Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Interview with James L. Cambias, author of A Darkling Sea - January 28, 2014

Please welcome James L. Cambias to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews and the A Darkling Sea Blog Tour. A Darkling Sea, James' debut novel, is published today, January 28, 2014 by Tor. Please join The Qwillery in wishing James a Happy Publication Day!

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

James:  I started writing in 1980. I'd just read Isaac Asimov's autobiography and was struck by the fact that he sold his first story at the age of only 15. "I'm 14," I thought. "Maybe I can beat him!" So I wrote something mostly for the sake of writing something and sent it to (where else) Asimov's SF Magazine. Unsurprisingly, they rejected it. I kept getting rejections as I finished high school and college, and made my first sale in 2000 to Gordon Van Gelder.

However, by then I had broken into roleplaying game writing, with dozens of published scenarios, magazine articles, and sourcebooks. I started doing that in 1990. The game writing let me practice and get paid for it.

I still haven't sold anything to Asimov's.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

James:  Plotter. I write outlines and tinker with them. When the Muse doesn't come calling, her sister the Outline is very comforting to have around.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing? Where do you write?

James:  Where I write depends on the time of year. In summer I sit out on my screen porch at home and write, while watching the chickens harass each other. When the weather's too nasty for that (and in New England that means about 2/3 of the time) I go to coffeeshops or libraries. If I sit at home alone indoors I don't get anything done; I'm not sure why. I have to be "out" even it it's just the porch.

The most challenging thing is plotting. I can come up with a good "hook" but after that it's real brute-force engineering: "what would that character do next?"

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

James:  I'll split this between SF and non-SF. In science fiction my strongest influences are probably Larry Niven, Poul Anderson, and John M. Ford. Outside SF I'd cite James Thurber, Raymond Chandler, and Geoffrey Household.

As to my favorites, I love Alistair Reynolds, Rudyard Kipling, Tim Powers, Jack Vance, Jorge Luis Borges, and Lois Bujold.

TQ:  Describe A Darkling Sea in 140 characters or less.

James:  Scientists under an ice-covered alien ocean fight to keep their research topic.

TQ:  Tell us something about A Darkling Sea that is not in the book description.

James:  It's about two spacefaring civilizations acting like fools while the low-tech native inhabitants they're fighting over try to figure out why.

TQ:  What inspired you to write A Darkling Sea? Why did you choose to write hard Science Fiction? Do you want to write in any other genres?

James:  I was inspired to write it by my growing irritation with the notion that people should keep our grubby hands off the universe, like we're a disease or something. I wanted to write a pro-contact novel.

As to why I picked a hard-SF approach, well, part of that's just my personality. I like to get stuff right. Plus I'm married to a scientist so I can show scientists doing science stuff pretty well.

That being said, I'm also a history devotee, so I'd love to write a historical fantasy novel or an alternate-history adventure.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for A Darkling Sea?

James:  Oh, lots. I talked with my wife (a biologist) about creature design, and with a biochemist friend about the metabolism the organisms might use in the story's environment.

A lot of my research was double-dipping: I've written two or three different roleplaying sourcebooks on how to build a science fiction universe, so I've done lots of research for those on how to create planets, aliens, cultures, et cetera. Basically I breathe this stuff all the time.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite good guy, bad guy or ethically ambiguous character?

James:  The easiest character in Darkling Sea is the human viewpoint character, Rob Freeman. He's kind of a meatball Everyman hero, so I could just mentally turn my cap backwards and write him. The native scientist Broadtail was also pretty easy for me (though avoiding any visual or time-based references in his passages was hard).

The hardest was undoubtedly Gishora, the alien leader who helps to bring about the conflict even though he's trying to prevent it. He's a social manipulator who isn't as clever as he thinks he is, and I had a lot of difficulty showing that.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from A Darkling Sea.

James:  I have two. The first one is the first line of the book: "By the end of his second month at Hitode Station, Rob Freeman had already come up with 85 ways to murder Henri Kerlerec."

The second comes about midway through the book, after the humans have made contact with the inhabitants of Ilmatar: "There was a huge spiky alien monster perched atop the rock, but it was a familiar one and Rob gave a huge sigh of relief."

TQ:  What's next?

James:  My next novel is a near-future tale of space piracy, called Corsair. It's about a hacker who steals payloads bound from the Moon to the Earth and his nemesis, an Air Force officer trying to catch him. But when he gets involved in a plot much more sinister than he realizes, he has to join forces with his adversary to stop the real villains.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

James:  Thanks for inviting me!

A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea
Tor Books, January 28, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 352 pages

On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

But when Henri Kerlerec, media personality and reckless adventurer, ends up sliced open by curious Ilmatarans, tensions between Terran and Sholen erupt, leading to a diplomatic disaster that threatens to escalate to war.

Against the backdrop of deep-sea guerrilla conflict, a new age of human exploration begins as alien cultures collide. Both sides seek the aid of the newly enlightened Ilmatarans. But what this struggle means for the natives—and the future of human exploration—is anything but certain, in A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.


There is a terrific tie-in website for UNICA (The United Nations Interstellar Cooperation Agency): IlmatarMission.com:
  • A mission statement for Ilmatar Expedition III
  • Facts about Ilmatar
  • What we currently know about life on Ilmatar
  • A description of the Hitode Station
  • Crew bios where you can meet the personnel of the Ilmatar mission
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • The Ilmatar Expedition 111 Mission Blog
  • Information about The United Nations Interstellar Cooperation Agency
  • The personal website of the universally famous explorer and adventurer Henri Kerlerec, currently on mission with the Ilmatar Expedition

About James

James L. Cambias was raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, and no matter where he goes, that city will always be home. He attended the University of Chicago intending to become an astronomer, but became fascinated by the history of science and wound up getting his degree in History and Philosophy of Science in 1988. At Chicago he also met Diane Kelly, who later became his wife.

Jim worked for two publishing companies right out of college -- Pelican Publishing of Louisiana in New Orleans, and then Nelson-Hall Publishers in Chicago. But in 1990 he decided to try freelance writing full time.

For most of a decade Jim wrote for roleplaying game publishers, becoming a mainstay at game magazines like GDW's Challenge, Steve Jackson's Pyramid, and the Star Wars Adventure Journal. Because of his Star Wars pieces he has an entry in the online "Wookieepedia," which is extremely impressive to his young son.

His first game book was Arabian Nights, a sourcebook for the Rolemaster game system from Iron Crown Enterprises. Over the next two decades he wrote six game books and coauthored to ten others. His best-known game products are probably GURPS Mars, GURPS Castle Falkenstein, Star HERO, and GURPS Space Fourth Edition.

In 2006 he joined with Diane Kelly and Joseph Steig to start Zygote Games, a company publishing science and nature-based games, dedicated to the idea that educational games don't have to be lame. The Zygote game Parasites Unleashed was picked by Scientific American as one of their "Top Science Toys" in 2012.

He has also written nonfiction for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including aviation history pieces for Airpower and Balloon Life, articles on maps, wine, parenting advice, travel, restaurant reviews, and astronomy. He writes a weekly stargazing column for the Greenfield Recorder.

Mr. Cambias has been writing science fiction since his teens, but his first professional sale came in the year 2000, when his short story "A Diagram of Rapture" appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Since then he has published 19 short stories in F&SF, Shimmer, and several original anthologies. In 2001 he was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer. A Darkling Sea is his first novel.

When he isn't writing, Jim Cambias cuts firewood, cooks, plays roleplaying games, and haunts coffee shops in western Massachusetts. He blogs at www.jamescambias.com.

Book Tour

James L. Cambias, Brian Staveley (The Emperor's Blades) and Ramona Wheeler (Three Princes) will be touring together. Here is the schedule:

2/4, 7pm - Towne Book Center, Collegeville, PA

2/6, 7pm - Barnes & Noble, Holyoke, MA

2/7, 7pm -Annie’s Book Stop, Worcester, MA

2/8, 2pm - Barnes & Noble, Hingham, MA

2/11, 7pm - RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

2/13, 7pm - Harvard Coop, Cambridge, MA

2/15, 3pm - Bartleby’s Books, Wilmington, VT

2/22, 7pm - Flights of Fantasy, Albany, NY

2/24, 7:30pm – Housing Works Bookstore, New York, NY

1 comment:

  1. "When the Muse doesn't come calling, her sister the Outline is very comforting to have around. " I love this line!