A Signature of Authors

If that isn’t the proper plural for a gathering of authors it should be. I recently met up with some of my fellow Tides of Possibility authors to chat about writing and life. We gathered in the forest of our shared imagination, around the roaring fire of Internet togetherness, each equally grateful that Luther, the four-meter-high combat droid who graces the anthology’s cover, had not been able to join us. With me are Mandy Broughton, Brandon Crilly, Lilia Fabry,, and Erin Kennemer, Kyle Russell, and DL Young,

Stuart: So to start things off, what’s something about you that might surprise your friends?

Mandy: I fence competitively. I’ve won a couple of women’s tournaments down in Galveston. The prize was a real cutlass—the broadsword, not the car.

DL: “The Way We Were” is one of my favorite movies. My advice to other writers of dark, dystopian scifi is, never admit this to anyone.

Stuart (grins): I once played Dracula on stage. Capes are totally cool. I admit this to everyone. Kyle, in addition to your stories, you edited Tides, what got you into the business?

Kyle: I’ve always been into writing. When I was a kid I’d ask permission to get on my parent’s computer and write. I would get assignments in school to write a two-page story, and while other kids were writing stories about talking hamsters or something, I’d turn in a twenty-page story about a lost prince living in obscurity. I think the very first thing I ever wrote was fan-fiction for some video game I’d been playing. This was before video games usually came with plots of their own, so I’d give characters names and try to give a plot to what they were doing.

Stuart (nodding): How ’bout the rest of you?

Lilia: My eerie innate need to write. I’ll confuse the names of real people with the names of my characters if I don’t do it often enough.

Brandon: My love of speculative fiction started with Star Wars. I actually watched Return of the Jedi first, then Empire, and finally A New Hope. From that point I was hooked by Lucas’s universe, and started reading the Expanded Universe – which I still do. Somewhere along the way I started imagining myself in that universe, and then new characters, until eventually I moved on from fan fiction and started coming up with new stuff. To be honest, I really only dabbled with writing until I was accepted into the Creative Writing program at Queen’s University, where I first started working with my mentor, Carolyn Smart. Her influence was my first push into “professional writing.”

Mandy: Nancy Drew’s The Secret of the Old Clock. I read that book to my brother when I was in 4th grade. It was game over. I wanted to be a writer and entertain readers as much as I was entertained by the first real book I thoroughly enjoyed.

Stuart: That’s so sweet! I should probably blame my big sister. We spent our summers recording “radio dramas” on reel-to-reel tape, and I always wrote the scripts. It’s amazing how well you can replicate the sound of charging horses by laying a microphone under the covers and pounding the sheets with your fists. Later my friends and I made stop-animation films and I wrote those too.

Which writers or books have inspired you guys the most?

Lilia: In two words: Atwood, Atlas

Kyle: I read so much when I was a kid. I didn’t have a favorite author until I started reading Terry Brooks in high school, and I liked his descriptions so much that I actually studied how he wrote and tried to emulate it. Later I’d do the same thing with Frank Herbert and Edgar Allen Poe. I was obsessed with Poe’s Conqueror Worm and W.B. Yeats’ The Second Coming for a while. Lately, I’ve been studying H. P. Lovecraft.

Mandy: I LOVE Isaac Asimov. Agatha Christie. Isaac Asimov. Sir Authur Conan Doyle. And did I mention Isaac Asimov? Love Ellis Peters too. Brilliant books.

Stuart: Ha ha. Yeah, Asimov was one of the best, and Heinlein, and H.G. Wells. Then I found Spock Must Die! in a thrift store. James Blish, Joe Haldeman, Diane Carey, they become my idols.

DL: My first scifi addiction was Asimov, then I discovered Bradbury. Later my influences moved more to the literary side: Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Vonnegut, etc. I love it when writers combine scifi concepts with solid literary technique like Paolo Bacigalupi and Ian McDonald.

Stuart: Okay, on the lighter side, Han Solo and Lieutenant Worf get into a fight. Who wins?

Brandon: Han, because he always shoots first. If he misses, Chewie can just rip Worf’s arms off.

Lilia: There’s some statistic that Worf has lost 75% of the fights he’s been in. But my win/loss ratio isn’t much better.

Kyle: Worf would win. Blasters don’t have a stun setting. They just blast and burn, so you’d have to shoot Worf a couple times before he went down. And Worf’s not going to let Han shoot him more than once, no matter how lucky Han is. And if Worf is ready for the fight before it starts? Forget about it.

Mandy: (eyes roll) You remember the episode where Worf was paralyzed? He’d still beat Han Solo, paralyzed and without his bat’leth. No contest. No offense to Han–love him–but we know who the real warrior is.

Stuart: Did anyone else find it odd that Worf carries a bat’leth when he’s wearing a pressure suit?

DL: Star Trek beats Star Wars EVERY TIME IN ALL THINGS!

Stuart: Well if I had to choose, I’d probably agree, but I also loved Star Wars. And Jaws. And 2001–though when I watch it now, all I can think of is “who PAID for all this lunar base hardware?” That raises the question, though: should science fiction inspire scientific progress or is it just entertainment, a vicarious escape. What’s your take?

Lilia: The iPad sure does look like the thing on Star Trek – but cooler.

Kyle: In order to say that science fiction is “just” entertainment, you have to really not be paying attention. Of course it inspires. It’s literature. In a hundred years, when literature professors look back on what our generation wrote about, do you think they’re just going to overlook the fact that we valued super-heroes and technology because it was genre fiction?

Mandy: Escapism. Sci-fi is just plain fun. Although, with next year being 2015, I’m really looking forward to purchasing the hover-conversion for my car, as predicted in Back to the Future.

DL: No-brainer here. Ask anyone who works at NASA if reading science fiction inspired them. 9 out of 10 times the answer is yes.

Stuart: You know, Neil Gaiman said when China finally decided to accept scifi and invited him to their first convention, he asked what had changed. They said they went to all the leading western businesses, Apple, Google, etc., and found that without fail, the innovators driving our economy all grew up on scifi. I think it’s both. We read for an escape and for drama, but the best fiction inspires us to think about the world and how we want it to be–both technically and socially. That’s as true of Anna Karenina and Robinson Crusoe as for Star Trek and Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Which fictional character is most like you?

Lilia: Ramona, in both child and adulthood.

Mandy: Dr. Beverly Crusher

DL: Hard to pick just one. I’m cursed with Hamlet’s indecisiveness at times. But on the positive side, I have Captain Picard’s haircut.

Stuart: Leonard from Big Bang Theory. No, Raj. No, Sheldon. No, Penny. No, WHEATON!!!!

What’s your writer’s cave like?

Mandy: My office is in my utility room. I have photos of my books’ cover art and of characters from my WIP, and lots of sticky notes. I have two beautiful Klingon Birds of Prey matted and framed, and a computer with no backspace key (smiles).

Erin: Have laptop, will travel. I write anywhere I get the chance. It wasn’t like that before I had a child, but I guess necessity forced me to be disciplined in my spare time. If I’m at home, I usually write at the kitchen table because there is less to distract me in there. I’m definitely a fan of coffee shops, as well.

Stuart: Yeah, I love a nice quiet corner in a Starbucks or hotel lobby, but I do most of my writing at my treadmill desk or sitting on the Park & Ride bus.

Brandon: I write out of my office, with my desk facing the wall and my computer blaring classic rock. I try to keep minimal distractions around me. But I’m also a huge proponent of writing wherever and whenever the opportunity arises. So I’ll sometimes write in coffee shops or jot down paragraphs on the bus, or while my students are working on an assignment and they don’t need my support.

Kyle: I like open spaces, big windows, lots of light. The best place to find this is outside of the house. I usually hunker down in the corner of a coffee shop or cafe with a cup of coffee and headphones on.

Stuart: Okay, several mentions of distractions and focus, there. What is, or has been, your greatest challenge as an artist?

Lilia: Believing I’m an artist.

Brandon: For me, it’s nailing down a specific project and rolling with it. Right now, I think I have about a dozen short story ideas brainstormed in my notebooks, plus a trilogy I’m working on, and ideas for three other separate series waiting in the wings. The thing that seems to curtail my progress is wondering which project is most deserving of my attention – and, more importantly, which one will be the most fun to write. I can feel characters yearning to be given life, or whole worlds that I’ve only scratched the surface of in my mind. And so I jump around a bit week-to-week so that I can get a little bit done on every project, until I decide which one I want to focus on.

Mandy: Knowing what criticisms to accept and what criticisms to ignore

Stuart: Okay, here’s a hard one: What distinguishes your work from that of other writers?

DL: My red hot, all-consuming hate of semicolons.

Stuart: (laughing) Smart A…hem.

Mandy: A happy ending. These days, there is a lot of dark fiction out there. I enjoy dark fiction but that’s not how I write. Things happen in my stories but I always aim for the Scooby Doo ending. Stuart:I can see that. I favor hopeful stories in the spirit of the golden age, but hope can lie beyond a lot of pain or behind horrific warnings. I suppose it’s for others to say, but I’ve gotten some nice complements for my choice of detail in world building and for my clean style of prose. The best, though, is when someone contacts me to say my story is still resonating days later. That’s what it’s all about.

What fear, as an artist or a person, have you faced down?

Erin: I think everyone who has ever put themselves out there artistically knows the fear of rejection. I think my specific fear was living up to the expectations of my sci-fi loving family. It would almost be easier if they didn’t “get me.” The problem is, my mom introduced me to Asimov, Clarke and Niven; and my uncle taught me to be discerning. There were expectations, let me tell you. My family definitely shoots straight, God love them. I think one of the biggest battles I had was about telling them I was going to be published, because it meant I also had to hear the feedback, both good and bad. But, in the immortal words of the Dude, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.” In my case, everyone ended up being supportive, but I think the fear is there for all new authors.

Mandy: I have to risk making a fool of myself. I want to be funny but playing it safe doesn’t work. I have to put myself out on the line. The greater the risk, the greater the laugh (Looks at Stuart).

Stuart: Me? Did I mention the cape? I think I’m over making a fool of myself. Almost. I have to say, I was more than a little intimidated to go the LA in April. I had to wear a tux–on stage–in front of a few thousand people–including most of the giants of the genre that I grew up adoring. But it all worked out fine. I think, after that, I can do anything.

So, what’s next, guys?

DL: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.

Kyle: I’m working on the sister-book of Tides, a fantasy anthology, right now. I might be putting another anthology on Kickstarter before the year is out. I have a fantasy novel in the hands of beta readers, and a sci-fi novella I want to publish this year, too. So I guess my plans are really big and kind of everywhere. I’m having a lot of fun with it, though.

Mandy: My specific goal is to release two books a year—one sci-fi/horror/thriller and one mystery (cozy). I have a large backlist. Time is my only limiting factor.

Lilia: I’m currently writing a screenplay (film) about four flawed women – representing a certain virtue they haven’t lived up to – who are trapped in what turns out to be a demented form of rehab.

Brandon: In the short term, I’d like to finish the novel I’m currently working on and find an agent. Then, I’ll move on to finishing the rest of the trilogy. In between, I want to keep publishing short stories and getting my name out there. The most important thing to me is to write as much as I can, whenever I can, and to keep having fun doing it.

Stuart: Ahen. As for me, I was stunned and humbled last year to be selected as a Writers of the Future winner. Humbled because I suddenly had people like Tim Powers, Orson Scott Card and Robert J Sawyer taking me seriously as a writer. That’s a lot to live up to. It’s also a bit of a ticking clock, because now I need to capitalize on it. So that’s what I plan to do. I have four novels, three scifi and one thriller, that I plan to complete in the next couple of years. Meanwhile I’ll continue developing my skills and placing short fiction wherever it will get the most readership. I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m just getting started.

Well thanks guys, any last thoughts?

Kyle: The Tides project was a lot of work, a lot of fun, an a huge step forward for me. I love the finished product and I’m grateful for every excellent story that I was trusted with. The authors continue to be excellent colleagues, and I made a lot of friends along the way. I hope to continue working with everyone.

Stuart: Me too, Kyle, and since you tapped me to help edit the sister tides, I know that one is definitely in the cards!

Mandy: Qapla’!

Learn more about our guests and their work here:

Brandon Crilly – brandoncrilly.wordpress.com and on Twitter @B_Crilly

Lilia Fabry – lfabry.com and on Twitter @lfabry93

Kyle Russell – holeinhell.blogspot.com. Also, check out Kyle’s novella, Absolute Tenacity.

Mandy Broughton – www.MandyBroughton.com and on twitter @MandyBroughton

DL Young – www.dlyoungfiction.com

Erin Kennemer – @emkennemer

Stuart – www.cStuartHardwick.com, cstuarthardwick.wordpress.com, @CstuartHardwick Writers of the Future, v 30