Author Interview: Daniel H. Wilson, Author of ROBOPOCALYPSE

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a much-needed vacation. On this vacation, I read three books. Although all were fun reads, the one I enjoyed the most was ROBOPOCALYPSE by Daniel H. Wilson, which was optioned for film by Steven Spielberg. I asked Daniel if I could interview him, and he was happy to oblige, as the book just came out in paperback (April 2012) and he’s doing promotion for it. Enjoy the Q&A below.

 

     

Daniel H. Wilson is the New York Times bestselling author of ROBOPOCALYPSE
and seven other books, including HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING
and A BOY AND HIS BOT. He earned a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie
Mellon University, as well as Masters degrees in Robotics and Artificial
Intelligence. The movie adaptation of his novel ROBOPOCALYPSE will
be directed by Steven Spielberg, and is scheduled for release in 2013.
Daniel’s next novel, AMPED, will be released by Doubleday on June 5, 2012.

 
To the people unfamiliar with ROBO, tell us what it’s about in a few sentences.

Robopocalypse explores the intertwined fates of regular people who face a future filled with murderous machines. It follows them as humanity foments the robot uprising, fails to recognize the coming storm, and then is rocked to the core by methodical, crippling attacks. Pushed to the brink of extermination, humankind must learn to adapt and fight back — waging a full-blown war for the preservation of our species.

Take us back to the beginning for a moment. How did you and your agent meet & connect?

I wrote a query letter to an editor — a friend of a friend. The editor called me an idiot, told me never to contact an editor directly, and then recommended three literary agents he had worked with before. Laurie Fox [of Linda Chester Literary Agency] was one of them, and I’ve never looked back.

You had success with HOW TO SURVIVE A ROBOT UPRISING. Who first thought up the idea of robot attacks in a narrative sense? You? Or did a friend or editor or airline flight attendant suggest it to you one day?

I wrote six nonfiction books before getting into narrative fiction with Robopocalypse, including How to Survive a Robot Uprising. My goal all along was to start writing fiction, and I guess one day I’d just had enough. I pitched two fiction ideas to my editor at the time at Bloomsbury USA: the world from a robot’s perspective, or a world war with robots. He enthusiastically chose the latter!

The book is told after the war’s major battles against robots are over — from multiple perspectives of key people during the conflict. Was the plan always to use such a unique narrative framework? Or did you start writing from a different POV style and change?

The idea all along was to jump from person to person, but to weave a coherent narrative through-line into the whole story. At first, the reader is disoriented and they don’t know whether the stories will come together. But a hundred pages in, you start to realize that these people’s fates are intertwined. They were each chosen for a reason.

The book’s antagonist, the supercomputer Archos, is described as having a young boy’s voice that sounds unnatural, like the words are merged with dial tones from a telephone. I have to admit — I still can’t quite grasp what exactly this should sound like. I no longer try because I don’t think I want to know — like it would give me nightmares. In fact, I still get the creeps thinking about plenty of sequences. Do you hear this a lot from readers — that the book spooks them, even months later?

I didn’t set out to write horror, but the overwhelming feedback has been that the book is quite spooky. My goal was to build up the tension in the first half, and not to start the outright war until the midpoint. As a result, you have dolls speaking to children, telephones malfunctioning, and other creepy little signs of the impending apocalypse.

In my own writing, a narrative is peppered with inside references to movies I grew up on, including my favorite movie ever, THE TERMINATOR. Per chance, do you have some under-the-radar sci-fi references in the book through character names or locations and such? Care to share some?

There are no movie references that I can think of in Robopocalypse. However, there are tons of personal references. For example, the IP address that Lurker tracks actually goes back to the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, where I studied robotics. And music lyrics sometimes make it in, like when the Hoplight “takes a look to the sky just before he dies.”

Not including ROBO, two of your previous robot books were optioned for film. Now that ROBO is getting made into a movie (undetermined release) with Steven Spielberg directing, will those first books ever come to life in movie form?

We’ll have to wait and see. What happened with Spielberg is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, but hopefully it will open things up for my past (and future) books. I’d certainly love to see some of those ideas come alive on screen. I’d especially love to see my middle reader, A Boy and His Bot (Bloomsbury Children’s, 2011). Hint, hint, Hollywood.

Congrats on Spielberg & ROBO, by the way. Can you tell us about one or two surreal / amusing moments in your dealings with him and Dreamworks and all this?

Meeting the filmmakers at DreamWorks was incredibly surreal. My book proposal had already gotten a pass from my publisher at the time and I was feeling worried. Then, the book gets purchased by DreamWorks and Doubleday in the space of two days, and I’m suddenly on a plane to Los Angeles. Talking killer robots with Steven Spielberg and Drew Goddard wasn’t a highlight of the year — it was a highlight of my life.

How have you been reaching out to connect with readers over the past years?

If a publisher wants to send me on a book tour, I go! If they don’t, I speak at local places (luckily I live near Powell’s City of Books, in Portland, OR) and I do the usual online stuff. In fact, I just redesigned my website at www.danielhwilson.com — that computer science degree finally came in handy!

What’s one piece of advice for writers you feel like everyone should know yet most people do not?

The first draft is no fun and it’s garbage. Drafting is what people usually mean when they say “writing.”

Tell us about your upcoming books.

My next novel, Amped, is released on June 5 this summer. It’s the story of a near future in which a civil rights movement is sparked by people with disabilities who adopt neural implants that make them smarter than “regular” people. One of the fictional characters, Samantha Blex, is writing a prequel blog to the book! Lots of Easter Eggs are in her blog, so check it out at: www.facebook.com/SamanthaBlex

Also, Robopocalypse is out in paperback right now, so grab one for your friends, family, or any domestic robots!

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