We spoke to The Martian author Andy Weir about writing out-of-this-world bestsellers.
It isn’t every day that a writer is plucked from obscurity and put on the international stage, but that is exactly Andy Weir’s story. A software engineer, Weir’s love for space and science led him to write The Martian, which became a runaway hit with readers and was soon adapted for film by Alien director Ridley Scott. The film starred a who’s-who of Hollywood, with Matt Damon in the lead, joined by Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Bridges, Sebastian Stan, Michael Pena and Kate Mara.
Now, Weir is back with a new book, this time set on the Moon. In Artemis, smuggler Jazz Bashara becomes embroiled in a conspiracy that could have devastating effects on the sole city on the Moon. But with her own survival at stake, she is running out of time to save the only world she’s ever known.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to catch up with Weir.
The Martian was such a huge success, both the book and the film. Did you feel the pressure in writing your follow-up book, Artemis? And how did that affect your writing process for Artemis?
Of course, it’s stressful to follow up a success like The Martian, especially considering it was my first book. A success like The Martian comes once in a career for a writer, and I happened to get mine right out of the gate.
It’s extremely unlikely that Artemis will ever be as popular. But if people read it and say “I liked The Martian better, but this was still pretty good,” then I’ll call that a win. And that seems to be happening so I’m happy.
You have now written two books about humans ‘colonising’ other planetary bodies in our solar system. Can we expect a series of such books featuring other planets, and which planet would your writing visit next?
I have some ideas for other planets, yes. Though at the moment, I would like to write more about Artemis. Even people who didn’t like the book seem to like the setting. So, I think I’m on to something that resonates with the readers.
Apart from science-fiction, what other genres would you like to explore?
Almost all of them. I consider sci-fi to be a setting, not a genre. The Martian is a sci-fi survival story, and Artemis is a sci-fi crime/heist story. I could do a mystery, an adventure, a drama, who knows? It’s wide open.
You went from software engineer to bestselling author. Many aspiring writers are wondering how you did it. Could you give us an idea of how it all happened?
Originally, The Martian was just a serial I posted a chapter at a time to my website. Once the book was done, people started requesting that I make an e-book version so they didn’t have to read it in a web browser. So I did and posted it to my site. Then other people emailed saying they want to read the e-book, but they aren’t technically savvy and don’t know how to download a file from the internet and put it on their e-reader. They requested I make a Kindle version they could just get through Amazon. So I did that as well. I set the price at Amazon’s minimum allowable price of $0.99. More people bought the book from Amazon than downloaded it for free from my website. Amazon has a truly amazing reach into the readership market.
The book sold very well and made its way up various top-seller lists on Amazon. That got the attention of Julian Pavia at Crown. He told his colleague David Fugate (a literary agent) about it. David ended up becoming my agent and Julian offered me a book deal. It was a whirlwind of activity because 20th Century Fox optioned the movie rights that same week.
How involved were you in the making of The Martian film?
Mostly my job was just to cash the check. Though they did send me the screenplay to get my opinion. They weren’t required to listen to anything I had to say. They kept me updated on the production because they’re cool. And in the end, the film is very true to the book, so I’m happy.
I understand that Artemis’ film rights have been bought. When can we expect to see the film?
Fox has the film rights. They’ve attached the directing duo of Chris Lord and Phil Miller. It’s early days, still. I think the next step will be for the directors to pick a screenwriter to make the adaptation. A lot of things have to go just right for a film to be made.
Who would be your ideal cast for Artemis?
I get asked about casting quite a lot and I always have the same answer: I don’t have anyone specific in mind. When I write, my characters are sort of indistinct blobs in my mind – I don’t imagine much of their physical features. Their ethnicity and their gender is about all I have. For instance, when I finished The Martian I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what colour Mark Watney’s hair was.
I have no say in casting for Artemis, of course. But I would like the actress who plays Jazz to be ethnically Arab or at least have the right skin colour to look Arab.
What project(s) are you working on now? And when can we expect a new book?
Right now, I’m working on a work-for-hire screenplay. I can’t talk about that project too much. After I finish that, I’ll roll into my next novel. But I haven’t decided which of several ideas I want to go with. I’m still talking that stuff over with my agent and editor.
We cannot wait to see what Weir will be producing in the near future. It will be a cosmic showdown, that is for sure!
Andy Weir will be speaking via video link at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, March 1-10. Tickets available here.