Monday, February 24, 2014

Author Interview: Therese Arkenberg

Martinus Publishing’s latest anthology, VFW: Veterans of theFuture Wars, is now in print!  To kick off this book release, I’ll be interviewing some of the authors who have stories featured in this collection. Today, I'm interviewing Therese Arkenberg, the skilled author of who contributed “Ayema’s Fleet.”  Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed, Therese.

MTI:  Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

THERESE ARKENBERG:  Well, I’m a recent college graduate and a freelance editor in Washington, D.C. At least for now. I’ve written and published science fiction stories for the past 5 years. Most, though not all, of my stories feature women protagonists. That’s not by any conscious choice, but I’m not dissatisfied with the number of “feminist science fiction” publications I’ve turned up in! 

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

TA:  I genuinely don’t remember when I first started. I remember making up stories by reading picture books “wrong” (early fanfiction?) before I could even read most books right. I always knew I was going to be a published writer one day. The only surprise was when I found out how easy the internet made it. I started writing heavily, and then submitting stories for publication, in high school.

My favorite stories usually have some speculative element and center around a theme—usually the theme of some character’s odd fascination or relationship with someone or something. In Ayema’s Fleet, the central “love story” is between a woman and the fleet of ships she is charge of.

MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

TA:  Pick just one? That’s cruel. But if we’re talking influence, I do have an easy answer. I think a lot of my influence came from C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy—I read it at just the right time of life, and was completely obsessed with the worldbuilding and characterization. Coldfire is a genre bending work that looks fantastic on the surface, but has a rigorous science underlying it, and the story itself deals with some big questions about good and evil. For a while, even my prose seemed to flow in unconscious mimicry of it. When I reread the series recently some of the lines seemed weirdly familiar—that’s how deep it sunk into my head.

MTI:  “Ayema’s Fleet” appears in VFW, an anthology of military science fiction that honors soldiers and veterans.  Was there any particular inspiration for this story?

TA:  In one of my history classes, there was a mention—just a mention—about scuttling ships at the end of a war. I thought about how hard that might be to carry through for the officers in charge, who would really know what it means to destroy a warship. The idea grew out from there.  

MTI:  If you could go back to any point in history, when would you visit?

TA:  In all honesty, I think I’d rather go forward—I’m the kind of person whose time has not yet come. But if I were to pick somewhere historical, I’m leaning towards an upper class salon of the 18th century. I’d hang out and talk about big ideas, which is pretty much what I do all day anyway, except the ladies and gentlemen around me would be better dressed.

MTI:  If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

TA:  It’s even harder to narrow down than my most influential books or favorite movies, but in the spirit of the above answer I’ll go with my favorite 18th century figure, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George. Accomplished courtier, composer, violinist, and swordsman, I can only hope he’s as awesome in person as his biographies suggest. Also, I want to ask him what really went down in his duel with the Chevalière d'Éon—who is said to have worn her full gown at the time! (d'Éon is another figure I’d be interested in meeting, to be honest)

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

TA:  Currently I’m trying to round out and complete 3 different short story series (the ones currently finished are on my Publications List on my blog.  I also have a fantasy novel to finish editing. I have some science fiction and science fantasy ideas, but I don’t feel ready to tackle them until my plate’s a little cleaner.

MTI:  Other than “Ayema’s Fleet” appearing in VFW, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

TA:  Yes I do! An apocalyptic science fiction piece, “The Astrologer’s Telling,” has been picked up by Daily Science Fiction, and “For Lost Time,” the next installment of one of my 3 ongoing short story series will be published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies later this year. And it’s not a story exactly, but I also recently released a nonfiction book about writing & getting published, The Starter Guide for Professional Writers.

MTI:  You’ve had a long list of interesting jobs, as explained in your biography.  Tell me, what has been your favorite one thus far (other than writing fiction, of course)?

TA:  I really, really love the freelance editing work I’m doing right now. And being a craft store cashier was oddly relaxing (some days…), maybe because they let me create bows for the floral department during my downtime. It was a great, simple craft for distressing and playing around with ribbon. But overall, I think my work as a volunteer tax preparer had the best balance of mental stimulation, getting out of the house and meeting interesting people, while also feeling like I was making a difference. Plus, the 1040 form suddenly became a lot less intimidating, at least for one year.

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

TA:  I don’t own a TV and haven’t yet purchased a Netflix subscription, so I’m limited to keeping up with whatever networks post on their websites. The last series I’ve watched online with any degree of faithfulness was Sleepy Hollow, which is campy but a lot of fun (and the cast is great!). I also enjoyed the most recent season of BBC’s Sherlock.

MTI:  What sort of music do you enjoy?

TA: I really love instrumentals and music soundtracks. High on my list currently are the soundtracks for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Thor: The Dark World. I’m also a perennial fan of Two Steps From Hell and Audiomachine, both companies that produce music for film trailers but have recently expanded with albums on iTunes.

MTI:  And if you would, name three movies that you could watch over and over again and not be bored.

TA:  Well, Inception is complicated enough to watch forever. Any one of the Lord of the Rings trilogy also is rewarding on rewatch (and even more rewarding on marathon—can I claim the entire trilogy as one movie? Extended edition? If you watched that over and over again, you’d never have time to be bored!). And then Thor: the Dark World was just everything I enjoy in a movie—colorful, energetic, space fantasy with a touch of cosmic horror, plus Christopher Eccleston, Tom Hiddleston, and Idris Elba. And Rene Russo. If only it were longer…

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Are there any great words of wisdom you’d like to share with them?  Perhaps something that would persuade them to purchase your work?

TA:  For what it’s worth, I decided to submit to the VFW anthology because of the “Veterans” in the title. A lot of military science fiction gets wrapped up in the part where cool ships explode in space—which are plenty awesome, don’t get me wrong—but I think it’s equally or more important to remember the people involved. I’m glad to be part of a collection of stories that examines the human beings who will continue to fight, serve, and defend into the future.

MTI:  Readers love free samples.  Is there anything you’d like to share with us today, perhaps something new or recent that you’ve written?

TA:  How about the opening pages of “Ayema’s Fleet”?

            The ships of Ahrim’s fleet lay out in their ranks, nine by five, like an army of vast beetles. Their blue-black solar panels sucked in the beginning of daylight at the horizon. If he squinted, Lieutenant John Simmons could see his commanding officer walking in the shadows of the behemoths. Port Warden Ayema Reece was a short woman with wide, hunched shoulders, and hair and eyes as glossy black as the ships. The uniform of the port, a dusky brown, almost exactly matched the shade of her skin. It made her look naked.

            Lieutenant Simmons glanced back at the words on the screen and rang the warden’s messenger. “Ma’am? It’s urgent.”

            “I’ll come right on up.” But it took her fifteen minutes to cross the stretch of concrete where the ships rested. She walked leisurely, drinking in the light, the cool wind, the smell of metal.
* * *

           Ancharin fleet approaches Domar  with plans to seize ships Expected arrival by Jul. 16th Evacuate or scuttle immediately Further information when available

            Two lines, a very simple message, really. A problem, two possible solutions. A choice that must be made at once.

            Ayema turned from the message to the window. A single moon hung over the horizon where its two sisters set—there was always a moon in the sky of Domar, even at dawn. Ayema knew Domar’s patterns; she had lived on the planet, supervising the fleet of Ahrim, for three years now. Three years and a lifetime.

            “We’ll evacuate,” she said to Simmons.

            “Of course.” He swallowed. “It may be difficult, though.”

            “We have five pilots.” The port was understaffed, a common problem that hadn’t caused trouble before. Ahrim was a minor settlement on a minor planet in a minor system. Domar was only colonized for its convenient location and its mineral resources.

            “What’s the nearest fortified planet by Ley?” Ayema asked.

            “Gordat,” Simmons said, so promptly she knew he had studied a map of the hyperspace paths while waiting for her. “Five or six hours at a rush, with a skilled pilot.”

            “And an unskilled one?”

            “Could take fourteen or more.”

            “We have forty eight hours. How many our people do you think could pilot one of these craft if they had to?”

            “Six,” he said, promptly again. “Seven, if you want to risk Tomson.”

            “I’ll risk him.”

            She looked out at the fleet, and said absently, “A pity Gemenei never called for the ships before. They’ve sat here unused for years.”

            “Didn’t want to risk them on small confrontations, I suppose,” Simmons said. “There are less than a hundred ships with engines like that in... well, anywhere.”

            “And we’ll still destroy these rather than let them fall into anyone else’s hands.” Simmons looked at her, surprised; Ayema felt surprised, herself. She wasn’t usually bitter.  Then again, she wasn’t usually being ordered to destroy her fleet.

            “You know we don’t want Ancharins prying into those engines,” Simmons said. “They’ve improved their time along the Leys fast enough already. I haven’t heard of one of their ships being ripped apart en route for years.”

            “Perhaps they just hide their mistakes better.” She stood and leaned over her Warden’s console. “I’m keying in commands for our five pilots to start the evacuation before we slip any further into sedition.”

            Simmons smiled. “We’ll be all right, Reece.”

            “Each pilot will need to make five trips apiece,” she calculated aloud. “I’ll give them twelve hours per trip... for checkup, takeoff, a margin of error—” Two to three hours was a narrow estimate for all that, but she’d hazard it. “We’d need days. We don’t have days. But we have the volunteers... I’ll give them nineteen hours a trip, perhaps a round twenty.” You just couldn’t give amateurs a smaller margin than that.

             “It’s like one of my daughter’s math assignments.” Simmons’s voice softened. “Her mother has me help her with them over instacom. Why she won’t have me review the ancient poets instead, I can’t figure...”

            “That’s six trips per trained pilot,” Ayema said. “Fifteen ships for the volunteers, altogether. We should make it.”

            “We might not even have to risk Tomson.”

            She nodded.

            He rose from his side of the desk and set something beside her. “Just in case,” he said softly.

            Ayema looked at it. A small device with a touchscreen interface. Enter Code, the screen read. She entered her Warden’s passkey and the protocol box was replaced by a menu. Two options: Cancel or Scuttle.

MTI:  Thank you for that wonderful interview.  Anyone interested in reading the rest of Ayema’s Fleet can pick up VFW: Veterans ofthe Future Wars today!

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