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A blog about books and other things speculative

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Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code


Please welcome Carole Stivers to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Mother Code was published on August 25, 2020 by Berkley.



Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Carole:  The first fiction piece I remember writing was one I penned in about the fourth grade, called “Carbuncle and I.” The story was based on Sherlock Holmes, but the detective and his assistant were cute and cartoonish. I can’t remember the plot, but a picture I drew of the characters is forever etched in my mind.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Carole:  I started out as a pantser, but that wasn’t very rewarding—so much work ended up on the cutting room floor! Now I’m a hybrid. I try to start a novel with a clear beginning and end in mind. Then I write my way through, adding beats on a separate sheet as I go along to guide the narrative. This allows things to take surprising turns, while still maintaining the focus of the original theme and desired ending.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Carole:  I do lots of research before even starting, which is more like work than fun. Then I slog through getting the first draft on paper. But after that comes the joy, when I get to flesh out the story and get more into the characters, their emotions and motivations. For me, the revision phase is best, knowing that I have something solid to work with and to mold.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Carole:  Whenever I start to lose momentum and hope for my work, I find solace in reading good authors. I love new authors who take chances with their writing, like Devi S. Laskar (The Atlas of Reds and Blues) and Rachel Howard (The Risk of Us). And of course I love the greats, like Margaret Atwood, whose prose sinks into the mind so effortlessly, and Isabel Allende, whose worlds are so beautifully built.



TQDescribe The Mother Code using only 5 words.

Carole:  A child discovers his mother.



TQTell us something about The Mother Code that is not found in the book description.

Carole:  Kai is not alone in his quest to decide the fate of his Mother. There are other children, two little girls in particular, who are instrumental in his trajectory. And there are many other important female characters who drive the plot.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Mother Code? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction.

Carole:  I had the first spark of an idea for The Mother Code while traveling in the desert Southwest with my family in 2003. At the heart of the story, I wanted there to be a reliance by a child on his “Mother” robot in this setting, because, so far as he knew, there was no other life left on the planet. The rest of the story—the origins of the pandemic that set the stage, the origins of the Mothers and their children, the conflict that arose as the children and their Mothers matured and changed, and the few human adults who remained afterward to shepherd the children, all grew out of that original idea.

I was a scientist for many years, and I feel comfortable writing about scientists and laboratory settings. But writing science fiction also allows me to place characters in strange circumstances and watch them fight their way through. By forcing my characters to face the uncanny, I can leverage that “defamiliarization” to ask questions in a fresh way that is not confrontational to the reader and might inspire them to think or feel differently.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Mother Code?

Carole:  I travelled to the sites where my story takes place: the San Francisco Presidio, Los Alamos, the desert Southwest, and the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. I took a tour of the Hopi Reservation, talked to current residents about their lives and livelihoods, and read books about Hopi history and tradition.

I researched robotics and AI to develop a picture of what my Mother robots would have to look like, how they would be programmed, and what materials would be used in their construction. For specifics, I consulted with a good friend who is a pilot, a computer systems manager, and a science fiction fan.

I also researched the genetic engineering of human fetuses, innovative bionic prostheses, and advances in man-machine brain interfaces. One difficult issue I faced was how to destroy most of human life on planet Earth, while leaving all else intact. My “IC-NAN” is based on current research in DNA therapeutics at Northwestern University.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Mother Code.

Carole:  The cover is meant to depict nurturing in the form of the cupped hands—a protection of something fragile from the hardships of the desert (portrayed in the desert palette colors). The “Mother Code” that directs the hands in their duties is depicted as symbols at the top of the image, which degrade into sand and dust at the bottom of the image to give a sense that the Code itself is fragile.



TQIn The Mother Code who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Carole:  For me, Kai was easiest to write. As a child, Kai is a seeker; he came to the story as a blank slate, learning as he went along. The hardest character for me to write was Rick Blevins, a military man—it was difficult for me to avoid stereotypes when writing him. But the most fun to write was Kendra Jenkins, a character who only occurred to me when I was well into the novel. A problem-solver with a can-do attitude, Kendra is most like me in her approach to life, and she has a quirky side to her that I enjoyed portraying.



TQDoes The Mother Code touch on any social issues?

Carole:  At the time I began work on The Mother Code, I was most concerned about the possible use of bioagents in warfare and what they might inadvertently do if they got out of control. I know that COVID-19 was not developed for warfare. But it has certainly given rise to greater concern about such agents—which I think is a good thing.



TQ:  Which question about The Mother Code do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Carole:

Q: Do you really think that a machine like Rho-Z, Kai’s Mother, could be programmed to care for a child?

A: I think that a machine could definitely be designed that would serve the basic needs of a child. The trick would be the human element, which is key for a child to truly thrive. In The Mother Code, that human element develops in a surprising way. But I believe that such an outcome is indeed probable.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Mother Code.

Carole:  My favorite quotes relate to Kai’s instinctive relationship with his Mother:

“But at night, when they were alone, that feeling was as strong as ever— the feeling that he couldn’t possibly know where he ended, and his Mother began.”

“And he responded, not in words but in song—the song of the Mother Code.”



TQWhat's next?

Carole:  I’m currently working on a tale that I call Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Story of Your Life. I only hope it matches up to either of those two classics—especially the second, which was written by the amazing Ted Chiang.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





The Mother Code
Berkley, August 25, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code
What it means to be human—and a mother—is put to the test in Carole Stivers’s debut novel set in a world that is more chilling and precarious than ever.

The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order: an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

Kai is born in America’s desert Southwest, his only companion his robotic Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too—in ways that were never predicted. And when government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai is faced with a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

Set in a future that could be our own, The Mother Code explores what truly makes us human—and the tenuous nature of the boundaries between us and the machines we create.





About Carole

Interview with Carole Stivers, author of The Mother Code
Photo: © Alan Stivers
Carole Stivers was born in East Cleveland, Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She went on to post-doctoral work at Stanford University before launching a career in medical diagnostics. She now lives in California, where she’s combined her love of writing and her fascination with the possibilities of science to create her first novel, The Mother Code.


Website  ~  Facebook


Interview with Rachel Harrison, author of The Return


Please welcome Rachel Harrison to The Qwillery as part of the 2020 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Return is published on March 24, 2020 by Berkley.

Please join The Qwillery in wishing Rachel a very Happy Publication Day!



Interview with Rachel Harrison, author of The Return




The Qwillery: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Rachel Harrison: One of my earliest memories is dictating a story to my mother before I could write myself, so I must have been pretty young. I have a very clear picture of where I was, but I don’t remember what the story was about. Willing to bet someone died, though. As a child author I was quite brutal. Excessive death. Maiming, too. Maiming was a staple of my early fiction.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

RH:  A hybrid! For The Return I had a solid outline, but I like to give myself some breathing room. Sometimes my characters intervene.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

RH:  I love to write. I wish I had more time to write but writing itself is pure joy for me. I think the challenging part comes with putting your work out there. It’s really vulnerable and weird and wonderful and terrifying and exciting. It’s a lot to process, and in general I have a low threshold for the stresses of existence, so it’s been tricky for me to navigate this strange new reality.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

RH:  For The Return, I was influenced by The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and The Shining by Stephen King, which is an entirely unsurprising answer as those are two of the best and most iconic horror novels of all time. But I was also really influenced by Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett and Summer Sisters by Judy Blume. Those are my favorite books about female friendship. As far as the setting goes, The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo was the inspiration for the Red Honey Inn, the hotel in the novel. I’ve never been, but I saw some pictures and was smitten. I hope to go someday!



TQDescribe The Return using only 5 words.

RH:  Careful. Keep your friends close.



TQTell us something about The Return that is not found in the book description.

RH:  This book is really a coming-of-age story. Everyone always talks about how hard it is to be a teenager, but you don’t magically have everything figured out when you hit twenty. Things get harder and more complicated, and you have to pay taxes. You want horror, let’s talk first trip to H&R block. What I’m getting at is, The Return explores some of the struggles of being in your twenties and trying, and sometimes failing, to figure out who you are, what you want out of life as an adult, and who’s going to stay with you on your journey.



TQWhat inspired you to write The Return? What appeals to you about writing horror?

RH:   I was inspired by my relationships with my friends and my experience in my twenties. On a bit of a deeper level, I’ve had two close friendships fall apart in my life. I never knew how to mourn those relationships. There’s a lot out there on getting over romantic breakups, but how are you supposed to cope when you lose a friend? I personally felt, and still feel, a lot of shame and confusion and sadness over the ends of those friendships, and writing this book was a way for me to parse out those feelings.

And everything about writing horror appeals to me. I love the genre so much it’s difficult for me to articulate an answer. My inner monologue is currently set to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, but instead of “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens” it’s “ghosts in dark graveyards and monsters in closets.” The world is a frightening place. Writing horror is how I explore my fear, so it becomes less of a burden.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Return?

RH:  I researched characters, I researched locations, but it’s horror fiction, so a lot of it is imagination, heavily seasoned with personal experiences, anxieties, and traumas.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Return.

RH:  The cover is a hot pink masterpiece by Katie Anderson. All I’ll say about the cover is that it’s absolutely perfect and I’m obsessed with it.



TQIn The Return who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

RH:  Molly was probably the easiest to write because she’s self-assured, she knows exactly who she is. Also, we both have dirty sailor mouths. Julie was the hardest because she’s got a lot going on. She can be warm, but she’s not forthcoming. It was difficult for me to understand her at times because she doesn’t want to be understood. She enjoys being an enigma.



TQDoes The Return touch on any social issues?

RH:  I wanted to write a novel that felt honest about female friendship. My friends and I love and support each other, but in my opinion, no healthy long-term relationship is pure love and support, sunshine and rainbows, and that’s okay, it’s normal! It’s important that women allow each other to be flawed, to give each other room to make mistakes. Women are allowed to be fuck ups. We’re human! We can love and support each other and also be honest our feelings and experiences, even if they aren’t pretty. We should be able to fail and forgive each other. Fail and forgive ourselves.



TQWhich question about The Return do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

RH:  Hmm, this one is tough. Maybe, “Rachel, The Return is so brilliant and amazing, how did you write such an incredible book?” I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Though feel free to ask me that. I like to talk about my characters, especially the messy ones. I think I’d like to be asked about Elise, how I feel about her. It’d be a long answer.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Return.

RH:  “You can’t erase your past when there are pieces of it scattered inside other people.”



TQWhat's next?

RH:  I’m too superstitious to answer this question but follow me on Twitter for updates @rachfacelogic! *throws salt over shoulder*



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

RH:  Thank you!





The Return
Berkley, March 24, 2020
Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages

Interview with Rachel Harrison, author of The Return
A group of friends reunite after one of them has returned from a mysterious two-year disappearance in this edgy and haunting debut.

Julie is missing, and no one believes she will ever return—except Elise. Elise knows Julie better than anyone, and feels it in her bones that her best friend is out there and that one day Julie will come back. She’s right. Two years to the day that Julie went missing, she reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what happened to her.

Along with Molly and Mae, their two close friends from college, the women decide to reunite at a remote inn. But the second Elise sees Julie, she knows something is wrong—she’s emaciated, with sallow skin and odd appetites. And as the weekend unfurls, it becomes impossible to deny that the Julie who vanished two years ago is not the same Julie who came back. But then who—or what—is she?





About Rachel

Interview with Rachel Harrison, author of The Return
Photo: © Nic Harris
Rachel Harrison was born and raised in the weird state of New Jersey. She received her bachelor’s in Writing for Film & Television from Emerson College. After graduating, she worked on TV game shows, in publishing, and for a big bank. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their cat/overlord. This is her first novel.










Website ~ Twitter @rachfacelogic


Interview with Sarah Pinsker, author of A Song For A New Day


Please welcome Sarah Pinsker to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. A Song for a New Day was published on September 10, 2019 by Berkley.



Interview with Sarah Pinsker, author of A Song For A New Day




TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Sarah:  I wrote horse stories starting when I was around eight. I think some of them were just rewrites of books I'd liked. The kind of thing where there's a scruffy-looking horse about to go to auction, and the girl buys the horse for one dollar more than the meat buyers, and the horse turns out to be super fancy once he's healed/groomed/trained. I think my first genre story had to do with an open-mic singer taking bids on his soul from god and the devil. On brand.



TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarah:  I would normally say I'm an unrepentant pantser, but I had to turn in an outline for the novel I'm currently working on, and I have to admit it was a surprisingly fun and interesting process. It let me ask a lot of questions of the book early on that would normally have taken me a while to reach through trial and error and discovery. So...still a pantser, but with a new appreciation for the other modes? Does that make me a hybrid? My rebel spirit is still in pantsing.



TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarah:  These days it's a physical/mental thing. My usual writing spaces aren't feeling comfortable right now. I think maybe I need a standing desk. Once I'm writing I'm good, but getting to the point of sitting down and focusing is taking me more time than it used to, and staying seated is taking more discipline than it used to. We also adopted a new dog recently, and he's very good at convincing me I'd rather be playing with him.



TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarah:  What doesn't influence my writing? I guess I write a lot of stories rooted in place. I love traveling and I've been a lot of places. I love the challenge of trying to get at the heart of a place. Music. New technologies and my own paranoia about them. Dreams. Misread road signs, strange coincidences...



TQDescribe A Song For A New Day using only 5 words.

Sarah:  Live music. Found family. Connection.



TQTell us something about A Song For A New Day that is not found in the book description.

Sarah:  The description makes the black and white/good and bad distinction between the Before and After periods the book describes, which makes it seem like the former was fine, and after is dystopic. The book has more shades of gray. I tried to acknowledge that the world we live in now, ostensibly the Before, is already dystopic for some people. There are aspects of the After that are better, or different in a not-entirely-bad way. Even characters who disapprove of the corporate shenanigans acknowledge some positive results of the changes. I find those shades far more interesting to write than a simple everything's-not-awesome dystopia.



TQWhat inspired you to write A Song For A New Day? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction and in particular a dystopian novel?

SarahA Song For A New Day takes place in the same world as one of my previous stories, "Our Lady of the Open Road." I realized I had more to say about this world, and that there was more to explore than the slice of future tour life that story showed. There are so many interesting future music technologies, both for listening and for live music, but we're also living in a time where people have more and more distractions at home. Everything competes with the bands who are out there playing small clubs every night. I wanted to explore all sides of that question, and look at a future where some people might have even more reason to stay home, and some people might fight it.

I love science fiction for the expanded palette it provides. I like the "what ifs" and Theodore Sturgeon's "ask the next question." Many aspects of this novel reflect today's hopes and fears, but it's easier to look at those from a slight distance. It's an exaggeration of one possible path. This story takes place in a very near future, but you still need those world building tools to get there.

I didn't actually put the dystopia label on it myself, though in retrospect it obviously is one. In my head, it's just an exploration of a possible future.



TQWhat sort of research did you do for A Song For A New Day?

Sarah:  This book took less research than a lot of short stories. The music stuff was stuff I knew. A little about VR and AR, I guess? I had to double check how long some of the distances between cities would take if highways weren't options for your rebel human-driven van.



TQPlease tell us about the cover for A Song For A New Day.

Sarah:  The cover was done by Jason Booher. I don't know who the photo captures. It reminds me of a couple of singers, but I don't know if it is actually any of them. It's not meant to represent a particular character. I had asked for a cover that looked like a DIY rock show poster, and this is exactly that.



TQIn A Song For A New Day who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Sarah:  I wrote about Luce previously in a story called "Our Lady of the Open Road," and part of why I returned to her was that her voice was so easy to slip into. She voices a lot of my own concerns. Rosemary was a little more challenging. Fun, also; there's an interesting challenge in trying to see the whole world through the eyes of someone who has never been anywhere or done anything. Rosemary consistently surprised me in her reactions to things. She made me look for the positives in the so-called dystopia I'd created, since it was the only world she'd ever known, and she didn't mind it all that much. Finding the positives was itself more difficult than the bad-made-worse parts.



TQDoes A Song For A New Day touch on any social issues?

Sarah:  Lots! The big ones involve the trauma that we're all living right now. Guns and the constant threat of violence. Our societal willingness to trade freedom for safety instead of addressing the root problem. School inequities. Prisons. Corporations. Data privacy.

I wanted to make this future one where, even though it's dystopic in many ways, some of our current problems have been addressed and have become non-issues. Accessibility in devices and the physical world. Asking before hugging people. Pronoun pins. It's not a perfect world – racism and homophobia still exist – but in the context of the spaces these characters inhabit, they've sought places where people would be striving to both see those situations and improve upon them. I wanted to normalize seeing differences and acknowledging them and then moving on from there to form community. I love, love, love writing queer characters and just letting them exist in community with each other. As in real life, we find each other, and support each other. I think letting multiple queer characters exist in a novel where queerness isn't the point is still a statement of its own, and I can't wait until it's not.



TQWhich question about A Song For A New Day do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Sarah:

Q: "Beyond the novelette 'Our Lady of the Open Road,' have you written or do you plan to write anything else about these characters?"

I adore standalone novels, and this is meant to be a standalone as far as these main characters are concerned, but I've written stories about some of the peripheral characters. There's an inventor/musician named Katja in the book who was the protagonist of my story "A Song Transmuted," which appeared in the Cyber World anthology and was reprinted in Sunspot Jungle and the upcoming A Punk Rock Future anthology. My story in the Apex Do Not Go Quietly anthology has a cameo from another character, Joni, as a kid.



TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from A Song For A New Day.

Sarah:

"There were, to my knowledge, one hundred and seventy-two ways to wreck a hotel room."


"Fear is a virus. Music is a virus, and a vaccine, and a cure."



TQWhat's next?

Sarah:  I'm working on another near-future novel right now, set in a different near future. There's a dark fantasy novelette called "Two Truths and a Lie" that'll be on Tor.com, but I think that might not show up until next year. And I have a dozen short stories I'm dying to finish and send out into the world.



TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.





A Song for a New Day
Berkley, September 10, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 384 pages

Interview with Sarah Pinsker, author of A Song For A New Day
In this captivating science fiction novel from an award-winning author, public gatherings are illegal making concerts impossible, except for those willing to break the law for the love of music, and for one chance at human connection.

In the Before, when the government didn’t prohibit large public gatherings, Luce Cannon was on top of the world. One of her songs had just taken off and she was on her way to becoming a star. Now, in the After, terror attacks and deadly viruses have led the government to ban concerts, and Luce’s connection to the world–her music, her purpose–is closed off forever. She does what she has to do: she performs in illegal concerts to a small but passionate community, always evading the law.

Rosemary Laws barely remembers the Before times. She spends her days in Hoodspace, helping customers order all of their goods online for drone delivery–no physical contact with humans needed. By lucky chance, she finds a new job and a new calling: discover amazing musicians and bring their concerts to everyone via virtual reality. The only catch is that she’ll have to do something she’s never done before and go out in public. Find the illegal concerts and bring musicians into the limelight they deserve. But when she sees how the world could actually be, that won’t be enough.





About Sarah

Interview with Sarah Pinsker, author of A Song For A New Day
Photo © Emily Osborne
Sarah Pinsker‘s Nebula and Sturgeon Award-winning short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, F&SF, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, as well as numerous other magazines, anthologies, year’s bests, podcasts, and translation markets. She is also a singer/songwriter who has toured nationally behind three albums on various independent labels. Her first collection, Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea, was released in early 2019 by Small Beer Press. This is her first novel. She lives with her wife in Baltimore, Maryland.


Website  ~  Twitter @SarahPinsker

SALVATION DAY 24-Hour Giveaway


24 hours to survive. 24 hours to win.

You could win an advance copy of SALVATION DAY by Kali Wallace, a gripping thriller that takes place in less than 24 hours! But act quickly, because this giveaway is also only 24 hours - and time is running out...

See the giveaway here.