Timothy Gwyn writes science fiction stories and has recently finished his first novel, Avians.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your novel, Avians. It is quite apparent that you are extremely knowledgeable about flying and can discuss gliders and airships with great expertise. Can you tell us a little about your experience with flying?
Timothy Gwyn: I first rode in an airliner, a Pan-Am Boeing 707, when I was six, and my brother took me up in a glider before I was eleven or so. I learned to fly when I was eighteen, and quickly took it up as a career. On the fun side, anytime I can get a ride in a balloon, a helicopter or a hovercraft, I’m having a good day.
Ferrante: I was very impressed with the world building in Avians. Both the environment and the social structure were unique and interesting. Can you tell us how you went about creating this fascinating world?
Gwyn: I wanted to write about aviation that was greener than the kind of flying I do, so I set out to create a world that had low technology, but needed flight. The lack of metals and complete absence of fossil fuels – both of which could stem from Celadon not having a moon – oblige the inhabitants to build gliders. Putting the settlements high on mountain sides makes them ideal for launching sailplanes, and also creates a scarcity of habitable land that leads to all sorts of social consequences.
Ferrante: You chose to write from the point of view of several women, most young teenagers. Why did you choose girls instead of boys as your protagonists?
Gwyn: I wanted a utopian society with gender equality, but that begs a fundamental question: if everything is so perfect, why would a fourteen-year-old run away from home? Because the landowners consolidate their grip on their property not just through trade alliances, but also with strategic marriages, and Raisa wants no part of that. Also, I wanted characters who were not the biggest or strongest, but who have to accomplish their goals despite that, by finding courage and determination within themselves.
Ferrante: I don’t want to give away too much of the book but I really want to know why you made Raisa anorexic. You make it quite clear why she refuses to eat and it suits the narrative perfectly but what was the impetus for your decision to give her an eating disorder? How did you research this?
Gwyn: I don’t like to apply the term anorexic to Raisa, because I’m sure she’s never heard the word. She would claim her reluctance to eat is a protest, a hunger strike. It seemed the perfect flaw for Raisa: she has no idea how privileged she is, and she is a rebellious and contrary character. But yes, her attitude towards food is distorted, and experience with anorexia in my own family shows through in some of her specific issues.
Ferrante: Because this is such a rich and well thought-out world, I could easily see you setting more books in it. Do you have any plans for a sequel or other novels that take place in this world?
Gwyn: I do! There are already two prequel short stories published: “Far Gone” at NewMyths.com is about the trip to Celadon, and “Freezer Burn” at Antipodean SF is about one of Raisa’s ancestors coming out of the long sleep. I’m working on the first sequel to Avians, in which bandits worsen a refugee crisis, and Mel and Raisa must work together in new ways to prevent a disaster. I’d like to create a series of novels that follow Raisa and Mel’s adventures as they mature in different ways.
Ferrante: You live in a fairly small town in northern Ontario, Canada. I know you belong to the NOWW, Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop, and that there is an active writing community in Kenora. What else do you do to connect with other writers, improve your writing skills, and gather feedback on your work?
Gwyn: Since attending my first workshops in Kenora, I’ve become a regular at conventions in Winnipeg, Ottawa, and now Calgary. I put a lot of work into an Odyssey online course one winter, and I also belong to a speculative fiction critique group in Winnipeg; I get a lot of mental writing done on the drive home.
Ferrante: What advice would you give to new authors who are writing their first science fiction book?
Gwyn: Make connections. Start with Beta readers. Then, if you can manage to get to a convention or workshop, put your brave face on and sign up for a Blue Pencil Café because those short critiques often go straight to the heart of the matter. Look into online courses such as Odyssey’s, because they teach you to critique. Follow the Prix Aurora Awards: enrolling to vote is just ten bucks each year and you get to read all the shortlisted works.
Ferrante: What you working on now? What are your future plans? Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?
Gwyn: I’m working on that first sequel, Bandits, and roughing out some plots for later books. I have enough ideas to keep me going for many years. I have two blogs that can be reached through timothygwyn.com: Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol displays aerial photographs to chronicle the spring thaw in Kenora’s cottage country, and Timothy Gwyn Writes covers my adventures and misadventures pursuing writing and publication.
Three Random Questions
Ferrante: If you were a science-fiction character, who would you be?
Gwyn: Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This Hiyao Miyazaki anime is perhaps my favourite movie ever. Princess Nausicaä is brave but pacifistic, and strives to understand nature to better her world. And she’s a pilot!
Ferrante: The morning after a nuclear catastrophe, what would you be able to reinvent or re-create?
Gwyn: Coffee. There will be no civilization rising from the ashes until I have coffee. I’ll get around to building a printing press out of the slag and putting out a newspaper in the afternoon.
Ferrante: What kind of clothes would you absolutely never wear?
Gwyn: High socks, with or without shorts. I fold my socks down to below the shin. And flood pants: I’m still traumatized from my growth spurt in junior high. Captain Kirk’s uniform pants that end with a flare above the ankle make me cringe.
Ferrante: Thank you so much for participating in my interview series. It was a pleasure getting to know you.