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An interview with ‘The Forever Watch’ author David Ramirez, Part 2

Read Part 1 of the interview here.

Q: How do you feel about the whole experience of writing a book and getting it published?

A: I feel grateful that I have gotten this far. At the same time, there is still a long way to go. I want to write a lot more books, build up a back list, and hopefully build up an audience that consistently enjoys the kind of stories I write.

Q: You've been working on the book since 2010. Tell us something about the publishing experience. What kind of hurdles did you have to overcome?

A: All the big hurdles were in the 10 years and 5 or so unpublished novels and effort that only the people close to me saw. It’s easier to break in now, with self-publishing, but having made the decision to go with traditional publishing, well, it was a long and lonely journey.

One can get rejected on just the query letter, a one-page pitch to sell the work. If the idea is enough, then the sample chapters are evaluated, then the complete manuscript. For the most part, books are rejected before anyone even reads a single page of the actual manuscript, and once the manuscript is being read, perhaps just on the weakness of the first few pages. It may take a year or years to write a novel and most of them are rejected in less than sixty seconds.

Once literary agent Kristin Nelson saw something in the story that got her to offer representation, selling the book became Kristin’s obstacle—and she is very good at what she does.

For me, it was editing and revisions, over and over, first with Kristin, then with my editor, Peter Wolverton, then with the copyreader, then the proofreader—that process is part of the craft of writing, and not an obstacle. The version of “The Forever Watch” that was published went through perhaps 10 revisions, and many partial ones. After that, it was about getting the word out and trying to build a platform and visibility.

Q: Do you have any other forthcoming work? Will there be any sequels?

A: I am currently contracted to write a book with a completely different setting.

Originally, I had not planned on a sequel for “The Forever Watch,” but some discussion with David Brin and other creatives have made me reconsider—it’s a possibility.

David Brin is planning an anthology on the theme of surveillance and sousveillance, and there is a chance I might be able to get a short story into the collection if his project proceeds.

And there is this long shot project that I’m working on with a couple of other people.

Q: Why science fiction?

A: I generally consider science fiction and fantasy together (though SF purists will say that SF could happen while Fantasy could never happen; I consider this more of a stylistic difference than one of substance).

Why SFF? Because everything outside SFF is about reflecting something in the world as it is.

Science Fiction and Fantasy can do that just as well, and much more. SFF can show aspects of the world as it is, as it might be in the future, and as it may never be. SFF is the biggest creative playground there is.

Q: How do you think your being Filipino affects the way you think and write it, since #WeNeedDiverseBooks?

A: The largest effect is all the subconscious material that affects my starting state of mind. From there, I try to be aware of what is different between my own experience and the experiences of the characters within the world I want to write about.

For example, I grew up with Metro Manila’s intense traffic and tremendous population density. So when I write about cities, I imagine super-dense cities, the close proximity of the haves and have-nots, the crowded shopping malls. When I think of small towns, I think of places like Dila-dila, Sta. Rita, Pampanga, and not Stephen King’s small American towns.

Then I make conscious decisions to alter how I am thinking about a place and how the differences in the place affect the differences in the individuals who live there. This ties into everything else: the culture, the food, and so on.

Q: What advice can you give to aspiring novelists in the Philippines?

A: Writing is a craft, a skill, and a business. It takes time and effort and a willingness to experiment and take criticism to improve. It takes years to become a lawyer or doctor or engineer—nobody should expect to start out as the next Neil Gaiman.

And making a living as a writer is tough. Books now compete with TV, movies, the Internet, and video games. Within the book industry, the explosion in the volume of books also makes the discoverability and visibility rates more difficult.

Yet it has also never been easier to break into the business.

The Internet in general has made traditional publishing—an industry with a lot of inertia—more open to the wider world. One can go to and start querying American literary agents right away. Kristin did not know I lived in the Philippines until we had our Skype session and she offered me representation. My editor at Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s Press has a writer from another country he has never met. I have still not actually met my UK editor in person.

For shorter works, there are magazines and contests that will take electronic submissions from anywhere. I see among the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America authors with qualifying sales who live all around the world, including other Filipinos.

So if one writes in English, it does not matter where the individual lives. Getting published in the US, UK or Canada is about the quality of the story. And if one self-publishes, Amazon’s e-books are international! Anyone can reach the world on the strength of one’s own writing, if the stories are good enough to get fans and spread word of mouth.

And of course, there is a growing scene for locally published books!

It is still a hard journey, but there are now a lot more ways to get there. Start blogging, polish up your stories, send out query letters, submit to online publications and contests, self-publish if no one’s biting, apply to a US MFA creative writing program, shoot for the Clarion Writers Workshop (either of the San Diego or Seattle programs). Write! — BM, GMA News

“The Forever Watch” is now available at your local booksellers.