1. What inspired you to write science fiction and the Human of Utah series specifically?
My major inspiration growing up was Bungie’s Halo videogame series in terms of science fiction influences. I was inspired to write Lia’s story as a means of challenging the demons of my own mental illness, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychosis, and Attention Deficit Disorder) by creating a woman stronger than all of them. My goal was also to pay homage to women like my mother, whose strength during my turbulent childhood was one of many influences for Lia’s character.
2. Do you avoid or embrace Sci Fi tropes and why?
I do neither explicitly. I just write what I enjoy, and if that happens to avoid, subvert or embrace a trope of my genre I’m fine with that.
3. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write a female voice?
No. My motto is to write a strong character first, then consider gender. I grew up almost exclusively around females and avoided males so I’m conditioned more towards the feminine perspective. You could say I was a feminist for most of my life. I knew Lia would end up being female subconsciously because I always believed women were stronger than men in terms of character, and one of my goals was to create a character I could believe in.
4. Have your experiences with Cerebral Palsy influenced your writing? How?
Yes. From the age of five for ten years I was abused by a step father largely due to my disability, or at very least it gave him more reasons to be mad. I think due to those experiences that also helped inform my mental illnesses, (which in turn inspired elements in my books) I became a natural at writing graphic violence.
5. There aren’t many physically disabled heroes in books and media, nor are there many notable disabled actors, authors and artists. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
The easiest yet most impactful answer is to simply create more characters that happen to be disabled. I emphasize ‘happen’ because it’s imperative to create a character first or one will end up with an empty pandering attempt that anyone can see through. For example I see taking established characters and swapping their genders, (excluding a passing of the torch etc. I mean the literal character. i.e. making Thor a woman.) as pandering, even if unintentional.
A good example of a strong disabled character is Oracle from Batman. Spoilers: Joker shoots Batgirl, she ends up paralyzed, and rather than give up she becomes Oracle – legendary technical expert and the Brain leading Batman at times. That was a great way of giving a character great adversity and showing them overcome it for themselves.
Disability and its effects can vary from person to person providing individual challenges and stigma that may make an actor or individual unfit for certain roles. Though there’s no reason with modern, or even fantasy technology, that a character can’t overcome and find their own path to heroics/success in their stories/lives. I argue there are many qualified disabled authors, actors etc. We just don’t know about them. For every famous writer, i.e. Stephen Hawking, or famous actor i.e Peter Dinklage, there are hundreds of those who either simply haven’t published, haven’t been noticed, or haven’t the technology/opportunity to translate their imaginations to their preferred mediums. The easiest way to remedy this is to continue evolving, as technology, and society are, to ensure that gradually more doors of opportunity will open. The more disability is featured overcoming adversity the less negative stigma there will be around it and more opportunies for unknown artists will arise as a result.
6. Which do you enjoy more, old school Sci Fi, or modern Sci Fi?
Modern sci-fi circa 2000’s
7. If you woke up one morning and everything you’d known had disappeared, what one thing would you want to have remained with you?
My life experiences, resulting disabilities and all. Without them I wouldn’t be who I am and I’ve no interest in trying to be someone else. Being myself is challenge enough.
8. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
Consider criticism the adversity one will inevitably face, and welcome it. I’ve been told many negative things in my life, but I write and publish for me and me alone. Criticism can’t stop me anymore and it can’t hurt my work because my work is the best I can do, which is stronger than any negativity.
9. What’s next for Greg Ramsay?
I hope to see Lia’s story adapted into a movie and/or video game someday. In the meantime, I’ll keep on writing the kind of stories I think are cool.
1. What inspired you to write Songs of Insurrection specifically?
Specifically? There’s a sordid, convoluted story behind it. Basically, I wrote what would become Book 3 of the Dragon Songs Saga first. However, my crit partners connected more with the secondary characters than the main character, Kaiya. I decided to write a prequel, to try make her more relatable; and then I wrote the sequel. In the meantime, I was querying Orchestra of Treacheries (originally Book 1, now Book 2), and agents were telling me the jump in time from chapters 1 to 2 to 3 were too jolting. At that time, I was critting one of Pam Godwin’s Dark Erotica thrillers, and immediately felt connected to a main character who I wouldn’t normally be interested in, and saw how the author used tension. With that in mind, I stripped out the first two chapters of Orchestra of Treacheries, and bookended a story between them.
2. What inspired you to write Fantasy and Science Fiction?
I read a lot of fantasy as a kid, and used to play Dungeons and Dragons. The Dragonlance Chronicles made me want to write.
3. Does your heritage influence your writing, and if so how?
All that fantasy I read as a kid featured mostly Caucasian characters, and if a PoC did appear, it was most likely to be a villain. At that age, growing up in the South, and very much in denial of my identity, I didn’t think twice about it. It wasn’t until college that I became something of a Born-Again-Asian. Even though my militancy had since moderated by the time I started writing, I wanted to begin with an Asian-themed story.
4. A good amount of popular Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and movies do not feature minorities leads, especially Asian. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
I think it is a reflection of the market. So much classic fantasy are set in a medieval pseudo-Europe, and that has set the standard for the trope. I would hazard to guess that most SFF readers are Caucasian, and perhaps the publishing companies assume they want to read about that classical setting.
As a member of many online SFF groups, I can tell you that is NOT the case. While there are certainly readers who fall back on classic tropes, many more are clamoring for something new, something different; and if mainstream publishers aren’t willing to take that risk, Small Press and Indies sure are. It’s just a matter of showing to diehard readers that the quality can be just as good as a traditionally published book. Contests like Mark Lawrence’s SPFBO are a great way.
5. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
Not really. Actually, one of my biggest complaints with the movie versions of my old favorites, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, is that they totally ruined the voices and faces my own imagination had come up with!
6. What advice would you give your younger writer self?
7. Tell us more about your Chinese Medicine practice and your Martial Arts!
I always wanted to learn martial arts because of Bruce Lee in the 70s and Ninjas in the 80s. I specifically wanted to learn Wing Chun because of its connection to Bruce Lee, but I didn’t have a chance until moving to Taiwan in the 1990s. I was fortunate to have found an awesome Sifu in Lo Man Kam, the nephew of Bruce Lee’s Sifu, Ip Man. While I was training there, one of my Kung-Fu brothers introduced me to his acupuncture master, Dr. Betty Long, and I started apprenticing under her. The cool thing about learning these things is that I can put them into my writing!
8. What’s next for JC Kang?
The Dragon Songs Saga is complete at four books, but there are two other series in the same world that intersect with it. I am chronologically following a popular secondary character from the first series, the half-elf/half-Asian ninja Jie.
I’m almost done with the second revision of Masters of Deception, Book 1 of Series 2. It takes place in my world’s version of Renaissance Italy. In addition to Jie, it also features an “Italian” con-man Diviner; an “Ethiopian” Sorceress looking to restore her clan’s honor; and an “East Indian” “Jedi” apprentice who struggles with the ideals of his order and his personal desires.
Book 1 of Series 3 is a conflict between the Chosen people of the Sun God, and the descendants of said God’s mortal son. The first draft is done; and I started writing a prequel to all three series, about a one-eyed fisherman who acquires a glass eye possessed by a demon.
1. What inspired you to write Earth to Centauri?
I am a bit of a tech and sci-fi nerd. The story of what an actual first contact with an alien race was ganging around in my head for some time and I just thought I’d give it a try. The spicing up happened much later as I started writing.
2. What inspired you to write Science Fiction?
I am a bit of a tech and sci-fi nerd. Guess that’s also because I am an engineer and love to tinker around with stuff. I’m a huge star trek fan and I think that’s where my inspiration comes from.
3. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write from a female prospective?
I do find it difficult and even now I am not sure I am doing justice to the character. Guess I’ll have to keep writing and learning and trying to incorporate as much as I can to build the characters. Being surrounded by two daughters and a wife at home does give me a little bit of a perspective.
4. Though there are many Indian authors, not many embark upon science fiction. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
I think there is much more focus on historical fiction in India at the moment and there are plenty of excellent books out by some great people. The lack of focus on SciFi may be a result of the Indian belief in faith and destiny. As such I believe SciFi has always been western centric. Its difficult to break into the genre for an Indian author even though India has had some of the greatest scientific minds. I am translating y book into Hindi the predominant Indian language – getting it across to the mainstream in a language they understand will be key to breaking the barrier.
5. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
It should but this has been difficult for me to accomplish. Having travelled to many countries I understand little bit of how people speak but getting in a different gender or ethnicity is very very difficult without making them a stereotype.
6. What are you currently reading, and why did you pick it up?
I am reading Retrieval by Regina Clarke to give her a feedback. In the name of God by Ravi Subramanian to get a feel of Indian writing styles and also The Long Walk by Stephen King to get a feel for pace and dialogue.
7. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
Oh. You’ve hit a raw nerve. I’ve recently got some review stating my grammar is bad. Honestly it hurt. It took me a few days to get over the criticism and find another editor to help me.
Besides, I always feel, what if someone says the story line is awful? Fortunately this has not happened so far.
There is always hope that I will be able to find my own sweet set of readers who like my stories and my style and I have been fortunate to find a few whole have actually loved it.
8. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you maintain the balance?
I hold a full time job which requires 6 days working and a while lot of travel. I try squeezing in time whenever I can – on the plane, in the hotel. Mostly I use travel to keep making the story in my head. It does mean a whole lot of late nights.
Balancing work, family and writing is very difficult.
9. What’s next for Kumar L?
The translation for Book 1 has just been released. I am finishing off Book 2 of the series and focusing on marketing. Ideas for Book 3 and 4 are forming up at the same time!
1. What inspired you to write The Children of Clay series?
There’s a scene in the bible where God is speaking with a prophet, Jeremiah. God tells Jeremiah to visit a potter and observe him. What Jeremiah notices is that the potter has exacting standards and any clay pot that did not meet his standards, he destroyed. God then compared himself to the potter, willing to destroy any of his people that exhibited unacceptable imperfections.
This episode always fascinated me and I wondered, “What if the clay pots could speak? How would they defend or advocate for themselves?” I imagined that they would argue that their value lay not in the clay but in what they could carry or contain.
And so I imagined a god who was so transcendent that she cared little for humans but also that she was very fascinated by these beings who mattered little in the grand scheme of things. And the overall arc of the story is a struggle between Ryna, the transcendent god and her counterpart, the demiurge, pure matter, who is presently manifested as Queen Nouei. It is Nouei’s self-imposed task, as the lesser god, to convince Ryna that there is value in the children of clay.
The story takes place in different times: a dystopian world, seven-thousand years into the future, in the present contemporary world, and in a set of parallel worlds. So while it is, overall, a fantasy/supernatural story, it is rooted in current science and politics.
Icon of Clay, the third book in the series continues the story of a woman, Bridget Blade, is a reincarnation of a god, and gets caught up in international intrigue as she struggles to sort out her identity and put her life back together.
2. What inspired you to write Fantasy?
I write science fantasy which means that I can weave science elements into a fantasy context. I like fantasy because of the near total freedom to create and fashion a world of your choosing. Although the challenge is to not make the world so foreign that people can’t relate to it.
The Children of Clay series is contemporary fantasy. So the fantasy elements have to work in a restricted context of science and politics. I enjoy that because you have to think carefully when developing the connective tissue that merges a supernatural/fantasy world with a contemporary society.
3. Does your heritage influence your writing, and if so how?
My heritage is Nigerian-American. I find that Africans live in a world that easily blends the traditional with the technological. The supernatural and the scientific coexist comfortably for Africans. So it is very natural for me to bring science and fantasy together without feeling like such a move needs to be justified.
In The Children of Clay there are a series of parallel worlds, same people, but different probability configurations. This means that the same set of people act differently in different worlds. This gives me the flexibility to write situations that don’t have to be so logically binary and in which I can bring together fantasy and science. So, for instance, in The Clay Queen, we meet the people of a world of zero-probability and someone from the complement world, a world of 100% probability. In both worlds, science would and does coexist with the supernatural very easily, far more easily than in a world of … 50-50 probability configurations.
This gives me the flexibility to create a world that I am comfortable with, in that it doesn’t have to be so logical and binary in the way that the culture imposes on us.
4. As a male writer, do you find it difficult to write from a female prospective?
I never assume I understand the female perspective by default, so I primarily work on creating a three-dimensional character. I try to listen and study how women approach things and see if I need to modify the perspective of my characters. I also pay attention to the reactions of my critique partners. Ultimately, if my readers can buy into the humanity of the character, then I feel like I’ve succeeded, even if I fall short on certain aspects of characterization.
I should note that The Children of Clay series features female leads but the very first initial drafts didn’t. Nouei, who is the anchor of the series, was an absent character in a dystopian future. She was a Queen whose presence consisted in her being referred to by her husband who had killed her father. But I was so intrigued by her that I felt I need to develop her character because she had so much more to say. She did. She took over the entire series.
Bridget, who is the reincarnation of Queen Nouei, was similar in the very initial drafts. She was a tertiary character and the main characters were all male. But she had powers and abilities and a presence I needed to explain and eventually the story only fit when I came to realize that Nouei and Bridget were the same person and the series became about them.
So in that sense, I never consciously set out to write female leads, they emerged organically. So my goal has always been to strive to be true the character and in doing so, I hope I reflect authentic women.
5. There are not as many black science fiction and fantasy authors and filmmakers in comparison. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
This is true. In general, it’s going to be a slow process of encouraging more black science fiction and fantasy authors to take the plunge. But it is encouraging that there are black authors currently making waves. That can’t be discounted.
I think conscious steps can be taken all through the process of production in both film and books, to embrace diversity. I think the more people are used to seeing blacks in films on and behind the screen, or in the book production process, the more audiences embrace that.
In science fiction and fantasy, my experience is that characters are white by default unless specified. In my books, I don’t identify my characters as black unless there’s a reason to. The four main characters are black and sometimes when people find out later in the respective stories, they are surprised.
6. What are your thoughts on how Africans are portrayed in popular media?
Yeah, as an African, I tend to notice Africans in popular media. I can’t say that I’m an expert here, but in casting my mind back to films I’ve watched, there are many positive roles and I choose to focus on them.
Chiwetel Ejiofor in 2012 and Serenity; John Boyega in Star Wars and Pacific Rim; Djimon Honsou in any number of roles; Idris Elba in Pacific Rim; Freema Agyeman in Doctor Who; Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a bunch roles; Fana Mokoena in World War Z; Rachel Luttrell in Stargate Atlantis.
I’ve mostly drawn from science fiction and some fantasy, but they jump out at me because they are positive representations of or by characters or actors of black African heritage.
I do get frustrated when Africans/African Americans get typecast into the mysterious or warrior race, e.g., Michael Dorn (Worf) and others as Klingons, and Christopher Judge (Teal’c) and others as the Jaffa. I’m not opposed to these roles, but it would be good to see a broader scope of representation such as in a show like Eureka.
Guinan in Star Trek Next Generation was played by Whoopi Goldberg but the character always felt very African to me. In fact, the most awesome episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” was one in which the timeline had changed and only Guinan sensed it. She insisted to Picard that everything was wrong and that he needed to send an entire ship back through time to certain death.
Of course, Picard was torn, but based on not much else but his belief in Guinan, he sends the ship back in time and it corrects the timeline. At the end of the episode, again, only Guinan had a vague sense that something had been or could’ve been terribly wrong, but wasn’t. That’s the sort of science fiction I like, where often there are no real answers and one has to take a leap of faith based on trust in another person.
7. Is Western culture ready to embrace non-Western fantasy?
He smirks. I suppose we’ll see with Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death being optioned to HBO. I think people enjoy good productions. So if non-Western fantasy is done well and it doesn’t appear that anyone’s trying to make a political point of it, then it’s likely to do well. Western Culture has embraced a lot of Asian fantasy, but African fantasy is still an open question. It’s really an issue of quality, production values, and the audience getting used to it.
8. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
It probably does, but I don’t tend to notice. I don’t like authors imposing a look or sound on the characters, especially when I’m into them and want to imagine them the way I want to. I think my writing is a little minimalist in that sense. I want to leave as much to my reader as possible.
9. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you maintain the balance?
I like watching movies. I love sports: soccer, football, basketball, etc. I love jogging in the morning. I’m fortunate to live in a beach town and I jog to the beach as often as I can. Recently, my sister visited Connecticut from New York and was amazed at the clarity of the night sky. I realized then just how much I had taken the stars for granted. But I absolutely feel blessed that I can go jogging two or three times a week when it is still dark and see a night sky with sparkling stars laid out for me.
10. What’s next for Ono Ekeh?
The Children of Clay series is on its third book, Icon of Clay. There are about five more to go. It’s a story arc I have sat on for almost a decade and it is burning to come out. Most of it is written, but the cleaning up and editing process does take a while. This series is very theological and metaphysical. When it’s done, I have more lighthearted stories I want to explore. I might even venture into the world of vampires, but with more of a humorous take.
1. What inspired you to work in a technology?
I was inspired to work in technology, to use my creative skills to have an impact and design a better future. Growing up I was good at art and computers, but I never thought of myself as a technical person so I studied art. My original career path consisted of a day job at a hedge fund while painting in my free time. I spent my days frustrated with complex software applications, and when I began working in the venture capital arm of the fund, I noticed similar usability problems even in slick new mobile apps. That’s when I discovered the field of human-computer interaction and began working as a user experience (UX) designer, leveraging my artistic and technical capacities to design user interfaces. I now work as a UX researcher, which allows me to use my left brain to analyze how users interact with technology and my right brain to guide the design process.
2. What exactly is Mixed Reality, and what drove you to explore it?
Mixed Reality (MR) is a continuum of environments between the real world and the virtual world. There are various enabling technologies that can create an MR environment such as mobile devices, wearables, and displays embedded in the physical space. Many people are now familiar with the term augmented reality (AR) thanks to popular games such as Pokemon Go. AR fits within the broader range of MR environments, but the terms are often used interchangeably.
3. What are some benefits MR can bring to our society?
Rather than splitting our attention between digital devices and the physical world around us, MR enables a user to interact with both digital and physical objects together in context. This can make digital information readily available while continuing to operate in the real world. MR opens up opportunities for more natural and collaborative ways of interacting with computers.
4. Could exposure to MR have negative effects on the human biome (motion sickness, neurological footprints, dependence, agoraphobia or attention deficit)?
MR has been known to cause symptoms such as motion sickness, eye strain, and fatigue, but further research on long-term effects is needed. Some of the issues we have with digital experiences today could be heightened with MR, such as distracted attention and information overload. Agoraphobia is a possibility, imagine the equivalent of spammy banner ads or push notifications completely surrounding you.
5. How could MR change how humans interact and function as a society? Could MR completely replace real world interactions and experiences?
Just as mobile devices transformed our everyday lives by making computing power available anytime and anywhere, MR presents the next paradigm shift in how we interact. We will be able to navigate with directions overlaid on our field of view, meet someone and have facial recognition to search and display their information, and create and share 3D holograms. Instead of tapping a screen, we will interact using voice, gesture, gaze, and locomotion detected by cameras and sensors on our devices, bodies, and in our environment. This will prompt many changes in social norms, particularly around privacy.
The advantage of MR is that it allows humans to continue to interact in the real world while aided by digital tools. However, I do believe that the more immersive end of the MR continuum, such as virtual reality (VR), has the potential to replace real world experiences.
6. One of my favorite series, Black Mirror, talks about how advertisers can use AR and VR to collect volumes more personal information, interrupt experiences and pay-to-win syndromes. What are your thoughts on this?
Black Mirror is great at keeping a finger on the pulse of how technology and society might change in the near future. Advertisers will definitely be able to collect more personal information and interrupt experiences based on your location, direction of your gaze, etc. It’s hard to understand the value of something like privacy until it’s gone, and then people will be willing to pay for it.
7. There just aren’t enough women of color in science and technology. Why is this and what can we do to remedy it?
Unfortunately there are so many contributing factors to the lack of women of color in STEM fields. It starts early, with different societal expectations making girls internalize the message that they aren’t good at science and technology and not pursue this. But even if she pursues her studies in STEM, she then enters the field facing racist and sexist power structures that can stunt her career growth, to the extent that some women switch careers.
One way we can help remedy this is by changing who we picture when we think of an engineer, doctor, or innovator. By celebrating the achievements of women of color in these roles and having them represented in the media, we can inspire others and shift cultural attitudes.
8. When will Mixed Reality become reality? And where can one go to learn more and keep up on its progress?
A number of mobile apps, wearables, and digital displays in the built environment are making MR a reality today. But the technology is still evolving, and usability is a key factor in consumer adoption.
9. What’s next for Shannon Holloway?
I’m excited to continue to research, write, and speak about making technology user-friendly!
1. What inspired you to write urban fantasy and the Relentless series specifically?
I’ve always been a fan of urban fantasy so it felt natural to write in that genre. I got the initial idea for Relentless from a dream. I say initial because the final book was nothing like the dream.
2. Do you avoid or embrace Fantasy/Paranormal tropes and why?
I don’t necessarily avoid tropes, but I try not to be cliché. There are certain aspects of each genre that draw readers. You need to figure out how to write them in a fresh way.
3. Do reader comments and reviews about your storyline and characters effect your writing in subsequent books?
The only feedback I consider seriously is from beta readers and editor. Readers have such different tastes and you can’t write something to please them all. When you get a 5 star rave review, followed by a terrible 1 star review, which one do you believe? If you believe in what you’re writing, you can’t let strangers influence you.
4. As a woman writer, do you find it difficult to write a male voice?
I did at first. When I started writing Warrior, which is the trilogy in Nikolas’s POV, I struggled at first. By the end, we were like old friends. The next book was dual POV and I had no trouble writing the mail voice in that one.
5. What are your thoughts on how female leads are portrayed in current Science Fiction and Fantasy novels and films?
One of the reasons I like YA is because more and more authors are writing strong, independent female leads. Yes, there is usually a love interest, but the story is about her journey.
6. When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
Never. If a story is well-written, I don’t think about the author at all while I’m reading it.
7. What advice would you give your younger writer self?
Good question! I’d probably tell her to stop doubting herself and to write that damn book. I spent too many years comparing my writing to published works and that’s a huge mistake for any writer. No first draft looks as good as one that’s been through multiple drafts and professionally edited.
8. How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
I don’t know a single author who doesn’t have self-doubt when putting a new book out there. And even the greatest literary works have bad reviews. Look for them on Amazon and you’ll see what I mean. You will get negative reviews. But you’ll also get great reviews. You can’t dwell on reviews. It’s all a part of the business.
9. What’s next for Karen Lynch?
I’m current working on Fated, book 6 in the Relentless series, which will be released on Feb 13, 2018. After that, I have several projects planned. I need to decide which one comes next.
1. What inspired you to write Fantasy and this novel specifically?
I was always enthralled by big stories. Fantasy and science fiction stories (whether in video games, anime, movies, etc.) always feel fresh and unique. So, they’ve always been an influence. As far as this book goes, I remember feeling that there were ways that I could make the genre better. While I love the genre, there are a lot of straight white men running the show who shoot from the hip and deliver a lot of corny one-liners. I felt I could avoid certain tropes, introduce new types of characters you don’t usually see, and really hit you in the emotional gut. I know I did that for some, and I hope it’s a story even more can connect with.
2. In comparison, there are far fewer black authors in Fantasy and Sci Fi. Why is this and how can it be rectified?
I believe there are many more black authors in these genres than we realize, but that is the perception because of the way the traditional publishing industry works. While well-meaning, agents and publishers who say they’re looking for diverse stories may think your book is too “niche” to make any money, so they pass. You could make the argument that self-publishing helps bypass this, but it’s still very new. It doesn’t yet have the same level of prestige that traditional publishing has, so some authors chase the prestige. Those who do self-publish will find that it’s very expensive to hire an editor, cover designer, etc., and if they can’t afford it, they either put out sloppy work or avoid the process altogether. Then, there’s marketing your book which is a whole different set of dilemmas. I believe self-publishing is the way to go, but you have to do it right, which means educating yourself about what it takes to put out traditional publishing-level work and how to market it best to your audience. I think if more black authors do that, we will see a lot more fantasy and sci-fi from them.
3. What are your thoughts on how LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed in major novels and film?
Things are getting better, but we’re still mostly at a point where LGBTQ+ characters are either a stereotype or just not seen at all. Mainstream audiences are getting used to “the gay best friend” or the “token gay guy”. And in most instances, these are white cisgender male characters. I love some of the characters, but that hardly covers the broad spectrum of people who have yet to been seen at different intersections. What about the Black trans woman, the Asian bi man, or the Latinx lesbian? And why can’t they be important enough to have a full storyline other than coming out? As I said, things are getting better, but part of my goal in writing Pangaea was addressing this issue. Two of main characters are males who are Black and just happen to be gay - that’s not the sole focus of their character. I wanted to show that you can definitely create an epic tale with characters like these and get so into the story that sometimes you forget that’s what they are.
4. Characters in your story are non-black and non-LGBTQ+. What do you do to get into the mindset of these character, so much so that you can write their voice?
As a black man, I’ve been inundated with white culture with everything from classic Disney animated movies to the books and movies I read and watch today. I also grew up in neighborhoods and schools that had a white majority. The same can be said for me as a gay man with straight culture. So, I didn’t have to dig too deep to get the essence of my White characters. I just treated them as human beings with their own specific ways of being and had them react the way they would given the circumstances on the page. The same goes for my other characters of color. While I may not be well-educated in different cultures, these are still human beings who, based on their personalities, will react a certain way in any given scenario. It really wasn’t hard. It also helped that this was a fantasy world, so I didn’t have to research cultures so much - I just made up my own.
5. When reading a book, does the gender, preference or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign to the novel in your head?
The author doesn’t impact the voice I hear in my head. I pay most attention to the main character and get a feel for their voice based on things like dialogue, setting, and time period.
6. What are you currently reading and why did you pick it up?
Right now, I’m reading Make Every Man Want You by Marie Forleo. It’s non-fiction, I’m a fan of hers, and while it’s addressed to female readers, Forleo said it’s great book for guys too. So I gave it try and I have to say, it really is. It’s not about dating, it’s about being your best self and using that as a natural attractor to better partners and opportunities. I’m big on self-improvement, so I’ve read a lot of books like this over the past couple of years and put what I’ve learned into practice. Aside from that, the last fiction book I read was N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms . I wanted to see what another successful black fantasy author was doing and what I could learn. I enjoyed it very much!
7. How can an author cope with feeling their s tory deserves to be heard but fearing criticism?
I would first say to just complete that first draft. Nobody has to see anything, just get it done and get the story out of your system. Then, I would say, the best defense against criticism is making sure the book is edited to the best of your ability. Safeguard yourself against comments about grammar, story structure, cultural sensitivity, triggers, and more by getting beta readers to take a look and by hiring a professional editor. If you can survive your editor’s countless red marks and get a better version of your story, you’re on your way. (I couldn’t look at my editor’s notes for a month.) Lastly, take a good look at why you want to tell the story and be real sure about your conviction to share this story with the world. You’ve got a grow a thick skin, because even after all of that, you can’t please everybody.
8. What else do you do outside of writing, and how do you juggle life and writing?
Right now I work for a company doing search engine optimization, and I also host a live YouTube show that I recently renamed as LGBTr, which stands for Lots of Good Books To Read. In this show, I interview other Black LGBTQ authors. I juggle life and writing by making myself write every day after work or at least do something for the YouTube show or promotion. It’s tough, but I want to eventually work for myself, so I’m doing all that I can to make that happen.
9. What’s next for you on your writing journey?
I’m currently drafting a science fiction novel that I already know is going to be something special. I’m also looking ahead to continuing the Pangaea series with a collection of short stories as a prequel to the first book, and a continuation of the story with a direct sequel. I’m also doing my best to make my YouTube show more of a regular thing. I’ve got more that I want to do and I’m pretty optimistic about what the future holds.
What inspired you to write this novel?
My debut novel, as is often the case, was introspective, poetic, dreamy, and focused on human emotions rather than plot. It was a deeply personal work about generations of women in Ukraine that had taken me five years to complete. By the time I had finished, I had a burning inside me to write something that was different in every possible way. Thus – my main characters were an ego-driven man and a genderless alien. My locations were New York City, a distant planet and an after-life dimension. And my themes were – the meaning of life on Earth, the meaning of everything, how everything connects in the grand scale. I was at last able to release my writing in all the directions it hadn’t been allowed to travel while I was concentrating on my first book.
What drove you to write within the Science Fiction genre?
Science Fiction for the main part deals with the future, or with alternative realities. As someone who likes to think about the meaning of everything in our history and on our planet, it is really the only genre which gives a wide enough range for expressing philosophical, metaphysical or futuristic scenarios. I am a firm believer that what we are able to perceive as humans on Earth is a tiny proportion of what is in the universe, and I think that writers and artists have a very serious responsibility to be the ones to envision and suggest and project scenarios that could well turn out to be true, but which we cannot even test without the extrapolated possibility.
In comparison, there are far fewer female authors within Science Fiction. Why is this and how can it be remedied?
There are two main reasons for this. The most obvious is – that there are traditionally less women in science, and it has been considered a man’s field. Thus, as women over the centuries found their voices in literature, they chose subjects where they were strong, such as everyday details and relationships, rather than subjects where they were unequal in knowledge.
However, I think this is being overturned already – first of all by women rising in Science and Maths, and being loud about their contributions. The recent movie “Hidden Figures” was a great example of this shift. And check out Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski and if you have any doubt as to whether women are going to continue keeping quiet about their part in scientific progress. It won’t be long before women writers are taking on the hard science areas of science fiction – and I can’t wait for it to happen. In fact, I might petition Gonzalez Pasterski to start the trend! However, there are plenty of areas of Science Fiction where you don’t need hard science. Ursula Le Guin is of course the queen of Sci-Fi women writers, but she is too often used as the stand-out. Margaret Atwood writes on the edge of Sci-Fi, and we have for a female classic Madeleine L’Engle. And there are many female writers now forging careers and feeling free and empowered to do so.
I believe the way to remedy this is for the women who are writing in this genre to be bold and loud and promote themselves and support each other. Make sure that the world knows that they are present and writing and part of the conversation. It is time to change the story – and this is both our specialty – and our profound responsibility.
What are your thoughts on how women are portrayed in Science Fiction novels and films?
The portrayal of women in films is extremely frustrating. 90% of the time, even if the women have a major part, it feels like pornography. I always do an experiment for myself just to test my paranoia level – I imagine the men in the films dressed equivalent to the women and the women dressed equivalent to the men. Of course, this would mean men in tight, flimsy costumes showing large amounts of flesh, and women in perfectly normal clothes. Then I get angry again. It is something that simply has to change, otherwise women will continue to be viewed only in relation to men, and never in their own right.
With regard to books, it is less easy to write great literature nowadays without developed female characters, and so it is rare for me to notice overt sexism in serious modern science-fiction. However, I would like to see much more writing from a future perspective, looking back on “the ages of inequality.” I feel we need as many books as possible establishing the current model as obsolete before we can truly leave it behind.
In light of women coming forward, in Hollywood and around the globe, rebuking the “boy’s club” mentality, do you think we will begin to see a change in the way women are portrayed or treated in the media?
I think with regards to Hollywood, that it will be extremely slow, and will only happen when women control the money and the ultimate decisions – and we are a very long way from that point. Until then, it will be microsteps, most likely empty gestures disguised as progress, such as powerful female characters who are still dressed like porn stars and have stereotypical bodies. The real progress will most likely come from small productions upwards, for example, Britt Marling’s excellent OA. And for her own brush with Hollywood sexism, here is an excellent piece by her:
When reading a book, does the gender or ethnicity of the author impact the voice you assign the novel in your head?
The ethnicity of a writer has no impact on my reading of a character, however the gender of a writer can influence this, as I am always fascinated at how accurately women write deep, complex male characters, and visa versa. I am always impressed when writers truly capture someone of a different gender, and I seek to learn techniques from them. I equally enjoy writing male and female characters, and I even have a genderless character in my novel, so it is something I follow closely.
What are you currently reading and why did you pick it up?
I’m reading We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Russian / Soviet Science Fiction is a gap in my reading that I’m trying to fill. I lived in Ukraine for ten years and gathered a list of “must-read” books from my friends and this was at the top of it. I’m also particularly interested in the Russian view on Sci-Fi as I have read some British/American ones and recently Chinese (Ken Liu led me to Liu Cixin) and I am now interested in more world perspectives.
What are some good writing habits you’ve discovered?
I have written in very different circumstances, so I am aware that each writer struggles to find time and discipline in their own way. I have written with no time or financial pressures. I have written to a launch deadline. I have written with 2 children and a crazy household going on around me.
The habits that have stuck with me are:
How can an author cope with feeling their story deserves to be heard, but fearing criticism?
This is simple: you have to be brave, brave, brave.The writer’s job is really extraordinary, in that every piece of work you want to earn money for, you have to put into the public where literally every person on Earth, now and into the foreseeable future, can judge you! It’s terrifying, horrific, and the bravest thing you will ever do in your life – especially the first time you publish.
My advice is – be ready with some statistics. Expect 70% positive reviews and 30% terrible reviews. Expect the press to be extremely harsh. Expect your mother to be extremely biased. This is a total cliché, but some readers will absolutely love your work and some will think it’s the worst thing ever written. My experience, over a year and a half: with overall 80% 5* reviews, I have received an e-mail from a reader telling me my novel was the best thing she had ever read and I am now her favorite writer. A couple of days later I had two 1* reviews saying it read like a first draft, and sounded like I had written it drunk.
This is what you get, especially with speculative fiction – some people are open to experimentation and love it; and some hate it when you go off template.
But at the end of the day, the only thing you really need is courage. And lots of it.
10. What else do you do outside of writing great books, and how do you juggle life and writing?
I struggle to balance everything in my life! I have 2 teenagers who demand a lot of time (in the most wonderful and exhausting way) and I also teach part time to maintain my income. I have to write and read a lot, of course, and when there are pockets in between this I run and travel, go dancing and spend time in Barcelona and New York, my favorite cities.
11. What’s next for you on your writing journey?
A lot more novels. I have now launched 2 novels and I very much hope that the process will get easier. Not the writing itself – as I will always challenge myself to the maximum in every piece of work – but the editing journey, which has to date taken months and years. I hope that my first drafts will get faster and better, and my editing skills sharper. And of course – that most wonderful gift at the end of the novel rainbow – the readership! I have been incredibly lucky to have dedicated readers and it will most certainly help the journey knowing that they will grow.
Thoughtwards is a blog celebrating forward thought and the diverse thinkers who think them.
M. Lachi is an award winning recording/performing artist and composer, a published author, and a proponent of forward thinking. Having studied Management at UNC and Music at NYU, M. Lachi employs both savvies in her creative endeavors.
For more on M. Lachi's music click here.