Author Interview with David Walton
David is a science fiction and fantasy author, which gives him the freedom to explore far beyond the limits of real life and the everyday. His books explores themes that skirt the edges of science and religion, such as human origins, the nature of truth, the certainty of death, and the nature of the soul. He does all his writing at home, where he lives with his wife and seven children. It’s a lively and clamorous place, full of fun, love, and chaos.
Hi David, welcome to The Book Plank and taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
BP: First off could you tell us a bit more about who David is? What are your likes, dislikes, hobbies and how did you became an author?
DW: As well as a science fiction author, I’m an engineer and the father of seven children! My oldest child is fifteen, and my youngest is only two, so my home is a riotous place, full of love, adventure, and chaos. My day job is as a software engineer for Lockheed Martin, which engages my interests in math and algorithms. I enjoy strategy games like chess and go, playing jazz piano, and spending time at home with my family. I started to write fiction in college, when a friend of mine was writing short stories and sending them off to magazines to be rejected. I started writing my own stories and sending those off to be rejected as well! I found that I liked it so much that I’ve kept at it for almost 20 years now.
BP: Your debut won the Philip K. Dick Award back in 2008, did you feel any pressure when writing Superposition/Supersymmetry?
DW: Well, not because of the award. Even after Terminal Mind won, I was a relatively unknown author that few readers had heard of, published by a small press. I still felt like I had plenty to learn and a long way to go to reach a large readership. There’s plenty of pressure with any new story, though, because you never know if other people will like the story as much as you do.
Mostly, though, I don’t think about those things when I write. I write because I love to do it. I want each book to be better than the one before, because I’m going to be spending a lot of time reading it myself. I find that a good litmus test for how well a book is going is whether I’d rather be writing my own book than reading someone else’s. If I’m enjoying the characters and the world enough that I “can’t put it down”, then I hope other readers will feel the same way.
BP: What gave you the inspiration to write Superposition/Supersymmetry?
DW: The idea for Superposition came when I had jury duty at my local courthouse. The trial I was picked for was a doozie: a grown brother and sister were illegally spying on their father, trying to catch him having an affair. The father had plans to fake his own death, collect his own life insurance, and flee the country with his mistress, a Russian native with mob connections. It wasn’t until the father turned up murdered that the police got involved. None of the actual details from the trial show up in the book, but the experience of watching a mystery unfold piece by piece, out of order, through the viewpoints of multiple witnesses, gave me the idea for the structure of the story. And the non-fiction books I was reading on quantum physics gave me an idea that fit perfectly into that structure.
BP: Supersymmetry was released earlier this month, if you would have to sell the book with a single sentence, how would it go?
DW: How about this: “Two versions of the same young woman, living parallel lives, come to grips with the person they might have been when a quantum monster from their past is released into the world.” (This was the toughest question of the bunch!)
BP: Did you encounter any specific problems or difficulties when you were writing Supersymmetry?DW: Supersymmetry was the fastest book I ever wrote. I think that comes out in the breakneck speed at which the events unfold. The real problems came when I tried to go back and revise the story and iron out several plot inconsistencies I hadn’t noticed on the first pass. When stories have as many complicated moving parts as Superposition and Supersymmetry, it can be tough to fix one area without breaking a connected one.
BP: Besides the difficult parts, which chapter or scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
DW: My favorite to write was probably Angel, a robotics researcher who is a significant secondary character. Despite the desperate situations in the book, Angel is always light-hearted, with a joke or funny remark to take the edge off and encourage the others. His character led to a lot of interesting dialogue and his perspective was a fun one to thread through the book.
BP: If you would be given the chance to rewrite any of the scenes of Supersymmetry, would you do so? And if yes, which would they be?
DW: By the time a book is published, I’ve revised it several times on my own, solicited the opinion of beta readers and then revised it some more, worked off the revisions suggested by my editor, and then the copy-editor, and then the proofreader. After I’ve gone through all that, I’m pretty tired of re-reading it, and I’ve had countless chances to rewrite any of the scenes in the book. It’s the best telling of this story I have to offer! So no, I wouldn’t rewrite any of the scenes. If I had wanted to, I would have done so already!
BP: Superposition/Supersymmetry delves deep into science, did you have to do additional research to get certain things correct for the story line?
DW: Yes. I have a background and interest in math and science, but I’m not a quantum physicist. I read a lot of books and bounced ideas off of different knowledgeable people in order to get the science as right as I could. Since publication, I’ve had professional scientists come down on both sides of the question – some really enjoying the book and appreciating the love for the subject I’ve boiled into the story, others taking issue with one small point or another. It’s hard to please everybody. When it comes down to it, of course there are aspects of this story that are scientifically implausible! There are fantastical elements that make this an exciting story to read, but that no one expects to actually happen. For all of the realistic and known scientific references, however, I tried to get it as accurate as I could, so that those who really enjoy science would recognize me as a kindred spirit.
BP: What is your personal opinion about what is possible with quantum mechanics? Can things like the varcolac happen? Are there entities out there? And can we really travel in time and teleport with the Higgs boson?
DW: Quantum mechanics is exciting, because it’s a scientific field where there is still a frontier to be explored, where there are dozens of unanswered questions and possibilities we don’t begin to imagine. With classical physics, there’s not much to imagine—we know what’s possible and what’s not. With quantum physics, we have more freedom to dream, and as in Supersymmetry, our dreams can encompass quite a bit. Do I really believe all of the ideas in Supersymmetry will someday prove to be true? No, I don’t. But the joy of science fiction is that we can explore all that might be, and imagine how the world might be different.
BP: What do you like most about writing fantasy and science fiction?
DW: What I like best about this genre is how wide open it is to talking about serious human issues in the context of stories that are a lot of fun to read. SF writers are like scientists, in a way. A scientist with a new phenomenon to study will experiment with it, studying it under different lights, different environments, different pressures, different temperatures, to try to understand it fully. Science fiction writers do the same thing, only we do it with the human race. We put humans (or alien creatures, or artificial intelligences, or uplifted animals) into every conceivable future, with altered bodies, altered brains, altered forms of communication. We experiment with family structures, with genders, with governments, with societal mores and assumptions of all kinds. We imagine what impacts technologies could have on consciousness, intelligence, our views of race and age and education, on our sense of self. And in doing so, we gain a better understanding of what it meant to be human in the first place.
BP: Now that Supersymmetry has been published, what can we expect from you in the future?
DW: I’m currently working on a book provisionally titled The Genius Plague. It’s a work in progress, so I won’t say too much, but the big concept is a pandemic that, if it doesn’t kill you, makes you smarter. The story follows two brothers, one who’s convinced the infection represents the next stage of human evolution, and the other who wants to destroy it. Who is right? Is it a symbiotic organism beneficial to humanity at large? Or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien species?
BP: If you would have to recommend your five favourite books which would they be.
DW: That’s a constantly changing list, as people keep on writing great books, and I’m usually in love with the ones I’ve read most recently! But of course, I also have classics that I’ve loved since forever. Narrowing down to five is like telling me to pick my five favorite children. Impossible! But here are five that I adore. Most of them are newer reads, because they’re fresher in my mind and fun to talk about.
· The Girl With All The Gifts, by M. R. Carey – Beautifully written, with layers of meaning, deep characters, thought-provoking situations, and one of the most surprising and yet perfect endings I’ve ever read.
· The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – The protagonist in this book is fascinating – lively, intense, passionate, intelligent, creative, and yet somehow completely likable. There’s a lot of invention and lovely prose in this book (and its sequel), but it’s the character of Qvothe that makes it one of my favorites.
· The Expanse series, by James S. A. Corey – This is the one my friends and I are all reading and talking about now. Great characters, great setting, great writing. (And yes, that’s more than one book. Since I’m cheating anyway, I’ll throw in the Dagger and Coin series by Daniel Abraham (one of the pair of authors who writes as Corey), which I love for a lot of the same reasons.)
· The Time-Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger – Possibly the most mind-bending book I’ve ever read. This was one of the touchstone books I was trying to imitate when I wrote Superposition—not in any of the details of the plot or characters, but in the ability to weave such a complex and interlocking plot and make it all work so perfectly.
· Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card – I had to include a classic. This is a book that, probably more than any other, set me down the path of writing SF, and a lot of Card’s early works were instrumental in my early writing.
BP: And just lastly, can you give the readers a sneak peek of what is in store for them in Supersymmetry?
DW: Let’s see. You’ll encounter quantum technology that enables objects to jump through walls, bullets to diffract, and people to exist in more than one place at a time. You’ll find a quantum creature so alien no human can ever hope to understand it, with the power to alter the past and the future. You’ll find a pair of “twins” who are really the same person, split into two fifteen years earlier by an encounter with that same creature. Add to that a neurotic physicist, the assassination of the Secretary of Defence, a brewing nuclear war, and robotic quadcopters that can teleport, and you’ll have a glimpse of what’s in store for you. I hope you’ll give it a try!
BP: Thank you for your time David and good luck with writing the sequel and your future projects
DW: You’re welcome!