Talk about a quick turnaround. I sent author Nancy Kress your questions late last night. Fast forward seven hours to this morning when I woke up to discover an email from Nancy in my inbox. She was done! Well, a big thank you to Nancy for squeezing us into her busy schedule. Last year, she published two books, Dogs and Nano Comes to Clifford, and she’s already kicked off 2009 with the February release of her latest, Steal Across the Sky.
From MacMillan: “The aliens appeared one day, built a base on the moon, and put an ad on the internet:
“We are an alien race you may call the Atoners. Ten thousand years ago we wronged humanity profoundly. We cannot undo what has been done, but we wish humanity to understand it. Therefore we request twenty-one volunteers to visit seven planets to Witness for us. We will convey each volunteer there and back in complete safety. Volunteers must speak English. Send requests for electronic applications to witness@Atoners.com.”
At first, everyone thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t.
This is the story of three of those volunteers, and what they found on Kular A and Kular B.”
Intriguing, no? For the latest updates on her upcoming releases and some insight into the author herself, check out Nancy’s blog at: http://nancykress.blogspot.com/
Before turning things over to Nancy, I just want to remind blog readers to get their questions in for actor Martin Christopher (aka Stargate’s Major Marks). You have until this weekend.
Oh, and today’s entry is dedicated to fsmn36. Congratulations, new grad student. Now, get to work!
And over to Nancy…
Sparrow_hawk writes: “Questions for the author: Dog bites (and people bites) don’t seem to be a really effective way to spread a plague, even though the havoc wrought by trying to control such a disease and the psychological fall-out of dogs turning on their masters was pretty significant. What gave you the idea of using dogs as a medium for bioterrorism?”
NK: You have it exactly right: It’s an effective way to spread havoc and terror. If the plague had spread to dogs outside of Tyler, MD, it would have resulted in overwhelming the medical facilities, disrupting the economy, restricting such basic actions as sending kids to school or going to the grocery store for bread – just as it did in Tyler. In addition, there is a psychological horror in having family pets unpredictably turn on the owners who have loved and cared for them. I originally got the idea from my own dog, a toy poodle who is the model for Minette in the book. Mine is named Cosette.
SpeedReader writes: “This book was a big departure from Nancy Kress’s other published work but I found it a nice diversion. As someone already said, not as heavy as her science fiction novels but a very quick and enjoyable read. BTW – That crazy terrier running with the killer dog pack reminds me of a dog in our neighborhood..
Some questions for the author:
1. What led you to step away from more familiar ground to write a thriller?”
NK: I don’t really know why I write any particular book at any particular time. However, I have written two previous thrillers, OATHS AND MIRACLES and STINGER (both Tor/Forge). Both, like DOGS, deal with bio-terrorism. This is not only a subject that intensely interests me, but is also very timely. It can happen here, and I think that eventually, in one form or another, it will. I also wanted to write a thriller with a female protagonist, and one that took advantage of my interest in the Arab world. I lived in an Arab country for a year when I was young, and the culture fascinates me.
“2. How did you enjoy the experience both while writing it and with regard to the general reaction?”
NK: I enjoyed writing the book, but not the experience of publishing it. Three publishers turned it down for the same reason: “The content will offend dog lovers too much.” Apparently you can kill off any number of people – sometimes gruesomely — in novels, but not pets! My son suggested, “Mom, maybe it would be easier to sell if you made the plague carried by gerbils,” but somehow that didn’t fit J
“3. What has been the general reaction? Have many of your fans been able to step away from their sci fi comfort zone?”
NK: The reviews have been generally positive. I’m not sure about fan reactions – I tend to get email mostly from people who liked the book rather than hated it.
“4. Do you have plans to write more books along the same line?”
NK: Again, I never really know what I’ll write next. Some writers have many ideas in their mental pantry, ready to be made into books. I, alas, do not. I never know what I’ll write next until I start something and see if I like it well enough to continue. However, certainly genetic engineering and bioterrorism are enduring subjects for me.
Airelle writes: “Is this a stand alone book or open to a sequel?”
NK: It’s a stand-alone book – at least for now.
Fsmn36 writes: “Questions for Ms. Kress:
1. You’re a hard sci-fi author, yet this book felt all thriller and not really science fiction-y (as in, I would believe it could happen now rather than 20 years down the road). Not having read your other works (yet), is this a step out for you? If so, what was the inspiration?”
NK: I answered this question above, but let me add that I agree with you that this could happen now. Ken Alibek, the former head of the Soviet Union’s bio-terrorism program, defected to the United States and wrote a book, BIOHAZARD, that is the scariest thing I have ever read. There are bioterrorism programs all over the globe. Probably not involving infected dogs – but if they do, we may not know it until the plague begins.
“2. While I think I get Richard’s characterization, can you give us some further insight into it? Did he just envy Salah, or was it far more than that? What was your own motivation for him?”
NK: Richard is the sort of weak, envious person who believes the world done him wrong. These people brood for years about what they perceive as the injustices the world has inflicted on them. Most such people merely snipe verbally at the successful, or try to sabotage them in small ways at work or in social situations (or on the Internet). However, the most virulent among them end up shooting up a college campus or putting poison in random bottles of Tylenol. That’s Richard. He just happened, because of the illness he contracted in Africa, to have at his power a disease with which to cause havoc. And for him, Salah was the symbol of everything that Richard thought he should have but never got. Don’t you know milder versions of such people? I do.
“3. Just a comment, but I thought it was a great topic. Viruses are scary enough in themselves because we can’t see/control them, but to spread it via man’s best friend…I will admit I don’t like too many dogs (it takes me awhile to get used to any friend’s dog and actually pet it) and this was kind of a nightmare come true. At the same time, I really enjoyed the way you crafted the act of terrorism along with the government response. Thanks for a page-turner!”
NK: And thank you for the praise!
Thornyrose writes: “Questions for Ms. Kress. The very idea behind “Dogs” seems to have creeped out quite a few people. What inspired you to develop the idea? What genres would you like to write in that you’ve not already attempted? In “Dogs”, did the characters come out of the needs of the plot, or did the characters help direct the direction of the story? Thank you for your time and participaton in Mr. Mallozzi’s blog.”
NK: For me, the characters always come first – although they usually come attached to a situation that then generates the plot. In DOGS, I knew I wanted to write a book about a plague spread by dogs, and that I wanted a female law-enforcement character. As I thought about Tessa, deciding that she was the widow of an Arab and how that had interfered with her promotion at the FBI, I saw why she would be in Tyler, MD and how the plot might begin.
As for new genres – I’m currently attempting a YA fantasy, something new for me. We’ll see how that goes.
JamieGreen writes: “As a female writer who has enjoyed great success in the largely male-dominated field of science fiction, what kind of advice would you give novice authors looking to break into the field? Over the 25 or so years since you’ve been published, what changes or developments in the field of science fiction literature have most delighted you? Most disappointed you? Finally, when you’re not working on your own books, what kind of novels do you enjoy?”
NK: The best advice for anyone wanting to be a writer is simple: Write. Write a lot. Rewrite. Write some more. It’s like turning pro in any other field – concert pianist, basketball player, graphic artist – you have to practice. And not only when you feel “inspired.” Try telling your basketball coach that you don’t feel inspired to show up at practice today.
The development in SF that most delighted me is that, compared to the SF I read at 15, the field has grown up. It can now create complex characters (especially female characters) in morally difficult situations. There are other choices besides the bad-guys/good-guys in space scenario. What has disappoints me is that these adult, thoughtful, complex novels seldom attain the sales of the simpler kind of SF or fantasy.
I read a lot out of genre, both mainstream novels and non-fiction (often about science). Within SF, I actually prefer short stories to novels. I also prefer to write short. My favorite form is the novella, which is long enough to create an alternate future or society, but short enough to need only one plotline. If I could, I would write only novellas and short stories. But you can’t make a living that way!
JJ writes: “And if SGA movie will be filming in this fall, which mean both SG1 and SGA movie will release in 2010, right?”
Answer: A 2010 release was always the most likely scenario.
Anne-Marie Sloan writes: “Hey Joe. Were you talking about Paul Davis. Last time I checked he is and always has been a Major.”
Answer: Holy smokes! He DOES need a promotion!
Neko writes: “I dont know if this question is annoying (sorry if it is) or you just missed it lol but have you been to the Montreal comedy festival?”
Answer: Never been.
Sessy writes: “Joe you often talk about asian food and asian places, canada etc. What about Europe? Is there any particular place you like here? What about food?”
Answer: I’d love to visit Western Europe, but haven’t found the time. As for European food – yep, I’m a fan.
Stargatelvr writes: “If you were to comment on any episode of Atlantis with a few Squirrels (Not actual furry animal squirrels, but David Hewlett fan squirrels) which one would it be? “
Answer: I don’t even know what that means.
Vv0472 writes: “How are you liking the second season of Flight of the Conchords? Do you prefer season 1 or 2 better?”
Answer: I was actually worried because I’d heard that they’d used all their songs in the show’s first season. That said, I’ve been more than pleasantly surprised by season 2 which, in my opinion, has been even stronger, the musical numbers just as memorable.
Bill writes: “What’s the writing process on the SG series? How much control does one individual writer have over his/her script?”
Answer: How it works – A writer comes up with an idea and pitches out to the room. The other writers take the idea and run with it, tossing out notions, making suggestions, reshaping the original kernel of idea into a story. The writer goes off to think about the story and, days, later the writing staff gathers in the writers’ room to break the story. The writer starts off by writing TEASE up on the white board and we all discuss what the tease should be. What happens? Who’s there? How many scenes. That done, we move on to ACT I, breaking down every scene in detail. Then on to ACT II, III, IV, and V. The scripts are NOT written in a vacuum and one person is not solely responsible for the end product. EVERYONE on staff participates in beating out a story. With the beats in place, the writer goes off and puts these beats down on paper, fleshing them out in the form of an outline. The outline goes out to the writing department and, again, the individual writers weigh in with suggestions and critiques. Depending on the required changes, the writer will either revise the outline or go straight to draft. Once the writer has finished a first draft, it goes out to the writing department. More notes ranging from general cover notes to specific page notes. The writer heads off to incorporate the requested changes. Now, at this point, depending on what shape is in, the script either becomes an official Writer’s Draft OR one of the senior producers takes over and does their own pass on the script, sometimes a mere polish, other times a significant overhaul. Regardless of which, the original writer’s name remains on the finished script. Brad, Rob, and Paul have done massive unaccredited rewrites in the past, fixing problem scripts – only to have certain fans online laud the credited writer while, simultaneously, wondering why Brad, Rob, or Paul can’t write in a similar vein. In reality, they have – more than anyone will ever know. Anyway, once the rewrite is done, the script becomes an official Writer’s Draft and goes out to the various departments, studio, network, and actors. More notes. More revisions. And, finally, you have a shooting script. A true team effort – even though most don’t realize it.