Stacey Berg is a writer with Harper Voyager Impulse and a scientist. Her novel, Dissension, came out March 15th in ebook, the paperback came out yesterday. As one of the newest members of the HVI family, I invited her here to the pub to talk about her book and ask her utterly irrelevant questions.
Hi, Stacey! Welcome. First question, what are you drinking?
Thanks Bishop. Nothing yet, but it’s going to be beer. Probably the Karbach Weekend Warrior tonight.
I suppose a pale ale is acceptable since it’s a craft beer. Dissension is a science fiction story set in a world where clones are tools of the government to oppress the unhappy populace. How much of this is autobiographical?
I haven’t managed to clone myself, if that’s what you mean. Although like everyone else I would find having one pretty handy when the days get busy!
Actually, you’d be surprised how annoying they can be, especially when you get above seven and the personalities start to degrade—um, so I’ve heard. Seriously though, your main character, Echo Hunter 367 is a soldier genetically designed to only focus on duty in a dystopian type world. What came first? The character, the story, or the world? Or did they all evolve together?
In this case the world and character came first, then the story. I had a very strong image of a woman in the desert, a kind of soldier, protecting another woman, some kind of runaway who was her prisoner. The dynamic between them was clear to me right away: the soldier determined to do her duty no matter what it required; the prisoner, wryly admiring her captor’s skill. That gave me a hint of story: I pictured the two of them facing some unseen enemy together, and gradually switching roles, until the duty-bound soldier wanted only to set the prisoner free, and the prisoner realized that she could run no longer and had to face her destiny. This bit ended up not being the main plot, but it’s an important part of the backstory.
That sounds like a really interesting scene, I can see why you found it so compelling. Now you’re a medical researcher in your day job, how much of that knowledge fed into the story?
I think my science background helps, the same way doing detailed world-building before you start writing helps: a lot of what you have doesn’t make it directly into the story, but it gives you a solid foundation underneath the bits that do, and it makes the story feel richer. In writing Dissension it was useful for me to know some basics about cloning and genetic recombination, but the story is driven by the characters rather than by the science-y part of the fiction. I just needed to have enough understanding to make certain things plausible, and to avoid distracting mistakes.
Nice that you were saved the time of researching based on your existing knowledge. Speaking of which, is this book just a test to see how people will respond to cloned soldiers so that you’ll know the effects when you release your own in a bid to conquer the world?
There are some, shall we say, drawbacks to the cloning methods in the book. It ends up being a low-volume process. My women are pretty badass, though. It wouldn’t take too many of them to conquer the world if that’s what they set out to do. Fortunately they’re made to protect us instead.
Yes, here for our protection…Well, let me be the first to welcome our new badass women overlords. On a related note, cats or dogs? Hint, it’s a trick question, the answer is marsupials.
Hmmmm, does that make it wombats?
It was actually wallaby, but I’ll give it to you because your choice is almost as adorable as a wallaby. You’ve written a couple of short stories, is this your first published novel?
Yes, this is my debut, and I’m incredibly excited to have it out in the world!
Well congratulations! I’m sure I speak for every single other person in the world when I say we’re delighted to have your book in it. In terms of writing, you’ve also blogged about issues of diversity, how important do you think it is for a book/story to have a diverse cast?
It’s important for readers to have acknowledgement that people like them exist. Every book doesn’t have to have a diverse cast, and a cast doesn’t have to represent every kind of person to be diverse. But “books” in aggregate should be diverse. If you read a dozen or a hundred books about future humanity and don’t encounter a single person like you, you begin to think that there’s not a place for you out there. On the other hand, if you see all kinds of people, you get an idea that there could be room for you too.
I couldn’t agree more, and I think readers enjoy a story much more when they can relate or connect with a character in it. I’m going to guess you think it’s a good thing that more diverse people are getting stories published (I would agree) but what do you think of those of us with higher levels of privilege (straight white cys males) having more diverse casts in our books? Is it a good thing, or should that be left to people of specific groups to write their own stories?
I think we all should be free to write whatever we can imagine. If you take write-what-you-know to the extreme, we’d all only be able to do autobiography (and most of us wouldn’t be able to do aliens). However, diversity isn’t just about the kinds of characters in a story. Writers from different backgrounds are likely to see different stories as important to tell. The more diverse our authors, the richer our book world will be. Regardless of our backgrounds, though, creating different characters, trying to get into the heads of people who are not like us and to see the world through their eyes, seems like a good step towards breaking down the barriers that make someone else “other.”
That’s a really concise and eloquent argument for diversity, and I’d like to reserve the right to quote that in the future. I am curious though, you said “most of us wouldn’t be able to do aliens.” Just most? Is there something you’d like to share with the class? Or perhaps it’s better if you didn’t say anything since they’re probably watching right now, so let’s move on. Do you have requirements for writing such as listening to music, absolute silence, bonobo monkeys playing ukuleles behind you, or can you write under any circumstances?
Concentration is my one requirement. It has to be quiet in my head, but if it is, it doesn’t matter too much what else is going on as long as no one’s talking directly to me. I don’t listen to music much, but I think that’s because I usually write early in the morning. That said, I listened to a lot of Imagine Dragons and Muse while writing Dissension. I guess Radioactive, Demons, and Madness pretty much set the mood!
Preaching to the choir! When the insane radioactive demons get loose it really—oh wait, you meant the songs, didn’t you? Yes, of course, me too. Next topic, you live in Houston Texas, do you have puffy tacos there?
Puffy tacos are really a San Antonio thing, but we can get them here.
I find your lack of enthusiasm about tacos quite disturbing, but I’ll let it pass because you’re building an army of badass women soldier clones. What would you do for a Klondike bar?
Almost anything. Of course Klondikes are a ’Burgh thing, I used to get them at Isaly’s.
Almost anything? So we finally learn the ultimate goal of your clone army. How many books do you think will be in the Echo Hunter series?
Right now the plans are for two. The world the books are set in is on the cusp of change though, so who knows what might happen? It could be up to the readers!
Always good to keep an open mind. What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Ancillary Mercy, interspersed with a Modesty Blaise graphic novel. (For anyone who hasn’t read Modesty Blaise, you should get one of the novels or graphic novels right this minute. They’re about a woman who’s kind of a female James Bond, and the stories are incredibly entertaining).
I loved the Ancillary series, a really great concept. I’ll have to check out the Modesty Blaise graphic novels. Do you have any plans for other books or stories?
I’m in the middle of writing the second Echo Hunter 367 book, so I haven’t had much time to think about what’s coming next. I have a very enticing idea for another novel percolating in the back of my brain, but it’s not ready to come out and face inspection yet.
I understand, can’t take the cake out till it’s done cooking. I mean you can, but then it’s runny and how likes runny cake? Anything else you’d like to declare?
It’s been great to be here, thanks for having me! Enjoy a nice quiet pint.
It was a pleasure. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your hypothetical plans for world domination. Good luck with the sequel and I hope sales are fantastic.
Dissension is available in ebook or paperback now, and you should totally go buy it. Remember, she has an army of badass women soldier clones, and she can make more!
Barnes & Noble
For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.
When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.