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INTERVIEW: SCIENCE FICTION WRITER ARTHUR MACABE

Arthur Macabe is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and strange fiction. I first became aware of his work on Twitter, around the time he started posting a daily fictional journal on an alternate account called Okulous-10. The story was written as a first person account of an Interstellar Spaceship crew that was hopelessly lost due to navigational failure, or possibly AI override or something else. After interacting with this fictional crew via Twitter posts, and thinking, what a unique use of this platform, I looked up the creator and learned that it was Arthur Macabe and he writes Sci Fi, which is my favorite genre. So I mentioned to him that I was interested in featuring his work for the Creating Awesome project, to which he graciously accepted.

The Creating Awesome Project is a collaboration with writers, artists, entrepreneurs and other creative personalities. Through insights and anecdotes, my guests share their personal journeys and struggles. 

The first part of this interview is designed to explore areas of interest, experiences and general background information, to determine what might contribute to one’s creativity. It also examines how people, places and events may influence their creative process.

In the second part of the interview, we dive into what they’re doing to remain relevant in their field and stay ahead of their competition. 

Ultimately, my goal is to understand more about the creative mind by examining the underlying motivation and inspiration of creative people.

Many thanks to Arthur, for accepting my invitation to collaborate on this interview and contribute some of your insights and inspirations to the Creating Awesome Project. Also, thank you for letting me read some of your work, to help me prepare for this interview. I’m truly honored that you allowed me to read these pieces and get a sneak preview of some of your upcoming projects, before they’ve been made available to the public.

Early Life Experiences

Where did you grow up?

The suburbs of Minneapolis, MN. Yes, I enjoy the cold winters. 

Please describe a favorite place from childhood and explain how it might have impacted your creativity?

My grandparent’s house. I used to explore my late grandfather’s basement workshop, looking through his tools and old electronics he used to build. My favorite place in their house was a chair in their living room where I used to sit for hours and talk with my grandfather. We played Super Nintendo and watched Stargate, The Twilight Zone, X- Files, and anything on the SciFi channel. Many of our conversations – mostly solving the world’s problems through engineering – and those experiences shaped the way I see the world.

What era did you grow up?

I’m a 90’s child. 

What is your earliest memory?

In my grandparent’s old house, there was a room we called “The Blue Room.” I stayed there when I slept over at their house. The closet doors were always wide open, showing toys stacked from floor to ceiling. When I was perhaps three or four, my great grandmother led me into this room because her and I were searching for ghosts. Once in the room, we stood before the open closet. I don’t remember what she said, but it was something about “Can you see the ghost?” A few moments later, the toys in the top of the closet came crashing down in an avalanche. I ran from the room, crying and terrified. Ever since, I close the closet doors in every room I’m in.

Who or what event contributed most to your passion for storytelling?

My parents were very encouraging of us to “go outside” or “do something constructive,” which forced us to use our imaginations to play. I thus created many places to explore. I used to draw maps of imaginary lands when I was in high school. My Mom would leave notes on my desk, saying “Cool map, Son!” Then my Dad gave me a notebook for Christmas when I was in college and I started writing down my dreams. 

I spent a lot of my childhood imagining places. Then when I started writing in college – thanks to my Dad for the notebook – I was able to finally explore them. 

I can’t remember if there is anything specific which initiated my writing passion, only that I’ve always loved imagining new worlds. My parents recently brought over a tub of stuff from my childhood. I picked through it to find stories I typed in elementary school. I’d completely forgotten about them.

Have you had any jobs that may have influenced your creativity?

I’m an engineer by education and in my professional career, thus my daily job is to solve problems. Writing stories is creating a large problem (the conflict) and trying to solve it (the ending) through a character’s point of view. Many of the daily interactions I have influence character dialogue and motivations. When I’m writing, I often think about how we listen to one another in conversation, and try to understand someone’s motivations behind what they are saying.

My technical background also inspires me to understand how systems work. While working on material for Okulous-10, much of the story content centers around how the ship’s electrical and mechanical systems could work in isolation, and the character’s growth as they learn how to manage it in a vacuum with little to no additional resources. 

Interests and Influences

Favorite music or band?

I enjoy all music except for country (with some exceptions).

Favorite movie?

INTERSTELLAR. The idea of love communicating across dimensions is a new approach to science fiction. Also, how they portrayed a black hole and a wormhole was something we’d never seen before. The movie also illustrates a positive view of the future. Many viewers focus on the science behind the movie, but I found the human aspect of it much more interesting. Also, the scene where they dock to the spinning Endurance is the coolest scene I’ve ever seen in a movie. 

I must also mention LORD OF THE RINGS and STAR WARS.

Favorite book?

THE SWORD OF SHANNARA by Terry Brooks. This was the first book which introduced me to fantasy and adventure, thus it holds a special place in my heart, and always will.

Worst fear?

Drowning and deep water. I’ve never been able to figure out why. Perhaps that’s why it’s terrifying. We never know what’s beneath us in the dark depths, looking up….

World Building – A Creative Process

Your Short story HUMAN, which is available in Kyanite Press, is a great story. It’s also an ominous and foreboding warning, because of the implications of future developments in our current society. It seems that the future you describe in that short is not far off, from what we are currently experiencing now. I think you pose the question “How much more restricted would our lives be if we were to be so dependent on technology that advancement and social acceptance were dependent on software and their future upgrades” so well, that it’s not really a question of if this can happen, but how long do we have until it’s reality. Some would even argue that it already is a reality, just in the form of a handheld device we all carry with us called a smartphone.

Would you agree? What gave you the idea for this story?

HUMAN explores the emotional response to professional and social situations given technology’s presence. How do we feel when we can’t remember something specific or keep up with someone in a conversation? How do we feel when we can’t contribute to a conversation because we didn’t read the latest news story? How do we feel when we aren’t genuinely listened to?

These are questions I’ve been trying to understand since I graduated from college. I believe we all feel this way at some point in our lives. We’re in the middle of talking and the person we’re conversing with is looking elsewhere, or they pull out their phones or cut us off and attempt to finish our sentences. One thing I never understood was how someone could come to realize what I was going to say before I finished my thought, while at the same time being able to look beyond for the next thing. It suddenly hit me to think about it this way: what if we had some sort of SIM card that would make us think faster? If I could talk faster, I could finish my thought before someone cut me off. I could get my thoughts out there and contribute more to the conversation in less time, given the palpable decrease in one’s conversational patience.

To go back to your question about my work experience having an impact on my writing, as an engineer – and other engineers can relate to this – we apply our problem solving and analytical skills to social situations, which isn’t the correct application of those skills, but it’s a natural thing to do. So when I observe conversations, I start to see listening – or lack of listening – patterns and understand why. I wrote HUMAN as a way to try and illustrate what I was feeling.

You mentioned that it’s currently being developed into a series of Novellas. I’m looking forward to hearing more about that as it unfolds. Any idea when we will start to see that materialize?

The plan is three to four small novellas in 2022. HUMAN is a deep story and requires a lot of thought. The editing process will take most of next year to ensure the ideas are tangible. I also have to ensure that the concepts within it are new. There’s a lot of fiction out there already exploring similar ideas, and I need to ensure my approach is original.

Your interview with Science Fiction Author Andy Weir was fascinating. One of his responses stood out above the rest. You asked how it is that he is so optimistic about the future and his reply was that the world is always better than it was 100 years ago. I had never considered that when thinking about the future, but I think that viewpoint is a bit over optimistic myself.

How do you feel about that answer?

I like his answer a lot because if we think about even our own lives, they tend to be better than they were years before (hopefully). On the grand scale of humanity, that overall improvement is difficult to attain if we aren’t becoming better people ourselves on an individual level. One would hope that we all strive to be better in all that we do.

I just listened to The Schlickt audio drama and I gotta say, what I heard sounded fantastic. Production quality is high and the audio is very clear. I was impressed to find out it was narrated by you and the audio effects are done by your brother. Well done to both of you.

How did you come up with the name The Shlickt?

The name is based on the sound we used for the creature. I tried to imagine what cancer would sound like if it was outside the body, scraping across the floor. When trying to understand what it does to our bodies, I wanted to find a sound for it. Grinding, scraping and ripping is what kept coming to mind.

We had to find a way to combine all of these sounds together. Oddly enough, if you slowly peel duct tape off a surface, it has a creepy sound that somewhat portrays grinding and ripping. We recorded the sounds of duct tape being peeled from a hard surface over my voice saying “schhhllllikt” to get the sound in the audio clip. 

I’ve noticed several of your published works are through Kyanite Publishing and included in Kyanite Press. How did you first connect with Kyanite?

While I was conducting my Interviews from the Void projects in 2018, I met Benjamin Hope – who has become a great writing friend. He suggested I reach out to B.K. Bass to see if they would accept my story, THE SCHLIKT. It was accepted, and that’s my relationship with them started.

There’s a great team of folks working at Kyanite. I’m extremely grateful they made HUMAN the feature story for their July 2019 issue. They are great to work with and I’d recommend anyone looking for a place to publish their work or find a new network of other writers to check them out.

Please describe your mindset when researching a project?

I usually come up with the “world of the story” first, then I have to find a conflict within it to write a story. My research involves finding that conflict and how it can be resolved.

I believe one must be open when doing any kind of research when writing or creating in general. We must be open to new ideas and perspectives which challenge what we know about our own world to understand the world we are writing about. That challenge causes us to change, and within that period of change is where we find the story.

How do you choose locations for your stories?

I’m an adventurous person and I’m always looking for new places to explore. I have a list of places – both here on Earth and elsewhere in space – that I keep as potential locations for stories.

Okulous-10 explores the vast reaches of our solar system. For example, the last transmission we received from Okulous-10 informed us they were approaching Wasp-12 and Wasp-12b. What would it look like to see an exoplanet being consumed by its parent star?

For SATURN: JOURNEY TO THE CORE, I was curious to know what it would be like inside a gas giant. My mind has a difficult time understanding the fact that a planet is made up of gases, so I wrote about it and turned it into a story.

When trying to understand what would be inside a black hole, I wrote LEVIATHAN’S JAW.

I’ve also been curious to know what Hell might be like – without having to go there. This inspired A LACK OF FIRE IN HELL, which explores Hell in a way perhaps not previously portrayed.

What draws you to Science Fiction?

The infinite possibilities of storytelling. And spaceships are cool. 

How do you research your characters in your stories?

I intend to create characters who conflict with the world of the story. This conflict is what pushes the story forward. To do this, I have to plan out the entire story in an outline before I can actually write it. Some writers can sit down and crank it out. I’m not that kind of writer.

In the outline, I seek to understand what makes this character say and do the things they do. Are their motivations conflicting with the rules of the world I’ve built in the story? The character’s motivations should always conflict with the rules, otherwise they aren’t changing or fighting against anything, and then there’s no story. 

Are there any other genres you would like to work in?

I’d love to be able to write great horror stories, but I don’t believe I have that “scare” tactic in my writing. 

I’ve also drafted a long fantasy novel, but it isn’t unique enough from other stories we already have in this genre, so I stopped writing it.

I continue to come back to science fiction because I find myself being able to explore concepts which haven’t been explored yet. I want to learn as I write. Science fiction allows me to do that.

Professional vs Personal Projects

As an Indie writer, what challenges do you encounter throughout the creative process, and how difficult is it to manage those?

My greatest challenge is thinking I must write something truly great and amazing or it is worthless; to move beyond the idea that if it isn’t perfect, then it’s not worth writing at all. 

I get around this by realizing I’m not writing for the world, rather I’m writing because I want to explore. My ideas won’t be worthless unless I continuously compare them to everything else ever created. Comparing ourselves to the work of others is a fruitless endeavor and creates only negative energy, which isn’t conducive to good writing, or a good life. 

Another challenge is trying to do it all. It’s easy to look at Twitter and have this feeling that every other writer is producing more than we are. Whether or not that’s true, we need to set our own goals and work at our own pace. Letting the external pressure of the world get to us quickly takes the joy out of writing.

What does it take to become a good storyteller?

Learning from change and being able to explore objectively. The possibilities are endless unless clouded by our own judgments. Starting the day in a negative state and ending in a positive one is a change. What happened to create that change? Storytelling is about recognizing what happens when something changes. 

How do you transition from writing to promoting the project?

I’m not sure if there’s a magic formula to this, but a lot of research I’ve done says we need to promote our work long before it’s published. I don’t have enough experience to know if this works or not. I don’t promote anything until it’s completed and available for reading. If I promote before the work is done, I stop progressing on the work. Marketing and promoting is a lot more exciting than pushing through the actual writing. Once the writing is complete, then I move on to marketing.

As I write my science fiction novel, I’m updating my blog every two weeks about the writing experience specific to that project as a way to start promoting it without being too forward. Perhaps at the end of the next year we can see how that works out.

What helps you make that transition?

Knowing that if I don’t finish the work first, there won’t be anything to promote.

Does your personal work influence your professional work and vice versa?

Listening is very important to me. When writing, I must listen to my inner thoughts, and sometimes it takes a while to get past the noise to the real point I’m trying to make. In my professional life, the concept is the same. It’s important to listen to others so we understand where someone is truly coming from and what they are feeling.

Which part of the creative process do you enjoy most?

Being able to explore without limitation. I want to know where that trail in the woods leads. I ache to see the top of a mountain. In life, it’s easy to find reasons why we can’t accomplish something. Writing is a place where the only restrictions are those which we put on ourselves. If we make this a habit in writing – or in any other creative endeavor – it’s easy to transition this to life. Suddenly, there are more opportunities we didn’t recognize before, and all we needed to do was change our mindset.

What motivates you to continue Creating Awesome day after day, and what do you consider the greatest reward for your efforts?

Writing isn’t easy, which is why I’m drawn to it. I always seek a challenge. The hard work required for writing is relaxing to me. I enjoy the solitude of writing and exploring my thoughts. It’s where I’m able to recharge.

My mind moves very fast, almost to a fault. The creative process associated with writing forces me to slow down and process thoughts deeply. The best ideas I’ve had come during those moments when I’m able to slow my thoughts down. 

Like playing an instrument or listening to music, writing is also a hobby. I’m glad to have found a hobby which fulfills me such as writing does.

The Future of Storytelling

Should writers / filmmakers attempt to address religious / political / social issues in their stories, or should they just tell good stories and let someone else worry about the problems in our society?

It depends. Some creatives are driven by the moral or religious implications of a topic, others aren’t. Some audiences seek justification for deep cultural issues, others do not. I’m not that type of person. I’d prefer to create situations in my stories where the audience can find a place to safely explore their own thoughts on matters important to them, while being taken on a journey at the same time. 

Without getting political, of the many issues our society is faced with today, what do you consider to be the greatest threat to human life on Earth and Why?

Perhaps readers may have caught on to this in HUMAN, but I’m most concerned that we will become so individualized that we forget to listen to one another. I believe many issues could be solved if we had a bit more patience to listen and understand the other persons ideas and solve the problem together.

Do you think this could end the world as we know it, or will humanity pull back from the brink before it’s too late? 

I think it’s something humanity has always struggled with, and it will be a struggle forever. Before smartphones, it was the television. Before television, it was books. As long as we continue to find the balance – like in all things – we will continue progressing in a positive direction.

If you could create a character to deal with that issue, what would that character look like?

McGregor from HUMAN will have more to say on this issue. What happens to a person when they feel they are completely disregarded because they can’t keep up in conversation? Now we have a great motivation for a protagonist.

More to come in the future novellas.

What other projects, if any, are you working on and when can we find out more about that?

2020 – I’m working on my science fiction novel, SPACE RACERS, and blogging about what I’m learning every two weeks. This science fiction novel is in the middle of the fourth draft which I intend to finish in 2020. I won’t provide a synopsis yet until I’ve had more beta readers review and comment. If any of your readers are interested in becoming a beta reader as I write the story, feel free to email me or subscribe to the blog. My main focus for 2020 is regular blogging and writing on one project. I tend to be overly-ambitious and commit to too many projects, thus this year I’m focusing on only one.

I also wrote a children’s book for my son. This may become a published work in the next year or two.

2021 – I intend to put all my short stories from my blog into an eBook, with more stories I haven’t yet published.

2022 – The HUMAN novellas will be released.

No Date Confirmed – Science fiction podcast based on SATURN: JOURNEY TO THE CORE. 

Connecting With Your Audience

How do you use social media? 

There hasn’t been much activity from me in 2019 on social media as my primary focus has been developing content and writing for each of my projects. 

Twitter – This is the primary platform I use. I use it to post automatically from my blog. Any time I post, it goes out to Twitter. I also use Twitter to search for new writers to connect with using various hashtags. I don’t use any paid services to automate my account, however I’ve heard these can be very helpful if one has the budget. Using Tweet Deck, I schedule what I’m going to post for the next few weeks.

Reddit – I used Reddit to find potential interviewees for my 2018 interview series. I found about half of the interviewees there.

I have a lot of experimenting to do, but Twitter has been the most successful tool for me. 

Here’s an important note regarding social media: connecting and networking with other writers is critical. My first short story would not have been published if someone didn’t comment on my blog post. If I didn’t reach out to Benjamin Hope, I would never have found out about Kyanite Press. You and I would not have connected if it wasn’t for Twitter.

Social media can be a very important tool to connect with others and grow your network. From that network is where the opportunities present themselves. 

Another note regarding social media: some creators may think they have to have millions of fans. I suggest checking out the 1,000 True Fans goal. It makes sense and can take a lot of pressure off the creator. Having a goal when connecting with others may help alleviate the tension associated with trying to write and market at the same time.

Have you contributed to any other platforms as guest writer for websites, publications etc?

I haven’t, but I’m interested in any potential opportunities. 

Do you collaborate with other writers? If so, what are you looking for in collaborative Partners?

I haven’t collaborated yet with another writer. I’m looking for artists willing to allow me to use their work for free in exchange for free promotion as part of the Okulous-10 project. Anyone interested should send me an email at macabe.arthur@gmail.com. The work will be shared on the Okulous-10 Twitter account and my website with appropriate credit.

I’m also seeking a children’s book illustrator and someone to help me with a book cover.

How can people find out more about you, and if they’re interested how can they connect with you?

Email is the best way to get a hold of me. My email is macabe.arthur@gmail.com. You can also find my short stories and interview series for free on my blog, arthurmacabe.com.

Thanks, Andrew, for this awesome opportunity.