I had reached out to Bundoran Press to see if they had any writers they’d like to have featured for an interview. Al Onia is the second of the most recent authors they’d sent me, and Al very promptly made me jealous, because within days of me sending off the questions, Al promptly flew away to warmer climes. (Maybe one day I’ll follow his example and take an actual sunny vacation in winter.)
Now, away to the questions!
9DW: I see you have a new standalone book coming out in early 2016 – Transient City. What can you tell me about it?
Al Onia: Transient City is a science fiction noir, deiselpunk whodunnit. It evolved from a character with a modified eidetic memory eking an existence on a frontier mining planet. His accurate and complete memories haven’t manifested in any sort of personal success or fulfillment and actually restrict his ability to function in the mainstream. Transient itself is a major character in the story. The city defines the people in it while my protagonist, Victor, struggles to define himself.
9DW: This is your second book with Bundoran Press, but certainly not your first piece of fiction in print. If you could go back and give your pre-published self a piece of advice, what would it be?
AO: Write from the heart as well as the mind. The works I’m proudest of have passionate characters who carry pieces of me within them.
9DW: Tell me a little about Javenny, the book you launched at When Words Collide 2014.
AO: Javenny, like Transient City, is character driven. The protagonist, Javenny Pink, fights herself and those in power around her to connect her conscious with her subconscious. Within this link and her tormenting nightmares lies a greater connection, an alien first contact. The story plays out against a dystopic background but the novel isn’t a dystopia. It’s about personal discovery and combatting one’s inner demons head on.
9DW: I’ve just noticed that a couple of previous interviewees have been published in AB Negative, as you have been. What appeal does Crime Fiction have for you?
AO: Crime fiction is one of my favourite genres to read, from Conan Doyle to Dorothy Sayers to the Black Mask school. I like the lone wolf hardboiled PI who knows in his or her heart it’s their duty to bring justice and they have to do it their way until all the facts are known. I’m a career scientist. Scientists solve puzzles. Crime stories present puzzles to be solved.
9DW: Recently, you described your experiences at a couple of conventions, and you mentioned that there are often excellent panels and workshops at these kinds of events. What has been one of the best workshops or panels you’ve ever been to?
AO: A Conversion (long running Calgary SF con, now defunct) writers’ workshop hosted by Ed Bryant 30+ years ago may or may not have been the best but for me and a few others, Ed’s was life-altering. During lunch break on day 2 of the round-table critiquing, a few of us bemoaned what a shame it was for the session to be 2 days and done. Ed supplied the obvious solution (obvious to him but none of us), “Why don’t you start a writers group to critique each other’s work?” Duh. Thus began IFWA with half a dozen or so of us, now grown to over 70 strong multiple-published authors, editors, anthologists, convention organizers and most important of all, writers looking to publish their first story. The shared excitement for them never goes away.
9DW: As a writer with a day job, which do you think is more important, inspiration or time management?
AO: Time management! For me, developing the discipline to write every day has led to greater productivity and interestingly enough, creativity. The ideas which ‘pop out’ while I’m typing amaze me, whether it be sudden insight or a plot twist unimagined when I sat down that day. I make writing the prioity each day I’m not at my ‘day job’.
9DW: How much of your day job background filters into your stories, in terms of plot, characters, or science?
AO: Believe it or not, geophysics doesn’t fascinate everyone. I use it when appropriate to provide some verisilimitude to the action. There is some seismology in Transient City which was a lot of fun to write. The rigors of science and the dangers of scientific vanity biting one in the ass hold a lot of interest for me and provide potential for conflict in many of my short stories..
To turn the question sideways, when I propose a drilling prospect, I weave a story which fits the known facts and the limits of my science, not unlike creating a fiction, except the consequences of failure are lost capital and credibility (if you really screwed up), not a perfunctory rejection slip. The two careers overlap on a few levels.
9DW: Related question: how do you push past fatigue and keep on writing?
AO: Visualization and Reward! Before I even place my face above the keyboard each session, I don my wordsmith hat (thanks Dave Darrigo, wherever you are) and visualize my existence as a writer. To be a writer, you must write, so close the internet and webmail and get typing.
I tell myself, another hour or scene in the chair and I can go for a run, swim, bike ride or what-have-you. Then begin again. For me, the method works and I have more passion to create than ever.
9DW: Now that you’ve really started work on novels, how do you fit short stories into your writing routine?
AO: Short stories are a vacation. If an idea strikes, I’ll make notes and let it percolate in the back room while I complete whatever novel stage I’m at. When the ideas are enough to actually have a story, I’ll blast it out in a lovely change of pace. That said, my short story productivity has fallen off with novel writing. But my writerly mind constantly combs the aether for the short-worthy ideas humming out there.
More about Al:
Al Onia is a semi-retired geophysicist living in Calgary with his wife, Sandra. American hard-boiled mysteries and the British invasion of popular culture in the 1960’s continue to entertain and inspire his work. His stories celebrate the potential hero in each of us. Al’s short fiction has most recently appeared in On Spec and the anthologies AB Negative and Casserole Diplomacy. Al is a two-time Aurora Award finalist in the short story category. His first novel, Javenny, appeared from Bundoran in August, 2014.
You can follow Al!
At his website: http://ajonia.com/
Check out his Amazon page.
Find out more about the IFWA here: http://ifwa.ca/
Buy Javenny here: http://www.bundoranpress.com/product/1/Javenny