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[GUEST POST] How Kieran Shea Made the Jump From Crime Fiction to Science Fiction

Kieran Shea’s fiction has appeared in dozens of venues including Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Thuglit, Dogmatika, Word Riot, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, and Needle: A Magazine of Noir …as well as in some beefy-looking anthologies most of which will make you question the tether of his shiny, red balloon. To his self-deprecating astonishment he’s also been nominated for the Story South’s Million Writers Award twice without sending the judges so much as a thank you note. He co-edited the satiric transgressive fiction collection D*CKED: DARK FICTION INSPIRED BY DICK CHENEY and his debut novel Koko Takes A Holiday is out now from Titan Books.

How I Made the Jump From Crime Fiction to Science Fiction

by Kieran Shea

Koko originally appeared in the now shuttered online crime fiction ‘zine Plots With Guns. Edited and assembled by gritty crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith, Plots with Guns was considered by many a tough nut to crack and a bellwether of up and comers. If you comb through some of the issues, a lot of writers who landed in Plots With Guns are now making their marks as novelists…guys like Frank Bill, Greg Bardsley, Steven Torres, Dennis Tafoya, and so on.

Back in 2009, through the cyberspace grapevine, I learned that Plots With Guns was doing a one-time Plots With Rayguns issue and the challenge was to write a noir-flavored story set five hundred years in the future.

I’d never written speculative fiction before and wanted to give it a shot. The crime novel I was working on at the time was giving me the fits, so I took a break and sent off one story, which was instantly rejected for being “too near future.”

Frustrated, I wrote another story and that was rejected too because it was “too sci-fi.”

I was determined to get into the issue so I went back to work, figuring I’d give it one last try. Something must’ve snapped while working on that third story, because I started writing in a way that up until that time I’d been afraid to. The end result was quirky short called “Koko Takes a Holiday”, and the story was accepted.

Okay, so then we fast-forward to Noir Con in Philadelphia 2010-specifically to the Starbucks in the Marriot on Walnut Street. St. Louis-based novelist and friend Jed Ayers and I were griping about whatever projects we were tinkering with at the time (we worked together on an anthology of Dick Cheney-inspired crime stories called D*CKED-with writers in it like Ken Bruen, Scott Phillips, Bill Fitzhugh, Tony Black, etc.), and Jed told me how much he liked Koko as a character. He suggested I expand the short story into a full-length novel. I was skeptical. I really wanted to finish my crime novel, and the idea of starting over on something I’d no experience with was daunting.

Months later when I told the agent I was courting about Koko (I’d since started on it-basically calling it a western set in the future) she got this keen look in her eye, like, “forget this crime-writing crap-that story sounds amazing.” I went back to work for a year, ran early drafts by some sci-fi/fantasy authors I trusted, rewrote some more, and when I couldn’t look at it anymore I sent it to the agent. She promptly responded with a contract. After that, we were off to the races.

It was a fun book to write because I learned so much. There is so much freedom in science fiction to push the limits of satire. I’m sure readers will laugh, be offended, and end up falling for Koko, despite her faults and barbarity.

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