Interview – Caitlin Starling

On my quest to read more science fiction as well as read more in general, I stumbled upon the novel “The Luminous Dead”, a wonderfully crafted Sci-fi / Psychological horror and debut novel of Caitlin Starling.

As I dream of having a debut novel myself, I wanted to reach out to Caitlin and pick her brain about her novel, her writing process, and how she came up with the idea for such a unique and interesting story.

Caitlin was generous enough to lend me her time and I was able to get some wonderful and informative questions.


How long have you been writing for?

Well, back when I was 8, I wrote a thirty page (large type, with pictures) Sailor Moon fanfic… 🙂 But I really started focusing on writing in high school, around 15 years ago. That’s when I started doing NaNoWriMo and started sharing my writing with other people. 

What made you decide you wanted to write for a living?

Honestly, I didn’t think it was a realistic option for a long time. It wasn’t until I wrote The Luminous Dead and realized I wanted to try to find an agent for it that I started looking at it as a career. I realized I wanted to be able to keep writing, despite other life obligations – and that made sense most if I kept making sales and really treated things like a business instead of a hobby.

That said, I still don’t write for a living. I make a decent amount, but I still work a day job full time, both for the benefits (health insurance is a lot more expensive if you buy it yourself) and for the structure. Eventually, I’d like to drop to part time or maybe even try writing full time, but that’s not in the cards for at least another few books/years.

What was your inspiration for “The Luminous Dead”? 

I’d been playing a lot of the running app Zombies, Run!, which tells its story entirely by radio transmissions from your base to your “headset” – your character never talks, but you’re getting to know all these other characters with varying goals, and I realized I loved that type of storytelling. I’ve also always loved characters in video games like GLaDOS (from Portal), who are ostensibly filling the roll of a tutorial/guide character, but have their own motivations.

The cave setting came from a dream I had (and I still have no idea why I dreamed it, it’s the only time I can remember dreaming about a cave!), and the suit proceeded naturally from what I needed, plotwise, to keep my main character isolated but capable of doing the very difficult tasks that she would usually need a large support team to manage.

“The Luminous Dead” was your first published book, but did you write books before this?

More or less! I finished NaNoWriMo four or five times during high school and college, though I never queried any of them, and I also wrote a few novel-length fanfics post-college. The Luminous Dead was the first book I thought was good enough to show to agents.

A lot of authors get discouraged at how long it takes to find representation, how long did you query “The Luminous Dead” before you found Caitlin McDonald? 

From first query email to signing was 14 months, I think! It was nervewracking at the time, but absolutely worth it.

What’s your proudest moment as a writer so far? 

As a writer, probably when I nailed the large-scale rewrite that my editor asked of me for The Luminous Dead (which took it from a creature feature to a much more psychological/social horror story).

As an author, nothing tops the day I found out I was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. I’ve been nominated (and won) other awards since, but that first time knocked my socks off.

What would you say your writing process is?

I’m somewhere in between a pantser and a plotter. I pants until I run into an issue, and I plot until I run into a hole. Then I switch modes and the problem tends to sort itself out. I’m capable of writing straight through (thanks, NaNoWriMo!) but generally I like writing the start of a story, jotting down notes, and then getting distracted with another project. By the time I get back to the original project, my ideas are usually a lot more nuanced, leading to much more interesting, less frustrating to write first drafts. 

Who are the biggest influences to your writing?

I have a lot of very eclectic influences, including farming memoirs! I read outside of my genres quite a lot, and am always attracted to writing that captures interesting details that I don’t always come across. 

I also have a lot of authors I just adore, but I don’t know how directly they influence my work. Tamsyn Muir and Martha Wells come to mind. Actually, both have shown me that you can get away writing some really interesting, gnarly stuff, which has made me more confident in tackling my own weird and complicated ideas.

What can you tell us about your upcoming work?

My next book is The Death of Jane Lawrence, out next fall from St Martin’s Press. It’s in some ways very traditional gothic horror/romance – you’ve got a marriage to a mysterious man with a crumbling family estate outside of town, secrets, ghosts, a single light burning in a top floor window… but it also deals with esoteric magic traditions, Victorian-era heroic medicine and surgery, and the development of calculus.

It’s gone through a few fairly major rounds of revisions to get it to where it is today, and I am so, so proud of it and excited to have it out in the world. It’s twisty and fucked up and delightful.

If you could give any piece of writing advice to new writers, what would it be? 

Have fun whenever you can. Writing can be tough, and publishing even more so; it’s easy to get stuck in your head. I got a lot of my practice in by writing with friends with no intention to try to publish that work, just to have a good time and delight whoever I was writing with. Without having that pressure to produce something that would change my whole life, I wrote a lot of words and learned a lot of skills.


I want to thank Caitlin again for her time and her answers. It’s always a pleasure to hear writers talk about their craft and what inspires them and it’s a huge inspiration to writers like me when we can talk to people who are in the shoes we hope to walk in one day.

Make sure you check out Caitlin’s work and follow her on Twitter at @see_starling

Short Term and Long Term Goal Setting

As the pandemic rages on and I continue to work my job from home, I’ve come to the stark realization that I’m sure a few of you have hit during these strange and unusual times.

I really hate my job.

Okay, so maybe I don’t “hate” it, but I can honestly say that I’m considerably unhappy with it.

I’ve worked for the State of Florida as a programmer in some capacity for the past 9 or so years. I recently moved to a new department around a year ago, and while the work is interesting and the people are nice, I keep finding myself more and more dissatisfied with what I’m doing. I just feel burnt out and apathetic, which isn’t how anyone should feel while working.

In the past few years, I’ve entertained the idea that one day I would be a novelist. That I’d spend my days at home, writing in the morning and taking care of the house and spending time with my family in the afternoon.

I haven’t given up on that dream, I search for it every day. (Waiting to hear back from agents is the WORST)

But writing, editing, getting representation for, and publishing a novel is a very long and difficult process. I want it, really bad, but I know that if I want a career in writing, I need to diversify myself and my skills and expand out into a more traditional writing role until my books (hopefully) take off.

I’ve toyed with the idea of being a freelance writer in the past year or so.

The idea sounds exciting. The opportunity to work for myself and set my own hours and workload. It would also give me the ability to plot my own course for advancement.

Working for a static government entity for so long has it’s downsides, the biggest one for me is the nature of government all but forbids work based advancement.

I can bust my butt all year long, make huge advancements on projects, and be a team hero.

None of that matters though, because positions are static and pay rate is locked behind laws and policies. It makes it very hard for me to show up every day and give 110% when upper management barely knows who I am and would rather suck up and open positions above me in the name of saving budget.

But writing would allow me to be in control of that aspect of my career.

If I want to earn more money and take on bigger, more important jobs, I can do that! I can decide how much to push myself and directly see where that work pays off. I choose the clients and the projects that interest me or that pay in the range I want to get paid at. The only thing holding me back would be me.

I’m a very goal driven person, I like having a future road map planned, something to push forward with and to work towards. I like things with real world payoffs, not just “getting it done”

So I’ve decided that I’m going to work towards that starting today.

Short Term

For my short term plan, I’m going to read everything I can about copy writing, content writing, technical writing, etc.

I’m going to apply for every freelance gig I can get my hands on.

My goal is to make over $500 with purely writing by the end of this year.

That doesn’t sound like much I know, but it will help push me and keep me motivated as I learn the ropes of the trade and slowly build my name and portfolio.

Long Term

This one is a biggie, and I honestly hope I’m not setting myself up for unrealistic expectations but…

Come this time next year, I want to be able to quit my current job and begin writing full time.

I know. That’s a big goal!

But it’s honestly what I want to do, and even if I don’t make it exactly, I’ll still have good progress towards it regardless. It might take longer than that, but I want something close enough in the future to keep me pushing and motivated.

So that’s the plan. I’m gonna keep busting my butt every day to make it happen and I’ll be updating you all along the way.

As always, thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!

Review- Network Effect: A Murderbot Novel

I’ll admit, when I first heard about Murderbot, I wasn’t that interested. Don’t get me wrong, I’d heard great and wonderful things. All the lists I browsed of great modern Sci-fi contained “All Systems Red”, the first Murderbot novella. But for some reason it took my a while to get into the idea.

One day this past January I decided to finally give them a chance, and I am so glad that I did.

I tore through the first four novellas in the course of a few days.

When I heard that later this year, a full blow novel was coming out featuring my new favorite rouge construct, I was very excited.

The Murderbot Diaries follows a SecUnit, built and loaned to companies for protection of various missions and surveys of far and distant planets. One such SecUnit decides it is done taking orders and living a live of confined servitude and hacks it’s own governor module, giving it autonomy over itself, which it mostly uses to continue it’s job of protection, make sassy remarks about things it disagrees with, and avoids both verbal and physical communication with humans at all costs.

The Good

Murderbot is back! The moody and mega introvert we all know and love is present and sassy as ever. As an introvert and anxious myself, I can’t help but connect with Murderbot and its disdain for almost all forms of communication with humans.

I was glad to see a lot of actually development of Murderbot in this novel. We get to see a good bit a growth to its character through out, which isn’t a whole lot in the end, but it’s definitely noticeable and I found myself pleasantly surprised by it.

One of my favorite parts of the Murderbot Diaries is how Martha Wells it’s afraid to put us in the thick of the world she’s created. I love the play by play narration of the technical aspects of the story and Wells does a great job of describing all the various systems, how Murderbot hacks in and out of them, and how the whole world she creates works on a technical level.

Wells does a fantastic job at world building as well. By this point in the series long standing fans will have a great and beautiful picture of the universe the novel takes place in, one that is vast and complicated but never overbearing.

The Bad(ish)

Being the first novel in the series this entry is much longer and denser than its novella predecessors. The story is richer and more complicated, but not always in a good way.

I found myself confused many times in the story about who did what, when, and how.

The story is good, with some twists and turns along the way, but I found myself unable to keep up sometimes.

I’ll also mention that Wells has several points where she attempted to sum up the events for the reader, so I may just be me. Your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

The Murderbot series is a wonderful and engaging Sci-Fi adventure series I recommend to anyone who’s interesting in the genre. It’s funny, exciting, action packed and quite tense at times. I have no doubt that you’ll end up like me and many others in saying, I love Murderbot.

Review: The Stars My Destination

I’ve been really wanting to read more, and I have. I’ve read probably 5-6 books this year alone, which is a fair bit less than I hoped for, it’s still more than I have in recent years.

Being a writer myself, reading is essential to my craft. I can’t hope to get better at what I do if I never experience how others do it.

So in my quest for learning, I wanted to write reviews for the books that I read so that I can attempt to better understand them and apply what makes them work, and what doesn’t, to my own writing.

Last night I finished “The Stars My Destination” (Affiliate Link) by Alfred Besters.

Now I’ll admit upfront, as a self-proclaimed Sci-Fi author, there are many “Classics” such as this that I haven’t read yet (shame shame I know) but the good news is I’ll be going through them and sharing what I think with you along the way!

The Stars My Destination follows Gully (Gulliver) Foyle as on his endless and relentless hunt for those who passed him by and left him stranded after his ship was attacked by outer planetary raiders.

I’ll admit it took me a bit to get into this one. It tends to jump around and introduce a lot of characters in the beginning and it takes it a while to really get to the main story line, but when it does I found it quite enjoyable.

Besters is a master at world building. While this book is rather short (some 230 pages) he’s able to craft a deep and complex world full of characters and interesting technology.

Set in the 24th century, mankind has discovered how to “Jaunte” or instantly teleport. This seems almost trivial to the story at first, providing a quick and easy way for Foyle and others to travel without getting bogged down by logistics, but it does play a deeper and more meaningful role towards the end of the book which I appreciated. It’s always good to see little things come full circle in a story.

The Good

To me, the most interesting and compelling thing about the novel is Foyle himself.

We’re given no backstory to him. No flashbacks, nothing besides the here and now of the story and how it molds and get’s molded by his actions. This is a refreshing take for me since slow and interrupting backstory are normally the parts of a book that bog down the most for me so it was nice to have the story keep a steady pace forward.

Foyle goes through a huge transformation throughout the story, starting as a gutter mouth bastard (he does some truly terrible things on his crusade for vengeance) to the most sought after man in the solar system (In good and bad ways). Its actually quite remarkable. Besters takes this empty and terrible man and slowly and carefully transforms him, teaches him, allows him to grow. He gets smarter, better spoken, and genuinely grows as a character while somehow still retaining a ruthless blood lust towards his final goal.

That’s the kicker though, is that while Foyle grows, or appears to grow, his mission is unfaltering. He is a man cursed by revenge and no matter the good, bad, and indifferent he may do, at his core his mission is absolute. This provides a strange yet oddly satisfying dynamic throughout the story. As we see Foyle slowly work towards his goal, we see him take steps forward as well as steps back. He surprises us with his advancements and disappoints us with his degradation.

The Bad

While Foyle himself is a well realized and interesting character, the ones around him unfortunately are not.

Many of the supporting characters in the story serve as nothing more than plot devices to get Foyle onto the next part of his mission, and while they can be interesting at times, more often than not, we’re left feeling a stark contrast between them and our main character to the point where I gave up trying to remember who was who when this cast of characters finally converge towards the end of the novel since the “who” of who they were didn’t really effect the outcome of the story.

The other gripe I have is a trope I see in books and movies all the time that while compelling, tends to totally rip me out of the story completely.

*Mild Spoilers Ahead*

Towards the last lap of the novel Foyle meets a woman at a gala who is the daughter of a very wealthy and prestigious business man. He is entranced by her and immediately falls in love with her. When a disaster interrupts the gala, Foyle attempts to rescue her and bring her to safety. They chat for a bit before the disaster is over and Foyle must leave.

Slightly later in the story, the two meet again and the beautiful woman is madly in love with Foyle.

I’m all for love interests. I can even believe love at first sight and all that. But when two characters maybe have two pages of dialog between them before confessing their eternal love to each other, it really brings me out of the story.

Conclusion

Small gripes aside I generally enjoyed this book and felt that the final payoff was interesting and one that I honestly didn’t see coming. I enjoyed Foyle’s story and how he grew and changed on his mission and learned a good bit about how to develop drive and motivation in my characters.

The Stars My Destination – 8/10

How Waking Up Early Changed My Writing

I’ve always sort have been a morning person.

I used to wake up every morning at 4:30 to go to the gym (I obviously don’t do that anymore) but in recent years I’ve been waking up around 5 a.m to get my writing for the day done.

It started when I knew I wanted to write a novel.

The idea was always in the back of my mind. I’d tried Nanowrimo a few years and a row to no success but around 2018 I decided that I’d had enough, and that I was going to sit down and write my first novel come hell or high water. I was always my dream to write a novel, and dammit I was going to do it.

The biggest issue is, I just didn’t have the time.

I’d shove in a couple hundred words here or there, but I wasn’t making consistent progress. I wasn’t making time for my writing.

I knew I had the ability to wake up early. I knew I needed to set aside specific time to get my writing done.

So one day it just, clicked.

I started getting up around 5-5:50 a.m, writing for an hour or two before I had to get my son up and ready for school.

It provided a huge boost in my productivity.

I cranked through my chapters and while I still wrote during the day, those mornings were crucial in completing my novel.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard to do.

Going to bed at 9 p.m isn’t exactly the most exciting thing, and I rarely, if ever hit that goal. Realistically I’d go to bed around 11. I noticed that towards the end of the week my lack of sleep started to get to me and I’d find it harder to focus so early in the morning.

I tried to switch it up some, and write at night when everyone was asleep and the house was quite, but that didn’t have the same effect.

The key isn’t having to wake up early, that was just the easiest way for me. The true key is forcing yourself to make time for your writing. A time that’s secluded and quite, without noise or interruptions. A time for writing and writing alone.

Once you find this, I have no about you’ll make far more progress in your writing like I did.

You Need to Keep Writing

Being a writer can be tough.

Scratch that.

Being a writer can be goddamn brutal.

I don’t like to consider myself a “writer” yet. Yes I’ve made money off of my writing, hell, I’ve even had pieces published in professional markets. But deep down I still haven’t allowed myself to claim to the title, to adapt it and take it seriously.

Imposter syndrome is huge in the writing world and it’s got me firmly in it’s grip.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m still seeking representation for my first novel. I’m one of thousands and thousands of hopefully writers, spamming emails and obsessively refreshing their inbox at the hopes that an agent will not only read their labor of love, but actually enjoy it.

I know the odds that I’ll get this first book out on shelves is slim. Very, very few authors sell their first book. It’s not till their second or third that they get one picked up. I know this might be my reality, but I can’t allow myself to give into those feelings and those thoughts. I need the hope, I need push to keep driving me forward down this path.

Should I? Is that a healthy mentality? I couldn’t tell you, but the idea of shelving my passion project, the work I spent the last three years on and starting the entire process over again does the exact opposite for my motivation, so I’m gonna keep shooting out those query letters and entering those pitch contests.

Photo by Thought Catalog on Pexels.com

Besides the technical aspects of writing, people underestimate the mental strain and emotional marathon it takes to go from your first words to a final book. It’s crushing at times.

I remember I sent my book out to someone for a beta read, he was probably me second actual reader of my finished book.

He sent me an email two weeks later telling me that my book was not in the condition it needed to be for him to read it.

I was destroyed.

But he was right. I had tried to jump the turnstile and get beta feedback before I’d done my line edits. Yes my story was finished, but as a manuscript it was far from complete. I was so desperate to reach the next step that I put myself through emotional turmoil in the attempt to get there faster.

It’s a tough and lonely road, one that I’m still on. I’m writing this blog post not as a warning, or a way to share advice, but to vent, to allow myself to express the frustration I’m experiencing.

That’s how it goes. Everyone goes through it and I know that no matter what happens, I’ll come out the other side and continue writing because that the key, you just gotta keep writing.

First Published Piece!

I’ve been submitting short stories to Daily Science Fiction for almost two years now. They mostly deal in Flash Fiction which is great because I’ve been able to practice writing shorter, more concise stories.

I got the news that my piece was accepted back in February and almost every day I checked my email for my story to be published.

After almost 6 months, it finally arrived. It’s a small story, but it’s my first SFWA (Science Fiction Writers Association) market piece!

You can check out the story below.

http://dailysciencefiction.com/science-fiction/other-worlds-sf/john-dulak/dread