Rexx Deane is a science-fiction author. The first book in his “Synthesis: Weave” series was self-published in 2015, and he is currently adapting it into a screenplay.
We spoke to Rexx about disability representation in sci-fi, weaving a sense of wonder into his stories, and creating believable characters whose motivations can sometimes push events off-course.
How did you first start writing?
Back at the end of 2012 was when I first started talking about writing. I met my husband in 2011, and he wasn’t all that into sci-fi things, so I bought a box set of Babylon 5 DVDs. He got kind of hooked onto that, and as I watched it I thought I’d love to attempt to write sci-fi with a setting like that, on a space station.
My partner is disabled, and one of the things that he kept talking about was getting his legs amputated. He’s got a degenerative condition, and one of the things he’s always thought about was that if he had his legs removed, he’d be able to do a lot more because he wouldn’t have the pain from having moved his legs the previous day. He’d be able to do more with less, so to speak. And that gave me the idea for one of the characters, because one of the things that’s often missing in sci-fi is disabled characters that don’t get fixed; they just get on as they are. So I started writing notes, ideas for little scenes, a line here and there, and started reading books about how to write novels. It wasn’t something I’d ever done before. I wasn’t really into writing that much from an early age, so I had quite a late start to it, really. But I learned the techniques and the ways of structuring novels from books.
How did you get to a stage where you were able to then publish your first book?
I didn’t properly start writing until the end of 2013. But then I churned out the first book in about six months, with all these long weekends working on it. I paid for an editor, and then I self-published that in 2015. It didn’t do amazingly, because the trouble is when you’re self-published you’ve got to put a lot of effort into marketing. Of course, you don’t have to do quite so much if you’ve got a publisher, because they’ve always got the weight behind them. But I wrote it, published it, and had quite a good reception from it. I’d originally had a target for the size of the book, but as I was writing it I thought, “I’m approaching the target now… but it doesn’t look like it’s going to be finished!” And it ended up becoming a trilogy. So it’s been a labour of love, really.
“The way that the characters drive the story might push things off course slightly, so you have to have that adaptability to follow how characters react to things in a way that makes it more interesting.”Rexx Deane
What is the process of writing sequels like?
It’s a bit weird, because when I wrote the first one, it took me about eighteen months from start to finish – and then there’s still quite a lot of editing and re-editing, so by the time you’ve finished the first book, it’s quite a long time before you actually get to start the second one. And then you’ve got all the ideas of what you want to happen in the second one, but nothing set in stone. It gives you a chance to jump ahead and start something relatively fresh, but referring back to previous events.
The way I closed the first book was a bit of a cliffhanger, which might leave people with one or two questions, and that was the jumping-off point for the sequel. There’s always an issue of how much do you recap, and do you have to re-describe everyone who’s in the first book in the second book – and I did a little bit of that, but I didn’t worry too much about it in the end. By the time you get to the third book, there’s hardly any description of the characters. A few events refer back to what happened in the first book – there might be a paragraph saying this is what a character surmised from such and such, so you can get the gist of what’s going on if you start at the second book, but it’s quite a difficult balance.
What is your drafting and editing process when it comes to your novels?
I tend to have random ideas of situations that don’t necessarily fit into the plan of the book; eventually I’ll get to the point where I’ll make notes of different scenes on the computer, and then I often print them out on strips of paper and cluster them together so that they seem logically connected in groups. Then I try to divide it up into act one, act two and act three, and put it into an order that makes sense. So it’s more like a roadmap of events or ideas that need to be explored, rather than a scene-by-scene list. I know some people do break it down by chapters, but I like having more of that structure just in case I haven’t thought about something; and the way that the characters drive it might push things off course slightly, so you have to have that adaptability to follow how characters react to things in a way that makes it more interesting.
What I tend to do is write the first draft, which is basically to get it down and not worry about it too much. Then I’ll read through it several times again to make sure events all make sense and there aren’t any logical inconsistencies, that the grammar is ok, I haven’t doubled words up or anything like that. Then I might read it aloud to my partner – which is actually a really good way of editing, because it forces you to go slower, so you tend to catch some of the clunky grammar or spelling mistakes. The other thing it makes me do is that if I feel embarrassed reading something out loud, I know I need to change it or cut it. It’s that peer pressure that makes you go, “Oh, that part’s a bit naff!”
“I try to convey a sense of wonder about the universe – that it doesn’t matter how much we learn about it, there will always be things beyond our understanding.”Rexx Deane
Writing science fiction or fantasy often involves building a whole new world. How do you approach that?
It’s about trying to decide on systems for things – because mine is a blend between sci-fi and fantasy. I think one of the first things I had the idea of was a mineral in my universe that people can use to do magic. I want it to be mostly sci-fi, so it feels believable, but have people be able to do some really weird things. So it was about trying to work out the things magic might be able to do, and have it be a process that makes it feel quite tangible to the reader.
The other thing I was trying to work out was a space travel system that allowed characters to get from A to B quite quickly, but have some element of risk involved so it wasn’t just as simple as getting on a bus. I think I agonised for days and days about how far apart different planets were, and things like journey times. I worry about things like that a lot less now, because I think 90% of people don’t care about it. As long as the thing feels consistent, then that’s the most important thing.
Do you find the conventions of science fiction liberating, or difficult? What advice would you have for new writers when it comes to operating within them?
I think you can actually get away with very little detail when it comes down to creating something that’s interesting, because one of the rules I find almost everywhere is that the most interesting fiction arises from conflict. And that can either be physical combat, or a character’s conflicts between what they want and how they feel, or between what they want and what another character wants. I think the setting for most things is kind of irrelevant, as long as you can think of the core motivations of characters and create characters that are more realistic, then you can always fill the world with more detail afterwards. So come up with something that’s original, with characters that are believable and act consistently, and anything else to do with the setting and world-building you can always worry about later once you’ve got a core set of events.
Are there particular themes or messages that you like to weave into your work?
I always try to build most of the ideas in my books about logic, and understanding the universe. One of the things I try to convey is the notion that everything’s connected – not necessarily in a spiritual way, but more in a cause and effect kind of fashion. I try to convey a sense of wonder about the universe – that it doesn’t matter how much we learn about it, there will always be things beyond our understanding. Even if we think we understand everything there is to know, it doesn’t mean that we have to lose that sense of wonder.
The main character is a programmer, like me – they say write what you know! – so the idea of things being connected and logical comes from his view of understanding programming and systems, and how things all interact with each other. One of the things is that the characters come across some Romanesco broccoli – it’s like a natural fractal, so every spike has this swirl of little points, and every swirl of points has a swirl of points. So there are little details like that, where they’ll come across something and the character will briefly muse over it. It’s difficult to weave things in without making it feel contrived, but because they get into lots of different situations, it’s a good opportunity to slot these things in.
“The most interesting fiction arises from conflict. And that can either be physical combat, or a character’s conflicts between what they want and how they feel.”Rexx Deane
Your novels are self-published – how did you go about the process of self-publishing?
I had enough skill to be able to edit the documents and actually typeset them myself. I used a company called IngramSpark, which is one of the biggest self-publishing print-on-demand producers. But most of it I had to learn how to do myself. I had to learn a language called LaTeX, because that produces really nice book layouts. I had to do the cover artwork, and you can get templates for where things need to be positioned. Then it was a case of uploading all the files to the printers, and getting a test copy printed. It’s not too expensive; it costs you about £40 for you to set up a book, then about £10 again to buy one so you can see what it looks like. There are people you can pay to get this stuff done, but it tends to be quite an expensive process.
It’s more about taking the time to make it look professional – for example, you can use Word to format your book, but it might look terrible because it’s not a printing format for books. The most expensive part of the process is paying an editor. You definitely need someone who knows more about language than you do to look over it, and do the edits that you basically can’t do yourself – either because you’re too attached to it, or because there are just things that are outside your knowledge.
Do you have any tips for writers on how to keep the inspiration flowing?
A lot of people just tell you to keep writing every day, but the trouble is if you’re not in that mindset then it can be quite draining. I think the important thing is just to always think about it – not necessarily to act on it – and to be aware that if you’re writing a book, there’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t involve actual writing that is still about the book. It’s thinking about stuff to do with the book – plotting, characters, and that sort of thing. It’s helpful to write down observations or notes that you might come across, even though they might not fit into the current work. Or even just researching stuff – anything that keeps you thinking about it. Not necessarily plugging away at doing the hard work all the time. I think just having lots of different things occupy your mind, to give you that change of pace, is the key.
To read more about Rexx and his books, visit https://rexxdeane.com/.
You can find Rexx on Twitter at @RexxDeane.