Kerry Nietz is a refugee of the software industry. He spent more than a decade of his life flipping bits—first as one of the principal developers of the database product FoxPro for the now mythical Fox Software, and then as one of Bill Gates’s minions at Microsoft. He is a husband, a father, a technophile and a movie buff. He has one previously published book, a memoir entitled FoxTales: Behind the Scenes at Fox Software. A Star Curiously Singing is his first novel.
Kerry, how exciting that your novel, A Star Curiously Singing, hits retail bookshelves in one month. What’s the book about?
A Star Curiously Singing is a speculative Christian novel with a decidedly cyberpunk feel. It takes place in a future hundreds of years from now, where much of the world is living under sharia law.
It is dualistic society, where average people live on the streets in near-squalor and the powerful ride above them in cable car-like conveyances. This latter group is shrouded in high tech, to the point of needing specialized debuggers to handle their machines.
That’s where my protagonist comes in. Sandfly is a debugger who’s summoned to solve the mystery of why a bot malfunctioned. The extenuating circumstances? The bot has been on an interstellar voyage in an experimental ship. Something about the trip made it malfunction. So it is a sci-fi mystery of sorts.
Why speculative fiction—what made you choose this genre?
I think speculative fiction is a natural genre for Christian authors to traipse around in. Science Fiction and Fantasy typically explores big themes, and what theme is bigger than God and his relationship with humanity?
On a personal level, I find the genre mentally freeing. The rules haven’t been written yet. The map is completely uncharted—both in what can be done in an individual story, and in the genre of Christian speculative fiction as a whole. The sky isn’t the limit anymore. In fact, the sky is limitless.
Being a family man, a writer, and a software developer, how do you balance all of the hats you wear?
I’ve lived an unconventional life in many respects. For eleven years—thirteen if you count the two years I worked part time for my university while at school—I lived this very intense software developer life. Always pursuing deadlines, adding features, resolving problems—it was often very chaotic and stressful, but also rewarding and entertaining.
Unfortunately, that life didn’t leave much time for interests beyond work. Plus, I was never a social dynamo (always on the shy side), so during that time I missed a lot of the things normal people have while they’re doing the typical nine to five thing. (Like having a wife and family.)
When I decided to pursue writing fulltime I put that developer life aside. It was great, because not only did I get to try something I always wanted to try, but I got to catch up on the things I missed while coding as well. I got married in my mid-thirties and we had our first child a few years later.
So, I really don’t wear as many hats as you list above—just writer, husband and father for now. But that’s enough.
I still get the occasional technical support call from family members and friends, though. Somehow, I don’t think those ever end. “You worked at Microsoft? I’ve got this problem with Word…”
Many writers have an “aha” moment when they realize they want to pursue their passion for writing. Did you have a moment like that? If you did experience such a moment, how did you get started?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have some story idea bouncing around in my head—scraps of something written on notebooks or stored in computer files. The pivot point came when I was still working in the software industry, though. I was on a plane traveling from Ohio to Washington and just happened to sit beside an elderly gentlemen who was a published writer. It was a great conversation—me just picking his brain about his life. At one point I mentioned that I wanted to have a book published someday. His response was simple: “Well, start early. You might get published before you die.” That was when I started thinking seriously about writing fulltime.
When readers read your novel, what do you hope they’ll takeaway from your story world?
Oh, there are so many cool things in there. When I first started writing, I started with “OK, what future do I fear for my kids?” and went from there. Mostly I think the book is about freedom and how important, and yet how fragile, it is. Often as Americans—and as Christians—we take our freedom(s) for granted. Many people have given their lives for what we have. It is a gift, but a gift that comes with responsibility. We need to be diligent to maintain it, and expand it when possible. I also think the book has a bit to say about the nature of God. Hopefully I’ve done some of those issues justice. And entertained!
When you sit down to create a story, do you prefer to write an outline first, or do you tend to go where the creative wind take you?
Usually I have a vague starting point and an equally vague ending point and then just work to fill the middle. So, I guess it is “creative wind” harnessed within a two item outline.
The biggest thing for me, though, is consistency. I have a set time for when I like to write and I stick to it—at least squeezing out a few pages every day. Some days what I write is good, other days it is not so good. But I try to maintain that steady progress toward the goal of a completed manuscript. Truthfully, I think if I outlined too much, it would make for a dissatisfying book. Life rarely follows an outline.
Kerry, as we come to the end of our cyber chat can you switch gears and tell us one or two of your quirky writer habits (if you have any, of course :-)).
Quirky writer habits? Hmm…I don’t know if it is quirky or not, but I’ve really gotten so I enjoy editing almost as much as writing. I like looking at a section of words and seeing how I can improve it. That is probably the coder part of my brain coming out, though, because a similar thing use to happen with me there. The quest to make it easy to read—and in the case of code—make it work the best.
I also will reward a good writing session with a video game break. Those are the times my wife invariably passes by my workspace and says “Working hard, huh?”