Interview 109, The Guns Above Author, Robyn Bennis, Conclusion

Welcome back for the conclusion of our talk with Robyn Bennis, author of The Guns Above.

Read part one here.

Read part two here.


Airship Ambassador: What kind of reader are you?

Robyn Bennis: I’m the kind of reader who needs to connect to a character early, or I’m out. In fact, that’s about the only problem that can get me to put down a book before I’m finished. A book can be boring, predictable, queerphobic, or even commit that most heinous of sins, getting the science wrong, and I’ll usually power through it anyway. Just don’t give me characters I’m ambivalent about.

AA: Boredom is a turn off, in so many things. How have things changed for you from your earliest writing experience to being published?

RB: Well, it’s turned from absolute crap to worthy of a published novel with a glowing Kirkus review and a starred Library Journal review. I’m sure there were more subtle changes along the way, but if I went back to look for them in my old stuff, I might throw up.


AA: Letting sleeping dogs lie is the best policy, sometimes. What have been the most useful skills to learn in your journey as a writer?

RB: Realistic and honest self-critique is, by far, the hardest to learn and most useful skill I possess. Being able to look at a sentence, a scene, a chapter, and assess whether it’s working is invaluable. Being able to do it without worrying that my vanity or imposter syndrome is clouding my judgement is what brought my writing to the next level. Mind you, it took a couple decades to master.


AA: One slow day at a time. What story would you like to write but haven’t, yet?

RB: Holy crap, I could make a list of them so long it would crash the website, so I’ll limit this to the idea that’s been rattling around my brainpan the most over the past few months. I’d like to write a far-future space opera that hews as close as possible to our current understanding of physics. I’m sure other authors have done this, but I’m equally sure our current understanding of physics has changed since then. I want to explore what human society looks like in such a scenario. What kinds of people will go to the stars? What sorts of civilizations will they build out there?


AA: Doing so could be a wonderful groundwork of thought for actual exploration and growth. Do you get people recognizing you for The Guns Above?

RB: Thankfully, no. I’m naturally kind of a shy person, though my con friends may not always believe it. I’m happy to stay unrecognized for as long as possible.

AA: I think that will resonate strongly with many readers. If you weren’t a writer, what else would you be doing now?

RB: Let’s be honest, I’d probably be in jail.


AA: Sounds like another interview in the making right there! You’ve talked about how losing one job brought you so much closer to being a published writer. Anything else push you further along?

RB: I recently moved from Mountain View, CA to Madison, WI—stick with me here, this is going somewhere. In Mountain View, my writing had to take a back seat to biotech consulting, because that was the only way to pay the rent. In Madison, I’m a writer first and a biologist second. If people keep buying my books, I might even be able to keep that up.


AA: Aside from that writing and biology, what other interests fill your time?

RB: I’m pretty much living for my cat at the moment. His name is Dizzy, he’s lived with me for two months, he’s irredeemably weird, and I’d cut off my own arm to make him happy.


AA: Knowing cats, he’d probably begrudgingly accept your sacrifice. What is on your to-be read or watched pile right now?

RB: I’m slowly working my way through a re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Friday the 13th movies. I’m a complicated person, okay? My to-be-read pile is far too long to list and is becoming a structural threat to the apartment, but it includes Binti by Nnedi Okorafor, Doomsday Book by Connie Williams, and The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore.


AA: I was just talking to someone about the dangerous sizes of to-be-read piles. Any people have influenced you and your writing?

RB: My mother certainly motivated me to not be like her. She was a biker chick who lived hard and ran from the cops as a reflex action. By all rights, she should have been friends with Hunter S. Thompson, but unfortunately they were aligned with competing biker gangs.

AA: And now an interview opportunity with your mom! What is the best advice you’ve been given?

RB: Regarding writing, it would have to be “don’t give up.” Regarding sports, commitments, and relationships, it’d be “always give up.”


AA: LOL! But, yeah. Any final thoughts to share with our readers

RB: No. They can make their own damn thoughts. I’m not sharing mine, and I’m tired of all these thought-moochers that feel entitled to them. It’s creeping socialism, if you ask me.


HA! Thanks, Robyn, for joining us for this interview and for apparently NOT sharing all of your thoughts.  We look forward to reading By Fire Above and the subsequent books!


Keep up to date with Robyn’s latest news on her website.

You can support Robyn and our community by getting your copy of The Guns Above here.

Published in: on March 28, 2018 at 6:53 pm  Comments (1)  

Interview 109, The Guns Above Author, Robyn Bennis, Part 2

Welcome back for part two of our talk with Robyn Bennis, author of The Guns Above.

Read part one here.


Airship Ambassador: Let’s talk about what went into creating the airship battles. It cannot be an easy feat to make the attack by two fairly slow moving objects engaging and riveting, but that’s what I thought of them. How did that play out for you while writing?

Robyn Bennis: Saying it wasn’t easy is an understatement. I can still recall pacing back and forth in my apartment, or fretting in the coffee shop down the street as I toiled to make those scenes work. I’m honestly not sure how I did it, except that, on several occasions, it involved giving up completely and then having an epiphany in the shower.


AA: Never underestimate the power of the shower! Was there any beloved scene that you ultimately just had to cut?

RB: I would say no. Many scenes from the original draft were cut, mostly for pacing reasons, but when I have to cut something I really love, I usually find a way to sneak it back in somewhere else.


AA: Clever! What background history or elements are there for this world which we didn’t see in The Guns Above?

RB: There’s quite a bit, but I’m not telling. I have to leave some surprises for the sequels, right?

AA: Yay for sequels! Are there any thoughts you would like readers of The Guns Above to recall later?

RB: I hope they take away the idea that they can endure and survive in a hostile environment, and not that they can solve a lot of their problems by shooting a cannon at them.


AA: But … cannons! Did you have any laugh out loud or cry in the corner moments during the course of this book?

RB: I had a moment that was both, actually, when my salaried day job disappeared in a puff of cancelled government contract. Suddenly, I was paying Silicon Valley rent with no income. In the end, it turned out great, though. I switched to consulting, which allowed me the flexibility to finish the book, edit it, and start agent-hunting in just a few months. All that would have taken a year or two, if I’d been working 60-80 hour weeks at my old job.


AA: It can be difficult sometimes to create a believable world without dumping a lot of new information on the reader, but I think you did a great job in creating the world, the people, and the events. What kind of research and balance went into creating all of that?

RB: More research than balance, to be honest. I acquired every resource on airships I could find and picked over them until the pages were worn. I also picked the brains of my engineering-inclined friends, to the point that some of them must have gotten tired of me, though they never showed it. Thank you so much, Lou, Anne, Ryan, and Nimisha!

AA: Hope those friends stick around for more books! How long did it take to write, and rewrite, The Guns Above?

RB: The first draft took about a year and a half, and initial edits about six months. Once I nabbed an amazing agent, it took just a few months to sell. From sale to publication took another year and a half. Luckily, the flexibility of consulting allowed me to hit all of my editor’s deadlines without much trouble.


AA: That’s great! Now, how about a sequel?

RB: Absolutely! I’m happy to report that you’ll soon get a sequel titled By Fire Above. It’s currently scheduled for a May release, and will delve deeper into Ensign Kember and Josette’s mother. We’ll also get to see how the people of Durum—adored by Bernat and reviled by Josette—react to enemy occupation.


AA: Excellent! If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like The Guns Above. What is “X”?

RB: Awesomeness?


AA: Can’t really argue with that. If The Guns Above were made into a movie, who would you cast as the main characters?

RB: It’s funny, because I have such crystal-clear images of what my characters look like, I can’t imagine any Hollywood stars in the roles. So, for my own sake, I hope they keep me far away from the casting office if they ever do a movie.

AA: Nice problem to have! What has your overall experience been like to become a published author?

RB: There’s no usual way to be published, but if there were, it would be mine. I cold-queried a bunch of agents, got a rockstar in Paul Lucas of Janklow and Nesbit, and he took things from there. A few months later, Diana Pho at Tor picked it up.


AA: Diana does have excellent taste! How was it getting and agent and editor onboard?

RB: As far as feedback goes, it’s the same advice I give to critique groups: chill out and listen. Even if your agent and editor fails to see the genius vision behind some aspect of your novel, take a day to think about why they failed to see your genius vision. I mean, you want your genius vision to shine through, right?


AA: Taking a moment to let that first reaction pass is always a good idea. Now that you are published and writing more, how has that affected your ratio of reading to writing?

RB: Paradoxically but perhaps not surprisingly, becoming a pro writer has really cut into my reading time. I’ve bounced back a bit since moving to a cheaper city, where I can get by on less real work, but I’m still only reading a book every two weeks or so, or a ratio of about twenty pages read to every one written. Whereas, as an amateur writer, I used to read a book or two per week. That’s what I’d recommend for amateur writers looking to step up their game, if possible. Read everything you can, in every genre, as long as it’s well-written. Prioritize reading over writing for as long as you can get away with it.


You heard Robyn – get to your reading!

Let’s take a break in our chat with Robyn to pick out that next book.

Join us for the conclusion when she talks about reading, growth, and role models.

Until then, keep up to date with Robyn’s latest news on her website.

You can support Robyn and our community by getting your copy of The Guns Above here.


Published in: on March 27, 2018 at 5:54 pm  Comments (1)  

Interview 109, The Guns Above Author, Robyn Bennis

This week we are talking with Robyn Bennis, author of The Guns Above.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Robyn, it is so good to chat with you again after our interview panel at Teslacon!

Robyn Bennis: Thanks for having me!


AA: Readers may not have access to your non-fiction writings in human gene expression, neural connections, cancer diagnostics, or rapid flu testing, but now, your debut fiction book has been published. What is The Guns Above about?

RB: Just about the opposite of my scientific research. While that was about helping people, The Guns Above is about blowing people up. Josette Dupre is the newest Garnian airship captain, and she’s the country’s very first woman captain. As you might expect, this presents some problems, among them that elements of the Garnian army are trying to get her demoted or killed—whichever is most convenient. Lord Bernat is their man on the ground—or in the sky, as it happens—working against Josette from the inside.

AA: That’s a realistic setup as a steampunk story based on prevailing attitudes of our Nineteenth century. Aside from the airships, why did you opt for steampunk?

RB: Because it’s so much fun, of course! What’s cooler than steam power? I consider it a historical tragedy that the internal combustion engine proved safer and more versatile.


AA: And nowhere near as elegant as airship travel. How does The Guns Above express your vision of steampunk, and what does it add to the existing works in the genre?

RB: I like to think that I’ve written the SF counterpart to Django Wexler’s Shadow Campaigns series and Nisi Shawl’s Everfair—attentive to history but with a splash of something else that throws the entire setting for a loop. I also like to think that I’ve brought an obsessive attention to realism that exceeds all rational bounds, as well as some pretty solid fart jokes.


AA: Haha, and everyone is 12 again when they read them! What got you started creating The Guns Above? Was it one of those fart jokes?

RB: If I’m being honest, the “what if” was more of a, “How can I incorporate these steampunk airship ideas with my love for Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series?”


AA: Ahh, I can see that influence now, looking back on it. There’s a lot going on in the story, but what are the key themes you worked on?

RB: I’m always a little hesitant to discuss themes in absolute terms, because every reader brings so much of themselves to the story, and they may find themes that I never even intended. For me, though, the central theme is discovery. That is, finding what’s beneath the surface of a political decision, the difference between how a machine acts on paper and reality, and what potential lies within a person who others automatically discount.


AA: What can you share with us about the inner qualities of the main characters, Josette DuPre and Lord Bernat?

RB: They are, as you might expect, opposites in many ways. Josette has a pretty nasty case of imposter syndrome, while Bernat approaches every new situation like he’s already an expert. They share a few traits, though. They’re both willing to endure danger and hardship to get what they want. Josette would tell you that she doesn’t whine while enduring them, but the truth is she just complains about the people she feels are responsible for the danger and hardship, while Bernat’s complains about the situation itself.

AA: It does make for some interesting situations throughout the story. Do they change throughout the story, or does the world change around them, instead?

RB: The world of The Guns Above doesn’t change much, or very quickly. Much like in our world, when you think there’s been a sudden change for the better, you want to watch your collar, because there’s a good chance someone is about to yank you back by it. Josette’s journey is learning to survive when the bastards are trying to snap you back. Bernat’s arc is a bit longer, if only because he has farther to go. He starts as a self-important ignoramus, at odds with Josette. He ends as… well, it’s not quite what you might expect, so I won’t spoil it.


AA: Haha, I stayed up till 2 in the morning when I first read the book, just so I could find out! Looking behind the scenes, what did you do keep all of the characters relatable to the reader and still be firmly realistic in the circumstances of the story?

RB: I have two strategies I like to employ to maintain reader investment in my main characters: make them witty or keep them off-balance. I kind of went all-in on both of those, for Josette and Bernat.


AA: I was constantly engaged and turning every page. There are quite a few funny/sarcastic lines throughout the book, and more than a few memorable scenes. What stands out as memorable for you now that it’s been a bit of time between initial writing and publication?

RB: As rotten as his sentiment is, I still love Sergeant Jutes berating a group of female volunteers, thinking he’s doing them a favor by trying to scare them away from the air corps. Sometimes I still think of his last comment and chuckle: “you will be shot at with rockets, and you will be shot at with cannons, and you will be shot at with muskets, and I ain’t met a bullet yet that’s shy of tits.”


Honest words for today’s world, too.

Time for a break in our chat with Robyn.

Join us next time when she talks about airship battles, research, and getting feedback.

Until then, keep up to date with Robyn’s latest news on her website.

You can support Robyn and our community by getting your copy of The Guns Above here.

Published in: on March 26, 2018 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)