Joe Haldeman speaks on science fiction

By William Perkins

Jake Hachey/Collegian

Science fiction author Joe Haldeman follows a routine when he’s about to write.

He gets up early, checks his email and completes other preparations for the day – all before the sun rises. Then he heads out to a coffee shop – one of nine he frequents regularly – and writes.

“People don’t know [I’m] writing,” Haldeman told a group at the University of Massachusetts on Friday afternoon about his decision to not become a regular at just one coffee shop during a lecture titled “Method and Madness,” which featured insights into his life and style, and a slew of anecdotes and reflections on the nearly four decades he’s spent in the business.

Haldeman, a Vietnam War veteran and an adjunct professor of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, shared a variety of vignettes on his experiences during the appearance, which was sponsored by the UMass Department of English and the Department of Language, Literature and Cultures. The author of several poems and works of science fiction, most notably the award-winning 1974 novel “The Forever War,” which depicts a war between humans and an alien race, also reflected upon the experiences of some other writers and offered bits of advice to those aspiring to be published.

Haldeman commenced the lecture by reciting two quotes attributed to well-known writers Ray Bradbury and Ernest Hemingway which both expressed incredulity towards being able to learn to write in college.

“There have been plenty of great writers who never went to college,” Haldeman conceded to the audience, which consisted of many students enrolled in an introduction to science fiction course. He also noted that many writers who did go to college never took a creative writing course.

Haldeman, a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, further underscored that point later on in the talk during a question-and-answer session, saying that “the short stories of Ernest Hemingway taught me more about writing than two years at Iowa.”

He also gave audience members a glimpse into his daily routine, noting that if he gets charged up, he can write a whole day’s work in two or three hours.

“I write really slowly,” Haldeman added at one point during the speech, noting that he only fills up a few notebook pages of writing each day.

Haldeman also commented on the number of writers who abused alcohol when he first got into the business 40 years ago.

“Most writers were very heavy drinkers,” Haldeman said, adding that he had his fair share of drinks back in the day. However, he noted that there aren’t too many writers who still drink to such excess.

“They must have all died off,” he joked.

“You have to suffer for your art,” Haldeman said, “and if you can’t get a war or a divorce, you can always get a hangover.”

Additionally, Haldeman recounted his one-time experience of writing under the influence of marijuana.

He said that while typing away on his typewriter when stoned, he felt as if he had never written as well and freely before. After spending quite some time chomping away at a story, he fell he asleep for about 10 hours. When he awoke, he ran to his typewriter to review what he had written “and there were about six pages, single-spaced, about a guy who was a garbage truck,” he quipped.

Haldeman also offered advice to aspiring writers. He said ambitious authors should try to set aside a regular time to write, and should also read the Paris Review, a noted literary magazine famed for its interviews with authors.

He shared a piece of a Paris Review interview with writer James Jones, whom Haldeman said was the only author to be interviewed by the publication twice. In the first interview, when asked why he would write, Jones gave a long-winded answer. In his second interview, 25 years later, Haldeman said he gave a much simpler answer.

“He said ‘You know, I guess I always wanted to be admired’,” Haldeman said of the interview. “And I think that’s what I would say after these 40 years.”

William Perkins can be reached at [email protected]