Author Interview: Tony L. Joy, Kludged Singularity

Today’s interview is with author Tony L. Joy. You can find the spoiler free review of his wonderful science fiction novel Kludged Singularity here, or the spoiler full one here.

You can buy a copy for yourself using the affiliate link here: Kludged Singularity

Questions about Writing

Is writing your full time job? Do you also consider it a passion?

Tony L. Joy: Not currently a full time job, but I’d love to be able to make a career out of it sometime down the line. It’s tough to make it as a writer, and I have no illusions about achieving the lottery-winning heights of the greats. I’d need to speed up production, set a couple series in motion, and really put my nose to the grindstone to make it feasible. That’s the dream there.

That being said, I consider storytelling and entertaining others to be my passion. Writing is the best way for me to reach the largest audience with the tools I have. My dream is to pull enough people into my stories that I can devote my work time exclusively to creating more stories.

What is your schedule for writing like? How much time does it take to write say 1 chapter?

TLJ: I make it a point to write every day, normally in the evenings after the toddler is down and all the chores for the day are done. I write from about 9PM until I’m too tired to continue, normally between midnight and 2AM. Then it’s up for the day job again by 6:45AM. On the weekends I get an additional couple hours of writing midday which produces cleaner copy and really sets up the rest of the week.

My output varies depending on whether I’m setting up a new scene or doing a sequel to a prior scene. A chapter normally takes me at least a couple weekdays or a single weekend day, partly because I backtrack to the prior day’s work for minor revisions and a recap before putting new words down.

Amanja: Oof, just looking at that sleep schedule makes me tired!

How much planning goes in to writing before you actually write a sentence? Or do you just let the words flow and do heavy editing later?

TLJ: At the beginning, I have the central concept and a very rough skeleton of story beats I want to hit. As I complete scenes, I revise the upcoming beats in the outline as needed and plan out the next one or two scenes. If a beat isn’t going to get hit, it gets axed and I alter the outline as needed. By the halfway point, all the pieces are set up and it’s a race to the end.

I identify details or plot points that need further research during the outlining phase before I start writing on the scene. This provides time to look up the details, reach out to a subject matter expert, and decide on how much of the research will make it into the scene before I’m in the execution phase. Trying to look up data in unfamiliar subjects on the fly can lead to embarrassing mistakes.

From a “brain to page” perspective, my output and the required editing level varies wildly depending on how I’m writing. If I’m writing analog on paper it’s going to be a rough draft and I’ll make quick notes on the page while I go for use in later revisions. It’s cleaned up and edited when transcribed, with most of those revisions introduced. If I’m at a computer, I’m going back and smoothing things out as I write. Later revisions to the typed copy are for cleaning up grammar, fixing typos, or adding relevant details. If I’m writing on my phone it’s more of a rough draft and needs really heavy editing later.

A: Every time I attempt writing on my phone I mostly have to go correct the bizarre autocorrects my phone makes.

How do you handle criticism or negative feedback on your writing?

TLJ: As disappointing as it can be to know someone didn’t enjoy what I’m putting out I try to find the value in it. I can’t judge my own work objectively, so I can only learn and grow from taking the feedback I receive and analyzing that feedback thoroughly.

Sometimes the negative feedback is a matter of taste or audience; people who primarily read YA or sweet romance probably won’t like my use of language for instance. I can respect that, and I have thick skin where it comes to matters of taste. Other times negative feedback will point out weakness in my storytelling or a lack of polish. I won’t pretend I like negative feedback, but I’m willing to be uncomfortable if it makes me better.

Do you have any tips and tricks for aspiring writers?

TLJ: The Dead Robots Society Podcast was my constant companion when I got back into writing, and I listen to it regularly. There are gems hidden in the banter and the positive energy is infectious. I’d recommend aspiring writers pick an episode in the 400’s to start, looking at the episode titles on a topic they want to jump in on and just let it ride from there. Extremely accessible, not overly concerned with a specific approach or technique, and you’ll pick up a lot of actionable tips.

While it’s more tool than tip, Scrivener is an indispensable program for combining writing, planning, and formatting. It would have taken me ages to put the book together in Word or some other standard word processor with how often I needed to move chapters around, insert scenes to fix pacing, or recap which chapter had what actions. It also has an iOS version and supports Dropbox sync so you can write on your phone and it’ll automatically be on your computer later for more in-depth editing. Very helpful if you have a lot of notes and write out of order.

A: Great advice, thank you!

Questions about Reading

Do you think it’s necessary for a good author to also be a prolific reader?

TLJ: Personally, I would not be able to write with any degree of confidence if I didn’t have consistent exposure to well written stories. I do think it’s possible to be a good author without consuming a lot of written content, but those authors would be the exception and are working from a disadvantage. To tell a story you need to see other stories and get a feel for the art.

How do you find time to read?

TLJ: With a day job, family obligations, and the ever-mounting chores around the house, I’ve found audiobooks to be a lifesaver. I have outpaced my Audible credits and often bargain with myself about whether I should purchase more credits or re-listen to my existing library. I have around 60 titles in my Audible account, about a dozen audiobooks in Apple’s iBooks, and I estimate I’ve listened to each book at least twice. I only end up reading physical books or standard eBooks on rare lazy days, vacations, or plane rides. I still purchase print books with the intent to read them, but my TBR pile is tragic.

A: I completely understand the ever mounting TBR pile. Mine feels out of control!

Does reading give you inspiration for writing? If so what books have inspired you?

TLJ: Absolutely, there are many stories I’ve read that drive me to create. Often there’s a scenario I want to tell with my own flavor, or I’ll want to re-create the feel of a book with a completely different plot. Sometimes I’ll see a plot device or well executed scene and it’ll get me thinking about how I would have approached it differently.

The Gun Machine by Warren Ellis has a beautiful third-person close storytelling style that I thought would fit well with this particular story. The irreverent humor, absurd characters, and bleak uncaring reality of Ellis’ work in general always gives me inspiration to write. It makes want create something with that same flavor.

The Empire of Bones series by Terry Mixon sits on the opposite end of the spectrum with a lighthearted Space Opera/Adventure story feel. It’s like old science fiction from the days of Heinlein, where you could jump in a rocketship and find moon people while still including just enough technical detail to feel feasible.

Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom was the most inspirational from a story concept and technical consultation perspective for Kludged Singularity. He goes into the background and origins of AI and then leads out into different paths to achieve it, as well as the inherent risks. I feel that anyone interested in knowing more about AI should read this book, and if you’re a writer you will absolutely find at least one story to tell.

The Dresden Files and Wheel of Time books also provided me inspiration for writing in general, acting as stellar examples for building a world and letting your characters grow and change.

A: Great recommendations! You’re actually the second author I’ve had say that Warren Ellis is an inspiration to them in one way or another. Readers, if you’re unfamiliar please get on the Warren Ellis train!

Who’s an author that you think is criminally under-read?

TLJ: Christopher Buehlman is hands-down one of the best storytellers out there. The worlds in his books feel real and lived-in, his characters have distinct voices and personalities that seem entirely natural, and the plots are well thought out with masterful delivery. I can’t speak highly enough of his skill as a storyteller both in writing and in his live performances. And he did the audiobook narration for his most recent two novels which added another layer to those stories in particular.

A couple of his books are clearly connected, but they’re all standalone and amazing. Just don’t start with The Necromancer’s House if you don’t like books written in present tense.

A: I’ll definitely have to check those out!

What’s a book from your childhood that holds a special place in your heart?

TLJ: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, specifically the giant black omnibus with the gilded pages. I read and reread that book all through high school, occasionally lending it out to people willing to put in the time to read it. I eventually lost it that way, but Adams’ wonderfully British humor and absurdity will always be with me.

A: I borrowed a copy from a friend, that same big black gilded pages tome. I think it reminded me of the bible, and felt just as important!

Questions about Your Book

Which of your protagonists do you most relate to? Alan or Surendra? Maybe a combination of both?

TLJ: Both, but only partially and in vastly different ways. I blended some of my worst destructive personality traits from my twenties with some of the passions and idealism of friends and coworkers to create the framework of Alan’s character. On the other hand, I took my work ethic and drive to do a good job, even if it’s just for my own sake, and put that into Surendra. I then exaggerated a shyness and social uncertainty I only distantly remember from elementary school.

In the end though, I don’t share a whole lot in common with either of them outside of a few traits and being a massive nerd.

A: I kept thinking that Alan was me in the not too distant past. Mostly, I’m just glad I at least gave up the cigarette breaks.

What personal experience did you draw on when writing your book? Kludged deals a lot with IT and various technical support issues, have you worked in IT or something similar?

TLJ: I worked all across the IT spectrum: freelance websites and code, retail hardware support as an Apple Genius, technical sales and cold calling, help desk, product management, IT training, server management, and cloud architecture.

Inheriting an ailing infrastructure is a pain many in the IT field have experienced, and dealing with megalomaniacs or other morally questionable people is par for the course. Most of the experiences are embellishments of things I believed where happening on the other end of the phone line when I worked helpdesk in previous jobs.

Stories get told, retold, and embellished to the point that the guy who worked at the company five years ago is remembered as a legendary technical god who thought purely in SQL queries and could menace a computer into working with his mere presence. Sometimes the story is that the boss was a mercurial lunatic that would fire or promote people on a whim depending on how well they tended his fish tank. Both hold a grain of truth.

Kludged casually mentions the thought experiment of Roko’s Basilisk. I happened to already be familiar with said thought experiment and therefore already exposed to the “dangerous” idea of it. Do you have any concerns of readers looking it up after reading the name in your book and then truly blaming you for exposing them to this perceived danger?

TLJ: I want to lead off stating that Roko’s Basilisk is nothing to fear and I’d be happy to help anyone who blames me for showing it to them. I love Roko’s Basilisk, it’s like “The Game” (I’m sorry) but for keeps. I actually encourage people to look it up because it’s a really fun though experiment.

While it can seam scary, it takes a lot of mental gymnastics to really embrace it as something to worry about. Proving you aren’t in danger from it requires about the same level of theoretical legwork and it’s easy enough to untangle yourself from it. RationalWiki has an entire section entitled “So you’re worrying about the Basilisk” which I feel most people will run into if they actually do start to panic.

A: I truly enjoy these kinds of thought experiments. I’d be very curious to talk to someone who is fearing the Basilisk, comment below if that’s you!

How far away do you think we are from a fully sentient AI?

TLJ: I mentioned Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom earlier, and that digs into this question really well. A lot of my opinions have been influenced by that book and some of the impressive things humanity has done with non-sentient AI.

GPT2 can learn a writing style and emulate it with a scary level of competence, check out the GPT2 subreddit simulator for some fun examples. Self-driving cars are more reliable than humans and continue to improve. The “AI” buzzword has just now started taking off like “Cloud” did years ago, leading more business to add data sets into various types of AI which paves the way for even greater improvements.

There are a lot of paths that can get it to sentient AI with general intelligence, and the technology for some of it is starting to ramp up. All of this makes it notoriously hard to predict. I’d say we’ll have some level of morally significant AI within the next decade, but I don’t know if we’ll get full sentience within the decade. It’s just as likely we’ll be in a similar position 50 years from now with the idea of generally intelligent self aware AI still looming in the future.

A: Man I cannot wait for everyone to have self driving cars.

As a follow up, once we have fully sentient AI how do you see them as part of your own life? Would you use them as you would a maid or other household employee or would you be more willing to have a deeper relationship with an artificial intelligence?

TLJ: It really depends on the AI’s origin, purpose, and form factor. If they’re uploaded human minds with no body, still subject to all the whims and shortcomings of people, I’d expect to see them used in call center and technical work. Instead of calling into an automated voice messaging system, you’d get an instance of an employee and probably be none the wiser. Other skilled work could be handled like this, with businesses spinning up things like paralegals or accountants to do gruntwork.

If it were an unaltered human mind in an android body, along the lines of Data from Star Trek or an advanced persocom from Chobits, I would have a hard time justifying treating them as anything less than another human being. Even in a non-human form, like a Dalek body or even a coffee machine, I’d still probably have trouble thinking of them as anything less than full people.

Going down the route of completely synthetic general AI, I wouldn’t mind letting them work for whatever purpose they were designed with the same interaction I use for a current AI voice assistance. If their values were set in such a way that they enjoyed their work and were trustworthy I would be more than happy to have them perform tasks I wouldn’t ask of an entity I considered to possess full personhood. With how alien their value system would have to be, I’d probably limit my social interaction to a minimum.

A: Very insightful. Personally, I think I’d be that loser who falls in love with an AI. I’m far too much of an empath. I completely understood Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Her. And when I played Detroit: Become Human I found myself way too attached to these fictional characters. If I were to interact with an AI on a daily basis I’d basically think it was more my friend than my actual friends.

Questions about You/ Just for Fun

What is something mundane that doesn’t seem to bother most people but drives you absolutely insane?

TLJ: The sound of someone sucking air through a popsicle. I have a visceral sense memory from childhood of cold air flowing over my teeth, no proper suction, weak flavor, and a high-pitched noise in my head. Nails on a chalkboard or high-pitched squealing sounds are fine, but if I know it’s air through a popsicle my spine itches.

What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken?

TLJ: We had some nice vacations when I was a kid that stuck with me, but as sappy as it sounds I’d have to say my trip to New York City for my wedding was the best. The life milestone and the novelty of the city were great, though it also represented finally having my shit together enough to be able to afford a real vacation as an adult.

A: That is quite the milestone!

What’s your favorite present you’ve ever received?

TLJ: My first computer as a child. It was a gift for the family to share, but it opened up a world I can’t imagine having missed out on in those formative years.

If a stranger wanted to win you over, how would they start the conversation?

TLJ: They could walk up with a random piece of trivial, interesting little-known historical fact, or deeply technical discussion about modern technology. I’ll talk for hours with anybody, so the bar for winning me over in that regard is pretty low. So long as they’re either willing to listen to me rant at length, or have some fun information I can absorb and hoard for later I’ll be happy to talk.

What’s something you would scream at your younger self until you were sure they heard you?

TLJ: Buy Apple and Tesla Stock, invest in Bitcoin, warn the Cincinnati Zoo to be extra vigilant around the gorilla enclosure in the year 2016, it could change everything…

On a more serious note though, I’d tell myself not to let the burn out and disenchantment from the education system stop me from writing for enjoyment. Life will continue fine without striking it rich, it’s more important to let go of negativity an enjoy what you have.

A: One of my favorite things is that everyone agrees Harambe is the catalyst event that set us down this particular timeline.

Where Can People Find You?

All roads lead to my site at https://www.tonyljoy.com where I update my progress on active work and post short stories. It also has links to my mailing list where I announce when things are launching or pre-launching.

I’m semi-active on a few social media platforms if anyone wants to find me there: Twitter (@tljoy), Instagram (@tonyljoy), and Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/tonyljoy)

I’m getting back into putting reviews into GoodReads (https://www.goodreads.com/tonyljoy) when I find the time again.

And, finally, if anyone wants to just reach out directly my inbox is always open at tony@tonyljoy.com

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TLJ: First off, in addition to lending me a soapbox to rant from, I’d like to thank you for the service you provide for the indie writing community and encourage others to follow your example. Traditional publishing used to be the gatekeepers, but they’re quickly fading into irrelevance. It’s important for both readers and authors to participate in creating a strong indie ecosystem.

I’d also encourage everyone to expose themselves to new data and ideas, seek out facts, and approach the world with positivity. Though there’s an edge of cynicism in my writing, I think it’s important for everyone to enjoy life. You can only do that if you spread positivity and continually try to improve yourself.

A: Thank you so much! And everyone, go find Kludged Singularity!

I love comic books, nonfiction, and everything in between! Come discuss your favorites!

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