By Kerstin Hall
He’s not going to respond.
That’s what I thought when I first tried to contact Rob Boffard via his website.
There is no way one of the rising stars of sci-fi, with an international publishing contract and a serious job at The Guardian, will respond to some random chick from back in South Africa, going “hey, so I’d like to interview you for my blog. Pretty please.”
But sure enough, two hours later, I have an email in my inbox from Boffard. And now I am left to figure out how to use Skype. Several panic-stricken test calls later, I think I have the basics down.
“Helloooo?” I call into the abyss, having forgotten to turn on the video.
“Hello,” says Boffard.
Well, I could have started worse. Once I realize that I’m supposed to click “accept video”, Boffard pops into view. And I soon discover that I’m not the only one who did research in anticipation of this interview.
“How’s Rhodes?” He asks.
Ah. He knows where I go to school. Guess that’s to be expected from a journalist. Boffard himself is a Rhodes University graduate; he has a degree in Journalism and Media studies.
“I was a radio student, yeah, back in the day,” he says.
“Interesting that you then went the writing way.”
“Sound and music has always been very much my thing. I’ll always be writing, but when I was at Rhodes, I just wanted to do shit with sound.”
And now on to my lovingly prepared and researched questions. I clear my throat.
“Could Tracer be summed up as the trials and tribulations of the ultimate Post Office employees in space?” I ask.
“Man!” He laughs. “It’s weird, I never thought about them as Post Office employees. They’re kind of galactic postmen, if you like, if being a postman involved a lot of free running, fighting and being super hardcore. But yeah, it’s basically about the world’s most hardcore postmen.”
In 2013, Boffard wrote an article for Huck about the enduring relevance of short fiction stories in a time of decreased magazine circulation and widespread distraction. The article touched on his own struggles to find publications willing to buy his shorter work. I ask if the short story game is even still on, seeing as he now has The Novel.
“Oh God, yeah, very much so,” he assures me. “The thing I find really good about short stories is that they’re a bit of a palate cleanser. I’ll get to the end of a novel and I want to keep writing, but I’m not ready to start another book project straight away. So I check what other stories are knocking around in my head, what can I write down?”
And then he is back to interviewing me. “I was reading your blog, I see you went through the Clarkesworld hell…”
I try to steer the interview back around. “Um…”
“I was reading that and going “yep, been through that, I’ve had ALL the rejections and I know exactly how you feel.’”
Well, this is beginning to feel like therapy.
Boffard’s blog demonstrates a clear commitment to exploring the complexities of diversity and representation in fiction. In one heartfelt post, Boffard tries to come to grips with being a white, male author in a world filled with white, male authors. Here it’s worth noting that Tracer features a female super hardcore galactic postperson as a protagonist.
“It’s an incredibly difficult minefield to navigate. I don’t think there is an author working today who can afford to not think about diversity, and not try to reflect the world accurately.”
“I think, for example, if you are a straight white male and you continue to write fiction in which straight white males are the dominant voice, where the voices of people of colour, women, transgender people and the myriad of other variations of people in the world are suppressed, then you’re going to get torn to shreds pretty quickly. You’re going to get that internet hate mob coming after you. As well you should.”
“We’ve had decades and decades of straight white male voices dominating. Frankly, it’s time for a change.”
Before proceeding further, I double check my facts.
“The “Tracer” in your title refers to a parkour artist, right?”
For those who have not been exposed to viral Youtube videos, a parkour artist does this:
Naturally, I needed to find out whether Boffard had tried out this sport himself. And, to my surprise, he is actually something of a veteran.
“I got some pretty gnarly injuries from parkour. I started out at Rhodes with a small group of people. We weren’t very good at it.”
(Aside: I considered joining the team in my first year. But my mom said she wasn’t paying the medical bills.)
“I don’t know if you are aware of this,” Boffard continues, “but parkour hurts. Even when you aren’t injuring yourself, it hurts. I kept doing it until I injured myself quite badly – I chin-planted into the edge of a brick wall and knocked myself unconscious. Sliced my chin open, blood everywhere.”
(Aside: Thanks, Mom.)
His firsthand knowledge then went on to inform how he wrote Tracer.
“If you could partner with any author, living or otherwise,” I consult my questions, “to co-write a book, who would you choose and why?”
“Oh, that is a loaded question!” He laughs. “It presumes I’d want to co-write. Okay, let’s assume that I do, and I don’t, but let’s assume that I do… Shit…” He stares off into the distance. “I’d want to partner with someone like Sarah Lotz or Lauren Beukes. It’s never going to happen, but that would be crazy. How about you, who would you collaborate with?”
No, Boffard, no! I am not the source! I do not answer the questions!
“Do you own a pair of writing pants?” I flail.
“Hehe. No, I don’t own a pair of writing pants. I’m not a big clothing guy; I’m a freelancer and I work from home, so I tend to look very scruffy. Usually it’s just a pair of board shorts.”
Boffard was on the verge of self-publishing when his friend suggested that he give the traditional route one last try. Boffard found his agent who then “went to fucking war for this book” and got him signed with Orbit, one of the largest publishers of science fiction and fantasy in the world. The experience was somewhat surreal.
“It was just this amazing ‘holy shit’ moment. I was in Vancouver with my wife and we were lying in bed on a Saturday morning and I got this email from my agent saying, ‘Orbit have made an offer’. And I was like, ‘I don’t quite know how to deal with this right now, so I think I’m just going to go have breakfast.’”
Tracer is available for sale mostly everywhere. The next two installments in the trilogy, Zero G and Impact, will be released in February and June 2016 respectively.