Saturday, June 18, 2011

Story In The Stars--A Story You'll Love Even if you Never Read Science Fiction!

A number of months ago, Yvonne Anderson, one of my critique partners, signed with Risen Books to publish her space fantasy novel, Story in the Stars. I have to admit that because I don't read sci fi, or fantasy I opted to not critique her work. Yet week after week, as submissions for the chapters of her book showed up in my crit group folder, I'd soon see the critiques coming back from my other crit partners with exclamations of how good the story was and that they couldn't wait for the next chapter. I wondered if I wasn't missing something special. But, by then the story was half done, and I hate jumping into the middle of a story. So I abstained.

A few weeks ago, Story in the Stars released, and I agreed to read it and put a review up on Writer's Journey. Once I began reading, I hated to put the book down. It is that good.

The storyline is set sometime in the future where interplanetary travel between fictional planets is the norm. That is the backdrop, but the real draw is the story about relationships, good and bad, as well as a well-crafted yarn that has the reader wondering if they are going to survive at all.

Anderson's characters are unforgettable, from Dassa, the only survivor from the planet Gannah, who as heir to the headship of the planet, becomes its leader; to Pik a tall, gangly guy from the planet Karkar whose emotions are expressed through his ears. There is also a supporting cast of characters that add color to the story. The message of the Gospel, told through the constellations, is presented and done so in a very organic way that neither preaches nor beats the reader over the head. It is the kind of book you could give to someone who doesn't follow Christ but loves fantasy.

I asked Yvonne to join me today to answer a few questions about her story and how it came to be.

I see you call your book a space fantasy. What does that mean, exactly?

I’ve been told that if a story involves space travel, it should be called Science Fiction. But another definition of Science Fiction says that it’s fiction based on existing science. That is, where the writer takes current concepts and technologies and extrapolates how they might play out in the future. But that doesn’t describe my story. Stars is completely unrealistic, has no basis in scientific fact whatsoever. It’s more of a fantasy in a space setting.

Risen Fiction is a new publisher with an unusual model and a unique focus. Is that why you decided to go with them?

There were several reasons, actually. They’re a very new house and don’t have much of a track record yet. But I’ve read everything they’ve done, and I’m impressed. A lot of Christian publishers have a list of controversial subjects they won’t touch for fear of offending someone. I’d been afraid my book was doomed, being too secular for a Christian publisher but too Christian for the secular market. But Risen Books has the courage to venture out of the cushioned pews and out into the world, and I respect that about them.

As far as their model goes, you’re right. It’s POD and ebook, and not quite traditional. But as I don’t need to tell you, the publishing industry is in flux right now, and “traditional” is soon to be redefined in ways no one can yet foresee. Risen’s model is less risky, more flexible, more efficient. Since they’re willing to take a chance on me, I’m happy to take my chances with them. In fact, I’m excited about working with them to make a name for both them as a publishing house and me as an author.

How did you pitch your project to them? Do you have an agent?

Second question first: no, I don’t have an agent. And, of course, that limits my options, as none of the major houses will accept submissions from unagented authors. But the pitching process with Risen Books was so quick and painless, my head’s still spinning.

I have a friend who signed with them in December, and she gave me the good news as soon as they offered her the contract. She writes speculative fiction, too. I thought, Risen Books? Never heard of them. So I checked them out, and, as I mentioned before, I was impressed with their offerings. I sent them a proposal as per their submission guidelines, and right away, they requested a complete MS. I didn’t get too excited though – I guess I’d become a little jaded by then. But when they contacted me a couple weeks later and asked about my vision for the series… now, that got my hopes up.

I didn’t realize this was part of a series.

Neither did I. In fact, in 2007, the first time I ever pitched this story, I was asked more or less the same question by an acquisitions editor from Zondervan. I told him it was a one-shot deal, I didn’t see myself as a sci-fi writer. But later, after spending more time on the planet Gannah, I realized it needed to be further explored, so in 2009 I went back for another visit. That second book was drafted and in the process of revision when Risen asked me about the series; and when I considered the matter, I came up with a total of seven possible storylines (including the two that were already written) in about as many minutes.

So I take it they liked your vision?

I guess so. A week later, they offered me a three-book contract, with the possibility for more depending on the success of the series. I’m calling the series Gateway to Gannah because I like alliteration.

You say you first pitched your Story in the Stars in 2007. Is it first novel you ever wrote? Had you been trying for four years to get published before you were offered this contract?

No to both questions. Stars is actually the fifth novel I’ve completed. The first two, I fed to the burn barrel long ago. I thought the third had potential, and maybe it did – but I went about pitching it all wrong, and eventually got burned out on it. The fourth was an offshoot of the third, and that contributed to the burn-out. I wrote The Story in the Stars on the rebound. It’s completely different from anything I’d ever written before, and, as I said, I figured it was a one-shot deal. I just did it for fun, and at first I never had any intention of trying to get it published. But it started begging me for an audience, and I eventually had to give in.

What were your other books?

The first was historical, and the rest, I guess you’d say “women’s fiction.” I find that an irritating term but I guess it’s appropriate. It describes stories with strong female protagonists in contemporary settings that have more appeal to women than to men.

So what made you write something so different this time?

For one thing, I was mad. Mad as in, not in my right mind, but also the angry kind. Mad at myself for wasting so much of my life writing books that no one would ever want to read. You know how they ask what titles your book is comparable to? Well, toward the end of my unrequited love affair with my third novel, I went into a bookstore and studied the shelves, trying to find titles comparable to mine. Not only did I fail to find any, but I also failed to find any I’d want to spend my money on. I was so angry with myself, I wanted to start tearing books from the shelves and throwing them across the room. What did I think I was doing? How could I expect someone to buy the garbage I wrote, when I wouldn’t buy it myself? So I swore off writing altogether for a while, and started drowning my sorrows in nonfiction.

Somewhere in my meanderings, I stumbled across an old book, originally published in 1882 but reprinted in the 70s, called The Gospel in the Stars. The premise is that the constellations proclaim the message of the gospel of salvation for all the world to read. But the language was archaic and it was hard to follow. It also probably didn’t help matters that I know nothing about the stars, so what I was reading was altogether unfamiliar right from the start.

But the idea intrigued me. As I tried to make sense out of it, it occurred to me that it might be fun to write a story based on the concepts. Sadly, though I’d been straight and sober for several months, I hadn’t quite kicked the fiction-writing habit. And that idea was all it took to make me fall off the wagon.

So is your book, then, a novelization of that old non-fiction reprint?

Though reading the Gospel in the Stars was the inciting incident, my book soon developed a life of its own. The Story in the title is, in fact, the gospel. But, though the gospel is truly “the greatest story every told,” it’s incidental to the novel’s plot.

You mention extraterrestrial societies. Are there earth people in your story too, or are they all ETs? And who’s your favorite character?

Though the primary characters are ETs, many others are Earthers, or Terrestrials as they’re sometime referred to. My favorite character, though, is a doctor named Pik from the planet Karkar. Though he’s seven feet tall and has twelve fingers and toes, he’s kind of an Everyman. Or maybe I should say, he’s the Everyman we are on the inside even when we put on a good front. He’s vain, arrogant and self-serving, he complains constantly, and he’s afraid of change.  But somehow he ends up doing the right things for the right reasons despite his flaws, and he brings a little self-deprecating humor into the story.

Who do you think your book will most appeal to?

Anyone who likes light sci-fi, like Star Trek or Star Wars. Fantasy fans should like it too, since I was a rabid Tolkien fan as a kid, and he was a big influence on my style. But some of my friends who write romance say, “I don’t read sci-fi, but I love this story!” So I think it should have a fairly wide appeal. I just hope the non-SF reader isn’t put off by the girl in the spacesuit on the cover.

You can purchase Story in the Stars on line at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It comes both in paperback and e-book formats. 


Frances said...

I just finished reading Story in the Stars and I have to say it is one of the most intriguing books I've ever read. I was amazed and entertained at Pik and Dassa's stories as well as the 'story in the stars' that unfolded. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes or hates sci fi or fantasy. It's more a book on human Or in some cases non-human nature and I'd hate to classify it in any genre. Wonderful job, Yvonne.

Michelle Griep said...

Story in the Stars is Pikadillyicious...code word for: get off your rump and buy the dang thing. It's worth every penny. Thanks for hosting my bff today, Pam!

Michael Ehret said...

SitS is next on my TBR pile ... after the books I HAVE to read for contests. Eager to begin!

Kimberli said...

Intriguing does a great job of describing the story and the characters. Yvonne did a wonderful job establishing the setting as well. Whether in a stark infirmary or on the lush planet of Gannah, the setting is incredibly vivid. One particular scene that took place on Gannah mesmerized me as I read.

Excellent job, Yvonne.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Yeah Yvonne! Congrats on a cool story, and I wanna see more about Pic and his emotions through his ears. Reminds me of those weird little guys from Star Trek!

Great interview Pam!

Janet Sketchley said...

Yvonne, thanks for sharing "the story behind the story". Glad you found a genre you're happy to write in! I enjoyed Story in the Stars and I sure agree with the other comments about the lushness of the planet Gannah. Wouldn't it be an amazing place to visit?

I'll be posting my review in the next few weeks.

Pam, thanks for the post, and for asking such interesting questions in the interview.

Pamela J said...

All right, THIS DOES IT!! I definitely need to start a wish list with this one at the top of the TO-GET books. Thanks for the interview AND bringing this author and her book to MANY readers' attention. Look to me like Yvonne's series is about to make a big Splash from Space.

Linda Glaz said...

This sounds very tempting. What a diff take on the genre.