Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today, Carmen Loup – Carmen Loup is a serious humorologist, illustrator of Tarot in Space, and author of The Audacity sci-fi series. They write technicolor fun in space for adults with a dedication to optimism and good humor that shines through even ridiculously horrible situations.
Thanks so much, Carmen, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: What do you do when you get writer’s block?
Carmen Loup: If I don’t feel like writing, I don’t. I’ve learned to treat my creativity like a gift, not a skill. I use it only in ways that bring me satisfaction, and forcing something is never satisfying. If writing isn’t flowing that day, I will switch to illustration. If illustration isn’t inspiring me, I will get out paint and canvas and do some abstract artwork or noodle around on my ukulele. Creativity should have the freedom to exist when and where it wants to be.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
CLL: Since I write for fun, I don’t put a lot of stress on myself to constantly publish. A full novel is typically begun in November for NaNo, then re-drafted the next year and polished and published the following year, so about two full years.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing Audacity?
CLL: Believe it or not, it’s quite difficult to keep the concept of a brain-eating hereditary eye fungus light and cheerful! Honestly, though, I love creating extremely fucked-up situations and then putting characters with an unquenchable sense of humor through them. The more contrast the better. I lean into the horror side of science fiction fairly heavily to contrast my soft, laid-back style.
JSC: What secondary character would you like to explore more? Tell me about them.
CLL: Aimz is absolutely ready to kill for her own novel, but she’s a mess of a Tuhntian and I don’t want to have to try to make her inner world understandable to a human reader! August is likely best suited to a spin-off. August and the two enormous alien geniuses he’s in a sort of poly-relationship with as he opens the only intergalactic apple orchard. That’s some interesting stuff.
JSC: Who has been your favorite character to write and why?
CLL: Xan absolutely spills out of me. He’s an overtalker; he loves language and he loves the sound of his own voice so he just goes for it. The hard part is getting him to calm down and let some plot points sneak through his meandering anecdotes.
JSC: What was the weirdest thing you had to Google for your story?
CLL: Carmnian’s don’t do anything in a way which is practical or logical from our standpoint. For example, rather than use metric (intergalactic standard, of course), they weigh things in comparison to crawfish and because of this, I had to figure out how many crawfish are in the average pound. Aim weighs about 4,000 crawfish.
JSC: Let’s talk to your characters for a minute – what’s it like to work for such a demanding writer?
May: Carmen works for us. I honestly would rather just be left alone, but Xan’s an attention whore.
Xan: Ehh, it’s true. I mean, I don’t need to be the center of attention all the time, but it’s nice to feel needed, you know? Besides, these are interesting shenanigans we’re getting into, it’s got to be recorded, right? May hates it. The narration really spooks her. May, you’re hating this, aren’t you?
May: It’s not right. I’m all for self-awareness, but this is crossing a boundary.
Xan: It’s not a boundary, it’s a wall! The fourth wall. And nothing bad happens if you cross it, I promise. Well, zuut, come to think of it several bad things have happened to us. I don’t think it’s a cause-and-effect sorta thing, though. Pretty sure it’s incidental bad stuff.
JSC: Are you happy with where your writer left you at the end? (don’t give us any spoilers).
Xan: Oh, well, at the end of the book, sure! Carmen’s a gem about endings. Some of the bits in the middle could’ve been avoided, and I’m not horribly keen on what we’re planning for future stories, but that’s life. It can’t be all easy. You need a bit of friction there. Can’t enjoy the good times if you don’t know they’re good.
JSC: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
CLL: I wanted to be an artist, a writer, and own a metaphysical shop, and I’ve done all of those professionally now! Retail is the most lucrative industry, of course, so I’ve allowed my art and writing to make me joy instead of money. I love having a community-centered space where people can indulge in spirituality. I teach Tarot and meditation for a living and have an incredible staff of people running the shop so I get to create, and I’m absolutely ecstatic about that.
JSC: What action would your name be if it were a verb?
CLL: CARMEN. verb. To be suddenly hit with a lightning bolt of divine inspiration to spend hours completely re-doing mediocre work until it’s immaculate. This burst will likely last 5-6 hours and will not include a break for food, water, or coffee until the task is completed. The end result will be stunning, but you will be too burnt-out to appreciate it until the next morning. Example: “Hey, yall! Do you notice I knocked out a wall, painted, and installed shelving with brand new display for all our candles last night? I Carmened hard last night.”
JSC: How does the world end?
CLL: Same as it began, but backward.
And now for Carmen’s latest book: Audacity:
May’s humdrum life is flung into hyperdrive when she’s abducted, but not all aliens are out to probe her. She’s inadvertently rescued by Xan, an “I Love Lucy” obsessed alien with the orangest rocket ship in the universe.
But you still have to eat in space, and rocket racing is a quick, if life-threatening, way to make a living.
Finally, May has a career she loves and a friend to share her winnings with. Until a Chaos goddess possessing Xan’s ex decides to start a cult on Earth and threatens to turn the planet into her den of destruction. The Audacity is the only ship fast enough to stop her, but May’s no hero. She doesn’t even particularly like Earth.
Back on Earth, May hadn’t had the time, energy, or incorrigible peers needed to engage in night life. She also was of the opinion that night was for sleeping.
She imagined what a rave must be like. Neon lights, she knew, were a necessity. Loud music was probably up there on the list of “Things to Do” when planning a rave. She supposed alcohol must be a facet, and likely some sort of illicit or at least dubious substances with vague names like “Jazz” and “Kablam” would be passed around and smoked or snorted or licked—she wasn’t sure how exactly people were ingesting their drugs nowadays. She imagined people sweat a lot during such an event and that sweat would probably get on her.
This party, she surmised, was something like a rave. Or at least something like what someone who’d never been to a rave thought a rave might be.
There were, however, a great deal more noodles than your typical rave could boast.
Scantily clad, if indeed clad at all, individuals lounged about the perimeter of the bar and fed each other noodles from red plastic cups. The noodles were not, as one might imagine, anything special. They looked like rice noodles because they were. As it turns out, Earthlings and their close cousins the Panseen are the only sentient beings in the Universe who can digest gluten. And, even then, it’s not an easy feat. Rice noodles are inter-galactically popular.
These noodles, like the noodle that tempted Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, had a dastardly secret.
Xan loudly sucked air in between his clenched teeth at the sight of them. “Alrighty so whatever you do, do not–”
A creature that wasn’t so much a human as she was an upright gazelle draped a long rice noodle over Xan’s nose and gave him a slow blink so intense her long eyelashes waved like a flag. He stiffened, his eyes crossing as they looked at the offending string of gluten-free pasta.
“Don’t eat the noodles,” he whispered to May, plucking the noodle from his nose and returning it to her with a forced smile. The gazelle thing snorted her indignation, grabbed the noodle from him, and spun away to look for better pickings.
“Aw, you hurt her feelings,” May teased. “What’s wrong with the noodles?”
“Oh, nothing, I’m sure they’re great! It’s just–” Another noodle lassoed his nose. Looking down, May saw a short, greenish, mustachioed being holding the other end of the noodle.
Xan cringed in a way that might be read as a smile to someone with a degenerative eye disease and slipped his nose from the noose of the noodle.
“They’re hallucinogenic and,” he paused as a beautiful purple woman slung a noodle over May’s shoulder. “Aphrodisiacal.” Xan finished as he plucked the noodle from her shoulder and returned it to the rebuked Rhean with an apologetic shake of his head.
May tried not to laugh as more noodles propositioned them. “This is where the gambling happens, then?”
“Yep. In the Noodle Bar. You’re not going to have any issues wagering me here,” he said, now draped with so many noodles he looked like a tired, tinsel covered Christmas tree.
She nodded and a noodle slid from her hair.
They shimmied through the throngs until they reached the bar, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts.
The multi-limbed, over-eyed, red-skinned woman who worked the bar slung cups of noodles to voracious customers as if she were a machine built for that express purpose.
“Uh, hello! We’ve got a wager to put up. Where do we-”
“Eat,” said the woman, slinging a red cup in their direction.
“Oh, alright.” He tipped the cup back and swallowed the nest of noodles whole.
“Whoa! So, you can eat them, but I can’t?” May asked.
“I’m used to them! They don’t really have any effect on me anymore. I would prefer it, however,” he looked at her warily, “if you stopped metamorphosing into a sexy avant-garde lamp.”
“I’ll try,” she said, shaking her lamp shade at him, tassels flying.