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.
Get Sara’s first sci fi book “Wild Card Run” free (eBook) when you join her email list: www.sarastamey.com. Book two – “Win, Lose, Draw” – comes out in July.
Today, Sara Stamey – Sara Stamey’s journeys include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean; backpacking Greece and New Zealand; operating a nuclear reactor; and owning a farm in Southern Chile. Now returned to her native Pacific Northwest, she taught creative writing at Western Washington University. A lifelong outdoors enthusiast, she shares her creekside land with wild creatures and her cat, dog, and paleontologist husband Thor Hansen.
Sara’s SF novels with Berkley/Ace made the Locus Best New Novelists list, and Publishers Weekly wrote, “Stamey puts feeling into this tale of the prodigal daughter.” The Statesman Journal calls her award-winning ISLANDS “a superior mystery and suspense novel… a stomping, vivid ride.” Her near-future Greek islands thriller THE ARIADNE CONNECTION has received the Cygnus Award for speculative fiction and the Chanticleer Global Thriller Grand Prize. “THE ARIADNE CONNECTION is a rocket-paced thrill ride that delivers complex, engaging characters in a laser-sharp plot.”
Thanks so much, Sara, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Sara Stamey: From an early age, I drove my family crazy on car rides, as I reported every detail of my colorful dreams. As soon as I learned to write, I “authored” science fiction stories with illustrations, and when I played the card game “Authors” with my Grandma Sara, I decided I would be an author, too. It took many more years before I felt satisfied that I was anywhere near “good.”
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
SS: I face a big challenge when trying to pin down my genre, at least for marketing purposes. My early writing was clearly science fiction, but as I move along, I increasingly cross genre boundaries by incorporating speculative, mythic, and paranormal elements into mainstream structures. What interests me now is researching the culture and mythology of different countries where I’ve spent extended periods, and using those as inspiration for novels set in “exotic” locales with elements of magic realism or near-future speculation.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
SS: My first published novel, the science fiction WILD CARD RUN, sprang from 3 images: First was a dream in which I was flying in dark space through a glowing grid like a huge uneven-bar set (I’m a former gymnast), grabbing the bars and spinning and soaring past the stars. I tried to capture that exhilaration for my main character, who “flew” on giant windsails on her home planet before becoming a Spacer. Second was spending three years in Eastern Washington (my only time living away from the sea) working at a nuclear reactor and taking a drive through endless wheat fields like those in the novel. Third was a photo of a Mormon family with a patriarch, three wives of different ages, and a rebellious-looking son. I wondered what that scenario would be like if the genders were switched, and my polyandrous world was born! Now I just had to add a threat from controlling Cyber entities, then a rebellious spy, and I was off and running….
JSC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done in the name of research?
SS: Not so much weird (though I’ve done plenty of that) as unexpected: When I was researching to create my character of an energy healer for THE ARIADNE CONNECTION, I stumbled upon an experiential-shamanism course at the university where I was finishing up my graduate degree. Studying with the anthropologist-shaman and continuing longterm with these ancient practices opened my “doors of perception” in major ways.
JSC: Have you ever taken a trip to research a story? Tell me about it.
SS: Several trips to Greece made the THE ARIADNE CONNECTION possible. I need to have boots, or sandals, or bare feet on the ground in order to bring life to settings. Sojourns in the Caribbean, where I was a scuba divemaster and guide, inspired other writing, as well as homesteading in Southern Chile. I guess you could say I’m a junkie for new places and experiences!
JSC: What is your writing Kryptonite?
SS: As I warned my writing students, don’t let that nasty Internal Editor tie you up in knots during early drafts! Just get the ideas onto the page, then keep moving.
JSC: Do you ever base your characters on real people? If so, what are the pitfalls you’ve run into doing so?
SS: I have taken bits of real-life people to flesh out characters, but they generally end up becoming very different individuals. A test will be of a recent novel I’ve written that draw on my own life. In it, I transform some real people into characters, and the source might be recognizable to readers who know me. I’m not sure how I will deal with that, if I publish it.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
SS: I do read them, as I can learn things if I don’t obsess! The good ones give a great boost in this solitary work. I would regard the bad ones as written by people who got the facts wrong or had an ax to grind, and I try not to pout. No point responding!
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
SS: That’s all over the map, depending on other things going on in my life.
JSC: Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
SS: My ideas chose me, so I just go with the inspiration and try to figure out the marketing later! Probably not the most practical approach, but I need to love what I’m doing.
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantster?
SS: Both! Different stages call for different approaches.
JSC: What are you working on now?
SS: THE ARIADNE DISCONNECT, Book 2 in the 3-book planned Ariadne series. More near-future complications of the pandemic, geomagnetic reversal, the Disconnect Movement to resist the control of Corporations-as-Government, and more trips down the rabbit-hole of NeuroLinking addiction. Plus complicated relationships. And more gorgeous Greek island settings, which naturally have requires more research trips. Stay tuned!
And now for Sara’s latest book: The Ariadne Connection:
Journey to the Crossroads of Science and Myth:
The New Leprosy pandemic and a geomagnetic reversal threaten the world’s precarious balance. Jaded American veteran Peter Mitchell agrees to smuggle “Saint” Ariadne Demodakis to sacred sites in the Greek islands, where she seeks to confirm a connection between the pandemic, geologic upheavals, and mythic lore that promises healing for humans and the planet.
He scoffs until he witnesses her curing plague victims with her touch. As they’re pursued by terrorist Sons of the Prophet, mercenaries, and a cult of warrior women, Peter will need all his wits and weapons to deliver Ariadne to Delphi—to the ancient Navel of Gaea—where the only hope for humanity’s survival is to reset the compass of the world.
Geomagnetic palsy hit the satellite navigation again.
Peter Mitchell scowled at the rebellious LEDs and the radar static, rubbed his chin stubble, and watched the compass in its plexiglas bubble dip and spin aimless as an oracle. It was built-in and he hadn’t seen any point to removing it. Anyway he liked it, part of the old bucket of bolts, like the crude mermaid some forgotten seaman had painted inside Nereid’s wheelhouse.
He pulled off his shades, rubbed bleary eyes, and squinted into morning-after sunlight over the purple-blue Aegean. The “wine-dark sea.”
With a groan, he groped for his binoculars and scanned, wincing at the sun dazzles. Was that a distant froth of boat wake? A border patrol? Or worse? He shook his head—all he could see now was glare. He lowered the lenses and fumbled through a bundle of old paper charts. More solar flares were hitting, amplified in effect by a geomagnetic null phase, garbling navigation signals. All the satellite systems getting damn shaky. And with the accelerating geomag field wobbles, the communications blocs weren’t bothering to maintain the satellite grid, so the gaps even during stable intervals were getting bigger. A lot of useless junk in decaying orbits up there. Like the “Peace Shields” the Reds and Feds had sucked their budgets to launch.
Scanning the charts and his scribbled updates, he snorted. Big boys had their horns clipped now, down to ground level with the rest just trying to read the maps. Momma Earth not a hell of a prize any more, what with the pollution and global warming, rising sea levels, quakes, ozone holes, and solar radiation showers—not to mention the human hordes on self-destruct.
Fire and brimstone. Retribution? Daddy Reverend righteous-right after all?
Peter shrugged. Looked like nobody, meek or not, was going to inherit. Just keep paying the price of progress right along with one of the geomagnetic polar alignment reversals that had maybe happened last time to herald the Flood. This time it was a new pandemic, Rapid-Proliferating Hansen’s—leprosy on fast-forward. He’d seen them go, like the guy at the shipyard. You start with a rash, some bumpy “sunburn blisters,” and the next thing you know your fingers are just lumps, your face a horrorshow blob choking the breath out of you. No cure in sight.
On the plus side, the powers that be were too busy to worry about one Peter Mitchell, “freelance import expediter” and NorthAm AWOL from the latest un-greatest war, or a missing Turkish spy boat dressed down as a fishing trawler, impounded during that same illustrious Gulf War Three. All things considered, he was sitting pretty to watch the world go to hell in a handbasket.
A lopsided grin cracked his stubble. He checked the radio and radar again—still nothing but static. Could be anything out there, he was cruising blind. And he couldn’t shake the itchy feel of something closing in, a sort of useful sixth sense from his Navy days, much as he hated to admit it. Unrolling another chart, he swore, then leaned down to rummage in the console cubby for the right tube. He straightened, clipping his head hard against the wheel. “Son of a bitch!”
He slammed the cubby closed, flinching as the clatter tromped spike-shod through his hangover. Frowning at the nav readouts, he popped the heel of his hand against the tried and true spot on the console. Gauge needles jumped, but the digitals kept up their drunken dance.
Clutching the charts and a coffee bulb, he left the wheelhouse, sucked in a fresh salty lungful, and hauled himself up the ladder to the flying bridge. He nudged its wheel, dropped into the pilot seat, pulled off his shades and lifted closed eyes to the morning sun already simmering. He stifled another groan and rubbed his throbbing temples. Reaching for the fifth-liter in its handy slot, he thought better of it, took a sip from the lukewarm coffee, and made a face.
Peter grasped the wheel. “Captain Mitchell surveys his domain.”
Up here on Nereid’s bridge, bathed in light shimmering over the distant stark-stone islands of the Cyclades and skimming closer above the purple-blue depths, he could almost forget looming Doomsday. These islands had been honed to the bare bones for centuries. They’d somehow gone beyond time and change, despite the recent earthquake and volcanic upheavals rearranging map contours, like they’d survive anything mere humans could throw at them.
He peered edgily from his chart to an approaching scatter of bare islets. Hadn’t taken this route in years, not since the big Number Three. Most of the old drifting mines, at least, had been cleared out by pukes like himself—ex-puke—but he didn’t like running unknown waters without his depth-sounder. The geomagnetic fluctuations screwed up more than just radio transmissions. Right now, they were getting one of the unstable shifts to null in the global field, as the north and south poles wavered in and out or split into random islands of magnetic charge. Played hell with fine-tuned circuits. And he wasn’t in the mood to appreciate the irony that advances in nanocircuitry miniaturization had come just in time to make the electronics even more vulnerable to the electromagnetic field pollution.
He studied the chart, made a course correction, and stood to scan 360 with his binoculars. No sign of border patrols. Or pirates. Or Sons of the Prophet.
He sat, drumming his fingers, still keyed up. Too easy. So why look a gift horse? If he couldn’t monitor the patrol radio bands, they couldn’t get spotter reports on him. Maybe he’d make it clear. He leaned back, riding the dip and surge over low swells as the twin diesels hummed high. The sea glimmered around him, breeze freshening, sky gem-clear. Off to starboard, toward one of the rock islets, a gleaming curve broke the surface, then two finned backs—dolphins, breaching in a burst of spray.
Despite his jitters, Peter smiled. Greek sailors counted them good luck. He just liked to see them around, liked to cruise in the midst of a rough-and-tumble of sleek dolphins riding Nereid’s bow wake, grinning up at him. No hate or fear in their eyes, laughing through it all at the lunacies of Homo sapiens.
He wanted to believe the islands and the dolphins would survive after all the wars and warriors were long gone. Somehow he needed to believe that something beautiful and pure would outlast human stupidity. His own Noble Quest had certainly been a roaring farce.
Another leap, a splash, and the dolphins were gone. Peter shook his head, checked the radio and radar. Still no go. His fingers drummed on the armrests. He took another look at the chart, tempted to veer off on a shorter course, but that would put him right through a recent pirate hotspot.
Damn. He wanted to get this run over and done with, gold standard stashed in the kitty, maybe invest in an engine upgrade for a little more edge, and thank you ma’am Kali nichte Good-bye.
He blew out a breath and leaned over the spray shield to peer down through the forward deck’s open hatch to the bunks.
His client was still sleeping. Pricey fantasy material for certain tastes, the pale, coltish limbs and blond tousle so fair it was almost white. A delicate blue artery pulsing beneath her firm little chin. Face half-hidden, smoothed out in dream, the only hint of color in barely parted pouty lips. And dark-smudged lids hiding the feral glitter of her eyes. Even asleep, she screamed Trouble.
Peter shook his head, gripping the wheel. Sunlight on the swells pulsed hypnotically, rippling through him like the high of the night before….
Taverna Georgios. Smoke and drunken splashes of light from antique neon signs washed over dim faces and scratched plastic tabletops. The insistent beat of bouzouki, Greek sailors on weekend leave dancing and tossing plates onto the floor. Peter and his drinking buddy Chen laughed as off-duty barmaid Viv shouted dirty jokes over the ruckus.
“—didn’t tell him he got the wrong end.”
Peter groaned. “Jesus, where do you dredge them up?”
“She’s an Amazon.” Chen raised his glass to her.
Viv punched him. “Lay off that.”
Chen reached over to lift the crystal pendant hanging above her cleavage, turning it to display the little plasticized portrait of Saint Ariadne, the trendy new Gaea Incarnate who was supposedly healing RIP-leprosy by laying on hands. Could have been any young Greek girl—braided dark hair, straight nose, level brows over wide-set eyes. Nobody had recent photos, so maybe she was just an urban myth, like the scattered “sightings” and miracle cures.