Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming

Reality Skimming promotes optimistic SF -- stories that inspire us to fight the good fight for another day. Committment to larger projects, the writer's sense of mission, joy of reading, the creative campfire of the SF community and the love of deserving protagonists are celebrated. We believe in heroes and striving to be what we believe in. It is also a news hub for content related to the Okal Rel Saga written by Lynda Williams.


Interview with Felicity Walker


Felicity Walker lives in Richmond, British Columbia. She has been consciously publishing zines since 2003. Some of her previous works are BCSFAzine, This Is What Happens When You Don’t Eat Your Vegetables, Drawings of the Vancouver Goth Scene, and Ish. She has edited BCSFAzine since 2009. To find out more about the BC Science Fiction Association (BCSFA), please visit:

Interview by Sarah Trick. Edited by Christel Bodenbender

Felicity, how did you become editor of the BCSFAzine?


I became editor in March 2009 when the previous editor, Garth Spencer, decided he would like to step down. Garth was editor when I joined BCSFA in late 2001. I began regularly contributing letters of comment, articles, and artwork, and after a while I started formatting my letters of comment as a zine, called BCSFAZINEzine. I also did an irregularly-published, unofficial second zine for the club called Ish. Garth contributed the name of the zine and several articles, and guest-edited the fourth issue. Finally, I published some one-issue zines and mini-comics. I think all this activity probably convinced Garth that I had enough interest in zine editing to take on the job.

What has changed for you since you took over?

I’ve been pretty happy with the format as Garth left it to me, both in terms of physical materials and size (digest, folded and stapled), and in terms of departments (LOCs, calendar, news, reviews, and articles). Garth and I both use humour, but it’s safe to say we have different styles of humour. He would come at things from a more intellectual point of view, combining his university background and interest in science and sociology with a Monty Python-esque absurdity, surrealism, and Dadaism. I’m not sure if I have a style yet or not, but in the last year or so I’ve noticed that I tend towards understated, gentle irony via footnotes and image captions. I also added the “Random Nostalgia” list to fill blank spaces and hopefully jog readers’ memories of obscure pop culture.

From a cosmetic standpoint, I’ve changed the fonts (Arial Rounded for headlines, Times New Roman for body text, and comic-book-lettering fonts I made by scanning my comic collection, for Random Nostalgia) and have limited the palette of cover paper to warm colours such as cherry, salmon, goldenrod, canary, buff, and ivory, with orange every October and red every December. I inherited the pattern of changing the colour every month from Garth, but he would use a wider range of colours, including the cooler colours of blue, green, and purple.

I’ve been told that I use more clip art than previous editors. Traditionally, fanzine editors would rely on both cartoons and serious illustrations from readers. I use all images that are submitted to me (and have no objection to fan art!), but I also save potentially useful royalty-free clip art, plus photos I take, to break up large sections of text.

What kind of work goes into editing a zine? How do you make judgements about what kind of content appeals most to your readers? What sort of content are you looking for?

The work that goes into editing a zine falls into “easy work” and “hard work.” The easy work (for me) is adding contributions from other people (letters of comment, articles, news items, calendar events, artwork) and looking up events to add to the calendar. The hard work is writing meeting notes and zine reviews, and fiddling with the layout of the images and text so that the zine is optically well-composed and comes out to a number of pages divisible by four, so that we can use the digest format (5½×8½ inches) that I greatly prefer.

It’s hard to say which of those two hard parts is harder! Both can involve a lot of sitting at the desk, brow furrowed, changing things back and forth over and over.

Your zine caters to a small local community. Is there any conflict for you between the needs of the local community and larger fandom? Has the zine changed as fandom has become more global?

There hasn’t been conflict (as far as I know) between the needs of the local community and larger fandom. The zine is our club newsletter, and our club is the British Columbia SF Association, so if a judgment call has to be made (such as whether to include an item in the calendar or the news), I can use geography and SF-ness as filters. I don’t usually have to do that; I appreciate contributions wherever they’re from, and some pieces of national news, such as the Aurora Awards, are relevant nationwide.

With so much genre content in the mainstream, fandom rapidly expanding and splitting into different subfandoms, and the Internet to help people find each other, clubs today represent a smaller share of the options for fans than 30 years ago.

Where do you hope to take the BCSFA zine in the future?

BCSFA members have a wide variety of interests and activities, but we’re still in the process of finding our place in global fandom. Trading zines with other clubs and editors was a way for fans across the globe to get a window into each other’s local scenes. The very long calendar of events in BCSFAzine is partly because I hope that a centralised list of local subfandoms’ events can somehow lead to cross-pollination and friendships between subfandoms. I should be getting the zine out there to more people, in that case.

Zine fandom seems to be going underground again, in that people today are more familiar with blogs and podcasts. Editors now have to consider the possibility that the average modern fan finds that zines don’t speak to them.

Zine editors are increasingly switching to PDFs rather than printed zines, mostly due to the high cost of printer ink and postage. I’m a die-hard fan of paper zines and will keep publishing on paper (plus a digital copy) as long as possible.

What place do up see for paper zines in the future with a new generation maturing who doesn’t know life without the Internet?

I recently had the idea that Generation X might be the last bored generation. The nice thing about the modern era of continuous Internet access is that you’re never bored. I can remember twenty years ago having hours, sometimes an entire day, with nothing to do, and desperately needing more stimulation. A zine to work on would have been helpful back then. Now, between work, friends, editing the zine, reading the zines sent by other editors in trade, and my own side projects, plus my offline and online entertainment options, I’m never left with nothing to do. In fact, I keep losing track of everything (like remembering to write this reply!).

Therefore it’s not that young people have shorter attention spans and read less, but that they don’t have entertainment vacuums to fill. That means that reading a zine, which requires focusing on one thing exclusively for several minutes, is proportionally more of a commitment for them than it would have been 20 years ago. They might feel as if they’re missing a lot of things if they stay on one thing for too long.

I was born at the same time as the personal computer, but reached adulthood shortly before the Internet became a commonplace utility for everyone. It’s hard to believe today, but as recently as the 1997, there was a huge percentage of people who didn’t have Internet access or cell phones, but they weren’t behind the times. Future historians could see the Millennials as a watershed in that way.

I wonder if every generation considers itself “the last bored generation.” Did people during my childhood see our twelve TV channels and early video games and think that was as much stimulation as anyone could ever need?

Are there any other projects you're working on that you want to tell us about?

I’d like to get back into drawing and tighten up my reviewing skills by reviewing everything from old 1980s B-movies to comics to zines to pro-wrestling to restaurants to books that authors have sent for review. Other projects: I’m struggling to write (with Amos Iu) a microbudget comedy web series called Paragon about a low-budget paranormal investigation company. I’m currently snagged on the series bible.


Interview with Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm’s stories have appeared in On Spec, TransVersions, Neo-Opsis, Challenging Destiny, Talebones, and on CBC radio. In 2008, he won the Canadian Science Fiction Aurora Award for Like Water in the Desert. He won a second Aurora in 2011 for his short story, The Burden of Fire. His first SF novel, Defining Diana, (Bundoran Press 2008) and sequel, Steel Whispers, (2009) were nominated for Aurora Awards. Stealing Home, (2010) received an Aurora and a Sunburst Award nomination. He won the 2013 Aurora Award for editing the anthology, Blood and Water. He is the managing editor of Bundoran Press, and recently edited the anthology: Strange Bedfellows.

Interview by Sarah Trick

You took over Bundoran Press back in 2012. Since then, what are some of the challenges you've faced in being a publisher? What parts do you like best?

There have been a lot of challenges. Although I have accumulated a lot of skills over the years, I had never run my own small business. I initially thought I would 'do it all' but soon realized that wasn't sensible. So I had to find people to do what I couldn't or didn't want to do.

Many are the same people who did the work before I took over and others are new. I hired layout designers and cover artists and e-book formatters. Recently I've taken on slush readers and publicists. Finding the right people is always tricky and then it becomes a matter of managing -- something I am good at. Setting and keeping deadlines, planning timetables and cajoling and rewarding people to give their best efforts. And occasionally being tough when things don't go perfectly. That's a big part of what I do.

The things I keep for myself include the most enjoyable aspects -- finding and buying fiction, editing, working with writers (and parties!) -- the fun but sometimes tedious parts -- working with distribution, social media, blogging -- and the just plain hard work -- accounting, inventory control, dealing with customs, selling books at Cons, etc.

You launched your crowdfunded anthology Strange Bedfellows last week. I've been following the updates you posted about the anthology on the Bundoran Press Facebook page. Now that it is out in the world, care to reflect on the experience?

I love all my books but I'm particularly proud of Strange Bedfellows. It was challenging to raise the money but I've done plenty of arts fundraising so I was pretty confident. Once we got the funding I put out the calls and stories flowed in from around the world. There were a lot of good stories -- I think more than the usual amount for open submissions. I think the specificity of the anthology inspired writers to send their best work.

Selecting the stories and working with a lot of great writers was a great experience -- they all were cooperative and open and stood up to me when they thought it was right. I loved working with Dan O'Driscoll on the cover and getting David Brin to blurb the book was tremendous bonus.

Anthologies are more work and more expense than novels but I loved doing it.

Why are anthologies more work to publish than novels?

It is a combination of factors. The first is the depth of the slush pile. With novels, the submission window is narrower. Writers have already completed their drafts and can fit their submissions (3 chapters or roughly 6-8000 words) into a six-week time frame. Typically I get 35-50 submissions out of which I might ask for 2 or 3 full manuscripts. Total words of slush to read = 600,000 all of it done over a 3 month period.  For an anthology the submission period is longer because people are writing specifically for the theme. I received 271 stories for Strange Bedfellows, averaging about 5000 words each. That's 1.3M words. To buy 18 stories I had to read twice as much as to buy 2 novels. And in addition to the initial read, I read about 50 stories a second time which I don't do in selecting a novel (I do wind up reading the novel about 6 times during editing whereas total reads for each story is about 4).

The second is the decision making process. Deciding to buy something -- whether a novel or a short story -- takes a specific amount of time and the length of the work doesn't increase that time by much. In fact it is easier to buy a novel because the initial financial commitment is less. With an anthology you have more decisions to make -- 18 stories instead of 1 novel -- and generally the final cuts are much harder. For Strange Bedfellows I took two more stories than originally planned but could have taken another 4 or 5. You seldom get that level of choice in novels -- where you read 3 and take one or two.

Once you've bought the stories, you are dealing with 18 individual writers as opposed to one. As an editor, you have to constantly change your approach, trying to make all the stories the best they can be while honouring the individual visions of the writers. 18 styles instead of one. At the same time you are trying to create a consistency of quality -- which again takes 18 different levels editing. Editing a novel is a lot more work than say 10 stories but not more than 15. As well you are dealing with 18 personalities which again is more effort than one. And you have 18 contracts to issue and all the related communication.

Finally, you have to organize the anthology which is a separate editorial task which doesn't come into play with a novel. And write an introduction, organize bios and so on. And this doesn't count the tremendous amount of work required for the crowd sourcing campaign and subsequent donor relations.

I actually had two people (on honorariums) helping but Strange Bedfellows was at least double or maybe triple the work.

But I really enjoyed it.

What do you need to do to edit an anthology well?

A clear vision of what you are trying to present. The more precise the theme you have, the clearer your vision has to be. At the same time, you need to be open to the 'story.' With politics as a theme -- I had to turn my own politics off and make decisions on two criteria: is it a good story and does politics drive the action?

You also need to be conscious as an editor that your job is not to re-write someone else's story. The job is help make it the best story you can while refining but not changing the author's voice.

Finally you have to be attentive to the arc -- balancing out things like style, mood, lightness/darkness, even relative story strength -- to guide the reader from beginning to end.

You work in politics, have just launched an anthology of political SF, and have had quite a bit to say on the subject in both your blogs. What do you think of the relationship between politics and literature? What inspires you to tell stories featuring it?

Politics for me is a very broad topic which relate to identity, family, community and the interactions of them all. So I view all my writing as essentially political. But of course not all literature is political -- though I sometimes have difficulties naming any non-political literature of any great merit. 🙂 Even writing that avoids political issues generally winds up accepting and promoting the status quo -- traditional gender relations and identities, implicit racism, entrenched power structures and so on. In some ways avowedly apolitical literature is the most deceitfully political of all. By refusing to recognize the constant interplay of power and privilege it becomes a sometimes unwilling support for what is rather than what could be.

Making power and its consequences -- whether between individuals or within societies -- and making them transparent is what motivates most of my own writing.

You chose to focus Bundoran on science fiction rather than SF and fantasy. Was that because of personal interest, market factors, or both? What is it about SF that excites you?

When I was younger I read widely in both SF and fantasy but as I got older I was less and less interested in escapism and more in exploring the possibility of change. Fantasy isn't purely escapist but it provides no clear path from here to there. SF does propose those paths.

If it was market forces -- I'd be publishing YA fantasy I expect.

You wear so many hats it is intimidating to all us regular people. How do you balance being a publisher, being a writer, your full-time job, and your life? What is it like to suddenly take over publishing your own writing? Seriously, do you ever sleep?

First off, I don't publish my own writing -- I just sell what other people published. The only writing of mine that Bundoran publishes or will publish going forward are the introductions to anthologies. My wife jokes I bought a publishing company but lost my publisher.

I've been doing the same day job for 12 years now (twice as long as any other job I ever had) so while it can be challenging at times, I know my files well and can work very efficiently. As for work-life balance, I learned to make that separation back in my 30s and have always reserved time for my personal needs and those of my family. So the rest is a matter of being organized, delegating, working extra hours only in emergencies, and not trying to do too much to waste time or energy worrying.

The biggest impact was on my writing and after I finished my work in progress last April (a novel) I took a bit of a break but I've finally gotten back to doing that more regularly. My wife, who also writes, agreed we would put in 40 minutes right after work at least 3 times a week before we have a glass of wine or settle in for the evening.

I've learned to listen to my 'accomplishments.' If I really want to do something it gets done, if it doesn't get done, it probably isn't important to me.

And I sleep 7 to 8 hours every night.

What made you decide buying a publishing company was worth 'losing your publisher,' as your wife put it?

Timing is everything. I had finished my Steele Chronicles trilogy and had recently completed editing the Blood and Water anthology. I wanted to do Strange Bedfellows which taking over the company allowed me to do. At the same time the novel I was working on currently (see below) wasn't SF but historical mystery. Knowing I would have to find a different publisher for that book made it easier to lose my SF publisher. Now that I've started work on a new science fiction novel... well, I'll deal with that when the book is finished.

Could you tell us a bit more about the novel you're trying to sell?

Here is the elevator pitch for the first of my Max Anderson mysteries (I've also writen a second called By Dawn's Early Light. I'm currently working on a third with a working title: Glimmers of a Greater Truth as well as an as yet, untitled SF novel set 150 years from now.)

In the Shadow of Versailles is an historical murder mystery set against the backdrop of the negotiation of the Treaty of Versailles after World War I.  Max Anderson, former Lieutenant in the Canadian army, wounded physically and emotionally by the war, has chosen to settle in Paris rather than to return to his troubled family in Nova Scotia.  By chance, he rescues Havel Barzani, a Kurdish ‘freelance diplomat’ operating in the interests of the Arab-Jewish compact, from a beating at the hands of three masked thugs.  Max finds Barzani charming, intelligent and funny and they form a fast friendship.  But Barzani is murdered in a bathhouse and Max discovers that no-one – not the police, not the Arabs and not the Zionists – seems to care.  If Max, beset by his own demons and fears, is unwilling to solve the crime, then no-one else will.  As he investigates, he finds himself drawn deeper and deeper into a world of international intrigue as the four big powers each vie for supremacy and factions from across Europe fight – sometimes violently – for the interests of their own nations.  Relying on his wits and his moral courage, Max faces down danger to discover Barzani’s killers and bring them to justice.

And finally, what's next for you and Bundoran?

I have three novels coming out this year -- Al Onia's Javenny which we just finished editing will come out in August. Falcon's Egg by Edward Willett and Children of Arkadia by Darusha Wehm are scheduled for November (if a tree doesn't fall on me).

I'll be launching a new crowd-source funding campaign in the next few weeks for an anthology called Second Contact. That will come out next year along with book 2 of Alison Sinclair's series.

I'll be writing a lot more of my own fiction and will concentrate on getting my novel sold. And I hope to have a few surprises as the year unfolds.

Hayden Trenholm

Hayden Trenholm


Interview with Maja Madeline LaValley

Maja Madeline LaValley is the cover artist for the 2013 release of the book. View her portfolio at

Interview by Sarah Trick

Could you tell us about the inspiration for the cover image for Hal Friesen's book?

How I got the inspiration and the idea for the book cover was talking with Hal over the phone about some scenes in the book he would like. I made sure I got all the small details and colors so I could piece it together in an image.

What is it like interacting with an author to design a cover? How do you stay true to the story while also making sure the art reflects your vision?

Interacting with the author was a rather pleasant commission experience. He gave me enough information about what he wanted that I could easily come up with a design. To stay true to the story I wrote down details from the scene and sent him sketches to show him my progress and get his advice on how I should modify or improve it.


You do many different kinds of art, from digital work to body paint. What are the challenges of having so much variety in your work?

The biggest challenge of working with many different kinds of art is what works in some formats doesn't in others.  For example, I love the look of watercolor, but it's extremely difficult to achieve the same effect in other mediums, such as digital or any other type of paint.

What is your favourite kind of art to do? Which works are you most proud of?

It's hard to pick a favorite medium to use as they all have their benefits. Pencils will always be my first choice because I use them the most and learned how to draw with them. They are great for getting ideas out of my head quickly and easily. Pencils also shade very well, so when a sketch or idea turns out well, I can make it look finished without needing more materials. Watercolor and digital are next on the list. Watercolor is quick and has great colors; they are also fun to work with. Digital is a little tricky because I'm better at drawing on paper than the computer, but the layer modes can do some amazing effects and can create amazing detail. Here are a few links to some pieces that I'm rather pleased how they turned out:

3D model of the boogeyman from 'the Stuff of Legend' (final project in 3D modeling class): A drawing I did for a competition (the character belongs to the contest holder):

You do a lot of fantasy art and your work has a magical realist quality to it. What attracted you to this style?

I have always loved fantasy. It has this fascinating, organic feel to it. I love how much freedom fantasy gives me and how much easier it is for me to draw than most other genres. I have several different styles, varying from simplistic cartoon to semi-realism. I draw lots of inspiration from other artists and try to experiment with alternate styles. I like having a few different styles to choose from so I can better fit the mood of an image with an appropriate style. 

Could you tell us about some future projects?

As of right now, I'm working on a short animation for school involving a mix of 3D and 2D animation, and I'm in the early processes of writing a book for which I plan to have several illustrations.


Interview with Jeff Doten

Jeff Doten

Jeff has been drawing, painting and sculpting things since he arrived on the planet. So far he has been unable to stop. He studied animation and illustration at the Alberta College of Art and Design as well as zoology at Mount Royal University. A few projects include: design work for Angelic Pictures ‘Pirates of Venus’ movie, life sized horses carved from foam for Spruce Meadows, murals for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ themed pub and lots of dinosaurs for the Royal Tyrrell Museum. He is the creator of the illustrated ‘sword and planet’ collection ‘Strange Worlds’ and owner of Quick Covers book art. He also continues to buy new copies of books that he loves if they have a new cover that he likes.

Interview by Sarah Trick

Can you tell us about how you came to do the illustrations for Shepherds of Sparrows?

Last summer I was photographing some old artwork when I came across the work I had done for ‘Throne Price’, which I think was the first book written in the series. The book was shelved at the time (I’m guessing for a rewrite) but I had tons of artwork. I hadn’t been working on just a single image; I had multiple cover concepts, environments, characters and costume ideas. The sketches filled my studio floor. I had met Lynda a few times at conventions, so I showed her the artwork on Facebook. She was pretty enthusiastic about it and showed some of the work on the Facebook site. So I have a sort of history with the series already.

How about the concept behind each individual illustration? Did you choose which scenes to illustrate and if so, which ones spoke to you?

Often I will read a book and come up with ideas of my own if the client doesn’t have something in mind. Hal sent me a list of scenes that they wanted illustrated, which was really helpful as I was just reading the book at the time. In terms of the scenes speaking to me, I think his choices were pretty bang on. I produced quite a few takes on my first image, the Spaceport, as I was getting a handle on the overall look that I was going for and was acceptable to Hal and Lynda. The next one was just about how to illustrate the scene with a large number of characters. Too far away and it’s a mob and farmhouse, too tight in and I’m painting fifty brawling people in the kitchen. The drama was there but I had to find a way to visually present it and hopefully in an interesting way.

When you are illustrating a long project like this, how do you connect with the author's characters and the story?

The process of putting pencil to paper and starting to design what things and people look like adds more layers to the world than I usually get on my first read. Once drawing, I have to pay attention to things like ‘what does a chair look like?’ or how a character is dressed even if they are just in the kitchen baking. It always has to reflect their culture, time and place. I look for specifics from the text as well as basing it on what seems reasonable and logical. Once I’m drawing them, the characters open up for me through their costume and body language. It can be quite an enriching experience of the text for me, and I view it as a collaborative effort between myself and the writer even if they don’t know it. Doing several pieces makes it more like film production art than when I just do the cover.

You have a business called Quick Covers, where you design covers for indie authors. How did that come about? What are the challenges of designing covers so quickly?

Quick Covers came about while I was working on my own project, an illustrated collection of Sword and Planet stories called “Strange Worlds Anthology”. I was working with a large group of writers and became aware of how many people were printing their own books. Usually their covers were some photo snagged off the web and photoshopped. This can work for mundane subjects, but for science-fiction or fantasy titles it usually isn’t enough. I hung around on some forums for a while and gained an idea of what a realistic budget for self-publishers might be.

What I like about the short turnaround is that it allows me to focus and ‘just do it’. It makes me much more decisive and sometimes I feel like these are my best work.

Quite honestly I’ve had very few challenges with these commissions. I get very little fussing or changes. I did have one where I was asking specifics about the appearance of a creature because the writer didn’t really know to the degree that I needed to illustrate it. So I influenced him on that in the long run.

What are some future projects you have coming up?

I don’t usually know future Quick Cover projects, but I am locked into a couple long term series which I’m not complaining about. Other than that there is more Reality Skimming, perhaps a second Strange Worlds Anthology collection and I’m presently rewriting a heavily illustrated novel of my own.

And finally: at your job for the Royal Tyrrell Museum, you dress up as a dinosaur once a week. Is this awesome, or totally awesome?

I was working as an illustrator for the museum, but I was hired by the education department which included weekly theatrical performances. I also played paleontologist Charles Sternberg for a few brief lines. After Charles, I would race into the back and put on a furry dinosaur costume. That role involved a lot of dancing and hopping around, so I just wore shorts under that costume. The museum is in the Badlands and it was hot even with air-conditioning. This led to a birthday striptease in the cafeteria for one of the cashiers one time, but maybe I shouldn’t bring that up...


Interview with Hal Friesen

Hal Friesen

Hal J. Friesen writes science fiction, plays science, and studies cello. He wore an astronaut costume for 167 days in a contest to go to space. He grew up in Prince George, BC, and holds a BSc in Chemistry and Physics, and MSc in Electrical Engineering. Now working as a Research Scientist in laser gas detection, he spends his working hours making and breaking new concepts, before going home to unleash his imagination writing on a homemade treadmill desk. He lives in Edmonton with a cello and a gnome painted like Super Mario.

Interviewed by Sarah Trick

Nestor Tark is a recurring character in your Legacies stories. Can you fill people who might be new to the series in on where you got the idea for the character and his story so far? What do you see as his place in the larger Okal Rel Universe, and where do you see him going?

I dreamed up Nestor after reading Righteous Anger. He started out as the middle-man between the conflicting ideologies of the Nesaks and the Nersallians. I wanted to exaggerate the tension between the two cultures, and Nestor became someone who could see the good and bad in both, and was torn between them. He began his journey as someone struggling to choose sides as he fights a war he doesn't believe in. At first he's forced to admit to himself where his loyalties and preferences lie (Opus3:Nestor's Gap), then as the stories continue he's put in situations where he has to make those loyalties public, broadcast them (Opus4:Nestor's Blood). He becomes more satisfied with himself but pays the price for being an outcast when his son is kidnapped in Opus5:The Caddy, and Nestor is targeted because of his radical nature. In Shepherds of Sparrows Nestor plays the role of someone who accepts other outcasts, helps them and welcomes them. This is the role I see him playing in the larger Okal Rel Universe – a shining example that the status quo can be perturbed without destroying it. That people don't have to accept A or B, and that they can choose their own path. Nestor helps the children in Shepherds and becomes a champion for those who have none – and to me that's a hugely important and interesting role that the Okal Rel Universe needs. I believe Nestor's example of "outside the box" behaviour plays a role in the final book of the series, in fact – but I'm not allowed to spoil it here.

As a scientist yourself, how did you deal with the theme of mistrust of science that figured so prominently in Shepherds of Sparrows and throughout the Okal Rel Universe? Do you, like some of the characters, ever think science can go too far?

As a scientist, I've really tried to be honest about what science can or cannot do in my work. I think there's a polarization of science in media, a tendency to look at it as either all good or all bad. This frustrates me a lot, and as a result I tend to write situations where the science is blurry – it's both good and bad. I think that's the nature of progress, and what I try to get across is that as we increase our knowledge and understanding of the universe we also have an increased burden of responsibility to put that knowledge to good use. In Shepherds I tried to keep the focus on the actions of the people involved, and whether they were being good or evil – not the science itself. There are examples on both sides – the children use the gifts of their genetic modification to the betterment of Grianach, while The Caddy (in Opus 5) fabricates the Takoshi for bloody gambling rings. I could give more but don't want to spoil anything!

You write several scenes from the point of view of Di Mon in your book. Is it difficult for you to write an established character as opposed to ones you've made up yourself?

At first writing from Di Mon's point of view was a challenge, but Lynda helped me out a lot. He's one of my favourite characters and including him in my work was something that really intrigued and fascinated me. I think as I've read more of the series and worked with him, I've gotten better at capturing his personality, but it's been a cool experience – I feel like I know him really intimately and yet there isn't that connection to his creation (like I would have with my own characters). He's like a good friend I've known for years.

What made you come up with the idea for genetically-modified highborns as your protagonists? Okal Rel distrusts science in general, so what made you decide you wanted to concentrate on the genetic side of things?

I really liked the honour code of Okal Rel, and felt that one of the main obstacles every character in the series faces is dealing with his/her blood type or genetic legacy. So much of someone's life in the Gelack Empire is determined by these traits over which they have no control. It seemed natural to me that people would get frustrated enough – and distanced enough from the atrocities of science – that they'd be tempted to take control. I see the ORU in a sense as a big thought experiment evaluating the ethics of science, honor, loyalty, greed, and a ton of other issues all at once. The genetic temptation seemed like a natural and interesting experiment, and I thought it'd be really fun to take a look at what people would choose – their honour or a better life for their family.

What's the difference in your creative process between writing your original characters and ones you've gotten to know, like Di Mon? What is the most challenging part of integrating into a shared universe?

My characters: I have the freedom to shape in almost any way I like, and I usually come up with them as I read Lynda's work – basically whoever I think would make a cool addition or have an interesting take on an ORU situation. For the existing characters I've gotten to know, I'm more constrained but at the same time I have a lot of material that I can draw from if I get stuck. In the initial stories I wrote Lynda had to rein me in quite a bit, because Di Mon was doing/saying things he would never do/say. I'd say the most challenging part of integrating into a shared universe is finding a way to patch the gaps in your understanding of it. With any created universe there are always a few details missing – sometimes to allow readers to fill it in for themselves and keep their imaginations active, or just because it's not good writing to spend all your time world-building. When you're trying to integrate into a shared universe, however, these gaps can be major stumbling blocks if a key plot element depends on person X doing or having something that you're not really sure would happen. At first it was really intimidating, because I felt like I had to understand everything about Lynda's universe to do a good job or even to suggest events. I think I've slowly learned how to walk the line and do interesting things in her universe without totally breaking it. Although, to be honest the first draft of Shepherds did break her universe, so I'm grateful that Lynda's so patient and helpful with her feedback and guidance; she was able to take my story and keep enough of it intact. An unexpected outcome of the process has been that I really enjoy the main series novels a lot more now – I can really dig and get into the details and the characters, because I've invested so much time thinking about them. It's going to be bittersweet to see the series wrap up.

Could you elaborate a little more on how the collaboration process works? How did you go from 'breaking' Lynda's universe to not?

Usually I start with an idea and run it by Lynda – she gives me more of a box or framework to work within, and usually there's a bit more back and forth to clarify details before I start writing the story.

For Shepherds it was a larger work and I ran with an idea that I had roughly ran by her (genetic modification of a liege leads to conflict). I took a fair bit of license after that, coming up with the weaving stories of the children, and I hadn’t clarified some of the details with her. For example, in the original version there were many Takoshi (lizard-like creatures) that could rip through hullsteel. That is too powerful and contrary to the engineering Lynda's spent a lot of time developing, so that had to go. The scale of the conflict also had to be toned down to make it more plausible within the overall timeline. That was a change I was grateful for, because it added more realism to the clash since it was no longer "Hollywood scale" exaggerated. Another big change was the overall public perception of the genetic temptation and Di Mon's awareness of corruption. Lynda managed to keep the story almost as is while putting in checks and balances that made the events flow and remain plausible within the ORU. I can't imagine what it's like to do that, and she did a great job.

There was one caveat about the whole story that determined how it ended, and I struggled with that constraint a lot as I was writing it. It wasn't the first ending I would have chosen, but I completely understand the reasons for it. In the end it forced me to do some ethical and moral searching, and I'm happy with the way things turned out. I hope readers are too.

Where do you see your new characters going after this? Do you have any more adventures planned for them? Any non-ORU future projects in the works?

I think Nestor is making an appearance in the final main series book Unholy Science, and I'll have to read it to see where I think he'll go. Lynda's mentioned doing some stories on the foundation/formation of Monitum (planet where the novel is set) which could be cool too, but wouldn't involve Nestor. Voltan has grown on me a lot, and it'd be fun to do something with him. We'll see where Reality Skimming takes us.

I'm editing my novel "Connecting Will" which is about the realities and possibilities of signal transmission through time. It's very much a story about the impact of science on regular humans, and is the most ambitious and time-consuming project I've written. Fingers crossed that I can finish it and submit it to TOR soon! I just finished a few short stories for various contests, about religion and SF, post-apocalyptic Canada and text messaging.


Interview with Elizabeth Woods

Elizabeth Woods

Forever shaped by sense of place, the first three decades of my life were American, urban and driven. Born in New York City, my family moved to Miami, then Atlanta, back to NYC, then Detroit, then high school in a suburb of Chicago. College was in Pella, Iowa, followed by Minneapolis, and back to Miami for a few years, where my family finally settled. The second half of my life unfolds in a forest tamed from wilderness in Prince George, BC, Canada, where I live with my husband on 16 acres of woods and fields. For the last three decades I have had the privilege and gift of teaching first adolescents and now adults in the public school system. Short story and poetry have been published in the UNBC online anthology, Reflections on Water. Short stories have appeared in three editions of Lynda Williams’ science fiction Okal Rel Universe Anthology.

Interviewed by Sarah Trick

What keeps you coming back to the Okal Rel Universe?

Knowing Lynda has been the greatest boon to my writing life. I met her while I was working on my master's thesis at UNBC. We spent most of our time together talking about the ORU. I love her novels! When she and I founded the short-lived Norspec writing group in PG, she and others (including you) encouraged me to develop a character. Finding the character of Minerva allowed me to take real incidents from my own life and set them in a new context. I found it easier to tell my story in a fictitious universe. When Lynda selected my story for publication in an early ORU anthology, it was the first big break I had received. That she continues to publish my stories is a great honor.

Tell us about the origin of the name of your stories' protagonist, Minerva?

Minerva was one of my first and most cherished cats. I found her as a kitten on a back road in Iowa. She traveled with me to Minneapolis, New York City, Miami, and finally to Prince George, BC. My first story, "Where Passion Rules," is a re-visioned history of an ill-fated trip Minerva took with me to NYC in 1974. When I drafted the story, I made Minerva the protagonist and set the story on Gelion. The cocaine smugglers of my personal narrative became the dealers in illicit Lorel merchandise. Both Minerva and I made it out more or less unscathed.

"Passion Passed" did not have the outcome Minerva hoped for, What inspired you to go in this direction? Where do you see Minerva going next? What would a happy ending look like for her?

I am no longer a young woman. My expectation of free and wanton sexual exploits has diminished to the probability of zero. That Orion would become inaccessible to Minerva was not what I expected when I started the story. The word passion from the title of my first story haunted me. The happy ending did not seem to work at this point. I feel some obligation to write a happier ending for Minerva. I don't think she can go too long without a man in her life. I, too, hope in the next story she will find the right one.

Although our culture is not as restrictive as that of the Demish, do you think there are still restriction on women's desire? Is it respectable, or respected? What kind of guy is the wrong guy, and why do we keep falling for him anyway?

There are restrictions on desire for both men and women. Appropriate partner at the appropriate time is still a hard won victory. Addiction to the wrong partner is still prevalent. Why do we want what we can't have? The one who loves you, the one who will treat you right, maybe that is just too easy? Passion - when it works - is so fleeting. Unrequited passion seems to be more the norm. So when you find passion, enjoy it while it lasts.

What is it about the ORU that appeals to young readers and writers? Do you have any advice for the writer who is just starting out?

ORU is a microcosm of our own society. Heroes, villains, best intentions, failed hopes, Lynda covers all the great themes of literature. How can you go wrong with sex, swords, and spaceships?

I am at a loss to give advice to new writers. The publishing world has changed and is changing rapidly. New writers seem to be exploring blogs and online venues. I am still locked in the world of the typewriter and filing cabinet. I need to look to new writers to see what they do!

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