Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Author Interview: Tullio Pontecorvo

Hello all, and welcome to this month's author interview! Today, I'm excited to host Tullio Pontecorvo! He believes the greatest virtue of speculative fiction is the Socratic exercise. Suppose blank: what are your choices, and your beliefs? A good speculative story can tell you more about yourself as a reader than about the author who crafted it, because it doesn’t beat you on the head with a stick. It confronts you with a complex situation akin to those we face in every day real life. And that’s what Tullio's writing is all about.

Tabitha: Hey, Tullio, thanks for being here! To start us off, what are you currently working on?

Tullio: Hello Tabitha! Thanks for starting this with a bang. My main WIP is a sci fi novel set in an alternate present. This present is the result of WW2 ending on white peace that allowed all major combatants to survive, and led to a fractured, multipolar international order. Throw in an alien invasion that is not really what it seems, and a wide cast of characters of different ideologies that need to learn how to work together in order to uncover mysteries far bigger than humanity, and you've pretty much got my vision on paper. I'm nearing first draft completion. If you want to wish me luck, I'm going to need it.

Tabitha: Nice! And, good luck! What made you decide this was the story you want to tell?

Tullio: Well, I discovered it more than decided it, because I'm a pantser at heart. I write into the dark. Now having said that... stories are just models of our reality. They may be less refined than the ones built by scientific endeavors, philosophical analyses and so on, but they retain great power. They've been with us since night fire gatherings and remain with us because they have the power to convey and explain reality in scale, in bites that we can consume. Of course, you lose accuracy with every model, and that's why they're stories. I suppose I wanted to paint a world where the only alternative to learning to coexist with people you despise is failure and death; how that leads to the famous "human heart in conflict with itself"; and how complex the narrative becomes when the geopolitical and personal elements intersect.

Tabitha: Stories as models sounds very compelling, but how does that tie in to your personal experiences?

Tullio: That's the gist of it, isn't it? I do believe that as a writer, you codify your experiences into your own words. Art, politics, love, any place you might have seen or person chance met, every nightmare that woke you up at night... when I sit at the keyboard, it all bleeds on the page. Writing, really, is a way of talking: you're imposing form upon the chaos of your thoughts, moulding them into something that you can communicate. This isn't about creating an approximate model of reality, but making other people understand how you feel. And, perhaps, share the feelings with you!

Tabitha: Were there any individual works that helped influence all of this vision along the way?

Tullio: This might sound funny, but most of the other inspirations belong to the visual arts. Some of them are movies like von Trier's Europa, Alien, or Blade Runner. There are several videogames in there too: Mass Effect obviously, but also the Talos Principle, XCOM, Deus Ex... too many to count.

Tabitha: Yesssss. I always love talking to other Mass Effect fans. Videogames are very valid inspirations, in my opinion. To close us out, do you have any advice for readers who are starting out their writing journey?

Tullio: One lesson I learned earlier on: Do not fret over what story might sell, at least not at the beginning. Making a work commercial is nothing to be frowned upon - I do it myself - but it's one thing to have a keen eye for the market, and another to turn writing into a chore. That's not going to win you anything. All the rules you learn, especially when you join critique groups, are there to steer you in the right direction, not to become religious prescriptions, and a good writer also learns with experience when to break them and how. Just write the story you're burning to write, the story you fell in love with. Then you go back and diagnose it with whatever analytical tool you think works best for your work.

Tabitha: Insightful advice, Tullio! Thanks again for your time, and best of luck with your writing!

Readers! To find out more about Tullio, you can check out his blog and his facebook page! You can also jump on over to Earth Island Journal to read an article he wrote under a pen name.

Tullio Pontecorvo is an aspiring science fiction author. He studies political science and international relations, and is currently working on a near-future sci-fi novel that explores the relationship between the individual and the ideological in a complex geopolitical environment. He’s also a freelance journalist.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Fav Five Fiction 2016

Well everyone else gets to do one of these things so I thought: gee, I’m a subpar D-list writer with a blog, why don't I write a top arbitrary number of fiction picks from 2016?! And so here I am to share the things I like to consume when I’m not busy writing or kicking myself for not writing the things I hope others will consume. Except all these things won’t be made in 2016, they’ll just be fiction I happened to pick up in 2016. See, my list comes with an unprecedented, highly uninteresting twist. In some blogs, you pay extra for that.

Yes, this year I just managed to stumble upon my first full episode of the Twilight Zone, so my escapist consumption is a little behind the times. These top five favs of mine are just stories I really enjoyed over the year, but they might not have been released in 2016. And hey, that’s fine. I never claimed to be hip.

Game of Thrones, Season 6

(MASSIVE spoilers in this section. You've been warned.) While I did not discover GoT in 2016, I was one of those people who planned a Westeros themed dinner the night of season 6's first airing.

I've had a love/hate relationship with the show since the beginning. One week, I'd be caught up in the master storytelling and depth of character, and the next I'd be reeling over Sansa Stark's rape or the audacity of GRRM in offing Oberyn. I mean you can only kill off so many of my favorite characters before I threaten to stop watching and then begrudgingly stumble back, like a bratty two-year-old on a dessert strike because there's vanilla in the freezer instead of chocowate.

The point is, I’m a junkie, and sometimes vanilla is better than no ice cream at all.

While season 6 had its fair share of torturous deaths I wish I would have seen coming so I could have been spared the temporary lockjaw, I felt the season overall had a sort of je ne sais quois. It could have been the part where dogs bit off Ramsey’s face, or how tragic Rickon’s evasive strategies were, or even the resulting rage in Jon’s heart as he rocked the battlefield outside of Winterfell. Looking at those points, maybe I just really liked “Battle of the Bastards.”

But combine that with the thrilling conclusion of the Sparrow story line (plus all the Overwatch Play of the Game jokes that came with it), the meetup of Daenerys and the Greyjoys, and the huge fleet of Dothraki sailing to Westeros, and the whole season left me wanting more. Desperately. More than any season before it. And so it would be my luck that season 7 is releasing later than normal this year, but I will be here, patiently planning my next Westeros feast.

We Are the Ants
I don’t often read contemporary fiction. Truth be told, escaping into worlds where there are jetpacks and aliens and sometimes swords of either the steel or laser variety is just more exciting than being reminded of Earth, where there are hate crimes, and Trump, and raisins.

It’s therefore a little ironic that the thing which drew me to this stunning work of YA fiction was it’s sci-fi premise: a teenager is given access to a button, which if he presses, will save the entire planet. Else, the world will meet certain doom. Halfway through, I realized the book was more about teenagers with mental health issues navigating romance and high school than it was about aliens, but the small sci-fi element provided a whimsical backdrop to a tale drenched in the reality of depression and moving on from a loved one’s death.

It also stands among the favorites on my list of LGBT+ fiction where the sexuality and/or identity of the protagonist is incidental. While stories of coming out and facing adversity are necessary, I believe it’s also necessary to see oneself represented in leading roles where identity is never in question or oppressed. It’s normalizing, and enforces that people like myself who fall on the LGBT+ spectrum can and do have stories beyond the scope of who they like to sleep with.

The Abyss Surrounds Us

Also at the top of my LGBT+ fiction stack is The Abyss Surrounds Us. Because pirates. And sea monsters. And kickass girls who kiss. I almost feel like this book doesn’t need any more explanation than that, but if I must, it felt like a spiritual successor to Pacific Rim. It had drugs and sex and ships battling it out on the ocean. It had moments where I could smell the salty sea or hear the rumblings of beasties. On top of all the badassery, it worked in a careful, thoughtful conversation about consent, had a slew of diverse characters, and felt topical despite taking place in a water-washed future earth with sea monsters.

Rick and Morty

A little under a year ago, my first exposure to R&M was a post to r/videos, featuring a tiny robot who was just told his life’s purpose was passing butter.

Now Rick and Morty is my crack.

I’ve re-watched both seasons a frighteningly high number of times, constantly scrounge Youtube for the promos and fan theories, giggle at the shitposts in its subreddit, and make jokes about the show in my daily life. At least once a day, one of Rick’s many catchphrases leave mine or my husband’s mouth, like we’ve been possessed by this all-consuming, profoundly interesting, impossibly witty show.

It’s not just the catch phrases and toilet humor and the getting schwifty. Sown between the layers of comedy is a tale of a man deeply depressed and jaded with his life, told expertly alongside his anxious, Jessica-crazy grandson while on a train of adventures across space. Its dark moments are infrequent but powerful, and I am eager as all hell for season 3 to just come out already. You hear me Dan?! Justin?

Let it come out already!

All the Light We Cannot See
I’d say this was my favorite book of 2016, but in truth I think this might be one of my favorite books of all time. Now recall what I said up there about preferring my fiction fantastical or sometime sci-fantastical, and about how the real world is, well sometimes it's a little too drab for my tastes. That there has to prove how good this book is, because not only is it set in our world, it takes place during the most trying war in recent history: World War II. And I freaking love it.

The book is soul-sucking - but not in that, “I work in a 2x2 grayscale cubicle with no windows and my boss might actually be a potato” kind of soul-sucking - but in the way that it sucks your entire being into its world. Doerr’s words are straight up drugs; he weaves sentences like Heisenburg makes meth - they’re fucking perfect (and the book’s even blue).

Intertwined with the poetic prose are characters who you’ll swear you know like family by the end, events which leave you numb and questioning yourself and humanity, and a story so profound and so touching and so deeply, humanly real, that you, too, may go annoy every friend and family member you have about this book.