Special Feature: Author Interview with Rebecca S. W. Bates
by Lesley L. Smith
Rebecca S.W. Bates lives in Boulder, Colorado where she raised three daughters and taught Spanish. Now she writes full time in a variety of genres. Her latest novels include Murder with Altitude, The Mound Dwellers, and The Jigsaw Window. She has published several SF and fantasy short stories, most recently in Fiction River's volume seven, Fantasy Adrift, and volume eight, Universe Between. Prelude to Proxima, the second novel of The Centauri Series, will be released later this spring from D.M. Kreg Publishing.
Why is your name so long?
Being a fourth child, my parents had used up all the names they liked and so solicited suggestions. My father's sister chose my name, Rebecca Sue Williamson, and I chose Bates when I married my husband. For writing, I use pieces of those names in different genres-Sue Star writes traditional mystery, Rebecca Williamson writes romantic suspense-but for science fiction and fantasy, I like to use the entire array.
The Signal starts very dramatically with a man having his baby taken away from him. Haven't you ever heard writers aren't supposed to endanger babies or puppies? Why did you start this way?
Because it felt right to start that way. I like to write more with what "feels right" than to follow specific rules. Besides, the child in The Signal plays an important role throughout the series (Book 2 is coming out later this spring, and Book 3 is scheduled for 2016). I have always been intrigued by the concept of ordinary people who are thrust into a science fictional setting or circumstance. How does a science fictional event affect someone like you or me? Or to turn that around, how would an event that you or I deal with on a daily basis (such as child care) impact a science fictional character.
The Signal reminds me of writing by Science Fiction Golden Age authors such as Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke. What SF authors have influenced you?
Arthur C. Clarke. I love his stories because they take me to other, fascinating places and leave me buzzing with what-if questions on the galactic scale. I read everything Clarke ever wrote almost exclusively until I had the good fortune to study with James Gunn for several years. Some of the writers he brought to his workshop also influenced me: Frederik Pohl, Jack Williamson, Paul McCauley, Nancy Kress, Charles Sheffield, Jack McDevitt. And some of the members of my local writers group: Ed Bryant, Connie Willis, John Stith. And most recently, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith are my greatest influences. All of them are such wonderful teachers!
What do you find appealing about SF?
I love that SF takes me on a virtual tour of the universe. SF fills me with wonder and raises questions in my mind about the human condition in a way that no other genre has been able to do.
Your fiction has some really neat tech like the tachyon equipment and the smart poles. How do you come up with ideas like this?
I have to work on this, because I am pretty low-tech. Such ideas usually come from sparks of conversations or readings. The tachyonic idea started from a comment Fred Pohl once made, envisioning tachyonic blueprints of humans being sent through space. The smart pole, however, came out of my own fear of falling.
The Signal also reads like a thriller. Do you read and/or write in genres other than SF? Why? What do you find appealing about them?
Yes, I write in various genres (see my answer about my name!) because I have always read widely. No matter the genre I am drawn to the same elements, such as the page-turner (who can resist?) the tortuous build-up of suspense and fascinating characters. Basically, I like to read about extraordinary events that impact characters. The extraordinary event could be a murder in a mystery, or facing a monster in horror, or a battle with dark forces in fantasy, or a sinister secret in romantic suspense. I hope that my writing reflects my tastes in reading.
In The Signal you do a very good job differentiating characters. How do you manage this?
I get to know my characters really, really well. I start with some basic choices that I impose on them, such as their occupations, their role in the story, and a few characterization tags. Then I start asking tons of questions about how this or that came to be. The more I write about them, the more real they become to me. Sometimes I write short stories to explore their actions in their backstories. I try to keep their histories and attitudes in mind as I write them, and at some point I start hearing their voices in my head.
Will your characters Landon, Ziza, Greer and the others have further adventures? What can you tell us about them?
Yes, these characters will continue in this series, although not all of them in each book. Landon, Ziza, and Greer appear in the second book, Prelude to Proxima, and they head to Patagonia to find answers to the situation with the child. The rest of the crew will appear in the third book, when the mission heads to Proxima Centauri.
Your work addresses issues of climate change. Any particular reason why?
Climate change is part of our future, ready or not. Our planet is going to have to deal with climate change in the near future. But I also want to consider the way planets evolve as the universe ages.
You've published some short fiction, in the Fiction River Anthology, for example. What are some benefits of short fiction?
Short fiction is a great way to improve craft. Every word counts. Structure matters. You have to find the telling detail that relates unsaid volumes. Aside from craft, though, it's gratifying to finish a project and feel a certain sense of accomplishment. And when you get your short fiction out to the marketplace, it has the additional benefit of introducing you to readers.
In your short story "Shifting Jinn" the protagonist seems to be a feminist. How did that come about?
Ha! I hadn't thought about it that way. My protagonist is a genie, and I must've decided I wouldn't like to live that way, trapped inside a bottle. How dare anyone try to confine me that way!
Your short story "The Sun Dial Trail" includes references to native cultures. How do you know about these?
Native American cultures have always fascinated me, ever since I got in over my head in a senior-level culture class back when I was a sophomore in college. I've been hooked ever since, and now one of my daughters is an archeologist, which helps to feed my muse.
In general, unlike typical American SF, your work does not focus solely on Caucasian, American middle-class men. Why?
The world is made up of all types, right? The world of the future grows smaller with technology. Through wider communication and more extensive transportation, the world of the future will have to combine a wide range of characters. Besides, I was a government brat growing up. I have always lived within a multi-national circle.
How long have you been writing? Why do you write?
In junior high school I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer. Then Life got in the way, and I didn't start seriously writing until my last child started sleeping through the night-28 years ago. Ten years later I sold my first short story, and four years after that, I sold my first novel. I write simply because I can't not write.
What's your opinion of writers critique groups?
Writers critique groups run the gamut from awesome to deadly dangerous. I am lucky to be part of an awesome group now. They are very helpful in flagging what doesn't work, and when I examine why, I can usually find a way to improve my writing, whether with that story or the next one. The deadly types of critique groups tear the writer down, rather than the story. Run away fast from groups like that!
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Be a sponge; learn all that you can, read everything that you can. Experiment with different methods of writing or just different times you write or different places where you write until you feel the words flow. No matter what, develop the habit of writing consistently, even if it's only a sentence or two at a time. And never give up. Never let the demons say you can't do this.
Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
Thank you for interviewing me. Your questions are very thought provoking!
Find out more about Rebecca and see sample first chapters and her collections of short stories at: