Writer Q&A 2020 No. 2: Rick Wilber

  

An award-winning author, editor and professor, Rick Wilber has produced short stories that are published often in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine and elsewhere. His collection, Rambunctious: Nine Tales of Determination, will be out in hardcover and ebook editions in March 2020 from WordFire Press. Also from WordFire, the novella The Wandering Warriors (co-authored with Alan Smale) will be out in a hardcover and ebook editions in summer 2020. The short story, “False Bay,” will be included in the anthology Monsters, Movies & Mayhem from WordFire in July 2020, and the short stories “Ithaca,” (co-authored with Brad Aiken) and “The Hind,” (co-authored with Kevin J. Anderson) will also be out in summer and fall 2020 in Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. 

His novel, Alien Day: Notes from Holmanville, the second novel in his S’hudonni Trilogy from Tor Books, will be out in December 2020.

Wilber teaches in the low-residency MFA in Creative Writing at Western Colorado University, where he is Thesis Coordinator in the Genre Fiction track. His website can be found here.

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Also, in the interest of full-disclosure, he was my newspaper adviser during my tenure as editor-in-chief of the USF Oracle sometime during the late 20th Century. Thanks for taking the time, Dr. Wilber!

How long have you been a writer?

Rick Wilber: I started writing in high school, back in the Midwest. I was a kid who played all the sports available at that prep school, and certainly thought of myself as an athlete. So when I started to write it was all about sports: football, baseball and basketball. I played all of those in high school and college. I wrote for the school paper in high school and for the little literary magazine, where I wrote poetry about sports. 

Then in college I started writing sports for the local newspapers, usually covering high-school basketball as a stringer, which meant paid by the game. It was a lot of fun and I certainly learned to meet my deadlines. 

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Rick Wilber: From reading the sports pages in the local papers, where writing those sports stories looked like it would be a fun job. But I was a heavy reader of fiction, too,  and had been since elementary school, mostly in science fiction and fantasy, but really all I could get my hands on, so Tom Swift Jr., the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Tom Corbett: Space Cadet, the Lucky Starr series by Paul French (a pseudonym, I found out later, for Isaac Asimov), juvenile novels by Robert Heinlein, and on and on. I read several books a week all through elementary school. Then, at some point in college or in grad school I began to think I’d try and write some fiction. As is typical, I had a lot of short-story rejections at first, but then one story sold, and then another, and I started writing fewer sports stories and more sf/f. 

Are you a full-time writer? If not, what’s your day job that helps pay the bills? If yes, how do you keep the process fun instead of feeling like it’s…ugh…work?

Rick Wilber: I’ve never been a full-time freelance writer. As a sports journalist I gravitated toward newspaper and magazine work, and I started college teaching about then, too, so teaching and journalism paid the bills for me. I taught college journalism, too, for a long time and more recently I teach creative writing. I’m now a visiting professor in a very cool low-residency genre-fiction MFA program at Western Colorado University. Teaching and mentoring talented grad-study writers brings me great satisfaction and keeps my sharply attuned to the market even as it hones my own skills.

Do you have a family? How do you balance quality time with them and with your creative process?

Rick Wilber: I’ve been married for more than 35 years to a brilliant woman who’s a professor of finance at a local college. I have two adult children: a daughter who inherited her mother’s brains and talent. She has a master’s in biology and works at a zoo in Arizona; and a Down syndrome son who works at McDonald’s and has a great social life. All three of these remarkable people have taught me about life and love in ways that I write about all the time. We have always negotiated family time with writing time and it’s worked out fine for me. 

What’s your favorite genre to read – and why? 

Rick Wilber: You’d think it would be science fiction and fantasy, since that’s what I mostly write. But while I read heavily in that field, I also love to read spy novels and mysteries and a little horror. I have a lot of friends who are very successful writers and I try to keep up with their work, too. But I won’t name drop. 

Share some works that were influential for you – and why?

Rick Wilber: I always cite Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz as the book that had the most influence on me. I was a sophomore in a Jesuit all-boys high school when I first read it and it blew me away: it’s a post-apocalypse novel where a kind of Jesuitical order is keeping learning alive. It’s famous for being one of the first science-fiction novels to win praise from the mainstream critics. I still re-read it every now and again. The other book that blew my mind back in the 1960s was Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which also won mainstream praise and convinced me during my college days that it was all right to want to be a science-fiction writer. 

What drives you to write?  What do you get out of it?

Rick Wilber: I’ve been a storyteller since I was a child, and I read so much in my youth that I developed a real need to be one of those people who can tell the stories that other people want to read. I’ve been pretty successful at it, especially at short fiction, but with some novels that did well, too, and I derive great satisfaction from knowing people are reading the stories I’ve told and enjoying and learning from them. I suppose my long career as a teacher and my long career as a writer are both about the same thing: sharing and learning and teaching about life (even if it’s alien life).

Are you powered more by character inspirations or plot ideas? Why is that? 

Rick Wilber: I’m definitely a character-driven writer. I find people—good ones, bad ones, those more talented and those less talented—fascinating and worth talking about. Plot, for me, is just the necessary thing that I use to talk about characters. 

What do you do for fun? Interesting hobbies? 

Rick Wilber: I’ve always been an athlete. I played college football, basketball and baseball and I learned to hate the first one of those but love the other two. So I’ve always enjoyed working out and staying in pretty good shape. These days I love cycling, and I do 8-10 miles every day. It clears the mind and allows me to get away from writing for an hour every day. It’s amazing how often getting outside and on the bike frees up my mind, as well. I’ve solved a lot of plot problems in stories by having a kind of epiphany about a story come to me while I’m cycling. Otherwise, I remain a sports fan, and my Down syndrome son and I have a weekend season-ticket package to see our local baseball team all summer long. My wife and I have season tickets to the local pro soccer team, too, so between those two sports I suppose I see 30 or 40 sports games or matches every year. It’s good fun and, like cycling, gets me away from the computer and out into the real world. 

What advice do you have for would-be writers?

Rick Wilber: If you want to be a writer you must first read. All the writers I know were heavy readers growing up and remain heavy readers even as they build their writing careers. The other thing is to learn your craft. Get an education in creative writing in one way or another. And the third thing is to write. Write a lot. Keep writing. Persevere if you don’t find early success. But if you love storytelling, keep telling those stories one way or another. 

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Wes Platt

Lead storyteller. Game designer and journalist. Recovering Floridian.

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