[GUEST POST] Liz Coley on Science Fiction Inspirations


Liz Coley has been writing long and short fiction for teens and adults for more than ten years. Her short fiction has appeared in Cosmos Magazine and several speculative fiction anthologies: The Last Man, More Scary Kisses, Strange Worlds and Flights of Fiction. In 2011, she self-published Out of Xibalba, a story that begins when the world ends. The same week that work launched, Liz sold psychological thriller Pretty Girl-13 to HarperCollins for US/UK publication. Overseas editions are available in nine translations. “There are secrets you can’t even tell yourself.”

Liz lives in the YA writing mecca of Cincinnati, Ohio with her husband and teenaged daughter, sans the two older boys who have flown the nest. Her hobbies include singing, photography, and baking. She plays competitive tennis to keep herself fit and humble. Visit her at her website, LizColey.com, on Twitter as @LizColeyBooks and on Facebook.

Science Fiction Inspirations

by Liz Coley

In fourth grade, I was the serious little girl in glasses and braids who was far more interested in stellar evolution than plastic horses. On the coffee table, my parents had left a Scientific American magazine open to an article about a magical world that is actually real; it is populated by red giants, white dwarves, neutron stars, and black holes (which were still theoretical in 1971). Only two years post moon-landing, I was captivated by the immensity and mystery of outer space. The paper that eight-year-old me wrote that year lives deep in a rusted steamer trunk full of childish drawings.

My father encouraged this bent toward space science by pointing me to the bookcase with Edgar Rice Burrough’s Thuvia Maid of Mars and the other Barsoom novels. At the tender age of ten, I must have missed most of the storyline, but I fell madly in love with the planet Mars. At some point in these formative early days, a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle fell into my hands. Then I stumbled upon a used copy of Robert Heinlein’s 6XH, offering me a collapsing four-dimensional house, a man who was his own grandfather, and orange creation dirt under Jonathan Hoag’s fingernails. That sealed the deal. I was hooked on speculative fiction.

By the most brilliant twist of fate, my seventh and eighth grade English teacher Mr. Erickson was also a fan. Our curriculum included the John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy; Mr. Erickson read Ray Bradbury stories aloud to us in class; we talked about Twilight Zone episodes (which I hadn’t seen, because the show aired way past my bedtime). Outside the classroom, he handed me my map to the worlds of Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke, the ABC’s of sci-fi. The Foundation series was my foundation in social science fiction on a galactic scale. Bradbury gave me more of Mars and then some. Clarke opened up the near future.

In college, I majored in biochemistry and took Brit Lit classes for an excuse to read because science fiction hadn’t become an academic subject yet. But as everyone of my age appreciates, the late seventies and early eighties were a wonderful time for dramatic SF, with Star Trek in syndication and the Star Wars movies, Close Encounters, and ET in theatres.

Graduate school brought me a bibliophilic friend in Loch Rose, who owned a sci-fi and fantasy collection that was shelved two-deep on four six-foot bookcases. Every Friday for two years, he handed me a pile of books to read, introducing me to Zelazny, Laumer, Pohl, and Silverberg among others. After graduation, I began accumulating my own collection. Today, my mother-in-law and both of my sisters are speculative fiction fans as well, so the book recommendations fly back and forth, and I’m still getting them from Loch. I remain a fan of both short stories and novels.

My favorite authors to read and reread are Asimov, Orson Scott-politics-aside-Card (as we all call him now), Lois McMaster Bujold, and Connie Willis. It was Connie Willis who inspired me my first temptation to attempt a career in writing, a mad desire that came to me much later than most. In 1995, I was “only” 33 when I realized her breakout award winning Doomsday Book had been published at age 47. I figured, optimistically, that I had lots of time. And yes, it took lots of time. My short stories started selling in 2010. Do the math. And in 2011, I both self-published a novel and sold one in a somewhat big way to Harper Collins and several international publishers.

I continue reading fifty to sixty novels a year, now split between science fiction, young adult, and miscellaneous other genres to keep my voice and ideas fresh. In spite of reading more down-to-Earth works these days, my heart is still in a spaceship heading first for Mars, then the stars.