Like so many people, I was absolutely taken in by Andy Weir’s sci-fi novel, The Martian. This book has set the standard for modern science fiction for me, as it raises the bar and expectations of the readers, and assumes an understanding of scientific principles well enough to be used as engaging and believable plot devices. Weir’s excellent blend of science, wit, and humanity make the book a fantastic read.
Prior to this interview, I reached out to Mr. Weir a few times, both to express my appreciation for his excellent work, and with a question or two. He has always been gracious enough to respond, even as, I can only imagine, his days have been quite with the recent release of the Ridley Scott, film adaptation of his book. When I reached out to him to answer a few questions for the Captains of Industry series, he kindly obliged.
I first heard about The Martian about a year ago. My son and I were in the car and had just turned on the radio and came in the middle of an interview with Mr. Weir on NPR. The story of how The Martian came to be published is one of inspiration for any aspiring writer. Weir was a software developer with a passion for writing and story telling. After writing The Martian and having it rejected by a number of publicist, he began releasing it for free, chapter by chapter on his blog. People tuned in, gave feedback, and eventually asked for an e-reader solution which then led to a Kindle release. Listening to other interviews with Weir, it seems as if he was a little reluctant to put a price on his book, so he chose the Amazon Kindle minimum of $0.99. The Martian quickly took off and became a best seller. This attracted the attention of publishers and eventually Fox, who bought the picture rights.
Andy Weir has done a number of interviews (a few listed at the bottom) in which he talks a good deal about The Martian. Thus, the things I wanted to know were more about him as a writer and less about Mark Watney. In truth, I wanted to ask him fifty questions about Watney, but I’ll take what I can get.
Interview with Andy Weir
At what point in life did you recognize, not only a passion, but a talent for writing?
I always wanted to be a writer. I never had a “moment” where I suddenly had a talent for writing. I just practiced a lot, same as everyone else.
As a writer, I know it can be challenging to follow your passions and new book ideas are always popping up. Do you have any advice on how to see such a long-term project through to the end?
1) You have to actually write. Like… put words on a page. Thinking about a story or world-building in your mind is not enough. You have to sit down and start writing. And it sucks because it’s work and it never turns out as awesome as you imagine it. But know that’s the same for every writer.
2) Resist the urge to tell your story to friends and family. It satisfies your need for an audience and saps your desire to write. Make a rule for yourself: The only way anyone can ever experience your story is to read it. Use that as a motivator to actually write it. You can feed it to friends and family chapter by chapter for immediate feedback.
3) This is the best time in history to self-publish. There’s no longer an old-boy network between you and your readers. If your story is good, it’ll get around. And it costs you nothing to try.
Did you outline The Martian before writing and if so, how well did you stick to the outline? I ask because I believe there is a balance between following the originally intended story and listening to the hints of inspiration that come when the writing takes place.
No, I made it up as I went along. I knew roughly how I wanted the book to end, but that’s it.
What has the recent road to success been like?
It’s been a dream come true. But it hasn’t all be peachy. Now that I’m a full-time writer, I no longer have an office full of co-workers. I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed that social interaction every day. I liked my day job (I was a computer programmer) and I liked my coworkers and boss. So it was a real adjustment.
Mark Watney has a certain kind of manly appeal that isn’t based in his good looks (no offense Mr. Damon) or his ability to shoot straight. What would you say that appeal is?
He’s sort of an “everyman”. He’s a very intelligent guy, but not a superman. It’s hard to project yourself into Superman or James Bond. But you can see yourself as Watney. He’s like a regular Joe you could have a beer with.
The world, or the Western cultures at least, seems to be in a love\hate — or maybe a trust\distrust — state with technology. In one sense we are more connected to each other than ever before, yet we feel a sharp division and interference in our “human” relationships because of the ease of virtual communication. The Martian, though it is filled with technology and science, revolves around the “human” while keeping technology as a means of service to the good of mankind. Well done! I am wondering if you have any thoughts as to how we cross the line from “technology the great distractor” and “technology the uniter”?
I see what you’re getting at. My opinion is that technology is unrelated to morality. It’s just a tool. You can use rocks to build houses or you can use them to crack people’s skulls open. A rock isn’t anything to be afraid of, nor will it protect you from the weather. That’s all up to the person holding the rock.
What does it mean to you, as a man, to see The Martian so well received and to be able to pursue your talent and passion?
It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and now I can.
Do you have any advice you can share with the world of men which you have learned from or used during your experience as a writer, and now, film inspirer?
I don’t really know. I’m still very inexperienced and have a lot to learn. And frankly, I don’t know what I did right with The Martian. I guess my main approach is just to avoid things that are trite or overdone.
One last question: What’s next in the life of a veteran software developer turned sci-fi writer?
Working on my next novel now. It’s a more traditional sci-fi with aliens and faster-than-light travel.
More on Andy Weir
Check out these other resources to get more information on Andy Weir and The Martian. Click here to see the articles and posters we put together regarding The Martian and Mark Watney!