Monday, 25 February 2013

Interview with Andy Gavin

We're happy to be the next stop on the Untimed blog tour. Let's get to know author Andy Gavin a little better.

Welcome, Andy! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m an unstoppable storyteller who studied for his Ph.D. at M.I.T. and founded video game developer Naughty Dog, Inc. at the age of fifteen, serving as co-president for two decades. There I created, produced, and directed over a dozen video games, including the award winning and best selling Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises, selling over 40 million units worldwide. I sleep little, read novels and histories, watch media obsessively, travel, blog (a million hits last year!), and of course, write.

Untimed is my second novel.

How long have you been writing?

I started in ninth grade. In high school, I won several national literary awards for my short stories and I was an editor and contributor to our high school literary magazine. In college, despite being a diehard science guy, I took creative writing classes (sometimes I was the only guy) and submitted stories to Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines (not that they ever bought any!). I co-wrote the stories for many of my best selling video games. But video games aren’t as story driven as novels, so don’t judge these in the same light .

But it was in 2008 that I really got jamming in my current literary mode.

Tell us about UNTIMED. What’s the story about?

Charlie’s the kind of boy that no one notices. Hell, even his own mother can’t remember his name. And girls? The invisible man gets more dates.
As if that weren’t enough, when a mysterious clockwork man tries to kill him in modern day Philadelphia, and they tumble through a hole into 1725 London, Charlie realizes even the laws of time don’t take him seriously.
Still, this isn’t all bad. In fact, there’s this girl, another time traveler, who not only remembers his name, but might even like him! Unfortunately, Yvaine carries more than her share of baggage: like a baby boy and at least two ex-boyfriends! One’s famous, the other’s murderous, and Charlie doesn’t know who is the bigger problem.
When one kills the other — and the other is nineteen year-old Ben Franklin — things get really crazy. Can their relationship survive? Can the future? Charlie and Yvaine are time travelers, they can fix this — theoretically — but the rules are complicated and the stakes are history as we know it.
And there's one more wrinkle: he can only travel into the past, and she can only travel into the future!

How did the idea of the story come to you?

Typically, Untimed began from a fusion of ideas. Lingering in my mind for over twenty years was a time travel story about people from the future who fell “downtime” to relive exciting moments in history (until things go wrong). I worked out a time travel system but had no plot or characters. Separately, in 2010, as a break from editing The Darkening Dream, I experimented with new voice techniques, especially first person present. I also read various “competition.” One of these was The Lightning Thief (the first Percy Jackson novel), which has an amazing series concept (if a slightly limp execution).  I love mythology and history, and liked the notion of something with a rich body of material to mine. I wanted an open ended high concept that drew on my strengths, which brought me back to time travel.
Some of the mechanics from my earlier concept merged well with a younger protagonist, voiced in a visceral first person present style. I started thinking about it, and his voice popped into my head. I pounded out a chapter not too dissimilar from the first chapter of the final novel. Then the most awesome villain teleported into the situation. I can’t remember how or why, but it happened quickly and spontaneously. Tick-Tocks were born (or forged).

Do you have a critique group/partner or beta readers, or do you self-edit?

I use a lot of resources, because feedback and editing are crucial to good writing. I have 2-3 people (one is my wife) that read everything I write hot off the presses. It then gets quick tune ups. I self edit at least once or twice at that stage, then again after I finish a draft or a big section. Whole drafts go off to my editor, Renni Browne, who has 50 years experience and is totally amazing. Lots of redrafting then ensues, followed by more self-editing and finally an extensive line edit. All in all, I suspect I read each novel on the order of fifty times.

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Personally I find the two different modes: plotting vs. just writing, to use different sides of the brain, and therefore useful to stagger. I can only handle a few days of plotting before I need the release of getting it out there. There really isn’t any rush in writing as good as just pounding out a great scene that’s already gelled in your head, and it’s even better when the scene and characters take on a life of their own and bring something novel to the process. Looking back on it, I realize that as a computer programmer I took this same exact alternating approach (between designing the algorithm and just coding) and that the rush and rhythm were nearly identical.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

With Untimed, the hardest parts had to do with the time travel. First of all, I had to come up with a unique new system that allowed multiple visits to the same time period, but wasn’t too overpowered. If your characters are too powerful, there is no jeopardy. So I had to invent all the restrictions and deal with the issues of paradox (and I think I have a crafty new solution there). Then I had to figure out how to make returning to the SAME action actually interesting for the reader. That was even harder.

What do you absolutely have to have nearby when writing?

iTunes and my water bottle.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?

I’ve thought about this a lot. Probably I’d be a telepath/pusher like Professor X. The combo of reading minds and controlling them would be totally badass, if horrifically unethical. And I’ve always been keen on having all the information. A vampire wouldn’t be too bad either if I didn’t have to kill my victims, only snack a bit.

What's the weirdest thing you've googled?

I’m absolutely NOT going to answer this question truthfully. But I do google a lot of weird stuff. Once I spent a while trying to find a reference I remembered from some book for an ancient Roman curse that involved shit and a lead tablet.

Quick writing test! Use the following words in a sentence: hybrid, bride, and disinfect.

The priest that married us went mutant from this hybrid virus, so after I killed him, my bride had to disinfect the rings.

Finish this sentence: If I'm not writing, I'm probably ...

Playing World of Warcraft.

Here’s the part where you thank the people who are supporting you. Let's hear your shout outs.

First up are my support team: my wife, my “story consultant” Bryan, my mom. Then my beta readers and my pro editors: Renni, Shannon, and R.J. are massive contributors. But even after the book is done, there are so many professionals that help make the finished product awesome. To name a few: the cover artist, Cliff Nielsen, the interior illustrator, Dave Phillips, my book designer, Chris Fisher, my agent Eddie Schneider, and my publicist, Kimberly Kinrade.

And finally, where can people find you and your book online?

All my books can be found at

and Untimed specifically at

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Crystal Collier said...

This sounds like an amazing book. Not only am I putting it on my "to read" list, I'm advising my avidly reading son to do the same. Yay!

Tribute Books said...

Dorothy, thanks for inviting Andy by for such an enjoyable interview :)