This week we’re joined by author and archaeologist V. S. Holmes, who discusses writing in different genres, the ins and outs of collaboration and whether spec fic is making any real progress in representing its full and diverse readership.
You seem equally comfortable working in science fiction as fantasy. Do you have a preferred genre, or does the setting depend on the story you wish to tell?
It does depend on the character and story I’m working on. While I’m a plotter, the initial inspiration and resulting scene happens organically. A character or situation pops into my head and I dig into who they are, how they got themselves into whatever the situation is, and then the story unfolds from there. The answers to my first few questions usually define what the genre is.
For example, in the first scene in the Nel Bently books, Nel arrives at her site to find it’s been vandalized. Her language and the technology told me it was our world, and then the reasons behind why it was vandalized made it science fiction.
The actual act of writing is easier for me when writing sci-fi, but I think that’s partly because I write near-future sci-fi, so a lot of the world-building is surrounding me as far as levels of technology and so forth. With epic fantasy there’s a lot more groundbreaking that only I, as the author, can do. Untangling those knots takes a bit more time, so writing that genre doesn’t come quite as quickly.
Your Nel Bently books feature an archaeologist as the lead character. We’re all familiar with the saying ‘write what you know’ but why did you decide to introduce your profession into your writing, and were there any challenges in doing so?
In this case the initial image of Nel’s vandalized site said she was an archaeologist, and the original plot followed dual POV–one being Nel, studying these people from 13-15000 years ago, and the other one of those people she was studying, whose community was suffering a rash of alien abductions. I wanted to explore the difference between what we think happened on a site thousands of years before and what actually occurred.
While that second POV never made it into that book, it set the stage and I went back to my X-files roots of exploring what happens when a skeptic scientist has to face that their field, beliefs, and paradigms are changing.
I love my career, so it’s easy to write about it, but I do run into issues with how much jargon to add, or how many details, while keeping it accurate for those other archies who might pick up my books. Luckily there are lots of different techniques when it comes to methodology, so some differences occur.
My biggest issue was explaining that while I’m writing sci-fi archaeology, and I have aliens and ancient peoples interacting, that I in no way subscribe to the problematic “Ancient Aliens” theories!
As someone who identifies as queer and disabled, do you feel the genre is making any progress in representing the full and diverse spectrum of humanity?
I think the genre is certainly making a ton of progress, but I’d stress that SFF, and sci-fi in particular, is inherently progressive and political. It was created by a woman who wrote a story about being “the other” loving a world that wasn’t ready for them.
While a lot of mainstream genre fiction is behind the times, sci-fi has made leaps and bounds in a progressive direction as far as representation goes. Cyberpunk and cyborg tech has so many applications for trans and disabled people, so when I see a book in that genre that doesn’t include us, it’s pretty obvious that it’s an intentional choice.
I still struggle to find myself in most SFF books, but I know those books are out there, and being written by people like me–I just have to find them. Of course, better marketing for those stories, and more stories that center those narratives will help!
Starsedge is a shared universe with Cameron J. Quinn. How have you found the experience of collaborating with another author?
I’ve had so much fun! We’ve been writing buddies for years, and high school best friends before that, so it wasn’t hard to get to know each other’s voices. Our genres are slightly different within the world, which is interesting–she writes funny, creepy urban fantasy, while I’m more snarky near-future sci-fi, but she lets me borrow her character Tabby as one of Nel’s many [many, many] exes, and I let her play with Nel for a few of her series’ episodes that feature a crime scene at an archaeological site.
Though we share a universe, we haven’t co-written anything yet, but it’s not off the table. Our personalities and voices are pretty different, so it would take a lot of good communication, boundaries, and patience I think!
Honestly, the hardest part is dealing with the timeline of events between all of our various books, and the ideas we can’t wait to get into.
Pitch us your work! What will a reader find in the pages of your books?
If you’re into a skeptic, foul-mouthed archaeologist trying to come to terms with anger, grief, and the fact that her new fling is FROM SPACE then Travelers is where to start! More into slow-burn psychological epic fantasy with heroes whose minds are as broken as the world they have to reforge? Try Smoke and Rain—it topped international bestselling fantasy charts last month!
V. S. Holmes is an international bestselling SFF author. They write the Nel Bently Books and the Reforged series. Their debut, Smoke and Rain, won New Apple Literary’s Excellence in Independent Publishing Award in 2015. They also work as an advocate for disabled and queer representation in SFF worlds.