Interview with Pete Tzinski

Pete Tzinski, an editor at BBT Magazine, has begun a new project – God in the Machine. In order to promote his new online serial, we decided to do an informal interview to give readers more information…

Angela: So what is God in the Machine?

Pete: God in the Machine is a science fiction series. I’d trot out the old “in the tradition of…” line, except that if I tell you what the direct parents are of the series…it’ll give away plot details from later on. It’s the story of a robot named Loeb – and his apparent companion, a bigger robot named Max – who are caught in an electromagnetic storm which, instead of destroying them, brings them “awake.” They suddenly think and, more importantly, they feel. The problem is, to the rest of the galaxy of robots (and there are only robots left), this is nothing but damage to be repaired. To start with, it’s the story of them surviving.

The series is about quite a lot more than that, ultimately, but that’s its humble origin. That’s where we begin.

Angela: How often will episodes be posted?

Pete: I went back and forth on that before the series launched. If we all lived in a perfect world, I’d do one episode every week, regular as clockwork. Unfortunately, I live in the real world which includes things like jobs, family, a newborn son, and so on. So for now, it’s every other Monday. I still wind up thinking that that’s too long between episodes, but it’s what I’ve got.

Angela: How did you decide to do a serial online story?

Pete: That’s a bit complicated. When I first started writing, first started out, it was with serial stories. It’s just how I’m built, I guess. When it came to God in the Machine, I really knew from the start that it had to be a serial. It was just too long, too complex to work in any other forms. I did try, but it was too weird for a novel form. Someone suggested that it be a comic book, but I couldn’t get the tone right there.

It works well as a serial, because I can tell the story at different paces, I have a rhythm that has beginnings and endings with each episode. I can wander off and tell a story about something barely related, if I want. It also means that, as is necessary with a story like this, I can tell the full story.

Angela: Tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in writing.

Pete: Well, I’ve been writing since slightly after I was able to use the bathroom all by myself. My first story was a nine-page Star Trek story, written in pencil on lined paper. I hadn’t discovered paragraphs yet, so it was nine pages of one block of text. Also, it was terrible. I like to think I’ve gotten a little better since then. I’ve been writing professionally for about six years now.

I write a lot of things. Short stories, novels, comic book scripts, radio dramas, articles, columns, some humorous skits as a fund-raiser for a writing web-site. I like writing. It’s what I’m built to do.

Angela: Aside from this, you’re also an editor at BBT Magazine. Is this associated with BBT in some way?

Pete: When I first had the idea for God in the Machine, I was left with this big, gnarled mess of a story that was too big for me to logically sell to anyone. What magazine is going to buy a serial story that’s a hundred episodes long, or more? None that have sober editors.

I therefore got in touch with BBT’s boss-man, Lucien Spelman. I have an advantage there, one because we’re friends, two because he drinks Guinness, three because I work with him on the magazine and I can hold parts of it hostage, har har.

My original idea was a serial chapbook. Every two weeks, subscribers would receive a new small paperback-sized short story in the mail. They would have illustrated covers, pictures throughout…it seemed like a great idea. I’m personally a big fan of the old pulp markets and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and there were always serial stories and chapbooks flying around. I wanted to resurrect that.

Unfortunately, it’s neither easy nor cheap to do something like that, and we ran into all sorts of problems with it. I stopped working on it until a better system presented itself and I wandered off and wrote a novel and a few dozen short stories. My robots would wait for me.

I’ve been wanting to do a web serial for ages now, mostly out of nostalgia. I mentioned it to my wife who, sick of hearing me go on about serials, started talking it through logically. We figured out about fifteen ways to do it, each of them increasingly complex. This way, this web-site method, was the system which sat best with my conscience and was relatively pain-free.

Angela: God in the Machine is also accompanied by wonderful illustrations. How did you find the artist? And will every episode have illustrations?

Pete: Christoffer Saar is the coolest guy. I met him through work on BBT magazine. He illustrated a couple of pieces of mine, not to mention all sorts of other artwork. He has a wonderful eye and a mood to his pieces that I really enjoy. When I describe something to him, he comes back with a picture that was what I intended, if not what I described. We’re on the same wavelength, in terms of tone and style, for the various projects we’ve done.

When we had the original chapbook plan, he was going to provide a cover and three interior illustrations for each issue. Then, that plan fell apart. When I put together the web-site, I quietly e-mailed him to see if he’d be willing to work on it with me again. I was thoroughly nervous, because – to be honest here – the odds of us making any useful money off this are pretty slim. So basically, I’m e-mailing and artist and asking him to work for free.

Thankfully, he dug the story, and we’re good friends. So I suckered him into it.

His robot illustrations look nothing like a lot of his other work. Admittedly, it was a tiny risk in the first place, because he could have wound up producing zombie-looking robots. I followed a hunch that he was as versatile as I thought he was, and I was right.

Every episode will have two or three illustrations, I think. That’s the plan right now. Chris tends to sketch like other people breathe, so he’ll produce one sketch that I asked for, and then four other sketches that look cool, just because he felt like it. So who knows, with how he works, we’ll wind up in comic book form anyway.

Angela: Do you have a marketing plan to attract readers? How can we help spread the word?

Pete: My market plan is as follows: 1) Tell people. 2) Hope they like it.

This is because I have the innate marketing abilities of damp bread. Once we step out of the “writing” area, I get a little hazy. So thus far, my marketing plan mostly consists of occasionally sending out badgering e-mails to blogs such as, to pick a random example,, and see if they’ll talk to and about me. Otherwise, the best plan I have is patience, and consistency. There will be an episode every other week, without fail. Come hell, high water, and nifty video games.

As for spreading the word…yes please. Mostly, what I really want is a recurring audience that comes back every other week and reads the story. If you like it, honestly like it, recommend it to people. Send them the first episode. If you have a blog, I wouldn’t object to every two weeks, a quiet little mention going up, along the lines of “Hey, new episode is out, go check it out!”

Angela: What are your future plans for God in the Machine?

Pete: Well, it’s one story with a beginning, middle, and end. I know what happens between episode one and episode one hundred. I know more or less how it ends. So my future plans are pretty boring, in that I’ll keep writing it and keep posting it.

That said, I’m always spinning new ideas. I was just this day doing dishes, actually, and thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to do a one-off comic issue that runs parallel to Loeb and Max during the first two or three episodes?” and I wound up sketching it out in my head. I also wound up flooding the sink, but never mind.

The series is set up something like a TV show, really. So each “season,” is about twenty-two episodes long. When the season is done, I’m thinking I’ll put the episodes together in book form and offer that.

(And I’m also spinning the idea of offering each episode as a podcast/audiobook.)

Angela: What do you enjoy reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?

Pete: I just enjoy reading. It’s wherever the mood takes me. Neil Gaiman is a favorite. So are Stephen King, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Isaac Asimov and especially J. Michael Straczynski. Did I mention Gene Wolfe and Roger Zelazny? Or Theodore Sturgeon? I could just keep going. I’ll leave this question and go “arg, I forgot to mention Timothy Zahn…!” That said, I roam far and wide. My last three books that I read, for example were a re-read of Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, Eagle in the Snow by Wallace Breem, and Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell.

(see? I left this question behind, and then realized I hadn’t professed love for Joe Hill. Honestly, I may never get out of this question.)

Angela: Thanks for your time! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Pete: All I can think to add are the two petulant notes, 1) Please come read my stories, and I hope you enjoy them and 2) Feel free to click the donation button for a few bucks. That last is a bigger deal than I make of it, because I really hate talking about money, but it’s donations coming in which soothe the professional writer in me, who rails about giving stories away for free. I’m doing this for love, but it has to justify itself somewhere along the line. Which isn’t to say I plan to stop for monetary reasons.

That’s all I’ve got. You read, I’ll write. It’s a good deal, I think.

And thank you!

8 thoughts on “Interview with Pete Tzinski”

  1. This is a great interview!

    OT: Finished ‘Eclipse’ this weekend and got a review up. Have you started ‘New Moon’ yet? I’m dying to talk about it. 🙂

  2. Sounds very interesting. I generally enjoy robot tales. Part of his intial idea reminds me of a young adult story, Orivis, that also has a robot that can feel. Very cool.

  3. That part of the concept isn’t wholly new, certainly not with me. It goes all the way back to early Isaac Asimov stories, and probably earlier than that. (And of course, it’s all Frankenstein, isn’t it?)

    I just hope where I go from there is something like unique. Or at least, entertaining.

    (Pete’s favorite feeling robot story: The movie “The Iron Giant” by Brad Bird)

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