Q&A with Jay Werkheiser

While he’s been publishing short fiction in Analog for a while now (and writing his whole life!) Jay Werkheiser makes his debut as a novelist with Kepler’s Laws [Part I in our September/October issue, on sale now]. This interview reveals the genesis of Kepler’s Laws, Jay’s thoughts on chemistry in SF, and his process and history as a writer. Plus: news of an author collaboration to anticipate highly!

Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?

JW: When I first started writing Kepler’s Laws, I was still very much a short fiction writer and feeling my way around the pacing of a novel. Would I be able to cover the first three generations on Kepler? Or just up to the first major incident? I had several climactic scenes in mind and wasn’t sure how long it would take to build up to each one. The first of them was the rain scene, so I figured I’d start working my way toward that. Once I got there, it felt like a natural stopping point (still in that short fiction mindset) so I sent it off to Trevor as a novelette. I thought maybe I’d write the story as a series of novelettes instead of a novel, but when I started working on the next part, the story really started to flow and I just couldn’t stop until I had finished the story I wanted to tell with the first generation.

AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?

JW: Yes, it is. Many of my stories use similar technologies, and I had made some tentative links in stories like “Ships in the Night.” Then I met Frank Wu at the Analog 90th Anniversary Symposium a couple of years ago and he suggested that his “In the Absence of Instructions to the Contrary” could be considered a distant prequel to my “The Writhing Tentacles of History.” Before you know it, we were piecing our stories together into a coherent timeline and co-writing new stories using our now-shared universe. You’ll undoubtedly see Kepler again.

AE: What made you think of Analog for this story?

JW: I write predominantly hard science fiction, so Analog is a natural fit. Most of my stories are published there, after all. And with the amount of science I crammed into Kepler’s Laws, Analog just made sense.

AE: What is your process?

JW: I’m not sure I have much of a process. I’m a dedicated pantser, which means I kind of wing it as I write rather than adhering to a strict outline. I start off with the idea that sparked the story in the first place—usually character concepts and some science ideas I want to explore—which suggests overall character arcs, themes, and important plot points. So I know where I’m starting, where I want to end up, and a few major developments along the way. The rest I discover as I write. Often the characters take things in unexpected directions. In Kepler’s Laws, there’s a character who was supposed to die (I won’t spoil it by saying who), but she kept coming up with good ideas to thwart my murderous schemes. Ultimately, I gave up and let her live.

To me, it’s always seemed like chemistry is the ignored middle child of science fiction. There’s plenty of fiction focusing on physics and biology, but chemistry doesn’t get as much love. So my background in chemistry allows me to fill in the void.

AE: What inspired you to start writing?

JW: You mean there are people who don’t write? Seriously, I was writing stories before I knew I was writing stories. As a little kid, I would draw pictures of Godzilla-inspired monsters because, well, that’s what nerdy little boys do. Before long, the pictures included people who came to explore the island, then soldiers, then enemy soldiers . . . you get the idea. Eventually my parents got me a typewriter (yeah, it was that long ago) and I started putting the stories into words.

AE: What other projects are you currently working on?

JW: Lately, I’ve been co-writing shared-universe stories with Frank Wu. Trevor already bought the first one, we are in the process of polishing up the second, and we already have ideas for several more. I just finished polishing my second novel, and I’ll be sending that out into the world soon. And I’ve started working on a third novel.

AE: What are you reading right now?

JW: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. Seriously, the guy is a genius. If you haven’t read it yet, go get a copy. Right now.

AE: Many of our Analog authors are interested in science. Do you have any scientific background, and does it impact your fiction?

JW: My degree is in chemistry, and I’ve taught chemistry and physics for more years than I want to admit. To me, it’s always seemed like chemistry is the ignored middle child of science fiction. There’s plenty of fiction focusing on physics and biology, but chemistry doesn’t get as much love. So my background in chemistry allows me to fill in the void. Kepler’s Laws is a good example—the lab techniques that Kotori and Becca use are quite real, and you’ll find extrapolations of real-world chemistry principles all over planet Kepler.

AE: What careers have you had and how do they affect your writing?

JW: As I said, I’ve been teaching chemistry and physics for most of my life. The classroom is a rich source of story ideas, especially when you’re working with intelligent and inquisitive teens. I’ve lost count of how many story ideas have evolved from discussions with students. A recent example—the story “Absolutes” grew out of a discussion with a student who was struggling with relativity in physics. She questioned how time dilation would affect time travel in movies, and I spent the entire drive home building a story around the idea.

AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?

JW: The best way is to follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/jay.werkheiser/). I mainly use my personal account to put out writing updates. A few years ago I created an author page, but I haven’t used it for much. I created a blog (http://jaywerkheiser.blogspot.com/) a while back, but haven’t done much with that either. Now that I have novels coming out, I really should start doing periodic updates there. If enough people start following the blog, it just might shame me into posting more often. Kepler’s Laws will be coming out as a stand-alone novel later this year, so stay tuned!

Jay Werkheiser started writing science fiction stories as soon as he was old enough to put pencil to paper. No one stopped him, so he kept writing, and somewhere along the line his stories became good enough for publication. He writes primarily hard science fiction, but isn’t above the occasional time travel or light-hearted sci-fi comedy. After years of claiming he was exclusively a short fiction writer, Jay finally gave in to the temptation to write novels. Kepler’s Laws is his first novel. When he’s not writing, Jay teaches chemistry and physics to eager high school students.

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