Interview–Brent Knowles

Brent Knowles is a writer, programmer, and game designer. His work has been published in several magazines, including On Spec, Neo-Opsis, and Tales of the Talisman. His story “Digital Rights” won first place in the fiercely competitive Writers of the Future contest in 2009, published in Writers of the Future volume XXVI.

David Steffen: It’s now been almost a year since your Writers of the Future winning story was released. Has that win had any effect on your writing, whether it be the writing itself or your methods?

Brent Knowles: Overall I think that I am a more productive and confident writer after the
win. Winning introduced me to many other authors (not limited just to the
winners in my year but including past winners and judges). I think being in
contact with them online and observing their workflows, triumphs and
setbacks has been illuminating… I have learned a lot about the business of

David: Where did the idea for “Digital Rights”, your WotF wining story, come from?

Brent: Years ago I wrote a story which featured a man who collected digital
copies of people to experiment on. I never thought the story strong enough
to stand on its own but it became the backbone for ‘Digital Rights’. I find
I do this quite often — merging two or three stories that never quite
worked into a single story. ‘A Ragman’s Vow’, which was published a few
years ago by On Spec, is another example where that worked out for me.

David: You worked with BioWare developing games for ten years. What was your favorite part of the job?

Brent: My coworkers. At BioWare, I was thrown in with a motley collection of
writers, programmers, and artists. It was an incredibly diverse range of
creative people, all moving towards the same goal but in their own ways. I
learned a lot and had an amazing experience with them.

It was exciting being able to work with others, crafting stories and
gameplay that was experienced by millions of users. That thrill when a game
finally goes gold (approved for distribution) is akin to the feeling I get
when a story I write is accepted for publication.

Additionally I enjoyed interacting with our players online, trying to get a
feel for what they liked and what could be improved for the next game.

David: Have you found your writing and code development to be complementary skills?

Brent: There are a few ways in which I have found writing and code development to
be complementary in my life. At the simplest level I find that if I am
burned out on writing I can usually turn to coding as a break, letting my
mind worry about something else until I’m ready to go back to writing.

Coding itself can also be a very satisfying creative endeavour. For me
writing and coding are two facets of the same, core desire I have to ‘create
things’. I like exploring ‘other worlds’… whether those worlds exist in a
computer game I am creating (or playing) or through my writing (or my

Being able to write code is also useful… I’ve built my own AI ‘Assistant’
software which I use to help me brainstorm and organize my writing. I’m not
a ‘strong’ programmer but I’m a fast programmer and I can prototype things
quickly — think of it as a first draft code. This prototyping lets me play
around with concepts (artificial intelligence, data analysis, image
manipulation, et cetera) and maybe experience some of what my characters
(who are often scientists or programmers or engineers) will be experiencing.

Being technical has also introduced me to real life scenarios that help
influence my fiction. As a consultant with Empire Avenue (the social stock
market) I have been given a preview of how social networks might evolve and
I can use that information to imagine more plausible future societies. I
used this experience in my first science fiction novel and in several short

David: If you could give just one piece of advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?

Brent: Learn to handle rejection. Unless you are some kind of a genetic
abnormality with an absurd talent for writing (in which case I hate you) you
will have more disappointments than successes. Don’t let the disappointments
sour you. Savor the successes.

David: What is your first memory?

Brent: I have really crappy memory. Most of my childhood memories, I think,
are strongly influenced by photographs of past events… so I don’t know if
I am actually remembering the event or the photograph’s interpretation of my

One thing that did happen to me as a kid and has no photograph to distort
the memory was when I stumbled upon a pack of wolves as a child. Well, I
didn’t actually stumble upon them… they found me.

I used to hang out with my grandfather in isolated logging camps during the
off-season (usually when it was too muddy for the trucks to haul out wood).
Basically we were security so nobody would steal equipment from the camps.
Well my grandfather was security; I was just a kid.

Anyways we were in the middle of nowhere with only a cruddy gravel road
connecting us to civilization. I’d often just walk around and explore the
woods, that kind of thing. One day while I was standing alongside the road a
pack of wolves came walking towards me. They were a large pack with several
pups. I was mesmerized. The pups were fighting over a discarded tin can and
the adults just looked kind of bored. They were completely unconcerned about
my presence and acted as if they owned the place, which I suppose, in some
ways, they did.

I’m not sure what would have happened next, I was being pretty stupid and
still lingering by the road but my grandfather came out and fired a warning
shot and the wolves scattered.

David: If you could choose any fictional character for a roommate, who would it be?

Brent: R2D2. Best roommate ever. He can accomplish any task you need done.
Sure, he back-talks a lot, but given that I can’t understand him I wouldn’t
know what he was saying about me.

David: Do you have any works in progress you’d like to talk about?

Brent: Two of my earlier stories – ‘The Prophet’ and ‘The End of the Road’ –
are enjoying a bit of a second life as digital reprints. The positive
feedback and reader reaction I am getting on them is encouraging me to delve
a bit more into the world of the ‘Wanderer’ protagonist featured in them.
I’ll finish a novel featuring more of his story early next year.

David: Any upcoming publications?

Brent: A few stories. ‘Touch the Dead’, the prelude to an urban fantasy
novel I recently finished writing will appear in On Spec Magazine, possibly
this year. I also have ‘Summer Lover’ in Shroud later this year and my dark
fantasy ‘Bone Dreaming’ was recently accepted by Darwin’s Evolutions.

David: What was the last book you read?

Brent: I have a neverending backlog of magazines and books to read. I am in
the middle of several novels right now (I’m a multitasking kind of
reader)… the last I finished was Druids by Barbara Galler-Smith and Josh
Langston, which I quite enjoyed.

David: Your favorite book?

Brent: Tricky to narrow it down to one. Different books at different times
have resonated with me. ‘The Stand’ threw me into a world and situation that
really stuck with me well past the reading, as had, at a younger age,
‘Watership Down’. Though I have not read it in years ‘The Stone and the
Flute’ by Hans Bemmann still sits in a cherished place on my ‘grab these
books if the house burns down’ pile.

David: Who is your favorite author?

Brent: I’ve never been fixated on any particular authors but some have had a
measurable influence on me — I read a lot of Stephen King and Charles de
Lint during my early years as a writer. Now I’m trying to branch out more,
filling in the holes in my ‘reading education’. I’ve read and enjoyed work
by Robert J. Sawyer, David Brin, and Steven Savile recently.

David:Â What was the last movie you saw?

Brent:Â Return of the Jedi. I decided my kids were old enough to experience
the Star Wars trilogy. A side benefit of that was that it gave me an excuse
to pull out all my old Star Wars toys that I’ve hung onto (did I mention I’m
a hoarder?)

David:Â What is your favorite movie?

Brent:Â Hmm. Again, I’m not much with the favourites but I can watch Empire
Strikes Back over and over and always enjoy it…

David: Brent, thanks for taking the time for the interview! I wish you continued success with your writing.