Sunday, August 15, 2010

An Interview With Robert Appleton

The MythmakersWhen I read Jayne Ann Krentz’s anthology DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN, I came across the well-known mantra that romance is “by women, for women.” I was previously familiar with the phrase, but after reading about it in Krentz’s essay collection on romance, I realized that I can’t buy into it.

In particular, the “by women” aspect implies a segregation that I’d prefer not apply to science fiction romance. Having read bunches of SF stories by male authors, with and without romance, the idea of science fiction romance being “by women, for women” is too limiting. I certainly don’t object to romance in general being a genre largely preferred by women. It’s the perpetuation of the idea that romance can only be written by and/or written convincingly by women that stymies me. Given that my reading background is in SF/F, I can’t think in terms of anything other than diversity regarding authors as well as stories.

While there have been numerous men who write romantic SF, I hope that there will be those who can embrace the idea of writing the type of romance-focused stories found in science fiction romance.

Robert Appleton is one such author. His space opera novella THE MYTHMAKERS (IMPULSE POWER anthology, Samhain Publishing) is what placed him on the SFR map. And thank goodness for the digital market, because otherwise Yoda only knows how long it would have been before we’d have a chance to read his stories (and he’d probably have been asked to create a female pseudonym at that).

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Appleton so we could learn more about his life as an author as well as his work. There’s also some squee! worthy news he shares towards the end of the interview, so let’s not wait a second more.

The Galaxy Express: Please tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to become an author.

Robert Appleton: I’m a bit tricky to pin down: 30 years old, athletic (soccer, kayaking and hiking), single, and still figuring out what I want to be. My home is Bolton, Northwest England. I have a degree in Film and not much use for it. I’ve served (smuggled) popcorn in a cinema, worked as a civil servant, balanced accounts for a charity, and now I’m writing full-time until I positively, indubitably, inescapably have to get a day job again. If I had to describe myself, it would be as Peter Parker (aka Spider-man, sans superpowers) meets Michael Bluth from Arrested Development. The harder I try, the worse off I seem to end up.

Now then, there’s a really great story about how I first became an author. I just haven’t invented it yet. Seriously, though, I think it was inevitable. Storytelling is just in my DNA. Even filling out a job application tends to incorporate a protagonist, an evil galactic empire and a daring escape (ie. binning the thing). My writing really took off when I started penning poetry—metric verse—on a peer review website. Though there wasn’t much market for it, I improved enough to be published in dozens of magazines and anthologies. But even my poems were story-oriented. So I took the plunge and wrote the first in a trilogy of novellas. The Eleven-Hour Fall was a two-character SF survival story with a touch of romance. It started with a literal eleven-hour fall from an alien mountain, with the heroine holding on to the man she secretly loves (he’s unconscious, and already married) in mid-air. I told it from the feisty female astronaut’s POV, and Kate Borrowdale is still the benchmark for all my SF women.

The first place I submitted it to was a start-up digital publisher called Eternal Press. They accepted it within a day, and later signed books two and three. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found digital publishing so early in my career. Otherwise, given the quirkiness of my SF stories, I’d probably still be pinning rejection slips to my forehead.

TGE: Was there a pivotal event or experience that made you decide to write science fiction romance? What were the challenges of combining the two genres?

RA: I think it was that decision to write my first SF story from a woman’s POV. I’d honestly never read a book written by a woman up until then! Hard to believe, but true—my bookshelf was chock full of Wells, ER Burroughs, H Rider Haggard, Patrick O’Brian, Ian Fleming, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, and Conan Doyle. Romance in those books is minimal at best, and the women are afterthoughts. I knew the hero journey back to front. But it took actually writing a strong female character for me to say, “Hey, dumbass, look what you’re missing.” I then decided to try as many different female author voices in as many different genres as I could. My favourite kind is probably the sassy, brassy, slightly neurotic heroines of SF Romance.

The biggest challenge of combining the two genres for me is that I get carried away with my SF worldbuilding. I have a story arc for the romance, but it can easily get dragged out of shape by the SF perils I throw at my characters. It’s like another author said recently on TGE, the two halves of a SFR writer’s brain are vying for prominence, and the balance between romance and SF is difficult to maintain. Being a bloke inevitably gives my SF half a head start, but I am learning. Romance generally isn’t something I’d write in any other genre, but paired with SF, it’s a pleasure to read and write.

TGE: What was the inspiration for THE MYTHMAKERS?

RA: It was one of those “Wow!” concepts that torment me whenever I get them because I haven’t a clue how to fashion them into a workable story. A drifting alien ship full of Earth’s mythical creatures, found by a female salvage captain badly in need of hope and wonder…at a time when Earth has long been extinct? There were just too many possibilities. I needed five novels to tell Steffi’s story.

Then I came across Samhain’s submission call for space opera romances, and it struck me—what if I could personify the “hope and wonder” instead of just having Steffi meet monsters and magical creatures? What if it was a sweet, innocent romance with a kind of man she didn’t know existed—guileless and untouched by the cynicism of humanity in the future—that gave her back what she needed? Well, there was my hook. And the final inspiration came from Mike Resnick’s Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge, specifically the stitching together of flashbacks to illustrate themes within the story, mine being mankind’s relationship with superstition.

TGE: What are three essential things that SFR fans should know about THE MYTHMAKERS?

RA: It takes you places you’d never expect. The hero is sweet, the heroine getting warmed up, and the action scenes plentiful. Okay, that’s four things. But I’m cheeky, so here’s a fifth: Impulse Power, Samhain’s SFR paperback anthology featuring my story The Mythmakers, Metal Reign by Nathalie Gray, and Hearts and Minds by J.C. Hay, is due for release on December 7th this year.

TGE: Captain Steffi Savannah is cut from the gritty, kick-butt heroine mold. That makes me wonder…what does she eat for breakfast?

RA: ::laughs:: Let’s just say if you like to count calories, you’re gonna need a calculator. On day one alone, she and her crew devour a heart-stopping, full English breakfast.

TGE: Do you have any other published books that might appeal to SFR readers?

RA: My Eleven Hour Fall trilogy has romantic elements, but it’s more of a SF survival adventure. Godiva in the Firing Line is a military SF short novella I loved writing, but it doesn’t have a HEA. I also wrote a fun SF teen romance for Eternal Press—Café at the Edge of Outer Space is a digital short featuring two school leavers of the future, a boy and a girl, forced to mature before their time.

TGE: What are some of your favorite science fiction romance books, films, and/or television shows?

RA: I just finished Nathalie Gray’s steampunk romance Full Steam Ahead and loved it. That brand of sassy, brassy heroine I mentioned earlier is in full force throughout Nathalie’s book. Another I really enjoyed was Isabo Kelly’s The Promise of Kierna’Rhoan.

Serenity Joss Whedon

Firefly and Battlestar Galactica (the remake) are two of my favourite SF shows that featured at least some romance. The love stories in BSG in particular are absolutely fascinating to me. In SF movies, The Abyss has my favourite love story, but Avatar, Time After Time, and the 1953 War of the Worlds contain romances that have stuck with me for one reason or another. And I know it gets a lot of stick, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a really unique love story as well, with an amazing climax.

TGE: Is there anything else you’d like to share? What can readers look forward to from you?

RA: Plenty! I’m proud to announce my first attempt at steampunk, The Miraculous Lady Law, has been signed by Carina Press. It’s a Victorian steampunk mystery with a dash of romance, novella length. No release date for it yet, but it’s spurred me on to start a second, epic steampunk story I’ve been wrestling with for months. Tally-ho!

And today, Amber Quill Press accepted my latest novel, erotic SF romance Claire de Lune, for both digital and paperback release. It’s a detective story set in the premier lunar resort during the galaxy’s most prestigious beauty contest. Or James Bond meets Miss Congeniality…with added claws and teeth. When I finished the initial draft last year, it wasn’t as spicy as I’d envisioned (ie. I’d chickened out of the steamy stuff!) so I invited my favourite erotic romance writer, Sloane Taylor, on board to sexify the proceedings and breathe extra life into one of the characters. It must have worked, because here we are, over the moon on Friday 13th.

:: raises glass of Bolshoi brandy:: Cheers, Sloane!

Mr. Appleton, thanks for your time, and for your art.

Yay, steampunk!! That is awesome news. Jolly good show, Mr. Appleton! For more information about The Miraculous Lady Law, read the announcement post at the author's blog, Mercurial Times. Click here to read an excerpt from THE MYTHMAKERS.

Now, hit me up wit some ideas about how we can encourage more male authors to write science fiction romance. Not because Robert Appleton is lonely, but so we can have more stories (because we're special like that).

Joyfully yours,