Author Interview: Corey J. White

Interviews

Hi Corey, thanks so much for doing the interview! I’ve just finished your newest book, Repo Virtual, and absolutely loved it. How have you found the experience of releasing a book this year?

It’s been tough, to be honest. When you spend so much time planning, researching, writing and editing a book, you really hope that it’s going to find its audience – and that can be tough even at the best of times. Obviously 2020 has not been the best of times. The book has still managed to pick up some good reviews, and I’ve had some great responses from readers, but it’s impossible to know how much better things might have gone under different circumstances.

Still, I have my health, and I haven’t lost anyone to COVID-19, so if having a new release book lost in the churn of 2020 is the worst thing that happens to me this year, I’m still luckier than a lot of other people.

I’m celebrating all things cyberpunk this month at Parsecs & Parchment, so could you maybe give us your take on what cyberpunk is, the themes it explores and why you wanted to write a cyberpunk story?

So, a nice easy question, huh?

This is a tough one because what cyberpunk is has changed a lot across the decades. At first I think it was pure future shock and bleeding edge speculation about a fast-approaching digital status quo, but I see it also as a response to neoliberal economic policy – the notion that the state should take a step back and let private companies run things; to leave society and the lives of everyone living in it to the whims of the market.

It’s hard to tell if cyberpunk is to blame for providing such a flashy neon-hued road map to lead us to where we are today, or if it’s our fault for not properly heeding its warnings, but it’s obvious to me that we’re living in a very mundane sort of cyberpunk dystopia (though unevenly distributed, of course). Despite that, so much of the modern cyberpunk you see in films, video games, online art, etc, has been reduced to a pure aesthetic divorced from current issues.

So right from the start, my plan with Repo Virtual was to write a book that could be seen as a continuation of the cyberpunk canon, and which would also recontextualise everything people love about the genre with what’s happening right now technologically, politically, and culturally. I don’t know if I pulled it off, but hopefully I came close.

How would you pitch Repo Virtual to potential readers?

It’s the story of a repoman/thief, his delinquent hacker friend and spiritually adrift sibling, getting deep in the shit after they unknowingly steal the world’s first strong AI. But if heists, shoot-outs, car chases, and reckless arson aren’t enough for you, it’s also a story about the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and our responsibilities to any AI children we might one day create.

It’s about family, found family, love and its struggles, guilt, climate change, and corporate control.

It was great to see a Black, gay protagonist in J.D., the main character of the book. Centering people who aren’t straight white guys isn’t something cyberpunk (or genre fiction in general) has done well in the past. Was this something you consciously wanted to rectify?

I don’t know that it was conscious, it’s more that I’ve read enough science fiction over the years to have become kind of sick of the straight white male default that has plagued the genre for decades. It’s not just sci-fi, and it’s not even just books – all across culture the white male protagonist is everywhere. This means that when I’m sitting down to write a story, the idea of putting yet another straight white guy front and centre feels incredibly boring. So at this point I think it’s entirely subconscious.

But more generally, I’m really excited with the direction of science-fiction and fantasy right now, and the diverse voices that are finally getting better recognised (they’ve always been here, as much as certain editors, writers, and readers would have liked to pretend otherwise). I think my publisher (Tor.com Publishing) is really at the forefront of this movement in terms of long-form genre publishing, but there are also a number of genre fiction magazines doing really great work too – FIYAH Magazine and Anathema being just two examples that come immediately to mind.

Personally I think Repo Virtual would make a great SciFi action film, there are quite a few adrenaline-fueled moments! If it ever got adapted for a movie who would you like to see bring your characters to life on the big screen?

The name at the top of my list would be Bong Joon-ho (SnowpiercerParasiteOkjaMemories of Murder, etc). I consider him an anti-capitalist comrade, he does brilliant work in and out of sci-fi, he does great action and great comedy, and I think a Repo Virtual film could really benefit from having a Korean director bring Neo Songdo to life.

Speaking of action scenes, you do a great job of having your action scenes propel the book forward by advancing the plot or developing aspects of character. How do you make sure your action scenes are adding something to the story when drafting your books?

I think the easiest ‘trick’ is to try and make sure that your action scenes are always doing at least two things. There’ll be the action itself – what’s happening, who’s shooting who – but there also needs to be a second layer beneath that, something that grounds it to the characters as people. Maybe the person doing the shooting is struggling with guilt related to their past acts of violence. Maybe the two characters trying to outrun the police are having a talk about their relationship, something like that.

If you read enough (and write enough) you’ll start to get a feel for it. Maybe you won’t realise right away why the action feels disconnected from the story, but you’ll know that the scene isn’t landing and with any luck, eventually you’ll figure out why.

One of my favourite bits from Repo Virtual never even made it to the third draft. I loved the action that was taking place, but when I took a step back the scene didn’t add anything to the story. Sometimes when that happens, you just need to hit delete and keep moving forward.

Another thing that’s important with action pacing – that again you’ll get a better instinct for the more you read and write – is to remember that you need to let your characters (and your readers) breathe. Sometimes they need to just sit down and eat and talk, or they need to hide out and lick their wounds. Those quiet moments will help the action stand out better than if it was going non-stop.

Do you have any favourite cyberpunk books and recommendations for people looking to explore the genre?

Neuromancer might be considered the primary cyberpunk text, but I think the best introduction to the early days of cyberpunk is William Gibson’s Burning Chrome collection of short stories.

Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon could be considered a very literary take on cyberpunk – the framing narrative could be straight out of Black Mirror, but it’s the stories embedded within it that make the book something really special. Each of the stories is beautifully rendered with a totally unique voice.

Malka Older’s Infomocracy is a perfect cyberpunk book for the present politics-obsessed moment in time (though if that sounds too dry, there’s also plenty of espionage and intrigue too).

And Steve Aylett’s Beerlight books are hilarious and weird, and still filled with great SFnal concepts. Read Slaughtermatic and go on from there if it tickles your fancy.

You’ve also got another science fiction series out called The Voidwitch Saga. What’s this series about for readers who want to check out your back catalogue?

The Voidwitch Saga of novellas (Killing GravityVoid Black Shadow, and Static Ruin) follows Mars Xi, an experimental telekinetic supersoldier who’s spent her whole life on the run from the people who created her. When these forces finally catch up to her, she’s forced to reckon with her past, her creation, and all the violence she’s enacted in the name of her freedom. And there is a lot of violence.

It’s ultra-violent, but also heart-felt, oddly personal, and still somewhat political.


The Voidwitch Saga by Corey J. White

Lastly, what can readers expect from you in the future? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’ve got a couple of irons in the fire at the moment. Still waiting on beta reader feedback on the latest novel manuscript, which is cli-fi body-horror about our guilt and responsibilities in the face of anthropocentric climate change and mass extinction. I’ve got ideas for a sequel too, but still need to wait and see how the next draft comes together.

I’m also working on a collaborative space horror novella, and I’m slowly putting aside ideas for a Repo Virtual follow-up. Not a direct sequel, because I’ve told the story of this particular group of characters, but something in the same world, looking at more/different parts of our dystopian now through that cyberpunk lens.

Sounds awesome, I’m looking forward to it! Thanks so much for your time Corey.

No, thank you! I really appreciate it.


You can see more from Corey on his website coreyjwhite.com, where you can also sign up to the Nothing Here Newsletter. Repo Virtual and the Voidwitch Saga novellas are out now from Tor.com. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?

Author Interview: Erica L. Satifka

Interviews

Hi Erica, thanks so much for doing the interview! First of all, congrats on the release of your new book, Busted Synapses. How has it been writing a new book in the hellscape that is 2020?

Despite the book’s similarity to current events, I actually wrote this book a few years before the pandemic. However, it’s definitely affected the book’s release. I had all these plans of readings I could go to and local-ish cons I could attend when the book (which had been in the works for a while) came out, and of course none of it happened. I’m still planning to maybe do a reading or two if/when the pandemic runs its course. Maybe I’ll even have something new out then. Here’s hoping, anyway.

So I’m actually doing a month long celebration of all things cyberpunk at Parsecs & Parchment at the mo. Can you give your own take on what cyberpunk is and why it interests you?

Near-future science fiction that’s concerned with how technological advances sharpen the division between social classes, which tends to focus on outsiders, hackers, and other people who don’t fit into the overarching culture. As someone who’s a bit of an outsider who’s also very pessimistic about the ability of science to improve our lives, it definitely struck a chord. I didn’t really get into science fiction until high school, and cyberpunk (and other modern stuff in general) until even later so I’ve never had the idea that SF/F needed to have uncomplicated, heroic protagonists. That’s pretty boring, actually.

I just finished reading Busted Synapses and thoroughly enjoyed it. What can readers expect going into the story? Give us the elevator pitch every author dreads.

Like the kingdoms of old, cities and the elites inside them have walled themselves off from the peasants, regular people like you and me. Jess Nowicki tried to stay but was kicked out of paradise and into a dead-end job at a call center in her hometown of Wheeling, WV. Resentful, she watches as her friends and family use maladaptive coping devices, including her childhood friend Dale Carter, who makes his living by running drug-fueled gaming competition for the amusement of the neo-aristocracy. When one of the androids who helped reduce the working class to poverty shows up, Jess is even more resentful, worried what little she has will be taken away. But the New Woman’s arrival opens up a small doorway to breaking down the current society, if only Jess, Dale, and the others can figure out how to do it.

What I really liked about the book was how grounded it felt. It’s a world of androids, virtual reality and omnipotent corporations, but the characters struggle with a lot of the same things people struggle with today, like working precarious jobs and worrying about paying the bills. Was that something you consciously set out to write?

Almost all of my characters are working class, because I find normal people much more interesting to write about. The protagonist of my last book, Stay Crazy, worked as a stocker at a Walmart-type store (a job I’ve also done), and the fragile nature of her employment added a stake to the book that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Not only did she have to save the world, she had to do it without getting fired. In Busted Synapses, I focused on the gig economy, because it’s where we’re heading as a society, which is even more true now than when I wrote the first draft in 2017. Basically, a shitty job both provides inherent conflict and lets me inject a lot of politics into my work in a very direct way. (Plus, most of my own jobs have been entry-level or otherwise “menial,” and we write what we know.)



Climate catastrophe also plays a big role in the book, with large parts of the Eastern Seaboard being destroyed by freak storms. Do you think the immanent settings of cyberpunk stories mean that modern writers in the genre are gonna have to pay more attention to climate change? 

Absolutely. Climate change is here, it’s happening, and any book set in a vaguely realistic near future that doesn’t include it as part of the background is as anachronistic as old-timey planetary romances where people could breathe on Mars without spacesuits. We’re not remotely prepared for what’s going to happen as the result of climate change. There could be tens of millions of climate refugees, food shortages, the end of long-distance travel. I’m an anti-alarmist and generally think people freak out too much about things, but when it comes to climate change we’re not freaking out enough.

You have a very unapologetically left wing Twitter presence, which I appreciate a lot. You’ve also said elsewhere you’re a bit of a pessimist (also very cyberpunk). How do you think ‘The Left’ needs to organise irl to prevent the out-of-control capitalist dystopias that cyberpunk depicts. Or do you think we’re already too late to win?

I’d like to believe it isn’t too late, but most signs point to that. California just passed a law ensuring gig workers have no rights going forward. The United States has an incoming president who says he’ll return things to normal, as if millions living on the street, tens of millions without healthcare, and lead-lined water pipes are peachy keen. I think the Left can only win if we start advocating for real economic policies in terms everyone can understand, and then we actually have to go outside the bubble – show people equality isn’t an elitist concept. The end result of hyper-polarization isn’t a world anyone wants to live in, yet refusing to talk to your family members who voted for Trump is treated as a virtue. That absolutely needs to stop if the Left is going to win any real material gains. 

Do you have any favourite cyberpunk books and recommendations for people looking to explore the genre?

Of course there’s the classics: William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Jeff Noon, Pat Cadigan, etc. Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy” that begins with Virtual Light is my favorite of his work that I’ve read, which focuses (especially the first one) on a diverse cast of street-dwellers squatting on the Bay Bridge. Philip K. Dick, whose work is kind of a cyberpunk precursor, has been my favorite author since I discovered him right after college, and had his own kind-of rural cyberpunk novel in Dr. Bloodmoney, one of his most underrated works. And I’m not sure if it qualifies as cyberpunk, but I read a highly unique dystopian novel last year called A Short Film About Disappointment (by Joshua Mattson). It’s told via a series of film reviews, through which you learn how the Internet was reduced to bare bones after a hacker takes down the world economy.



And finally, do you have any other story ideas you’re working on right now? Plans for future books or juicy teasers you can give to readers?

I think of Busted Synapses as the first in a series, and I’d like to write a lot more in this world, short stories and longer pieces both, if enough people show interest in my plucky workers of 2020s Appalachia. I’m also finishing up edits on a short novel set in the world of my story “The Big So-So” (originally published in Interzone), a sort-of comedy about a terrible band who fights global ennui caused by aliens. It’s probably a good thing these two worlds are so different from each other, since it keeps me from mixing them up! I’m also working on some stories for unannounced anthology projects.

Thanks so much Erica, and good luck with the book 🙂

Thank you for having me on!


You can follow Erica on Twitter at @ericasatifka. Her novella, Busted Synapses, is available now from Broken Eye Books. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?

Author Interview: Deck Matthews

Interviews
Deck Matthews, author of The Riven Realm and Varkas Tales

Hi Deck, first off thanks so much for doing the interview! How are you? How have you been spending your time during the craziness of 2020?

My pleasure! I’m doing okay, just dealing with the general craziness of the current state of the world. I’m fortunate enough to have a day job that allows me to work remotely, so we’ve been spending a lot of time at home. I’ve been spending time with my family, reading, writing and working on spreading the word about my work. It’s a difficult load to balance sometimes, but I’m trying to get better at it.

Could you maybe tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and how you got started in writing fantasy?

I was born and raised in Southwestern Ontario, and am currently living in Ottawa. I’ve always been an avid reader and enjoyed making up stories. As a younger kid, I read a lot more mystery books like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew adventures. After eighth grade, my teacher was punching some books from her classroom. She gave me a set of David Eddings’ Belgariad series. I devoured them over the summer and was absolutely hooked. I started playing around with writing my first novel shortly after that. It wasn’t good, but it was a start!

So I’ve just finished reading The First of Shadows and enjoyed it a lot! Tell us about The Riven Realm series and what inspired you to write it?

I’m so glad you enjoyed the story! The Riven Realm is the culmination of years and years of writing. After that first novel, I tried to write as a youth, I’ve had several other false starts. For the most part, I think I just hadn’t developed the mental discipline to commit to finishing something. But some of those failed stories had some intriguing ideas and characters. This series brings much of it together. Many aspects of Varkas are new (such as the magic systems), but I’ve managed to incorporate several names and concepts from previous works.

One prime example is the character of Shevik Den, the eccentric sky pirate that we meet early on in The First of Shadows. He made his original appearance in one of my early novels, fulfilling a similar role. His ship was even called Zephyr’s Song. In another story, I had these people called the Saltmen, who spent all their lives on the seas. When I started working on the early drafts of The First of Shadows, I came up with this idea of wind riders. A few different pieces clicked, and I realized that I had the perfect opportunity to reintroduce a character I’d always been fascinated with.

I repurposed Shevik Den as one of the Jushyn, but instead of having him captain a sea-faring ship, I gave him his own wind rider and some distinct mannerisms. The result was perhaps one of the most colourful characters in the novella. 

What struck me most about The First of Shadows was the absolutely relentless breakneck pace. Every single line hurries the plot along, expands our knowledge of the world or builds character, but never wears the reader out. Do you consciously set out to write like that or is it just how the story flows out of you?

I’m very conscious of it. I think it’s a big deal that anyone would choose to spend some of their precious time reading my stories, and I want to be cognizant of that time. Every scene needs to move the story forward somehow, though that doesn’t always mean another fight sequence or action scene. Sometimes its a meaningful conversation or a poignant moment that gives the reader a greater insight into the nature of a particular character. As a rule, I try to avoid the superfluous scenes that can sometimes result from too many subplots.

The Riven Realm books are also very short by fantasy standards, almost (but maybe not quite?) novellas. What was the thought process behind writing shorter books in a genre so dominated by The Tome?

I definitely call them novellas. Technically, I think they’re in the range of very brief novels, but this is fantasy, right? When so many of the books in this genre are pushing to 700 or 800 pages, I feel justified in calling a mere 160 pages a novella.

In terms of the thought process, The Riven Realm series was a concept I played with in my head for several years before really getting to work on it. The idea was to write in a more episodic format, where each book would function like an episode of a TV show, rather than like a big, epic movie. Moreover, I aimed to craft a narrative inspired by LOST, where a given episode pushes the overall story forward without necessarily providing a resolution on its own.

That being said, I’m definitely writing toward what I hope will be a more satisfying resolution than the final episode of LOST!

You write some fantastic characters, some of whom must have posed interesting challenges to write. I’m thinking particularly of Tiberius, a blind character from First of Shadows. Given that so much writing defaults to describing things by sight, what was the experience of writing Tiberius like and what did you learn from it?

Thank you! Tiberius’ character first came to me in an exercise I attempted while taking a short story writing class during university. I wanted to try writing from a non-visual perspective, trying to imagine character experience through other senses. When I started writing the first drafts of what would become The First of Shadows, I decided to resurrect the character and make him one of the main protagonists.

At first, writing him wasn’t all that easy, but I think I’ve hit my stride with him. When I’m writing scenes from Tiberius’ perspective, I try to keep a few things in mind. First, it’s important to present him in a way that his blindness doesn’t define him. It’s a reality and a limitation for him, but I’m aiming to craft a shrewd and intelligent character who acts with agency and directly impacts the events of the story.

Second, I rely heavily on other senses to convey the experience. Hearing plays an important role, and Tiberius spends a lot of time listening to the world around him. Smell is another important sense. I’ve found that I can convey a lot of information simply be describing odours and aromas.

Lastly, I made a decision early on that Tiberius would remain blind. The same is true of Caleb and his injured foot. In fantasy, I think it can be tempting to “heal” characters like these, but I want to avoid that. I want to help them find the strength to become heroes within the context of who they are.

I picked up First of Shadows after reading a glowing review from a blogger friend whose opinion I value. How important do you think word of mouth is for selling books, especially as a self-published author without a big marketing team?

It’s absolutely critical. I don’t think many readers truly understand how vital word of mouth is for self-published authors, especially those of us who are just getting started. Ten tweets from me probably has only a fraction of the influence someone else recommending my work—especially if that person is someone that other readers trust.

My recommendation is always this: if you find a book or series you love (especially an indie book), share that love. Tell your friends and family. Write a review. Maybe even share it as a gift. It really can make a difference.

Finally, what have you been reading lately? Do you have any recommendations for our already-groaning TBR piles?

2020 has been the year of big books for me. I’ve been working through The Wheel of Time and The Stormlight Archive, which means a lot of pages. Recently, I also found hardcover editions of books 2-4 of the Codex Alera at a thrift store. I’d been looking for those for the better part of the last decade, so I was thrilled with that and am currently re-reading them now. That’s one series that I feel doesn’t get enough attention. It’s one of my all-time favourites.


The Riven Realm series, by Deck Matthews (image links to Goodreads).

You can follow Deck Matthews on Twitter at @varkaschronicle and also get more info on the books and upcoming releases on his website varkaschronicles.com. If you enjoyed this post why not follow the blog for more interviews, reviews and bookish chat?