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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

A blog game called The Next Big Thing has been making the irounds. It involves answering questions about your work in progress or new piece that you’d like to become the next big thing, then tagging more writers to propagate the wave.  I rarely write about work in progress, but I got tagged by Ann Leckie, the editor of GigaNotoSaurus, so here we are.  For the next round, I name Laura Mixon, Christine Lucas, Alex Jablokov, Melissa Scott and C. W. Johnson.

The Stone Lyre main cast, clockwise from top left: Nifar of Drige (Veldir); Kevrad tegri Durath (Nireg); Ardenk tegri Durath (Nireg/Behtalka); Ferái Kámi-o (Ténli); Linarme of Drige (Veldir)

1. What is the title of your book?

Except for occasional standalone pieces, my fiction takes place in a large universe that starts in Minoan Crete and goes into the far future when humans inhabit distant earthlike planets (my story Planetfall also takes place in it).  Within this context, I currently have two works in progress.  The first is a novelette, The Stone Lyre, that has a completed sister story, The Wind Harp.  The second is a novel that is the beginning of this universe, titled Shard Songs.

2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a sea with many tributary rivers.  Myths feed into it, and my people’s history; my love of languages and songs; the desire to envision women-equal or women-dominant societies that are not reverse-oppressive; the concepts of genetic engineering that allows non-destructive human adaptation to earth-like extrasolar planets and of stable wormholes that enable fast interstellar via neuronal interaction with the ships.

3. What genre does your book fall under?

It’s a hybrid of epic myth, kinship saga, alternative history and space opera.

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have a very strong sense of my characters: what they look and sound like, what they feel and think beyond just the plot matters at hand.  So I envision not specific actors, but specific age-frozen characters played by actors.  Shard Songs has too many dramatis personae to show because it extends from the deep past to the far future (with jumps – it will be neither a doorstopper nor a first of endless sequels).  The main casts of The Stone Lyre and The Wind Harp are shown above and below.

5. What is a one-sentence synopsis of the book?

The Stone Lyre is a reversed-gender Orpheus story fused with the distortions caused by interstellar colonization.  Shard Songs tells of the decipherment of Linear A (the Minoan script, later used to write Mycaenean Greek), of past and future women rulers and their consorts (polyandry is fairly common), of lost homelands, and of rifts and time loops created by stable wormholes.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Given the content and style of these works, their chances of becoming agented are close to nil.  Editors of semi-pro magazines, themed anthologies and small presses have expressed provisional interest in all three.  If none of these pan out, I may publish the two novelettes as a singlet on my own or bide my time until I have enough linked stories to approach a small press.  The appearance specifics of Shard Songs will depend on several parameters.  One of them is the trajectory of The Other Half of the Sky, the upcoming feminist mythic space opera anthology that I conjured into existence.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I essentially write my fiction like a palimpsest: a continuous single draft with multiple passes.  When I sit down to write a story, I know the beginning and the end and I tend to write that kernel in a single burst.  What is usually hazier is the middle.  I write the scenes that are clear, then let the back of my mind meander and weave.  As soon as another scene becomes clear, I write it down, polishing as I go.  I wrote The Wind Harp in two bursts of about three weeks each.  The same is happening with The Stone Lyre.

8. What other books would you compare this story to in your genre?

That’s a hard question to answer, since they don’t really belong to a specific genre.  Within SF, their closest kin are probably Cherryh’s Union/Alliance cycle and Jablokov’s twinned novels – Carve the Sky and River of Dust.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I have no idea, unless it was my chronic insomnia.  The various segments sprang into my mind almost fully formed as far as the scaffolding went.  I continue to elaborate the plots, characters and cultures, of course – but I have lived in this universe so long that its foundations are lost in the mists of time (*laughs*).

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, nothing like the thing itself.  Here’s a passage from The Wind Harp.  The narrator is Antóa Tásri, a young diplomat on a mission that may save hundreds of lives – and perhaps persuade a very difficult culture into an alliance:

Just then, I heard a low hum behind me.  Through the barrier came the Tel-Kir who had harassed the Sedói.  A whiff of barely suppressed triumph hovered around him.  He went to the dais, touched the edge of Teg-Rav’s over-robe.  A discharge ran through his fingers and the musk in the room got overlaid with the acrid scent of burnt flesh.  When he withdrew his hand, I saw spots of blood glisten on the garment.  The dull throb behind my eyes sharpened to a fiery spike.  I felt such spikes whenever I faced a Tohduat who could not – or would not – control his Talent.

“Please greet our guest,” Teg-Rav told him.  He stood stock-still, looking down at me from his great height.  “Properly this time, Tan-Rys.”  The scent in the room turned slightly bitter and his yellow eyes flickered like brush fires.  He ostentatiously went on one knee, touched my ankle.  Unlike her, he was easy prey, I sensed him think.  We’ll demand his ship’s weight in water.

“Do you wish to best your adversaries?” I challenged him as he snapped upright.

“With your puny help?” he jeered.  I inhaled and spoke as fast as I could, switching to the tonals forbidden to all but the Dor-Nys.

“I brought a drug that can put some of your people into temporary suspended animation.  This will let you repair the reservoir ducts without a Whittling.”  I kept addressing her but pinned my gaze on him.  “Do you want to protect your people as you have vowed to do?  Or do you seriously think that capturing the Melhuat’s low-Talented brother will be your salvation?”

“I should have pulverized you when I had the chance!” he growled.  I dove for the floor.  A needle from his arm darter flew through where I had just stood and buried itself in the wall.

The Wind Harp main cast, clockwise from top left: Antóa Tásri (Ténli); Teg-Rav, Dor-Nys of Kem-Fir tower (Gan-Tem); Tan-Rys (Gan-tem); Ferái Kámi-o (Ténli); Serkadren, Melhuat of Behtalka (Behtalka); Talsekrit (Behtalka)

8 Responses to “Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing”

  1. Christopher Phoenix says:

    Sounds very intriguing, Athena- I’d love to read your work when you publish it! SF really needs new ideas and new stories. I’ve noticed that some SF remains stolidly dug in modern cultural prejudices even while the author invents gizmos by the bucketful. It would be very nice to see some SF that is bold enough to play with cultures altogether unlike our own.

    When you mention “rifts and time loops caused by stable black holes”, you do you mean stable traversable wormholes or actual black holes? The Starflight Handbook mentioned some sort of “black hole subway system”, but the concept was never made entirely clear to me. The idea seemed to be that plotting a precise trajectory toward the black hole could allow you to warp between widely separated points in seconds, hopefully without being stretched apart by tidal forces…

    By the way, I recently finished your book, The Biology of Star Trek. It is more than just a “stealth science book”- your writing is far less bland than any of the other “science of (insert SF series here)” books! Your discussion of the Prime Directive and first contact between alien societies was particularly interesting to me, as were your discussions of the way Star Trek has portrayed various cultures. A lot of SF is about biology and culture, not about how a laser gun works, so The Biology of Star Trek covered some very important ground. The most appealing aspect of your book, however, is that you express your thoughts and opinions about all the subjects you cover, including those that tend to raise hackles. All in all, I found The Biology of Star Trek a very fun and surprisingly useful book!

  2. Athena says:

    Yes, I meant stable wormholes — although both are equally unlikely. I corrected that so there’s no misunderstanding.

    I’m glad you enjoyed The Biology of Star Trek! I did it small-to-large, from molecules to societies. You know me well enough by now to know it would be opinionated — and the opinions would not be standard fodder.

  3. Askiyume says:

    It’s very fun reading these, even in cases, as with your work, where I’ve already had the pleasure of reading (some of) the work being introduced.

    The faces you have for Antóa Tásri and Teg-Rav are very much as I imagined them–so that means your descriptions must have transferred their images well.

  4. Athena says:

    I’m very glad you enjoyed reading this! You saw the beginning of The Stone Lyre, as well — its title was different then.

    These actors/characters I show are not necessarily the only incarnations of my characters, but they happen to fit very well after the fact! The two are Jacqueline Kim (who played Lao Ma in Xena and Demora Sulu in Star Trek VII: Generations) and Rae Dawn Chong (whom I first noticed in Quest for Fire).

  5. intrigued_scribe says:

    I enjoyed reading this, the interview and the work I’ve already had the pleasure of reading alike.

    Indeed, the images of the actors/characters are excellent matches!

  6. Athena says:

    I’m very happy you liked everything, Heather! The Stone Lyre is almost done — I’ll send it to you when it’s finished. It has a downbeat ending, but you and I know more than what is in the story.

  7. Marie says:

    Ir véren Athena,

    I went back to your previous selection of protagonists for The Wind Harp and shed a few tears when I saw their faces again. Have you changed your choice for Serkadren? Everyone else appears to be the same.

    We saw this vision in its infancy and hoped for a full blown epic. Shard Songs has been in my fondest memories for a long time and to see its possible publication is beyond my wildest dreams.

    Bring on The Stone Lyre, it will probably have the usual haunted melody that all of your work contains. You know I am the avid consumer.

    Kudos Erá’dhis

  8. Athena says:

    You forget nothing, Marie! Indeed, I changed my choice of Serkadren. Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks more dangerous in his beauty than my original choice — and he’s also the right age for this part of the narrative.

    I, too, want to finish Shard Songs. Next year, I’ll have more time!