Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Julie Czerneda

Canadian, biologist, award-winning author/editor Julie E. Czerneda shares her curiosity about living things and optimism about life through her science fiction and fantasy, published by DAW Books, NY. The 20th anniversary edition of her acclaimed SF novel, In the Company of Others, will be released fall 2021 (Philip K. Dick Award finalist; winner 2002 Aurora for Best English Novel). Her new novel is Spectrum, continuing Esen’s misadventures in the Web Shifter’s Library series, featuring all the weird biology one could ask.

My Q&A with Czerneda:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Spectrum is my latest Esen novel and readers may have noticed a pattern to her titles. The first sense I considered when I wrote about Web Shifters, aliens who take on, at the molecular level, the form of another species, was vision. The first book was called Beholder’s Eye because what Esen is able to see, with the eyes she happens to have, matters. I’ve played with variations ever since, always about light. Spectrum? Again, a title to reflect the importance of vision, but also a hint to readers that stellar astronomy will be front and center.

For the last three books, we’ve added “Web Shifter’s Library” to cue readers these stories revolve around Esen and her Human friend Paul’s attempt to provide crucial cultural details to those in crisis, a library where you bring a bit of new information in order to receive what you need to know. Who doesn’t love a library?

What's in a name?

A series brings with it a growing list of names, and if you’re dealing with the far future and masses of aliens, some involve spit. For my favourite new character, however, I wanted a name from, well, here. Earth. A simple yet memorable name, one to make a person reading it smile, a little, picturing a quaint little village where nothing much ever changes. I picked Evan, in part because one of Esen’s greatest fans over the years has been an Evan (hi), but also because it’s a pleasant name. When it came to a surname? What came to me was Gooseberry.

Having named the delightful Evan Gooseberry, I chose to explain how, in Esen’s universe, there’d be a Gooseberry at all. This led me to create the Gooseberry Lore, a treasured family document tracing holders of the name all the way back to fabled, long-lost Earth. To that quaint little village. You didn’t, I hasten to add, even have to be Human. You just had to be a Gooseberry, attached legally to that lineage.

Poor young Evan is expected to produce the next generation of Gooseberrys—by adoption if need be—and, his family hopes, become the next keeper of the Lore. Evan’s in no hurry.

So much story tension and fun, all in a name.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

When writing Esen, both are easy and I don’t change them. In fact, I wrote the final paragraphs of Beholder’s Eye first, then created the rest of the story to get me there. As I look at Esen’s novels, I find that’s continued to be my process for her. Not in precise words, as in Beholder, but certainly I know the tone and direction before I get underway.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Maybe? I’ve often referred to writing the next Esen book as my vacation time. Her stories are the easiest of all for me to write and filled with moments when I burst out laughing. I think it’s the liberation of tossing in everything I love about our natural world, with some tongue-in-cheek alien adaptations, but now that you’re posing the question? Esen’s attitude toward everyone around her reflects mine. The depth of her friendships—that’s me as well, though admittedly my initial inspiration was my dislike for science fiction where no one has friends.

It’s also entirely possible I babble to myself and recite cool bio facts to anyone close when excited, much as Esen does.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I read and research for every book I plan to write, plus for Esen, I collect weird biology facts and new discoveries. There’s a file drawer. Those inspire me. Attenborough shows like The Perfect Planet definitely get the juices flowing.

Looking way back, an influence on how I structure my novels came from tv westerns. The “back at the ranch” flashes to show what was happening away from the action seemed an excellent approach, as did commercial breaks at “cliff hangers”, a point of tension, to keep watchers glued to the set. When I wrote my first Esen, I put in flashes to an alien point of view called “Out There” to show what the bad thing was doing. My chapters stop at points where you really want to jump to the next page. Even the little hints of more to come at the end of shows, to entice you into watching next week (or right away, in streaming land) I use in Esen’s stories. There’s one at the end of Spectrum by the way.
Visit Julie E. Czerneda's website.

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