Ask Ren: Q&A #2
You asked, I answer! Thanks for sending me such fun questions on Instagram :)
What was your favorite part of the book (or the book-writing process) to work on & why?
I deeply love the chaotic stages of drafting, when there’s no need to worry yet about things like scene length or word count. I’m a discovery writer (aka pantser) who writes out of order and rearranges things later. I usually end up writing 2-3 times the volume of material that eventually makes it to the final version, and my favourite scenes to write are dialogue-centric character moments, where a couple of characters have a conversation that illuminates something about themselves or their relationship to one another. The time I spent drafting this story was some of the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer, but I do also really like the process of revising – especially those final stages of polish, where I’m making tiny tweaks to dialogue and adding little details to really make a scene shine.
What kind of ideas/characteristics inspired the aliens in your book?
I was a long way into the story before I pinned down a physical description for the Felen, because their appearance is usually obscured while in the company of the human characters. They’re telepathic, and they don’t use facial expressions to convey emotions, nor do they even necessarily face towards the person they’re speaking to, so most humans haven’t actually seen an alien in detail. However, there are a couple of scenes where an alien is seen closer up, so I had to figure out what they would look like!
I knew I wanted them to be more obviously different-looking in their body structure than most of the humanoid species we see on Star Trek, but less different than completely non-humanoid aliens like the heptapods in Arrival. The Felen are somewhere in the middle. They have a vaguely humanoid limb layout with different body proportions than humans, and a more insectoid face shape with four eyes and mandibles.
I wanted to create a sense of difference that goes beyond just appearance, though, because an alien species would likely have a very different perspective on just about everything. You see a bit in the book about the Felen's sense of aesthetics – for example, they generally don’t like straight lines or sharp angles, so their architecture and ship design takes on a more winding, curvy, naturalistic look.
I'd love to know more about your training in science/math, and if you are not secretly an astrophysicist moonlighting as a novelist, how you managed to convincingly put all that clever space dialogue in your characters' mouths?
Hahaha. Alas, I actually have very little academic background in science or physics – just a keen interest. Most of the science in the book is completely made up, but since “subspace physics” are not exactly real to begin with, there was a lot of room to make things work the way the story needed them to. UFS is definitely squishy science fiction on the hardness scale, although I think it’s framed in a way that captures the vibes of things that could theoretically be possible. (One of my critique partners is a former physicist, and does rein me in if I write anything that sounds too wildly implausible!)
Is there a book or movie that you read/saw as a kid that you would consider formative to who you are as a writer now?
Yes, for sure! The book, for me, was Contes de Tyranaël by Élisabeth Vonarburg. It’s the book that made me want to be a writer, because I wanted to create worlds as strange and fabulous as that one. I still have my old copy, which you can see in this Instagram post! My formative movie was Flight of the Navigator. That film fascinated and terrified in me in equal parts, and kicked off my lifelong time travel obsession. I wrote a bit more about that in an old blog post, which you can find here.
Some of the other questions I received are going to be answered in other posts/blogs & interviews that are coming up, so stay tuned for the next installments! See the previous round of my Q&A here!
Under Fortunate Stars will be out from Solaris on May 10, 2022 (US) / May 12, 2022 (UK).
Follow me on Twitter & Instagram @voidcricket!