Interview with James Alan Gardner

12 Jan

A great bundle of science fiction books is currently being offered at, consisting of six titles from Bundoran Press and six by some great writers who have befriended the press over the years. As an added bonus, we will be running a series of interviews with the authors about their contribution to the Bundle.

Next up: James Alan Gardner

What themes appear most strongly in your writing? What makes you particularly care about those ideas?

I’m a child of pop culture, steeped in comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and all those good geeky things. But I’ve always been distanced from that culture too; I love the genre in a “meta” way, rather than completely buying in. (I’m not cut out to be a capital-F Fan of the genre.)

So when I write, I’m always holding genre conventions up to the light. I try to see the underlying assumptions and exploit them. I seldom try to subvert conventions or defy them. Instead I ask myself, “What if the world truly worked like that? What if there’s a good reason for all those genre conventions, even if they seem ridiculous when you actually think about them? And how would intelligent people behave if they knew they were living in that kind of world?”

Beyond that, I try to show a broad range of humanity, rather than peopling my stories with the usual straight white men. It’s another way to take a second look at genre conventions without actually trying to disrupt them. “Okay, suppose you have a world where genre rules apply. How would different people live in that world? What new directions would they go in? What if you weren’t the male lead?”

Do you have a special routine when you are writing? Time of day? Inspiring music or images? Particular clothing or food/drink?

I write every morning, seven days a week. I try to get started by 10:00AM and go until at least 1:00PM. In the afternoon, I either do freelance editing for other people (hire me!) or I deal with different types of writing: blog writing, articles, short stories, or “punching up” whatever novel I’m working on.

I can’t think at all when there’s music playing, or when there are any other audio distractions. I drink two cups of coffee before I start my writing day, but for my actual writing time, I drink glasses of 1/3 orange juice, 2/3 Diet Coke, mixed together.

Are you a plotter or a pantser or some combination of the two? Do prefer to writing or re-writing?

I’m not a big plotter, but I need what I call a “keel” before I start writing. Just as a keel gives a boat balance and keeps it floating upright, a story-keel gives the essence of a book: why I’m writing it and what I want to hold onto, no matter what directions the plot and characters might go. In practice, a keel is just a few sentences of content I consider non-negotiable. Beyond that, I let myself improvise and follow serendipity.

That’s enough to get me through a very rough first draft. Then I start rewriting, which I enjoy a great deal. Rewriting is where the story really comes together; I know more or less what the story is about, so I can tune it and refine it to deliver its heart and soul.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding writer, what would it be?

Read a lot, write a lot, and still have a life.

Bonus advice: I have strong reservations about “Write what you know”, but even so, work hard to know a lot of cool things. You need both breadth and depth. When a writer’s knowledge is narrow and shallow, it shows.


To learn more about this great bundle of books, visit

To connect with Bundoran Press, visit our web-site, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @BundoranPress

To learn more about Jim and his writing, visit:


2 Responses to “Interview with James Alan Gardner”


  1. Bundoran Interview With Me – James Alan Gardner - January 21, 2019

    […] connection with the Bundoran Buddies Science Fiction StoryBundle, here’s an interview I did with Bundoran editor, Hayden […]

  2. Advice to Writers (from the Bundle) | bundoransf - January 21, 2019

    […] Bonus advice: I have strong reservations about “Write what you know”, but even so, work hard to know a lot of cool things. You need both breadth and depth. When a writer’s knowledge is narrow and shallow, it shows. (James Alan Gardner) […]

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