Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shelly Interviews Two Humans At Once

Male humans, what’s worse more. But one of them keeps the delicious earthworms coming, so let’s begin.

My name’s Shelly. I’m a box turtle and the writing partner of a science fiction author. But today isn’t about me. With me are authors Kevin Nielsen and Derick William Dalton. Mr. Nielsen is the author of Sands, a fantasy novel recently released by Future House Publishing. I devoured the plot summary about giant desert reptiles ruling an entire planet, causing mammals to live in abject terror. Had someone at last made an attempt to pander to the female terrapin demographic!? My breath caught in my throat. I started to cheer. Until I came to the part about reptiles being the bad guys. Mr. Nielsen, you’d better tell me right now there’s at least one smoking crater scene of a lizard-pillaged village or this interview is over.

KN – Well Shelly, you’re in luck, and may I say, you’re looking lovely today.  There are several scenes where the reptilian hordes reign supreme.  Now, I’m not going to give anything away, but the more you learn about these reptilian bad-guys, the more you’ll like.  They fly, they have metal bones, some of them even have poisonous spines, what’s not to love?

STBT – For one, flattery works on me. I am looking lovely. And metal bones? Poisonous spines? How come the males I find most interesting are either extinct or fictional? I wonder if human women have the same frustrations. Consider my interest renewed, Mr. Nielsen, and welcome to my this blog.
So. The other guest. Frankly, I’m a little peeved at Mr. Dalton just now. Last contract negotiation left me feeling manipulated. You’ll pardon me if can’t refrain from references to a higher quality of nightcrawler. Nonetheless, for those unacquainted, he’s the author of the science fiction novel Houses of Common, the sequel to which, Meaner Sort, will be available October 31st.

DWD – Yep. That’s book bomb day. But you forgot the short story collec-

STBT – Yes. A pleasure.
Mr. Nielsen, as I’m inundated with science fiction, your genre is refreshing. I’d really like to hear why that’s your mug of mead.

KN – Well, fantasy is my mug of mead for, most likely, the same reason that Mr. Dalton enjoys science fiction so much.  In essence, I like the way an author can tell a story that teaches a lesson in a way that keeps the reader entertained.  It’s not some boring, lecture hall, but an interactive, fun, and dynamic system which allows for everyone to come away both entertained and a little thoughtful.  It’s like how Houses of Common teaches you that you can do what’s right regardless of who you are, it is a choice rather than a destiny, and yet still gets you interested in terraforming and the cool new technologies in the world at the time the novel takes place.  But, Shelly, I’m curious, maybe Mr. Dalton can help us understand what the difference between fantasy and science fiction is and why science fiction is his personal beverage of choice.

DWD – In large part, it stems from my inability to restrain a desire to teach bio-

STBT – He was talking to me, Derick. In large part, it stems from his inability to restrain his inner geek. He devours Lord of the Rings annually, but when he writes, he can’t help showing off. You should see the piles of technojargon his editors and I make him cut. Leaving the mechanics of magic to the imagination is a fine art Mr. Tolkien mastered. Brevity, it seems, is also the soul of speculative fiction.

DWD – True, but I can’t be the only one who finds the biochemistry of genetic engineering interesting. Like Kevin’s entertaining lessons, I think fiction sparks interest in reality. And vice versa. Textbooks are where I’ve found many of my favorite ideas. Back me up here, Mr. Nielsen. Don’t you wish one of Tolkien’s appendices was a peek into Gandalf’s training? Or a pupil of his discovering how exactly one severs stone with a stick and casts an evil wizard’s influence out of an equestrian king?

KN – Of course I do – I will totally back you up on that one.  I would love to see the mechanics behind some of that magic.  That’s why I like “hard magic” systems where the magic is a function of the physical realm and is explained well.  Brandon Sanderson does this very well in many of his books, most notably the Mistborn books. 
As Derick will no doubt tell you, technology and magic are only distinguishable by how we designate them.  If we can quantify, manipulate, and understand it to some extent, enough to lump it into an already known category, it is called science.  If it defies the known laws or understandings of the universe, we call it magic.

STBT – So Mr. Nielsen, you suggest the real difference between magic and science is only an explanation of how it works, and Mr. Dalton is comparing himself to J.R.R. Tolkien?

DWD – What? No! To the second part, anyway. As to the first, Kevin’s in good company. In 1961 Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I love the mystery of magic when I read, but I can’t bring myself to leave out an explanation when I write. My iPhone is better than Captain Kirk’s tricorder. 1905 magic became 1966 science fiction became 2015 science fact.

STBT – Restrain the nerd! You can’t even use half the functions on your iPhone, and now you’re comparing Mr. Nielsen to Arthur C. Clarke? You’re mixing up the genres, pal. You’ve also got a thing for 20th century Brits, which makes this entire conversation a little too machismo for my taste. So let’s talk about Mr. Nielsen’s protagonist. Unleash some girl power. What lessons or ideas were you trying to convey that only a female character could wield?

KN – Well, for one thing, that girls are just as strong as boys (or women as strong as men) though they have different strengths.  It is hard to see in the first book, but as the series progresses, you’ll see more of how both gender roles are separate and distinct, yet both strong, both fulfilling, and – in many cases – overlap quite well with one another.  Strength comes in many forms and there are several female characters in the book which typify various aspects of it.
In all honesty, I started writing this book with a female protagonist simply because I had never had a female protagonist in one of my books before and it evolved from there.
Oh, and Shelly – if Mr. Dalton were to give you some tasty worms, would you cut him any slack?  He’s a good guy, you know.

STBT – See Mr. Dalton? Your friend gets it after a five minute conversation. Tell us about Sckiik.

DWD – Shelly’s favorite, the alien security officer in Houses of Common.  A former cop, she takes out assassins and flies starships and puts up with obnoxious male family members. In discussing women in literature with my wife, she pointed out a common mistake writers make in creating strong female leads: They just put lipstick and a skirt on a tough guy. She hates that, and after pointing out examples, I saw how poorly it works. Aggression, brutality, not a fit without context. Have you noticed that Kevin? How do you avoid it?

KN – Well, there are many sides of every individual.  The best advice I ever heard about a character who is the opposite gender from the writer was at an LTUE Symposium.  I can’t remember the speaker, but the gist of it was “write them as a person first, and the gender will work itself out.”  There is no “one-size fits all” definition of what a “strong woman” entails.  Some of them are aggressive and brutal, though they will often demonstrate it in different ways than a man would.  I think the way to avoid taking a man and simply “putting them in lipstick and skirt” (or taking a woman and putting them in men’s clothing) is to make sure you have a real character – if they seem like a real person, the way they express their strengths (and weaknesses) will come naturally and fit both the story and the character arc.  Shelly, you’re a girl, though of a different species – do you have any thoughts?

STBT – Part of me thinks you two are just reading marketing reports and pandering.

DWD – Yeah, Insurgent and Hunger Games fans are bored of that strong female stuff. Our books will never fly, Kevin. Maybe I should write an alternate history where Governor George Wallace was an alien in disguise. He tries to protect his species from the deadly human pheromones he thinks are most potently exuded by Alabama women of African descent.

STBT – What’s that burning smell, Mr. Dalton? Oh. Your writing career.

Mr. Nielsen and Mr. Dalton can be followed on their author pages (Kevin, DWD).

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