Brenda Cooper is the Chief Information Officer of Kirkland, WA by day and a Science Fiction writer by night. Her stories appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld and anthologies including Fast Forward and Footprints. She’s also headlining my forthcoming space opera anthology Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age, due out in November 2013. Her novels include Building Harlequin’s Moon with Larry Niven, The Silver Ship and The Sea and two sequels. Her last appearance was to discuss Mayan December. Her debut at Pyr Books is The Creative Fire, first in a new duology, Ruby’s Song. She can be found on twitter as @BrendaCooper, on Facebook and via her website at brenda-cooper.com.
SFFWRTCHT: We talked about this before but briefly, where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?
Brenda Cooper: I’ve always read SF and F. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land and Time Enough for Love, Herbert’s Dune, Madeline L’Engle, Arthur C. Clarke, Nancy Kress, L. Frank Baum’s original Oz. I’m also interested in science and the future. I think those matter.
SFFWRTCHT: Who are some of your favorite recently read authors and books that inspire you?
BC: Tobias Buckell, Paolo Bacigalupi, Kim Stanley Robinson, Neal Stephenson, Nancy Kress, David Brin, Rob Ziegler and more for SF, Louise Marley, Patricia Briggs, Seanan McGuire, Brad Beaulieu, John Pitts, Cat Rambo and more for Fantasy, pleasure reading . And I also enjoyed your book, The Worker Prince.
SFFWRTCHT: Thank you, Brenda. December 2012 just passed, a real Mayan December. Remind us about that book please.
BC: The story starts Dec 14th and ends December 22. It’s set in the Yucatan Peninsula, which is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It’s beautiful there. Mayan December tracks two timelines – current and about 970 AD. They bleed mystery into each other.
SFFWRTCHT: Mayan December is a really unique SFF read with great use of setting. You really evoked it well. Your passion for the setting really comes up but also I really enjoyed the mother and daughter POVs .
BC: Thanks! It’s such a pretty and magical place I think it was easy to write the setting there. Hope to go back. They were my favorite characters. Particularly the daughter, Nixie.
SFFWRTCHT: So it’s not a prediction of the future, how does the Mayan calendar fit into your story? Without spoiling it…
SFFWRTCHT: It tells the tale of a Mayan researcher whose daughter starts going back in time to Mayan days and brings back digital photos then others start having the same travel experiences. How did that idea come about?
BC: Well, yes, it does focus on Dec 2012, but it’s not a disaster story or very new age. It’s kind of “The Labyrinth meets Contact.” I love the Yucatan. Mayan mysteries have always intrigued me. The seed story for Mayan December was actually “Mayan Summer,” which came out in Khimairal Ink, in January 2008.
SFFWRTCHT: I read that you had to do a lot of research for this. Do you do it all yourself or hire an assistant? Did you go to Mexico?
BC: For Mayan December I read a lot: Bibliography of Research for Mayan December and interviewed some of those authors. I have been to Mexico three times. Once to Palenque and twice to Yucatan. Well, and also to Tijuana. I want to go back! The Yucatan peninsula is very beautiful. Very different from here. The people are fabulous. I love the ruins. I wanted to return between sale and final version to clock Chitzen action: ran out of time.
SFFWRTCHT: This book’s a bit of a departure for you. Was that deliberate?
BC: It just wanted to be written. It is not my usual hard Science Fiction for sure. I have no idea if it will find its market, but I like it. The most fun was researching/writing about Mayans in the past. They had a grand culture and we are still learning so much, but with so little known of them, lots of room to speculate as well. I also did write it as speculative fiction – things were changed to fit. But I think it is pretty accurate based on what we know.
SFFWRTCHT: I think it will appeal to a YA audience as well with Nixie being a young major character. Does having a daughter help you get inside a kid’s head when writing?
BC: Well, being around kids does help. I have a thirty year old son. My partner has a fourteen year old daughter who did help a lot. KT didn’t read this book, but she is smart and brave like Nixie (one of my viewpoint characters in Mayan December.)
SFFWRTCHT: Now in your latest, Creative Fire from Pyr Books, Ruby’s Song is about a young girl, a gifted singer, who finds herself the center of a rising movement aboard a Generation Ship. Where’d the idea for Ruby’s Song come from?
BC: I’ve been fascinated with Eva Peron for a long time. I wanted to create a character somewhat like her, and I wanted to write a story with a unique female heroine. I’m tired of accidental heroines and perfect heroines. Ruby is neither.
SFFWRTCHT: Which came first: world, plot or character? Sounds like the character.
BC: Yep. This book is all about Ruby. She’s young, naive to a fault, but also driven. Really driven. And brave. John Picacio caught her perfectly on the cover. Which is a writer’s dream cover. It’s beautiful, iconic art. John Picacio’s art has helped with the buzz this book has. People talk about the story and the art. Here’s a link to how the art was created. It’s interesting. http://t.co/nGdGs69z .
SFFWRTCHT: Were other characters inspired by the Peron story as well then? Like Fox or The Jackman?
BC: The character Fox is sort of from the Evita musical…the singer she first goes to Buenos Aires with. The Jackman? Just came. Note: this is not exactly a retelling. It’s framed by Evita, but is its own story. Many differences.
SFFWRTCHT: “Inspired by” gives you the duty to make the new story your own.
BC: Yep. Then you can giggle about the fun intersections but not be constrained.
SFFWRTCHT: The book’s title is the name of a generation ship, The Creative Fire, on which Ruby was born and lives. Tell us about The Creative Fire. What’s a generation ship and how is life structured for those aboard?
BC: A generation ship is a starship that flies between systems without faster than light travel. It takes generations to arrive. The challenge is having a society that grows and changes while stuck inside the ultimate closed world. On The Creative Fire, society closed up and became abusive and structured by power. This is what Ruby fights. Ruby is both selfish and selfless all at once. She wants her own love and safety, but she also cares about her people. I like and admire Ruby a lot. She’s a fighter. She’s fiercely loyal and curious. Her world is more patriarchal than current America. One of her tools is sexuality. This is not comfortable for some readers.
SFFWRTCHT: Greys, Blues, Reds-there’s a social stratum which Ruby bucks as much out of curiosity and the desire for more as anything . I know you work full time and write a lot of short stories. How long did the novel take to write?
SFFWRTCHT: Did you sell it first? What brought you to Pyr Books?
BC: I finished it before we started marketing it. I think that’s smarter. My agent sells book – I was happy she sold this to Pyr. I like the quality of book that Pyr puts out, and I have wanted to work with Lou for a long time.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the world. This is future colonists? How far in the future? How’d they come to be aboard the Fire?
BC: A girl can’t give away all her secrets. Some become clearer in book two. It’s planned as a duology. The working title for book two is The Diamond Deep.
SFFWRTCHT: What’s your writing time look like-specific block? Write `til you reach word count? Grab it when you can?
BC: Writing time? All of the above. I do most of it in the early morning, some on retreats. It’s worth gold.
SFFWRTCHT: Ruby is young. Is this officially ya? She seems the right age.
BC: Not officially YA. I tend to write 9-90 and people usually market it as adult. Shrugs. It is YA friendly.
SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any writing rituals or tools? Scrivener? Word? Do you write to music or does silence reign?
BC: I use Scrivener. Usually I write in silence because it’s early AM. But when I can, I listen to background music. .
SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
BC: Best: Write. Never Give Up. Work hard. Write. Write. Write. The only bad advice? To worry about reviews or markets too much.
SFFWRTCHT: I believe last visit you told us you outline. How detailed do you outline before you write? Do you approach shorts the same?
BC: I don’t outline much. Four or five pages for each book, and then they turn out differently anyway. Silly things. I don’t outline short stories.
SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a bit about your other ship series, The Silver Ship books. Are those about generation ships also?
BC: Nope. They are colony stories. They have cold sleep in those, no FTL. Most setting is on planets. They are really about 6 genetically modified kids stranded on a colony planet that hates genmods. Also YA friendly. And of course, since it’s a series, their future adventures. Some short fiction in the world is up at http://t.co/c9fEkDQR.
SFFWRTCHT: AS I recall, The Silver Ship got recognition as best YA book, didn’t it?
BC: Booklist called it one of top ten adult books for YA readers one year. I felt honored.
SFFWRTCHT: The sequels, Reading The Wind and Winds Of Creation followed. Is it a consecutive timeline?
BC: Yes. And , cough, there is one more book to come. It is begging to be written. My constraint is time. With luck, that is what I will be working on at Rainforest Writer’s Village this year. But other deadlines demand I keep meeting them.
SFFWRTCHT: Ahhh, so it’s not a trilogy? Or is this a follow up standalone?
BC: I tried to craft the books to stand alone, but it is a consecutive sequence and book 4 completes a larger arc.
SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to? Obviously, the 2nd Ruby book…
BC: I have four anthologies I’ve committed to, including one of yours. Plus, I want to do other short work. I also have a nonfiction book I want to write plus, as mentioned , the fourth and last Silver Ship series book, The Making War. I have more projects than I have time!