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, Valerie J. Mikles – Valerie loves dancing, writing, astronomy, sci-fi, and grapes. She’s agender, aromantic, and asexual, and even though her labels describe many things she is not, her motto in life is “I can be everything I want, just not all at the same time.”
Thanks so much, Valerie, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: What do you do if you get a brilliant idea at a bad time?
Valerie J. Mikles: I write it down. The only way to get it out of my head so that I can get back to focusing on what I should be doing is to write it down. I’ll open up a google doc, I’ll scribble something down in a notebook, I’ll pull over the car and write on the back of a receipt. If it’s the middle of the night and I don’t want to turn a light on, I’ll go to my whiteboard and scribble there, or I’ll write stuff in the dark on the notepad next to my bed. The trick is to be big and spaced out, so you can still read it in the morning. I don’t ever use voice memo or try to record myself, because hearing it aloud completely dissolves the ideas.
JSC: What inspired you to write this particular story? What were the challenges in bringing it to life?
VJM: This actually evolved from a short story I wrote for my writer’s group. It had Amber and Jenise, the concept of astral projection, and the telepathic antagonist. I knew right away that Amber needed to run away from Highmere and find Gentau Valley. I knew her sister would go with her. The challenging part was to show the reader in the beginning that she had something to lose. I wanted the reader to see inside of Highmere.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book? If so, discuss them.
VJM: Once I went from short story to novel, I knew I wanted my lead to be aromantic/asexual and also touch-averse. There’s this big misconception that if you just hug someone, they’ll feel the love, and I wanted to show a person for whom that’s not true. I also wanted to show how she feels and expresses love. This isn’t something where by the end of the book, she’s “cured” and gives someone a hug. Representing asexual characters in media is something I’ve been doing for a while. I actually produced a web series called Aces, and you can watch my comedy shorts free on youtube. If you go to my web page, the ‘about me’ section has a link to that. http://www.valeriejmikles.com
Also, in this book, I use gender-neutral xie/xir pronouns. This is both for the non-binary characters, and for the characters for whom Amber doesn’t know their gender yet. The notion is that in this future society, gender isn’t assumed. It’s decided and announced by the individual. I also use the salutation Mx. That’s born out of a moment when I first heard someone called “Mx.” And I know that when some women get married, they get really giddy about being called Mrs. When some doctors become doctors, they get giddy about being called doctor. I never got giddy about doctor, but the first time I heard Mx, it made me happy. It made me feel like I would be happier if people called me Mx instead of Ms. And so I wrote a book where people get to choose their pronouns. Nothing is assumed or assigned.
JSC: Tell us one thing about them that we don’t learn from the book, the secret in their past.
VJM: Amber didn’t used to have gendered pronouns. She took them on when her mother died, and she stepped into the role. The therapy that she was forced through was more about appearing content than becoming content, and this was part of it. At one point in the book, she says she wishes she hadn’t done that. If I do a sequel, I really want her to stand up for herself in this regard. And she’ll have to face the fact that the people outside Highmere will accept her if she uses they/their, but not xie/xir. So it’ll be interesting.
JSC: Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
VJM: I have a day job that pays the bills, though by hour, I probably spend just as much time writing as I do at my day job. I’m a scientist by day. I was an astronomer, and now I work on weather satellites. I love being a scientist, and I love learning about science. I think it really helps bring life to my writing. In this book, we get to see both a telescope observatory and launch a weather satellite. If I had majored in writing, I wouldn’t be bringing that kind of personal know-how to my writing. Having the job I do is a great way to stay informed and foster curiosity.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (it any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
VJM: I’ve always been on stage with theater and dance. I would be choreographing a musical right now, but the lockdown has led to a lot of cancellations. In December, I took up the ukulele, and I have a youtube channel of some of the songs I’ve recorded. If you go to my author web page, in the ‘about me’ section, there’s a link to that an all my other side hobbies. http://www.valeriejmikles.com
JSC: How do you combine all the different worlds of your life in your works?
VJM: I remember that my characters are multi-faceted too. They’ve had more than one job. They may not be experts in everything or anything. They don’t just have a religion, they have a history of beliefs. They have hobbies. They suffer depression.
I definitely like to do discovery writing. I write the cute scenes and the soft scenes. Most become deleted scenes, but they tell me about my characters’ hobbies. When I’m stuck on a story, I throw two characters in the kitchen and see what comes up. I see what they share. I learn who they are.
JSC: How does the world end?
VJM: The human race falls on a sword of stupidity, but people fought for the right to carry that sword. The Earth ends with the expansion of the sun when it enters the red giant phase and takes out the whole inner solar system. I’m pretty sure we’re going to kill ourselves before we figure out how to blow up a planet, so the sun gets that prize.
JSC: Star Trek or Star Wars? Why?
VJM: Star Trek. The perspective is more utopic and a lot more of the story lines revolve around saving people. You get to explore different cultures, both human and non-human. Also, I’d just rather spend my fantasy time on a spaceship or a space station.
JSC: What are you working on now?
VJM: Everything. In addition to getting The Qinali Virus out to the world, I’m editing Premonitions: The New Dawn Book 7, and I’m drafting a new stand-alone, tentatively titled Lost in Transit. The ultimate message of the New Dawn series is that there is hope for tomorrow. Every new dawn is a new chance to make things right.
And now for Valerie’s new book: The Qinali Virus:
Rage. Poverty. Disease.
They’re gone. Every last one.
The cost was great. The population has been devastated. But for the survivors, utopia has arrived.
Then the suspicious death of a young person forces Amber to question her world like she never has before. The Contentedness Council is after her, determined to protect their perfect society. Now Amber must unbury her city’s repressed past, expose the crimes that led to their utopia, and find a way to stop the Council from killing the world… again.
Join astral-projecting asexual Amber and her telepathic sister as they fight to save the human race from extermination!
Jenise gasped. “Don’t do it.”
“Don’t call for help?” Amber asked, setting the tablet aside. “This is an astral injury. Maybe someone back home can help you.”
“No, please,” Jenise whimpered.
Amber felt her body vibrating and heard a ringing in her ears. The world became hazy and she saw her physical body collapsed on the ground. She hadn’t moved, and when she reached to the side, her hands passed through everything. This was how her book had described the astral plane.
“I did it! I’m here,” she squealed. Then she saw Jenise lying on the ground. A needle-like splinter pierced Jenise’s brain, and her aura seemed to ooze from the wound.
“Oh, this… this is bad…” Amber stammered, gathering the oozing essence back toward Jenise. Her hand went right through the glowing ooze and Jenise’s body. “How can I help you if I can’t touch you? What did the book say?”
“She’s coming for me,” Jenise murmured. Her physical form twitched, the red welts spreading as the needle dug deeper into her brain. Amber tried to clamp Jenise’s chin, but Jenise’s body passed through hers, so she grabbed the needle, and suddenly Jenise went still. She saw the needle because Jenise had described the needle. It was a manifestation of an injury; not a physical injury.
“I can manipulate a manifestation,” Amber murmured. Moving gingerly, Amber extracted the needle from her sister’s brain, and Jenise started to scream.
“Do you want me to stop?” Amber asked. Jenise kept screaming, oblivious to the question.
Gritting her teeth, Amber removed more of the needle, and her sister’s essence gushed from the wound. Amber blew gently on the oozing liquid and it seemed to dissolve into her sister’s skin. Once the needle was out, she molded her hands around her sister’s head, trying to close the wound. Her hands kept passing through Jenise’s skull, making her twitch. Amber didn’t like astral surgery, and she hoped she was helping.
“They’re coming,” Jenise murmured, her hands flailing, passing through Amber’s astral body. She felt her form vibrate and a ringing sound filled her ears.
“No. No, I’m not finished!” Amber cried, feeling an anchor pulling her back to her physical form. She curled into a fetal position, fighting to get back to the astral plane.
Jenise rolled onto her side and spooned behind Amber. “We have to run,” she rasped. “Someone’s coming.”
“Who? Is it Parey? Someone from the Council?” Amber asked. Amber heard the truck now, its wheels crushing the dirt and gravel as it came down the road from Highmere.
“I can’t tell,” Jenise rasped. “Don’t give up, Amber. Don’t go back.”
Amber sensed Jenise’s urgency, but when she saw the truck, she felt relieved. Running meant more isolation and uncertainty. What if Jenise wasn’t really better? Going back to Highmere made sense.
“Let’s go home,” Amber said. “You were scared, Jenise. We were scared. We can say… I don’t know. They’ll give us counseling and then we can go back to our lives.”
“I don’t want to go to brainwashing therapy,” Jenise said.
“Stop calling it that,” Amber explained.
“You don’t even know, do you?” Jenise said. “You don’t remember how you were before Cenn died. What “therapy” did to you.”
“It helped,” Amber insisted, looking hopefully at the truck ambling toward them. “I was a mess. I needed to be able to talk to someone without dumping it on all of you.”
“But you stopped feeling,” Jenise argued. “Not just the grief; you stopped feeling joy. You used to make twittering noises when you read books. You used to get so excited about things that Cenn had to sit you down so you wouldn’t pass out.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ll be calm,” Amber said, fighting for a reason to trust her people. “They want the tablet with Chenna’s research. That’s all this is. A misunderstanding.”
“I was almost misunderstood to death!” Jenise cried, kicking at Amber, and rolling out of reach.
“Jenise, unless you can move, we can’t outrun them,” Amber said. “I am not leaving without you. I—oh, no.”
The stress of the argument made her dizzy and she dropped to her knees. A moment later, she was standing by the road, watching the truck roll by. Her voice caught in her throat, but she didn’t need to call out. The husky man in the passenger seat saw her and hollered, and the truck screeched to a stop. She recognized him from the Council—Tobin Wauld.
“I know we’re not supposed to be here. We’re scared. Can you take us home?” she asked. The weight of fear lifted for a moment, but then Wauld hoisted himself out the window, and drew a long-barreled weapon.
“Well, well, Discontent Delouise. This was too easy,” he smirked.
Amber’s lips quivered and her legs froze. She’d never seen a weapon like that in Highmere, but she’d seen them in that zombie movie. Run, you idiot, her brain shouted. She’d muttered it at the characters in the movies often enough.
He shot Amber with an orange-tipped weapon as he stalked past. She felt the sting of the puncture and a thin stream of liquid dripping into her astral form.
“Tobin, you shot her!” his companion cried.
“We came with tranqs for a reason. We don’t have time to argue with discontents,” Wauld said.
Amber still couldn’t believe a councilperson had shot her. Pretending to faint, she turned and dropped, rolling down the embankment. The moment the truck was out of sight, she willed herself back to her physical body.
“How’d it go?” Jenise asked.
“They shot me,” Amber said. Her whole body was trembling from adrenaline and she could feel the spread of the tranquilizer dart pushing against it.
“Misunderstanding?” Jenise taunted.
“Oh, no. Very clear,” Amber said, blinking away the spots in her vision. She had never experienced violence in Highmere, and she didn’t even know her people had dart guns. The feelings of shock and betrayal hit her in waves, as did a profound sense of loss. This wasn’t a short camping trip that ended with a meek return home anymore.
Valerie loves dancing, writing, astronomy, sci-fi, and grapes. She’s agender, aromantic, and asexual, and even though her labels describe many things she is not, her motto in life is “I can be everything I want, just not all at the same time.”
Although she has yet to get paid to eat grapes, she was delighted to learn that people would pay her to study black holes, and spent much of her twenties as a black hole hunter. She was rewarded with an astronomy PhD, which promptly inspired her to move to L.A. to be a screenwriter. How she ended up working on weather satellites for NOAA, we may never know.
Her passion for story-telling extends back to before she could write, and in fall 2017, she achieved a life dream and published her first book, “The Disappeared.” Valerie currently has six books published in her New Dawn series You can learn more about Valerie’s books on her website: http://www.valeriejmikles.com
An asexual activist, Valerie has written and produced a series of comedic short films featuring asexual characters. You can watch her films online at: http://www.aces-sitcom.com. Her third book ‘Trade Circle’ features an asexual protagonist, and interestingly, she created this character before she even knew there was a word to describe it. She is super-excited about the release of the Qinali Virus, featuring an asexual, aromantic astronomer (and a weather satellite for good measure).