Factory Girl: Interview with Stephen Palmer

Stephen Palmer is the author of fifteen novels, dabbling in a variety of genres from science fiction to slipstream, including steampunk, alternate history, and fantasy. He tells tales of the past-that-might-have-been, and the future-that-might-yet-be. His gripping and thought-provoking prose is both wildly creative and chillingly conceivable.

In the Factory Girl trilogy, Stephen Palmer brings us a meticulously constructed clockpunk alt-Edwardian world, full of bustling automata and a myriad of other tiny details. The story of Kora and Roka, different personalities of the same young woman, the ‘girl with two souls’, sweeps us along from England to Africa and back again in an intricate plot that centers on themes of identity and society.

The Girl With Two Souls, The Girl With One Friend, and The Girl With No Soul will be released today and throughout December 2019 in brand-new editions from Infinity Plus Press.

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

Find out more on Stephen’s website.

TGW2S Juliana preview
The new cover for the re-released edition of The Girl With Two Souls

Hi Stephen, thanks for joining me on the blog. Congratulations on the release of the new editions of the Factory Girl trilogy! Could you tell me a little about the cover changes?

The trilogy got some good reviews, which I and Keith Brooke – my outstanding editor, and the man behind Infinity Plus Books – were pleased with. But afterwards I felt it could maybe do more. Last year I met Tom and Nimue Brown at the Asylum Steampunk weekend, and on the Saturday I got to see more of Tom’s artwork. Tom has a unique style of creating images, which I immediately fell for. Nimue hand colours the art for their graphic novels – they are a fantastically talented pair. With both of them being fans of the trilogy (Nimue reviewed it for her Druidlife blog), it occurred to me that the trilogy could benefit from being re-jacketed. I floated the idea to Keith, and he agreed. In due course the arrangement was made with Tom and Nimue. I saw them in Stroud a few months ago, and we had an enjoyable chat in a pub. Lovely couple.

After a while I sent Tom a few descriptions and other suggestions, and he came up with the images this year, all three of which we loved.  Then it was a matter of firing up Photoshop to create the cover designs.

Identity is a key theme in the Factory Girl trilogy, as indeed with many of your other works, such as the excellent Beautiful Intelligence. What is it about this theme that fascinates you?

That’s a good question, a wise question. I’m going to have to think a bit about it. [Thinks for a few days…] Well, perhaps it’s because the main direction of my thinking life is the relationship between human beings and the real world, a relationship which, in my own life, has been conveyed by understanding. Understanding, for me, is the most fundamental aspect of individual and social life. It’s what motivates the majority of my life anyway. I think Kora’s need to understand the circumstances of her life is based in part on my own drive for meaning.

Human beings have two main ways to create meaning, including the meaning of other people, which is identity. We can create it ourselves from what we are told, or we can find it out from first principles. I would characterise the former as narcissistic and the latter as realistic. The former says: this is what I believe regardless of the real world. The latter says: I’ll test the real world, see what it tells me, then make a decision based on that. Most people form their identity from a blend of the two. They’ll be born and brought up in a particular culture, which they’ll adopt as the norm. But a lot of people will move on from that. I think this is why women in general are a better representation of humanity than men. Men take so much on faith. Women tend to communicate more, and better, which allows them to see themselves from other perspectives; and that’s a key to personal growth, I think, including for identity.

In Beautiful Intelligence this aspect of social life is more generally presented. Leonora is going for the individual, faith-based option via her AI, while Manfred decides to see what the BIs will tell him. His first scene, the cutting of the bonds between the nine BIs, is his answer to his thought process. Leonora by contrast has no idea what Zeug will do because she has imposed her own ideas onto it.

A lot of my work is about this split in human meaning and its relationship with identity. Even in my debut, Memory Seed, the priestesses of the Goddess realise at the end of the novel that their lives have been lived regardless of what the world was telling them. The story ‘First Temple’ in my recent collection Tales From The Spired Inn tells the same story in civic life. We cannot be saved. We have to save ourselves.

Your main protagonist is actually two characters in one: Kora and her ‘other soul’, Roka. What inspired her creation? Did you find you had to do a lot of research into subjects such as dissociative identity disorder to pull off this ambitious character?

About a year before I put the trilogy together I had an idea for a book title – The Girl With Two Souls. I don’t know why this title popped into my mind, unless it somehow represented ideas which interest me, and which are the philosophical theme of the trilogy: do human beings or other creatures and creations have a soul or spirit? Anyway, I wrote it down for future reference, as it seemed a particularly intriguing title for a novel. The year after, that title and the whole thematic template for the trilogy merged and came out in a single two hour splurge. I knew Kora was the girl with two souls, I knew she had one black African parent and one white British parent, and I knew she would alternate between Kora and some other character. Now, the strange thing is, this alternation of identity has been recorded in reality; there are some individuals with DID who alternate regularly, day by day. I was so astonished to read this that I remembered it much later, when it became the central aspect of Kora’s mental condition.

I did do a little research, but not much – just enough to make the grounding plausible. There are aspects of Kora which are my own invention, while other aspects are psychologically grounded. Also, I wanted to emphasise that the Edwardian society surrounding Kora would look at her from a Christian perspective, i.e. that she did have two souls within. There was very little understanding of mental conditions in those days – a theme of my WW1 novel Tommy Catkins. Freud, for instance, had in 1910 only been published for a couple of decades. So Kora is psychologically grounded, but also a person of my imagination.

I think this might be a good point to mention an aspect of the trilogy which some readers found perplexing, and that is the “second novel” which intertwines with the main one. This is Amy’s Garden by Reverend Carolus Dodgson. I can tell you that right from that opening splurge of ideas I knew Amy’s Garden had to be a central element of the trilogy. It is of course an alternate version of Alice In Wonderland – I’ve always loved that book, like millions of others. So I re-wrote it, using Dodgson’s love of logic in my own particular way, asking and answering questions about consciousness and the human condition. Amy’s Garden is a book Kora cannot live without. As she declares much later, it is her heart. I did everything I could to encapsulate in the smallest possible amount of prose, and as vividly as possible, ten central aspects of consciousness and the human condition: that is what Amy’s Garden is, over twelve brief chapters. Kora, lacking a steady identity, grasps at a deep level that the book speaks to her, which is why she carries it in her pocket and is never parted from it. And in Amy’s Garden itself I played with a kind of conceptual echo, since Amy herself carries a book in her pocket…

By the way, in Alice In Wonderland, Alice’s sister is not named, though some believe she is called Lorna. I called her Amy, and had Alice herself appear briefly part of the way through Amy’s Garden, alongside her parents. Now, in real life back in 2013, I knew two sisters called Amy and Alice, which is where Amy’s name came from. They were students at the college where I worked! I never told them, of course…

In your blog post ‘The Unemployment Problem’ you talk about your automata. Did you go through different models for employment in your world before settling on that one, or was it clear from the start which direction you wanted to go in?

The second line in my notebook from that two hour splurge says: touchstone, steampunk. I knew right away that I wanted to write a steampunk or steampunk-influenced work. So automata were the direction to go in. I think I was also influenced by a television documentary I watched presented by Professor Simon Schaffer called ‘Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork Dreams.’ This was broadcast in autumn 2013, and I remember being fascinated by it, as at the time I knew nothing about how complex automata were in historical times. I’ve watched it a couple of times since, it really is an amazing documentary.

I particularly liked the idea of automata being the slaves underpinning the British Empire, as so much of the wealth and power of that real era came from exploitation: of the working class, of people in colonial nations like India, and, in previous centuries, of actual slaves, like those taken from West African countries. Linking these automata slaves with Kora’s father and his Factory seemed the perfect connection to me, and made for some great plot twists!

The Clockwork Garden is amazing! How did the idea for this come about? And additionally, what is your personal favorite Factory Girl location?

How strange that you should mention the Clockwork Garden in that way! It so happens I can remember exactly how it came about – no coincidence, maybe. I was at the day job, out for a lunchtime stroll – this would be autumn 2013 – and was walking back to the college through a place in my home town of Shrewsbury called the Quarry, which is basically an old sandstone quarry now converted into a beautiful green park adjacent to the River Severn. By this time I was putting together all the details for the novel, prior to writing the first volume December 2013 – January 2014. As I looked out at the trees and bushes I had a sudden mental image of them all made in metal. From that single thought came the whole idea of the Clockwork Garden. I remember being pretty excited about this idea – I wrote it down in my notebook as soon as I got back, then, later, made it more sophisticated to include clues about the Factory and other details. I love it when inspiration strikes in this way. As I’ve written on my blog and at SFF Chronicles, I think authors should always listen to their subconscious. It’s where a lot of the important work happens.

I think my favourite location is probably Dr Spellman’s house in Sheffield. It was very important to me because it was the first safe location for Kora after she was sprung out of Bedlam Mental Hospital. My version of Bedlam was inspired by an actual mental hospital, you see, and Dr Spellman’s house is topographically almost identical to a house I know. Because in those first two chapters you don’t know for sure that Dr Spellman is a good man, I intuitively hit upon the idea of using a house I have fond memories of. The reader of course wouldn’t be aware of any of this, but it was important to me; it affected the tone of my writing. I wanted to write from a position of knowing deep down that Kora was safe, not in peril as she was inside Bedlam. This all sounds a bit odd, I know, but when I created the template for the trilogy it all came out of my subconscious in one go, which told me that the whole thing was ready formed in there and just waiting for the right moment to emerge. So it felt right that Dr Spellman’s house should link to my own memories in some way, giving it extra depth and an aura of safety. From that house, Kora is able to explore. It gives her a solid foundation. There’s a scene at the beginning where Dr Spellman is waiting for Roka, and he is sitting half asleep at the top of a staircase; that’s directly out of my own visual memories of this house.

You also have a new novel on the way, set in the Factory Girl world. Could you tell us a bit about The Conscientious Objector?

After writing the third volume of the trilogy I had a year off, as I’d done a lot of work, felt exhausted, and needed a rest. But, as I rested, I realised Erasmus Darwin had a tale yet to tell, so in December 2015 I began The Conscientious Objector, which takes place in 1914 – 1915 and tells of Erasmus’ reaction to the outbreak of what even then was called the Great War (i.e. World War 1). Erasmus of course loathes physical combat, as evinced by his reaction to being given a pistol by his Uncle Frank when Frank’s house is under siege in The Girl With One Friend. I realised that in WW1 he would by inclination be a pacifist, and perhaps even a conscientious objector, though that would be a very dangerous position for him to take. Conchies, as they were known, could be shot by firing squad. Many were. (My subsequent WW1 novel Tommy Catkins went deeper into this soldiers’ dilemma.)

I wanted Erasmus to have a female companion, so the other main character is Claudia Cooper, a strange woman of very mysterious origin. As I thought about these two characters and their relationship I decided to use the notion of early childhood memory, focusing on that point when we have our first recallable memories – usually around the age of three or four – but for Claudia blurring them into something indistinguishable from fantasy. As a consequence, much of the novel is Claudia and Erasmus delving deep into her origin via a most extraordinary special mission given to them by the British generals on the Western Front. The novel ends with a revelation which, of course, I couldn’t possibly divulge here, but which presents both Claudia and Erasmus with a life-threatening situation the like of which neither has ever encountered.

This novel, like the trilogy, also has a second book intertwined with it, which I wrote shortly after completing Amy’s Garden. It is Amy’s Adventures In Narkissos, a much darker work, as is suggested by the scene in The Girl With Two Souls where Kora, via the Amy doll, asks a question about it, to her immediate shame. This second Reverend Carolus Dodgson book details more of Amy’s world, asking questions of its reader about the role of selfishness (or more accurately narcissism) in their lives.

Do you have plans for more work in this setting?

No. It’s done and dusted. I’m terribly restless creatively, and I have two other alternate history fantasy/steampunk works finished or in preparation. But I do feel great warmth towards the Factory Girl trilogy, and I feel very lucky that Keith published it. He’s been a tremendous support to me. Many thanks for asking these great questions Juliana, I had fun answering them!

And thank you, Stephen, for sharing your insights on your work!

Find Stephen’s work on Amazon (see links above); other buying options including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords available on the Infinity Plus website.

Juliana_The_Quarry
The Quarry in Shrewsbury, inspiration for Palmer’s Clockwork Garden

Ireland Roundup: Part II (Titancon)

Click here for Part I — Worldcon.

With Worldcon a wrap, at least for me, I was ready to take time off to wander around Dublin and get some sightseeing done. I had a theme for the day, and that theme was ‘words’. Pol and I started out together at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, and then went our separate ways. My path took me past Christ Church and St. Patrick’s cathedrals, with a pause to enjoy the architecture and St. Patrick’s Park, and then onto the gorgeous Marsh’s Library — the oldest public library in the country.

Marsh’s is well worth a visit is you’re in the area; the section open to the public is small, but the ambience is incredible! You can just imagine the scholars of the past sitting at the wooden desks pouring over the leather-bound tomes… (Go follow their lovely bookish feed on Instagram!) Next, I strolled past Dublin Castle and visited my last stop of the day: the Chester Beatty Library, a fabulous building that mixes the old and the modern beautifully. The Chester Beatty houses a collection of manuscripts, rare books, and other fascinating items from Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. I wandered back home via Temple Bar and the Ha’Penny Bridge, to pack my bags ready for Belfast the next morning.

On Tuesday August 20th, Pol and I set off for Northern Ireland, with a picturesque train ride up through the Irish countryside. In Belfast, I headed to Jo Zebedee’s house in Carrickfergus — a huge thanks to Jo and her wonderful family for hosting me for a week! Titancon began on Thursday, so on Wednesday we still had time for a little sightseeing, which began with a drive up the coast (and past the filming location for the Wall and Castle Black in Game of Thrones), stopping at the ruins of the ‘Bishop’s Palace’ in the parish where Jonathan Swift was minister. A thoroughly rainy afternoon was spent in company of fellow Chrons members Pol and Paul, visiting Carrickfergus Castle before a well-deserved pub dinner.

Thursday August 22nd was the first day of Titancon/Eurocon. I was instantly smitten! This is a much smaller con than the madness that was Dublin, and I thoroughly enjoyed the casual atmosphere, with good conversations waiting around every corner, and a small but interesting selection of panels. After the opening ceremony with Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin himself, it was time for my own panel: I was moderating Found in Translation (Juliana Spink Mills, Francesco Verso, Radoslaw Kot, Jean Bürlesk) and have been assured I did a decent job of it! Jo and I left early, without staying for the famous Titancon Literature Night, but all in all it was a great first day.

Friday, I skipped the morning programming and headed over to the Titanic Belfast museum, which was particularly interesting for the glimpse of Belfast in the early 1900s, as well as the scope of the shipping industry in the day. I made it back just in time to catch a great panel on Medbots, Tricorders, and More (Kerry Buchanan, Catherine Sharp, David Nordley, Christine Doyle), where Christine drew a parallel between space exploration and the colonial era on Earth, talking not only about a fear of being contaminated with alien diseases, but also that care will be needed not to contaminate other species/peoples with Earth diseases.

Following this, I caught a presentation on underwater archeology by Radoslaw Kot: Capital Ships Lost. My next program item was A Closer Look at Anthologies (Ellen Datlow, Kerry Buchanan, Paul Corcoran, Sarah Murray, Claude Lalumière). I found the differences in approach taken by an editor dealing with larges presses (Ellen) and small presses that depend on the KU pages-read system (Paul) particularly interesting, in terms of specific strategies used.

The last event on Friday was our DISTAFF book launch. DISTAFF is an all-women’s sci fi anthology put together by a group of us from the SFFChronicles.com forum, including Kerry Buchanan, Jo Zebedee, and myself, all present at Titancon. The anthology was officially released on August 15th (see our website and my blog post for more information), and finally we had a chance to celebrate all our hard work! We had a great turnout for the launch party, which included readings, an interview by author and editor Paul Corcoran, and lovely cupcakes and sci fi themed chocolates. A huge thanks to everyone who came and made our evening such a special one!

Saturday was the last official day of Titancon, apart from the traditional Sunday coach tour (see upcoming blog post) and feast (which I skipped). My first program item of the day was Peader Ó Guilín’s Toast Mutant Interview , followed by a panel on the Modern Use of Irish Mythology (Jo Zebedee, Ruth Frances Long, Ian McDonald), where Ruth told us that, regarding different parts of Ireland and mythology, “We come at things from different angles, but we all end up at the same point.”

Next up was a panel called YA For Everyone (Ruth Frances Long, Karen, Rain Devlin, Peader Ó Guilín), where Peader reminded us that YA isn’t just about plot-driven stories, but also stories that people think young people should read, that will educate them—issue-driven stories (drug use, disability, etc.). The panelists also brought up another matter, that of shelving issues: if YA is treated as a genre, do we need subgenres? The closing ceremony came soon after, with Toast Mutants Peader and Pat Cadigan, and Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin. Afterwards, six of us Chrons folk topped this off with our very own farewell dinner — a lovely and fitting end to the event.

More to come! The Titancon coach tour and my day out in Howth…

Click here for Part III.

Ireland Roundup: Part I (Worldcon)

From the moment Worldcon 2019 was confirmed for Dublin, I knew I wanted to go. Eurocon was taking place a week later, in Belfast, and this was the most golden of golden opportunities to get to meet some of my UK and Irish SF/F writing friends in person. I talked it over with my husband, and we decided I should take the plunge and buy the memberships to both cons.

Fast forward two years and there I was, landing in Dublin on a grey and drizzly Wednesday morning at oh-my-god-it’s-early o’clock for my first ever Worldcon. I had arranged to meet my friend Pol, who was sharing a rental house with me and a couple of others from the forum we all post on — the SFF.Chronicles.com. Pol was fresh off the ferry from England, also arriving at horrible o’clock in the morning, so we kicked off our adventure by spending the hours until we could check in by traipsing all around Dublin. Two museums and a multitude of other stops later, including Trinity College and the statue of Oscar Wilde, it was finally time to drag our exhausted and zombie-like selves to a taxi and head over to our home for the week.

The rest of the day was spent settling in, getting to know my housemates in person, and popping over lightning quick to the event venue to get our registration done. Thursday morning was Day 1 of Worldcon, and the four of us — Pol Dee, Jo Zebedee, Shellie Horst, and myself — took a taxi in the morning, excited to get started. The first panel I caught that day was Invasion and the Irish Imagination (Jo Zebedee, Peader Ó Guilín, Ruth Frances Long, Ian McDonald, Jack Fennel), a lively and thought-provoking discussion. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Jo told us, “as writers, keep asking those questions, and asking them hard.”

Later, in Sports in Science Fiction and Fantasy (Neil Williamson, Chris M. Barkley, Rick Wiber, Fonda Lee), Fonda talked about sports as a microcosm of society, and suggested that “sports are a way to reflect and reinforce some of the social conflicts and divisions.” I was particularly interested in this panel, as I’m getting ready for another revision pass of the SF sports thriller that I wrote last year. Lots of great tips!

I managed to fit in two more panels that day, Found in Translation (Rebecca Gomez Farrell, Jean Bürlesk, Umiyuri Katsuyama, Andy Dudak), and ‘Celtic’ Fantasy and Mythology (Kerry Buchanan, Kathryn Sullivan, Kristina Perez, Deirdre Thornton, David Cartwright). I also connected with some of the other SFFChronicles members who were attending Worldcon, and a few other ‘e-friends’ who I had been looking forward to meeting in person. As evening fell, we shared another taxi home to our ‘con within a con’, to chat about our day over dinner and a well-deserved glass of wine.

Friday was a day for readings, with one by Charlie Jane Anders — a delightful surprise, as I wasn’t familiar with her work — and Victoria Schwab — who is every bit as amazing in person as she is online. At the end of the day it was my turn ‘on stage’, as part of the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. It was lovely to be part of Worldcon’s programming, and we had a nice turnout for our event.

By Friday, Worldcon was busy, busy, busy; lots of people and lots of lines everywhere for all panels and events. We were forced to strategize, paring things down to basics, attending only the things we really wanted. For me, on Saturday, this included a great panel on Gender and Sexuality in YA (Victoria Schwab, Sam Bradbury, Diana M. Pho, Rei Rosenquist, Rachel Hartman), where we were urged by Rei to “stand on the ground you stand on” and know which story is actually ours to tell. Victoria added that writers need to understand the core of their own identity first.

Other Saturday events included a reading by Adrian Tchaikovsky, and a kaffeeklatsch with Peter V. Brett, where much Demon Cycle wisdom was shared. But possibly my favorite moment of the day was going out to dinner with a mixed group of SFFChronicles members and writers from Otherworlds NI, a Northern Irish science fiction group, the brainchild of Jo Zebedee. The Otherworlders are all collectively lovely, and us Chronners were more than happy to become honorary Otherworlds adoptees. This, to me, is the highlight of these events: the friendships forged or strengthened, the conversations held, the smiles and laughter gathered.

I kicked off Sunday by attending a kaffeeklatsch with fellow Broad Universe member Randee Dawn. This was followed by a panel on Getting Published and Staying Published (E.C Ambrose, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, George Sandison, Michelle Sagara, Rachel Winterbottom), where Elaine reminded us that most writers’ careers are a rollercoaster of ups and downs instead of a linear ascension. At What is Irish Science Fiction Now? (Jo Zebedee, Val Nolan, Atlin Merrick, Sarah Maria Griffin), Sarah declared that “no one is going to talk about us if we don’t talk about ourselves. (…) It is urgent that we represent ourselves.” When the subject turned to the divide between perception of ‘literary’ vs genre fiction, Sarah delighted the audience by saying, “I do believe they’re called book shelves for a reason, and not book plinths.”

Sunday evening was the Hugo’s ceremony, which Pol and I livestreamed from the house as we were both absolutely out of energy. I had already decided to give the last day of the con — Monday — a miss in the name of Dublin tourism, but I felt that Sunday was the perfect ending to an extremely hectic but very rewarding event.

More to come! Touristing in Dublin and Belfast, Eurocon/Titancon, the Titancon coach tour, and my day out in Howth…

Click here for Part II and Part III.

F70B6FCC-4967-4AC7-9081-1B889221566C
View from my bedroom window

Happy Release Day to DISTAFF!

It’s today! It’s our day! After over a year of planning, writing, editing, formatting, and all the other things that go with taking a book from concept to fruition, our collaborative sci fi anthology is out in the world. Fly, little book, fly!

Click here to read about DISTAFF on our website, and don’t forget to order your copy. Enjoy!

The DISTAFF Anthology Playlist

DistaffAnthologyCoversml

In just seventeen days, on August 15th, our collaborative anthology DISTAFF will be out there in the wide world for everyone to read. It’s been an amazing journey, from the very early ideas hatched on the SFFChronicles.com forum, to this point, less than a month from release day.

To celebrate, I asked the DISTAFF authors to think of a song that could work as a soundtrack for their stories. Here it is, the DISTAFF Anthology Playlist!

Jane O’Reilly opens the anthology with The Broken Man, a post-apocalyptic tale of caution and of cautious hope. Her suggestion is Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell.

Kerry Buchanan brings us Space Rocks, an irreverent mystery that blends mythology and space travel. Kerry picked Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone as a backdrop to her story.

Rosie Oliver is the cool mind behind The Ice Man, a frost-cold murder mystery set in a near-future Sweden. Her choice of soundtrack is KeiiNO’s Spirit in the Sky.

Juliana Spink Mills, well, that’s me! The song I picked for my story A Cold Night in H3-II, a chilling tale of a struggling space colony, is Demons by Imagine Dragons.

Damaris Browne is the author of The Colour of Silence, a poignant tale of sorrow and hope, where the people of Earth seek salvation among the stars. Her song of choice is Silence is Golden by the Tremeloes.

EJ Tett’s contribution is Holo-Sweet. They say that love will always find a way — though space romance isn’t always easy! EJ’s song suggestion for this fun tale is Let’s Get It On by Marvin Gaye.

Shellie Horst is the author of My Little Mecha, in which a growing security threat and a systems malfunction meet family miscommunication to form the perfect storm. Shellie’s musical pick is Dare to be Stupid by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Susan Boulton brings us Ab Initio, a harrowing tale of survival — but at what cost? Susan’s soundtrack suggestion is Human by Rag’n’Bone Man.

Jo Zebedee finalizes our anthology line up with The Shadows Are Us And They Are The Shadows: when all hope seems lost, life surprises us. Jo’s song choice for her story is Pink Floyd’s Welcome to the Machine.

If you want to listen to the full soundtrack, click here to find it on iTunes. (Disclaimer: not all songs may be available in your region. Spotify list to come; please check back.)

DISTAFF is up for preorder, don’t miss out! Find out more about DISTAFF and the authors at DISTAFFanthology.wordpress.com.

DistaffFrontBOOKMARKBACK.png

Crossing the Streams: reaching across writing communities

Anyone who has watched Ghostbusters will remember that, although ‘crossing the streams’ was supposed to be a Terrible Thing, ultimately it vanquished the Big Bad and saved the day. Likewise, for writers, learning to cross-network between different writing communities can enrich our lives and take our work to a whole new level.

In 2012, I joined my first writing community, the SFFChronicles.com — an online science fiction and fantasy forum with an active writer’s section. At the time, I had just made the decision to get back into writing and was working on my first novel, a middle grade fantasy. While researching children’s fiction resources I found the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), but back then I lived in Brazil, and we had no regional chapters I could look into.

A year later, following my husband’s job relocation, I moved to Connecticut. As soon as I arrived, I joined the SCBWI. Six months later, I went to my first SCBWI conference in New York. I was making connections, online and in person, and my writing world was growing. At the same time, I continued to be an active participant in the sci fi and fantasy community. Both were equally important in teaching me about how publishing works, and in honing my writing skills.

From the kid lit community I learned how to craft middle grade and YA; the SF/F world taught me about genre fiction. The first was invaluable in helping me understand traditional publishing; the second showed me how to navigate anthology submission calls and other short story markets. The SCBWI brought me my wonderful local critique partners; the SF/F community gave me my first beta readers, and eventually a second online critique group. The SCBWI encouraged me to volunteer at conferences and events, and to get involved at a local level, organizing meet and greets for my area. SF/F brought participation opportunities for convention panels, my first public reading, and an opening to write interviews for a genre website. Both groups have nurtured me and cheered for my successes along the way, and expanded both my horizons and my circle of friends. I couldn’t keep moving forward without both of these communities at my side.

When I go to SCBWI events I’m always intrigued by how few members seem to even consider reaching beyond the kid lit community for connection and knowledge. The SCBWI is a wonderful place to call home, but there are many other thriving organizations out there to be explored. The Romance Writers of America is a busy and inclusive example, with many small local chapters throughout the USA. The Mystery Writers of America is another great society with active chapters in different regions. And those are only two among many. Broadening our worlds and cross-networking between communities can be a wonderful way to gain further insight in our work and widen that support web that is so crucial in the difficult world of publishing.

Whatever you chosen ‘home’ community, consider stepping outside and looking for others to connect with. Have a look around, both online and in your local area, and see what you can find. Take a chance on adding a whole new side to your network by joining additional writing organizations — either official ones, like those mentioned above, or unofficial ones such as the forum I’ve been on since 2012. Getting involved with a new community may be scary at first, but by casting that net a little wider and crossing those streams, you may find your creativity shines bigger, and brighter, and bolder than ever.

There’s a whole wide world outside that window…

Distaff: a women’s sci fi anthology

Back in 2018, a few of us who post regularly on the SFFChronicles.com forum decided to get together and produce a science fiction anthology. After much debate, the concept for DISTAFF emerged: a collection of stories by women. That’s the only connecting thread — the stories themselves are all vastly different, and all the richer for that.

DISTAFF will be released in August 2019, during Worldcon in Dublin and Titancon/Eurocon in Belfast. I’m absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project, and now that we’ve had a lovely cover reveal hosted by SFFWorld.com, I can finally share our beautiful art by Shellie Horst, one of the participating authors. Besides Shellie and myself, the list includes Jo Zebedee, Kerry Buchanan, Jane O’Reilly, Rosie Oliver, Damaris Browne, E. J. Tett, and Susan Boulton.

Here’s the blurb:


DISTAFF: NOUN


A staff used in spinning.
Of women and women’s work.
An anthology of women’s stories woven through time and space.


In 2018 a crack team of women sci-fi writers, all members of the sffchronicles community forum, came together to write an anthology. Distaff is the result. Join us as we share stories of people, of science and exploration, and enjoy the words we weave.

Boskone 56 Round-up

Another year, another edition of Boskone, ‘New England’s longest running science fiction convention’. I’ll always have a soft spot for Boskone, which represents a lot of firsts for me: first SF/F con I ever went to (back in 2015, two years after moving to the USA) and first time on panels (2017) are two of them. This year I added another couple of firsts: my first time moderating a panel and my first time doing a reading.

Here are some of my Boskone 56 highlights!

  • Trying my hand at moderating. I…actually had a great time doing this. The other participants of the Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction panel — Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, and M.C. DeMarco — did a fantastic job with a pretty tricky theme, so a huge thanks to them all for playing along with my not-so-easy questions.
  • The Broad Universe group reading. Broad Universe has been organizing their Rapid Fire Readings for years now, and as a new member of the group I was delighted to give this a go. We each got an allotted six minutes to give the audience (and each other) a taste of our work, and I really enjoyed the mixture of styles and genres.
The BU reading: thanks L.J. Cohen for the photo!
  • Talking fights in the Now, That’s a Great Action Scene panel. Unfortunately our moderator Errick Nunnally only made it for the end of the panel, but Bracken MacLeod stepped in and kept S.L. Huang, Vincent O’Neil and myself busy with plenty of fun discussion points. And I got to take my HEMA longsword to show offprove a point (ha! point…) about the need for proper research.
  • Debating trilogies and series in the Middle Book Syndrome panel. Fran Wilde did an awesome job moderating this (plus, we had matching nail polish!), and Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee and myself had a great time trading tips and tricks for keeping those trilogies flowing.
Middle Book Syndrome panel; thanks to Jennie Ivins for the photo!
  • Readings! Besides the Broad Universe reading, I also caught the Unlikely Imaginarium group reading, with Elaine Isaac/E.C. Ambrose, Clarence Young/Zig Zag Claybourne, Kenneth Schneyer, C.S.E Cooney, Carlos Hernandez and Cerece Rennie Murphy. And later that same day, a reading by S.L. Huang, whose Zero Sum Game sounds awesome and has already been added to my to-read list.
There’s Clarence at the Unlikely Imaginarium reading…
  • I always try to fit in a few panels, and Laundering Your Fairy Tales with Jane Yolen, Theodora Goss, Victoria Sandbrook, Karen Heuler and Melanie Meadors was a great pick, delving into the often-dark history of popular fairy tales. Of Gods, Devils, And Tricksters was another good one, with an in-depth look at trickster figures in mythology. This one was moderated by Max Gladstone, with Rebecca Roanhoarse, Shannon Chakraborty, Jane Yolen and Dana Cameron. And I ended up going to The Great Agent Hunt, with S.L. Huang, Joshua Bilmes, Christopher Golden, Lauren Roy and Barry Goldblatt. Lots of good advice, and plenty of cautionary tales… 
  • People. All the people. New friends, old friends… Conversations everywhere: at the bar, in the hallways, at the tail end of panel sessions. This is what really makes Boskone such a great event — getting to hang out with other readers, writers, and fans for two days straight. You are all awesome and I loved spending time with you! I hope to see you next year!
A selection of postcards and bookmarks: to-read reminders!

I only stayed two days this time, instead of the full weekend, to save a little on hotel money. I was sad to leave early, but it’s for a good cause: in August I’ll be at Worldcon in Dublin and then Titancon in Belfast! I’m really excited to be trying something new, but you can bet that in 2020 I’ll be back at Boskone, my ‘home con’ and forever favorite.

Boskone 56 Schedule

It’s almost February, and that means it’s getting close to Boskone time! I absolutely love this friendly New England Con, and I’m glad to be returning. If you like science fiction and/or fantasy, and live anywhere near Boston, why not drop by to check it out?

This year brings a couple of firsts for me: my first time as a panel moderator at Boskone, and my first reading, as part of the Broad Universe group. Besides my own program items, I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and hopefully making a few new ones; watching a couple of panels (see full program here); and maybe attending a reading. Let’s see how much I can cram into the two days I’ll be there!

If you’re planning to attend, here’s my schedule:

Agency and Free Will in Speculative Fiction

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 18:00 – 18:50, Harbor III

Fantasy often makes use of prophecy. But when a protagonist is the prophesied one, how can they experience true conflict, risk — or agency? They can’t fail, right? Shouldn’t this deflate the reader’s interest? What happens when you have conflicting prophecies? And if we’re in a mechanistic universe, governed by the laws of physics, where is free will?

Juliana Spink Mills (M), Gillian Daniels, Rebecca Roanhorse, Greer Gilman, M. C. DeMarco

Broad Universe Group Reading

Friday 15th Feb 2019, 21:00 – 21:50, Griffin

Join members of Broad Universe — a nonprofit association dedicated to supporting, encouraging, and promoting female authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror — as they read tidbits of works and works in progress. Readers will include Terri Bruce, Trisha Wooldridge, L. J. Cohen, Roberta Rogow, Juliana Spinks Mills, Joanna Weston, and others. Moderated by Elaine Isaak.

Now, That’s a Great Action Scene!

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 11:00 – 11:50, Burroughs

Fight scenes are not all created equal. Action scenes can make or break a story: drawing readers in, or shattering the suspension of their disbelief. Let’s look at some of the best action scenes and sequences to see how it’s done right — and why some scenes are just wrong. How do you keep the energy up without confusing the readers with a flurry of movements that only martial arts enthusiasts can follow — or care to?

Errick Nunnally (M), S L Huang, Bracken MacLeod, Juliana Spink Mills, Vincent O’Neil

The Middle Book Syndrome

Saturday 16th Feb 2019, 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 4

The first book of your series was amazing: solid story; compelling characters; great reception by publisher, critics, and fans. Now, the hard part: living up to all the high expectations. Or maybe the first book had a less receptive reception, but you still need to produce that second volume? Plus there’s the rhythm problem — first book, thrilling beginnings; last book, satisfying conclusions; middle book, recaps and repetitions … How do you deal with the pressures of a multi-book contract and impatient fans?

Fran Wilde (M), Juliana Spink Mills, Kenneth Rogers Jr., Sarah Beth Durst, Sharon Lee

Necromorphosis: Interview with C.T. Grey

Finnish-born author C.T. Grey is an engineer and self-confessed information junkie with a serious addiction to science fiction and fantasy. Besides his own novels, Grey has also published a number of articles and blog posts on technology, science, politics, and a wide variety of other topics, both fact and fiction.

In First Interview, book 1 of the Necromorphosis series, Grey introduces us to a bleak and horrifying post-zombie-outbreak London, where a mutated virus has escaped government control and now runs rampant among the population. The novel comes with a twist, though: zombies are not the only supernatural creatures roaming London. And now the Damned, which include vampires, are threatened with exposure as the entire structure of society begins to fall apart.

Juliana: Hi C.T., and welcome. First Interview is a zombie novel with a unique approach — one of its main point of view characters is a vampire! How did you come up with the idea of mixing traditional fantasy elements like vampires and magic with a classic zombie outbreak tale?

CTG: Thank you Juliana. It is a good question. At the beginning the trilogy was just a short story that I posted in its entirety in the SFF Chronicles under a title of “A New Beginning…” It was story where Herbert Jackson faced Jane and end up as her dinner, as the story ends in the classical Jane’s line: “I’d like some red, please.

When I started to listen to Jane as my muse I was imagining a very different kind of story as I was admiring Bear Grylls and I wanted to put him as a character, which comes to rescue Jane from some tower in London. It would have been really romantic and somewhat a classical adventure. However it never happened as Jane led to a very different kind of survival story. 

I never wanted to write a classical zombie story or follow Kirkman in the niche market, as the whole turmoil with the zombie uprise is a background detail in the book. It is not the main thing. Jane’s survival story is and I wanted to make her extraordinary as those types get highlighted born in the times of conflict. 

You can read from between the lines that the story Jane tells to Henrik isn’t a normal journey. But it is the sort of case that Henrik would be normally investigating, but the deeper he ventures into the story that Jane is weaving, he starts to realise that everything isn’t as it should be. 

I wanted that to be the fantasy element, not just supernatural as that would be boring. I honestly wanted to write in all the places she has visited, things she has seen but wasn’t mentioned in the books, like for example: dryads, centaurs, elves and dragons. What I think is interesting is that to Henrik all of those things are magic. He doesn’t believe in any of them, because he was born skeptic. But over the course of the trilogy, his views change somewhat dramatically.

Juliana: I know you are a fan of a wide variety of science fiction and fantasy TV shows, which you review for the SFFChronicles.com. Did your eclectic approach to entertainment influence your choice to draw from both sides of the speculative coin, so to speak?

CTG: No. It never was my aim, but I do admit I might have been influenced by them. Thing is whatever you read, watch, see will get mixed in your mind and eventually spilled out on the paper. 

I started my own reading experience with Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea and moved on to cover a number of classical masters like Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein, Philip K Dick and so on. I read a lot and I still do, but these days I have the internet, so I don’t read as many books as I used to, but over the years I’ve never been just one type of guy.

If there is a fantasy creature in my stories, the chances are there are a number of others lurking at the background, ready to pop in the stage. I could claim that it’s like the case of Tove Janson’s Moomins, once you know they are real, they never go away and in the Moomin valley there are a large number of things that not present in the ‘real world,’ but we still do believe in there.

Therefore I cannot omit fantasy from a story, if the main character is already a fantasy creature. What I can and what I have done in the trilogy, is that I’ve rooted them into the realm of realism as much as I can. It just happens to be that after the Great Panic all these creatures start to pop all over the map. 

So, in the case of the Necromorphosis trilogy, nothing you’ll see is traditional. I mix … sometimes quite strongly science fiction into fantasy because both genres can offer so much more than restricting yourself to write yourself into the corner. The biggest SF thing I have is the Portal technology, but it is also funny, because the portals are in scientific terms pure fantasy.

Juliana: I have a confession — I’m terrified of zombies! But First Interview, despite the sometimes-graphic descriptions of gore, somehow eased me in and kept me from running away. A lot of this is probably down to your protagonist Jane, and her matter-of-fact manner of telling the story. Was this a conscious decision on your part — to give the reader some breathing space, so the horror wouldn’t be too overwhelming — or did this just occur naturally?

CTG: (Laughs) You are not the only one. Jeff Richards, who has edited the whole trilogy, confessed to me very early on that he absolutely hates the zombie tales. To him, you and a number of other people, who have read the book, have confessed the same thing. First Interview isn’t about the zombies, or what they do, when the apocalypse becomes real, because that tale is Jane’s tale and I doubt she would ever bore Henrik with a simple zombie story.

When you later on read the next book – From Exopolis to Necropolis – you will notice that the same effect that plagues AMC’s The Walking Dead plagues that story as it keeps moving away from shuffling horrors to a short of story that is close to Inception. And that move was as much intentional as it could be. The dead will remain as threat and as a reminder about what happened when the Day of Great Panic dawned in Jane’s Earth and it became apparent that there was no return to the world of yesterday.   

So to get Jeff to edit he had to love the story so much that he made me put it into various competitions with the Big 5 for over two and half years. When it became apparent to me that they liked it and saw something in it, but couldn’t invest money into it, I made a decision to publish it on my own.

Juliana: What challenges did your two main characters, the vampire Jane and Intelligence Analyst Henrik, bring? Who was the hardest one to write? And the easiest?

CTG: Henrik was the hardest. The simple reason is, he’s an invisible narrator in First Interview but his role grows much bigger later on. Because he was so vague I had harder time engaging him than Jane. Usually she’s much easier and more interesting thing to write than Henrik. With her you always know that you’re not going to have a boring moment. Instead you’ll get a chance to explore things that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. You could claim that Jane is sort of Super Heroine and you wouldn’t be wrong as that is almost what she is. With her being an over six and half centuries old vampire, you get a chance to explore world from a point-of-view that is far older than what you could do with a traditional human perspective.

She has seen history and met people since last mini ice-age and it shows in her narrative. With Henrik the case is different, as he studies things in the current timeframe rather than wallowing in the past, like Jane does sometimes.  

There are only a few Jane focused chapters that I struggled to write. Some of them especially so because I got so emotional with her struggles to cope with the world she didn’t wanted to bring around. Jane would have happily stayed in the shadows and continued living in a normal world that we experience everyday.  

Juliana: First Interview is full of high-octane action scenes. Do you have a system for writing these scenes? Do you work them out beforehand, in your mind or on paper, or do you just jump straight in?

CTG: I don’t plan them as I let the muse and flow bring them out, but each one of those battles has been written multiple times. In some cases Jeff has made me to rewrite them again. So you get multiple layers that over time became the scenes you see in the books. In First Interview there is a scene, where Jane is being targeted by a sniper. I wrote it probably ten times even though it is relatively simple thing to write. It is also a reference point that Henrik uses multiple times, because in his mind, nobody could have survived it. Jane, on the other hand, isn’t a nobody and her ending in it wouldn’t have made a very good book. (laughs)

With the choreography of the fights I have over a decade long experience as a game-master and making high-octane adventures for the top-class players. Believe me, they schooled me well on what’s an interesting fight and how it should go down. Although with the gamers what you expect to get isn’t ever going to happen, because their sole aim is to destroy you as a game-master. (laughs again)

So, with the fights I never aim to destroy my characters but to put them through fast-and-dirty fights where sometimes unbelievable things happens just like it is in the case of the real life. Although I have a chance to show those scenes to military people and ask their opinion on them, I tend utilize my service experience and stuff that I’ve gathered continuing talking and analyzing current fights in the world, before I bring them on the paper.   

Believe me it would be easier to write them if I didn’t knew anything about the art of warfare or how the battles turn out. In fact I’m glad that you can reflect those experience in the fiction and anchor them into the reality as much as I can. It also helps that every week, sometimes every day I write reviews on the stuff you see in the small screen or in the big one.

Juliana: Since your first language is Finnish, what were the key difficulties you had to face when working in English? And do you have any tips for other non-native-English writers?

Finnish and English are very different. Whilst Finnish might be easier language to write prose, it’s not the main language in our world. I write both fluently and out of those two, English is way much harder, because it has so many rules. Some things don’t make sense to even English Masters as they have to accept that things are the way they are. On the other hand I can easily bend the Finnish words and use them in completely different meaning altogether as the language flexes more around the speaker and the writer than what you can do with English language alone. So, it is a question of how much you can cope, and how well you can learn those rules to be able write in second language. As English is one of the main languages I try not to play with it as much I can do with my mother tongue.  

JulianaTalk to me about your cover! What are your favorite things about it? How closely did you work with the artist, Jackie Felix? 

CTG: The cover… Oh man, I don’t know where to start. Well, firstly, I wanted to show Jane and keep Henrik altogether, as Jane is the Main Character in the First Interview. Jackie did a fantastic job in bringing her and Sergeant Red out as a couple, as you can see them standing in the Interview Room 2, looking mighty grumpy. Through the book they are an item as much as Jane and Jaq is, but Jackie didn’t wanted to draw nasty dead in the streets of war torn London, hence you see them in the Interview scene. 

I chose Jackie, because she draws the best females characters in the industry and she isn’t afraid of showing them curvy or full of life. She also has an ability to draw from the darkness and apply that to the canvas. Jackie also managed to capture the feeling that their world is close to us but in some terms it’s more technologically advanced than our own. You see the eye of the Source (an AI) in the background watching everyone. So even in that you can get layers of the that only make complete sense once you have the knowledge.  

JulianaOn February 10th you’ll be releasing Book 2 of your series, From Exopolis to Necropolis. Can you give us any spoiler-free hints of what awaits Jane, Henrik, Jaq and Co.? Also, First Interview very briefly introduces deeper fantasy elements, such as magic, the teaser of more supernatural creatures lurking undercover, and the mysterious Underworld. Will you expand upon these in the sequel?

CTG: Yes, I’ve expanded them a great deal, as the reader gets to dive into the story that was hugely inspired by Nolan’s Inception movie. You’ll get to learn how the Necromorphis advanced in the streets of London. What role the Portals, the Exopolis and the collective of special people that the Authorities placed in the Moon has been doing since the dust from the Great Panic has settled. You also learn much more about Henrik and what he’s going to do when, after six months, he meets Jane in the Exopolis and one of the first things she asks is for him to become Mayor. 

At the background, you can expect that the war between the Damned and the Authorities is continuing. And for your delight there aren’t that many scenes involving the dead as there are in the First Interview. Instead of them you get to learn more about the mysterious Underworld, and what role it plays in the grand scheme of things. 

JulianaThank you CT for stopping by and answering my questions. And I love the cover of the new book, with art by Adam Burn!

From Exopolis to Necropolis is available for preorder from Amazon, and First Interview will soon be available at a special promotional price during the sequel’s pre-launch week.

Amazon UK

Amazon USA