1. What books/authors have influenced you and why? Like many writers, Tolkien had a huge influence on me when I was young. I started with The Hobbit, and I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time when I was around 11, I think. I've read it about a dozen times since then, and each time I find something new to love about the world Tolkien created. When I'm creating a sci-fi world, I start with the lore because of the richness and depth of Middle Earth. George R.R. Martin's world in A Song of Ice and Fire is another great example of the importance of lore and world building. I also read all of Jane Austen's novels when I was in my teens and 20s, and her wit and ability to understand, and satirize, human nature was another important influence. She wrote about female characters in a way that made them seem like regular human beings, which of course we are! I try to do that myself. The book that made me realize that sci-fi was where I wanted to be was Neuromancer by William Gibson. I couldn’t put it down, I had no idea what it was about, and I was hooked! The same can be said for The Golden Oecumene trilogy by John C. Wright. As you can see, I like long, dense books that immerse me in a completely different world…a lot like how I write!
2. How do you develop your plot and characters? The idea for Vagabonder came along during what I would say was the height of zombie fever, around 2010 or so. The thought was, “What if a virus didn’t create mindless, flesh-eating zombies, but instead made people nicer and smarter?” At first the story was meant to be a sort of parody, but as I kept writing it took a more serious turn. Eventually, it became about the implications of how society treats people who are different. Caen was always the main character, but he’s evolved quite a bit as well. He started off being very alien, but as the book developed I saw the need to humanize him to make him more relatable. Ligeia came along very late, and she was probably the hardest character to write. When I’m writing, I find myself focusing first on what happens, and it’s always a variation of “what if X was really Y?” I create who I think will be the protagonist and the antagonist, and other characters appear along the way. Sometimes those other characters actually become my favorites, like Erlang in Vagabonder. I know it’s cliché to say, but I really do just let my characters tell me what they want to do. I put them in a terrible or challenging situation, and tell them, “OK, what’s your move?”
3. Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness? Caen has been with me since I first started writing Vagabonder, back when the book was called “Nice Zombie,” if you can believe that. My favorite trait about him is his humanity, which is weird to say because he’s not human. I think he embodies the traits that we most value in humans: Compassion, rationality, kindness, a capacity to learn and change. He starts off not knowing who or what he is, and he embarks on a journey to find out. A weakness I think he has is that he wants to believe the best of people, sometimes to the point where his mission is almost completely derailed because he gives people too many chances. I value that, however. He’s not cynical the way that I am or that most people are. He’s the type of person I wish I could be.
4. Same with your antagonist. It’s interesting, because although the “bad guy” is clearly Walter Hedges, the actual antagonist is Wedge Erlang. His weakness is his love for his niece, but I think a related weakness is that he believes too readily that the only way to keep her safe is to do Hedges’ bidding. That’s made him cynical and, well, sort of an asshole. I really connected with him as a character because I think that’s a very human experience as well. We’re willing to follow orders blindly because we’ve convinced ourselves that we have to, and that in turn makes us bitter. His strength is that he’s willing to change and to see that there’s a bigger picture, that there are people out there who want to do what’s right for everyone, not just themselves. Erlang ended up being my favorite character, so much so that I’ve thought about doing a spinoff book just about his life before Vagabonder.
5. What are your current/future projects? I have several projects going right now. I have the beginnings of a sci-fi horror story that’s based on the experiences my husband and I had while we were traveling the United States in an RV. I have some ideas for a comedy, in the tradition of Christopher Moore, about magic. I also have some plans for a Vagabonder follow up, set several decades after the events in Vagabonder.
Currently I’m working on a sci-fi tale about a group of space criminals who plan a heist to capture a rogue AI and harvest its data, obviously for nefarious purposes. Unfortunately, everything goes terribly, terribly wrong. Think The Usual Suspects in space and with robots.
6. What has been a fascinating writing research experience for you? Does a memory stick with you? I’ve been researching AI for the new book I mentioned, and it’s amazing how quickly the technology has advanced in just a few years. We are very close to having actual AI, like Skynet stuff from Terminator, but we have no protocols or action plans in place to deal with it. We could benefit a great deal from having AI, but things could also go quite badly for us. It’s all uncertain, and that uncertainty makes excellent fodder for writing. When I was writing Vagabonder, I researched viruses and bioweapons, the human brain, world geography, moon tunnels, plans for moon bases, and space elevators. I’m sure that many people have this problem, but I had to finally stop myself from researching and just write. I remember coming to the realization that I couldn’t become an expert on space elevators, and I didn’t need to be in order to write this book. That was an important milestone in my writing.
7. What does literary success look like to you? At this point, success is getting published. I’ve set many goals along this road. First, it was writing a book. Then, it was writing a book that was readable, then getting someone else to read it and like it, getting an agent, and getting my book in front of publishers. Each point was a success as far as I was concerned. Completing my second book will be another milestone, and then the process begins again. Ultimately, I would like to be a full-time novelist. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do, and although I’m a little late to the party at my age, I think I needed those first four decades of my life to become the type of person who could write Vagabonder. I have many stories in me, and I can’t wait to tell them.