A chilling future
Eastsider Ted Kosmatka collected a desk drawer full of rejection notices before he sold a story for $50. His first novel deals with a not too distant future where a Cold War-like genetic contest produces specialized killing machines
KOSMATKA: I was three years old, and I remember seeing Star Wars at the drive-in with my parents. I didn’t understand any of it, but I knew I wanted more.
SCENE: Was it a struggle to get published?
KOSMATKA: I had a whole desk drawer full of rejections before I ever sold my first story. I kept all the rejections because I read once that Stephen King had kept all his rejections on a spike on the wall, and I think I had this idea that one day when I finally sold my work, I’d be able to point to all my rejections as a learning curve, or a triumph over adversity, or something.
SCENE: What was your first break as a writer?
KOSMATKA: My first sale was for $50 to an online publication that went silent not long after buying my story. After that, I had some success with writing a play, and then I finally sold my first pro story to Asimov’s Magazine. After the sale to Asimov’s, I started selling short stories on a regular basis to various genre magazines.
SCENE: You’ve won a number of writing awards. Did you feel that you had made it as a writer?
KOSMATKA: No, not at all. Award attention is nice when it comes along, but I’m just happy that my work is being published. I wrote for a lot of years where my stuff just ended up in the trunk, so just having my stuff out there where people can actually read it is very gratifying. That’s really the only thing I could ever ask for.
SCENE: What was the driving force to write the novel, The Games?
KOSMATKA: The Games was a way for me to think deeply about exploring the limits of genetic engineering, virtual reality, and what it means to be a conscious, self-aware being. I also wanted to explore the question of whether the end really justifies the means when it comes to certain moral questions related to scientific advancement.
SCENE: You work at Valve Software in Bellevue as a a full-time writer. Did the story lines for the software titles that you worked on shape your thinking for the novel?
KOSMATKA: No, I actually wrote The Games before I ever started at Valve. It does seem like the kind of story that might make a fun game for genetics geeks to play though.
SCENE: The book deals with scientists creating “gladiators” from the genes of non-human life forms. Any idea if science is close to creating the gladiators in your book?
KOSMATKA: I don’t think they’re close right now, but I think it’s the kind of thing that might be possible in the future. Genetic engineering is getting more and more sophisticated all the time, so I wouldn’t want to rule anything out. Of course, just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do—but it often means that somebody, somewhere will try it.
SCENE: How hard was it to explain technical/scientific terms/techniques in the book yet keep the non-scientific reader engaged?
KOSMATKA: That was a huge, central concern I had when writing the book. I’m infinitely fascinated by genetics and all its associated minutia, so I can go on and on about it. I can think about it, and write about it, for hours without ever tiring of it; but I realize that I’m in the minority in this regard, and I could very easily bore the pants off of readers. I usually have a very low tolerance for boredom in fiction, but genetics is kind of my blind spot. When it comes to how much science to keep in the book, I rely a lot on my editors and first readers. The last thing you want is for readers eyes to glaze over.
SCENE: Has life changed for you since the publication of the book?
KOSMATKA: I’m pretty happy with life right now, and I don’t think I’d really want anything to change. I still go to work everyday like I always have, and I write fiction in the evenings and on weekends. I spend time hanging out with friends and family. I play with my kids and do my best to be a good father. I’m still kind of new to the Pacific Northwest, so I’m having a lot of fun exploring the area. Washington is a gorgeous state.
SCENE: Do you have another book in the works? If so, what can the reader look forward to?
KOSMATKA: I do. The book is called “Prophet of Bones,” and it should come out some time in 2013. It’s an alternate history thriller set in a world where carbon dating has proven that the Earth is 5,800 years old. Although the Earth is young, the fossil record is identical to ours, and the novel follows what happens after archaeologists dig up the bones of Homo floresiensis.