1. It’s interesting that your novel, Discovery, is spiritually minded but also firmly positioned within the world of science. Was it a challenge to integrate the religious and scientific aspects of your book?
Not at all. Catholics have always been involved in science and exploration. It seems logical to me that they’d be part of the colonization of space, too. Harder for me was just learning enough science to make all the characters sound like they are experts in the field. I had a few very intelligent friends help me out. It’s so good to know people who are smarter than me!
2. Discovery’s plot follows over 10 important characters and many other secondary characters. What would you say are the pro’s and con’s of writing so many personalities, or personal stories, into an epic adventure such as yours?
I remember the movie, Amadeus, where Mozart said, “In a play if more than one person speaks at the same time, it’s just noise, no one can understand a word. But with opera, with music… with music you can have twenty individuals all talking at the same time, and it’s not noise, it’s a perfect harmony!” I wasn’t intending to write music, literarily speaking, but I do feel Discovery has a certain harmony.
The thing is, it’s a big mission and a big ship. Not populating it with a large cast of characters would have been a greater challenge, if only because I’d be going nuts trying to justify the interplanetary navigator as also a reputable researcher in propulsion systems. Then, the characters all had stories and secrets that affected each other. I couldn’t leave them behind or I’d have had a lot of strawmen propping up the couple of main characters.
It helped, too, that this book was written and rewritten, torn apart, revised and written again over the course of eight years. They had time to test out relationships, find their harmonies, and create their own music.
In the end, I think the bigger challenge was my editor’s, helping me see which character stories could be cut without gutting the book. I think James Hrkach did an excellent job.
3. Without giving away too much, what kind of faith challenges do Discovery’s Catholic characters encounter in the novel?
In many ways, it’s all the same challenge, manifested in different ways, and it’s the same challenge we all face: How do we get beyond ourselves to live the life God intended for us. Some of the characters must conquer insecurities; others, pride; still others, their own selfish will. Those that are able to do so find great rewards – love, peace, the secrets of their past – while others that cling to the fullness of their human flaws put the mission in jeopardy.
4. Would you say that between the focus on religion, space travel and the diversity of so many characters in different occupations, that Discovery was a ‘research heavy’ writing project?
Yes! Especially, Sister Ann. It took me more research time just to enable her to have a simple conversation than it did to get the Edwina Taggert to Pluto! It’s a little intimidating writing a supergenius mystic whose also what we’d call Asperger’s. For most of the characters and situations, the research is more background, influencing but not directly shown. With Ann, it’s all right there, tied into complex crazy knots that actually do make sense, though sometimes in retrospect.
However, I will add that I don’t research nearly as much as many authors I know. My modus operandi is to learn enough to get started, start writing, and research to fill in the blanks as I go. For example, I needed to know how the VASIMR drive worked, but only enough to approximate the acceleration and travel time and give a basic engine room design to describe. I know some friends who use Minecraft to actually build their ships.
I have a friend writing a novel right now, where a science fiction writer has to stop aliens he’s imagined from destroying the earth. But he’s having a hard time sabotaging their ship because he didn’t clearly imagine exactly how the engine room looked like. That would be me! (The book, Immortal Creators by Jill Bowers, comes out sometimes late next year, I think.)
5. Tell us about how you dealt with imagining what daily life, recreation and work would be like so many years into the future…and so far away from earth.
Artificial gravity took care of a lot of the problems of daily living, so that was a little bit of a cheat. Some of it was playing with trends – video games became virtual reality, but with physical and emotional stimulation; thus the Edwina Taggert hologames, which is VR Lora Croft. The cruise ship, Edwina Taggert, is basically a Disney Cruise ship that goes to Saturn. Incidentally, there is a Disneyland on the moon – LunaDisney.
Splat was fun to come up with. I wanted a sport that was a true zero gravity sport, not just basketball or quidditch with microgravity. The idea of its zerog origin helped me come up with some new rules and the challenge of making it competitive and cooperative was fun to work on.
One thing I loved about Firefly was the mixing of languages plus new words and repurposed old ones through slang. While I didn’t use Chinese, I did grab some words from 2001: Space Odyssey, and 2010.
6. Speaking of the future, do you see yourself continuing as a sci-fi author? Does the world of Discovery offer more adventure in future novels?
Right now, I have a dragon detective who’s tired of being neglected, so I need to get at least two books written for him. The DragonEye series has at least a 12-book story arc, plus stories and novellas. I just need to get cracking!
But I would love to explore more with the Rescue Sisters. The world is complex, with at least one interstellar war, a human subspecies to add intrigue, huge political and economical things to consider. Then you have the 20-plus characters whose stories we just touched upon.
I’ve already got a short story about Sister Thomas meeting up with her former fiancé, Reece, who she thought was killed in the Ring Wars. He’s going to get bruised jaw when he shows up calling her, “Taxi.” OvLandra need to return to her people, and Sister Ann has to help her. I’ve been thinking about bilocation for that. James has to decide the direction of his life. Oh, and we still have an entire alien ship to explore!
Right now, it’s all whisps and whispers, but it’ll percolate. I’d be interested in hearing from readers, too, about what stories resonated most, what questions the felt need answers and who they most want to see again.
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