As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
First, I wanted to be an astronaut, then a riverboat captain, then a poet. I started my first novel in the third grade. Writing has always been my bliss.
What do you think makes a good story? What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?
Wow, those questions require several book-length answers, so what I say will be very incomplete. Still, here goes…At the most basic level, a story should entertain the reader. But if that’s all it does, it will be quickly forgotten. A good story gives the reader something that lasts, an insight, a new perspective, or a difficult question that provokes thought. The very best stories help us explore the meaning of our existence. The most important – and most difficult – element of good writing, I think, is honesty. Writing is an exploration, and to do it well, we have to examine not only the sunny heights but also the dark scary places. We have to linger in the anguishing moments and feel them all over again in order to share the experience with pinpoint accuracy, whether we’re writing a fictional scene or a personal memoir. This is hard, but when it’s done well, the reader feels the truth, and it’s beautiful.
What draws you to writing in the genre of Science Fiction?
Science is exhilarating. Astonishing breakthroughs have occurred in just the last few year, yet every discovery leads to new questions. I feel tremendous respect for the theorists and experimenters who are braving these new frontiers. Writing science fiction allows me to take part in small way, to read and research the latest findings, to speculate about the future, and to question how new technology will change us.
Are your characters real to you?
Yes, absolutely. My challenge is always to convey on the page what I feel in my heart about the people in my stories. Like all serious writers, I am constantly working to improve my skills, and the craft of characterization is what I work on most.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Writers and readers unite in a shared search for a message. I don’t have any answers. All I can do is raise questions and turn them over and over in different shafts of light. Readers bring as much to the page as writers do, and in the end, we all find our own messages where we can.
Will you share a little about The Gravity Pilot and how the story came to you?
The Gravity Pilot is a futuristic retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. In the myth, Orpheus is a poet/musician, while my character is a skydiver who writes his verses through the clouds with the movement of his body. This story was inspired by my husband, a gifted athlete who has made over 1,200 skydives. In the myth, Orpheus has to enter the underworld to search for his lover, Eurydice, who has died. In my story, the skydiver has to enter the closed airless world of Internet gaming, where his lover has become addicted to computer thrills. The story occurs about 50 years in the future, so I had fun speculating about how the world will change.
What types of research did you conduct for the novel?
During the research, I made a skydive myself, and it was unforgettable. I also talked to numerous experts and read extensively about skydiving in the upper atmosphere, as well as Internet gaming. I researched cutting-edge technology and the latest theories of climate change in order to speculate about what the world will be like in 50 years. One interesting note, in my first draft, I wrote about the market crash a year before it occurred. Wish I’d believed my own prediction!
What do you see as the influences on your writing?
Reading is my primary influence. I love to read all kinds of novels, and I try to read the very best, the award winners and the experimenters. Other writers are my best teachers. I have no favorites. Every writer brings something unique to the world.
How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula – are you a pantser or a plotter?
My process is very organic. I do plan. I draw maps and write notes and make outlines. Then I constantly change them as new ideas develop. Each story evolves in a way I can never predict. I just try to remain open all the way through. Sometimes, the very best ideas come to me after I think the work is finished.
What were your feelings when your first novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
I felt like Cinderella when the prince slides on the glass slipper. Total euphoria. I giggled for days.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
My great dream was to connect with readers, and that has been amazing. I’ve received fan mail from Japan, Poland, Russia, Spain. I never dreamed my work would be published in five languages. It’s really awesome when someone living in another culture on the other side of the planet finds something meaningful in my stories. We really are all the same inside.
In the future? My next novel will not be science fiction. I’m exploring a new category, and it’s still so early in the process, I can’t say where this will lead. It’s an adventure.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Yes, thankfully, I hear from readers who like my work. They ask me questions like the ones you’re asking, and I’m always happy to respond and connect. Sometimes, they alert me when my work gets a good review. For instance, one reader let me know when my novel, Watermind, made the Barnes and Noble Top 10 for science fiction last year. I might not have known otherwise. I’m really grateful for that.
What advice would you share for aspiring writers? What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
My advice to writers: Persist. Never give up. We’re all on the same road. We’re all striving to write better. It’s a joyful road. Stay on it.
Must-have tools: reading the best writers, writing at least a little every day, studying the craft, being honest.
What cautionary advice do you have for writers?
Don’t do it for money. Do it for love.
What are you reading now?
Right now, like everyone else in the world, I’m reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson. I’m also reading Generosity, by Richard Powers, and I’m re-reading The Castle of Crossed Destinies, by Italo Calvino. I just finished Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in any of your books?
Definitely. I would keep improving the characters, making them more real and vivid and honest. There is no end to this for me. But books have to be finished on deadline, so I’m never completely satisfied. Maybe someday. I’ll keep at it.