Contributor Interviews: Under New Suns

Under New Suns (Tales From the Year Between Book 2) is an anthology written and illustrated by over twenty authors and illustrators, detailing an epic space opera told in the form of star maps, illustrations, comics, poetry, flash fiction, short stories, verse, and even a stage play. 

I was able to get some time to talk to C. Vandyke, Editor of the anthology, but I was also excited to get the chance to get some tidbits from some of the contributors as well.

 

Emily Ansell

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My favorite part of working on Under New Suns was the collaborative aspect that brought an unpredictability to the world building/story crafting process that I usually don’t have as a solo writer. It was so much fun opening the game files to see where others were taking things, what new revelations came with each turn. And then when we got to the writing part, to see how each person interpreted the characters, and what they do with them. Then now, seeing how each story fits into the greater whole of the book. We had this whole universe just spring to life in real-time, with all these incredible ideas coming in from all different places, it’s really unique and wonderful.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

An imagined world comes to life for me through the characters and when little tidbits of culture and history that sneak their way into the story without being a big, expository thing. I love it when it just gets dropped in there casually and organically, no differently than we ourselves would reference something from our own history or pop culture without a second thought. It helps you see the bigger world without having to lose sight of the characters you’re following. I’m also an anthropologist by training, so I’m sure that plays a part.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Writing advice? I guess I’d say do your thing and not worry about what everyone else is doing or says you ‘should’ be doing. Write the story you need to write, what resonates with you. I certainly did that here. I wasn’t expecting to write what became deep-dives into two of the setting’s characters, but when it all hashed out, those were what stood out to me and I felt needed to be written. Also, if you have the opportunity to take part in a volume of The Year Between, do it!

 

B.K. Bass

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

For me, it was watching the universe and major storyline unfold organically as so many different voices gave input on the process. Things I never would have imagined made it into this world. Even my own story was something I wouldn’t have thought of without the context of the situation to inspire it.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

I always say the devil is in the details. Be it fantasy, sci-fi, or even contemporary fiction, it’s the tiny nuances of life that transports the reader into the world of a book. Brass-clad towers glittering at dawn, the smell of smoked fish in a market, colorful silks flowing from a caravan; it’s these kinds of things that bring a book to life.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Going back to those details, use those to bring your stories to life. Don’t worry so much about the big picture of the world. Reveal it in the moment as the characters experience it. Get us in their heads, and show us what they see, hear, and smell. That way, we may feel we’re there too!

 

Jayme Bean

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

The collaboration was by and large my favorite part. Being able to come together with twenty-odd different authors from all over the world to explore different aspects of world-building and character development was amazing. I made some great new friends out of it and was able to experience a myriad of writing methods and planning.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For me, it’s all about the characters. Setting is fantastic, but unless you have an interesting character to explore that setting, it’s just a stagnant painting. Adding complex and interesting characters turns that painting into a movie.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

Collaborate! Even if you’re not working on an anthology or collective piece, collaborating with other authors can only raise you up. Having multiple people to bounce ideas off of and rally behind you in support is so helpful to the creative process and will pay off tenfold in the long run. 

 

Darius Bearguard

Author of The Sand Runner, featured in Achten Tan, Land of Dust and Bone

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

One of the pieces I did was entirely collaborative with the team of authors. I wrote a book report from the perspective of a little girl, and everything from alien names, to dates, to the title of the contest, was done with the assistance of the other authors as people shouted out ideas and suggestions and we voted on outcomes of events. We even paid the daughter of one of our authors to contribute artwork. It was very much the highlight of this go around for me. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For Under New Suns, it’s a lot of the little pieces of flavor authors threw in. Music in the new galaxies, space otters, histories of alien species… It’s that background text that makes me go “Huh… I wonder what that’s about?” And that questioning is what gives life.

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

I personally suffered a tragedy while working on this, something that had me in so much darkness. But being able to write and imagine in this world we created kept me from sliding too far in. Especially in these times of great turmoil I think it’s easy to forget how important community and imaginative minds can be. Talking with people, collaborating, and then breathing life into a new universe, to maybe leave our own if only briefly, can be so soothing to the soul. I’m so thankful for TFTYB2 crew for this opportunity.

 

Zackery Cuevas

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Being on the page! I’ve been a part of the creation of a book for years, but it was always on another end, either on editorial or production, so my favorite part of this whole thing was actually writing a story that would make it into a book.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Character. If a character works for me and is real to me, they will paint the world for me. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

The hardest part about writing is starting. Once you’ve started, you’ll find it hard to stop.

 

Chris Durston (Skullgate Member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns

I think the coolest part for me, as I worked on the book as an editor but wasn’t part of the world-building game, was seeing it all come together. I didn’t have the same pre-knowledge of the world and the characters as the writers did, so I got to gradually learn about each of those things in different stories. It’s what makes Tales from the Year Between unique, I think: no one story explains every part of the world, but experiencing all of the stories gives you this greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts experience: a view in snippets and little glimpses of this huge, bizarre, but somehow consistent and singular thing. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally? 

I love implications. If there’s a certain magic or tech, showing me how it’s had an impact on every aspect of the world and the characters’ lives makes me happy. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share? 

If you get the chance to be part of something collaborative, do it. I’d never have imagined that just replying to a tweet and saying ‘sure, I’d like to join your random crew of writers on a weird adventure’ could have led to Skullgate and the opportunity for so many more huge adventures. 

 

Diana Gagliardi (Skullgate Media member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My job on Under New Suns was to help guide the game itself- 30 people, each with 2 turns where we asked them to respond to a choice of prompts, update the projects that others had started, and put all the info in a format that we all could read and build off of.  The crew had to be designed- each person created a character on their first turn and added to the background of a DIFFERENT character, created by someone else, on their second.  It was a lot of creativity, spreadsheets, and the occasional stubborn writer who had a REALLY GREAT IDEA…but it wasn’t their turn.  Like a pre-school teacher with a bunch of hyper-creative toddlers; I answered questions, held hands, asked probing questions about their thoughts, and very rarely had to say “no”! The end result was pages of universe-building that could be harvested and expanded into an anthology of short stories.

My favorite part was interacting with each person- we are in many different places around the world and in various time-zones; for two weeks of the game I was checking up on everyone so that no one would miss out on a turn or not have answers when they needed them- my sleep scheduled already is pretty off-kilter, so 2 am conversations with someone on the other side of the world weren’t too out of the way and I hope that no one had to wait too long for help!

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

So frequently joint worlds involve consensus- everyone has to agree with how the society is being run, who is doing what, etc.  Year Between gives a consensus framework without anyone having to restrain themselves and their creativity; on their turn they can be a crazy and dynamic as they like, no one will tell them it’s stupid or not allowed.  Whether other people will like it or use it is a different issue, but so much of the bizarre might not make it in if you work towards the most comfortable denominator.  There may be grumbling that something is “silly” but it won’t be tossed away.  Some of our most centering aspects have been “silly” (specifically thinking about ribs and space sharks, fr).  So…allow some silly to give contrast to the serious.

 

E.R. Hoffer

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

I really loved the world-building phase. When I threw out my ideas for resources, my heart raced with nervous energy, hoping that one of my kooky artifacts would be picked up by the group. Like school, waiting on the sidelines, never picked for the volleyball team. But one of my room ideas got into the book, so I was on cloud 9. 

Then I loved taking turns in the world-building game. I camped in front of my screen, refresh, refresh, blown away to see what each writer added, introducing an amazing new character,  twisting the story in a new direction as we moved through all four of the phases of the journey home.

The fantastic never-ending chatter on Twitter. We exchanged jokes and stories and supported one another throughout the writing and editing process.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Sensory details experienced through the emotional filter of a character. If writing can paint a picture, add smells or tastes, and illuminate the yearning inside a character, I’m immediately engaged. 

Fran Wilde gave a recent workshop on World-building for Futurescapes. She asked us to describe a meal in our story. What is consumed tells us about the flora, fauna, and other elements, what is scarce or abundant. Who prepares it and how it is served tells a lot about relationships, rituals, power structures, society. And the mechanics, like energy, needed to create the food hint at tech, evolution and other factors. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

In this strange global moment, many opinions and situations are radically changing the way we live. We face an enormous inflection point where we could collectively turn toward the light or head in a negative direction. That’s one of the interesting thing about the Skullgate projects, the process to create a shared product. It isn’t always easy because we have to negotiate our points of difference as we strive to put out a collective work from a diverse group.

In my writing, I focus on enviro-futurism. Fiction engages people in stories, and gives us a way to change hearts and a mind, to motivate us to do the hard work to transform society to an inclusive and sustainable model. 

 

Debbie Iancu-Haddad (Skullgate Media member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

I love the brainstorming part of creating a world together. Having a group of people from different cultures and backgrounds each contribute a few details that give me new ideas and send me in directions I might not have thought about on my own is really exciting. I love it the most when silly parts of the conversation take on a life of their own and suddenly instead of a joke they are part of the combined story. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

For me, it’s all about the characters. I think each of us channel a bit of ourselves into the characters we create (even if it’s a yellow and teal shape-shifting slug). Having the character interact with the imagined environment is where it really comes to life. 

 

Jeremy Nelson

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Letting go! Being a useful part of the project meant letting go of preconceptions of what the project was going to be. Even ideas that seemed promising in the early stages of our collaborative process would sometimes be left by the wayside. Yet there was always another intriguing path to take, another scenario to explore. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

The collaborative process brought to mind the first rule of improv: always say yes. There was no way to predict where we’d end up from the first pile-on of ideas, but we not only emerged with a coherent story but also some unexpectedly heartfelt twists in the telling. It’s made me reconsider how I draft my own work, and whether I give those more creative (read: outlandish) impulses the consideration they deserve. Say yes, and you never know where you’ll end up. 

 

S.L. Parker

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

The ebbs & flows of ideas; how we exchanged and interplayed while crafting stories; these creative collaborative moments were the elements I most savored during this experience. And it was an experience, as we collectively built a world and then individually, or in tandem, filled it. A new spin: immersion writing. 

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

The imagined world came to life as I saw the threads which wove stories together, as well as the varying interpretations that added layers to the stories contained in this shared world. 

 

A.A. Rubin

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

My favorite part of working on Under New Suns was the freedom the process allowed me. Because we were accepted for the project based off a previous writing sample–and not, like most publications, based on the story for the actual anthology–I felt freer to take risks with my writing that I may not have otherwise, especially with a publisher whom with whom I had never worked before. My story, “I am I” is one of the more unconventional pieces in the anthology. It plays with language and syntax in a way that might make it a riskier piece to submit in a blind process to a publisher with whom I didn’t previously have a relationship. But, since I had already been accepted to the anthology, I felt more comfortable writing the story I wanted to write. I think the story, and, ultimately, the anthology is better for it.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

To me, successful world-building is worldbuilding I don’t notice. Characters speak and act as if they live in the world, not as if they are explaining it to someone who does not. Think of our world. Let’s say someone says, “I’m going for a ride in my car.” They don’t follow that by saying “A car is a petroleum-powered vehicle with an internal combustion engine, four wheels,” etc. I want to feel like I’m in the imagined world, full of magic and wonder, but also feel like the characters in that world are unaware of my presence. The difference can be seen in the original Star Wars trilogy compared to the prequels. When Han Solo says he made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, we have no idea what the Kessel Run is or why that’s impressive, but the way he says it and the reactions of those around him that doing so was impressive. Similarly, we hear of the Clone Wars, the galactic senate, the regional governors, etc., but none of these is explained in any detail. They are taken as given by everyone in the world, common knowledge of which everyone is aware. Compare that to the prequels, where they tried to explain everything. In those movies, the worldbuilding got in the way of the storytelling in an obvious and noticeable way.  

Ursula Le Guin and William Gibson are two writers who are really good at building imaginative worlds that fit the paradigm I delineated above.

 

D. Storiz (Skullgate Media Member)

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

For me, it was the actual writing of the story once the characters and some of the background was already created. I like the creation part of the world/spaceship but I really enjoy the writing portion of it. It was fun to finally read through the final game and character sheets, choose a few characters that resonated with me and then make them come to life. Once I have a vague idea of what I can work with, I can usually jot down a quick outline and work from there.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

Visualizing it in my head. I often write my stories as if they were a movie taking place before my eyes. I try to imagine the scents, the feel of the room I’m in, what’s the food taste like, etc. and try to put myself in my character’s position and see how I would work through a situation. 

For the story I wrote, The Long Way Home, I was actually one of the last (not the last, thankfully) authors to finally turn something in. I was having trouble putting myself into the space ship but then I decided to step away from it and just focus on something entirely different. But I kept my character, Nereus Thanatos, in the back of my mind and when I was completing a science experiment with my students—we were doing flame tests and seeing the reactions of magnesium in hydrochloric acid, it was then that an idea sparked. As soon as my class ended, I pulled out my laptop and I started writing and nearly wrote the entire story in one sitting. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share?

People often talk about being blocked as writers. I’d like to give my take on that. When a scene isn’t working and I feel… blocked… I take a break. I do something completely different like take the dog for a walk, go for a bike ride, or get in my car and drive on some country roads. I let the story linger a little bit and I think about it in my head but I try not to focus on it too much. When I sit back down, I reread the scene and I go back to the scene before I got blocked and I cut it out. I don’t delete it, just put it in a doc called “deleted scene’s” and I try to rewrite with a different POV or a different character because I wasn’t really blocked to begin with… I just didn’t have a good idea of where I was going in the first place. Most likely because I didn’t outline. I used to be a full-on pantser (write by the seat of my pants) and refused to use outlines but I’d often find I’d lose steam partway through; and that was because I had no idea of where I wanted my characters to go. So, now I start with my ending or at least a vague idea of how I want it to end and then I work backwards to see how I can make that happen. 

 

Phebe Yawson

What was your favorite part of working on Under New Suns?

Joining a new family and gaining awesome writer friends. Feeling like there’s this bottomless wealth of information I can tap into because everyone is so knowledgeable. I’ve never written Sci-Fi and everyone was so willing to help. Definitely some of the most fun of 2020.

Under New Suns challenged me and I learned so much. We created a world. Everyone came together during the world’s ugliest times and made something incredible. Covid didn’t destroy us, politics didn’t hinder us, Under New Suns a brand new world was made.

What makes an imagined world come to life for you personally?

The details given. Sounds. Colors. Expressions. Each writer has their own personality that made a very vivid world with witty, strong, beautifully flawed characters that made each story feel so possible. 

Any other advice or words you’d like to share

Don’t be afraid to dream or be more than what’s expected even from yourself. Keep reaching the stars are waiting for you.

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