Next week we’ll continue with our regular articles from SpAN contributors, but I wanted to end this season of Spoonie Spotlight with the amazing space opera author, Stephen Graham King! I am a huge fan of his novels and had the pleasure of getting an advanced reading copy of his latest book, A Congress of Ships. So, of course, I just had to interview him!
This responses to the following questions have been minimally copyedited, to preserve the integrity of the interview.
You are the author of The Maverick Heart Cycle series, which began with Soul’s Blood, then Gatecrasher. Now the third book has just been published. Tell us a bit about A Congress of Ships.
It takes place about a year or so after Gatecrasher, and things have changed for everyone since the events of that book. We get to meet other Artificial Sentience ships like Vrick. We get to see some old familiar faces in different ways and in different situations. And it all starts when a ship full of refugees arrives from… somewhere else. And they may not be the only ones. Naturally, it’s too intriguing a situation for our heroes not to get involved in.
One of the things that is so notable about your writing is the world-building. What matters to you when creating both the technical and organic settings?
I think the most important thing with world-building is how it connects with who we are now. No matter what you create, being a planet or a piece of technology, or even the societal attitudes of the characters, you need to draw the connection to the familiar, to who we are now and what our world is like. It’s kind of like taking something familiar and stretching it out of shape. All around us, things change and grow and evolve, so world-building is really just imagining those leaps and changes and projecting them into a future. In the same way that we used to have landlines, and then flip phones and now smartphones, how will the thing you’re imagining evolve? What is the next leap? And sometimes it’s about imagining which things stand the test of time and don’t actually change. Contrasting the things that change against the things that don’t makes the picture all that richer, I think.
In the first two books, there was the Power Trio of Keene, Lexa-Blue, and ’Vrick. Then you did a thing! You added a fourth person to that dynamic. Did you feel that was a risk, or did you just go for it?
One of the most important things for me is that the events of the plot actually have ramifications for the characters. My holy trinity of questions when I write are “Who are they? What happens to them? How does it affect them?” So when that character came on the scene in Gatecrasher, I knew I wanted him to stay around a while. That’s obviously going to have an effect on the dynamic between the existing characters. And it’s always super fun to write when something changes for a character in a way they either can’t control or don’t expect. You get to push the characters up against the walls of their world, show the ways that they’re totally at sea, not just the ways they’re in control and on top of things.
While love triangles can be overused tropes, you’ve gone a different way. Tell us about why you chose a poly relationship path for your characters, especially Keene.
There are lots of great writers out there who write monogamous characters and Happily Ever After characters and straight characters. I just always wanted to do something else, give voice to the characters who don’t live their lives that way. Having Keene say “I loved you, but now I love him so we’re over now” would have been a totally legitimate story to tell. But I thought it would be way more interesting, since Keene’s one relationship was complicated by life situations and history and all sorts of other factors, to make it complicated in a new, non-traditional way. What I want is for society to evolve so that people in general are more open to different ways of loving or being in relationships. So, when I write, I try to switch it up, imagine how I can flip the script and get away from cisgender, hetersexual, monogamous characters. Show the different ways we can be. And also, it lets me add layers of complication to characters’ lives, and then show how they react to it all.
I really love ’Vrick, the sentient ship. In A Congress of Ships, we find more of these ships. You gave them distinct personalities as well. Tell us about that and how you feel about the concept of sentient AI.
I love these characters and the universe they live in. Getting to explore all the corners of it is so much fun. I had originated the concept of these Artificial Sentiences, this race of beings created by humans, but so far beyond AI that they fought for and won their independence. Now, I wanted to explore that a bit more. Who are they? What are they doing with their lives now that most of them have left humanity behind? What roles were they created for in the first place and how would that carry over into their new, independent lives? So, I ended up with a ship that was a scientist, who kept on seeking knowledge and doing research. Another is a warship, still ready for battle even decades later, and finding ways to put those skills and resources to work. I got to explore how they had taken the purpose they were made for and adapted it into new lives.
The most complex character for me is Lexa-Blue. I want to know everything about her. Do you love writing her? Would you ever consider writing a Lexa-Blue prequel? Asking for a friend.
Ah, I do love writing her. She kind of started out as just a name on a piece of paper before I’d even started writing the novel. And there were bits and pieces that came from other sources. I’d been reading a comic about a woman who had that same type of scar on her face, so I changed it up and added the artificial sensor eye. And she just evolved from there and I love who she ended up being. She’s the avatar for all my ‘superhero saving the world’ fantasies. She’s the one who gets to be mouthy, but is so loyal and committed to her friends that you can’t ever fault her for it. She’s the one you know will always be in your corner if you need her. I actually wrote three short pieces that are on my website, one was Vrick alone, deciding ey needed a new human companion, the second was Vrick meeting Lexa-Blue when she was young. And the third was them meeting Keene. I got to figure out where they had all come from and how they had ended up together.
Are you working on a fourth book? Do you have an idea about how many books will be in this series?
I am currently at work on the next book in the series, called Ghost Light Burn. Someone I know told me they really wanted to see another character come back, and the pieces just sort of fell into place as to how I could tell the next chapter in that character’s story. As to how many books in the series, I have no idea. As long as I have fun ideas as to what to do with them, be it a setting or story idea, I’ll keep on with them. It’s such a fun sandbox to play in!
Where can readers buy the entire series?
A Congress of Ships is out now from Renaissance Press. The rest of the series, and my other books are available through your favourite online retailer.
If you were going to give advice to a new author (who manages a disability and/or chronic condition) about writing, what would you tell them?
Do what you can. Push yourself when you can, but be gentle with yourself when you need to. Balancing writing with the rest of your life is challenging at the best of times. It’s really hard to do, but don’t compare yourself to other writers. Their path is theirs, not yours. We all have our own set of particular challenges that get in our way when we want to create. Give yourself room to move and rome to breathe. Do the best you can, but forgive yourself if life gets in way and have another good old bash at it tomorrow. Write the thing you need to write. Write the thing that you think is missing from the world. Because in the end, only you can tell your particular story in your particular way..
Thanks, Stephen! I wish you much success and hope readers discover all your awesome!
Born on the prairies, Stephen Graham King has since traded the big sky for the big city and now lives in Toronto. His first book, Just Breathe, tells the blunt, funny, and uncompromising story of his three-year battle with metastatic synovial sarcoma. Since then, his short fiction has appeared in the anthologies North of Infinity II (Pas de Deux), Desolate Places (Nor Winter’s Cold) and Ruins Metropolis (Burning Stone). His first space opera novel, Chasing Cold, was released in 2012, and the first book in the Maverick Heart series, Soul’s Blood, came out in 2016. The second, Gatecrasher, was released in 2017. Now the third book in the series, A Congress of Ships, is available from Renaissance!