Interview with Leigh Saunders

Space might be the final frontier, but the imagination knows no limits. When it comes to science fiction and speculative writing this is especially true. Come meet my friend Leigh Saunders who continually pushes the boundaries of her own imagination with both heart and enviable skill.

Leigh and I are partners in crime in the Utah author scene, often seen tucking ourselves into corners at conferences and planning our next move. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, with authors as friends there is never a dull moment.

On to the interview!

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Hi Leigh, welcome to my blog! To kick off this interview I’d like to get to know you better. Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve never been the stereotypical, introverted writer – though I have been known to “lurk” quietly in new situations while I figure out the lay of the land. Growing up in a military family was probably a big part of that. It allowed me to see a fair bit of the world — and also taught me to adapt to different cultures and customs every time we moved. Then I read the phrase “…the things are also people” in a SF story (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I think), and I never looked at the world quite the same way ever again. I’ve been fortunate to have worked as a full-time writer (of various things, not all fiction) for most of my adult life, and love to travel, learn new things, see new places, meet new people – and then weave some version of what I remember into my stories – yeah, I do that – but by the time I’ve dumped so many bits and pieces into the blender, then poured them out and stretched them like taffy, it’s only the essence of the real people or events that make it to the page. The rest is some kind of alchemy that I don’t even pretend to understand. I just accept it for the magic that it is.

What skill have you always wished you were amazing at, but haven’t had the time to learn?

I’ve always been curious about so many things – In college, I studied accounting, architecture, modern dance, and technical theatre (all the backstage/behind-the-scenes stuff), but I never made it into the horse training program at Findlay College, which would have been a lot of work, but also great fun. I’m a competent rider, but some of my characters are truly one with their horses in a way I’ll never be.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever researched for a writing project?

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to bid on a project with the National Center for Human Genome Research (now the National Human Genome Research Institute). Our small project was cancelled due to funding limitations before it got off the ground, but my interaction with the project team led me to further research in the Human Genome Project. Since I came to it with a science fiction author’s world view, my primary focus was “what if…?” Fact and fiction tumbled around in my head for some time as a result, and Brianna Rei, the genetically-engineered heroine of my 2011 novel “Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record” was the result. I’ve written a handful of short stories featuring Brianna Rei since then, and this year am launching a new series of short, interstellar heists and capers, called “The Misha Kif Chronicles” where Brianna, always on the run from the bounty hunters, has returned to her career as a master thief under the alias, Misha Kif.

“Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record” is available through all the major ebook retailers

“The Misha Kif Chronicles, Vol 1: Partners in Crime” is available exclusively as part of the Storybundle “Space Traveler” bundle through July 4, 2019 (www.storybundle.com/space), and will hit the major ebook retailers later this summer.

In all the books you’ve read/written/edited, what character has captured your imagination the most?

If I have to pick just one, it would be the Comte de Saint-Germain, the delicious vampire immortalized (pun intended!) by the amazing Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. I’ve always loved well-researched historical novels, and Yarbro wound her meticulous research skills around a character based in part around the very secretive, real-life Count de St. Germain, creating an intelligent, charming, heroic vampire who I have always loved. Yarbro has written nearly thirty stand-alone novels about Saint- Germain the series over the past many years (I believe the first one came out in 1978), together with two spin-off series, and while the style is somewhat old-fashioned and reminiscent of historical and Regency novels, I am a true fan of Saint-Germain. Other vampires may come and go (or sparkle… why?) but I have always thought of Saint-Germain as the vampire whose acquaintance I have been most happy to have made.

I ask this question to everyone – what’s the most interesting item you have in your writing space and what’s the story behind it?

So many interesting things… so many stories!

I have this oddly-shaped, fist-sized blob of blown glass. Sometimes it’s on a bookshelf, right now it’s sitting on the corner of my desk. For the most part, it’s clear, but veins of red, the color of blood, wind through it and if you turn it this way or that in the light, it almost seems alive. I picked it up from a glassblower in Oregon, because it almost perfectly symbolizes a magical talisman I created in my very first (as-yet-unfinished) novel. One of these days, I’ll get back to that book; in the meantime, the heart of the talisman beats on…

What’s next? What are you working on?

I’m usually working on multiple projects simultaneously, almost always in distinctly different genres. Right now, I’m deep into the first few volumes of “The Misha Kif Chronicles,” which I like to call “the t.v. series ‘Leverage’ in space.” On the other side of the desk are the books and outlines for a fantasy series-in-progress, which is loosely based on the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe… but with magic. I’m in early stages with that one. And, of course, tucked in around the edges of my schedule are short stories – I’m a fan of the form, and love to explore new worlds and new ideas in short fiction whenever I can.

The enigmatic and mysterious Leigh Saunders

About Today’s Guest:

Leigh Saunders grew up as a “military brat.” And while she’s long-since settled in her Rocky Mountain home with her husband and a large fluffy cat, her life-long wanderlust regularly inspires her to write about the people and places that spark her imagination. When not writing speculative fiction for a living (her day job is writing computer software manuals), Leigh enjoys writing “practical magic” and  “social science fiction” – stories that focus on people (or “things” that are also people) in distant places, and how everyday magic, futuristic events, or advances in technology impact their lives. A 1993 Writers of the Future finalist, her recent short fiction can be found in multiple Fiction River anthologies, BundleRabbit short story collections, and more. She has won awards from the League of Utah Writers for both long and short fiction, and her short story, “Tendrils,” was listed on the 2018 Tangent Recommended Reading List. To learn more about Leigh and sign up for her occasional newsletter, visit her online at www.leighsaunders.com

Connect with Leigh

More about Leigh’s book – Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record

Tour guide, emissary, diplomat, thief — and a long-lived, genetically engineered Synth — Brianna Rei travels the Hundred Worlds, hiding in plain sight. She knows her survival depends on staying one step ahead of the bounty hunters who have nearly exterminated her kind.

All that changes when she teams up with fellow-thief, Jerrold McKell, and he discovers her true identity. Now Brianna must choose between trust and survival, and what it means to be truly human.

Excerpt from Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record, Chapter 1 (first page)

I have never analyzed the thought processes that caused me to spend my three hundred seventeenth birthday on Earth, in the relative obscurity of a noisy, dimly lit, backstreet bar in Old Milan, and I don’t intend to do so now.

For whatever reason, that’s where I was – dancing on the table with a couple of newly-met, long-lost loves, in a skimpy black silk jumpsuit that showed off a lot of leg and left little else to the imagination – when I first saw Jerrold.

Actually it was the Antarean I saw first.

There weren’t many aliens in the bar, and her short, bluish fur stood out in the crowd. It was Sisal. I knew her by reputation as a top fence, though I’d personally never had occasion to utilize her services.

She was sitting with two men, both human: one a roguish-looking sort with a rough-trimmed beard and long dark hair pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck; and the second, a big, brawny Thug, who, from my vantage point, I could tell hadn’t quite checked all his weapons at the door.

Sisal’s fur was on end, her claws tapping a staccato rhythm on the small table around which the three of them sat.

That she was here, obviously negotiating a deal, I considered nothing short of serendipitous – the deal she was negotiating would be worth a lot of money, and I was between lifestyles at the time.

I was curious. I was more than a little drunk.

I wanted in on the action.

I jumped down off the table, much to the dismay of the long-losts, who called after me, begging me not to desert them. I laughed and waved them away, scooping up a couple of bottles off the bar as I made my way over to the table.

I dropped the bottles on the table between the Thug and Sisal, narrowly missing her paw, and leaned across the table to speak to the rogue, whom I would later come to know as Jerrold McKell.

“I feel very left out,” I said petulantly. “You didn’t even save me a chair.”

“You’re drunk,” he said.

I laughed. “You always have had a gift for understatement, my dear,” I said, flipping my hair back over my shoulder as I stood. It was long and black and rough-cut, as was the style on Riga at that time, with its thousands of tiny ends tipped in silver. “Of course I’m drunk. That’s the point of coming to a bar. Or at least, half the point.”

Find Memoirs of a Synth: Gold Record on Amazon and other online book retailers.


Thank you Leigh for coming and joining me here on the blog, this was a wonderful interview! I’m excited to see the fruits of all the amazing projects you’re working on!


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Free Fiction Sample, “Imprint” by Nicholas Adams

It’s Friday, which means I get to bring you samples, interviews, and articles from new voices around the world. Today, I have a special treat for you. Friend and fellow author, Nicholas Adams, has given me permission to share the first chapter of his novella “Imprint” a hard sci-fi with a medical twist.

In return, I got to go have fun and answer interview questions on his blog. Go here to check it out.

Cover of Imprint

First Chapter Sample of Imprint, a Novella

by Nicholas Adams

Malcolm slammed his fist against the mirror. “I’m telling you, Warden. The process isn’t ready yet!”

From under the spider web of fractured reflections, the older man’s image steepled his fingertips. “Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, would you mind repositioning me so I can see you clearly?”

Malcolm sighed, defeated. He swiped a finger across the broken glass. The floating screen glided across the mirror’s surface to rest within the last unblemished area.

“Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way,” the man in the mirror glowered over his thick-lensed glasses, “let me remind you of the conditions of your exile.”

Malcolm braced himself for the full version of the warden’s favorite speech. “Your prior technological breakthrough caused the outbreak,” he began as if reading from a teleprompter, “and in spite of your synthetic organs’ success in treating life-threatening illnesses–,”

“You mean lifestyle threatening illnesses,” Malcolm interjected.

The warden interlocked his fingers and lowered them onto the black marble desktop, clearing his throat in frustration. “Be that as it may, it was your flawed technology that caused the disease that now threatens to wipe out humanity. And therefore, having been charged with attempted genocide, you have been isolated above the Arctic Circle because you promised the world you could fix this.”

Malcolm pounded his bruised knuckles against the lavatory’s cold, metal countertop. “I know, I know! But I need more time. And Cynthiana is the only remaining test subject. All the others died before I could make the bio-synthetic interface work. There are just too many variables. But, I think I’m getting closer. I just need more time!”

The Warden glanced somewhere off-screen and nodded to his unseen associate. “Time is not something of which you have an abundance. Get to work Doctor. We’ll be looking forward to your next progress report.”

Malcolm’s eyes automatically drifted to the calendar hovering below the warden’s image. Seven Days.

The Warden leaned over to press the button that would end their video-call but paused with his arm hanging in the air. “If you don’t have something significant to report,” he said not looking at Malcolm, “I’m afraid I’ll have to recommend that your exile will end, and we’ll begin the proceedings to schedule your execution.”

Malcolm slammed both palms on the broken mirror. “But, my wife’s condition. She’s terminal. You’ll be sentencing her to death too!”

“No, Doctor Silvestra, you’ve already done that.”

Before Malcolm could respond the warden’s image blinked out of existence, leaving him alone with only his anguished thoughts.

It’s all my fault. I’ve killed her. I’ve killed them all.

Malcolm’s shoulders quaked, as stifled tears dripped into the stainless steel sink. The flood of anguish pressing against the emotional dam broke through.

I can’t lose her. I just can’t. The rest of the planet be damned, but I can’t lose her.

Staring past his reflection, Malcolm spotted the ornately framed award hanging over his cluttered workbench. His stomach twisted. Several years before, when he received the plaque, he felt only pride and achievement.

Now, however, the image only served to remind him of his failure to keep a promise to Cynthiana; to completely restore her health, or, at least, free from her scars and debilitating pain.

Lettering under the bas-relief sculpture seemed to mock him. His eyes scanned the plaque, landing on the keywords that seemed to highlight his failure. Life Sciences Award, Innovative Breakthrough, Synthetic Organ Replacement.

The fancy words reminded him of his triumph—the 3D Nano-Modeling machine that built other devices on a microscopic level. Building on his wife’s work in Neural-Mapping, together they developed artificial organs that could mimic its natural functions.

Newspaper clippings covering his wall displayed headlines from around the globe. Phrases like Miracle, Saves the Life, and Cure for Death seemed to stand out like random street lamps in a darkened city.

Other news articles littering the wall reminded him of what he now fought against; a plague of biblical proportions. Headlines reading Mystery, Deadly, Burn Victims, and Horrific glared at him. The mainstream media sensationalized the outbreak by calling it The Scald.

Malcolm seemed to be the only one who actually understood where the plague came from; his Nano-modeler, v.8.14.

Long before he saw the correlation between his machine and the outbreak, The Scald had already sentenced anyone with an artificial organ to a slow, painful death.

With his newest Nano-modeler, v.10.27, Malcolm began his exile, with Cynthiana and a dozen dying volunteers at a self-sufficient research bunker in the Northwest Territories.

The collapse of civilization seemed to take only a matter of weeks. Accusations of bio-warfare crossed every known geographic and political border until the truth of Malcolm’s plague became public knowledge.

Riots, looting, and doomsday prophets littered the streets around the world. Malcolm barely got Cynthiana and himself to the bunker before the bombs fell, dooming the planet in a nuclear winter.

However, how the world ended no longer mattered to him. Not since The Scald ravaged his wife. Not even the failed experiments and deaths of the other subjects made an impact on him.

Cynthiana’s body yielded to the lesions faster than any recorded case, forcing her to remain in a pool of bio-nutrient gel 24 hours a day. The Scald had inflicted a rare side effect on her; three-quarters of her body became paralyzed and unresponsive to any stimuli.

Malcolm could not help flashing back to the days before The Scald took away her independence.

***

If you enjoyed this first chapter you can find the rest of the story on Amazon: Imprint, by Nicholas Adams. I also hear you can score a copy if you sign up for his newsletter. 🙂

Want more free stuff? Check out Nicholas’s freebies page.
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The enigmatic Nicholas Adams

About today’s guest:

Nicholas Adams grew up in the small, rural town of Boring, OR with his six brothers and sisters.

After graduating from High School in Gresham, OR he attended BYU-ID and received his Associates Degree in Pre-Med. From there he returned to Portland, OR and attended Portland State University where he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Biology/Pre-Med before changing his career track to Architecture.

He completed his second Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture at Portland State University before going on to achieve his Master of Architecture Degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT.

After his graduation he and his wife moved to the Phoenix Arizona area where they adopted four children over the next eight years.

Nicholas currently lives in the Salt Lake City area where he is an Associate member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the League of Utah Writers.

His other interests include movies, singing and motorcycles.

Connect with Nicholas:

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Writing Fantasy Profanity

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Don’t mix up your Bantha Poodoo with your Nerf Herders! Getting swearing right is important.

It’s writer Wednesday and today we are going to delve into the risque topic of fantasy profanity. Well, ok, it’s not all that risque. In fact, the reason many people like fantasy novels is that there is rarely ever any swearing.

Instead, we enter the world of alternate swearing. In a fantasy world there are different beliefs and different cultural practices that lead to different terms being considered profane, just like different English speaking countries have distinct swear words. Saying ‘bollocks’ or ‘bloody’ in the US barely gets an eyebrow raise because most people don’t know what they mean.

Using standard swearing in a fantasy novel doesn’t make sense because you wouldn’t expect an alternate civilization to develop the same swear words. When they are used they pull the reader from the narrative – a big NO NO.

Let’s see how these titles handle swearing –

Mazerunner, James Dashner: (I’m talking about the book, not the movie) The Gladers those who live withing the maze use ‘shuck’ and ‘clunk’ ans their stronger swears.

  • Clunk is a direct replacement for sh%t and comes directly from the sound made when using the rustic bathroom – and yes, this is explained in the book.
  • Shuck rhymes with fu%k for a reason.
  • Other slang includes: shank, slim it, slinthead, greenbean, jacked, and bloody.

Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: There are a plethora of these, for the complete list, check out the wiki. These words are tied directly to the world where much of the protagonists history includes blood, fire, and magic. The most popular swear words are the following:

  • Flaming used much like we use ‘damn’ and expresses anger or hatred toward something or someone.
  • Blasted a slightly stronger version of ‘flaming’
  • Light used as an exclamation similar to how we use ‘god’
  • Burn (me, you, etc) is also similiar to damn and is used when people are upset
  • Blood and Ashes expresses anger and disgust.

Star Wars Universe: While this is sci/fi the same rules apply – it’s not our world or culture so the swear words would be different. I was actually surprised at how many of these there are, for a complete run down, including origins and definitions, check out this article.

  • F-bomb substitutes: crink/crinking, farkled. kark/karking, kriff/kriffing, krong, Skrog/skrogging, snark/snarking (no relation to today’s snarky).
  • S-word substitutes: druk, dwang, Holy Sith!, shab, shavit.
  • Other Insults: Bantha poodoo, e chu ta, hutt-spawn, laserbrain/blaster brain, lurdo, nerf herder, schutta, sculag, sleemo, son of a blaster, stoopa, vong.

Needless to say, there are many ways to handle swearing in your world.  The more deeply embedded into the culture and world, the better these insults will be.  If your world has a lot of water elements then there should be some water related swearing and insults, wethead, salt and slime, salty, bilge, etc. A desert culture would use a different set that evoked images of heat, dry, and stench.

Whatever you do, make it meaningful. Random words used as swear words won’t affect your reader nearly as much as words that have a history and a purpose.

Happy Writing!

Movie of the Month: Interstellar

interstellar-3840x2160This month’s featured movie is the sci-fi adventure Interstellar, a hard-hitting space drama that’s torn between the efforts to save humanity and one man’s fight to stay connected to his family.

If you like movies similar to Inception, where there is plenty of brain bending to make the story work, then Interstellar is right up your alley. It’s not as far out as Cloud Atlas, so don’t worry – but there are a few 2001: Space Odyssey type elements floating around that make it a little strange.

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Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a pilot turned corn farmer in Earth’s last desperate attempt to continue to feed itself. Humanity is indeed on the brink as blight kills off crops, much like the great potato famine. It is clear that the situation is not going to improve and so an undercover NASA program is tasked to find a way of preserving the human race.

Their solution is to find a new world to colonize. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. The nearest habitable worlds are light years away and any efforts to find them are futile simply because of the amount of time it would take. Interstellar had a whole team of astrophysicists figure out how it could be done and then used their calculations to generate the imagery in the film, cool eh?

In Interstellar, there is a singularity located conveniently within our solar system that leads to a different system with several potential habitable worlds. However, due to a bunch of theory of relativity issues, any landfall the explorers make results in epic time loss for those on earth and also anyone who remains on the ship. This results in a very fast paced film as Cooper fights for every second lost in order to reunite with his daughter.

It’s the last third of the film that gets a little screwy. The explorers find themselves in a hopeless situation. There is no way to return important data back to earth for NASA’s colony ship to be able to break free from the surface (another plot strand…) and there is no way for the explorers to survive on the current alien world. They have to decide if they are going to sacrifice themselves to save humanity or save themselves but doom civilization.

interstellar-anne-hathawayThe only way to get the needed data back is to send a probe into the black hole. Cooper and Amelia (played by Anne Hathaway) must separate to give the greatest chance at success.  Amelia’s ship has colonizing equipment to set up another home world and can ensure the survival of the species should the worst outcome happen, so her success is critical. Cooper takes the other part of the ship and heads into the blackhole.

He ends in a time bent fifth dimentional tesseract that enables him to pass on the needed information to NASA. I said it got trippy –  this is the epicenter of trippy here and why I reference Space Odyssey.  Turns out that all the strange phenomenon that they had seen in the beginning of the film was actually Cooper in the fifth dimension trying to communicate with his daughter in the past.

Do I recommend Interstellar? Yes, with caution. This is a film meant for people who love to think in an abstract and twisted way. Those who just like a good story that doesn’t demand much of the watcher will find themselves lost and confused quickly. If you like time travel paradoxes, you’ll like it. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t recommend it.

New Trailer Release: Star Wars, the Force Awakens

Possibly the biggest thing that happened in the fantasy/scifi world this weekend is the release of the teaser trailer for the newest chapter in the Star Wars saga – if there was something bigger, fill me in.

Star Wars, the Force Awakens (episode 7, for those who are still counting) occurs 30 years after Return of the Jedi where the Death Star is taken out once and for all by the Rebel Alliance and Luke confronts Darth Vader and learns of his true lineage.  It ends with the big party in the Ewok forest and life is good, or is it?

No real spoilers have leaked about this newest chapter but there are tons of theories floating around.  Obviously there is some threat that requires the Jedi to return in force to handle it, most likely the Sith, since they are they only bad guys from the first six movies that could exist and grow stronger over the thirty year gap in the story. To face this threat the Jedi are going to need to do something to be sure they are strong enough to win.

Some of our favorite players are returning to their respective roles including: Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Kenny Baker (R2-D2).

This episode is both directed and written in part by the illustrious and trend setting J.J. Abrams who brought new life into the Star Trek universe with his work on the movies Star Trek and Star Trek into Darkness. Let’s hope he can do the same for the Star Wars universe as well. And hey, who doesn’t love more lens flares?

Thankfully, John Williams has been enlisted once more to create the awesome music that has always been a part of the Star Wars saga. I’d be angry if they had found someone else, although I would love to see what Hans Zimmer or James Horner would have come up with.

Here is the link, enjoy!

Official Teaser Trailer #1:

 

 

 

What is Cosplay?

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Brilliant cosplay of Princess Mononoke based on the Miyasaki film of the same name.

photo credit: Anna Fischer via photopin cc

Cosplay, or costume play, has been around for ages.  As long as there have been iconic characters who inspire, there have been people who want to dress up like them. As children we used to dress up and pretend to be princesses, cowboys, and fairies to name a few. Every year for Halloween we celebrate our alter egos and indulge in a bit of self indulgent dress up. It’s fun, harmless, and a chance to pretend we are someone or something different than our ordinary selves.

Cosplay gives players both old and young a chance to enter this alternate persona and escape the pressures of the real world for a while.  I imagine it is not unlike the escapism of reading a really good book that pulls the reader into the pages and doesn’t let them go until it’s over, or that awesome movie that is so appealing in its story and artistic imagery that you can’t help but sit riveted to the chair.

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Xena, the warrior princess, with one of her macho friends.

photo credit: fabiogis50 via photopin cc

The holy grail for cosplayers is Comic Con.  Not only are cosplayers allowed they are encouraged to come in their most elaborate costumes for a chance at prizes and photo ops.  When Comic Con comes to town it is not uncommon to see the casts from popular sci fi and manga riding public transit and wandering around downtown.

These costumes can be as simple as one or two items worn casually over normal dress or as complicated as full body suits of hand crafted armor.  Those devoted to their cosplay spend hundreds of hours creating costuming and props. Some will spend a small fortune in creating the perfect look.  It is a passion.  If you have a friend who is into cosplay expect to see lots of pictures and hear some pretty cool stories.

I love the idea of cosplay. Having the chance to be part of a different world and spend time with fascinating people is very appealing. That’s the reason I write fantasy, it gives me the chance to be a part of a different world and meet fascinating people, both real and imagined.