Interview: Elizabeth Bonesteel

Elizabeth Bonesteel is the author of Breach of Containment, just out from HarperCollins. Breach of Containment is the third book in her Central Corps SF trilogy (The Cold Between, Remnants of Trust, and Breach of Containment).

Did you have a playlist for Breach of Containment? (I usually ask writers this question, but you are the first to have already answered the question. I notice that you have playlists for The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust, as well as a theme song for The Cold Between on your Website.

I’ll confess I tend to use publication dates as an excuse to throw playlists together, just because it’s fun to do. I don’t usually listen to music while I’m writing, but on the occasions I do, I go for instrumental stuff, usually trance or deep house. I listened to Nick Warren’s Renaissance Part 4 a lot while writing Breach; it’s got a nice mix of melodic stuff and general weirdness. Weird trance stuff is great for the imagination!

There are two more conventional songs that come to mind that fit thematically with Breach, and they’ll both be on the playlist: Snow Patrol’s “This Isn’t Everything You Are” (yes, I am shamelessly sentimental), and KT Tunstall’s “Uummannaq Song.”

The theme song for The Cold Between was written by Richard Tunley, who’s been my writing buddy for years, and is a phenomenal musician on top of everything else. All of his work is astonishing, and when he put that together for me I was absolutely floored. It’s a beautiful piece, and it captures an aspect of that book just perfectly.

Breach of Containment is the third book in a trilogy that you began with The Cold Between, followed by Remnants of Trust. When you first submitted The Cold Between, how much of the succeeding books did you have plotted?

When the book went on sub with publishers, it was pitched as having “series potential” — I’d started Remnants, but only just, because I was wary of getting into a sequel for a book I might not be able to sell. When we started getting responses, editors started asking about my plans for what happened next, so I had to give them what were essentially my high-level notes for the longer story arc. Which worried me a little! I can look at The Cold Between and see the seeds of all of it, but at the time there was a lot I didn’t yet have set in stone. In retrospect, I suspect what was most important to them was that I had more ideas than what was in the one finished book.

Were there any surprises for you as you wrote Breach of Containment? Character developments or plot twists that you didn’t expect?

One of my characters — Dallas, who we meet in the prologue — ends up with a much bigger role in the story than I’d intended. After a couple of drafts, it became clear to me I needed another POV character, and because Dallas was already alive in my head, they were the obvious choice. In retrospect I wish I’d have thought of the idea earlier; I grew quite fond of Dallas, and I would have liked to spend more time with them than I was able to in the end.

As to the plot — more than once I’ve had a small plot point grow and wind itself inextricably into the rest of the story, and that’s what happened here. And I can’t tell you what that plot point is! (I’m not trying to be coy — Breach is a tough book to talk about without spoilers.) But it’s a wonderful experience for me as a writer when that happens. Generally it means the book has taken on a life of its own, and it gets much easier to write after that.

What’s your writing process like?

When I first come up with a story, the characters and the universe grow together. I start with one scene, and I think about how my characters get to this point, and where they’ll go afterward. At some point a beginning and an ending emerge. From that a few interim milestones evolve naturally, and somewhere in all of that mess I start writing it down.

I usually use the NaNoWriMo-sanctioned “start at the beginning and write to the end without stopping” method, with one difference: I always write the end, or a scene near the end. The ending of Remnants was written almost immediately after the prologue; that particular scene was always very clear in my head. With Breach, it wasn’t the ending, but a scene close to the end. Having a fixed destination makes it much easier for me to stay on track.

Occasionally I’ll do a little outlining, but never more than two or three chapters ahead. When I revise, I’ll outline the current draft so I can see repetition and continuity errors. But I can’t outline the whole thing ahead of time — too many details change while I’m composing.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?

I write on my MacBook using Scrivener, although when I need to loosen up a little I’ll work in Pages (weirdly, it feels like less pressure). I use Word when I have to exchange files with someone; it’s an industry standard, and they’ve made some real improvements lately, but I’m never all that comfortable in it.

Usually I write in my living room, late morning into early afternoon. I’ll occasionally decamp to Barnes and Noble, especially if I need focus and am feeling like being at home is a distraction. (Also, there is espresso there.)

I loved reading your memories of seeing Star Wars in a theater as a kid. Do you plan to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi in a theater?

Ooo, that’s a hard question. I’m deeply skeptical of Star Wars movies these days, for no other reason than I’m still cranky about I–III and some of those “revisions” Lucas did to the original three films. I thought The Force Awakens was uneven, and I’m unconvinced that The Last Jedi is going to use the parts I liked rather than the parts I didn’t. On the other hand, I loved Rogue One, despite all of the coincidences and serendipitous single points of failure, and I love the idea of Old and Cynical Luke.

So yeah, probably. I may complain afterward, but they’ll suck that $15 out of me. And I’ll never stop loving the franchise.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

I’d say there are two that stuck out for me last year: one was Emmi Intarata’s The Weaver, which felt very Earthsea without actually ripping off Earthsea. It’s quiet and beautiful and moody, and one of the few books I can imagine reading over and over. It’s a really satisfying read.

The other was John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which of course is an older book, but I hadn’t sat down to read it until this year. Everyone always talks about how funny it is, and how vivid the worldbuilding, and both of those things are true. But when I finally opened it up, I was in tears by the third page. It’s a deeply sentimental story, and that comes through even with all the humor. I’m also fascinated by the structure of it — the first 2/3 of the book is essentially exposition, but it’s so good and so entertaining that you don’t even notice. It’s an example of doing everything you’re not supposed to do in a narrative and ending up with an amazing result.

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?

I used to collect books on writing. The last one I remember reading was Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I remember a section that pointed out reading books about writing was not actually writing, and I suppose I took that to heart! I do think it’s important, though, to be reminded that writing is a craft, a skill that you can hone and improve, whether you’ve been writing for decades or are just taking your first crack at it. I’ve got Stephen King’s On Writing on my TBR pile, so I may start collecting again.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

There was a wee bit of controversy around The Cold Between (the first book). In a few corners of the Internet (and one prominent blog), it somehow got tagged as a romance novel, and as a result there was some backlash since the story doesn’t resolve in a romance-genre-appropriate fashion. But nobody ever contacted me to discuss the issue. So I guess the question I’d like to answer is:

“What’s the deal with that romantic subplot, Liz?”

In my life, I’ve been in love with multiple people, but I only married one of them (the right one, of course). I wanted this book to include an important, healthy, loving relationship that was not destined to last forever, because relationships like that exist and are important to many people’s lives. And yes, that’s a spoiler, but I’m still surprised that readers can get through Chapter 3 and believe that these two people will somehow wind up together. To me the endgame of that aspect of the story is never a mystery.

None of this is particularly controversial, of course. Strong romantic subplots in SFF are legion. Had the book not been mis-genred here and there, I doubt anyone would have remarked on it at all. It does please me that Trey is a character people connect with; I have great affection for him myself. I left him in the right place at the end of that book. I know what he’s been up to since, and if it ever makes sense, I’ll write about him again.

What’s your favorite charity?

I’d probably say the SPLC or the ACLU, because unless people can be heard, it’s impossible to make changes in the world.

Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and various cats. Elizabeth Bonesteel has a Website, and a blog. You can also find Elizabeth Bonesteel on Facebook and Twitter.  

FOGcon!

Guest Post by Lynn Alden Kendall

Writing speculative fiction—fantasy, alternate history, and science fiction—entails imagining a world as well as a story. Perhaps that’s why SF/F writers and readers attend conventions like FOGcon: to immerse themselves in the world of speculative fiction.

FOGcon is a book-oriented SF/F convention held every March at the Walnut Creek Marriott near San Francisco. Organized and run by writers and fans of SF/F, FOGcon is an intimate, not-for-profit event that offers members a weekend of readings, panel discussions, writers’ workshops, and opportunities to mingle. Each year we choose a different theme and invite guests whose writing exemplifies the best work on that topic.

This year’s convention runs from March 8 – 10, and the theme is Law, Order, and Crime. The Honored Guests are Terry Bisson, Susan R. Matthews, and the late Anthony Boucher. (That’s right; in addition to honoring living writers, we always have an Honored Ghost.) The con is always held the weekend of the second Sunday in March—time-change weekend.

FOGcon, now in its third year, has already earned a reputation as a fascinating event where creative people gather. Last year, acclaimed author Nalo Hopkinson led a workshop where people uncovered their cultural secrets by playing games. We have hosted writing exercises with an instructor, meetups for people of color and for people on social media, and an annual participatory group world-building exercise. There is also a dealers’ room where you can buy books, jewelry, art prints—even get a massage.

The San Francisco Bay Area has been a mecca for writers since the days of Mark Twain, and FOGcon draws on the rich local culture of SF/F writers. As a community-led, book-focused convention, FOGcon resembles a salon where you can meet and mingle with other writers at every level of achievement from beginner to Nebula winner. You can discuss craft with professionals and learn from fans what works for them and what doesn’t. If you’re a new writer, FOGcon is an ideal place for your first dip into the speculative fiction pool.

Come to FOGcon if you want to:

  • Spend a weekend with knowledgeable readers and award-winning SF/F writers, engaging in passionate conversation about the books and ideas you love.
  • Take part in lively, informative panel discussions on the topics that interest you most, from fresh ideas about future societies to practical advice on the craft of writing and editing.
  • Stretch your authorial muscles by participating in world-building exercises and a 75-minute writing workout.
  • Learn from experts about copyright issues, effective ways to plan your writing, how to build suspense, and creating sympathetic protagonists on the wrong side of the law.
  • Listen to readings of new work by top writers in the field.

And those are just the official events—FOGcon offers plenty of informal fun as well, from spontaneous discussions (and plenty of free food) in the hospitality suite to karaoke, a game room, and meetups for people with special interests. Membership costs are less than a hundred dollars for the weekend, very low compared to commercial conventions. Moreover, our hotel offers free parking, a swimming pool, a good restaurant, a newly upgraded fitness center, and a free shuttle to downtown Walnut Creek, all for a superb convention rate.

Walnut Creek, east of San Francisco, is a charming small city distinguished by its superb restaurants (from cafes to sushi to four-star dining), excellent shopping, and a convenient location. If you’re interested in exploring wild California, Mount Diablo is just a few minutes away by car. A convenient commuter train just 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel can take you into San Francisco, one of the world’s most beautiful cities and an international center for food, arts, and culture.

Getting to the con is easy. You can drive to Walnut Creek—the hotel offers free parking—or fly into SFO or Oakland and take the BART train to Walnut Creek. (Yes, the hotel has a free shuttle from the Walnut Creek BART station.) Fly in on Thursday night and be part of the fun from the beginning.

Lynn Alden Kendall
http://www.lynnkendall.com

The greatest thing in the world is the Alphabet
as all knowledge is contained therein
except the wisdom of putting it together
from an old German bookplate

Tor Books Internship

Internships are a standard part of how people learn the publishing business. When you work at a major publisher, you’re gaining experience, insight, and making contacts that can eventually serve you for your entire career as a writer, editor, or even as an agent.

If you’re interested in working in publishing, and you’re in the NYC area or willing to relocate, Tor/Forge is currently seeking two editorial interns:

Tor Books is seeking two editorial interns for the spring 2010 semester. The interns in this position will gain insight into the process of publishing a book at every stage, from acquisition and contracts through production and, finally, the finished product. They will learn about acquisitions, editorial review, scheduling, rights and territories, catalogue, and sales. There will also be opportunities to read and evaluate unsolicited manuscripts. While this is an editorial internship, the position will involve interaction with other departments including Production, Marketing, Ad Promo, and Publicity. Our interns have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of genre fiction, including science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, mystery, and romance.

This has been a friendly-neighborhood boost-the-signal announcement.

Interview with William Shunn Part Two

Interview by Amy Brozio-Andrews

William Shunn’s novella Inclination appears on the just-announced 2006 Preliminary Nebula Award Ballot. William Shunn is a Nebula Award-nominated science fiction writer (cite>Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites)and stage/film reviewer. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Science Fiction Age, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Weekly, among others. Listen to Shunncast, his biweekly podcast at via iTunes. William Shunn has a Website.

Don’t miss Part One of Absolute Write’s Interview with William Shunn.

Is attendance at events like the World Fantasy Convention part of growing as a writer and expanding your network?

Oh sure. I go to maybe two or three, sometimes four, conventions a year and they’re just invaluable for meeting other writers and editors. I don’t even necessarily get as much out of attending panels and so forth than I do just hanging out and meeting all the people I can. I’m sort of introverted by nature, so I drag my wife along to these things and she makes sure that we always have something to do and someone to do it with.

Do you think it’s getting to the point where writers need to have a core competency in terms of technology and reaching out to their audiences?

I [don’t] think that it’s vital. It may be, in the future, ten, twenty years it’ll be more important even, but I think someone who is not necessarily good at computers, Web design, and what-have-you might waste an awful lot of time trying to get a Website going and learning all the ins and outs of that.

I do think it’s a good idea to use the web as a resource for learning more about the craft . . . different sorts of bulletin boards and newsgroups and so forth, but, I think you can get too caught up in the self-promotion and not focus enough on the writing.

I know in the early days of the Web, that happened to me and I spent way way too much time on my Website. Now . . . I post on my blog . . . during odd moments of free time at work.  My podcast takes more time, but again, with a podcast, it’s helpful if you’ve got a bit of a reputation already and have something to build on. I don’t know that it’s going to help everybody right out of the box.

Do you think that readers of science fiction might be more willing to interact with authors through technology than other readers in general?

It has always seemed that way to me, yes. There are certainly exceptions, but it seems like science fiction fans and science fiction writers are among the early adopters of new technology.

I was interacting with science fiction writers online as far back as 1991 or 1992 back when it was just usenet and GEnie and Compuserve . . . and there was a really thriving community of science fiction writers on GEnie. There must have been at least one or two hundred folks I would see on the newsgroups thirteen or fifteen years ago. And it really does seem like they keep doing that; they’re the first ones doing podcasts. There are a lot of science fiction podcasts now and yeah, I think there’s a fascination with gadgets and with new technology that sort of goes hand in hand with being in that genre. I don’t think everyone else is that far behind, though.

The readers, and the writers, they’re interested in cool futuristic stuff and as it comes along, they want to grab a hold of it.

Science fiction and fantasy are so often lumped together, yet there are many readers and writers speak vehemently about the differences between them. Do you think the two of them really do have a genuinely close relationship?

The two genres are definitely very closely related, so closely related that a lot of authors write both. I can think of very few examples of science fiction writers who’ve never written a fantasy story or novel or vice versa. Myself, I’ve published maybe in equal measure science fiction and fantasy. Most people tend to fall more toward one end of the spectrum or the other but I think that the close relationship there is that these are the two really imaginative genres and there are a lot of storytelling elements that they have in common. And then, within that, a lot of people prefer one over the other, or prefer science over what they see as the softness of fantasy or people who can’t stand thinking about technology or science and things like that . . . you get closer in and it’ll break down more and there will be among readers people who will be really very adamant about the differences between the two . . .

I do prefer science fiction more in a lot of instances than I do fantasy but some of my favorite novels are fantasy novels. Tim Powers is one of my favorite writers and books like Last Call will always be on my top ten favorite novels list but I read more science fiction and lately I write more science fiction. They’re very closely related and you can’t talk about one without the other in most cases.

Do you have any thoughts on the future of science fiction that you’d like to share with other writers? Advice? Observations?

Once challenge that science fiction writers continually face is the increasing rate of technological change in the world. It’s like, you write a story and then if it’s near future or even not-so-near future, sometimes it turns out that just a few years later, there’s some kind of scientific development that makes your story look really old fashioned really fast. A challenge for science fiction writers has always been to try to stay ahead of the curve and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world of science. But I really don’t think that that’s going to make science fiction obsolete at any point. I think that no matter how much that’s technologically exciting that’s going on the world, there’s always new things that we can imagine and new stories we can write about it. The technological change brings up ethical dilemmas and so forth and that’s the sort of thing that makes interesting science fiction. That’s the reason a lot of people read it, is for a sense of wonder that they get about the future, for a look at some of the dilemmas that changing technology present to us as humans. As long as we’re accelerating technologically, we’re going to keep thinking about what is it that comes next and how are we going to face that and how are we going to respond to it.

Amy Brozio-Andrews is a freelance writer and book reviewer. Visit her Website at http://www.amyba.com.

Interview with Bill Shunn

Interview by Amy Brozio-Andrews

Bill Shunn is a Nebula Award-nominated science fiction writer and stage/film reviewer. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Realms of Fantasy, Science Fiction Age, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Science Fiction Weekly, among others. 

Listen to Shunncast, his biweekly podcast at at iTunes. Visit Shunn.net for more.

You’ve got an active career aside from your writing. Do you have a hard time balancing working full time with writing?

Yes, working full time gets in the way sometimes, definitely. The way I try to arrange my schedule is that I get up at five in the morning and do an hour of writing before I go to work, although depending on what’s going on at work, that doesn’t always happen.

And it’s pretty easy sometimes to let the writing slide, so it’s a real feat of discipline. I have a hard time writing after the work day. I need to do it before I’ve really exhausted my brain at the office. I just can’t do it after work. I like to give my best to my writing.

What’s the appeal of writing short stories? Do you know when you’re sitting down to start a new piece if it will be a short story or a novella?

I definitely know when I’m writing a short story or a novel, and it’s planned out that way. I’ve written a couple of novels and I’m actually still working on publishing those, and a book-length memoir also. I find it easier to focus for the duration of a short story. In a lot of ways, I just like short fiction better as a form, maybe because I haven’t mastered the novel form yet, but I think I enjoy reading the form more than I enjoy novels. I appreciate more the compactness that goes into a work of short fiction and the way that it’s so contained, every word has to contribute to the overall effect. I find myself a little bit more at sea when working on a novel. Not that I don’t want to write a lot more novels . . .

Do you usually write with a particular market in mind or do you write a short story first and then research a possible market for it? Or both?

I do both, but for the most part, when I’m writing a short story I don’t have a market for it in mind. There have been the odd cases where I’ve been asked to contribute a short story to a particular anthology and then I’m writing to a theme, but for the most part, I just write the story and hope that I can find an appropriate market for it. And it seems to work a lot of the time.

Do you find that you have to do a lot of revisions that way? Like if you write the story and then find a market and then have to go back and make a short story longer or shorter?

I don’t usually find that I have to do a lot of revisions to fit a particular market. I do end up doing several revisions on every piece of work but usually by the time I’m sending something out I [will have done] four or five drafts of the story

And then, the editor will very often ask for some changes, but those are usually minor. For instance, with my recent novella Inclination, I had been working on that story—and working on other things also—for three years, from the first draft through the draft I finally thought was good enough to start submitting. And then I sent it to Asimov’s and it was accepted right off the bat and Sheila Williams asked me to make maybe three very minor changes, and that was that.

And I was very comfortable with that story when I sent it out, I had a very good feeling that it had finally achieved what— well, maybe not what I’d had in mind when I first started it, but certainly by the time I was done, I had written the best story I knew how to do at that point.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Sometimes it just comes from what’s going on around me but more and more I find myself taking the inspiration for my stories from my religious upbringing and all the thoughts and new opinions I have about it, that I’m still developing. It seems like in a lot of cases I’m exploring what it means to have had the Mormon upbringing and background that I did, and I’m doing that in my fiction, whether it’s explicitly or just exploring some of the themes that that’s brought up.

With Inclination, the thing that inspired me from my own childhood was this idea that children in a repressive society don’t necessarily know that it’s okay to have other opinions or that other people can be right. And so there’s this idea of informed consent for the philosophies that you’’re brought up with . . . that story came directly out of me looking back on my upbringing now, and that happens a lot lately.

One of your novelettes, Dance of the Yellow-Breasted Luddites was a Nebula Award nominee. How did you feel when you got the news?

It’s indescribable. I was just ecstatic. It was the greatest thing that had happened to me in the field since the time I sold my first short story. It was just an indescribably exciting idea . . . it’s a cliché, but it’s an honor just to be nominated. The idea of winning paled beside the idea of even being nominated in the first place. I was in such good company, I felt just very honored and excited to be part of all that.

Did you feel like you’d finally “arrived”?

In a way I did, in a way, but I’d also been around enough in the science fiction field to know that getting nominated for an award doesn’t necessarily suddenly catapult your career into the stratosphere. So I felt like finally I was starting to get some recognition and people were starting to know who I was and that was a really nice feeling but I didn’t really feel like I necessarily “arrived.” I hope I never do feel like that because I think that—maybe for me anyway—when I start feeling like that’s the case, maybe that’s the time I will stop growing and I just want to keep improving and keep honing my craft.

Watch for part two of Absolute Write’s interview with Bill Shunn in January!

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