Monday, November 28, 2011
Courtney Schafer, author of the Shattered Sigil trilogy, on writing, mountaineering, and solving complex algorithms
Sky, mountains, and sea: Courtney Schafer, my amazing guest today, masters it all. She's an electrical engineer working for an aerospace company, a mountaineer and a scuba diver. Oh, and of course, the author of The Whitefire Crossing, the first book in the Shatter Sigil trilogy, a fantasy novel that beautifully blends all of Courtney's passions. I'm so excited to be talking with Courtney today!
EEG: You are an electrical engineer, your husband is a scientist, and you both love speculative fiction. How do the two -- science and speculative fiction -- mingle in your everyday life?
CS: Interestingly enough, though my husband’s background is in atmospheric science and mine is in electrical engineering, these days we both do the same sort of thing at work: signal and image processing algorithm development. Thankfully we are saved from discussing algorithms over the dinner table by the fact we work for different companies and so can’t discuss proprietary information with each other! But since we both love SF and science, we have plenty of conversations about subjects like the future of the space program, whether FTL or wormhole travel is more plausible from a scientific standpoint, that kind of thing. My husband is a slow reader and spends most of his reading time on technical articles, so we don’t discuss SF books much, but we both love watching SF movies and TV series (and mocking the science when they get it wrong). Farscape, Firefly, Fringe, Supernatural, Carnivale, Invisible Man, Nowhere Man, and many others grace our DVD shelves and have been watched many times over.
EEG: Your debut novel, The Whitefire Crossing, features amazing mountaineering, powerful magic, adventure, and complex characters that completely engage you into the story. Your love for mountaineering (you are a rock climber yourself, not to mention skier, scuba diver, etc.!) clearly transpires in your fantastic descriptions. But what about science? Do you find that your scientific background helped you develop the Shattered Sigil world, and if so, how?
CS: I find that working out the plot of a novel feels extremely similar to solving a complex algorithm problem. There’s the same mix of logical reasoning flavored with sudden sparks of inspiration. So in that sense, the analysis skills I’ve developed in years of working as an engineer have been quite helpful in writing the Shattered Sigil series! Heh, and as for direct influence… one day I was describing to a co-worker how my blood mages cast spells. He said, “So… they basically lay out giant circuit diagrams on the floor and channel power through them.” Me: “…OMG you are so right!” I guess I love electrical engineering too much to leave it out of my fantasy world entirely.
EEG: Ohhhh... High Five! I feel exactly the same about plotting. It's like solving a mathematical system with a lot of variables. You start with the equations (the premise and the characters), then you sit down and solve it. Okay, sorry, let's get back to the interview.
The Tainted City, the sequel to The Whitefire Crossing, is due in late 2012. Can you give us a little sneak peek on what's coming up next for Dev and the city of Ninavel? Are you working on some other projects? (Given how you make mountains come alive, I'm wondering what would happen if you'd turn to the ocean and use your scuba-diving experience for a completely new world...)
CS: I just turned over a bunch of scenes and a synopsis for The Tainted City to the cover artist (the amazingly talented David Palumbo, who also did the art for The Whitefire Crossing). It’s very exciting to see the book start the publication process (even though I haven’t yet finished writing it!). Tentative publication date is October 2012. As for a sneak peek…Dev gets out of the predicament he’s in at the end of The Whitefire Crossing, though not in the way he wanted. He and Kiran return to Ninavel – not entirely of their own choice – and find the city a far more dangerous place than they’d feared. Someone’s murdering mages in ways that mimic the most spine-chilling tales of demons, Tainted children like Dev’s young friend Melly are vanishing without a trace, and Kiran’s former master Ruslan intends to seize the opportunity to reclaim his wayward apprentice and revenge himself on Dev. Even though much of the action takes place in Ninavel, Dev’s climbing and wilderness skills still come into play, as do the Whitefire Mountains.
Right now I’m spending every spare second on finishing The Tainted City (it’s tough to find time to write between my day job and parenting my 2 year old!), but I have a few ideas for other projects. Ha, funny you should mention the scuba-diving – I confess I absolutely love stories set in ocean worlds. (Seriously, I even liked Waterworld. Well, the first part of it, at least, before Dennis Hopper started chewing scenery.) So who knows, perhaps I’ll write an ocean-based fantasy one day.
EEG: And when you do, I'll be the first one to buy it!
Courtney, thanks so much for sharing your love for the mountains, the sea, science and writing with us. To find out more about Courtney and her books, please visit her website. She also blogs at the Night Bazaar, a group blog where authors published by Night Shade Books share tips on writing and getting published.