Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, David M. Hoenig – David is a practicing physician who lives to write instead of writing to live.
Thanks so much, David, for joining me!
JSC: If you could sit down with one other writer, living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you ask them?
DMH: J. Michael Straczynski, and “Can I please fanboy on you and work with you so I can learn at your feet?” I loved Babylon 5 and Sens8 immensely, both as stories and how they were told, and for the beauty, heroism, empathy, and compassion of the characters which could make me laugh and bring me to tears. Within the same 5 minutes. A true master, in my opinion.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
DMH: Eclectic. I enjoy a wide variety of genres, and enjoy subverting any single one by combining two or more into something I’ve not read before.
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
DMH: Studied nuclear physics, to the point of sitting and interviewing a nuclear physicist who worked in Los Alamos, so I could incorporate accurate, plausible science into a SF closed-room murder mystery on a spaceship in the asteroid belt. As a result, the story’s reveal was even better than what I’d envisioned. It was hands-down the most intense delving into the history and theory of nuclear physics I’d ever done, with the best payoff I could have asked for.
JSC: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
DMH: When in doubt, exercise. ‘Real life’ is so busy, I can’t get out of my own head long enough to be creative, but a nice long hike or run allows me the time to think ‘what if…?’ or ‘how do I get from here to where I want to go?’. Time away from the page, letting my thoughts cycle and range in unexpected directions, and the internal focus that exercise allows just flat does it for me. Of course, it might be endorphins. Probably. But the other sounds good, doesn’t it?
JSC: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
DMH: I immediately write it down, or dictate it in a message to myself through my phone. Googledocs on my android phone is awesome for this, because I can use voice recognition even while driving, and pick it up from any desktop. Never lose an idea, an evocative turn of phrase, an image or a character flaw, whatever. I use this all the time.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
DMH: Part-time, no question. I did spend a lot of time actually becoming a surgeon, so it seems a shame not to do that. But the writing gig is fun. It’s a private-time, creative outlet in a life spent interacting with patients, colleagues, trainees. For me, it’s a bit like cooking or baking… you get to play creatively, and then ultimately enjoy the final result.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
DMH: I unabashedly multiclass. I need to know the answers to a few critical question before I start writing.
- what are the rules of the world I’m working in?
- where does the story start, and what’s come before?
- where is it going?
- what do I want my readers to feel at the end?
But once I know those things, I just start writing, and see where the thing takes me. A great example is my in-editing-phase novel. I had a chapter in which my young captain, whose story arc is to become the capable but empathetic leader we all wish we could be, asks his officers whether to sell their valuable ‘score’ at the local spaceport market or not. But what began as a rather banal transaction turned into more than a means to make him wealthy. Suddenly I was exploring PTSD for one of the officers, the budding relationship between him and another, and it defined which political faction was to be my primary antagonists. The seat of my pants made the chapter much more interesting than it otherwise would have been.
JSC: How did you deal with rejection letters?
DMH: ‘Did’? It’s definitely an ongoing process J. Fortunately, even when my story doesn’t appeal to an editor, I remain comprised of 90% superego, and only around 5% each of ego and id. Undaunted, I fire those rejected stories back out into the ether after another round of rereading and editing. And sometimes I eat something tasty but unhealthy.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
DMH: I was hoping that a flash sci fi story I’d written was the very embodiment of beautiful melancholy, and sent it to a friend to read. She sent me back a picture of her weeping after reading it. (picture included, labelled ‘weeping’)
JSC: What are your least favorite parts of publishing?
DMH: Marketing. I’m a private person, and I do not enjoy having to ‘bother’ my friends and family to read and review my books and stories. As someone for whom time is nearly the most valuable commodity (my wife, family, and cats top the list), who needs to spend it on something as pedestrian as sales?
The answer is me and everyone else. I just prefer to spend my limited time writing rather than selling, I guess.
JSC: Name the book you like most among all you’ve written, and tell us why.
DMH: Okay, this one is easy, because it’s the most unique thing I’ve done so far. “Queen to His King” is the story of an overly empathetic woman and her philosophical opposite, the King in Yellow, told through poetry and surreal art. I am super proud of this, because I did nearly all the art as well as the poetry, and thought it was original as all heck. I never imagined it’d be a best seller, and I was right not to. But it’s beautiful on so many levels, and was a tremendously interesting journey to bring to fruition.
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Alien Days?
DMH: I didn’t—the publisher, Castrum Press, came up with this one as the second in a series. (The first was Future Days.) My story is titled Songs Sweeter Still, and I was inspired to make bioengineered humanoids designed to survive in the natural environment of Titan my alien race. I wanted to explore what happens when the first alien asks her handler why humans are taking her peoples’ rocks.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
DMH: Fim is a beautifully simple person, who only wants what belongs to her people to be for her people, and to follow the directions of the god she hears singing in the chilly Titan night. As it turns out, the god’s songs are not benevolent, but Fim finds that they are more sincere than the humans who brought her into existence.
JSC: What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
DMH: I wanted to explore the ‘weird’ in a sci fi setting on the one planetary body in our solar system, and the beauty of a brand new, humanoid creature that can hear the voice of the god which her creators can no longer hear.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing your story for Alien Days?
DMH: Building the world, and moving back and forth from the POV of my ‘alien’ humanoids and the humans while making sure that my aliens ‘evolved’ enough
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
DMH: Fim was obviously the most fun, because I got to explore a completely alien intellect just entering into self-awareness and becoming, in many ways, more human than my human characters.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
DMH: Nighttime and daytime temperatures on Titan. Seriously, because my alien humanoids were designed to go quiescent during the night, and they learned how to use electronic devices to raise their body temperature just enough to stay active.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
DMH: Fim: “Awesome! I got everything, including a great <redacted> scene.”
Agramonte: “Everyone <redacted>, Fim.”
Fim: “But not everyone got a star-quality <redacted>.”
Agramonte (muttering): “Bitch.”
JSC: What’s your core motivation in this book?
DMH: Fim: “Serving the god and my people.”
Agramonte: “Surviving corporate expectations and a slave race uprising.”
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end? (don’t give us any spoilers).
DMH: Fim: “Oh, deffo!”
Every Human on Titan: (awkward silence)
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DMH: An astronaut. Even when I went to medical school, I always thought I might use that knowledge and skillset to become one.
JSC: If you had the opportunity to live one year of your life over again, which year would you choose, and why?
DMH: Senior year of college. Holy moly, what a great year that was. I met a girl who became my first fiancée, finished a Bachelor’s of science in biochem, earned a certificate in biotech, and a minor in English writing, got accepted to medical school, started dancing and performing ballet, raced on the cross country ski team. So, yeah. That year was an amazing growth and accomplishment year, and would be at the top of the list to repeat.
JSC: Tell me one thing hardly anyone knows about you.
DMH: I like big boots and I cannot lie? Um.
JSC: Tell me about a unique or quirky habit of yours.
DMH: I still say prayers every day. I have no proof anyone or –thing is listening, but at the very least it allows me to focus on myself and what I want and hope for, empowering me to seek it.
JSC: Were you a voracious reader as a child?
DMH: Absolutely. And my dad used to feed the habit, especially coming back from business trips. I still have a bunch of those books on my shelf, decades later. Thanks also to my mother, who got me into poetry, both appreciation and writing.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names? Pictures?
DMH: We’ve got 5 rescue cats: Smoky, Fiona, Arwen, Charlotte, and Templeton.
JSC: What was the first book that made you cry?
DMH: I don’t remember, because so many have. I’ll take a guess at Charlotte’s Web, but at the top of my brain, I know I cried with Elizabeth Moon’s trilogy “The Deed of Paksennarion” and with Stephen King’s “Gunslinger” series.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
DMH: I’ve dabbled in digital art, and danced ballet back in the day. I have also been compared to a world class singer, as in ‘a world class singer, he isn’t’.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
DMH: When I was a teen, I used to lifeguard, and in recent years I tapped into that experience for a story about a lifeguard who found a 23 and Me kit at the pool he worked, and sent it in, and got back the results which told him he had like 13% Unknown in his genetic makeup. I could feel the sun on my skin again, the chilly well-water, and rainy days when we’d go to a skeleton crew and play monopoly and scrabble.
JSC: We know what you like to write, but what do you like to read in your free time, and why?
DMH:: Hard sci fi feels, in a way, like form poetry to me. Like, it’s got rules you can’t really bend much, so when you get it right it’s with a higher degree of difficulty. Of course, I also love me anything in the speculative realm, including fusions.
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
DMH: Empathy is often a focus for my characters, because it makes them powerfully relatable, and fallible, and their opposites—sociopaths—so incredibly unsettling. I have always been empathetic, and while I think it’s a huge strength for a doctor, it also leaves one open to experiencing too much pain to function well. It’s a fine balance point, and I find its presence or lack incredibly compelling to explore.
JSC: If you were stuck on a desert island all alone with only three things, what would they be?
DMH: Excedrin, Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksenarrion, and spf 100 sunscreen.
JSC: What’s your drink of choice?
DMH: 17 year old Lagavulin.
And now for David’s new short story “Songs Sweeter Still” in the sci fi anthology Alien Days:
Alien Days is a multi-author anthology with thrilling tales of aliens, invasions, artificial intelligence, friendship, deceit and extinction. A combination which makes this collection a must-read for science fiction short story fans.
This anthology features Nebula and Dragon award nominees, Amazon bestsellers and award winners alongside rising stars in the science fiction genre. Let the authors take you on adventures through dystopian worlds and far flung planets that will stretch your imagination… Welcome to Alien Days.
David is a practicing physician who lives to write instead of writing to live. He is a split class writer/academic surgeon with several cat-familiars and a wife. He tries to follow Monty Python’s advice by always looking on the bright side of life, but has only needed to be rescued by the Judean Peoples Front on rare occasions. His website can be found at: https://davidmhoenig.wordpress.com/about/
He’s working on his first novel, which is close to completion of the latest revision, and is about halfway through his next.