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What drew you to write in your genre?
I wanted to write science fiction because I loved reading it, and wanted to write books like the ones I loved. I was a voracious reader just about as soon as I could read at all, and favored science fiction from the very start. I came to it via “lost world” stories that had dinosaurs in them, branched out to the adventure stories of the pulp magazine era, especially Edgar Rice Burroughs, and then on to the wider SF genre.
Why did I love reading science fiction over other genres? Partly, I had a strong interest in science. Even in my very young “dinosaur phase” I was more fascinated by the science of how we learned about them, rather than in having my plastic toy dinosaurs have battles. Science was always my favorite class in grade school. That interest drew me to science fiction, which as a genre played with scientific ideas.
But that’s only part of it. I’m drawn to stories that transport me to a different world, full of amazing sights and great adventures. Stories were the escape route from the boring old real world, and I couldn’t quite see the point of any story that stayed there. It took growing up to realize that stories set in the real world also take readers to far more dramatic places than the mundane morning commute— but I still like best those stories that put the escape route right up front.
So the world-building aspect of science fiction was always a strong draw for me, and the writers who became my favorites were those who knew how to take me to fantastical realms and stories that could never happen in “real life.” So in my own writing, building my fictional “history of the galaxy” is still the center of what I want to do.
What other genre would you like to write in?
I think it would be interesting to write a mystery novel, although I don’t have any particular ideas. If I ever do branch out from science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably where I’d go.
What are your most influential books/favorite authors?
Edgar Rice Burroughs, as I mentioned above. JRR Tolkien, truly the world-building master. I devoured most of HG Wells and Jules Verne while still in grade school. Arthur Conan Doyle (his Professor Challenger stories more than Sherlock Holmes, though I love Holmes as well).
Then the writers of science fiction’s sense-of-wonder “golden age,” which I still find more alluring than more recent SF: Isaac Asimov, EE “Doc” Smith, Arthur C Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven
What do you think makes a story memorable?
For me, as I mentioned above, it’s being transported to a different world. I can enjoy just about any story that presents an imaginary world, but to be really memorable the story has to leave me feeling like I’ve actually been there, and lived there for a while. Most importantly, that means meeting people who belong in that world, getting to know them, making friends (and enemies) of them— so it’s about well-drawn characters, not just a well-drawn setting; but characters well-drawn in the specific way of belonging to their world, characters who could not be found anywhere else.
A story that doesn’t just show me a different world, but lets me live and breathe in it, in the company of characters who belong there, is a story I’ll never forget.
What do you think is essential in a classroom?
Students who want to learn.
What did you learn from your favorite and/or best teacher?
Best teacher ever? Or best writing teacher?
From my best teacher ever, it was “Science is cool!” (5th grade science. Still have a crush on her.)
From my best writing teacher, it was the Hero’s Journey. (You-know-who)
What makes for the most "success" in students?
I’m going with “wanting to learn” again, as with the classroom essential above, but I’ll add perseverance: sticking with it, and keeping up that desire to learn and get better, not prematurely deciding “Well, that’s all I need!"
How did you come to teach at The Writer's Path?
I’m an academic at heart, so when I decided to finally start writing the stories I’d had in mind most of my life, my first thought was “I need to take classes to learn how.” I was on the faculty at SMU at the time, so I found those classes in SMU’s continuing education department. The program wasn’t yet called “The Writer’s Path” when I started. I stayed with it as it grew into the program we now have, met a lot of people and made a lot of good friends, and learned to write while doing it. Once my first novel was published, I stayed on as an instructor.
Keith is in rewrites with the second book in his "The Red Light and Shadow" series.