Saturday, February 16, 2013

Interview with Author Mary Fan

An interview with Author Mary Fan on her upcoming book Artificial Absolutes, a science fiction novel.

What inspired you to write Artificial Absolutes?
Jane was a character I'd dreamed up, but didn't know what to do with. I knew her quirks, hopes, and insecurities long before I had a plot. I'd wanted to write a space opera for a while, and one day it occurred to me-why not send Jane, an ordinary young woman, on an adventure across the stars and see how she fares?

Do you have a specific writing style?
I write in close third in order to show the characters' internal thoughts and allow a reader to experience the book from their perspectives. In order to tell the story from multiple angles, I rotate between characters' points of view. Much of the story is seen through Jane's eyes, but I wrote sections from the perspectives of, for example, the woman who witnessed (or thought she witnessed) Jane's brother shooting their father, the hacker who helps Jane and her brother flee the authorities, and the starship commander chasing them.

How did you come up with the title?
One of the Red Adept editors came up with the title Artificial Absolutes , and I'm immensely grateful that she did! How do you capture the plot and atmosphere and ideas of an entire book in a few short words? My working titles for this book ranged from flimsy to bad to completely worthless.
Artificial Absolutes is a play on "false gods." In this future, the dominant religion refers to God as "the Absolute Being," or simply "the Absolute." Of course, "absolute" can refer to other things people worship besides a deity-ideals, standards, power, etc.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The underlying theme of Artificial Absolutes is the blurred line between man and machine, what's real and what's not. I explored this theme through artificial intelligence and virtual reality as well as the everyday question of how much of oneself must be given up in order to conform to a narrow definition of success. I looked into the questions of who the characters think they are versus who they portray themselves as versus who they really are. Some characters are influenced by others in ways they're not even aware of.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Every story is at least somewhat autobiographical, with aspects drawn from an author's interactions, experiences, and explorations. That being said, I don't know anyone who's flown a starship at lightspeed or fired a laser gun at a guard bot.
While nothing was literally taken from real life, I did draw upon my memories to color the characters' perspectives. For instance, I've never piloted a starship that was about to crash, but I have driven a car that was on the verge of catching fire.

What books have most influenced your life most?
I can't say specifically which books have had the greatest influence on me, but I've been reading the classics since before I had any right to. I was that little kid trudging around elementary school with books that barely squeezed into her backpack. I'm sure the voices of those authors continue to influence how I view aspects of life, literature, and language.
On a completely different note, I started getting really into sci-fi in middle school-everything from H.G. Wells to Michael Crichton to the Star Wars expanded universe novels. Their ability to transport me to another world and the love I had for the infinite possibilities they bring to life inspired me to create universes of my own.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
When I was a teenager, I was lucky enough to be mentored by sci-fi writer Allen Wold. While it's been years since I last spoke with him, I remember many of his words of wisdom. Some things he explained didn't make sense when I was a high school student, but looking back from my current perspective has allowed me to realize what he meant.

What book are you reading now?
I write book reviews for my blog and get tons of requests from indie authors, and so the answer to that question changes every week, sometimes every few days! One day I'll be wrapped up in a cozy mystery, the next I'll be shuddering to gruesome horror. When my queue gets shorter, I intend to read some more books of contemporary philosophy, such as God and the Philosophers .

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I read a lot of new indie authors for my blog reviews. They all show promise, and I definitely have my favorites. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be a bestseller someday, and I can say, "I interviewed him/her before he/she became famous!"

What are your current projects?
I'm currently working on two books, one of which is completed and in the process of being edited, the other of which is still in word-on-screen mode.
The first is a YA dystopian fantasy about a future in which monsters roam freely in the former United States. This book was the product of a brainstorming session my kid sister and I engaged in one day to entertain ourselves, and I couldn't resist fleshing it out.
The latter is actually a sequel to Artificial Absolutes . Artificial Absolutes was meant to be a standalone book, but after I completed it, thoughts started popping into my head as to what could happen next. Since I didn't intend for Artificial Absolutes to be a series, I initially tried ignoring the thoughts and moving on. But alas, ideas have a funny way of bugging you until you do something about them, so I'm currently writing them down before they drive me nuts. Whether they amount to anything worthwhile remains to be seen.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
That's easy: Nikki Thean, one of my best friends from university. She's the reason Artificial Absolutes got written in the first place. I'd been meaning to write a book for some time, but couldn't get down to it until she challenged me. She also supported me through the harrowing process of revisions and rewrites, and then the even more harrowing process of querying. And all I did in return was name the Kyderan president after her.
Also, I know you said "one," but I must give a shout-out to my amazing roommate, Joanna Schnurman, for putting up with all my writerly ranting.
Do you see writing as a career?
Now that I've started, I don't think I can stop. There will always be more stories to be told, more characters to bring to life.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I'm pretty happy with the way Artificial Absolutes turned out. It's a very different book than the one I set out to write. Originally, it was meant to be a pulpy, intentionally campy tale of adventures through space. But my characters objected, and as I wrote it, things took a more serious turn as I explored their psyches. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn't waste so much time writing all those bad jokes that had to be scrapped!
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was a major bookworm growing up, and I continued playing "make believe" long after the other kids outgrew the game. So I internalized it and daydreamed stories in my head, although I never cast myself in the adventures I came up with. Then, one day, it occurred to me that I could write these thoughts down and have a book of my own.
Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Below is a passage from Chapter Two of Artificial Absolutes , in which poor Jane is stuck at her boring office job:
The thought of going back to her copy-paste-pull-data made her brain hurt. Instead, Jane did what she, as a very bad employee, often resorted to when the monotony got the best of her: gaze at the giant fish tank across the room and daydream.
A bright green fish, translucent fins flowing behind it like a pair of scarves, swam across the aquarium.Fuy Lae. That species is from Fuy Lae in the Zim'ska Re system.
What a pity Zim'ska Re was such a dangerous part of the galaxy. The beauty of its planets was legendary.
Maybe one day an alien race would be discovered. Not extraterrestrial creatures from other star systems like that fish. Intelligent aliens, as advanced as or more advanced than humans. Maybe they would be wiser, see everything wrong with a society in which status determined success and happiness was measured in numbers. Maybe they could introduce humans to a new way of living, one that allowed them to untangle their desires and release themselves from material pressures. Maybe those hypothetical aliens sounded a lot like Adam. And here's a bit from the scene after Jane witnesses Adam's kidnapping: Jane had never been afraid of heights. As a child, she'd enjoyed alarming her mother by climbing the tallest Venovian evergreens on the Colt estate. Comparing her size then to her size currently, she probably wasn't much higher up. It was a little different hanging from the underside of an elevator with only a hastily slammed hatch between her and a killer robot. Well, this sucks. That she'd caught the bar after sliding down the hatch could only be attributed to super reflexes reserved for times of great danger or to the grace of the Absolute. If only those super reflexes or that divine grace would allow her to reach the conduit Devin had mentioned…
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
When banging out a first draft, some things come naturally, and others you fudge for the time being, knowing you'll have to go back and fix it later. In my case, both involve dialogue. The words spoken come fairly naturally, but I find it challenging to write a conversation that doesn't have "she said" or "he said" in every paragraph. I had to work on capturing the little gestures that can often say as much as the words themselves-tapping fingers, fiddling with things, looking away.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I admire too many authors to pick just one as an absolute favorite. I'm going to single out Victor Hugo because I will forever be in awe of his ability to weave philosophy and meditations on life into a compelling story.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Since my book takes place on alien planets in the distant future, I didn't have to travel any further than my head to research the actual settings. Some of the locations were inspired by places I've been to, such as the bar/nightclub Jane enters about halfway through the book.
Who designed the covers?
The cover of Artificial Absolutes was designed by Streetlight Graphics. I cannot rave enough about how much I love their work. How they turned a few rambling suggestions from me into a lovely piece of digital art, I'll never know. I was a little taken aback by how close the cover model is to the image of Jane I see in my head. I can't help wondering: are they psychic?
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part of writing Artificial Absolutes was creating the character of Adam Palmer, Jane's friend who disappears in an early chapter. Untangling plot lines and building worlds seemed easy compared to getting his character right. He's an idealistic and rather philosophical seminary student, and I think he was such a challenge to write because he's the character I have the least in common with. Even though I wasn't writing from his perspective, I had to figure out his dialogue, reactions, and ways of thinking, which involved trying to see a scene through his eyes and then transcribing what would be conveyed to the POV character.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
My first draft of Artificial Absolutes was around 141,000 words long, and during the editing process, I cut it by more than 20,000 words while adding content. The cuts were almost entirely due to trimming down on unnecessary explanations. When I first wrote them, I thought I was writing from a character's perspective. I came to realize that many of those explanations weren't the character's thoughts, but my own commentary, and that they were intrusive to the story.
I also learned that stargazers are a really, really ugly type of fish!
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read. A lot. Whether the book's good or bad, reading is really the best way to explore new ideas and see what works and what doesn't.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Artificial Absolutes may be somewhat different from the sci-fi you're accustomed to. I took the staples of the space opera genre-starships, wormholes, laser guns-and set them up as a backdrop for a character drama. There are chase scenes and shootouts, and also family tension and quarter-life crises. Whether they're flying through an asteroid field or wrestling with their decisions, I hope Jane and her companions entertain you.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life? When it came to research, I found myself googling the funniest things. There are so many little facts that I simply didn't know! I intentionally spent little time explaining the technology in my universe, as they're merely props, but I nevertheless had to look up, for example, how many minutes it would take to exit the Solar System at light speed (the answer to that made me drastically shrink the sizes of my star systems for the sake of the plot).
From a both a literary and psychological perspective, the hardest thing was channeling the voices of the POV characters and not letting my own voice interrupt them. I had to get into their heads, sometimes digging deeper than I initially cared to in order to let the reader get to know their innermost dreams and fears. I also spent a lot of time finding ways to work in the idea of the artificial versus the real without distracting from the story. As for logistical, the hardest part was keeping track of where everything was! Scrolling up and down through a 500 page double-spaced manuscript looking for one passage I meant to change was downright frustrating. I finally solved that problem by creating a linked table of contents in Word.