Wednesday, October 6, 2021

R.W.W. Greene Interview - Twenty-Five to Life

Photo Content from R.W.W. Greene

R.W.W. Greene is the author of "The Light Years" (2020), "Twenty-Five to Life" (2021), and "Mercury Rising" (2022), all from Angry Robot Books. He's a former journalist and high-school teacher who lives in New Hampshire, USA.


What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
I learned early on the difference between ‘being smart’ and ‘being good at school.’ They needn’t be mutually exclusive, but they can be. As a result, you can get smart kids with bad grades and kids who look really good on paper but don’t have the life, or so-called soft, skills to thrive. It’s no one in particular’s fault. It’s the product of an education system that grew so vast and gnarly that it’s nearly impossible to fix without tearing the whole thing down and starting again.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
Writing-wise, I’m working with Angry Robot on a pulpy, alt-history trilogy. I’ve got the first two books in the drawer and planning to start the third this fall. What happens after that depends on what my agent thinks she can sell. I have several full or partial books in the hopper and a lot of ideas.

Meantime, I’m looking forward to getting back in the classroom in wake of this pandemic. I’m a language-arts adjunct for one of the local universities, and I try to teach a couple of classes each semester.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s a tossup between seeing so many of my former students at the live events for “The Light Years” (my first book with Angry Robot, Feb. 2020) and getting an Instagram DM from a guy who said “The Light Years” helped him get some closure on a long-running conflict with his father. That’s sort of a heady thing for a book about spaceships, I think.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Our brains are incredible mush machines with a need for drama built right in. That’s why we come up with horrible scenarios when a loved one doesn’t respond fast enough to a text or call. We race to ideas like “She’s been hit by a car and is lying dead in the street” or “He’s cheating on me” before we beat them back with more rational scenarios. This Imagination-Drama–Chaos Vortex is running through our heads all the time and consuming story gives us a scaffold we can safely cling to for awhile.

Consuming fiction is important because it keeps us from twisting reality into the scaffold. I have a hunch – based on nothing – that conspiracy theorists don’t read a lot of things that are clearly labeled ‘fiction.’ They take a prompt and race right to the dark stuff, building it into some kind of framework they believe makes sense.

Can you tell us when you started TWENTY-FIVE TO LIFE, how that came about?
Julie was born about eleven years ago when I stole a student’s name and gave it to fictional twelve-year-old I was writing about in a short story called “Leaving Home.” The main character of the story was Hayley O’Brien, a girl whose family was picked for the Hail-Mary colony mission to Proxima Centauri. During the events of the story, she corresponded with Julie, who’d been left behind on Earth along with 99.999 percent of humanity. Julie didn’t make it to the final draft, which was published as “It Pays to Read the Safety Cards” in 2012, but she resurfaced in the book I wrote for my master’s thesis, which featured Julie, her space-bound pal Anjali, and Ben. I shopped that book around a little before rewriting it into “Twenty-Five to Life.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
The future is not ours, but we constantly borrow against it to make our present more comfortable and convenient. There’s a real cost to this, but most of living today won’t be around to pay it.

What part of Julie did you enjoy writing the most?
Julie is a survivor. She escaped from several abandoned drafts of a short story, made it into a novel that I drawered for several years, survived that novel being chopped into thirds and heavily rewritten. She went from age twelve to age twenty-three without losing her core. No matter how I changed the world around her, she insisted on meeting Ranger and hitting the road in search of something real.

If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
The Bible. I think the world would be a much better place if we could go back in time and rewrite that thing.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I think Julie would be a great Doctor Who companion. Ranger could have given Thelma and Louise some better options. Matter of fact, I can imagine Ranger as The Doctor and Julie as The Companion cruising around in their transpatial van -- picking up Thelma, Louise, Jo, Hermione, Buffy, Lauren Olamina, Belle, Anyanwu, and Rin -- and punching the white, male gerontocracy in the dick.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
In second/third grade, I lived at 50 Kinderhook Street in Randolph, Maine. My best friend, Kevin, lived right next door, and my other best friend, Melanie, lived a few houses down. My cousin Joey lived across the street. We had a “band” that consisted of lip-synching to songs that we audio-taped (badly) off episodes of The Monkees that played on TV every day at 4pm. I was Peter Tork. However, when we wanted, we could flip the tape and become KISS, in which case I became Ace Frehley. We used badminton racquets as guitars.

Best date you've ever had?
My best date was actually an interview. Back in my journalism days, I needed a Valentine’s Day story so I contacted the woman who ran a boudoir-photography studio in the town I covered. I came back from the interview giddy and told the first person I talked to that the experience felt like a date.

My spouse, who was the interview subject, tells this story entirely differently.

What was the first job you had?
At 15, I was the ‘part-time ward attendant’ at the Pine Tree Veterinary Hospital, which meant I kept the animals fed, clean, exercised … and ran the crematory in the back where their bodies were dealt with.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
This is another tossup, I think. In 1983, on ABC television, I watched the movie “The Day After,” which was about the aftermath of a fictional nuclear war between NATO and the nations of the Warsaw Pact. Then, in the early Oughts, I went to Niger and was schooled on my inability to speak French by a local guy who had several wives, owned a slave, and measured his wealth in camels. Later, a couple of US Marines drove us – in a brand-new white Suburban – to a modern dance club in Niamey, where we boogied and drank cold beer on the riverside.

What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
I lived through the Seventies once, but I’d like to do it again with more consciousness and more agency. I’m not saying I could have changed history or anything, but I would have taken part.

First heartbreak?
In second-grade, my friend Kevin (you remember Kevin) were ‘dating’ the same girl. Her name was Kathleen. I held hands with a girl named Melissa, and Kathleen broke it off with both of us.

Nope, earlier than that. In 1962, Marcie Blane released a song called “Bobby’s Girl,” and in my early days— in the early/mid Seventies when I was called ‘Robbie’-- it always made me cry because I couldn’t give her what she wanted.

You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers, what would it be?
Be aware of history. As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even the past.”

Where can readers find you?
Twitter is my most social of medias: @rwwgreene. I’m not photogenic/photo-savvy for good Instagram. I also keep a website at Or hit the annual Boskone convention in Boston, Mass.

  • It took me ten years to finish; I had to have gotten something in there right!
  • Nature writer Craig Childs (author of “Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Future of Earth”) told me that, at the time, it was the most realistic portrayal of the results of climate change he’d read.
  • A lot of it came true over the years I was writing it, so I had to think even harder about the future.
  • #VanLife
  • LGBTQA+ friendly
  • Learn how to make soap and an oil-burning lamp
  • Ranger and Julie are good people to have on your side
  • It’s weirdly optimistic, according to a Goodreads reviewer
  • Buggets and Tasty Paste!
  • “Malala the Musical!”
Deleted Scene from TWENTY-FIVE TO LIFE
So, this is how the book opened when I sent an “early” draft to my agent Sara Megibow in, like, April 2018. She advised me to cut it in favor of a scene that came later in the draft. It gave the book a faster, harder opening, which no doubt was a better choice.

“It’s time to get up, Jules!”

The voice invaded Julie’s dreams via the parental-override. She tended to fall asleep while connected to the ‘net, and the override had been her mother’s favorite way of getting her out of bed lately. If she didn’t respond fast enough --

The bed started pitching like a Trumptown in an earthquake.

“I’m awake!” Julie clutched her blankets. “I’m getting up!”

She wasn’t even close to it, and her mother surely knew it, but the shaking stopped. Julie lay there and felt sorry for herself until her subdermals responded to her brain chemistry and squirted a get-happy cocktail through her blood-brain membrane. Bliss. Julie could have ridden the high back into sleep, but the subs weren’t finished. Another squirt of chemicals made her heart pound and bladder ache.

She made it to the bathroom just in time. “I said I was awake!”

Her mother had the bathroom tapped, too, and the temperature-controlled toilet seat was artificially frigid. Julie leaned her head against the wall and waited for her heart rate to return to normal.

“Take a shower,” her mother said via the bathroom entertainment system. “We’re leaving for the party in forty minutes.”

Julie shouted at the ceiling. “You aren’t supposed to touch my medication unless it’s an emergency!”

“Three more years and you’re a free woman.” Mother’s voice sounded both brittle and chipper. Her subdermals had no doubt been at work, too, making her feel better than any sixty-two-year-old had a right to at that hour of the morning. Julie shot a look at the mirror clock. At that hour of the evening. Whatever.

“I’m not going.” Julie flushed the toilet. She couldn’t put it off anymore, and Google only knew what else her mother could do with her override and the bathroom fixtures.

“Wear something pretty.”

“Anji won’t care how I look.”

“It’s a party! How long has it been since you’ve been to a party?”

Ben’s fifteenth birthday. He’d been experimenting with gender that year and insisted on having a quinceanera. Julie had drawn a goatee on her face in solidarity. Anji had worn ... wings, maybe. They’d gotten buzzed off some beer they’d found in the basement cooler, and Anji had stuck her hand up Ben’s skirt. “Not long enough,” Julie said.

“She’s leaving in less than a month,” Mom said. “When’s the last time you saw her in person?”

Two years ago. A “playdate.” The robo dropped them off at the art museum in Boston to see a Toulouse Lautrec exhibit. Back at home they’d logged into Corners and spent the night aping French accents and building a virtual copy of the Moulin Rouge. Then Ben had crashed a spaceship into it.

“I hate seeing people in person,” Julie said.

“You don’t hate it,” her mother said. “You’re just not good at it.” She paused. “Thirty-five minutes.”

Julie fashion choices trended toward comfort, and it was hard to make an outfit out of the slippers and sweats piled in the corners of the room. She slid into a pair of jeans and a black T-shirt, donned the blazer her mother bought her for job interviews, and pulled her hair into a loose ponytail. She scowled at the mirror until her mother knocked at the door.

“Is that the best you have?” Mother said.

Julie redirected her scowl. “You know it is.”

“What about that dress I bought you for prom?”

“That was four years ago.”

“At least put on some makeup. You look like you’ve been living in a cave.”

Julie’s mother was wearing a purple suit and an industrial-strength spray tan.

“You look like you’re expecting to be on camera,” Julie said

“My crew is meeting us there. A human-interest piece. Brave little family. Humanity’s last hope. All that.” The jewel on one of her rings flashed. “The cab’s here.”

The front door locked behind them as the house went on guard. The robo opened like a clamshell in the driveway outside.

“We could have walked,” Julie said.

“I have plenty of points,” her mother said. “Besides, the mask messes up my makeup.”

The robo pulled out of the driveway, drove about a hundred meters and turned right. Three-hundred meters and two more turns later, it opened up at their destination. After they stepped out, it sped off into the night.

“When’s it coming back?” Julie said.

“When you call it. I’ll ride back to the station with the crew for the eleven o’clock.”

Julie counted her mother’s heel clicks as they walked up the paved path to the front door. Thirteen. She kept her hands in her jacket pockets when her mother stabbed one well-manicured finger at the doorbell.

Anji’s mom answered. “Carson!” She smiled. “Julie! I’m so glad you could make it!”

Carson, Julie’s mom, took both of the other woman’s hands and squeezed them. “It’s been too long.” She leaned to kiss Anji’s mother on the cheek. “We wouldn’t have missed it. I have a crew coming by in a few minutes to grab some video. Is that okay?”

“Of course! Will we make it on the eleven?”

Carson nodded. “We should. I’ll have to leave early, but Julie can hold down the fort.”

“Hello, Mrs. O’Brien,” Julie said.

“Look at you! Only three years to your majority. Are you excited?”

Julie grunted. What waited on the other side of those three years was unlikely to be more interesting than her life to date. “I like your hair,” she said.

Anji’s mom put her hand to the side of her new, much shorter haircut. It framed her red-brown face in a tidy bob. “It will be easier to take care of up there. Less to worry about. A new start.”

Julie nodded.

“Anjali is in the family room with some of her other friends. Go on through.”

The hallway beyond brought on a blip of nostalgia. Julie had been a frequent visitor to the O’Brien household once. She and Anji used to play together after school most days. Julie paused before passing through the door and ran her thumb along the door frame. For years, Anji’s dad had kept track of their heights there, carving marks and labels into the wood with his pockettool. Julie’s marks were more than a foot out of date.

Anji was in the big room alone. She waved.

“Where is everyone?” Julie said.

Anji pointed at one of the drones circling the room. “That’s Ben.”

“Who are the other ones?”

A black-and-gold drone buzzed by Julie’s head. “I’m Jen,” it announced. Jen’s face--or favorite avatar, it was hard to tell--grinned out of the drone’s small screen.

Anji pointed at a battered red-and-white drone near the ceiling. “That’s Brian. He keeps dive-bombing Ben.”

“Am I the only one here in person?”

Anji gestured toward the table full of snacks. “More for us to eat.”

“Oh, no you don’t!” Brian’s drone said. It dropped toward the table and started scooping up pastries in its tiny claws.

“Good luck flying home with all that,” Ben’s drone said. Brian abandoned the snacks and sent his drone after Ben’s, chasing it around the room.

Julie sat on the couch next to Anji. “How are you?”

“About the same as I was last night when you asked me.”

“Nice party.”

“Is it?”

Brian’s drone glanced off a wall and crashed to the floor. “Shit!” it said. “I need to reboot. Be right back.”

“Best party I’ve been to since the last one,” Julie said.

Anji laughed. She had a pimple on her forehead, and her breath smelled like cardamom. In Corners, her avatar had a perfect complexion and the only odors were pre-programmed. Julie usually turned the smell feature off because everything it generated had a chemical tang. “It’s hard to believe you’re really going,” Julie said.

“I didn’t think it would ever really happen.”

Ben’s drone dropped in front of them, the breeze from its rotors cooling their faces. “Another three years and you wouldn’t have to go. It’s not fair.” The screen of Ben’s drone showed a static picture of his idol, a 20th-century writer named Kurt Vonnegut.

“What’s fair about any of it?” Julie said. “It’s the end of the world.”

Life goes on for the billions left behind after the humanity-saving colony mission to Proxima Centauri leaves Earth orbit ... but what's the point?

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother's thumb, and what does it matter? She's over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she's mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there's that.

When Julie's mother decides it's time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.
You can purchase Twenty-Five to Life at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you R.W.W. GREENE for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Twenty-Five to Life by R.W.W. Greene.


  1. I have not been very far...half way across the United States is the farthest I have been

  2. I grew up traveling on the road as a baby until I was getting ready to start high school. So for me, not having an official hometown 'home', the farthest I have traveled away (for me - from what?) is infinite. Look forward to expanding on that answer by traveling more.

  3. "What's the farthest-away place you've been?" England.