Author Andy Weir took the book world by storm with his hugely popular first published work, "The Martian". Maybe you recall it being adapted into a film by Sir Ridley Scott starring Matt Damon that garnered numerous award nominations.
Weir's second novel "Artemis" just released last week from Crown Publishing, and luckily for me, the official "World Tour" supporting the book had a local stop at the amazing Kepler's Books in Menlo Park. Seriously, if you're a California Bay Area local, go check this place out. They do several author events, I previously attended and covered an evening with "Ready Player One" and "Armada" author Ernie Cline there back in 2015.
This isn't my first time interviewing Andy, I've previously gotten to speak with him a few times, namely a sit down at SDCC in 2015 right after the release of the viral crew logs for The Martian.
Before the public event, I was able to sit down with Andy and chat a bit about "Artemis" (available now!) how things have been going since our last chat, and what's next. Scroll down for the audio from the Q & A:
Me: So the last time I talked to you, they had just released the viral crew log videos ahead of The Martian at Comic Con, and getting to see your excitement afterwards was really cool. I think we spoke literally right after that NASA panel, when they were showing photos of Mars with mentions happenings in the book like they were real. 'Yeah remember when Watney was over here', and [Andy laughs] it was just the coolest experience.
Andy: It was really cool. Sort of a once in a lifetime thing. It's like, you fantasize about that kind of stuff, but you don't ever think it's actually going to happen-
Me: But it did!
Andy: It TOTALLY did, but it's kind of a bummer though, that was was probably the highlight of my career was the- it's all downhill from here. *laughs*
Me: Boooooo. [Andy echos my "Booo"] So new book, Artemis, just came out.
Andy: Yes. And so far, seems to be doing well. Although I do have that full on imposter syndrome going on, that thing. Somebody told me once, and I don't know if it's true but it sure made me feel better, that 'the strength of your imposter syndrome is directly correlated to how skilled you actually are'. So in other words, the more worried you are, the more good you are, probably. So I don't know if it's true, but I'd really like it to be true, because that means I'm an AWESOME writer.
I mean when writing Artemis, it was constantly on my mind. There was no hope of anyone looking at this book in a vacuum. Everyone, and I mean everyone, is going to compare it to "The Martian". And there's a good chance that "The Martian" will be the most popular book I'll ever write. I could write 20 more books, 20 more books that all make it to number one on the New York Times best seller's list, and STILL "The Martian" will be the one I'll be remembered for. Which is fine-
Me: That's not a bad thing.
Andy: Right, this is not a bad problem to have. Not every eye would weep, these are some serious first world problems. Or like, zero world problems. It's fine. But no, I didn't want to come out with a dud, a sophomore slump. So, so far so good, it's holding steady at about 4 stars on Amazon, and just under that on GoodReads. GoodReads is always a little stingier than Amazon.
Me: Listening to Rosario Dawson speak about Artemis, before anything was really known about it (other than the first chapter you released) was pretty cool. She said she LOVED getting to read it.
Andy: She did a fantastic job, she really did. She's a consummate professional. I wasn't there, but I hear she would like, read a section and they'd be like 'ok that was great lets move on to the next one' and she'd be like 'nah, I didn't really like how I did the accent on that, let's give it another run at it.' She's just a pro, ya know.
Me: Going from a character like Mark Watney to Jazz, big huge difference. But you still wrote her with the same fabulous levels of sensibility you put into Watney-
Andy: First person smartass?
Me: YES! I love that, yes. It's part of the fun in reading what you do, because you do that.
Andy: Thank you. Yeah well, I think that's really all I've got? So I'd better make use of it.
I mean the biggest insecurity for me on Artemis was writing a female lead. She's also Arab, but that doesn't even matter, because culturally she's Artemesian. She's been there since she was six years old, so by definition the cultural norms I give her are correct, because I made up that culture. So, no problem there. But men and women- intellectually equal- but we still look at things very differently.
I'm not a woman, so I did the only thing I could do, and talked to subject matter experts- women. I gave a copy of the manuscript to every woman I felt I could trust NOT to put it up on PirateBay, my mother, my girlfriend, my editor is a man but his boss is a woman, his assistant, the copy editor. And I said 'I know they always tell you to just do copy editing and not give opinion, but on this subject, when it comes to how believable the female voice is, please tell me'. So if they told me 'eeeeeh, this thing here and this thing' I made changes. But still, lots of women are commenting that 'yeah I'm not buying that this is a woman'.
The general consensus is, there is a small contingent who say 'ick, man wrote woman, do not like', and the others are like 'eh, close enough'. All I really wanted was for female readers to not be dragged out of the story, to be pulled out of the suspension of disbelief by something, some distinctly male….thing. [I'm snickering at this point] I don't know enough to know what I don't know, ya know.
Me: Well *I* really enjoyed it.
Andy: There's ONE! One reader who did!
Me: I don't want to say it was a novelty to have a female protagonist? But it kind of is, especially when it comes to hardcore genre stuff. Not nearly as often as it should.
Andy: Yeah, it doesn't really happen in science fiction nearly as often as it does in any other genre. I mean you've got your female murder mystery solvers, cops and detectives, everything from Miss Marple up to Sue Grafton's lead. But you're right, not that many in science fiction. And I didn't set out to do that, it wasn't like I set out to do like a 'yay, I'm gonna make me a female character, I'm so proud of myself'. [we're both laughing]
I went through a lot of revisions of plot and story lines. I mean I designed the entire city before I touched characters or storyline because the story has to work around the setting, not the other way around. I wanted it to be as solid in my mind as….let's say….Chicago! And if you're writing a story that takes place in Chicago, you can't just say that there's no waterfront. So setting, then story. And on the first revision of the story, I sort of worked out an outline, here's whats gonna happen here are the characters.
Jazz was this super tertiary character. I needed a super likeable underworld character type that would be in, like, three scenes, and that's it. And then I thought well, what's a country I haven't used yet, Saudi Arabia, because Artemis is a very international city. Annnnnnd let's make it a woman, just, just because. And for reasons unrelated to Jazz, that story didn't…I didn't like it.
So I came up with a different story. And I took elements and things, from the first idea I liked, and came up with a story that I liked more. But Jazz still wasn't the central character, she wasn't the lead, and it wasn't about her. But it made me create a little bit more about her, about her backstory and depth. And I didn't like that story either.
But what if…what if I made it a…crime novel, around her, and she's the lead. More like a crime noir heist tale, that's set on the moon. Yeah, I'll do that! And by that time, who she is was so cemented in my mind, that my imagination would have rebelled if I tried to make her something that I'm more familiar with.
Me: The way you wrote her relationship with her dad, so so good. You can see both sides of things, his and hers, it was nice.
Andy: There was a lot of that comes from my own history. One thing I say about Mark Watney is that he is the idealized best parts of me, and Jazz, Jazz is more like the real me. When I was Jazz's age, she's 26, when I was her age, I was a screw up. Despite my alleged intelligence, I still managed to make real bad life decisions. I brought so many problems on myself, because….I don't even know why. A combination of laziness and lack of drive I guess. I'm really intelligent I guess, but I never did anything with it. So all of that stuff is just nakedly me projected through Jazz. She's more like I was in my 20s, including my relationship with my dad.
He was trying to make me a functional human being, but I was resisting it at every step *laughs*.
Me: Anyone who had a parent like that is gonna see similarities, I think.
Andy: It's not like Amar her father is not that stereotypical dad guy. He tried everything you can possibly do to prepare a child for the world. 'You're going to know a trade skill, I'd like you to take over my business that I've set up'. He was doing what parents should be doing to help set her up for her future. But she went off on this completely different path, and he's not thrilled about it but he of course still loves her and will do anything for her because dads are dads the world over-
Me: And then she blew up his shop.
Andy: And then she blew up his shop. BY MISTAKE, and I mean it was her idiot boyfriend who did it. But also, it takes her years to accept the responsibility for it. And one of the things that bugs me, that I guess I'm a little butt hurt about, is that people read it, that some are saying "oh Andy writes women as irresponsible". And it bugs me, because Jazz is irresponsible as a person, it doesn't matter that she's a woman. You wouldn't say that Administrator Ngugi is irresponsible or flighty-
Me: Not with what she manages to do.
Andy: *laughs* Yeeeah, she's like 'Well first Ima make Kenya a first world nation, and then I'll go rule the moon'.
Me: Exactly, and then you have Sanches, in charge of Sanches steel-
Andy: Yeah, Loretta Sanches. Oh man, and I screwed THAT up, the spelling. I used the Hispanic spelling of Sanches instead of the Portuguese. So like in Brazil if your name is Sanches it's 'e-s', and I only found that out after release.
Me: So what are you gonna do for the next book?
Andy: Well, I'll tell ya. I've had this idea for awhile, but I wanted to see how Artemis was received, I want to write a sequel to Artemis. I want to write another book that takes place in Artemis, but Jazz is not the main character in it. She's in it, but she's secondary.
Me: You created a pretty interesting city there, so.
Andy: People liked the setting, so. There's that thing, where there are two kinds of authors. The ones that read the reviews and the ones that say they don't read the reviews. I read the reviews, and one thing I'm getting from the reviews that are mostly negative 'I didn't believe Jazz as a woman, I didn't like the plot, it was a by the numbers heist story', said 'real nice setting though.' Even people who didn't like the book liked the setting. So it's something I've wanted to do for awhile.
As a consumer, I love it when there is a setting that is common among multiple books. A good example is Terry Pratchett's Discworld. I'm a big big fan, and after you read a few books that all take place in the same world, that world seems very solid and tangible to you. It seems so real, that there is zero effort required for suspension of disbelief. So around the time your reading your 4th of 34 Pratchett books, you're just like 'yeah yeah, I know all about the Disc'. [at this point, Andy proceeds to name several locations and places from the series, and names his favorite character, The Patrician, Lord Vetinari.]
Thanks again so much to the wonderful staff at Kepler's Books for hosting such a fun event (and allowing me to stick my camera everywhere) and to Andy for being so accommodating during his first day back from the tour.
You can listen to the complete audio from the trivia portion and Q & A portion of the evening over on soundcloud: