Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Archive for the 'Writing' Category

Putting SF characters on the couch

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

One of my favourite schticks as a writer is the psychological counselling of my science-fictional characters. I built the entire novel FOREIGNER around it (with the alien counterpart of Galileo being psychoanalyzed by the alien counterpart of Freud), and it is also the framing device in my Hugo Award-nominated HUMANS (where a Neanderthal shrink, Jurard […]


Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

I see lots of authors trying to fund the time to write their books via Kickstarter or Indiegogo, and I daily get requests from some of them to promote their campaigns on my Facebook wall. I haven’t figured out my stance on all this yet. Certainly, when I was writing my early books (I wrote […]

The pitch that sold Red Planet Blues

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Four years ago today, on July 18, 2011, I sent this pitch to my US and Canadian editors — which eventually led to the book Red Planet Blues: Hi, Ginjer and Adrienne. Now that you’ve accepted Triggers, it’s time for me to get to work on my next book (which you’ve already contracted for; it’s […]

Small Print cover boy

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

I’m the cover boy for the Spring-Summer 2015 issue of the free beautiful PDF magazine Small Print Magazine. The issue includes a meaty five-page interview with me conducted by Gene Wilburn. You can download the issue for free here. (Cover photo by Christina Frost.) Robert J. Sawyer online:Website • Facebook • Twitter • Email

A little advice on breaking in

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

My old pal Steve Fahnestalk brought his question on Quora to my attention:In a few months (finishing the final draft now), I’ll be looking to submit a fantasy novel to publishers. What is the best way to pursue this?”The most-popular answer on Quora was:Whether we like it or not, most of the big publishing houses […]

No one’s going to get that!

Monday, June 29th, 2015

I say this in gentle good humour — I am extraordinarily grateful to my beta readers — but I always find it amusing that, without fail, some will say, “I get this joke, but will your readers?,” or “I know this word, but will your readers?” Now, of course, I have jokes that fall flat […]

Character biographies

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Over on my Facebook wall, Matthew B. Tepper of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society asked me, “Do you also create life histories for your characters (at least the principal ones) that contain details that might not make it into the final text of the novel?” My reply: I do not. I know others do, […]

Counting words

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Over on Facebook, I was asked if I keep word counts in mind when writing a novel. The answer is yes — and for several reasons. First, I find daily word-count targets motivate me. When I’m writing first draft, I do 2,000 words a day. If I’m focused (and not wasting time on Facebook!), I […]

Pop-culture and obscure references in fiction

Monday, March 9th, 2015

An interesting article by John McPhee about obscure and pop-culture references in fiction appears in the March 9, 2015, issue of The New Yorker. My thoughts, speaking as a science-fiction writer who takes great joy in including such things in his work: In his 1953 short story “The Nine Billion Names of God,” Arthur C. […]

Star Trek’s black guest stars, 1966-1967

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Apropos of yesterday’s discussion of mentioning race in fiction, I have a complete set of the first season scripts of the original Star Trek, and decided to have a look to see if the major speaking parts played by black guest performers in the filmed episodes were specified in the scripts as to be played […]

More on mentioning race in fiction

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

I’ve written before about whether authors should feel nervous about specifying the race or skin colour of characters. My position is simple: you either do it for all characters or none; neither position is racist. What’s racist is only specifying it when deviates from some assumed norm — for instance, when books tell you if […]

On killing characters

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

For this article in Canada’s National Post newspaper, Books editor Mark Medley asked me about killing my characters. Here’s what I had to say: My brother Alan died this past summer. I got a call from my sister-in-law telling me he was slipping away, and I grabbed the first plane back to Toronto from Montreal, […]

Expanding Identity Theft into Red Planet Blues

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by John DeNardo of Kirkus for an article about expanding short works into novels, which is what I’d done with my latest book, Red Planet Blues. The full by-email interview is below, and here is the finished article, with a couple of my quotes used and quotes from […]

Should writers shy away from mentioning skin color?

Friday, July 13th, 2012

An email I recently received said, “I just started your novel Triggers and was wondering why you repeatedly point out that one character is black and another is white. I am not criticizing the book; I only find it unusual and had not seen anything like this before.” My reply: I’ve done it in most […]

My favorite sentence

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

I was asked to write a sentence about my favorite sentence from someone else’s science-fiction work. The sentence I chose was from James White’s “Tableau”:Through them could be seen a tiny, three-dimensional picture in full detail and colour of the original war memorial, placed there to remind viewers that there was nothing great or noble […]

Letter to Beginning Writers

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

I updated the letter I send to beginning writers who ask me for advice today; the current version follows: Dear Beginning Writer: You’re getting this letter because you’ve contacted me about writing science fiction. Unfortunately, so many people have taken to asking me for advice that I’ve had to resort to this form letter of […]

I’ll take "Clueless" for $1,000, Alex

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

A query I received in my capacity as an editor for Red Deer Press this morning began thus: I’ve got a Fiction Novel of 40,000+ words which I am trying to find a publisher for. Front cover has been designed already and it’s on it’s way for professional editing. I stopped reading after that, and […]

Patrick Rothfuss’s blog

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I said very nice things about Patrick Rothfuss’s first novel on the book’s dustjacket: “Hail Patrick Rothfuss! A new giant is striding the land. The Name of the Wind is an astonishing novel that just happens to be the writer’s first. The bestsellers’ lists and the award ballots are beckoning toward Rothfuss, and readers will […]

How much do novelists make?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

I’m lucky, and I know it; most of my colleagues aren’t. Gary Karbon discussed this last year in the blog Culture Feast: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

How many dictionaries does it take to tell you how to spell "light bulb"?

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The American Heritage English Dictionary says it’s two words: “light bulb.” Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary says it’s two words: “light bulb.” But Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says it’s one word: “lightbulb.” When a book is being copyedited, the copyeditor must specify which dictionary he or she is conforming to, unless (a) the publisher specifies one, […]

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! Trilogies everywhere you look!

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

My friend Melody Friedenthal asked me an intriguing question this morning: At what point in your creative process did you decide that Wake et al., would be a trilogy? And was it the same point for your first trilogy (or 2nd) or was the first one more of the publisher’s choice (as in “this is […]

Hey, this scheme really works! I just got $2,800!

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

No, it’s not a scam — it’s the Canadian government’s annual kickback to Canadian writers to compensate them for their lost royalties on copies of their books circulated in libraries. Just about every Western country except the United States has such a scheme. I’ve got so many books, I easily get the maximum payout each […]

What should I write about?

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

An email I received today from a university student, wanting to write her first novel: I have just read your advice on writing. I am struggling to come up with what to write about. I am sort of tired of writing about things relating to me. I feel like my head is a confused sea […]

It begins

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

We just lost one of the big-four US science fiction and fantasy magazines: Realms of Fantasy, edited by Shawna McCarthy, is closing down. SF Scope (which more and more these days is first with breaking news) has the scoop. Meanwhile, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction recently switched from 11 issues a year to […]

Have I taught you nothing?

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The opening of an email I just received: Dear Editor: I am seeking the publication of my young adult novel, TITLE, complete at 168,000 words. My reply: You’ll never get anywhere like this. My guidelines say no YA, and nothing over 100,000 words — I didn’t read anything beyond that in your letter. I wish […]

More on pros and cons: choosing panels

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

A few days ago, I was asked about how a pro might get the most out of attending a science-fiction convention. I gave my advice here, but another point just occurred to me. I was just directed to the lengthy list of panel topics from which to choose those I wanted to be part of […]

Habitable Planets for Man

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

Holy crap! Just discovered that the Rand Corporation has made its landmark 1964 study Habitable Planets for Man by Stephen H. Dole available for free as PDF (scroll down to the link to the free download, of just click here). This is it, folks, the world-building bible; I paid a fortune years ago for a […]

Rejected Rob

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

To my surprise, I’m mentioned in a column by Robert Fulford in today’s National Post newspaper here in Canada. It’s about writers who have had work rejected, and he cites me and Ursula K. LeGuin, among others: Robert J. Sawyer, the highly successful Canadian science-fiction writer, recently noted that he has 142 rejection slips in […]

Public Lending Right

Friday, February 17th, 2006

Things like the Book Lover’s Ball (see the next entry) are one of the reasons I love being an author in Canada — it’s hard to imagine a genre-fiction writer being so well treated in the States. Another thing I love is that my federal government sends me a kickback every February to compensate me […]