The Big Idea: Ramsey Hootman

Writer Ramsey Hootman grew up loving one literary genre but writing in an entirely different one for her debut novel Courting Greta. But don’t think that doesn’t mean her first literary love wasn’t an influence anyway. She’s here to explain how it was.

RAMSEY HOOTMAN:

I first read The Martian Chronicles at age 12. This glorious, mind-expanding gateway drug lured me away from the kid’s section and into the clutches of Heinlein, Asimov, Bova—our library was a bit outdated when it came to SF, forcing me to cut my teeth on the classics.

As I aged, my reading horizons expanded. These days my addiction is best sated by the hard SF of Iain M. Banks and Vernor Vinge, but I’ve also come to adore the character-centric space opera of Lois McMaster Bujold and the hyrbid weirdness of China Mieville. I majored in English because words were my strength, but I attended a technical university and satisfied my GE requirements with physics, astronomy, and aviation.

So when I, a lifelong science fiction fan, finally became a novelist myself, the genre of my debut title was obviously… um…

Romance?

Well, not quite. Courting Greta breaks too many genre conventions to be considered straight-up romance, so it’s technically just contemporary fiction. But the heart of the book is undeniably a story about two people negotiating the rough terrain of a very awkward relationship. Maybe even doing what you’d call falling in love.

How does a SF addict write a love story? Not very well, according to the pile of agent rejections detailing why no editor in his or her right mind would consider my book. The only point of view character was male (a big no-no), the story was “too unconventional,” and, to quote one rejection in particular, my characters needed to be “more conventionally attractive.”.

Approaching a problem from a completely different angle, however, is often what it takes to produce something unique and innovative. In an echo of that rejection, Library Journal’s recent starred review of Courting Greta called the story original, refreshing, and – surprise! – “unconventional.”

So… how does a SF addict write a love story? Accidentally. I started not with a romance, but with a character – someone I wasn’t seeing anywhere outside my own favorite genre. Samuel is the kind of guy who’d feel totally comfortable running a LAN party or a D&D table. Not your cool retro hipster geek, but a genuine computer nerd. Totally 1337, but not so hot on the interpersonal skills. There are a lot of books written for this kind of guy, particularly in SFF, but none that I knew of written about him. At least, not in a contemporary real-world setting.

Of course, “geek” is more of a class than a character attribute, so to be more specific: Samuel Cooke is a snarky programmer whose world consists of his apartment, his office, and a computer screen. At least until something prompts him to take up his crutches (he has spina bifida) and venture into the real world. He’s bitter, self-centered, and painfully conscious of how pathetic his life looks to everyone else.

Sam has a couple of antagonists, the biggest one being himself, but what he needed was a foil. Not just someone to draw him out of his defensive shell, but to really get under his skin and provoke him to actions he’d normally never consider. This person would ideally be his opposite: domineering, physical, action-oriented.

It’s probably pretty cliche that the first person that popped into my head was my junior high gym coach. You know the guy I’m talking about; perhaps you even spent a few semesters trying to avoid his disapproving bark. Except that in my case, he was a she. Hmm. Now that was interesting. To make the situation even more dire, let’s say she’s a conservative Christian. Older. Bigger. Stronger. He would be all words, she’d be all action. The strong and silent type.

And just like that, I discovered something I love even more than a good science fiction yarn: a serious challenge. In fact, the reason I love hard SF so much is because it forces me to stretch just beyond the bounds of my own understanding. Which, for better or worse, is why it’s a genre I’m unlikely to tackle. Writing it would require knowing just enough to spoil the magic.

Writing Courting Greta, however, was a different kind of challenge altogether. Trying to put Samuel and Greta in a relationship that didn’t stretch the bounds of credibility meant learning to understand and empathize with both characters, as different as they were from each other – and from myself. Over ten years (yes, I said ten) I rewrote the entire manuscript several times. The climax, which seems so essential now, didn’t even come into being until a couple of months before I landed my agent. Throughout the process, it was never a question of how to fit them together so much as whether it was possible at all.

So. How does a SF addict write a love story? Quite a bit like writing science fiction, I suppose: extrapolating from what I knew of the world to speculate about the unknown. In what situation, under what circumstances, might I behave like my gym teacher? Giving her the benefit of the doubt on all counts, what would her motivations be? From Sam’s perspective, what on earth would he see in Greta? Could those qualities be magnified? I established a set of parameters – physical and emotional – and then launched my explorers toward a new horizon.

And like any good SF yarn, the best part is not the destination, but the possibilities explored along the way.

—-

Courting Greta: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Excerpt available at the Amazon link. Visit the author’s Web site. Follow her on Twitter.

19 thoughts on “The Big Idea: Ramsey Hootman

  1. This sounds like the kind of interesting relationships I’m interested in reading about; I’ve had enough of the traditional tropes by this point in my life. But man, that description at Amazon is not going to do this book any favors. The content is fine but the punctuation is a mess. “Samuel is certain she wont accept his invitation to dinnerso when she does, hes out of his depth. All he knows is that hell do whatever it takes to keep her as long as he can.”

    I assume it got badly imported from somewhere else, but I’d suggest reaching out to get it resolved. I know intellectually that the editing coming out of promotions & bookselling doesn’t necessarily reflect on the actual book but it sure makes for a negative first impression.

  2. Don – A big ARRRGH! over here from me. Thank you for pointing this out. Would you believe that, earlier, it had the description for the WRONG BOOK? Yeah. Someone over in the data entry department hates me. Emailing editor now. (And I promise the book is clean as a whistle… fortunately copy edits come from a completely different department.)

  3. Sounds pretty fantastic. As some who came begrudgingly to sf only to embrace it without reservation, I find more and more that I love stories that respect a great deal about the genre but steer around it in hopes of telling a story that works for geeks of every kind.

    Looking forward to picking up a copy.

  4. Ramsey: If I had to guess, it looks like the description was copy-pasted from Word into an basic HTML text editor, stripping out the special characters (apostrophes and em-dashes, it looks like). I doubt that they hate you, specifically. ;)

  5. The book sounds really interesting but the Amazon listing is just, wow. The sloppy description isn’t even the worst problem. Check the sample too. In between page six and page eight is a single sentence that helpfully says page seven has been omitted. And clearly there really is a missing page seven because the text jump makes no sense. WTF?

  6. Gotta say, she nails the crip-perspective pretty well — the nice little combo of anger, frustration, pride, passion, resentment, ambition, arrogance, stubbornness, unworthiness, and other good-and-bad traits it takes to construct a dude who can’t hoof it through life on two feet.

  7. I think the omission of page 7 (and pages 16-17) in the excerpt is intentional – since the intent of “Look Inside” is to entice you to buy the book but the length has limitations.

    I’m not usually one for romances but the excerpt certainly sold me on this one. I work with someone remarkably like Greta. :-)

  8. I was fortunate to read a draft of COURTING GRETA — loved it! A truly original voice and story.

  9. So. Based on this post I sped over to amazon.com, bought AND read COURTING GRETA this evening. At my workdesk while waiting for a large email list to go out. And I didn’t leave work until I finished it! (Fortunately my husband is out playing pinball, so he didn’t notice my absence). I literally could NOT put it down. And my commute home was spent ruminating on Samuel and Greta. Wonderful book.

    LOVED IT!

  10. This sounds like a very interesting book. Went to Gallery (the publisher)’s site to find out more and it’s not there. It’s not in the new releases, there’s no search field, there’s no way to find the book. Way to go Gallery! One more huge publisher FAIL of what sounds like a really good book.

  11. But why should Gerta be attracted to HIM?

    For all intends and purposes, it doesn’t sound like he’s be particulary attractive to her, no common interests. And I don’t want yet another book where the woman is a trophy to aquire or a monster to tame before she puts out. That seems to be the standard these kinds of “nerd loves women” storys go.

  12. I’m a big Sci-Fi/fantasy fan so this fell outside of my normal reading window, but hey, Scalzi thought enough to recommend it. So I didn’t read the amazon blurb, but my preview was missing page 12. Couple of pages into it, I decided it was worth kindle’ing. Finished it in about 4 hours. Very poignant and I’d highly recommend it.

  13. and again, nobody wants to take my money … because restricting the sale of ebooks to one area makes sense, or something.

  14. Got an answer back from my editor. The “Look Inside” feature is under Amazon’s control – it shows you semi-randomized pages up to 10% of the book… Amazon does the same to all books. The “Look Inside” feature, however, is different from the Kindle sample, which has no missing pages. If you download the Kindle sample, you get the complete first 17 pages. Hope this helps!

  15. Ramsey, I also just finished it, and it is a fabulous book. I’m am also so glad you stuck it out and got it published.

    Carina, I just wanted to let you know that it doesn’t come until you’re almost at the end, but your question is answered, and answered satisfyingly.

Comments are closed.