I met Tammy at the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference in 2010, and had the good fortune to be sitting with her at the banquet when Contract of Defiance won the Colorado Gold Writing Contest (Best Thriller/Action Novel). It was fantastic to be there and able to cheer her victory – I can’t think of a nicer and more deserving author. Plus, it was excellent to be there and share the moment.
Tammy and I have stayed in touch by email, blogs, and Twitter (where you can find her @TammySalyer). Two years later, Contract of Defiance is finally published – and I can’t wait to read it. (I have my copy already – do you have yours?).
And now, on with the interview!
Where did you grow up?
We did a ton of moving around when I was a kid, but the brief summary is: born in western Kansas, moved back and forth to the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska twice, moved to Austin and then San Antonio, Texas right after I turned eight, and then finally landed in Eugene, Oregon when I was eleven. I lived there until I turned twenty.
What inspired you to start writing?
I think two things inspired and contributed to my writing habit. The first is that I’m an introverted (though not in the least shy) person, which leads to spending a lot of time thinking about the people and things around me. Also, moving around so much as a child and losing and having to remake friends made me very good at entertaining myself. Having always had a vivid imagination, my brain gets full at times and writing it all out is one way of making room for more stuff. I’ve always been a reader and easily captivated by new worlds, so it was a natural progression for me to start creating my own.
If you could go back in time and share one writing lesson with “new writer you” before starting your first manuscript … what would that be?
Stop the constant editing process! Stop obsessing over every word before I’ve even finished the sentence! (I only had to make three edits before getting to this parenthetical. Believe it or not, this is an improvement over the young-writer-me.) But seriously, just like with writing, editing is a skill that takes time to develop. You have to give yourself the time and space to get good at it before you start start doing it willy nilly.
Speculative fiction gives authors the freedom to set a story in any place and any time. How did you decide when and where to set Contract of Defiance? What inspired the story itself?
I’ve probably watched James Cameron’s films Aliens and both of the first two Terminators fifty times since T1 came out in 1984. Among the tons of other sci-fi and fantasy books and movies I’ve read and watched since then, I credit those two especially for implanting in my brain a love for three things: artificial realities, take-no-shxxt female heroes, and the freedom that comes with knowing that in fiction everything is speculative. The idea for Contract of Defiance started with my vision of a female protagonist, and the world and events built themselves around her and her central conflicts, both personally and in relation to the things happening to her. I always believed my first novel would be horror, but this one seemed to emerge from my brain fully developed. I think that’s probably because the characters and general themes have been part of my psyche since I was kid and was introduced to Cameron’s great stories. The story had to be set in the future in order to integrate the kinds of social situations and the level of technology that I wanted to include.
What was the biggest challenge involved in writing a novel that incorporated space travel? Can you tell us a little about your world-building process, and how you designed the futuristic setting for Contract of Defiance?
As much as I love to smudge the lines between what is physically real and what is purely fiction, it was important to me to set this novel in the known physical universe. It was probably a subconscious self-regulation in order to keep myself from getting too out there. So I started by researching things I needed to know about astronomy, such as the Algol system, and kept to strict physics as much as I could and still have a fun story. The world building was the fun part! I very strongly wished to explore the themes of right and wrong with this novel, especially how they relate to people in the military and the governments that control them. Coming up with a social order that was both plausible but still fulfilled the role I had in mind was actually easier than finding an effective way of conveying that within the story without getting preachy. It took awhile for it to all come together, but it seems fairly comprehensive to me now (and will to others, I hope). In terms of the physical world building, that came a lot easier just because it was more tangential to the story overall. But part of the fun of being a writer is coming up with these wild places and, in a way, getting to be there!
Do you have a favorite author? If so, who and why?
Well, just like you, I can’t go with just one. Impossible. I like different things about so many different authors: Stephen King for his unbelievably rich and well-crafted characters; Marion Zimmer Bradley for the elegance and depth of her stories; Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman both for their subtle wit and light-hearted touch; Paolo Bacigalupi because The Windup Girl was the most amazingly rendered near-future dystopia I’ve ever read about; and Garth Stein for his beautiful capturing of the aches of the human spirit in The Art of Racing in the Rain. They are all such masters at different things. I strive to be able to bring a tiny bit of all their brilliance to things I write.
What characters or settings do you think make the best speculative fiction? Do you have a favorite book in the genre (and if so, what makes it your favorite)?
Just a caveat: You and I’ve talked a little about this—what exactly speculative fiction is—and I go around in my head about the definition. When you really think about it, all fiction is speculative. But I think the contemporary usage of the term narrows it down to things that are more alternate reality, rather than really possible. So, things like magical realism, steampunk, urban fantasy, cyperpunk, paranormal, horror—these are all generally accepted sub-genres of speculative fiction. And there is great fiction in all of them, set in a wide variety of different places, times, realms, etc. Science fiction has been it’s own genre and around for so long that most readers who read sci-fi don’t think of it as speculative fiction, but it really is, just in terms of being something that’s not quite within the realm of the possible (yet). Even The Art of Racing in the Rain could be considered speculative just by virtue of the fact that the narrator isn’t a human. That doesn’t really answer the question, but then, if the writing is good, any setting is perfect for speculative fiction. Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash or Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl are my current go-to favorites, mostly for the complexity of the worlds and their styles of storytelling.
What did you enjoy most about writing Contract of Defiance? What part did you find most difficult?
The act of creation itself is one of the things I think all writers, and definitely me, enjoy about writing a novel. Additionally, this is something you also mentioned, but writing a novel—probably especially mystery, but any kind—is very much a problem-solving endeavor. Positing all the ways you can make your characters uncomfortable, ways to wrench that discomfort almost to their breaking points, and then bringing them back to safety (or not), is such a fun thought project. Maybe there’s a little bit of the sadist in every writer. The challenge of thinking up different scenarios and problems and then solving them is just a good time.
Of course, this is also the hard part about writing. Finding plot lines and events that both fit the story and will be enjoyable for others to read takes a special chemistry. You have to spend hours in the writing lab sometimes to come up with one simple story arc. I actually started a “fun” novel that I wrote on the side when I was struggling with some idea in Contract. I found if I quit beating my head against whatever it was for awhile, it would usually resolve itself when I wasn’t “looking.” Running also helped me think through a lot of the story. When I say I wrote more than half the novel while I was running, I’m not kidding. Sometimes the best way to write is to get away from your computer.
Your recent blog post, Publishing Pains Part 2, details your experiences preparing and e-publishing your short story collection, On Hearts On Scorpions. How long did it take you to prepare a full-length creative work for e-publication, and what did you find most interesting about the process?
Heart’s probably took about twenty hours to prepare, but it was my first go. I already know a bit of CSS and HTML, but I had to learn how to make Adobe InDesign do what I wanted, as well as discover all of its flaws (and by flaws, I just mean incompatibilities with e-reading apps and devices). After I got past that learning curve and knew what gotchas to look for, putting together a couple of individual short stories and my novel took less than half the time combined. The artwork takes considerably more time, regardless of whether you do it yourself or hire someone. I would tell any author thinking of independently publishing to start making decisions about artwork even before their piece is finalized.
Do you have any advice to share with authors preparing to e-publish or independently publish novel-length creative works? What will you do the same, or differently, with your next work?
In terms of the ebook creation itself, the best piece of advice I think I have is to suggest that an author be clear about what they’re getting into before deciding to e-publish. Be confident in your software skills, know who and what your resources are for figuring out how to create an ebook, and don’t be afraid to hire someone to put together the .epub or .mobi file for you if you don’t feel confident. Writers would rather be writing, and the time it takes to learn the digital side of things is substantial. You just have to be realistic about how much time you want to trade from writing to ebook formatting. Smashwords is known as a good service for creating a digital file for you, but you can make a much better and more professional looking ebook on your own and keep more of the revenue if you want to put in the time.
The thing I would do differently is spend more time identifying marketing and promotion resources and learn to use them effectively. The great thing about being an independent author, though, is that I have all the time I need to do that.
And now, the speed round:
– Plotter or pantser?
Is pretender an option? I pretend to plot, but when my fingers hit the keyboard, other things happen.
– Coffee, tea, or bourbon?
Coffee for survival, tea for pleasure, bourbon for…er…survival.
– Socks or no socks?
Socks! Preferably knee length.
– Cats, dogs, or reptiles?
Furless cats. Hairballs aren’t fun. For anyone.
– For dinner: Italian, Mexican, Burgers or Thai?
Whatever anyone besides me is cooking. I’m a terrible cook.
In a few hundred years, the Algol system becomes humanity’s new home. The question is: is it a better one? When a crew of arms smugglers botches their latest job, Corp-deserter and crewmember, Aly Erikson, is separated from her brother, the only person she can trust, and left behind to fight for her life. In the aftermath, as she tries to piece together what happened, a crew of roughneck settlers pressgang her into a dangerous mission in the heart of Corp territory. Time is running out to get back everything she’s lost: her crew, her brother, and her options. But no one is taking her gun.
A little more about Tammy:
Tammy Salyer is a novelist, a runner, and an obsessive word jockey. Really, it’s out of control. If you find her beating her head against her laptop, try and coax her away with dark chocolate and expensive wine. Or cheap wine. She currently lives in utopian Boulder, CO, which, oddly, inspires lots of dystopian fiction.
Tammy blogs at http://tammysalyer.wordpress.com/
Thank you so much for joining us today, Tammy. I can’t wait to read Contract of Defiance and to see you at this year’s Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference in September!