Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Hard science and discipline: Ann Christy talks about her new book release, Strikers
You know I always get excited when I interview a fellow scientist who's also a writer. Well, today I feel like I won the jackpot because my guest is not only a scientist and a published author, she's also a Navy Commander who gets to do her science on ships out at sea! Meet Ann Christy, author of the Silo 49 series (based on Hugh Howey's Wool saga). Ann has a brand new book out today, Strikers, and even from the gorgeous cover alone you can't help but fall in love with it.
Congratulations on your new book release, Ann, and welcome to CHIMERAS!
EEG: I don't get to talk to a Navy Commander every day, so I have to ask: how did you choose to get into the Navy and why?
AC: I always wanted to be in the Navy. Always. Even as a little girl I would wear my little sailor dress and march around. The sea, the boats, the whole concept...it was just what I was meant to do. Also, I wanted to be Spock on the Enterprise, so being a scientist in the Navy is the closest I can get.
The only hang up was that as a teenager, I realized I was far (and by far, I mean really far) too young, too headstrong and too irresponsible to go to college to become an officer. So, I chose enlisted because I felt like it would teach me the concept of being a follower.
Up to that point, I had just flung myself to the forefront of situations, so I didn't have a good grasp of (or very balanced approach to) leadership. There's more to being a leader than simply bossing people around through force of will or personality.
I learned what it meant to be at the bottom of the stack, to be told what to do when I didn't want to do it and to see the reason behind order. It is, without doubt, the most important lesson I ever learned. I went to college at night (during periods when I wasn't working mass overtime) and then, when I felt I was ready, I applied to be an officer. The rest is history.
And here's a bonus. You know all that stuff you see in the advertisements for the Navy, the cool scenery at sea and big ships and such? It's all true. Big, fast and far away. Good stuff.
EEG: What kind of science do you do? Do you get inspired from science?
AC: I've got degrees in Marine Science (focusing on estuarine ecosystems, very small plants and bio-chemistry) and my advanced degrees are on the physics side of that house, specifically in Oceanography and Meteorology. I do use all of that, plus more, in my work for the Navy.
And yes, science is a passion, not just a job. You could almost say it is a calling. It inspires me every day in writing, but also in life. It raises questions that demand answers and makes life much more fulfilling for me. I do strive for some sense of reasonable possibility when I write science fiction, never forgetting the science part of it. :)
EEG: Is writing an escape from your every day world or, rather, is it inspired by your every day world?
AC: That's hard to say, really. I purposefully don't include anything remotely like our military in anything I write. For me, that separation must remain very clear and very defined.
But still, there is life outside of the military and there is inspiration there. In finding that inspiration, I'm also escaping into a whole new world, created in my head and being formed by the words I type out. It's a heady feeling to do that, which you've experienced for yourself.
In some ways, my work is very directly a result of things I see or hear or experience. My first four books were actually a different take (using a different silo) on the WOOL series by Hugh Howey. With his permission, of course. I decided to see what might happen if a few crucial people could be made into good people rather than bad ones. I asked the questions, what would people who are intrinsically good do? In that way, my experience reading WOOL inspired me to write at all.
A new series I'm working on, which I'm tentatively calling Good News Gone Bad is inspired by several things in the real world. I'm a news junkie. I feel blind if I don't know what's going on but I purposefully read stories from multiple sites in order to get at some middle truth (if that's even possible).
What I noticed was that more and more news stories were simply filled with comments about how everything (and by that I mean mostly political stuff) was the end of all reason and the universe. Seriously.
So, when I was reading stories about tech breakthroughs or medical advancements or science, I realized those sort of doomish comments were largely absent. I thought... well, how can we make this doomish? Voila, the series was born.
Basically, I take the best news stories in those categories and turn them totally dystopian, post-apocalyptic or what have you. It's good clean fun and in that way, it's is both inspired by life and escaping from it.
EEG: Tell us about your new book, Strikers: what was the inspiration for this story? is it a stand-alone or book 1 in a new series?
AC: Oh, it's a complete novel in and of itself. I hate it when I read a book only to find out I'm not getting any resolution at all so I won't do that to others. That said, it is also wide open for two more books, with each offering a complete resolution to the story at hand. I actually have a totally marked up giant map of North America, the islands and Mexico that maps out the entire saga.
Strikers was born from a question in my mind and a slight dissatisfaction. I'm a huge dystopian and post-apocalyptic world fan. Hugely addicted to that stuff. But I'm repeatedly disappointed by the sheer unlikelihood of the situations. I won't name books here, but some things just won't happen. And often, the science behind them is almost laughable and that irritates me, even when I enjoy the book.
So, with the help of my niece and some awesome appetizers one evening, I set out to create a post-apocalyptic (long past so not so apocalyptic anymore) dystopia that made sense. It had to be born of a reasonable seed planted in the modern world today.
Enter Strikers. It takes place in the Republic of Texas, 112 years after the Fall (of the United States). Texas isn't much on crime and rather than have prisons full of folks, there is simply an immediate death penalty for crimes that are "heinous in nature" such as murder, rape and other offenses.
For those crimes which are petty, the question for Texas is..."Is the criminal an Habitual Offender?" If that answer is yes, then the death penalty. If not, then the offender gets a strike tattooed onto their necks and goes about their business. The catch is, when you get your fifth strike, you're Habitual and you die.
You die unless you go Striker...meaning escape Texas...before your fifth strike. But that's a crime also.
For a lot of us in the world now, watching news of people who've been busted and let go dozens of times, creating victims at every turn, this might even seem reasonable. The problem is how that changes with time. Laws are enforced without equality of justice and a dystopia is then truly born.
Karas Quick is a sixteen year old who has basically gotten the low card in life's deal. She's poor, without many prospects and her mother is a real piece of work. But then she sees her long gone Striker father in a line of prisoners being brought back for justice and everything changes. It's a pretty wild adventure from there.
EEG: That's really intriguing. And being a hard scientist myself, I often get irritated at laughable science too. What other stories do you have on the back burner?
AC: Strikers Two (as yet untitled) is already being drafted up. I've got the previously mentioned news inspired stories teeing up.
I've got a story called PePr, Inc. coming out in a new anthology called The Robot Chronicles. It should be out within days of my Strikers release. I'm super excited about that because of the sheer talent of the other authors involved. Even the amazing Hugh Howey is going to have a story in there!
There's more because really, Elena, you know this as well as I...we've got more stories in our heads than we have years to write them.
EEG: Do you feel that the discipline imposed by your military job has helped you to be a better writer? How?
AC: In some ways, yes. In other ways, it's made it harder. Since my education is primarily in the "hard" sciences, I took the English for Science and Math majors in college rather than the more complete version needed for other fields. And all my professional writing has been mandated to be passive voice (research papers, etc).
Additionally, the military values brevity above all things. Why use 100 words to describe a beautiful day when you can just put up a green flag on the outdoor field and be done with it?
These things are not conducive to good fiction writing! So, I've had to really work on it. At the same time, I've spent more nights on the bridge of a ship creating stories in my head than most people get a chance to, so I had the material inside there. I just had to figure out the key to translating it. Like all other writers, I'll be a work in progress until the day after I stop working for good...which is to say forever.
On the upside, you said the key word yourself: discipline. I'm a very disciplined writer. If I say I'm going to, I do. And I write until I just can't anymore when I sit down and say, "Go". I've actually had to set a schedule for myself so I don't write so much I forget about other things in life.
EEG: I think that discipline is definitely a great quality for a writer. Congratulations, Ann, and best of luck with your new release!
Follow Ann Christy also on Twitter and Facebook to find out about her new book releases.