Please welcome S.K. Dunstall to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Linesman was published on June 30th by Ace.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Hi. We are so happy to be here.
Sherylyn: I have never known a time when I didn’t write or tell stories. Even in primary school, Karen and I wrote stories for each other. I used to tell stories at night to my younger sisters to send them to sleep – or until I fell asleep. During the day, I would tell stories to other kids at primary school. I just loved telling stories.
Karen: Being one of those younger sisters, I was obviously indoctrinated at an early age. Like Sherylyn, I’ve been telling stories ever since. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t been writing.
TQ: Are you a plotters, pantsers or hybrids?
S. K.: Pantsers, without a doubt. Although we came across George R. R. Martin’s ‘gardeners and architects’ (via a You Tube lecture by Brandon Sanderson) and think gardener suits us better. We’re constantly rearranging the garden and trying out new plants. Rewriting parts of the book, moving things around. And weeding. My goodness, weeding words.
We plot by talking ideas. We don’t actually write these down, just get the ideas and let them percolate.
We have found that we can over-talk things and when that happens we don’t write it. So we have to balance the talking and the writing.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you both about writing? What is your co-writing process like?
S. K.: The most challenging thing? Time. We like to leave our writing sit for as long as possible and come back to it fresh. Ideally, we like to write one book, put it aside and write another. Then go back to the first book and rework the whole thing. Having a contract—as wonderful and fantastic as that is—means you can’t do this. We are not fast writers, and both of us work full time.
Co-writing is so much fun. We spend hours talking stories and ideas. We’ll try different ways of co-writing, too. Sometimes we each write a different character, sometimes we write the same chapter and pick out what we want to keep. Other times one writes the first draft while the other edits.
We always talk about a story as it progresses and if one of us doesn’t like something, we talk and come up with new ideas until we can both agree.
For Linesman, we wanted to keep the voice the same across all three books, so we wrote/are writing all of them the same way, as the person who writes the first draft sets the tone for the whole book.
Every day we’ll discuss what has happened so far, and what we think might happen next. Then Karen writes a rough first draft, with Sherylyn following behind, adding comments and rewriting sections.
Once the first draft is written Sherylyn takes over the bulk of the edits, while Karen comes along behind and works on what Sherylyn has edited.
As we fine-tune the story, Sherylyn takes over more of the work. In the end, for every one time Karen reads the book and makes changes, Sherylyn re-reads it at least five times.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Sherylyn: I read anything I could get my hands on; school adventure stories, Australian stories, science fiction, westerns. Anything except horror. Some of my favorite authors today are Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, Diana Wynne-Jones, Robin Hobb, Anne Bishop, to name a few. There are so many writers I love. The list would fill the page.
Karen: Likewise, anything. We’d both read out the library at our primary school years before we moved on to secondary school, and ditto there. As a child I remember reading my way through every one of those yellow covered Gollancz science fiction books I could get my hands on. Some of my favourite current authors today are Diana Wynne Jones, Robin Hobb, Vernor Vinge, Connie Willis. We both read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. We also read mysteries and thrillers. And anything else that takes our fancy.
TQ: Describe Linesman in 140 characters or less.
S. K.: A guy who repairs ships gets caught up in the discovery of an alien spaceship and the fight between two warring factions who want possession of it.
TQ: Tell us something about Linesman that is not found in the book description.
S. K.: Is it cheating if we say ‘sentient spaceships’? It’s not part of the description, but one of the blurbs mentions it.
TQ: What inspired you to write Linesman? What appealed to you about writing Science Fiction, especially Space Opera? What is a 'Space Opera'?
S. K.: Space opera is science fiction action adventure in space. There’s usually a war, or fighting, and it’s not too heavily scientific, although it can be. Most importantly, it is based around the characters. Star Wars (the original) is the classic space opera. Guardians of the Galaxy is also space opera.
We love both science fiction and fantasy. There’s something about creating worlds, and making everything fit, that’s so much fun. Plus, it allows us to write things we can’t if we’re restricted to our own world. Equality, for example. A world where anyone can be an admiral and no-one cares whether they’re male or female, or white or black or purple or green.
And to explore ideas. Linesman, for example, started as a “what if” dinner-table conversation. What if humans found alien technology in space? Would they know what to do with it? What if they worked out how to use part of it, but not all of it? It’s a bit like using a Swiss army knife. Suppose you learned to use the corkscrew to open bottles of wine, but didn’t even realise anything else on the knife existed? Then, as time passed, how would what they learned about the original technology diverge into something else?
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Linesman?
S. K.: The brain is a fascinating part of the body and there’s so much we don’t know about it. For Linesman we looked at how the brain worked—particularly how it interpreted music. Plus a bit about synaesthesia, and handedness.
We also looked at spaceship design, and realised that provided a ship didn’t need to land on a planet it isn’t constrained aerodynamically. The limitations are air and power. Thus we came up with the idea that the ships in our universe will be large, any shape, with lots of levels, and modules that can be attached as required. And anyone who’s been following Commander Chris Hadfield (excellent source of research, by the way), would know that null-g in space is undesirable if you’re going to be on a ship for long periods of time, so we had to have gravity too.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
S. K.: Jordan Rossi was easy to write because he could be unpleasant and it didn’t matter.
Hardest character? That’s difficult. Each character had a life of their own and wanted to be written.
Ean was fun to write because he is such an unreliable narrator (and because he’s great), but he was probably the hardest to write too, because he could be such a wimp. He isn’t helpless, but he lets things happen to him. We had to be careful because that’s very frustrating for the reader, who just wants him to do something. It was a hard balance. We hope we got it right.
TQ: Which question about Linesman do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q. Will Rossi have his own book?
A. I’d like to think so. I would love people to want a Rossi story.
Sherylyn: You wish. I might let him take part in another book, but he will not have a book to himself. You will have to work hard to sell me on this one.
Karen: Jordan Rossi is an unpleasant man. Confident, arrogant, always putting other people down, but I love him. Most people hate him.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Linesman.
Sherylyn: “The lines were crying out to be heard and no-one was listening.” Karen wrote that line and when I read it, I went cold. It held so much emotion for me.
Karen: I love the clever lines. The ones they say you should get rid of, because they’re not in the book to further the story but simply because you think they’re good. For example, after Michelle tells Ean that Abram likes him, and Ean thinks, ‘yes, and everyone sang to the lines too’. Which is a lie, because no-one except Ean sings to the lines.
TQ: What's next?
S. K.: We’re contracted for three books in the Linesman series.
We just got the editor’s feedback on book two (Alliance), so we’re about to start working on those. Before that we were in middle of the first draft of book three. The next six weeks we’ll concentrate on Alliance, then it’s back to book three.
After we finish book three? Who knows?
There are so many books to write, so many ideas. We have a couple of science fiction stories we would love work on. One set in the Linesman world, the other a separate series. We also have an Australian fantasy we would love to finish, but that is for a distant future.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
S. K.: Thank you for having us. It was a pleasure to take part.
Ace, June 30, 2015
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 384 pages
First in a brand new thought-provoking science fiction series.
The lines. No ship can traverse the void without them. Only linesmen can work with them. But only Ean Lambert hears their song. And everyone thinks he’s crazy…
Most slum kids never go far, certainly not becoming a level-ten linesman like Ean. Even if he’s part of a small, and unethical, cartel, and the other linesmen disdain his self-taught methods, he’s certified and working.
Then a mysterious alien ship is discovered at the edges of the galaxy. Each of the major galactic powers is desperate to be the first to uncover the ship’s secrets, but all they’ve learned is that it has the familiar lines of energy—and a defense system that, once triggered, annihilates everything in a 200 kilometer radius.
The vessel threatens any linesman who dares to approach it, except Ean. His unique talents may be the key to understanding this alarming new force—and reconfiguring the relationship between humans and the ships that serve them, forever.
S. K. Dunstall is the pen name for Sherylyn and Karen Dunstall, sisters who have been telling stories—and sharing them with each other—all their lives. Around five years ago, they realised the stories they worked on together were much better than the stories they worked on alone. A co-writing partnership was born.