Author Interview: Cynthia Felice

Cynthia Felice

By Katharine Eliska Kimbriel

“I need nothing more than to awaken in the morning to begin to write today. I wait for no muse.”

Writer Cynthia Felice may grab a life experience or a headline as inspiration for a story, but that does not drive her. She writes to explore ideas, personalities, and exotic places. Life has obligingly given her a full deck of skills and joys to tuck into her work, including family, corporate work and observation, writing, dog-owning, mountain climbing, teaching, and horse riding. It’s also given her the opportunity to work in community to further the writing goals of herself and others. She served the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in several areas, and now she’s joined Book View Cafe!

A Campbell award nominee, Felice has co-founded writers’ groups, and instructed at colleges, high schools, and workshops. A writer of both short and novel-length fiction, she is known for complex, intricate stories described as “engrossing, amusing, and compelling.” Her first ebook with Book View Cafe is Downtime, an adventure novel of high stakes that also examines the nature of sentience, and whether love can survive when time travel ages people in opposite directions. Please join Book View Cafe in welcoming her to our madhouse!

1) You have written many well-received books, including Godsfire and The Sunbound. What made you decide to release Downtime first through Book View Cafe?

A.) Not only first, but exclusive to Book View Café for, well, a yet-to-be-determined amount of time! Days? Weeks? I still must explore what might work well for BVC and for me. At this stage of my career I have the luxury of being able to play with concepts like “exclusive to Book View Café” without the certainty that doing so results in more sales. Perhaps next time I’ll try something like “free” for a period of time. I know others have done both but for me it’s a whole new world.

As to why Downtime and not one of my other titles, I was ready to re-read it to see if the story is as compelling as I believed it was when I wrote it. It had so many elements, time dilation, prolonged life with excellent health, psi, May-December and December-May attractions? Romances? And military honor and dishonor. And, oh my, did it hold up! All those revelations I made were ever-so-well timed and while I couldn’t surprise me, I think readers will be. Okay, I’ll stop patting myself on the back, but if I tell you that I loved re-reading it, and proof reading Downtime at least three times (not to mention the professional proof readers that BVC requires of each book) and I still came away saying, “Downtime is a good read and I’m proud of it.

2) You have collaborated on a big canvas more than once, writing the novels like Water Witch and Promised Land with Connie Willis. What is it about collaboration that you find so rewarding? What are its strengths for you? What are its weaknesses?

A.) Water Witch was born from a passionate evening literary discussion among the participants of a Milford Workshop, lo these many years ago. I remember Ed Bryant, David Gerrold, Carol Emshweller, Karl Hansen, and perhaps a dozen more folk, and we were discussing other genres also being presented as science fiction. We named examples of Detective, Western, Thriller, and Legend, Myth, or Folklore, who knows what else. Primarily we were discussing genres we liked, and pulling out their typical elements to share and enlighten, such as the pain and dread one feels when reading Horror. Either Connie or I mentioned Gothic Romance as a genre we enjoyed as readers though we couldn’t come up with a Gothic Romance Science Fiction story or novel as an example. Someone said that was because Gothic Romance as Science Fiction could not be done. Of course it can, Connie and I said practically with one voice. No, it’s just not appropriate for science fiction. Why not? The elements are wonderful: gloomy castles, exotic locales, heroine in distress, the flawed hero, sexual tension. No, it can’t be done as science fiction. Another voice, if you so like the genre and believe it can be done as science fiction, why don’t you write one? Connie and I looked at each other, saw the gleam in the other’s eyes, and said, Okay, we will. And we did!

That novel, Water Witch, was the beginning of a life-long friendship. We learned the missteps of collaborating the hard way, by doing and fixing. At the time, we didn’t know anyone else who had collaborated with another writer. It was later interesting to other collaborators that we didn’t argue or fight about either the process or the words. We freely edited one another (it probably helped that we’d been in the same writers’ workshop so we were familiar with each other’s writing style and critiquing and editing.) What we did do was go for long walks or shopping trips and discuss what the overall story arc was and what happens next, and who would write the next chapter.

The weakness of our collaboration was that about the time we wrote Water Witch was exactly the time that both our careers began to take off. We agreed that our individual work would come before the collaboration, and that’s how we worked through the next two books, too. As a result, the length of time to complete each novel expanded to fill the fewer and fewer available chunks of time to write the collaboration. Those time expansions resulted in some hilarity on those shopping trips: “Why did you make such a big deal out of going back to unlock the door?” Or some such question. “Because you said whatever else I do in the chapter, just be sure to leave the door unlocked!” Someone shrugs or grimaces. “I have no idea why I did that. Okay to lock it now?”

3) I see a steady thread of romance in many forms running through your SF. Romance was rare in speculative fiction when you started writing in the genre. (I know, because I did it, too!) Why did you decide to include it in both your own novels and in your collaborations?

A.) I was writing the books I wanted to read, and that always included complex human relations, especially love stories. I was fortunate that I had (mostly) editors that were open to the kind of novels I was writing. I learned late in my career that my agent was open only to quick sales, and when I wrote out-of-niche novels, they got three by-mail submissions and thereafter returned to me with, I’m paraphrasing, “Nicely written, but it’s so different from what editors bought from you in the past that I’m unable to place it.” Ouch! So the love stories worked for my editors but contemporary supernatural edges didn’t. Well, of course not! Not science fictions editors, not then, and apparently editors don’t walk across the hall if the book might fit some other editor’s needs. The agent made no effort to find markets other than SF. I didn’t know how to go about placing the books on my own when I actually had an agent. I mean, does he get a cut anyway? Would I feel compelled to hand the contract to him if I did sell it on my own? Too inexperienced (and shy) to ask around. In the midst of this, my SF books continued to sell. My available time to write was limited what with a demanding (but much enjoyed) full time job along with a family that I adore. So my efforts went into the best payoff I could see at the time.

4) What have you learned from your own writing? To what concepts, intentionally or not, do you think you’ve exposed your readers?

A.) I wrote about people of honor, and how difficult it can be for even honorable people to work together or live together. I liked modeling some ways people, with all their flaws, do that in my books, and looked at ethics without calling it that (because some readers glaze over.) But detailing who gets hurt by certain actions is surprisingly complex, exciting, and compelling and forwards plot nicely. Solutions are not always neat and certainly not as planned. And that’s life, isn’t it?

While all my novels have men and women on fairly equal footing, such equality was not the way of the world at the time, nor is it yet. So modeling how that equality works for everyone was and is an important theme. But I interrupted that common theme with Double Nocturne, which I wrote pretty much at the height of the Feminist Movement. I looked at gender inequality and otherness, which included homosexuality and alienness and military camaraderie. I missed the mark for some readers and for all but the most discerning reviewers because the book was branded as a feminist book, and not in a nice way. Truly, it’s anti-feminist and definitely dystopic but nay-sayers heard it was about a world where women ruled and that was the end of that.

5) The last time I saw you quoted about a work in progress, you said, “I’m working on a voyage through time in a place that is not Earth.” Did you finish this book? What are you working on right now? Will you offer this to traditional publishing, or will you bring it out yourself?

That book is not finished, but it’s a strange (for me) collection of vignettes that at this point I’m not even sure I should try to bring together. They all take place on the same planet but during the frightening Separation, then the conflicted Endurance, and finally Repatriation and Ex-Patriation (is there such a word?) This vignette style has suited my time allocations these past many years, and the novel is not the only group of vignettes I’ve been writing. Many are family-oriented, and included in that are my childhood, my children’s, and my grandchildren’s. I am a part of The Greatest Generation, and have memories of WWII from my earliest childhood that I should record. One has to wonder if they are my memories or stories told to me, but in as far as I could verify some of them, my stunned aunt confirmed that they were not stories she’d shared. And there are stories that started in the 40’s and 50’s that only concluded at the end of the century. And then there are my dad’s war-year letters, many of which contain his sketches. Some are worth sharing, perhaps as the centerpiece of a fictional vignette.

As for what I’m working on right now, it’s getting available backlist up to Book View Café’s exacting standards, learning my way around that huge entity that is BVC. Then I should look hard at least one of those unsold novels; I think A Cold Winter’s Death would stand up pretty well in today’s market. I’m pretty proud to be able to identify myself as one of the publishers at Book View Café as well as one of their fifty-odd authors.

So because of having to use my medical management skills to help family members when I retired from my much-loved 9-to-5 job, I didn’t get as much writing finished as I thought I would. You can ask them what that was like, and they’ll probably tell you. But one of the things I learned in the midst of such a stressful time is that I cannot be without a dog for very long. They make me get out of bed on the worst of days; they make me take them to the park or the National Forest every day, even Christmas. It’s a lovely way to start the day.

My dog of choice for 25 years is actually a sight hound, the Irish Wolfhound. How that happened to a woman who adored Labrador Retrievers and all setters and spaniels is one of those stories I must write down. And the acquisition of each hound is worth telling, each for a different reason. These hounds are short-lived, and why I’d subject myself to that agony is something I’ll talk about in a blog one day. And I feed my hounds raw food, which one must learn how to do properly. (You know, I just didn’t have enough going on in my life; I needed another project, I guess!)

6) Rumor has it that for you an office supply store is like finding yourself at an old-time penny candy store, credit card in hand. What is the lure of office supplies? Do you love rag paper, or fountain pens? Do you buy colored pencils and meditatively sketch?

A.)It’s true. I like containers and folders, the brighter the better. Fasteners are not as enticing. I dawdle and touch paper (if it’s not wrapped! Dang, I hate that everything is packaged.) I try all the pens when they have them out for trying, and sometimes I buy some. I’m fond of spiral notebooks with good quality paper and hard cardboard covers. I feel smug and self-satisfied when I find what I like on sale. I go through about one fat notebook a year as note paper on my desk (I do not tear the pages out; they’re useful to date things or to remind me of the obscure or bizarre). I don’t sketch as often as I should; I’m a pretty good amateur but I can describe it faster than I can draw it, so words win. But yes, I have a full set of colored pencils and several sketch books, none of which are full. If I lived in an artsier community that had daytime classes for adults, I’d be filling my “journals” with better sketches along with the words. I see how quickly true artists can work and it would be fun to add those sketches to, say, some vignettes.

I don’t like rag paper; it’s too rough. And I’m too careless to own a fountain pen. I’d have ink stains in every purse, backpack, and pocket! I do love pencils, but not the mechanical variety. Someday I’m going to own a good pencil sharpener, one that does the job without binding, screaming, or making me go back to do it all over again

My desk is always a mess, even when I’ve just cleaned it. My working folders must be in sight (there are a lot of them related to WORD 2013, Microsoft 8.1, and Book View Café, not to mention the stack of typing that I’d just better think about hiring someone to do. Any volunteers? Really great recipes (and yes, hubby Bob shares) and my journals, and my idea file, and then I’d love help scrapbooking the rest of the photos so that the progenitors are identified for the descendants, who may or may not care but I’m hoping that there is one among them…

7) Do you like or dislike the Brave New World of Internet promotion?

A.) I love the Brave New World of Internet publication, and I think I love promotion, too, as I learn to do it. The little I know is to get word out on social media, but of course I don’t even know how to do that on all the social media available. It sounds like tooting my own horn, which I find embarrassing to do. I’m learning how. I’m trying to emulate some of the folk at BVC, but most of them are too fast for me. They’re on to the next thing before I’ve even figured out step one. Nonetheless, I’d rather be overwhelmed with information than not have options.

8) How did you become involved with Book View Café? What is it about the BVC organization that appeals to you?

A.) I heard about BVC practically immediately after its inception, and corresponded a bit with two folk before incorporation. I was very intrigued and I could have helped a lot with the incorporation process (having accomplished same twice in my life) but the commitment was too great at the time. Even if I stayed away from anything with time deadlines I’d already experienced six months or nine months just evaporating into my family commitments; what would I do if that happened in the middle of an incorporation? Reluctantly I just kept my eye on BVC as I went about retrieving my rights for the backlist I didn’t already have documentation. Then I spent some time with Deborah Ross and other BVC folk and (a) incorporation was done, and (b) I heard that no one was asked to do work they were not capable of (technology used to be my strong suit, but I’m out of date!) and (c) my time and life commitments were opening up. So, I applied this time instead of just thinking about it, and here I am! About to launch my first book from BVC on September 1, 2015.

BVC is a unique publishing company. Because it is also a co-operative of published authors, it is an experienced community of writers, unlike any other work place anywhere. It has a culture of cooperativeness, a sense of duty, rich and deep writing knowledge, and is growing sales and publicity knowledge that shows on its growing bottom line. Its members are quick to offer a hand up and to praise or encourage one another. When I’m surrounded with that kind of work environment, I’m excited to get up in the morning and come to work!




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