Unveiled is pleased to introduce Kerry Nietz, author of A Star Curiously Singing. Before becoming a fulltime writer Kerry was a computer programmer with Microsoft.
Tim George: Let’s get started with something a bit different. Who said this and why? “"Well, start early! You might get published before you die."
Kerry Nietz: Ah, a memory test! Very good. That statement was made by an elderly gentleman I met on a plane from Detroit to Seattle. He told me he was a writer, and then went on to proudly proclaim that he was “one of the rarest kinds—I’m a published writer!” The statement you quoted came after I mentioned that I always wanted to write.
TG: You took a different road to writing. How did your early years and first profession prepare you to be a writer?
KN: That’s a good question. My major in college was Computer Science and I spent my first eleven working years as a software programmer—first for a small company called Fox Software and then at Microsoft.
There are a lot of parallels between the two professions. They are both highly creative processes where you spend much of your time working alone. You also get a real parent-like affinity for this thing you are creating, whether it is a software program or a story world.
Some of the biggest ways I think being a former coder helped me, though, was that it taught me to handle criticism in a more productive way, and—when editing my own work—to look for the best way to say something. To see the words as something to be manipulated and perfected.
TG: Didn’t A Star Curiously Singing began more as a novella? How did it find its way to a full blown novel?
KN: The first draft of ASCS was over 48,000 words so I think it was technically still in novel range. (The Nebula Award defines novellas as 40k and under, for instance.) That said, I knew when I sent it to Jeff Gerke (see bio below) that it was on the short side, and I also knew that the ending probably needed some expanding. There was so much about the book that was experimental and often verboten, though—the first person and direct address of the reader, for instance—that I didn’t want to spend a ton of time on it before I had an expert opinion. I also suspected there was some really cool concepts in it—stuff I’d never seen done before. Plus I was fairly confident in the premise. I knew the plot was unique.
Long story short, Jeff loved the same things about the manuscript I did. He hinted that if the ending was longer and “bigger” from a theatrical perspective, he would be interested in publishing it. So I went back to work, made the changes he suggested—also adding a longer prologue in the process. Jeff is a stickler for description too, which added words. (Good, necessary stuff, though.) Ultimately the book was well over 70,000 words.
TG: So let’s get right to your first novel, A Star Curiously Singing. Can you give us an elevator pitch for the story?
KN: Funny you say “elevator,” because my story has one of those. In fact, mine goes all the way to space! As for the story, A Star Curiously Singing is a speculative Christian novel with a decidedly cyberpunk feel. It takes place in a future hundreds of years from now, where much of the world is living under sharia law.It is dualistic society, where average people live on the streets in near-squalor and the powerful ride above them in cable car-like conveyances. This latter group is shrouded in high tech, to the point of needing specialized debuggers to handle their machines.
That’s where my protagonist comes in. Sandfly is a debugger who’s summoned to solve the mystery of why a bot malfunctioned. The extenuating circumstances? The bot has been on an interstellar voyage in an experimental ship. Something about the trip made it malfunction. So it is a sci-fi mystery of sorts.
TG: Sandfly has to be about the coolest MC I’ve come across in a novel in a while. Is there a bit of debugger in you?
Oh yeah, there’s lots of debugger in me. Solving problems is my thing. Learning new things, making stuff work—drives my wife crazy some times. I have the most wired home of anyone I know. I have combination cable running to thirteen spots in my home—meaning I can have phone, TV, or a networked device in any of those places. I even have wires running to our master bathroom. Haven’t found anything cool to do with those particular wires yet, but I will someday.
TG: On a serious note. Even though the setting and style is a bit cyber punk, you deal with some pretty serious issues in the novel. What kind of world does Sandfly live in and how does that speak to the real world we live in?
KN: Well, the story really started from me asking myself “What future do I fear for my children?” Sandfly’s world is one where a particular set of beliefs is mandated by the state, and stringently enforced. In Sandfly’s case that enforcement goes a step further in that—instead of just punishing forbidden behavior—he is physically stopped from performing such behavior in the first place. Thoughts that would lead to illicit actions produce painful shocks. It is like he has a Skinner box in his head.
Curiously, Christians are often criticized for that sort of thing—for wanting to “mandate morality.” Most professing Christians find that idea laughable, though. We know that if a man’s heart isn’t changed, then his behavior can’t be. And in truth, Christianity and the outgrowth of Christian beliefs (e.g. the American Constitution) have done more to free people and cultures than anything else in history.
Unfortunately, there are some cultures—demographically expanding cultures—where they really do try to legislate and enforce beliefs and morality, with often chilling results. Disciplinary action that average Americans would find barbaric are often commonplace there. Yet this very real danger to freedom is often overlooked by our media for fear of offending.
TG: I wonder how many big house publishers would have been willing to take on your story considering it’s obvious cautionary tone toward militant Islam.
Good question, but I honestly have no idea. I know Ted Dekker toned down the novel he released that touched on Islam. Originally it was released as “Blink” but now it is, what, “Blink of an Eye” or something? I don’t know if that was a personal decision, or one forced on him by the publisher. To be honest, I can’t say I know enough about how the big house publishers operate, aside from what I’ve heard from my own publisher. His take is that mainly the big houses make their decisions based on what will easily sell at Christian bookstores, and science fiction isn’t it.
TG: There is an interesting phrase the Abduls (Sandfly’s masters) use concerning hopes for the afterlife. They talk about putting enough coins in the scale. Could you elaborate on that some?
KN: That concept is at the heart of Islam. The goal is for your good works to outweigh your bad. Consequently there is no real assurance of salvation. You have to keep working, striving—hoping that your good will ultimately outweigh your bad. Truthfully, there are many Christians who live that same way—as if their own effort will take them to Heaven. Christ was pretty clear on the point, though: No one comes to the Father except through me.
TG: Some visitors to Unveiled may not be familiar with Marcher Lord Press. Tell us about your publishing house and what make it so special.
KN: Marcher Lord Press is the brainchild of this writing and editing genius named Jeff Gerke. The impetus came out of frustration really. During his many years as an acquisitions editor at some of the larger Christian publishing houses, he saw a lot of “out there” fiction (fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, etc…) that was both fascinating and brilliant. Yet Jeff knew he could never publish those works because the Christian publishing industry is geared toward the kind of books that will easily sell in Christian bookstores—things like romances, mysteries and women’s fiction. (There are occasional exceptions, but those are few and far between.) So Jeff took it upon himself to create an outlet for that kind of weird fiction with a message. He’s a trailblazer really, and I’m honored to be a part of his group.
TG: I know there is another installment of your DarkTrench series on the way. Without giving away too much where is Sandfly headed?
Sandfly? You mean I didn’t kill him off in the first one? How did I miss that? Here I thought I was writing a tragedy…Seriously though, the next book, entitled “The Superlative Stream,” is due this spring, and follows Sandfly’s attempt to solve another—grander—mystery. It takes place in deep space and has lots of really cool things in it: raging stars, space anomalies, and maybe even an ancient civilization or two. It really is way outside the map, and I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling it. Suffice it to say that Jeff said it was both “amazing” and “fantastic” and yet “would never be published by CBA house in a million years.”
TG: Thanks for spending this time with us Kerry. I can’t wait to see where Dark Trench takes us in the next installment!
This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 at 10:34 pm and is filed under Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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