Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Interview with sci-fi author Jon Del Arroz

Fiction writer Jon Del Arroz is here today and we’re chatting about his sci-fi space opera, The Stars Entwined.

Jon Del Arroz is the leading Hispanic voice in science fiction. He is a multi-award nominated author, popular blogger, and journalist. His Steampunk novel, For Steam And Country, became a #2 Amazon bestseller in category. 2018 marks his triumphant return to space opera with The Stars Entwined, a novel about love and war. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children.

Welcome, Jon. Please tell us about your current release.
The Stars Entwined is a space opera about a human military internal affairs investigator named Sean Barrows who gets wrapped up in spy games as a war escalates with the alien Aryshan empire. On the flip side we have an alien starship commander Tamar, who is freshly minted in her duties and trying to prove herself. There’s intense personal conflict when they meet, which you can probably glean a little of what happens based on the title, but I’ll try to keep it mostly spoiler free. Once the two main characters meet, most readers tell me it’s very difficult to put the book down.

What inspired you to write this book?
I really wanted to capture the feel of some of the great space operas in the 90s like Star Trek: Deep Space 9 or Babylon 5. The character moments in those are what made them epic, because there was so much emotional turmoil that it really connected people to these universe-spanning conflicts. It also stems from my love of Lois Bujold and Elizabeth Moon’s character driven space opera book series. For me, it’s all about characters you can love and root for, and a lot of modern fiction is so dark with characters who are hard to relate to. I wanted to do something where you feel good about caring for the characters, and I think I accomplished that.

Excerpt from the Stars Entwined:
This is one of my favorite scenes from the book, which is in chapter 5. It’s pretty self-contained as Sean is investigating a string of attacks on Palmer Station, including a starship disappearing from dock. Here he’s trying to figure out how someone could have managed that, and go through the motions to get into the mind of the criminal. It gets a bit crazy as he unexpectedly finds he’s not alone out there.

“I checked again. You’re the only person scheduled outside of the airlock for another hour. We should report this.” Reyna sounded concerned. It did nothing to ease Sean’s nerves.
Sean tugged at his tether, and he floated back toward the station. Either a maintenance tech was out in a pressure suit without clearing the records, or someone was sabotaging the ship exactly in the manner he imagined happened with the Hong Kong. Sean wasn’t prepared for a confrontation with the latter. His counterpart obviously had far more experience with zero-g, moving without a tether like an old pro.
The other figure thrust from the hatch, speeding toward him. That ruled out a maintenance tech. No, this person meant to attack.
The two pressure suits smashed together, knocking Sean off course. The intruder grappled Sean and brought his thrusters to full strength. They sped toward the station.
            Sean flailed, glancing back toward the growing Palmer Station. He was about to get smashed into the hull. The impact would crack his pressure suit and release his atmosphere. The prospect of vacuum crushing his head made him gasp for air. If he survived this, he swore he would never go into space again.
            Sean tugged at his tether, pulling all of the slack toward him. The attacker looked down at Sean’s not-so-sly attempt to free himself and grabbed onto his arm, ripping Sean’s hand away from the tether with considerable strength. Inhuman strength.
            At that moment, Sean remembered his own suit’s thrusters. “Stupid, should have used those to begin with.”
            “Used what?” Reyna asked through the comm.
            Right, Reyna. “Not talking to you, again. Sorry! Ah, contact security. We’ve got a saboteur out here.”
            “A what? Are you okay?”
            “No time! Find me some back up!” With his other hand free, he set his thrusters to fire at full capacity.
The attacker adjusted thrust to match, but their velocity toward the station had already slowed. Two equal forces from both pressure suit thrusters canceled each other out with no friction to tip the balance. The prior momentum carried them toward the station, but it wasn’t fast enough to smash Sean’s suit open.
Sean bounced against Palmer Station’s hull like a rubber ball. “Ugh!” Something popped in his shoulder. Pain flared all the way down his arm. At least he didn’t hear the hissing of decompression.
Their trajectory shifted away from the station, both suits still engaged in full thrust toward each other. Momentum was the only difference. A second wave of pain shot through Sean’s spine, sending an unnatural jolt all the way up through his neck. While he was focused on his injuries, the attacker gripped his shoulders hard.
A surge of adrenaline jolted him like a crystal drive entering FTL. Pain didn’t matter if the alternative meant breathing vacuum. He couldn’t die. Not now.
Sean focused all of his strength and chopped at his assailant’s arms, dislodging both of the other man’s hands from his suit’s collar. He fought hard for control of the grapple, squirming to dodge the grip. His back throbbed and pain pulsed with each labored breath into his lungs.
The longer the fight went on, the more Sean would be at a disadvantage. The attacker was so strong, so fast. The attrition of pain would overwhelm Sean soon enough.
In a last-ditch attempt to free himself, Sean curled up his legs, using his feet as pincers against his assailant’s torso. He twisted the attacker’s direction, and by default the trajectory of the thrusters. Then he gave his best kick to the attacker’s thigh.
If the fight had occurred in gravity, his maneuver would have done little to impact the outcome, but momentum meant everything in space. When Sean set his enemy into motion, the thrusters took over. The two separated and veered off in opposite directions.
Sean took advantage of his freedom by adjusting his own thrusters to give him a push back toward the station’s cargo bay. He grabbed onto the lifeline and tugged until it was tight. Go, go, go! If his assailant could catch him again, Sean would never make it.
His shoulder burned, but he peered back over it, stretching the muscles and tendons anyway. His body protested, shooting deep pain all the way up his spine. He needed to gauge his assailant’s position.
            The attacker was in his peripheral vision, nearly a hundred meters away. The distance between them would be insurmountable at this juncture. He’d lucked out.
The attacker disappeared behind the Avery, and a moment later, gravity tugged on Sean. He’d moved much closer to the cargo bay than he realized. Before he could react to slow his thrusters, the bay’s gravity plates sucked him in.
Sean tumbled to the floor, and his suit thrusters cut out upon detecting the gravity field. All he could see was the nauseating, spinning view of the floor and ceiling of the cargo bay. His body jolted with each additional roll. The impact knocked the wind out of him, leaving him unable to cry out. He skidded across the docking bay floor and crashed hard into the wall.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m working on getting my steampunk series (of which the first, For Steam and Country, was out last year to a lot of success) out to a trilogy this summer. Most readers have been sending me email and the like demanding those, so I’ll deliver! I’ve finished the first sequel, and am in the middle of book 3.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably in 2009-2010 when I started releasing a web-comic that got me a few thousand readers. I’d toyed with things before, done a lot of writing-based roleplaying on the internet, but that was the first time a lot of people were reading my work and it made me drill down and become more serious.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Yes in that I put full time hours into it. No in that I do other work full time also. I don’t sleep is the answer to the follow up question. But I force myself to write several hours a day. I do it when I first wake up, on my lunch break, an hour after work, a couple hours after the kids go to bed. Just get it in wherever I can and pretty much don’t do anything else. I quit video games, hobbies, and hanging out with people for the most part (sorry friends!) because this is my calling. Once you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit, and I’ve been keeping this frantic pace for over a year now. I have to in order to come out with several novels a year plus a short story every month for my Patreon subscribers.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
To me writing quirks are bad because they are repetitive things that happen that stand out to readers and pulls them out of the immersion. I find in my first drafts I have too many “did” words in there. For instance I’ll be in a paragraph that starts: Well, he did say writing quirks were bad things because it pulls them out of the immersion. Which I’ll have to revise to: Well, he said writing quirks were bad things because it pulls them out of the immersion. But I find quirks change. Once you notice them you intentionally stop doing them, or at least I do. So it’s always finding the next one before readers do.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A congressman. Now you couldn’t pay me to be a politician!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
This book has been in the works for more than 17 years. I’ve rewritten it several times because I wanted to get it just right, and I’m really proud of the hard work, I think it shows. If you love great characters, this book is for you. Even non-science fiction readers have told me they connect with it which is awesome. I hope you’ll check it out!


Thanks for being here today, Jon.

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