Please welcome Elizabeth Bonesteel to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Cold Between was published on March 8th by Harper Voyager.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Elizabeth: Thank you! I actually started making up stories when I was 5, before I could read or write. I was never a good sleeper, and it was always rough on my parents getting me to go to bed. At one point they suggested I start telling myself stories, I’m sure as a way of trying to get a decent amount of rest themselves. It worked pretty well for me. I still write in my head as I’m falling asleep.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Elizabeth: Probably a hybrid, although plotters are uniformly horrified by me, so maybe I’m a pantser in disguise. I usually have an ending, and a handful of milestones. Most of the time I know where the story starts. I work out most of the details - including, sometimes, some really big plot points - as I’m composing. A lot of the twists in The Cold Between were throw-away thoughts and dialogue in the early stages.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Elizabeth: Deadlines, in part because they’re still a bit new to me. Before you sell something, you’re not writing for anyone else. You can afford to laze around and wait for The Muse to show. But once you have people actually waiting for words, you’ve got to write, whether or not The Muse is in the mood. You learn, after a while, that The Muse isn’t actually necessary - some of my favorite bits were written when I was blearily typing madly toward a deadline. But it does change the nature of the creative process, and it requires the reprogramming of a lot of old habits.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Elizabeth: I was born at the height of the original space program, so the whole idea of space travel was very much a part of popular culture when I was little. In addition to that, my maternal grandfather worked with NASA on the Saturn V, so my parents had a particular interest in following the program in the news. Even when public interest began waning, it was always discussed in our household, and our media consumption was naturally steered in that direction. I remember watching some truly awful stuff on TV - but I also remember being loaded into the car to drive into the city for the first Boston showing of Star Wars. My parents definitely aided and abetted my love of science fiction and fantasy.
These days, I consume more television and movies than books. The high-quality television and film productions coming out these days are really exciting. There was a period in the 70s and 80s, with Star Wars and Alien doing so well, when Hollywood seemed to think adding spaceships to any horrid script would get them some box office. Now there’s so much that’s not only beautiful but really well-written, from complex superhero stuff to hard SF like Edge of Tomorrow and The Expanse. I’ll watch movies and TV episodes over and over again just because they’re so well-written, well-performed, and gorgeous to look at.
And Star Trek, of course, in all of its incarnations, has been a huge inspiration. It’s probably not realistic to imagine a future that optimistic, but there’s a real appeal to the idea that there exists a future in which we’ve not only survived, but done all right.
TQ: Describe The Cold Between in 140 characters or less.
Elizabeth: In deep space, murder, romance, betrayal, and government intrigue meet a big, radioactive wormhole. Also, explosions!
I’m not great at Twitter.
TQ: Tell us something about The Cold Between that is not found in the book description.
Elizabeth: One thing that’s not apparent in the blurbs is that Galileo is flying outside of her comfort zone. Central starships have assigned areas, and Galileo, for various reasons, is in unfamiliar territory. For the crew - in particular Elena, who’s often naive about these things even at the best of times - this means that allies, reinforcements, and even the basic mission parameters are not going to be what they’re used to. Everyone is slightly off balance without thinking deeply about why, and when things begin to go wrong, they go wrong in ways our heroes don’t anticipate. Even Greg, who’s about as cynical as it gets, is caught flat-footed by a lot of what happens.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Cold Between? What appeals to you about writing Military Science Fiction?
Elizabeth: The Cold Between began as a vignette - the first chapter, actually, much of which survives unchanged from early drafts. I had this idea of a woman who does something entirely out of character, which turns out to be serendipitous. From there, she does what most of us would do - at each step, she tries to do the right thing, only to find the situation around her becoming progressively messier.
There’s a strong military history in my family - both of my grandfathers were Army - so from that standpoint a military structure feels comfortable. But what I appreciate most about writing military science fiction is the restrictions it presents. If Elena was working for some random corporation, she could easily take a day or two off to do some independent investigation of a murder, because who would care? In a military setting, there are potentially some pretty serious consequences for her heading off on her own. There’s more at stake for her from the start.
In addition to that, in any military unit, close bonds can develop quickly, even between people who don’t always like each other. There’s a familial aspect to it. You’ve got a set of strong, capable people who rely on each other in ways they rely on no one else. Examining the psychology around that - especially if someone in the unit changes, or becomes unreliable - provides a lot of character material.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Cold Between?
Elizabeth: I did some research on pulsars, as well as radiation poisoning and isotopes. I also read a lot about concussions, which was sort of interesting. Now every time I see one of those old TV shows where the hero benignly clubs someone unconscious, I can’t suspend my disbelief, because I know how dangerous that is in real life.
Despite the fact that faster-than-light travel is (based on what we know today, at least) impossible, I did do some research into what it would look like. Having been raised on Star Trek, it was something of a surprise to learn that you wouldn’t get anything like a moving starfield out your window. When you think about it, it makes sense; but it was a speed bump.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Elizabeth: Greg is the easiest. I know him the best of all of them, and he’s temperamentally the most like me. I understand his psychology. Elena’s always difficult, because she’s impulsive. I know what she’s going to do, but sometimes it takes me a lot of thinking to understand why. Greg’s the opposite, really: I always know why he reacts to something, but it takes time to unravel how he’s actually going to handle it. He thinks too much, and she doesn’t think at all.
And they both get stubborn. There were things that couldn’t happen in the story because they wouldn’t cooperate. I’d like to say the book is better because of it, but we’ll never know, will we?
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Cold Between?
Elizabeth: I could say “I didn’t include any social issues,” but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s impossible for any writer to create something that doesn’t somehow reveal their feelings about the society they live in. And often it’s unconscious.
I didn’t think about it when I was writing, but I do seem to have a lot of opinions about politics, established authority, trust, and corruption. There are a lot of moments in the story when a character needs to decide between what’s expected - or mandated - by the system they’re a part of, and what they believe is the right thing to do. The more rigid the authority, the more difficult a choice this can be. It’s Greg, really, who’s the most trapped, because he’s the most invested in the chain of command.
Beyond that…writing is an escape for me, and as such, something of a cheat. I’ve gone with the Star Trek future in which we’ve dealt with all of the sexual, racial, and gender bias issues we’re dealing with today. People still self-sort into groups, but for different reasons (PSI, for example, is a self-selecting group who believe a centralized authority is a foolishly inefficient method of helping people). I’m not the first person to note that it’s blatantly unrealistic to assume in a thousand years it’ll be nothing but white guys in space, but no, I don’t cover how we got there. I have some ideas about that, but they’ll have to wait for another book.
TQ: Which question about The Cold Between do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Q: Why this story now, at this point in your life?
A: There’s an adage that’s repeated about fiction: write what you know. And of course on the face of it, it makes no sense. Fiction, by its nature, is speculative. Science fiction and fantasy are by definition based on situations nobody can actually “know.”
But I don’t think that’s what the adage means, at least for me. For me, that advice has to do with character, choice, and consequence. And there are things about these characters that I couldn’t have written when I was younger. The nature of love, both spontaneous and unrequited. The critical importance of friendship and trust. How much easier it is for friends to hurt us than lovers. How easily we hurt other people, despite our best intentions - and how easily pain can make our best intentions fall by the wayside.
And there’s a lot in this story I couldn’t have written before I became a parent. I don’t think for one second it’s a necessary exercise for everyone, but for me, it helped me focus. I learned a lot about my own limits and my own failings, and I found myself strong in areas I would not have expected. It also taught me how to accomplish tasks while sleep-deprived, which is necessary for any writer!
TQ: Give us one or two favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Cold Between.
Justice, he had found, was a flimsy illusion used to stave off anger, and anger always won in the end.
“Everything is cursed. The sensors are cursed, the engines are cursed. My grandmother is cursed, apparently. Also some types of sandwiches.”
“If you’re going to ask me to violate my oath, Lieutenant, you could at least flirt with me first.”
Elena may have forgotten about revenge, Trey thought, but you have not, have you, Captain Foster?
TQ: What's next?
Elizabeth: The second book in the series is coming out this fall. It’s an insane amount of work, having two come out so close together — not just for me, but for everyone working on the books — but it’s also an incredible privilege, and very exciting. Book 3 is currently in the composition stages. I’ve got my ending and some milestones, but the gory details are just beginning to reveal themselves.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Elizabeth: Thank you! It’s been great fun.
The Cold Between
Central Corps 1
Harper Voyager, March 8, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 528 pages
Deep in the stars, a young officer and her lover are plunged into a murder mystery and a deadly conspiracy in this first entry in a stellar military science-fiction series in the tradition of Lois McMaster Bujold.
When her crewmate, Danny, is murdered on the colony of Volhynia, Central Corps chief engineer, Commander Elena Shaw, is shocked to learn the main suspect is her lover, Treiko Zajec. She knows Trey is innocent—he was with her when Danny was killed. So who is the real killer and why are the cops framing an innocent man?
Retracing Danny’s last hours, they discover that his death may be tied to a mystery from the past: the explosion of a Central Corps starship at a wormhole near Volhynia. For twenty-five years, the Central Gov has been lying about the tragedy, even willing to go to war with the outlaw PSI to protect their secrets.
With the authorities closing in, Elena and Trey head to the wormhole, certain they’ll find answers on the other side. But the truth that awaits them is far more terrifying than they ever imagined . . . a conspiracy deep within Central Gov that threatens all of human civilization throughout the inhabited reaches of the galaxy—and beyond.
Elizabeth Bonesteel began making up stories at the age of five, in an attempt to battle insomnia. Thanks to a family connection to the space program, she has been reading science fiction since she was a child. She currently works as a software engineer, and lives in central Massachusetts with her husband, her daughter, and various cats. Massachusetts has been her home her whole life, and while she’s sure there are other lovely places to live, she’s quite happy there.