Interview with Serenity Sheild

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Serenity Sheild’s book blog]

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

I wrote terrible stories in grade school, journaled in high school, and took writing courses at MIT and Harvard. When I left MIT, I was interested in trying to write and spent time with a writer’s group, one of whom is now a bestselling author – Sue Miller, of The Good Mother and other novels. But I was not good enough to break in at that time (I was 22!) so I went on to careers in computer science and business. I’ve returned to writing after early retirement.

Is being an Author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?

If you’re going to write novels, you’re going to be isolated a lot; you can’t be task-switching every ten minutes and hanging out with friends every night. So you spend long hours in your head and interruptions are resented. The best thing, I suppose, is that you get to single-handedly create—no one can stop you, no one (except possibly an editor!) is going to derail the flow of what you and your characters have to say.

What was the very first thing you ever wrote?

Hah! Probably a two-page science fiction story about a boy going into a cave and discovering aliens at the center of the Earth. I knew it was bad even at the time!

 What made you create (your book)? How did it come to you?

I had done well with two books about attachment theory and relationships: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. I had not tried to write long-form fiction in 20+ years, but a long discussion online with a group of science fiction writers and fans convinced me to take up the challenge of writing a story about and for younger people which had some of the technological optimism of old-school science fiction, blended with the diversity and sensibility of today. Part of the problem with YA fiction is the depressive tone taken by many authors, as if every story should focus on Major Issues like global warming and environmental catastrophe. A breakthrough like Hunger Games happened because publishers saw it was a story with a strong young woman as hero — which is true and a big part of its appeal. But it became a phenomenon because it is also a story about today’s politics, with the elite urban disdain for rural and lower-class people and the oppressive micromanagement of an ever-increasing and manipulative government. I wanted to more directly address the same urge for freedom.

Who is your literary hero?

Hmm, I don’t have just one. But I grew up reading Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, so-called because they were designed to be relatively simple and feature young people growing into adulthood and doing great things. When he wrote more complex and adult stories, his publisher refused them – starting with Starship Troopers, still considered a classic. In later years as he became too commercially successful to be told what to do by editors, he got self-indulgent and his work was less focused.

Evan Connell is another master of literary fiction whose work is less known than it should be. Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge are perfect, lapidary novels capturing a husband and wife in Kansas City in the 1930s and 40s. Heartbreaking portraits composed of a series of small scenes, each one adding a tiny bit to your understanding until you are overcome by the power of it — and all without major drama. Restrained, refined, repressed. Two of the top ten American novels.

How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?

None directly. There are fragments of my own background and personality mixed up with other people I have known, but once set they tend to take on a life of their own beyond those starting ingredients.

Describe your main character in six words.

Grad student waiting for a challenge.

Describe the world you’ve created in six words.

Soft fascist thought control state, overturned.

What scene was your favorite to write?

The fictional version of an incident where a professor put up a “Firefly” poster and was cited by campus authorities for creating a threatening environment. Which actually happened. I enjoyed gently mocking Star Trek and Firefly.

 What scene was the hardest for you to write?

One must have villains, and one of mine is the boyfriend of my main female character, Samantha. He’s a narcissistic, rich schmuck, and in the scene where she breaks up with him in a restaurant, he is abusive. It was intense to write feeling how she must be feeling.

 What are you working on now?

The next book in the series. Our rebels take on the governments of the world and bring peace, harmony, and plenty to all. No, really! Until the next book, anyway.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

I work out every day at a gym, lifting weights and doing cardio. I really enjoy that and come up with some great ideas while on the Stairmaster. 

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page

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