Pixelated is the digital, double-blind, lit-inclined conversation series.
In each episode we put two writers on a sort of blind-date, and have them interview each other. The result? Who the hell knows. All conversations are 'manuscript-first', meaning they were typed as you see them.
Episode VIII: "The furst one sucked so bad I've destroyed all copies"
In this installment, I set up Edan Lepucki (above) with Andy Weir (below). They discuss what exactly sci-fi is, the movie adaptation of THE MARTIAN, the Colbert Effect, how heating works, corruption and power, the gender of readers, self-publishing, cheekbones & more.
Andrew: The two books have a lot in common on the surface. First of all, both are on the sci-fi side of literary fiction (or the literary side of sci-fi, depending on your allegiance). Both books also came to prominence through unusual paths. CALIFORNIA was helped by a mention by Stephen Colbert in the context of the Hachette-Amazon dispute. Andy first released THE MARTIAN as a free serial, which then turned into an ebook, which then turned into a New York Times bestseller.
Andrew: Though both books are thrilling and meaningful and really everything you’d want from a book, their textures are vastly different. Andy writes a story about a man fighting for survival on Mars, and imbues the story with so much scientific fact you imagine half of the work behind the book was, in fact, researching. Edan’s story, though taking place in the future, feels of the past, as we’re suddenly plunged into a world devoid of thoroughly modern comforts.
Andrew: Now, first things first: would you each a) kindly describe where you are and what you see, and b) confirm whether you’ve met?
Andrew: (Also fair to mention Andy just did something to this chatroom I didn't know could happen, which easily makes him the most tech-savvy participants of PIXELATED to date.)
Andy: Hi. I'm Andy Weir, and I'm in Mountain View, CA. I've never spoken with Edan before.
Edan: Hello. I'm in my office in Albany, CA. I see an empty bottle of limeade, a photograph of a swimming pool, and this computer. I've never met Andy.
Andrew: Beautiful. Can both of you now correct me: is it the sci-fi side of lit fiction or the literary side of sci-fi or something else entirely?
Edan: What did Andy do the chatroom that proves his tech know-how?
Andy: Oh right I'm supposed to say what I see. Well, just the wall behind my monitor, really. Also the occasional cat passing in front of the monitor because that's what they do.
Andy: I made you both ops
Edan: I don't know what that means so that shows my ignorance!
Andrew: (Me too.)
Andy: It's an IRC thing. If this were a channel with lots of people in it, we'd be able to control them. Turn on and off their ability to talk, kick them out, etc.
Edan: Got it!
Andrew: Well, the only people that know this address are former participants, so if all of a sudden Emily Gould or Will Chancellor pops in, then that's that
Andy: Since I was the first to arrive, the channel automatically made me an op. Seems unfair that I be the only one so I gave both of you ops too.
Edan: Andrew what do you mean by "it" in your question?
Edan: You said "is it the sci-fi of lit..." etc.
Andy: Nice. That mention on Colbert must have made your day!
Andy: Were you jazzed?
Edan: Yes it did! It made my summer! (And my career. Ha.)
Andy: heh nice
Andrew: What I meant by "it" was both of your respective books. How do you consider them genre-wise?
Edan: To answer your first question, Andrew, I don't classify California as sci-fi because 1) There isnt a whole lot of science in it
Andy: I'd call "The Martian" a hard sci-fi book. In that all the tech in it actually exists today (though the versions of that tech in the book are more advanced or more effecient than what we have now)
Andrew: If I say "dystopian" will you cringe?
Edan: 2) It feel it's almost disrespectful to true sci-fi writers to call my book that. I think it's speculative, but with a very strong current of realism.
Andrew: That's fair
Edan: Dystopian doesn't make me cringe.
Andrew: So we have it: Andy's is sci-fi, Edan's is lit fiction.
Edan: It seems to me that in many ways genre is a marketing tool, but it can also help readers find what they like to read, what they gravitate towards. That's not to say that sci-fi isn't a diverse genre, just as literary fiction is, too.
Andrew: Agreed, in my other conversation series, I'm obsessed with asking entrepreneurs to define genre.
Andy: Yeah. It's sometimes hard to classify a book. I always considered "The Martian" to be sci-fi, but some call it a thriller instead, on the grounds that there isn't actually any fictional science in it.
Andy: As long as people like reading it, they can call it whatever they like. :)
Edan: I think I am just afraid to call my book science fiction because I don't read a lot of sci-fi, so that seems just asking for trouble! If Andy goes to my book thinking it's sci-fi, he might be like, WTF is this?!
Edan: I agree, Andy. You can call my book erotica for all I care. Please do, actually.
Andy: Yeah for some reason sci-fi folks can get really sensitive about what is and is not sci-fi. I'm not too worried about it.
Andrew: This is the second consecutive PIXELATED where we've defined erotica
Andy: Some readers have complained about the three chapters of my book dedicated entirely to goat porn. But I feel they're important to setting the scene.
Edan: LOL. Now I am totally reading your book.
Andrew: Yeah, I didn't know if I should ask about that...
Andrew: It felt a bit...jarring?
Andrew: And yet, I find myself going back to those chapters.
Edan: I do have some sex scenes (with humans) and it's fascinating to me how many readers find them repugnant. "These characters sure do have a lot of sex!" For the record, they have sex like 3 times in 6 weeks. That's not a lot of sex.
Andy: The film version will focus almost entirely on that part.
Edan: 50 Shades of Goat
Andrew: Ha! Edan I can totally imagine that.
Andrew: I just read that this Thanksgiving the movie version of THE MARTIAN will be released, and will feature Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Jeff Daniels...
Andrew: Like, that was fast, no?
Andrew: I feel like the movie version took less than the book.
Andy: Jokes aside, there's no sex at all in The Martian, though people get busy off-screen at one point and it's mentioned in passing. And yeah, readers sometimes get worked up about that stuff.
Andy: I have a lot of profanity in my book. I get complaints about that from time to time.
Andrew: There should just be a disclaimer in books, like TV
Andy: Meanwhile, I get other emails from high school teachers using it as a teaching aide. So they're giving it to students. Different folks have different feelings on that I guess.
Andrew: Are you involved in the moviemaking process?
Edan: Andy, if the movie is out this Thanksgiving does that mean it's done filming, or filming now? What's the timeline there? Have you met Jessica Chastain?!
Andy: My main job on the film was to cash the check. They had no responsibility to involve me in any part of it. Though they chose to, just because they wanted to.
Andy: They sent me the screenplay to review and give feedback on. I did, and they made some changes based on my comments, while ignoring others.
Andy: I haven't met any of the actors/actresses or the director. The only people I've personally met associated with the film are Drew Goddard who wrote the screenplay and Aditya Sood, the producer.
Andrew: Sounds par
Andy: They finished shooting earlier this month. It's in postproduction now.
Andrew: Edan—have you met Colbert?
Andrew: Or sent him a box of chocolates, or...
Edan: Is this a high-tech big budget film a la Gravity? (As I type this I wonder if that offensive to compare it to Gravity, but, hey, I didn't see it.)
Edan: I did! I was on his show in July when it was announced that my book debuted at #3 on New York Times list. Everyone asks: YEs, he is as nice as he seems.
Andy: I don't know what the budget is, but they got a hell of a cast and director, so I assume it's pretty big.
Edan: Were any of your script comments about scientific veracity and such?
Edan: I didn't sent Colbert chocolates, but I did send Sherman Alexie, who was the person to recommend my book on Colbert, some fancy jerkies.
Andrew: Fancy jerkies are the new chocolates
Andy: Yeah, I broke my comments up into two chunks: scientific accuracy and subjective opinions.
Edan: True, Andrew!
Edan: He said they were very good, but obviously I should have sent him a lifetime supply for recommending my novel on a show with such high ratings.
Andrew: Which were better taken?
Andy: They fixed all the scientific errors. They ignored most of my subjective opinions. :)
Edan: Andy, today my son asked me how the heat in my house worked and I said, "I actually don't understand how it works, or anything works." Then I probably asked if he wanted to discuss corruption and power. Are you a real science guy? What's your background?
Andy: I've been a computer programmer for most of my life. And I've always had an interest in physics.
Andy: So I guess I'm sort of a science hobbyist.
Andrew: So let's hear it Andy: How does heat in our houses work? Extra points if you explain how anything works.
Andy: Depends on what kind of heating system you have. Forced hot air or baseboard.
Edan: Interesting. My husband works with computer programmers and sometimes I hear them talking and I cannot follow. I did learn from him what IRC means.
Edan: I think forced air.
Andy: The thermostat activates the system when the temperature gets too low. It turns on a furnace (you probably have a gas system) which heats metal baffles. A fan drives air through the baffles, heating it up. Then it goes through ductwork to the various vents in rooms.
Andrew: Sounds believable.
Andy: Somewhere in the house there'll be an intake vent, probably near the furnace. So it's heating the air that's already in the house, making it more energy efficient to maintain the temperature.
Andy: I'm watching Edan on Colbert in another window right now by the way. :)
Edan: Thanks, Andy. Mostly I just love this noun "baffles"
Andrew: OK, here's something Andy: The radio antennae on my girlfriend's mini cooper broke completely and flew off, and yet the radio still works. What's the deal?
Edan: Poor Andy. We have so many questions.
Andrew: This episode is clearly going to be called "Andy explains how things work"
Andrew: Edan—what's your area of factoid expertise?
Edan: Andy, I am wearing a lot of bronzer on the Colbert Report, and my hair is curled in this strange way. Just FYI, in case we meet and you wonder why I don't look like the person on TV.
Andy: Antennae don't actually do much for radio reception. They make very low frequency radio waves come in better but that's about it. If your gf lives in an urban area that's well covered by radio stations with high output (50K watts or so) then you don't need much antenna at all.
Edan: I have no area of expertise about the world of things.
Andy: No, Edan I'm sorry. If we meet in person and you look at all different I'll assume you're an imposter.
Edan: I have strong critical reading skills, and I am a good dancer.
Edan: You'll be like: WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR HAIR? IT'S SO FLAT.
Andrew: What about corruption and power?
Andy: I'm in favor of corruption and power if I get to be the corrupt guy with power.
Andy: Otherwise I'm not as big a fan.
Edan: My son, who is almost 4, said that police officers kill bad guys, and I said, well sometimes that doens't happen. And he remembered the Ferguson stuff and said, "What about the boy who was killed?'
Andrew: And then?
Andrew: Time to let mommy nap?
Edan: I tried to tell the news story without totally telling it. It's very hard for me. Because I want to be honest with him, and not provide pat answers and good v. evil dichotomies,
Andrew: Already molding him into an empathetic novelist
Andy: It's a pretty heavy topic for a 4-year-old.
Edan: but he is also so YOUNG and PURE and does he need to know about racism and police brutality and my goodness it's a lot for a little brain. For any brain.
Edan: He is really into death, loves to discuss it. So we end up getting deep pretty fast.
Edan: The Ferguson stuff he knows about because it was on the radio once.
Andrew: At what age will you let him read California?
Andrew: Andy—do you have children?
Edan: Today he told me, "If a police officer is evil they need to wear a skull on their badge" which perhaps is a plot device in Scooby Doo or The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Andy: No kids.
Edan: Ha. By the time he is old enough he will be all eye rolls and not want to read it.
Andy: Nothing is as uncool as things your parents do.
Andrew: Yeah but then he'll be 19 and realize it's the coolest thing in the world
Edan: He is pretty sick of California, frankly.
Andy: "My mom wrote a NYT bestseller. What'd your mom do?"
Edan: Andy, my friend Jessica on Goodreads said that your book was "the dudest dude book" she'd read in a while. What do you think that means?
Andrew: Great Q
Andy: Well it is pretty dudey.
Andrew: What do each of you estimate is your M/F % breakdown?
Andy: The main character is a guy and a smart-ass. It's a first-person narrative and he talks like a bro. It put some readers off, but for the most part people liked his casual attitude.
Andy: Andrew, do you mean in terms of what percentage of characters are M or F?
Edan: Andrew, do you mean of readers, or of book itself?
Andrew: Oh sorry
Edan: My book is shifting third person POV, from wife and husband, so it's pretty equal. I think my book has more male readers than I expected because of Colbert, actually.
Andrew: Sorry sorry sorry—% of readers M and F
Andy: Oh readers. Heh. okay. I think it's about 50-50.
Andy: At least, that's the sense I get from fan email and reviews.
Edan: I think to be a mega-bestseller, like Andy, you've gotta hit that 50-50 mark. Right?
Edan: Maybe not--most book buyers are women.
Andy: I don't know. I have no idea what I did right. And who knows if I can do it again? I'm working on my next book now and I'm like "Well... let's see if they like this..."
Andrew: How far are you?
Andrew: Are you working on something new Edan?
Andy: About halfway through the first draft.
Andrew: Want to say anything about it or mum?
Edan: Well my husband always says "regression of the mean, Edan, regression of the mean..." so that probably means, Andy, that your next book won't be another MARTAIN. Maybe that isn't what you want to hear, but I actually think that
Edan: it's liberating. Just write whatever you want, and follow that. Of course, it will be so much easier to reach readers, because you have so many fans!
Andy: I think a lot of women liked that there are several strong female characters in The Martian. People tend to self-insert and empathize with characters who are their gender.
Edan: Interesting. Some readers find my female character weak and are really put off.
Andy: Thanks, Edan. I hope that's how it plays out. :)
Edan: Some, however, identify with her
Edan: I have a new book in progress. First draft is due in November so we shall see! It's nothing like California
Andy: Probably a sign that it's a solid character.
Andrew: It's rare male readers hate weak male characters, but a weak female character can be anathema to attracting female readers
Edan: A big relief to be writing a contemporary story, no speculating of the world, etc.
Andy: My next book is more traditional sci-fi. It's not the technically accurate style of The Martian. It has aliens and faster-than-light travel and telepathy and stuff.
Andrew: Willing to say what it's about Edan?
Edan: Sounds cool, Andy!
Andy: I get nervous writing female characters because I'm a guy. So I'm afraid they'll come off as a guy's lame attempts to think like a woman.
Andy: But I still try. :)
Edan: Here's the copy from Publishers Marketplace: "Lindsay Sagnette at Hogarth has acquired World rights to Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki, author of the New York Times bestseller California. In addition to debuting at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list, California was a #1 LA Times bestseller, a #1 San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, a B&N Discover Pick, and one of Amazon’s Best Books for July. Woman No. 17 is one of the m
Edan: (sorry, just seemed easier than summarizing it myself!)
Andy: Also I kind of hate love plots. So I don't do much of that. Once you strip out romantic interaction and focus on people doing their jobs, men and women tend to think and act pretty much the same.
Andrew: Cut off after "one of the m..."
Edan: Andy I think writing guys is easy but maybe there's more pressure for men to get it right when writing women.
Edan: ne of the most sly, sinister, and deeply intelligent explorations of female relationships since Zoë Heller’s Notes on a Scandal. When Lady asks her husband for a trial separation, she hires S., a student and artist, as a live-in nanny so that Lady can finish her book. S. settles into Lady’s comfortable home near the Hollywood Hills, quickly winning over Lady’s precocious toddler, her mysterious teenage son, and Lady h
Edan: Andy,I am sure you get this all the time, but how has it been , having a traditional publisher after self-publishing?
Andrew: Cut off after Lady h...
Andy: It's awesome!
Edan: herself, but S. is also hard at work on a secret project of her own.
Andy: I've never been focused on the self-pubbing route. I only did that so people could get at it easier.
Edan: Jesus! This is embarrassing.
Edan: Self-publishing seems almost impossible.
Andy: I love having a traditional print publisher. Because I hate doing publicity or marketing. And they have a whole department for that.
Andrew: But how many self-publishing writers are keeping Andy in mind when they start writing?
Andy: Oh I don't know if it's impossible. It depends on what you're passionate about.
Andy: Hugh Howey has had great success with self-pubbing. But he's passionate about publicizing and marketing his books.
Edan: I am all about helping with publicity and contributing ideas, but to do it all on my own...it just seems so difficult. Maybe not impossible.
Edan: But he also had a platform before he self-published.
Andy: I don't know all of his history. What platform?
Edan: Maybe I am confusing him with someone else? I thought he was a traditionally published, bestselling author before he went the self-pub route
Andy: I don't think so. I think his first book was "Wool" which he self-pubbed. But I could definitely be wrong.
Andy: Anyway, I agree with your point. It's very hard.
Andy: You have to make a really good book AND you have to get lucky.
Andrew: Edan—how did you find your agent?
Edan: which is true for anyone, self--published or not.
Andy: It has to not just resonate with readers, but also has to resonate with enough of them all at the same time to build up a critical mass of people recommending it.
Edan: Boring story--she is a friend of a friend, and I was able to email her directly. But she tried to sell another novel of mine, before California, and couldn't get it published.
Andrew: I'm looking her up now, she doesn't look dissimilar from Jessica Chastain, brining this full circle
Edan: The way a book takes hold of people is really magical to me. No one can predict it, really.
Andy: Lightning in a bottle.
Edan: Who? My agent Erin?
Edan: they both have excellent cheekbones.
Andy: So When does "Woman No. 17" come out?
Andrew: Edan—are you considering trying again with the first novel?
Edan: Woman No. 17 isn't slated to come out until spring or summer 2017, I think.
Edan: You know, my first novel, while I love it in some ways, just wasn't good enough to be published, and I don't need it in the world.
Edan: And I certainly don't want to go back and revise it!
Andy: (Fun fact: "The Martian" was my third novel. The furst one sucked so bad I've destroyed all copies. The second one merely sucked a normal amount and is out there on the internet embarrasing me every day)
Andy: furst = first. Man what a silly misspelling.
Andrew: How much would I have to pay you for a copy of the furst?
Andy: Can't. Destroyed all copies. :)
Andrew: First written as furst seems right for something that supposedly sucks
Edan: But, Andrew, why do you want to read a sucky novel?!
Andy: Actually, my mother has one. She hid it. She knows what'll happen if I find it.
Andrew: I don't want to read one, I just want to pay for one
Andrew: Sell that shit on ebay
Andy: "shit" is right.
Andrew: Surely you have the manuscript somewhere?
Edan: Ha ha
Andy: The only surviving copy is a hard copy my mom has. And she refuses to surrender it.
Andrew: How concerned are you that her will stipulates a copy will be mailed directly to me, or someone who really, really dislikes you?
Andy: Well I know it has to be somewhere in her house. So to be safe I could just burn the whole house down.
Andrew: That's rational
Andrew: Well, with that broad threat to your own mother, I'm going to shut this down
Andy: It's the next logical step.
Andrew: We're out of time, people
Edan: Please remove mother before burning the house down.
Andrew: Edan's final plea
Andy: Nice talking to you, Edan. Good luck with Woman No. 17.
Edan: That was fun! Thanks!
Andy: Thanks for hosting, Andrew.