Interesting and true trivia fact: Gerald Warfield is the oldest writer to win the Writers of the Future contest. I just recently caught up with Gerald, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Tamago: Tell me about when you realized you wanted to be a writer.
Gerald: LOL! It’s easier to tell you about the point when I realized I did NOT want to be a writer! I did my undergraduate work in music at the University of North Texas, and while there I wrote music reviews for the Denton Record-Chronicle. They were so hard to get right; I remember working hours on them. I decided then that I didn’t want to be a writer. Oh, well. I’ve been wrong before.
Tamago: Which writers influence your work?
Gerald: I was at Princeton when I read Lord of the Rings. I didn’t go to classes for three days and read straight through, hardly stopping for meals and sleep. Also, early on, I liked Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series. Another book that made a deep impression was The Mote in God’s Eye; that was by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. I was thrilled to meet Jerry Pournelle at the Writers of the Future awards ceremony this year.
Tamago: Your writing ranges from Heinleinian science fiction to anthropological horror. Do you consider among this wide range that you have themes you revisit from story to story?
Gerald: Yes. I love fantasizing about the beginning of things. I have a short story about how I imagine mathematics might have started. It’s based on the Ishango bone, a baboon tibia found at the headwaters of the Nile and dated to about 20,000 years ago. The scorings on it seems to indicate that the “author” was attempting to construct a numerical system. Another short story shows the beginnings of scientific method, and another the creation of a writing system.
Tamago: You are the oldest person to ever win Writers of the Future, and you've recently started your writing career. Do you ever wonder, at age 72, if it's too late to start a career in fiction?
Gerald: I have been both blessed and cursed by an extreme tenacity. Once I have a goal I never give up (or almost never). Alas, my initial goal, music composition, was one in which I did not have a great deal of talent, so persistence, while it gave me a moderate degree of success, kept me on a less productive path for a long time. I am aware that my career will be probably a short one, yet in this, too, I now persist. When I think about the future I am reminded of Gandalf’s words to Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Tamago: How did you come to apply for Taos Toolbox?
Gerald: Taos Toolbox was described as an extension of intensive workshops such as Clarion and Odyssey. I had already been to the Odyssey Workshop, which was a great experience, and I felt that further work along those lines was just what I wanted.
Tamago: As someone who's attended Taos and Odyssey, what advice would you give to a workshop participant?
Gerald: You would be better off with something like Odyssey or Clarion already under your belt, or at least extensive critiquing experience. The time is short, so be prepared to jump in with both feet. On the personal side, don’t be overly sensitive. Some of your fellow writers may be having a hard time, and that can manifest itself in many ways. Look for honesty, not praise.
Tamago: If you had unlimited time to work on a story, what would be your ideal project?
Gerald: I would love to fully develop a secondary world like Middle Earth of Darkover.
Tamago: How does your career experience tie into the writing you do?
Gerald: In my music career I attended many conferences. Those helped me to acclimate to the conference experience in general. For a writer, cons can be of so much benefit. Alas, however, I am one of the shy. Meeting and greeting does not come natural to me, so having already run the gauntlet in music helped with getting the most out of the writing conferences I now attend. Of course, getting to know people in the profession is beneficial, but there is another, more subtle benefit. You see, there are many, many writers, and only a few will become superstars. Conferences are a way that the lesser lights can participate in the writerly life, too. For myself, I don’t have to be a superstar, but I want to participate; I want to be a player.
Tamago: What advice would you give to an older person who might want to start writing fiction?
Gerald: Don’t do it unless you are already widely read have some kind of strong literary component in your background. I was a college teacher, an editor, and I wrote technical manuals. I did not attempt fiction until I was in my late 50s, but I already had a great deal of ancillary experience. Ask yourself, do you want to improve your writing or do you simply want an audience? If the latter, then you will never improve. In my work with older writers, I find that they are often impatient with the subtleties of grammar and the logical flow of the narrative. I’ve often observed a tendency among those writers to tell in outline rather than to flesh out characters and settings. A strong reading background is also important. Older writers who are not well read have a very thin “leaf-mold” (to quote Tolkien) from which to generate their prose.
Tamago: Where can we find more of your work?
Gerald: On the first page of my website I’ve got links to those works available on the Internet. My story “The Poly Islands” is in the Writers of the Future anthology, volume 28. “And Happiness Everlasting” is in the anthology “Timelines: Stories Inspired by HG Wells’ The Time Machine,” published by Northern Frights Publishing Co.
Thanks, Gerald. The literary Tolkien quotes are ones this English prof appreciates!