matter that the novel had only a few pages. But it never crossed my mind to become a writer then.
Probably from the get go, reading was to me like a virtual reality experience—only better. It was like a deep dive, a complete immersion into the reality of the story I was reading. I was the protagonist, living through the story. Nothing has ever equaled that for me ever since.
I remember spending a considerable amount of time at my school library between classes, rather than facing all the excitement of the noisy hallways. Reading was with me at all times, and I kept it as close as possible ever since, through good times and bad times.
Somewhere in the process, I found myself wishing I could do it myself: write a book that would bring someone else the same sense of reality, wonder and possibility.
I guess the idea stayed with me. Then it grew stronger over time.
And then one day, I realized that writing also had the potential to include pretty much all the things I loved. No longer did I love too many things for my own good!
With writing, I could reunite sciences and music for instance, which were the two things between which I’d had an agonizing time choosing.
(An excellent example would be Orson Scott Card’s Songmaster.) I loved physics and astronomy, I loved singing and acting. But also, I was fascinated with biology, philosophy, archeology, anthropology and evolution, history and geography… and pretty much everything in-between. With writing, it became a possibility to visit them all in turn, if not all together.
Books do stretch our imagination in all kinds of ways. They expand our worldview and give us practical tools for living. They ignite our curiosity on all kinds of subject matters. They make us thirsty for more stories, more exploration, more ways to look at the world, more pondering and soul searching, and more discoveries.
2. Is the short story "Cradle" connected with your current work in progress?
Absolutely! "Cradle" is a scene that sprung to life when I was re-thinking the story, shortly after having completed the first draft. It is the very first scene I presented to my developmental editor (Courtney Harrell) as I began my work with her.
I imagined "Cradle" first taking place toward the beginning of the story, maybe even at the very beginning with a bit of re-working. Then the whole novel project evolved a lot, and the story changed accordingly. Today, I think "Cradle" is going to take place closer to the end of the first act. That’s where my heroine Anita undergoes her first global crisis, when she is confronted with her first very hard choice.
3. What is the title of your current work in progress? Can you tell us a little about it?
The working title is Seven Drifts.
It's an epic space opera featuring a drifting city spaceship, a wannabe sleuth, murders, rebels and an antique wooden treasure chest.
The story has undergone a few redesigns already, as it became more and more solid and precise, both in my mind and on the page. The title has evolved along with it. It started as Who Killed Felipe Crasotte? Then it changed to The Driftist. Today it's Seven Drifts.
In the process, I explored different genres that competed to take over the story. It started with an action adventure and labyrinth plot with a feel of cosy mystery. Then it morphed into a serial killer thriller (although still with a cosy mystery feel to it). Then it went back to an action story, this time with more emphasis on its rebellion aspects.
All the while keeping the humour and lightness of tone Anita’s character brings to the story.
All these seemingly conflicting genres are still pretty much in there as secondary plots, brewing in the background with various levels of energy. But in the end, it is just a matter of structuring the story around the one genre that resonates best.
4. “Cradle” hints at a larger world where a faction may be trying to end a way of life. Is this inspired by real world events?
Not intentionally. But many parallels could be drawn.
Imagine a world dominated by a seemingly benevolent power, a world where no one ever questions the decisions and choices that made that world what it is today. Because people have been led to believe the lie that there was no other option at the time.
The city is what it is: perfect. It's the best place to live. The fact that it used to be a starship on a journey has become irrelevant. Since we can’t travel anymore, we might as well make the best of it. Don't we have everything we could ever wish for right here right now? Who needs the rest of humanity? Aren’t we better-off without re-entering the wars, conflicts and misery that come with the rest of humankind?
5. What is the hardest part of being a writer or the writing process?
One challenge, I’d say, is dealing with the constant context switching. I’ll write for an hour, then I’ll go to work, then I’ll try to switch back to writing over lunch or at night. Some weeks, too many other things will need to be done, and I’ll be several days without seeing my writing project. Then I’ll have to re-acquaint myself with it. It feels like forever starting over. This uses up a considerable amount of brain energy.
Another challenge for me is to not allow the story to become too complex. I love complex stories. I revel in them. The flip side is that the project becomes like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that needs a lot of organizing. This takes a lot of time too. On the other hand, it’s exactly what I signed up for.
6. What books have influenced you and your writing the most?
As a teenager, I read classics of literature, of course. But also, classics of the YA literature of the time.
Bob Morane is a great example.
(Note: I was a teen during the eighties, but the Bob Morane series started back in the fifties. And just now, I learned through a simple search that it is still expanding today! In 2012, original author Henry Vernes co-authored with Gilles Devindilis, who was then designated to continue with Bob Morane’s new adventures.)
Morane was this French hero, roaming the world and beyond over hundreds of short books that touched on a wonderful variety of genres. The books featured James-Bond-like spy action, jungle exploration, post-WWII nazi hunting, spacetime travel, time travel with dinosaurs, time travel with knights and minstrels. The stories had a bit of fantasy sometimes, and parallel worlds. The only constant was that Bob Morane would never fail to get himself into the most impossible situation you can imagine.
I read over 230 Bob Morane novels before I moved on to other things. (I kept a tab.) Bob Morane was also my first brush with sci-fi.
Over the years, I discovered many other authors and stories. Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Asimov’s Foundation and Robots series. A.E. Van Vogt. Philip Jose Farmer. Michel Tournier. I can’t recall them all.
More recently: Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, Snow Crash, Diamond Age, The Baroque Trilogy and Seveneves. And then, books by Alastair Reynold: House of Suns, The Revelation Space series and the Blue Remembered Earth series. Not to forget, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, plus a ton of cosy mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith. The Harry Potter books. I must mention also, I had one of the best and most influential reading times of my life with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
7. Do you have a writing routine or ritual?
Back in the late 2010’s, I would have told you I was the master of routine. I usually wrote for one hour in the morning before going to work, then another hour over lunch, pretty much every day. I scheduled at least two writing nights per week, sometimes three. Depending on my energy level, my nightly sessions could last from one hour and a half to up to three hours. I would often take a Friday off work to write more, or a Monday, where I aimed for at least five hours of focussed writing, sometimes up to nine. Over the weekends, I would have to limit myself with only three to four hours before lunch, after which the balance of life had to be dealt with in a very short time…
But now it’s mid 2021, and it was 2020 for a whole long year before it. I’ve had to make some adjustments. Working from home should have given me more time, but for some reason, I seemed to end up with less—or if not less actual time, certainly less quality sleep and less overall energy.
I still aim to get up early and write before I go to work, but somehow it's harder to achieve now than it used to, even if my workplace is now only seven steps away from our kitchen. Writing over lunch is harder too, because since I am home, I’d rather spend a bit of quality time with my wife, like eating lunch and enjoying a few minutes of chilling. I still schedule writing nights though, and weekend morning sessions plus the occasional intensive Friday or Monday.
Less writing time, more rest.
Yet somehow, I have a feeling that quality is more important than quantity when it comes to writing time. What if I can achieve as much in seven to twelve hours per week nowadays, than I used to in fifteen to twenty, way back when before the pandemic?
8. Where do you do most of your writing?
Pre-20’s, every day at lunch, I would try and find a quiet spot in one of the old Montreal coffee shops near my working place. It was no picnic, what with the crowd of office workers and tourists that never failed to take the place over, summer or winter. I could rarely find quiet, but I would plug my ears with earphones and create a kind of musical isolation bubble for myself.
At home, my favourite spot is an antique, too-small-for-me wooden rocking chair that sits by the window in the corner of my home office. Barely comfortable but full of quirky character and evocative of another time. I like to sit by the window of my third story apartment, overlooking the back alley. I call it my eagle's nest—my eyrie. I like to perch there with either pen and paper or my old laptop. But I can’t huddle there for too long before my back and buttocks start crying out, so I move on to my desk.
My desk is really just a second-hand Ikea table with an added sliding keyboard tray. I love it. I fire up my home computer—I don’t always like doing it, because it is also my working place, so I feel I am spending an insane amount of time sitting on that same chair, staring at the same computer screen—and don't get me wrong, I love my day job; my career in IT is challenging, growth-inductive and mentally nutritive.
But once I start working on my writing project, I become a writer again and where I'm sitting stops mattering at all.
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