In your story “Nightside on Callisto,” four female soldiers face an unexpected conflict. Why did you choose the Jupiter system to set this particular story in?
The moons of Jupiter were on my mind because I’d just finished reading Piers Anthony’s Bio of a Space Tyrant, Volume 1, Refugee. I knew I wanted to tackle a story that was hard SF, and set off Earth, so why not on one of Jupiter’s moons? I have a bad habit of starting story development with setting instead of plot, and that’s what happened here. So I just kept throwing ideas at the page until I had enough to create a story for my chosen setting.
There’s an interesting focus on the age of Jayne and the other women of her team in the story. How do you think the many years they’d lived (and what they’d seen) contributed to their reactions under pressure?
In this story, the premise is that health care is at the point where most of the debilities of old age, both physical and intellectual, have been greatly reduced. Setting war and accident aside, people can expect to live in fair health, and to participate in and actively contribute to their society—up until the moment some part of their physiology suffers catastrophic breakdown. So once we’ve eliminated the health factors that tend to isolate older people, what we have left are elderly like those in the story: people who have been through a lot, and have had time to reflect on why they’re here and what they want to leave behind. If they were the sort to panic when things went wrong, that would be well known by the time they neared the century mark, and they wouldn’t have been selected for the mission. These are can-do survivors.
Much of your science fiction output touches on nanotechnology. Is that what makes up the pressure suits and air skins sealing in the igloo? Will you tell us a little about your fascination with this kind of tech?
I see the pressure suits and air skins as a kind of biotechnology that adapts and extends the tricks of living organisms. I find nanotechnology fascinating from the bio perspective, in that we—all living things—are built up from tiny components. I was a biology major in college, and took the usual classes covering physiology, cell structure, evolution, ecology, and it was fascinating stuff. Then in my last semester I took a lecture class on biochemistry and that was revelatory, because it pulled together everything that had gone before, providing a mechanism for the macro-scale effects. When nanotechnology became the buzzword, I looked at it mostly as a means toward designed life.
I found it fascinating that the Red posed such a serious threat, although we never see it directly, only its influence, in a less-is-more kind of way. What gave you the idea of an enemy like that? Do you use the Red in any of your other stories or books (or plan to)?
The Red was born in the writing of this story. It’s an “if this goes on” extension of some current trends. As soon as I started conceptualizing it, I began to think that maybe this was the seed for my next hard SF novel, which was an exciting moment. I’ve started a file on the idea, but at this point I’ve got several other projects to finish off before I can think about starting something new. The minimalism was a personal triumph—I’m a novelist after all, and we like to explain stuff—but I thought the suggested background was all I needed to make this story work.
You have a background in web programming. How has that influenced your writing?
I don’t think it has, at least not in any direct way that I’m aware of. But the more time I spent at programming, the more I started to see the parallels with writing novels. Both are intricate creative endeavors where you have to look at causes, consequences, and goals, all the while asking yourself not just “What happens next?” but also, “What can go wrong?” And both are concerned with how efficiently the story/program moves on to the next chapter/step. But in programming, it’s much more likely that you’ll know if and when you’ve got it right, because the program produces a specific, desired result. In novel writing, you might think you’ve got it right, but who really knows? The result is nebulous and entirely dependent on the perspective of the reader.
You’re also an advocate for self-publishing, and your fantasy novel The Dread Hammer, recently released, is published by your own Mythic Island Press LLC. Can you tell us a little bit about the decision to self-publish?
My traditional publishing career was an emotional roller coaster, shooting regularly between triumph and disaster. It encompassed six novels, ten pieces of short fiction, and two awards, but except for some foreign translations, it ended in 2003 with the publication of Memory by Tor Books. I thought this was possibly the best of my books, but it went nowhere, and there was no interest in a sequel. To say I was discouraged is an understatement. At the same time, I was working full time while dealing with teenage children and elderly parents. I did eventually produce a fantasy novel, but this failed to sell. Fast-forward to late 2010 and the ebook revolution. I was in the process of republishing my backlist when it became painfully obvious that I needed to get something new out into the world as quickly as possible—and I was still burned out on the traditional way of doing things. So I wrote a book, intending from the beginning to publish it myself. This was The Dread Hammer (Stories of the Puzzle Lands—Book 1), a short, quirky, darkly humorous fantasy novel entirely unlike anything I’d written before. I started it in late December and published it in late April, 2011—a four month turn-around, which still amazes me. If I’d tried to market it traditionally, it probably still wouldn’t be published. I love self-publishing because of the control it gives me over my work. I own the mistakes, but I’m also in a position to fix them, which is a huge plus. But I haven’t written off traditional publishing either, and if I come up with the right book, I’ll take it to market.
What’s coming up next for you?
Well, just out is the next Puzzle Lands book, Hepen the Watcher. I really like this series, and I hope to start laying out a third book before the year is over. In the meantime, I’ve got three novels in various stages of existence. Hopefully one of those will be done by the time this interview is published. Contemplated projects include more short fiction, the novel dealing with the Red, an occasional flirtation with a fifth Nanotech Succession book, and trying my hand at an entirely new genre. The great advantage of not having a contract is I get to do exactly what I want.
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