advice for authors

Interview with Jet Weasley on “Red Queen”

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Jet Weasley’s book blog, The Book Detective.]

Q: How did you come up with the idea of the Red Queen Effect? 

There’s an excellent book on the evolutionary psychology of sex, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature by Matt Ridley, which explores the “Red Queen Effect” in human evolution of sex differences and behaviors. The effect is widespread and occurs whenever you have an evolutionary arms race, and by analogy can be seen in, say, the Cold War between the US and the old Soviet Union. The effect is named for the Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, who led Alice on a running race which kep tthem in the same place.

Q: What made you decide to set the story in future American instead of America of present? 

All the political repression visible now is exaggerated in the near-future world of Red Queen, which allowed me to draw the dramatic differences in bolder strokes. People are used to the system we have now and it would be harder to present it as something so bad a rebellion would be justified unless it gets a few degrees worse. Many of my readers are barely aware virtually everything I write about is already happening in academia and surveillance by the state.

Q: Now, as many readers have stated, your book is full of scientific fact and diction. How did you manage to research all of this and incorporate it into your book? 

My background is very similar to the main characters’, and I worked on computer science research under DARPA contracts when I was about their age. The science and engineering are also relatively easy for me since I studied physics and computer science at MIT. I did have to do some research to get up-to-date on quantum computing, but I was already familiar with most of the science in the book.

Q: For me this would have been the most difficult part of writing such a story; how did you manage to make the ideas so realistic? Could the Red Queen Effect actually happen? 

I was striving for realism. The breakthrough that enables quantum gateways is fiction, but the working out of the details and the engineering follows logically from that, and the behavior of the characters is more true to the reactions of believable intelligent grad students than your typical thriller characters. This means it may be less accessible as a story than standard thrillers featuring spies and military types, but there are plenty of those. I wanted this to be different. And the Red Queen Effect is very common in any competitive evolutionary scenario.

Q: If you were in Justin’s position, would you go about things the way he did in this book or would you react/act differently?

Justin is a fictional character, so I suspect he suffers far less self-doubt, laziness, or conflict-avoidance than any real person. I certainly would not have accomplished as much when I was his age than he does in the book. But like his scientific genius friend Steve, he’s much faster than most real people so the plot can move along at a good pace. It would not be interesting if he took some time off in the middle of the plot to practice his video game skills….

Q: What inspired you to start writing Science Fiction? 

I’ve been reading it since I was 7! For people with a problem-solving, engineering bent, the working out of future science is another exciting part of the story, as they follow the logic while reading. Science fiction can be very educational, and one of my goals was to demonstrate some interesting corners of physics and computer science for those who might want to pursue it as a career.

Q And finally, will you be working on any novels that are separate to the Substrate Wars in the near future? 

I just finished the second book in the Substrate Wars series, Nemo’s World. There are two more to follow, most likely, and then I have an idea for a comic murder mystery set in the artsy-Hollywood community of Palm Springs, where I now live. This would be fun and let me satirize some obvious targets for everyone’s amusement.

Interview with Serenity Sheild

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Serenity Sheild’s book blog]

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer?

I wrote terrible stories in grade school, journaled in high school, and took writing courses at MIT and Harvard. When I left MIT, I was interested in trying to write and spent time with a writer’s group, one of whom is now a bestselling author – Sue Miller, of The Good Mother and other novels. But I was not good enough to break in at that time (I was 22!) so I went on to careers in computer science and business. I’ve returned to writing after early retirement.

Is being an Author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen? The best and worst thing about it?

If you’re going to write novels, you’re going to be isolated a lot; you can’t be task-switching every ten minutes and hanging out with friends every night. So you spend long hours in your head and interruptions are resented. The best thing, I suppose, is that you get to single-handedly create—no one can stop you, no one (except possibly an editor!) is going to derail the flow of what you and your characters have to say.

What was the very first thing you ever wrote?

Hah! Probably a two-page science fiction story about a boy going into a cave and discovering aliens at the center of the Earth. I knew it was bad even at the time!

 What made you create (your book)? How did it come to you?

I had done well with two books about attachment theory and relationships: Bad Boyfriends: Using Attachment Theory to Avoid Mr. (or Ms.) Wrong and Make You a Better Partner and Avoidant: How to Love (or Leave) a Dismissive Partner. I had not tried to write long-form fiction in 20+ years, but a long discussion online with a group of science fiction writers and fans convinced me to take up the challenge of writing a story about and for younger people which had some of the technological optimism of old-school science fiction, blended with the diversity and sensibility of today. Part of the problem with YA fiction is the depressive tone taken by many authors, as if every story should focus on Major Issues like global warming and environmental catastrophe. A breakthrough like Hunger Games happened because publishers saw it was a story with a strong young woman as hero — which is true and a big part of its appeal. But it became a phenomenon because it is also a story about today’s politics, with the elite urban disdain for rural and lower-class people and the oppressive micromanagement of an ever-increasing and manipulative government. I wanted to more directly address the same urge for freedom.

Who is your literary hero?

Hmm, I don’t have just one. But I grew up reading Robert Heinlein’s juveniles, so-called because they were designed to be relatively simple and feature young people growing into adulthood and doing great things. When he wrote more complex and adult stories, his publisher refused them – starting with Starship Troopers, still considered a classic. In later years as he became too commercially successful to be told what to do by editors, he got self-indulgent and his work was less focused.

Evan Connell is another master of literary fiction whose work is less known than it should be. Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge are perfect, lapidary novels capturing a husband and wife in Kansas City in the 1930s and 40s. Heartbreaking portraits composed of a series of small scenes, each one adding a tiny bit to your understanding until you are overcome by the power of it — and all without major drama. Restrained, refined, repressed. Two of the top ten American novels.

How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?

None directly. There are fragments of my own background and personality mixed up with other people I have known, but once set they tend to take on a life of their own beyond those starting ingredients.

Describe your main character in six words.

Grad student waiting for a challenge.

Describe the world you’ve created in six words.

Soft fascist thought control state, overturned.

What scene was your favorite to write?

The fictional version of an incident where a professor put up a “Firefly” poster and was cited by campus authorities for creating a threatening environment. Which actually happened. I enjoyed gently mocking Star Trek and Firefly.

 What scene was the hardest for you to write?

One must have villains, and one of mine is the boyfriend of my main female character, Samantha. He’s a narcissistic, rich schmuck, and in the scene where she breaks up with him in a restaurant, he is abusive. It was intense to write feeling how she must be feeling.

 What are you working on now?

The next book in the series. Our rebels take on the governments of the world and bring peace, harmony, and plenty to all. No, really! Until the next book, anyway.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not writing?

I work out every day at a gym, lifting weights and doing cardio. I really enjoy that and come up with some great ideas while on the Stairmaster. 

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page

5 Minutes with Jeb Kinnison

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

Red Queen: The Substrate Wars

[An interview prepared for Chris Pavesic’s literary blog.]

This is a chance to learn a bit more about Jeb Kinnison, whose novel Red Queen: The Substrate Wars, was published in December 2014.

About the Author

I started writing when I took writing classes at MIT and Harvard, then worked with a writing group in Cambridge. After receiving rejection notices from some of the top magazines of the day (e.g., The New Yorker), I focused on my career in computer science and financial management – because paying the rent was important. I have returned to writing in retirement.

What I love most about writing is the creation of a new world, and the unexpected things your characters do after you’ve created them. It sounds trite, but they have their own ideas about what they should do, and it helps to be a little bit schizophrenic yourself so that they can exist as subprocesses in your head.

The toughest thing about writing is re-entering the real world after an extended period of living inside a fictional one. I cut myself off from most social activities to get the story out, so I can write a novel in three months but lose track of friends and family a bit. It’s hard to make small talk when the fate of the (fictional) world hangs in the balance!

The writer I most admire? That’s tough because different writers have different goals. If your goal is highly accessible and entertaining stories, J. K. Rowling wins the prize for our age. For extremely adult, intricate fiction of ideas that is also full of humor and fascinating characters (some of them spaceship AIs!), I’d have to pick the late Iain Banks.

My fiction is informed by my diverse background and multiple careers. I went to MIT and dropped out of a Ph.D. computer science program; I was a researcher at a famous think tank (Bolt Beranek and Newman) where the ‘@’ for email addresses was invented and half the work of designing the early Internet was done down the hall; worked at the Smithsonian Center for Short-Lived Phenomena for a summer writing up oil spills, earthquakes, and volcanos; did IT work for Electromagnetic Launch Research, which built the first practical railguns; developed a subdivision in British Columbia, which involved working with logging crews, pipelayers, and roadbuilders; was chief writer for a political campaign that failed; managed the family office for a Stanford professor and managed about a quarter of a billion dollars of his assets; wrote two popular books on attachment theory and its application to mate seeking and marriage.

Favorite Novels: Aside from Iain Banks and J. K. Rowling, I should mention Robert Heinlein as a strong influence, especially his juveniles, which were almost pure adolescent wish-fulfillment; e.g., Citizen of the Galaxy (where a poor slave boy finds his way to outer space, then discovers he must take his place as a long-lost heir with barely enough time to crack a ring of slavers being run by his own family’s companies.)

Favorite Movies: Magnolia, for its emotional honesty; Blade Runner; almost all Coen Bros. movies; and more recently, I approve of the Star Trek reboot by J. J. Abrams no matter what purists think!

Favorite Foods: I live on a simple, healthy, and most of all efficient diet of canned salmon from Costco, yogurts, vegetables, nuts, and chicken. The goal is to eat tasty, healthy, low-carb food without spending any more time than I have to preparing and cleaning up, so I can get back to work quickly.

Advice to aspiring authors: Keep writing. If your Plan B career is lucrative, specialize in that like I did, so you can save up enough money to go full-time later. While there are many young prodigies who write well, most lack the life experience needed to give their characters depth and diversity. As you get older your palette expands, and your fiction grows richer; so if you can’t live on fiction writing when you’re 21, do something else until you can, and you will have lost none of your abilities and gained much. You can also do nonfiction writing in your specialty to sharpen up skills before taking up fiction.

RED QUEEN: The Substrate Wars is a science fiction thriller set in the US of a not-too-distant future, when the Bill of Rights is ignored and the US is run by the Unity Party, combining the worst of Democrats and Republicans.

Red Queen is a story about young people searching for freedom and agency in a world dominated by bureaucrats, administrators, and propagandists. The world of Red Queen is a police state with its roots in today’s events: post-9/11 warrantless physical and electronic surveillance; the erosion of personal liberties for supposed security reasons, even when the government’s actions are shown to be ineffective or wrongheaded; and the rise of a penal-industrial complex that imprisons one in three black men, often for victimless crimes. When the next terrorist action occurs, there may be calls for even more restrictions on freedom and privacy. That’s where Red Queen begins.

Jeb Kinnison: The Long Bio
Jeb Kinnison’s Amazon author page