Welcome back to the author interview series. Today, Carol Van Natta comes down to visit with us from Colorado. Carol, will you start us out by telling us a little about yourself and where you are from?
- I grew up in Denver, Colorado, lived in Austin and Los Angeles, then ended up in Fort Collins, about 70 miles north of Denver. The world is a circle, I guess.
- In my life, I’ve been a swing-shift guard, secretary, technical writer, actor, voiceover talent, singing telegram performer, non-profit director, business continuity specialist, and of course, an author. I still do some of those things so I can eat regularly and sleep indoors. I share my home with a sometime mad scientist and various cats. Any violations of the laws of physics in my books are the fault of the cats, not the mad scientist.
::chuckles:: Sounds like your cats and mine are distantly related, though yours went the science track, mine the magic. They can be great inspirations, or the worst type of distraction.
Speaking of inspiration, do you remember what started you on your writer’s journey?
- I can’t remember not reading and not writing. Of course, I don’t remember last week, so perhaps I’m an unreliable source.
- I began writing as soon as I could put pen to paper. I’ve done all sorts of writing over the years, from technical writing, to really bad poetry, to grant proposals, to theatre plays, but my heart has always been in fiction. My muse’s home base is science fiction, but it has vacation homes in action, mystery, romance, and the paranormal.
- My co-author and I had nothing better to do one summer, and we had this nifty idea for a hilarious science fiction romp, wherein we invented the internet. I don’t care what DARPA claims. However, the summer was in 1990, in the pre-Internet days, when one printed a manuscript, then sent it to publishers and waited, and waited, and… no one wanted our book. Fast forward 19 years, and it was suddenly a perfectly legitimate endeavor to publish independently, so we did, and Hooray for Holopticon finally saw something besides a file cabinet. We call it a retro-comedy, because all the things we took such delight in creating, such as email, computer viruses, and the aforementioned internet, are now very blasé. As to writing my second book, which is my first solo book, my muse came up with this Big Damn Plot, which spans multiple planets and a coming upheaval, and so it began with Overload Flux.
Listening to your titles has me wondering something. Do you have a particular method to select your titles, or do the works tend to present their names organically as you write?
- [I try to have the title relevant to the story itself. ]
Minder Rising: Can covert agent Lièrén Sòng stay alive long enough to save bartender Imara Sesay and her prodigy son?
- The title has multiple meanings. Both main characters and the boy have minder talents, a set of mental talents like telepathy, empathy, etc. The story hinges on their recognition of their talents and how to use them to save each other.
With such a long trek from your first efforts, do you have a moment that you look back on and say, “There. That is when I became a writer.”?
- I and my friends in high school all thought we were writers when we wrote fan fiction in the Star Trek universe. My first serious job title was “technical writer,” so that was kind of business validation. I became a published author in 2009.
It’s always nice to have that paycheck to validate what you love. Are you at a point where you can share any current news, or tease us with anything from your current work?
How kind of you to ask. My work in progress is a Book 4 in my space opera series (you know, the Big Damn Story Arc). Pico’s Crush (book 3) introduced new characters and included cameos by characters from Overload Flux (Book 1) and Minder Rising (Book 2). The antagonists from Pico’s Crush are carrying over into the current WIP. If you want to be thorough, there’s also a novella, Zero Flux, that stars the main characters from book 1, because fans kept asking about them. And if you’re into paranormal romance, I just released In Graves Below (Magic, New Mexico), which was a whole new adventure, writing for a Kindle Worlds project.
- Minder Rising, the second book in my Central Galactic Concordance science fiction romance series was published in May 2015. The books are standalone and can be read in any order, although Minder Rising takes place after the events in Overload Flux.
Here’s an excerpt from Minder Rising:
* * * * *
Despite his humor, she could tell he was all but done in for the night. “One more question, and then I hope you’ll go back to your room and rest.”
He ducked his head once. “As you wish, Bartender Sesay.” His overly subservient tone made her laugh.
“Cheeky brat. I told you, call me Imara. How did you know about Derrit’s cleaning talent? I guessed he was probably a shielder, because his father was, and I’m a filer, so it stands to reason he’d have some sort of talent. How did you know Derrit wanted to clean the telepath guy?”
He shrugged one shoulder, then winced. His neck muscles were probably as tight as a drum, considering how long he’d been enduring the headache. “Sifters can detect talents, though I’m not all that good at it. Derrit was angry enough to drop his shields, so I felt the… activation of his cleaning talent. It can be difficult to control when you’re mad.”
“I see. That’s how you knew the asshole was a straight telepath? He was activating, too?”
“Yes, though mid-levels like he is are usually better at containment. Whatever he chemmed himself with weakened his control. I could feel it even from back there.” He pointed to the far booth where Derrit was still lying with the cold pack across his face.
Imara badly wanted to get all the answers she could from him immediately, but she couldn’t justify torturing him any longer. He was only staying with her now out of good manners, and perhaps protectiveness. “You’ve got to get some rest, Agent Sòng. The security team will monitor the assho…uh, valued patron, so Derrit and I will be fine.”
He gave her a tired but genuine smile. “I would be honored if you would call me Lièrén.”
“Shì de, dāngrán, zūnjìng de xiānshēng.” Yes, of course, honored sir. She gave him an exaggerated bow. “Whatever honored sir desires.”
He laughed. “You speak Mandarin very well.”
“It was the official language on Capet Dedrum for six hundred years until the CGC moved in and made English the galactic standard. Mandarin is still primary with the long-timers, so it made sense to learn. My tonal control is iffy, though. I’ve come close to unforgivably insulting people more than once.”
“In that case, I’ll remember to ask first, rather than assuming I’ve made you mad.” He drank the last of his water and stood. “Goodnight, then.”
As he stepped back, she had the absurd impulse to ask when she’d see him again, like she was a fifteen-year-old at the end of a first date. Instead, she gave him a casual salute and a smile.
* * * * *
That’s quite a teaser, you have there. I’m sure while you were getting to this point, there were many lessons or challenges you ran into. Can you share some of those (and what you learned along the way from them)?
- Even science fiction has to be based in probability, so my research for Minder Rising included neuroscience and brain chemicals, the properties of glass, cosmetic surgery, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Finding the time to do it. Because I have the aforementioned day job, plus I have a life+family+cats, I rarely have a steady, set schedule for writing. Of course, maybe I’d go crazy with a set schedule, but I’d like to try.
- [It was a challenge] balancing the romance and science fiction, so that readers of either genre don’t feel cheated.
::Chuckles:: I understand about the scheduling issues. I tend to face those down myself. Yet, if you were to start over today with everything you’ve learned, would you change anything in your work so far?
- No, but ask me that a couple of books down the line, when I’m kicking myself for saying (or not saying) something that has to be explained or worked around, and ask me then.
What about covers? I know for many authors, getting cover work done often presents a challenge.
- My fabulous covers are illustrated by Stephen R. Bryant, of SRBProductions.net.
Has writing become your only career, or do you still supplement with a day job?
- Sure, but not for my fiction work, just yet. Profit comes from steady sales of a backlist, which I don’t exactly have much of. In time, I hope to support me and afford the premium cat food.
Very true. If we don’t keep the furry kids happy, then they let us know in no uncertain terms we are no longer their favorite person in the world.
Speaking of favorites, do you have a favorite author or book that has really affected your life, or the way you write?
- I’ve read a bazillion books in my life, because I read fast and voraciously, so it’s hard to nail down individual books. I have and will always love science fiction because it’s predicated on the belief that, whatever our current troubles are here today, we can make it off our planet and into the stars. What could be more positive than that?
- [Yet picking a favorite,] that’s like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. I admire Nalini Singh in her Psy-Changling series for how she’s handling a central theme with three races and a sprawling plotline. I loved André Norton growing up, and am glad to see her work will be published in ebook form. She crossed from fantasy to science fiction and made it look easy, with characters you wanted to root for. I love Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series, which introduced me to the steampunk genre.
- [As for writers,] I’d say Lindsay Buroker, who writes fantasy, steampunk, and science fiction romance, because she also publishes a series of blogposts called “Ebook Endeavors” that describe the joys and pitfalls of being an independent author. She’s funny and amazingly prolific, too, so I am in quiet awe of her skills.
Through all of your ups and downs, did you have any support outside your family to help carry you through?
- The Northern Colorado Writers Conference, which is held annually in the spring, right in my home town. I’ve both presented and sat in the audience, and I’ve met some wonderful people there, with the myriad wonderful journeys that made them writers.
Did you meet any new authors there that captured your interest?
- Mostly I find new-to-me authors, then discover they’ve been around for a heck of a lot longer than I’d have guessed. For example, I quite like Anna Hackett’s new Hell Squad series, but she’s got about a dozen books out before it.
Are you sure we’re not mirror twins? I have almost the exact same issue outside of a few authors I’ve met through the Facebook groups.
Since you’re still exploring the wonderful mountain of books available, can you share which book (or author) has claimed top honors on your reading stack?
- I’m trying to decide which of the virtual mountain that is my to-be-read pile to go for next. The nice thing about ereaders is that no one can see how embarrassingly many books you have in that TBR pile. Maybe a fun paranormal shifter romance by Eve Langlais? I use reading as a little reward for me when I make good headway in my work in progress.
I’m a bit envious. When I’m in the middle of writing, I don’t dare read anything, because I find that I pick up bits and pieces of whichever story I’m reading and work it into my own world (usually without adding my own twist to it.) Probably because I don’t have a solidified writing style yet. What about you – do you have your own unique writing style?
- I’m sure I do, but I’ll leave it up to readers to describe it. I try to skip writing the parts that people don’t want to read.
Fair enough. Does your style include weaving in any messages for the readers to find?
- Oh, no, that would be telling! Seriously, I’d rather let readers come up with their own ideas on what the story means to them.
For me, those are always the best. Nothing beating you over the head as you read through the book – just pure enjoyment.
Since you don’t weave any overt messages into the book, what about realism or personal experiences?
- Of course – I always tell my friends they’re in my books, but they have to figure out where. All authors write from what we know, or observe, or can imagine. It’s our limitation, but it’s a pretty big canvas.
- I write science fiction, so I get to gleefully make stuff up. That said, people will always be people, so their relationships and foibles and dreams are as real as I can make them.
::Tongue in cheek:: You mean making things up isn’t only for fantasy? How strange. ::Returning to respectfully serious:: Though, I do take your point about the imagination being an awfully big canvas to paint on.
That brings up the elephant in the room – what would be your answer if another author asked you for advice?
Write the story! Yeah, yeah, I know that’s what everyone says, but you can’t do anything with it until you get it on paper or in the computer. We readers want your stories, but if they’re locked in your head, we non-telepathic readers can’t enjoy them, so you’ve got to write it down.
Oh, how true. Carol, thank you for coming over to visit today. Before I wrap up, do you have any last words you’d like to say to your readers?
- I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I do. And if you happen to like the work of any author (not just me, though I hope you’ll include me in that group), please post reviews of our books on Amazon, so other readers will take a chance on our work.
Oh, so very, very true. And, thank you for mentioning those reviews!
If you enjoyed the interview, and wish to connect with Carol, you can find her on her Website (with blog included), Facebook, Goodreads, and Google + For Twitter users, she says “No Twitter for me; I never learned to drink from the firehose.”
If you would like to pick up a copy of her books, her Amazon page is linked Here for your convenience.
If you enjoyed the interview, and wish for me to host a character or author interview for you, please drop by my Offered Services page and fill out the simple submission form. I’ll get back with you soonest to discuss details.