In which my childhood Spock doll interviews me about growing up into a scifi writer, and we discuss the Silverwood YA-and-up scifi/fantasy novels:
Spock Doll: Thanks for letting me interview you today.
Betsy Streeter: Well, when your favorite toy asks you questions, you answer.
SD: I understand you consumed a great deal of science fiction growing up.
B: Yes, I did. We watched your show on a tiny TV on a rolling cart in our family room. One of my favorite episodes is the one where you get attacked by those egg-looking things stuck to the walls. It really creeped me out. It stuck with me, I guess you could say.
B: I also watched a lot of comedy. I loved Tim Conway, and Carol Burnett. And Bob Hope, and Johnny Carson, and George Carlin, Garry Shandling, all of it. Oh, and the Muppet Show. My favorite was Animal. To this day, if I take a “which Muppet are you” test, I get Animal. Eat drums! Eat drums!
SD: So, science fiction and comedy…
B: And Westerns, like the Clint Eastwood movies. Pale Rider, Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. Loved those.
SD: What kind of books did you read?
B: I had this book by Jacques Cousteau that I loved. It was about whales. I could draw every species of whale. And the James Herriott books. And Tolkien, and the Narnia books. Also I would read and re-read the section in our encyclopedia on Painting. You know, because there was no Google. Or Internet.
SD: What about technology? Did you have an interest in that?
B: Oh, yeah. My dad worked at a national laboratory as a systems programmer, and he got to work with the Cray supercomputers. Also each year they had a family day where we all got to go gawk at these huge donut-shaped machines. The coolest thing was this teletype in the hall, that was running a kind of choose-your-adventure game. It was the first time I remember interacting with a machine. It was this fantasy game, and it didn’t take long for us to start giving it weird commands to see what it would do. Like, “Eat rock.” “Eat tree.” It didn’t work. But that idea left an impression.
SD: Did you play video games?
B: Yes, we had an Atari console. It came with Night Driver and Pong. Then we got Asteroids and Space Invaders. I figured out how to score infinite points on Space Invaders. I was kind of hard core from the beginning.
SD: Let’s talk about your novel, “Silverwood.” It’s the first in a series, right?
B: Yes. Silverwood I came out in April 2015, Silverwood II is out in July 2016. The second one is called “Silver Shard.”
SD: How would you characterize the story in Silverwood I?
B: I call it The Incredibles meets MacGyver with a healthy dose of Twin Peaks. The Incredibles because it’s an ensemble cast that is also a clan with a wide range of personalities. MacGyver because there’s a great deal of invention, solving and hacking. And Twin Peaks because it’s got a layer of ‘remote town in the woods with creepy lake mystery’ over the top. Plus, time travel. And shape shifters.
SD: How do you handle the difficulties of writing about time travel? Causation, paradoxical logic, all of that?
B: I don’t. In the Silverwood stories time travel is meant to be a localized phenomenon. You go through, do what you need to do, come back. Shut the portal behind you. The Silverwood clan are supposed to be the ones to take care of this. Unfortunately it’s often done wrong so there’s damage. In the first book these shape shifters called the Tromindox steal a bunch of portals and start using them however they want. It’s a mess.
SD: Tromindox? What are those?
B: The Tromindox have been around since before the sharks. They feed on brain activity, slowly digesting their prey. For a long time they had to subsist on stuff like dumb dinosaurs and then squirrels. But humans, those had a lot of energy. So they evolved to exclusively hunt humans.
SD: And they shape shift.
B: Yes, they are like octopi. They move among humans, although they look pretty sickly. But most folks don’t realize the Tromindox are there until it’s too late. Then, a shot of venom, and it’s all over. Unless you manage to fight your way out again.
SD: Sounds invasive. And painful.
B: Oh, it is. But I have no doubt you would be able to hold one off with your superior mind control.
B: You know it’s true.
SD: In storytelling people often talk about points of entry to the story. How do you introduce this complicated story to readers? What is the point of entry?
B: What touches off the story is that moment when the kids say, you can’t treat us like little kids any more. Helen is fourteen, Henry is nine. Their mom has some weird job where she disappears all the time. Their dad is somewhere but they don’t know where. And finally they say, you can’t just keep moving us around and telling us everything is okay. We’re sick of having no home and no friends and no life and being kept in the dark. So they start digging into things. And that’s when it gets interesting.
SD: So it’s a coming of age story.
B: Yes. With shape shifting and time travel. And hacking.
SD: Talk about the central character, Helen Silverwood. She’s a hacker.
B: Yes, in the low-fi sense of the word. She compulsively takes things apart. And she has a sixth sense for how things work, what’s running behind the walls. She picks up enormous amounts of information.
SD: Do all of the Silverwoods have special powers?
B: Not really, but some do. Helen has abilities she is not aware of. Her brother is Guild, which means he can draw things that haven’t happened yet. Other folks are just crazy or badass and that’s special enough.
SD: I see. So, who would you recommend the Silverwood books to?
B: Anyone who enjoys stories where you piece things together, and where the characters have to invent their way out of situations. There are many surprises, twists and turns. Younger readers seem to enjoy reading the first book over and over, so it’s complex enough to stand up to multiple passes through. It’s brain candy.
SD: And what’s coming up in the second book, after the coming of age?
B: In the second book a particular Tromindox gets really out of hand. And the Tromindox are evolving in general. The whole clan has to work together to keep from getting totally destroyed.
SD: Sounds – urgent.
B: Yes, you could say that.
SD: Where would you say your stories fit into the world, today? Why these stories and why now?
B: I write a lot about invention, re-invention, making something out of nothing. So that’s a recurring theme. Also, the idea that every character, even what you would consider the “bad guy,” has a point of view. I think in our world we often fail to recognize that people who are not us have points of view. So I explore that. And then, complexity. People are complex, they make mistakes, they work with incomplete information. I think that’s what makes a good story. Characters who are messy and their situations are messy. That’s what makes them real to me, and hopefully to readers.
SD: Thank you for talking with me today.
B: No problem, Spock Doll. You’re the best.
Silverwood II: Silver Shard is now available for preorder and will be released July 26th 2016. ARCs available by request to the publisher,Light Messages. Silverwood Book I is available now wherever books are sold.
See Betsy Streeter’s Amazon Author Page for all her books.