Guest Post: Carolyn Hill

Bio: (a short bio about yourself)

I was born and raised in the heart of Silicon Valley, which stamped me with a sense of wonder and a fondness for heroic geeks. I entered university a chemistry major intending to become an astronaut who would rocket into a brave new future, and I ended up with a job teaching writing at the University of California, Berkeley. Hey, life happens.

My body may be earthbound, but my writing is free to cross boundaries. My novels combine science fiction, romance, and folklore: science fiction because I’m a frustrated wanna-be astronaut, romance because what’s life without love, and folklore because at age eleven I inhaled all of Andrew Lang’s colorful fairy books and nearly two decades later finished writing my dissertation on James Frazer’s twelve-volume encyclopedia of magic, science, and religion. Happily imprinted, I am! My favorite tale is Beauty and the Beast, in all its variants around the world, and my romantic science fiction novels focus on the alien, the metaphorical beast in every man, even in the handiest of techno-geeks.

When I’m not writing, teaching, or reading, I’m quilting, playing boardgames, or throwing heavy objects into the air above my head. Or I’m sitting on the couch, eating almond M&Ms and daydreaming about life amongst the stars.

What made you decide to become a writer?

I didn’t decide to be a writer. I just was. Some of my earliest, most vivid memories are of telling myself stories: arranging plastic horses in thundering herds across the couch, imagining myself living alone in an apple tree, and describing to myself over and over in excruciating detail a dress that I imagined a princess wearing. I made stuff up willy nilly, or if I really loved something I’d read or seen on TV, I’d revise the story in my head, changing the ending or inserting myself into it as one of the characters or as an entirely new character I made up. When I was in fifth grade my father gave me a manual typewriter, which I pounded gleefully, churning out “newspapers” and “spy manuals” for friends. By high school, I was writing full-on stories and parts of novels. A teacher told me then that I’d grow up to be a writer; I told him no, I was going to be an astronaut. (Yep. You’ve already heard how well that plan turned out.)

At university I didn’t have time to write fiction—too many academic papers to finish. But I kept reading science fiction and fantasy; every school break, I’d hit The Other Change of Hobbit (the local speculative fiction store) for a hefty stack of novels to inhale. And the first thing I did after I got my undergraduate degree was clear out the academic muck in my brain by writing a bizarre science fiction novel about aliens that look like people-sized rats. And then I kept on writing fiction. My short stories tend to be fantasy or magical realism, inspired by a dream or an image or a writing exercise. My novels tend to be science fiction, often with a strong romantic component (inspired by binge-reading romance novels, whose pleasures I discovered shortly after writing the alien rat novel).

Writing fiction simply felt good. It felt right. It felt as if writing was what I was meant to do. Not to put money on the table, but to feel … whole. So I joined a science fiction and fantasy writers group that I connected with at a local science fiction and fantasy convention, attended Romance Writers of America meetings, and soaked up everything I could to be a better writer.

What genre do you write in and why?

I write in three genres—science fiction, fantasy, and romance—because those genres are what I read. When I write romance, it is strictly SFR (science fiction romance or romantic science fiction or paranormal romance or whatever is the current jargon).

Science fiction and romance combine naturally for me, because both give me hope. Science fiction gives me hope that humanity will survive, expand, explore, learn, love—that we will evolve and will continue the great journey of life beyond the bounds of this Earth. Romance gives me hope that love will conquer pain, death, isolation, the small and great indignities of life—that it will elevate us beyond selfish solitude.

Hope, and a lot of hard work: that’s what it takes to move forward in life and in love. And moving forward interests me.

Do you do an outline or just start writing?

For novels, I don’t outline; but I do have an idea of what the main conflict is, how the setting affects the characters, and a sense of the emotional impact of a few key scenes. I don’t usually know the ending, because that develops from where the characters go on whatever journey they’ve decided to take—which isn’t always the journey I thought they’d go on. Writing my novels is a process of discovery, of working things out that I might not have been aware of when I began.

For short stories, I just start writing. Something will have inspired me: a writing exercise, a request from an editor for a story that fits a themed anthology, a dream, an image that pops into my head. I usually write with the story’s ending in mind, and the characters don’t surprise me as much because they have less space and time to diverge from my original inspiration.

What do you do for fun when you are not writing?

I quilt—art quilts as well as bed quilts and lap quilts. I mess around in my garden—argue with the roses, talk to the squirrels, dig in the dirt. I exercise—swim, lift weights, do cardio. I read—science fiction, fantasy, romance. And I hang out with friends who also quilt, exercise, read, write, and laugh at lizards on the lawn.

Do you write full-time or part-time?

I wish I could write full-time! To pay the bills, I teach at the University of California, Berkeley. I enjoying teaching; I learn important and interesting things from my students. But it’s hard to focus on my own writing when I spend so much of every day focusing on other people’s needs. (Whine, whine. Sorry.)

Please list website or blog site if you have them.

My website and my blog are both on carolynhill.com .

So, what is your new book about?

Blurb:

The ten great families of the “solaratti” hold such influence that even the galactic government hesitates to act openly against them, a power that has gained them unimaginable riches and allowed them to shape the fate of worlds.

Aleta Graham is a healer and empath, abilities that make her a useful pawn for the ruthless Dagarro family, who have addicted her to the drug known as Sand in order to keep her submissive. But Aleta is determined to overcome the influence of the drug, and make a desperate bid for freedom — even knowing that the penalty for disloyalty to the family is death.

Riven is a shapechanger, a computer genius, a spy sent by the government to destroy the power of the Dagarro. His ability to take on multiple identities allows him to infiltrate to the heart of their stronghold. But his rapidly growing feelings for Aleta, and hers for him, become a threat to his mission and put them both into deadly danger.

Link to buy on Amazon:

Can you share an interesting behind the scenes tidbit about your latest story?

Beneath the Skin is a romance, of course, and love is at the center. But the novel also explores identity — directly, in Riven’s ability to shapechange into people, and indirectly, in Aleta’s struggle to decide who she is once she is no longer drugged. And as I wrote it, it became an unexpected meditation on how to deal with cataclysmic problems in my own life: run away and protect myself? shelter in place? actively resist?

At the very beginning of the writing process, while I was contemplating the tangled intersections of power and family and identity and love, one image came strongly to mind: Marlon Brando in the opening scene of Godfather, when Bonasera comes to Vita Corleone during Connie’s wedding to ask for justice for his daughter. I pay conscious tribute to that image during the first chapter of Beneath the Skin.

Where is it set? Fictional or real?

The universe in which Beneath the Skin takes place is one in which I’ve set several other novels, including a young adult space opera. That universe grew in my mind organically over the decades, morphing and changing with my interests, but it’s rooted in concerns about the environment that I developed during a decade as a Girl Scout and concerns about social injustice that were sown in my years at UC Berkeley.

I was surprised when people told me that the setting of Beneath the Skin is dystopian. I thought I was just writing about things that I see in society today—bad things that I would like us to change, yes, but not a full-blown dystopia. If the novel’s universe is dystopian, then does that make the world we live in today a dystopia?

Perhaps I don’t think of the BTS universe as dystopian because circumstances in the other novels aren’t as dire. No one dies in my YA soap opera, and the other two novels in the BTS shapeshifter series aren’t as broad in political scope; the action in those two occurs on a single planet, the shapeshifters’ homeworld. The first book tells the story of how Verilyn Beau Astra (who appears in BTS as a sympathetic character) crash-landed on that world, met her husband, and came to protect the shapeshifters’ secret existence. The third book, which is still in progress, tells the story of Verilyn’s daughter, Cera Felice (another minor character in BTS), who falls in love with a most difficult object of affection.

Who are your main characters and what are they like?

Aleta doesn’t know who she is at first; she has been robbed of the adolescence during which most of us begin sorting out who we are and who we want to be. But even though she doesn’t know herself, I knew her, so it was relatively easy to write from her viewpoint. She is a person with a remarkable power: to heal empathically, but also to kill by the same means. She has been kept drugged and biddable to the machinations of her murderous, drug-running captors, and now she is searching for ways to free herself without becoming as evil as they are.

Riven was harder to write. I didn’t initially know what makes him tick, but it was clear to me that he knows who he is—that keeping track of himself is essential because, as a shapeshifter, he can be absolutely anyone and needs to hold onto the core of himself in order not to be overwhelmed by whatever guise he adopts. When he loses that clear sense of himself late in the novel – when his attraction to Aleta chips away at that sense – the conflict between reality and illusion, between lies and truth, became quite interesting.

My way into characters is usually through conflict. The more complicated the conflict, the more interesting the characters become to me. Who are you, at the end of the day, if you can read anyone’s emotions? Who are you, at the end of the day, if you can wear anyone’s face?

What is your favorite part of the story writing process?

The first draft stage of actual writing is one of my favorite parts. When I sit down and put my fingers to the keyboard and start typing, I feel as if all the parts of my brain are talking to one another, as if I am whole and complete and in touch with myself in a way I’m not at other times of my life. I discover as I write – stuff comes alive, things I don’t intend occur, comparisons and contrasts I didn’t consciously plan become apparent. My subconscious gets to speak.

The revision stage is also good. That’s when I consider what my subconscious has said and done, when I corral and shape the material, and when I set my conscious mind to making clear what I have discovered in the first draft stage.

Writing can be such an isolated enterprise. Yet, I’m sure there are people who have helped or guided or inspired you along the way to becoming a published author. Could you tell us about one of them and how they helped you?

You are absolutely right: many people have guided and inspired me along the way, and I am grateful. But there is one person I can point to and say with absolute certainty, “If it had not been for Teresa Edgerton, Beneath the Skin would not be published.”

Since graduating from university, I’ve written several novels and many short stories, but after the first decade of rejections, I stopped sending my work to publishers. I kept writing, kept gathering feedback from writers groups, kept polishing my craft – but when a novel or short story collection was finished, I self-published it rather than submitted it anywhere. The only reason Beneath the Skin is now published by an independent press is that the editor, Teresa Edgerton, read it long ago in a writers group, remembered it fondly, and contacted me because she felt it is ideal for Venus Ascending, her new line of romantic science fiction and romantic fantasy novels.

After Teresa contacted me, I took a fresh look at the book and decided it needed a different ending, which required a few changes to earlier scenes. Teresa agreed and encouraged me to make those changes, so I did, and with her incisive input, I turbo-charged the last several chapters. The book is better for it!

So, three cheers for Teresa Edgerton, editor extraordinaire —who, I am pleased to mention, is the author of many excellent fantasy novels published by traditional presses.

Now for the S.A.T. portion of the interview:  Fill in the blank –

If I were a villain, I would have nail salon workers for minions to deliver my wrath because I am jealous of people who don’t bite their fingernails like I do. Those salon workers could use their painful grinding machines to mess up everyone else’s nails. Bwaa ha haha ha!

 

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One thought on “Guest Post: Carolyn Hill

  1. Pingback: I babble | Carolyn Hill

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