Author T C Weber is a morning person, and he begins his day with what he loves doing most: writing. In an exclusive email interaction with The Literary Juggernaut, Mr Weber, who is a member of Poets & Writers and the Maryland Writers Association, says when working on a novel, his goal is to write one scene each day, schedule permitting. ‘I ensure that I write something every morning, even if it’s just random thoughts or a few paragraphs. Long scenes may take several days,’ explains the author, who also knows to speak Spanish besides a bit of Russian and Japanese. Letting us know that he has pursued writing since childhood and learnt filmmaking and screenwriting in college, along with some physics and ecology, Mr Weber, who lives with his wife in Annapolis, Maryland, the US, and who has been to all the seven continents on Earth, tells us that he transformed the interests he had into novel writing while being trapped at home during the ‘Snowmageddon’ of 2010. Excerpts from the unedited interview:
Vatsarah Stavyah: It is a great pleasure to have you on The Literary Juggernaut, Mr Weber. To begin with, we’d like to know about your published works. How did they happen? What’s your latest book about?
T C Weber: Zero-Day Rising, the final volume of the BetterWorld cyberpunk trilogy, is my latest book, released in October 2020. Published through See Sharp Press, all three volumes of the trilogy are available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online outlets in both print and electronic versions. The BetterWorld trilogy is a science-fiction/techno-thriller series set in the near future. A giant media corporation (MediaCorp) has taken over the Internet, created an addictive virtual reality called BetterWorld, and controls nearly all information. Politicians do their bidding and a brainwashed humanity serves a privileged few.
The first volume, Sleep State Interrupt, was a Compton Crook Finalist for best first science fiction novel. Waylee Freid, an unemployed Baltimore journalist with ever-worsening bipolar disorder, and Charles, a teenage hacker from public housing, seek to wake up the world and bring about a brighter future. They must sneak into a closed presidential fundraiser, record incriminating admissions, and broadcast it during the Super Bowl. But to do so, they must avoid a huge manhunt and break into one of the most secure facilities ever built.
In the second volume, The Wrath of Leviathan, Waylee faces life in prison. Exiled in Brazil, her young sister Kiyoko and their hacker friends continue the fight. But MediaCorp and their government allies may quash the rebellion before it takes off. And unknown to Kiyoko and her friends, a team of ruthless mercenaries is after them and closing in fast.
In the final volume, Zero-Day Rising, the group is reunited and set on bringing down President Rand and MediaCorp. However, MediaCorp unleashes their ultimate plan: direct mind control with cerebral implants. Can Kiyoko and Waylee’s team stop them? Can they penetrate MediaCorp’s networks and end the company’s grip over humanity? All while eluding the biggest manhunt in history, in a country where everyone and everything is under surveillance?
I wrote my cyberpunk trilogy mostly to entertain readers. I’m a big cyberpunk fan and wanted to write something in the genre. As for the theme, I’ve always worried about the concentration of media and the decline of journalism, and the threats those trends pose to independent, critical thought, and democracy. Where I live, the Tribune Company in Chicago bought the Baltimore Sun, the Capital-Gazette, and several other Maryland papers, and laid off staff to cut costs. In the case of the Capital (founded in 1884), the Tribune is closing it entirely, leaving Annapolis without a local paper. Other themes in the trilogy include the dangers of monopoly capitalism, political corruption, and government surveillance.
For the BetterWorld trilogy, it was just a matter of developing characters who would also be concerned about these issues and adding details of a near-future world. I am a big fan of the hero’s journey, and even more so, fascinated by the question of what makes an ordinary person become a hero. While superheroes and elite soldiers are fun to read about, I think it’s much more interesting to read about the person next door thrust into a situation way above their head, and seeing how they cope. The main characters change throughout the trilogy and have to overcome their flaws and increase their skills to defeat their enemies.
I’ve always worried about the concentration of media and the decline of journalism, and the threats those trends pose to independent, critical thought, and democracy.T C Weber
Vatsarah Stavyah: Do you consider yourself a plotter, or do you fly by the seat of your pants?
T C Weber: I follow Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake method and Larry Brooks’s Story Engineering, more or less. The first step is to brainstorm story ideas and pick one worth writing about. I turn this into a “what if” question (like “What if nearly all information was controlled by a powerful elite? Could ordinary people overturn such a system?”) and a one-sentence novel summary (e.g., “An unemployed journalist and her friends try to stop a power-mad CEO from controlling the world.”) The next step is to expand that sentence to a full paragraph describing the story setup, major plot points, and ending of the novel. Then I develop the main characters and their goals, motivations, back story, etc. I weave the character arcs into the plot and write a short synopsis followed by a long synopsis. I convert this to a scene list in Scrivener, with a virtual index card for each scene (ideally with the scene arc outlined). Then finally, I start writing, starting with the opening scene and filling out each scene in order. As I write, the story changes, sometimes quite a bit, but at least, I have a roadmap to follow.
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Vatsarah Stavyah: Do you have any favourite authors? If yes, please let us know who they are and why they inspire you.
T C Weber: I have a lot of favourite authors. To list a few, Ursula K. LeGuin explores important themes in imaginative ways. Kurt Vonnegut is very clever and has memorable characters and stories. Neil Gaiman is incredibly imaginative. Frank Herbert and J. R. R. Tolkien are incredible world builders. William Gibson and Neal Stephenson wrote trailblazing cyberpunk stories like Neuromancer and Diamond Age. I am a fan of many other authors as well.
Vatsarah Stavyah: Did you consciously decide to become an author?
T C Weber: Not really, it just happened. But you have to write every day, so continuing that has been a conscious decision.
Vatsarah Stavyah: How do you juggle writing and other tasks? What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
T C Weber: During the day, I work as a climate adaptation analyst for Defenders of Wildlife. Much of that involves writing too, but it’s non-fiction (unfortunately, given the climate and biodiversity crises we face). I love the outdoors and hike as often as I can. I also add to my iNaturalist log. I love to travel and have visited all seven continents. And I like to read and watch streaming TV and movies (like everyone else on lockdown). I used to play a lot of video games, fish, and scuba dive, but not often anymore.
Vatsarah Stavyah: Tell us a bit about your works in progress.
T C Weber: I completed an alternate history novel called Born in Salt. The premise is, fifty years after a coup replaced President Roosevelt with a fascist dictatorship, America is a land of hopelessness. Ben Adamson, a 19-year-old farm boy in southern Illinois, wants only to spend his time fishing and hunting, but when his brother is killed in combat—a story more suspicious than factual—he and Rachel, his brother’s fiancée, are drawn into an underground revolutionary movement. After staging a rally against the war, Ben and Rachel are arrested by the ruthless Internal Security Service. Ben is given a choice: betray the rebels, including his best friend from childhood, or Rachel will be lobotomized. Unwilling to doom anyone he cares about, and seeking justice for his brother, Ben decides on a third option: to frame corrupt officials to trade for Rachel, and in the process, turn the dictatorship’s factions against each other. But he must dodge the suspicions of police and rebels alike. And when Internal Security sends agents to verify his stories, all may be lost.
Besides, I am almost done with the first draft of The Council, a satire of local government. In it, a newly elected councilman tries to save the last stand of forest in the county against greedy developers and a dysfunctional government. I also have many other projects that I haven’t completed yet.
Vatsarah Stavyah: Is there something that you would like to tell budding authors who lose motivation if a few of their works don’t do well?
T C Weber: Writing is not a pathway to riches. Only a tiny fraction of authors can support a family on solely a writing income. Furthermore, it takes time and hard work to master the craft of writing. My advice is, write what you want to write, not what you think will sell. Write sincerely, and plumb the depths of human nature. Edit until you have a finely polished gem. Writing is art. It is a calling. Eventually, someone will discover your genius—for we are all geniuses in our own way—and who knows what will happen next?
Here’s my general advice for writers:
1. Write something every day, preferably at a set time.
2. Make lists of ideas. Jot ideas down as they come to you (always have paper and pen handy).
3. Expand your best ideas into story synopses. From the best synopses, write stories. Finish them.
4. Join a critique group and get feedback on your writing.
5. Never be afraid that your work isn’t good enough.
6. Read books on the elements of storytelling, and recognize you’ll always have new things to learn.
7. Have fun.
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My advice is, write what you want to write, not what you think will sell. Write sincerely, and plumb the depths of human nature.T C Weber
Vatsarah Stavyah: Lastly, if there is one thing that you would like to change in this world, what would that be?
T C Weber: Climate change threatens the very survival of civilization. It’s happening now with extreme heatwaves, massive fires, storms, mega-droughts, and zoonotic pandemics, and is projected to get much, much worse without immediate action. We need to stop burning coal and oil and must protect and restore the world’s forests. We also need to stop poaching wildlife, because all things are interconnected.
Short Excerpt From Zero-Day Rising
The Fin and Tonic, a 42-foot fishing boat they’d chartered with cryptocurrency, bounced into the furious black sky, then smashed down again with a crash. Kiyoko gripped the arms of her tightened-down swivel chair, and fought not to throw up or scream in terror. Battered by wind and rain, the clear tarp around the bridge fluttered violently, threatening to rip from its fasteners and fly away.
“Quite da squall, ain’t it,” the captain said, gripping the steering wheel from the center chair, struggling to keep the boat angled against the white-capped waves. If they swung parallel to the waves, he’d explained, they could capsize, and if they drove straight into them, they might bury the bow.
The captain was old, with leathery dark skin and thinning gray curls beneath a Miami Dolphins cap. “Don’t normally go out in weather like this,” he said, “specially after dark.”
That was Pel’s idea, so no one would see them. “We have faith in you,” Kiyoko told the captain. According to his Comnet site, he’d been piloting boats for decades.
Another rise. Kiyoko’s muscles tensed in anticipation. The boat plunged down, leaving her stomach behind.
They smacked bottom with a shudder. Water crashed over the bow and splashed against the tarp. Despite the scopo patch behind her left ear, she almost retched.
Please O Mazu, O Poseidon, grant us safe passage. Kiyoko had given up on the gods after what happened in São Paulo, but this was a good time for a truce.