Confessions of an Eccentric Bookaholic
What first inspired you to write or who inspired you?
EDWARD RUBIN: I was talking to a colleague at Vanderbilt Law School who is one of the leading legal experts in the U.S. about climate change and its potential consequences. Frustrated by the failure of Congress, and the American public, to listen to experts and take the issue seriously, he suddenly exclaimed: “I wonder if a work of fiction would be more convincing than academic articles of the sort I’m writing.” That evening, when I was working at my computer, I remembered what he said and started sketching out the situation for a novel about climate change. I worked on it off and on for a few days, not knowing whether I would continue, and then, all of a sudden, the situation and the characters came to life for me. The rest of it just flowed.
At what age did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I thought about it when I was in high school, tried writing one novel, then decided that I’d be better off going to law school.
Do you take notes when reading or watching a movie?
Never; it would ruin the experience. I take notes when reading academic books for my legal and political science scholarship.
Has writing always been a passion for you or did you discover it years later?
I think I discovered it in high school. Whether it’s fiction or scholarly writing, I find it to be the most challenging and rewarding thing in my life. No matter what you’re writing, you start off with a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. You, and only you, decide what goes onto it. You can express ideas, offer insights, or create an entire world -- it up to you and depends only on your imagination and control of language.
What is your career?
I’m a professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University. I write mainly about modern government, but also about the historical development of government and our concepts of government. My most recent book is Soul, Self, and Society: The New Morality and the Modern State (Oxford University Press, 2015). It argues that a new morality is emerging, one that is different, but no less demanding, than the previous morality, and I link this change to our changing ideas about government. I show how this connection between morality and government has existed throughout Western history, beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire in the Fifth Century A.D. My other books are about American federalism, the prison reform process, and the concepts that we use to describe modern regulatory government.
Can you name three writing tips to pass on to aspiring authors?
First, write about something that you care about. Second, read as much as you can in the area that you’re working in. Third, keep asking yourself whether what you’ve written is the best that you can do.
Do you let unimportant things get in the way of your writing?
It is a constant struggle to avoid this. At any given moment, there are dozens of things that seem more pressing than sitting at your computer and jousting with your own thoughts. I try to remember that, in the long run, nothing matters more.
What hours do you write best?
When it is dark and quiet -- 10 P.M. to 3 A.M.
How often do you write?
Nearly every day -- and I’m unhappy when I miss one, unless I’m traveling and seeing new things.
Are you an avid reader?
More than avid, I think. I never sit down to a meal by myself without something to read, for example. In the car, I listen to books on tape.
What are you reading now?
I’m reading Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky. It’s slower than the other book by him I’ve read, A Fire Upon the Deep, but it’s also a Hugo Award winner, so I’ll finish it. I’m also reading two books for a scholarly article I’m writing about climate change denial: Noami Klein, This Changes Everything and Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.
What are you currently working on?
I’m writing another science fiction novel. The main character is a man who runs a French restaurant in a human settlement on a distant planet, and whose sister happens to have become the dictator of a newer settlement on a neighboring planet. The action also centers on people’s response to an environmental disaster, although in this case it’s something other than global warming. For my day job, I’m writing a book about the theory of democracy and a treatise on administrative law for Oxford University Press.