It’s time for a little…Authors Interviewing Authors here on Binge on Books! This May, we have fantasy author Karissa Laurel chatting books, writing, and Star Wars with sci-fi/fantasy author Mary Fan!
Mary Fan and I initially met on Facebook through our mutual publisher, Red Adept Publishing, but our relationship was limited to virtual reality in the beginning. Several months later, our publisher held its annual party and book signing event, and Mary and I finally met face to face. My first thought of her was: She’s even cuter in person! She was a seasoned author by then, with three Young Adult sci-fi books and a couple of novellas under her belt, and she’s a regular at comic book conventions where she brushes elbows with the Tam siblings (If you don’t know who they are, get thee to Netflix and watch Firefly!). She was also my Yoda on Twitter, and I was totally Luke, ready for her to show me the ways of the force, er… tweeting. But what really brought us together was our mutual love of Star Wars, and when The Force Awakens came out, I knew I had found my geek soulmate.
KL: So, Mary. Before we totally dissolve into fangirls gushing about our geek obsession, I guess we should talk about books, since we’re authors and this is a book blog, after all.
You’ve written a series of YA science fiction novels called the Jane Colt Trilogy, and the first one, Artificial Absolutes, got a starred review from Publishers Weekly (Sweet!). You’ve also written Flynn Nightsider, about a young girl who uses her crazy good fighting skills to kick paranormal monster butt. You’re also the co-editor of Brave New Girls, an anthology of science-fiction short stories about girls and young women in S.T.E.M. based adventures. And it just got an excellent review from Analog Magazine (Congrats! Congrats!).
Wow, Mary, that’s an impressive list. What did I leave out? What else are you working on? What’s next from you?
MF: Hey Karissa! That about covers it… Though, in the interest of self promo, I’ll also mention that Artificial Absolutes has two sequels, Synthetic Illusions and Virtual Shadows. Together, they make up the Jane Colt trilogy. And yes, it’s a complete trilogy—no cliffhanger at the end of Book 3 ;-). My elevator pitch at cons is that the series is a little bit Firefly (because it’s about scrappy space fugitives), a little bit Blade Runner (because it deals with matters of artificial intelligence and consciousness). The main character is Jane Colt (naturally), a young woman who finds herself on the wrong side of the law after a friend’s kidnapping and a plot targeting her family upends her once-ordinary life. I like to describe her as a little bit Princess Leia, a little bit Scarlet O’Hara. Except with an artistic streak 😀
Right now I’m in this weird nebulous region between projects, since I recently sent off my latest manuscript, a contemporary retelling of Swan Lake (told from the black swan’s POV!), to my agent (fingers crossed that she likes it!). I have ideas for the Next Book, but I’m still trying to hammer them into something that… could turn into an actual book. All I know so far is that it’s going to be my second project with a contemporary setting in a row. Which is weird for me because I consider myself a sci-fi/fantasy writer. I feel like I need to throw some robots or wizards in there just because…
OH! And there’s the Sherlock project we’re doing for that funky anthology! Mine’s going to be a sci-fi retelling of one of my favorite Sherlock shorts, “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches.” And it will take place in space. With an AI Sherlock.
KL: One of the things I admire most about you, (maybe even more than your uncanny knowledge of fantasy and science-fiction fandom details) is your strong social and political voice. It’s often frightening to speak your mind in public forums like Twitter, but you always have something interesting, educational, and refreshing to say about the representation of women, people of color, and other marginalized communities in media and in the world in general. I’d love for you to expound on that a little.
MF: Thank you! *blushes* Funny thing is, I never meant to be an “outspoken” type. When things bothered me, I’d content myself with rolling my eyes in silence and hoping someone else would speak up so I could nod (silently) in agreement. I was afraid of alienating people, of inviting criticism, of being wrong. But over time, I found myself caring less and less about what others think of my opinions, and daring more and more to just say them (and own them). I think the recent shift in American culture has something to do with it as well. I feel like we’re entering the new ’60s/’70s (complete with an endless war and new Star Wars/Star Trek movies!). People are becoming more comfortable with speaking up, and so am I.
Anyway, American media has been homogenous for so long, people have forgotten that there’s no such thing as a “default” human being. Straight/white/able-bodied/male characters have become the norm because of our country’s history and power structures. Once upon a time, only white, male landowners (who were presumed to be straight) were allowed to vote, and though this country has progressed leaps and bounds since then, the effects of the mentality that put that structure in place linger to this day. It’s so ingrained in our views that anything that deviates is considered odd. But just because it’s the way things always were doesn’t mean it’s right, and more and more people are starting to realize it.
The world is changing, slowly but surely. And if there’s anything people are terrified of, it’s change. That’s why you get so much denial and backlash every time marginalized people speak up about matters that affect them.
Someday, a kid will walk into a library and see books from multitudes of cultures, and whatever their background, find a story that reflects who they are. Someday, a kid will look back at the essays/thinkpieces/Twitter-hot-takes we’re writing today and think, “Dang, must’ve been so weird back then, with so many people feeling invisible and ignored. Glad I didn’t live in those benighted times.” But we’re not there yet, and until we reach that day, all we can do is make the world hear us.
Okay, I’m gonna stop there before my soapbox hijacks this whole interview!
KL: Confession time. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that I don’t know much about you beyond your life as an author and geek guru. I have surmised, from stalking your social media accounts, that you are rather smart and musically gifted. Like, Ivy League smart and “Mary composes her own original music” gifted. Tell me more about this side of yourself.
MF: *blushes again* Happy to! Let’s see… I was born in California, but moved to North Carolina when I was four and spent the next ten years there. So NC has a special place in my heart… It was my childhood! When I saw that Red Adept Publishing was based in NC, that made me irrationally happy. It felt like coming home. Though I guess Jersey is my home-home now, since I’ve been there for… Crap, it’s been 13 years! Moved there in high school, stayed for college, and never left (except for a year-long stint in Beijing right after college). I was a music major, focusing on composition, which meant instead of writing a huge-long paper for my senior thesis, I composed a huge-long song (seriously, if you were to play through the whole thing, it would take over an hour). I’ve been a musician in some way or another since I was handed my first violin at age three—I’m fairly certain I learned how to read music before I could read words! Even though I haven’t composed anything new in years, I think being a musician shaped the way I perceive and express things… or at least, means that pretty much all my books bring up music at some point.
These days, I’m in Jersey City, working at an office job by day and writing by night (well, in theory). I’m also a member of the Jersey City Writers, a local writers community that hosts writing workshops, critique groups, writing marathons, workshops, and more. They’re seriously awesome. Hmm… what else… Ah yes, cons! I go to a lot of sci-fi/fantasy conventions as a vendor and panelist (and fangirl). Well, 5-6 a year, which isn’t a lot compared to some (I’ve met people who do about 25 a year), but a lot for a homebody like me!
Also, I just realized I’ve been weirdly vague about my college. That’s because it was Princeton, and there’s no way to say “I went to Princeton” without sounding like a humblebrag, so I got into the habit of just saying “in school” (and when people ask where I went to school, my automatic reply is “New Jersey” haha).
Alright, enough about me. My turn to ask the questions!
So, Karissa, you’ve got lots of books on the way. There’s Midnight Burning with Red Adept, which I REALLY need to read (*hangs head in shame*), and its upcoming sequel, Arctic Dawn, which are part of an urban fantasy series inspired by Norse mythology (I’m completely obsessed with the gorgeous covers of both of those, btw). Then there’s the YA fantasy series you’ve got with Evolved Publishing. What’s the story behind those books?
KL: I haven’t talked about my YA series much yet, so I’m very excited to be able to finally let some cats out of their bags. (There’s Schrodinger joke in there somewhere, but I digress.) The series, which is contracted for 3 books, is called the Stormbourne Chronicles, and the first book, Heir of Thunder has a tentative release date of September 22, 2016, which is not long after Arctic Dawn is released. I’m a little freaked about managing two books at the same time.
Heir of Thunder has been in my unpublished book trunk for many years. I’m glad I let it sit there and simmer because I wrote it as a baby author, and I think I knew it wasn’t as good as it could be. I came back and revised it when I had more experience, and it’s such a stronger book now.
Heir of Thunder got its inspiration from Viva La Vida by Coldplay. The song’s first lines begged for a story: “I used to rule the world, seas would rise when I gave the word. Now in the morning I sleep alone, sweep the streets I used to own…” I wanted to write a book about a girl, a princess, who loses her kingdom and I wanted to explore how she deals with such a dynamic shift in her life. There’s magic, and a little romance, and a little steampunk, too. I adore the steampunk aesthetic and while this book isn’t strictly set in the Victorian era, there are steamships and airships and other fun things like that.
MF: Dammit, I need that book RIGHT NOW!
Anyway, I’ve gleaned through your Twittering that you’re involved in the world of spec fic magazines and short stories. It’s a part of the spec fic world that I’m woefully uninformed about (shorts are too hard for me… my paintbrush is too big and clunky for such small canvases!). What’s that like?
KL: I got started in short stories because I was querying for a novel and I had no publication credits to list. So I thought: Hey, I’ll write and publish some short stories. It’ll be fast. It’ll be easy. Ha ha ha ha ha ha… How naïve was I?
I spent a lot of years writing crap stories and getting a lot of rejections. Short stories are like crucibles for writers. They’ll refine you. They might kill you, too (just kidding, sort of). But really, they’ll test your tolerance for rejection and help you find out if you’re really into your writing career for the long haul. Slowly I improved, had a few stories published, worked my way into some speculative fiction groups (*waves* Hey Codex people!) that helped me learn more and grow more. Writing shorts was definitely the best thing I could have done to improve myself as a writer.
Now my short story writing has tapered off a lot, but I stay active by reading “slush” (submissions) for Strange Horizons Magazine. I’ve also read submissions for Daily Science Fiction. I have a semi-science-fiction piece coming out this summer in Luna Station Quarterly, and I just wrote a short story for that Sherlock anthology you mentioned earlier. It’s steampunk, too. Did I mention I love steampunk?
MF: You’ve got quite the multifaceted life! Drawing, motorcycling, raising a teenager… What’s your non-writer world like?
KL: It’s stressful, but then, isn’t everyone’s regular life pretty stressful? I work full-time because the greatest myth about being a published writer is it’s easy to make a decent living at it. I manage a small administrative hearing board (sort of like a court with judges and lawyers and stuff), which comes from my background as a paralegal. Before that, I was a chef and a caterer. Talk about night and day careers.
The raising a teenager thing is crazy because I swear I’m not old enough or mature enough to have a kid, much less a teenager. But he’s a blessing because his dad isn’t a geek. So thank God I have a kid who’ll go see Star Wars and Marvel super hero movies with me.
Drawing and crafting is something I’ve dabbled in all my life. My mom is a hobby artist and it rubbed off on me. The motorcycling comes from the fact that I live in a houseful of testosterone and I had to learn to ride or be left behind. I hate being left behind. And I hate riding on the backseat!
MF: OKAY, time for a rapidfire round! Or whatever you call it when interviewers ask interviewees to pick one of two things. And since we bonded over our mutual obsession with Star Wars and Adam Driver’s face, I’m gonna make them all Star Wars related. R2-D2 or BB-8?
KL: Okay, I’ll answer, but you have to answer, too! But first, can we all just pause and have a moment of silent Adam Driver appreciation?
Now, to answer your question: R2-D2 because we’ve had a long-time relationship. I adore BB-8, but I’m a loyal girl. Which do you prefer, Mary?
MF: Same! I love BB-8, but R2 has a special place in my heart. Okay, next! Han or Luke?
KL: Han. So much Han. Something tells me you are a… Luke fan. Am I right?
MF: Yup, I’ve always been a Luke girl. He’s my favorite Star Wars character, and I was starting to think I was alone in that for a while, but then Daisy Ridley said he was her favorite too, which is just too perfect. Anyway, Obi-Wan or Yoda?
KL: Which Obi-Wan: Sir Alec or Ewan? Meh… I think I’ll choose Yoda. Your turn.
MF: Obi-Wan! Though it’s hard to pick which because they’re so different… I adore Wise and Cerebral Obi-Wan, but also Impulsive and Sarcastic Obi-Wan. Okay, Leia or Rey?
KL: REY! Although, I don’t think Rey could exist with Leia. I don’t mean family conspiracy theories, I mean that I think Leia was a groundbreaking role that allowed for the expansion of female roles in the Star Wars cannon. Leia also meant a lot to me as a little girl. But Rey is so great for definitively demonstrating that it’s okay to be capable, smart, and feminine at the same time. I’ll fight anyone who calls her a Mary Sue. I have a feeling you agree with me.
MF: Totally. Luke (my favorite!) was the original Star Wars Mary Sue, but because he was a dude, no one thought of him as such. I have no problem with characters who are good at stuff—it’s part of heroic storytelling! Obsessed as I am with Rey (and Daisy Ridley!) though, I pick Leia. I’ve always loved her sass and sarcasm and unabashed boldness. Next up, Captain Phasma or Boba Fett?
KL: Captain Phasma absolutely! I hope she gets more screen time after she gets out of the trash compactor.
MF: Me too! Based on what we’ve seen so far, though, I’d pick Boba Fett. It’s the outfit. Okay, Padme or Mon Mothma?
KL: Hmmm, that’s really hard. Padme is more well-known because of the movies, but Mon Mothma is crucial to the philosophy behind everything good and peaceful about the Republic. I call a tie. At least until I see Rogue One.
MF: Fair! I’d pick Padme… Been obsessed with her (and Natalie Portman) since I was a tween. Which is why Episode III made me so furious, turning her into a weeping ninny who’s completely dependent on Anakin. Blech. All right, Finn or Poe?
KL: FINN! Poe is lovely to look at, but Finn is not too shabby, either. Plus I admire his “break the mold” mindset. He seems like someone who would make a great ally and friend. He makes me laugh a lot, too. I like funny guys.
MF: Same! Poe is awesome, but I find Finn far more interesting. Okay, new game: Fill in the blank! Ben…
KS: Solo. I connected with Ben Solo so much more than Ben Kenobi, I have to say. I’m dying to see more of this character.
MF: Ditto! Okay, Darth…
KL: Vader. Is Maul even a valid answer? Just kidding. You can tell we’re from slightly different generations because I’m more cynical about the prequels.
MF: Haha Vader was my pick too. Jedi Master…
KL: Yoda. Always Yoda.
MF: Interesting! My head went to Obi-Wan. Okay, Senator…
KL: I’m going to skip the obvious answer and go with Senator Amidala. She was one of the great things about the prequels.
MF: Haha I was thinking Palpatine. But yes, Senator/Queen Amidala aka Padme (pick a name, George!) was one of the highlights of the prequels. Last one: Captain…
KL: Umm… Phasma, I guess? She’s the most notable in my mind. I bet you’ll prove me wrong, Mary.
MF: Really? I thought “Captain Solo!” Okay, list the Star Wars movies in order of your favorites!
KL: Favorite to least favorite: Episode IV: New Hope; Empire Strikes Back; The Force Awakens; Revenge of the Sith; Return of the Jedi; Attack of the Clones; Phantom Menace (Cannot tolerate that big tall goofy CGI creature who shall not be named!)
MF: Haha I was 11 or 12 when I first watched Phantom Menace, so I thought Jar Jar was hilarious. Did you know Michael Jackson lobbied hard for that role? My favorites are: Empire, New Hope, Jedi, Force Awakens, Attack of the Clones, Phantom Menace, Revenge of the Sith. Unpopular opinion, I know, but I don’t understand why people say Revenge of the Sith is the “good prequel.” Padme is basically reduced to being barefoot and pregnant, Anakin turns Dark Side in the snap of a finger, and Obi-Wan’s reaction is total jerkitude. I could write a whole essay about this hahaha.
KS: You make a very good point, Mary. Crap, now I’ll have to move Revenge of the Sith further down my list.
MF: Lastly, if Lucasfilm called and asked you to write them a Star Wars book (a movie novelization, a spinoff, a backstory book, etc), what would you write?
KL: Oh definitely, definitely, without a doubt, I want to write Kylo Ren. If I ever have a moment of free time, I’ll write him just to make myself happy. Yay for fanfic.
MF: Same! I’d love to be the author tasked with writing his backstory… how Ben Solo fell to the Dark Side and became Kylo Ren… *dreamy sigh*
KL: Well I don’t know about you, Mary, but I’ve had at least as much fun as a padawan on the first day of light saber training. Thanks to Judith Binge on Books for having us and letting Mary and me talk about our books and geek out for a little while. I assure you, nothing makes us happier.
Some of Karissa Laurel’s favorite things are coffee, chocolate, and super heroes. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for fantasy, sci-fi, and anything in between. Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin. When it snows, you’ll find her on the slopes. Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie
Mary Fan is a hopeless dreamer, whose mind insists on spinning tales of “what if.” As a music major in college, she told those stories through compositions. Now, she tells them through books—a habit she began as soon as she could pick up a pencil. She is the author of the well-received Jane Colt sci-fi novels, which comprise Artificial Absolutes (Red Adept Publishing, 2013), Synthetic Illusions (Red Adept Publishing, 2014), and Virtual Shadows (2015). She also has two series under contract with Glass House Press: Flynn Nightsider, a YA dystopian fantasy, and Fated Stars, a YA high fantasy. Mary would like to think that there are many other novels in her bag, and hopes to prove that to the world as well. She is also the co-editor ofBrave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets, a YA sci-fi anthology aimed at encouraging more girls to enter STEM careers.
Mary lives in New Jersey and has a B.A. from Princeton University. When she’s not scheming to create new worlds, she enjoys kickboxing, opera singing, and blogging about everything having to do with books.
Authors Interviewing Authors is a monthly series on Binge on Books featuring your favorite authors interviewing their favorite authors!