A writer like you: P.C. Keeler
Meet P. C. Keeler, an author and programmer (at least until an opening comes up for ‘intergalactic hero’ or ‘ridiculously wealthy layabout’).
He’s currently working on two novels, several short stories, and that day job. When not working on those, he enjoys reading science fiction, fantasy, and humor, and accordingly finds Terry Pratchett a particular favorite. His debut novel, Migon, was published in 2018, and is about a boy who becomes a dragon. But not one of the city-stomping firebreathing variety. As a shoulder-sized dragon, he has to find a wizard, become his familiar, and guide that wizard to save his family, his city, and his world. It’s a big job for a little dragon.
You’ll enjoy learning about Peter’s perspective of writing as a business, his writing process, and his story ideas that celebrate humanity.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
What have you learned about writing or business so far?
It really is a business, and has to be treated like one. Actually writing is the first half of the work. Editing is the second half of the work. Getting published is the next entire hundred percent of the work, along with keeping track of where you’ve sent your work and looking for other publishers who might be interested. Marketing is at least another half of the work after that. And there’s a lot of related items along the way – cover art, layout, translations (if you’re lucky enough to get a foreign release), getting an ISBN number, keeping track of your expenses, and so on. The writing is the important part, but you need to present your work to the gatekeepers and to the general public if you want anyone to find out about it in order to read it.
Describe your typical writing process or routine.
As a programmer, I tend to spend all day in front of a keyboard, doing various forms of writing – both the code itself, which is a particularly precise and demanding form of writing, and the commenting, which needs to translate concepts about flow and purpose into human-readable terms, so that when I go look at the code in eighteen months and have forgotten all about it, I won’t have to re-grok the entirety of the system to remember what this one step does. It’s also rather important to have the planning documents done ahead of time, to pre-think what the purpose of the change is and what needs to be done to make it happen, and it’s also important to have end-user documentation done so that someone other than me can actually use the thing. All told, it’s a lot of very involved keyboard-and-mouse-intensive creative effort in an extremely constrained form.
After I finish with all that, writing prose is a complete tone shift – I can suddenly count on my readers to be able to draw inferences and appreciate dramatic flourishes, instead of telling me ‘Null Pointer Exception’ if something wasn’t made explicit. People have all sorts of different writing processes, but for me, I find that physically writing with pencil on paper while reclining on a couch or riding an exercise bike is the most effective. It’s a different mechanical process from typing, which helps my brain associate the activity from the code-writing I do all day, and the different posture or activity further reinforces that. I prefer to work in long chunks – an hour is warmup time, a warm weekend afternoon is just right.
Writing by hand also means that my process gets a built-in editorial step – I have atrocious handwriting, so when I go to transcribe everything from paper to electronic form, I have a chance to go over what I wrote and spot and fix any obvious issues immediately. It also means that I don’t have spellcheck or grammar-check available while doing the initial writing, so I won’t be in the habit of relying on either, and won’t be distracted as I go by the sudden appearance of red squiggly lines underneath a freshly made-up name.
Once everything is in electronic form, it’s ready to submit to the Fairfield Scribes, my critique group – when my turn comes up, at least. We have about eight members actively participating at a time and have two up per week, so usually everyone can get a chapter’s worth critiqued about once a month. We do both overarching (‘your tension levels bounced around like a rubber ball in a dogfighting biplane’) and line (‘you used the wrong ‘too’ here’) edits, which makes for a very thorough process. After getting critiques back and stifling the sobs, it’s time to edit. Sometimes things are in pretty decent shape the first time, sometimes they need a few go-rounds to get them ready for the world to see.
What are you currently working on, and what makes you excited about it?
I’ve got two novels and a bevy of short stories in progress, including one for this year’s anthology from the Fairfield Scribes. The anthology submission is based off of a true story of house-repair nightmares – and I’ve already had to remove a number of the real-world events that happened because even people who knew the actual house problems directly couldn’t believe them when they all appeared in print. It’s not strictly biographical, or at least I hope that the supernatural elements were of my own design, but it’s remarkable how consistent people are in agreeing on how many coincidences are plausible – and how that disagrees with things that really happen.
As for the novels, one is Lucky Break, the future-crime story of a gentleman burglar with bizarre and insistent luck – and what happens when someone less ethical begins to display the same abilities he has. The other is Felt Green, the present-day story of a woman who prefers her hard-won skill at the pool table over using the god-given magical powers she also has, and the reason for why she got those powers. Both are in progress, to be completed as time permits.
What books are you currently reading, or what are some of your favorite books?
I’ve always got multiple books in progress, so by the time this prints, anything I say would be out of date. I’ll say that Terry Pratchett has written several of my favorite books, and that’s not about to change. I think Good Omens, a collaboration between Pterry and Neil Gaiman, is one of my all-time top reads – and there’s an upcoming TV series on Netflix based on the book, which may finally convince me to get an account with them. Some other top picks from Pterry would be Reaper Man, Mort, and Soul Music – I originally got all three as a single volume called ‘The Death Trilogy’, as he’s a primary character in all three, and he’s just so excellently used as the ultimate ‘outsider’ viewpoint in all three, with a level of humanity that makes something very scary into something very friendly.
What types of stories do you like to write?
Oddly, I think my favorite type off stories could be described as ‘Humanity, F*** Yeah!’ Not necessarily conquering aliens or even being centered on literal humanity, but where the infinite weirdness and wonder of normality is acknowledged and celebrated. It’s boring for Good or Evil to win; it’s the clash between them where all the interesting things happen, and people standing up for the game to continue is a great image for me. The Chanur Cycle would be a great example of nonhumans doing this – a crew of space-faring aliens who just want to have things keep going along calmly, but suddenly they have to save the whole system they live in when something threatens to upset it, in the face of a simple solution they find morally unacceptable.
Where can we connect with you?
Thanks for the interview.
To free the writer today, try writing by hand like P.C. Keeler does and observe how that changes your writing process. Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.