How to introduce Jake Kerr? Well, he’s a scoundrel, and not to be trusted. But he also had a tendency to do my homework for me, by, say, coming up with names that do not suck for my novels, and writing my query letters. And since I rather like scoundrels who aren’t to be trusted, I suppose this all combines to make him a pretty great guy. But you’ll see that for yourself in a minute.
Your very first professional SF sale was nominated for a Nebula. How did that happen, and to what do you attribute that success?
Well, it was this weird combination of fate, luck, and a bit of hoodoo. So I wrote this stupid story about a guy in a rocket, and I based it on Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations.” I was just kind of thinking that SF people really like that tale, so if I wanted to be successful, I should just copy that shit. Well, through this crazy bit of luck, I sent it to this cat named John Joseph Adams, and guess what his favorite story of all time was? Yeah, “The Cold Equations.” Cha ching! It was like holding pocket aces at a Vegas poker table.
So he goes all crazy for this story because he loves “The Cold Equations.” Honestly, I’m not even sure he read my story. I think he just dug on the concept and the title and the fact that it was an “homage” to Godwin’s thing.
Now this is where it gets a bit weird. I fly into LA one week for business. You know, real world stuff, not this crazy SF business with cosplay and all that. So I find out that the Adams dude lives a bit north of LA. I hit him with an email and ask him if he wants to get together for lunch. I mean, the guy bought my story, I should at least shake his hand.
He muttered something about fitting the lunch in between a D&D session or some shit, but he did agree. We meet at this Indian place, and he brings his girlfriend. Nice chick. She liked my story, too. She’d talk, and Adams would kind of nod his head every so often. Actually, I’m still not sure who wears the pants in that family. Anyway, I digress.
So they’re talking about D&D, and I’m looking at the clock on the wall counting the seconds when Adams leans forward and gives me this intense look. If his girlfriend wasn’t there, I would have thought he was hitting on me. He then taps me on the hand and goes, “I summoned the demon, Harlan Ellison, and I told him to make sure your story was nominated for the Nebula.”
I gave him my best, “That’s nice, but I have to go now” look but because I guess curiosity is one of my fatal flaws, replied, “You mean the author, Harlan Ellison? He told you my story would be nominated for the Nebula?”
He shook his head and kind of hissed, “No, the DEMON Harlan Ellison, and I commanded it.” He smiled, which was frankly more frightening than the Indian food. At that point I think I dropped a Ben Franklin on the table and made my way out.
So fast forward, and Mary Robinette Kowal calls me up and says, “Dude, you must have friends in high places, because that story of yours got nominated for a Nebula.” I laughed and called bullshit, but she said it was true. So I guess I have to thank JJA and some incorporeal representation of Harlan Ellison for my nomination.
Do you have a writing routine? Describe it for us.
Well, the first thing to do is decide whether you are going to copy some old SF story that all the young ignorant SF fans today have forgotten about or to just write some crappy story and wrap it in a goofy structure that looks all artsy fartsy. Once you figure that out, the thing kind of writes itself.
Side note: If young SF readers today actually recognize the story you stole from, it’s important to start describing it as an “homage.” Serious SF fans eat that shit up.
You’ve been in a long-running feud with Spencer Elsworth since you both attended Viable Paradise. How did that come about and how has that affected you?
I think “feud” is probably a bit generous. It’s more like I make fun of him, and he runs off and cries.
The origin is still clear in my mind: I overheard him talking to himself (as evil masterminds tend to do) about planning on sabotaging one of our instuctors by hypnotizing him into writing about fuzzy animals and Star Trek. I have no idea why he wanted to do that. He’s just evil. I did my best to stop him then, and I continue to do my best to stop his evil every day.
To my great sadness, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job. Just the other day I heard that he was planning on joining a group of fellow villains to inflict the Pacific Northwest with noise pollution. So, I may be able to make him cry, but he still is able to spread his dark villainy.
You’re a father, husband, and hold down a full time job in addition to being a writer. How do you balance all of those things?
My kids are feral, so they’re a non-issue. I’m actually not even sure how many I have now. I’d need to ask my wife, but she won’t talk to me because she hated “The Old Equations” more than Lois Tilton and some of the commentors on the Lightspeed website. Does anybody know a good old SF story that chicks would dig that I can toss in front of her as my own to win her back?
As to my job, I just take the credit for other’s people’s work, which is awesome, because my boss loves me, and I have a lot of time to research my next story in old Galaxy magazines.