Welcome back! Today, I decided to do something that is long overdue and tell you about my latest interview. This time around, it was of medieval academic and fantasy writer/creator Rob Howell of Howell’s Howels. Enjoy!

What is your quest?

I guess you could say my quest has always been to write the kind of science fiction that I would want to read, the kind of stuff that inspired me growing up and made me want to become a writer myself. This comes down to hard science fiction mostly, and the classics that have remained relevant and influential long after they were written. Examples include the venerable Frank Herbert and his magnum opus, the Dune series. He was the author that taught people to take science fiction seriously, myself included.

And of course, there is 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, perhaps the most-influential works of the 20th century and the stories that taught me how science fiction is also a commentary on the present as much as a vision of the future. And then there was William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Sprawl Trilogy, which not only taught me about gritty, cyberpunk realism, but that all science fiction is about the time period in which it is written.

I also derived a lot of inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke’s Space Odyssey series and Rendezvous with Rama, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness and The Outcasts, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, and various works by Charles Stross and Kim Stanley Robinson. All of these books helped me learn to dream in hard science fiction, and to weave tales of my won.

And of course, I wouldn’t be where I am now were it not for the opportunity I’ve had to write about astronomy, science, and space exploration for Universe Today. All of my published work owes its existence to what I have learned from my job, which is how to take space-related news and knowledge and make it accessible for public consumption. You might say there’s some crossover there with being a science fiction writer! 😉

What is your favorite color?

I’m not too picky, as long as the colors are appropriate to the setting. That’s one thing I like about settings, they need to be detailed so that people can get an image in their mind of what it’s like to be there. This includes not only what things look like, but also smell like and feel like. Space and place are very important when it comes to creating atmosphere and setting the mood. This is as true for science fiction as it is in real life.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

The challenges have been numerous and belligerent! But that’s pretty much how it goes and that which does not kill you makes you stronger. For starters, I found that you have to make all the mistakes before you can expect to identify them. You also have to learn that reality does not conform to expectations. Much of these lessons were learned from my first novel, which was self-published and really didn’t do that well.

And even after learning all that, I’ve found I still have some serious difficulties with the writing process. Some of these are typical while others feel like they are particular. For instance, I have a hell of a time writing the middle parts of stories. Beginnings are easy for me, which is why I start projects all the time that I never finish. Endings are great too, that’s where most of the exciting stuff happens. But those middle chapters? Ick! This seems like an example of a typical problem for writers.

But what I think may be particular to myself is the difficulty I have with writing third installments. Not sure why, but the third book in a series is always the hardest for me to write. The first book is a challenge since it involves setting the stage and all that, but it’s creatively fun and rewarding. The second book seems easy by comparison, since you’ve already set the stage and the second act is all about turning up the heat and taking things to the next level! But the third book? That’s where everything has to come together and conclude in a nice, tidy package. So many details to remember, so many threads that need to be tied!

 What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I would say my most effective technique is visualization, specifically the ability to picture how things will look in a story before committing them to paper. I’ve always had a fertile imagination, which could be a liability at times! In grade school, I was accused more than once of being lazy, inattentive, and stupid for the way I would be constantly daydreaming. Luckily, my educators saw the potential and recommended I channel my imagination into my work. Now my work is based on my ability to imagine things. I believe they call that “check” and “mate”!

This has led to many reviewers and commenters saying that they liked my “world-building”. I have to admit, that’s one of my favorite aspects of creating a story, picturing how everything fits into a narrative universe and fleshing it out from there. And since people seem to respond to that, I am happy to keep doing it!  

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy
  • Favorite Sports Team? BC Lions
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon? Lime
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Onion and Chive
  • Wet or Dry? Dry
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Shawn Pigott
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whiskey
  • Favorite Superhero? Iron Man
  • Steak Temperature? Hot, but still pink in the middle
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? M*A*S*H
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Spring
  • Favorite Pet? Jasper
  • Best Game Ever? Skyrim
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-Fi (hello!)

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

My questions are a bit eclectic and my I’m heavily-biased when it comes to them, so feel free to pass on any or all of them:

Beer or wine? Beer
Favorite beer? Schlafly Tasmanian IPA
How much ya’ bench? Both pounds
Best sci-fi movie of all time? Empire Strikes Back
Best recent sci-fi movie? Guardians of the Galaxy
Best sci-fi novel/writer of all time? Isaac Asimov
Terraforming or space habitats? Both
FTL, yay or nay? Eventually. There’s too much fuzziness in time and space for there not to be a way of circumventing.
What is the central question posed by the Fermi Paradox? Why the human race can’t get a date.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

Here are the links of interest:

And where can we find you?

I am still contemplating attending TitanCon, which is being held in Belfast this year. It’s a bit of a hop, but one that would be worth it.

Do you have a creator biography?

Matthew S. Williams is an author, a writer for Universe Today and the curator of their Guide to Space section. His works include sci-fi/mystery The Cronian Incident and his articles have been featured in Phys.org, HeroX, Popular Mechanics, Business Insider, Gizmodo and IO9, Science Alert, Knowridge Science Report, and Real Clear Science, with topics ranging from astronomy and Earth sciences to technological innovation and environmental issues. He is also a former educator and a 5th degree Black Belt Tae Kwon Do instructor. He lives on Vancouver Island with his wife and family.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?

 How about best science fiction series of all time? Opinions on this are usually divisive and varied, but for me, it’s Babylon 5. No other sci-fi series that I have experienced before or since has managed to capture J.M. Straczynski’s ability to weave a tale, set the stage, and connect it all in a brilliantly-circular fashion. At least as far as I am concerned.

Here are a couple of reviews of his first two novels.

“The Cronian Incident, which I recommended to my audience as my top Sci-Fi read of the year, is a treasure of planetary science.“ –Heather Archulette (aka. Pillownaut)

 “Exciting plot with a good foundation in science. This is not surprising given the author’s expertise as an excellent science writer for Universe Today. Inspiring ending. Highly recommended!” –Prof. Avi Loeb, Harvard University


One thought on “My Interview with Rob Howell!

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