R. Anthony Mahan, author of But Whether Men Do

What is your book about?

“But Whether Men Do” is essentially a story about the inhumanity of man. It opens with a reclusive scientist by the name of Dr. Richard Danson unveiling his invention: the SHEM (Synthetic Humanoid Emulation Machine), a robot capable of near-perfectly mimicking a human being. Society is instantly distrustful of these robots, and as the book progresses we examine how their presence impacts the world around them. People are afraid of the SHEM, and perfectly willing to be cruel to them. The SHEMs effectively reveal people’s true nature. All the while, the stress of being at the center of such controversy is gradually taking its toll on Danson’s psyche.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I began work on “But Whether Men Do” on July 1, 2008. The book first became available for sale on July 25, 2010, so all in all it took a little over two years.

How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?

For this book, none at all, strangely enough. When I first started the book I had no idea what it was going to be about. I just started typing and decided to see where it went from there. Once I had a clearer idea, though, I began to formulate ideas and plan ahead. (For example, “Danson Robotics is a business, right? What would they need to do to make a profit?”) While this semi-improvisational style can work well, it’s difficult to pull off properly, and I think from now on my future writing will be more properly planned.

What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?

At its core, I suppose my goal with “But Whether Men Do” was to return the science fiction genre to its roots of exploring the potential effects science and technology can have on the world. However, while the science fiction writings of the Golden Age were of generally optimistic fare, promising a shimmering technological utopia, I chose to weave a tale of a grimmer future. This occurs not because the technology is evil or flawed, but simply because no amount of technology could take those traits away from human nature. I want this book to make people think about that. As Franz Kafka once said, “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for?”

What’s your writing schedule like? Do you strive for a certain amount of words each day?

I try to write a decent amount every day, at the least a paragraph. However, I have no established daily quota for myself. In the end, the amount of words written each day isn’t as important as the routine itself. I’ve abandoned many a book before by telling myself “This is good enough for now, I’ll do more some other day”, only for that other day to never come. If I make absolutely sure to write a little bit every day, then with enough patience I’ll be able to finish it.

Do you prefer to write at a particular time of day?

I try to write in the mornings, when it’s possible. I have a habit of waking up very early, around 7 AM. Recently I’ve even begun waking at 6! As I mentioned in my previous answer, I don’t like to put my writing off for fear that I’ll get stuck in an endless bout of procrastination and abandon the book entirely. If I get my daily writing session out of the way as quickly as possible, I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.

What are you working on right now?

My second novel is currently in the planning stages. I hope to actually start writing it this summer. I would do it now, but at the moment I’m not confident I would be able to successfully juggle school and a book. At the moment I’m not comfortable with divulging any specific information about my next book, but I already have a clear idea of what will happen, meaning I’ll be better prepared for when the time to write finally arrives.

Does writing come easy for you?

Yes and no. I certainly like writing, and when I have a good idea I’m anxious to get it out as quickly as possible. While I don’t have a problem with the actual writing, at least for the most part, it’s often difficult for me to keep my attention. Writing is enjoyable, but it’s still hard work, and it’s not uncommon for me to tire myself out and feel the need to get out of my chair and walk around for a little while. Taking frequent breaks is important for any aspiring writer.

Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?

I rarely make physical notes about future stories, and the ones I do make have been fairly brief. However, I have a very good memory in regards to details for potential stories. I’ve already spent a good while conceptualizing not one, but two future novels. Even before I’ve started writing my second book, I already have a fair amount of ideas for my third. Hopefully once I’ve brought these ideas on paper everyone else will enjoy them as much as I do.