A few weeks ago I read and reviewed The Guns Above, a military sci-fi novel featuring airships. Author Robyn Bennis then agreed to an interview!
Thank you for doing this interview! Let's start by asking how you got into writing science fiction. Were you "born into it" or was it something that you discovered later in life?
I came to it pretty early. My first short story was a Star Trek knockoff, and almost everything I wrote as a teenager had at least one robot in it. I liked SF because it gave me so much more to play with as a writer. You can tell human stories in any setting, so why not one with a robot? Or, for that matter, an airship.
Can you tell us a bit about your day job? I hear you're a biologist.
I’m a molecular biology bench scientist, which means I concoct arcane mixtures from components which are forged in fire, dredged from deep below the Earth, or even stolen from the bodies of tiny monsters. Once my potions are complete, I imbue them with the vital energies of life itself and command invisible amino-machines dwelling within to do my bidding.
In other words, I add colorless liquids together all day.
What got you into biology?
I blame The Discovery Channel. I used to come home from school, turn it on, and watch nature shows all afternoon and surgery shows all evening. This was back in the days before reality television, when you could still learn something on a cable learning channel, and I just drank it in. By 9 or 10 years old, I knew I was going to pursue a career in biology.
I considered a similar career around the same age, except I wanted to study wolves. Didn't pan out, mostly because I was unwilling to give up wi-fi for weeks if not months of field study and/or lug my library with me across the Canadian wilderness. So, kudos to you.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both! It’s funny how the things and people you love can be such a paradox, isn’t it? At the end of a long writing day, I’m so mentally exhausted I can barely think well enough to decide on dinner. And yet, I wake up the next morning, my head buzzing with ideas, so eager to get back to it that I have to force myself to stop for a second and brush my teeth. Life just isn’t the same if I’m not writing something. I get grumpy, mopey, and tired, and it doesn’t stop until I have another writing project to work on.
I think one of the coolest things about The Guns Above is Bernat and Josette's relationship. Almost every other action story like yours would include a romantic subplot between these two main characters. You didn't. Did you consciously put them in a platonic rather than romantic story or did it just happen?
It wasn’t only conscious, it was present from the earliest versions of the characters. That said, I wasn’t trying to make a statement or anything. I just knew the sort of relationship I wanted them to have, and I didn’t want romance to spoil that. I mean, even as buddies, they’re rather abusive to each other. As a couple, you’d want to call the police to separate them.
The Guns Above tackles gender issues and sexism head-on. You're a woman. What would you say is the hardest thing about writing the male characters in the society you've created?
Making them funny. Almost all of the horrible sexism in the book is based on actual behaviors and incidents I’ve either witnessed or been on the pointy end of during my career. It wasn’t easy to pour those incidents into characters and still have them bring the laughs. Writing Bernat, in particular, felt like walking a tightrope. However, it was also strangely thrilling, and he’s easily my favorite character to write. Yeah, I know, I’m a weirdo.
What did you edit out of this book?
Wow, if you only saw the amount of technical jargon I cut out, you would never again think that the published version of the book has a lot of tech in it. An early chapter was originally 6000 words worth of airship description, with frequent tangents about the value of one structural material against another, methods of purifying lifting gases, and the relative merits of various rigging schemes. It was an absolute disaster of literature, interesting only to the most hardcore of technophiles, and it was not alone. Most of that was ripped out over subsequent drafts. I forced myself to convey only the vital information, and to convey it organically whenever possible.
Thank you for not making us read a textbook. :)
How do you handle negative book reviews?
Easy. The only negative book reviews I get are from people who have poor taste—as evidenced by the fact that they didn’t like my book. QED, I can safely ignore them.
What advice do you have for young authors?
Stick with it. That’s the most vital and relevant piece of writing advice you’ll ever get. People who can write a great story the first time are so rare, your chances of being one are hardly worth mentioning. For the rest of us, we just have to write trash until we get better.
Robyn, thank you so much for coming onto Dragons, Zombies and Aliens! I look forward to reading your next book.
Where to find Robyn:
-on her website
-and on Goodreads
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!