Cosmic Convocation, Starry Eyed Press’ first official space opera anthology released today and opening the saga is The Marinel by Rebecca Demarest.
We had a chance to sit down with Rebecca to get the scoop on what inspired her tale and to learn more about her in general.
Hey Rebecca, tell us more about yourself, your life and writing career.
I have always loved stories and loved creating stories. My mother loves to embarrass me with tales about the struggle to continually find new stories for bedtime when I was little, which actually led to her career as a professional storyteller. As I grew up, I kept writing stories, though I had brief fascinations with other career paths along the way. Sculptress (the -tress was important), anthropologist (it belongs in a museum!), psychologist (don’t have the patience) all fell by the wayside when I decided I didn’t care if I made a living, I just wanted to write. So after getting a dual degree in English and Psychology from Willamette University, I moved from Oregon to Boston to get my MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College.
I loved living in words with like-minded folk, even if they preferred literary fiction to speculative.
After graduating, I learned some hard truths, including the fact that writing cohorts frequently fall to pieces and that taking large loans out for degrees that don’t help you make money is not a sound financial practice. So, I started working in the private sector for O’Reilly Media, and was their technical illustrator for 9 years. While I was working for them, I continued to write, managing to get several short stories published, and release two novels and several novellas. I also spent a lot of my free time working with various nonprofits in my area teaching kids and adults alike to find their stories. I’ve taught at museums, community colleges, for the Girl Scouts (I’m a lifetime member and Gold Award recipient), and more. I especially enjoy working one-on-one with writers to help them motivate and overcome hurdles.
Now, thanks to trying to make a career move into full-time education at the beginning of… everything, I ended up with a lot more free time than I expected. Between job applications and surviving as best as possible in the face of “unprecedented” times, I knuckled down and really devoted my attention to writing. I have been churning out short stories and novel concepts, using anthology calls as jumping-off points, with a determination to always have 20+ story queries out at any given time. It’s been a blast and, while I still want that day job because writing doesn’t pay that well, this downtime has really helped me rearrange my priorities in favor of my writing.
While I was writing up this interview, I actually got an offer for a new day job that I will be starting soon, helping organize the recruiting department for a cutting-edge science company.
I’m super excited to get started, since the company is literally making science fiction reality as we speak, and I can’t imagine a better environment for inspiration!
Tell us a bit about The Marinel (no spoilers, please).
When Awhina Toller went to space with her boss, renowned xenobiologist Dr. Hafsa Ajam, she did not expect the new species of celestial whale to turn out to be hiding so much more.
I think folk will really enjoy the story as it’s about resourcefulness under pressure and both the benefits and detriments of high strength of convictions.
What was the inspiration behind this story?
There are a lot of amazing classic tales of adventure and I asked myself, what would happen if 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had been set in space? Sometimes it’s as simple as that, and frequently, the inspiration for my stories comes from new scientific factoids, or odd turns of phrase from my friends, and I love when the small questions and bits of information become something so much more than what they once were.
What sci-fi books have you recently been reading and which titles represent your long-time favorites?
I have currently become obsessed with everything written by Charlie Jane Anders. Her work is absolutely gorgeous and contains so many levels of emotion and meaning. I think everyone needs to read her novels. As for my long-time favorites, I actually keep up-to-date lists so it’s easier to answer questions like this: https://bookshop.org/shop/rebeccademarest. I can say that some of my favorite authors are Nancy Kress, Ted Chiang, Nnedi Okorafor, Nicky Drayden, Hank Green, Annalee Newitz, K.B. Spangler, Cat Rambo…
What are your favorite genres to write in, and are they different from the ones you read? Do you have preferences when it comes to story length?
I love to write across the whole of the speculative fiction genres. As long as I’m not being asked to write something utterly, truly, mundane, I’m a happy wordsmith. Sometimes it’s as light as a bit of magical realism, and sometimes it’s full space opera or epic fantasy. Really, it’s whatever the concepts call for. The same breadth of interest applies to what I like reading, and I always try to be reading work that has similar flavors to what I’m working on so that I don’t accidentally bump myself out of the right tone with what I’m reading and writing.
In terms of story length, I love to refer to this old quote: The length of a story should be like the length of a skirt. It should be long enough to get the job done, but short enough to stay interesting. I love crafting the perfect, short, pithy 1k word story, but find myself more often than not landing around the length of a novella. They are very satisfying.
Tell us more about your writing process. (What are your writing habits, what working setup works best for you, can you recommend any writing resources and tools, would you say you’re a pantser or plotter, and do you do a lot of research for your writing?)
I have a very boom and bust style of writing and submitting due to a lot of things, primarily my health. I have several chronic health problems, so I spend just as much time not writing as I do writing. BUT I never stop thinking about my stories, and I do quite a bit of my work in my head before I ever touch a keyboard. And it is a keyboard, I can’t stand to write longhand, it never makes it to the computer if I do that, and it takes so much longer.
I keep long lists of ideas on virtual sticky notes on my computer, small phrases that remind me that there was something interesting that happened, or was said, or was in the news, and then I’ll slam a few of those together and hang them on the scaffolding of ideas I want to explore. I do a lot of planning, but it’s not necessarily plotting. It’s scientific research, and talking to characters in my head, and positing questions about their goals and motivations.
Then, when I have the emotional energy and time, I sit down and vomit out a story, pantsing my way around all the tidbits I’ve created in the meantime.
I work in Google Docs because they auto-save and I can get to them from the cloud from any computer, even my phone. Plus they are easy to share with my beta readers and get live commentary from multiple people. This can result in some interesting disagreements between beta readers, or digressions into speculation on parts of the world, which can get hilarious.
As for where I write, it doesn’t much matter as long as it isn’t my desk, though I am fond of couches I can curl up on. My desktop is primarily reserved for virtual teaching, dnd, my day job, and things of that nature. I’m not sure how or why I settled on this setup for my writing, but it works, so I don’t really question it!
How do you promote your writing, what marketing strategies and tools have worked for you? Which platforms would you recommend to fellow authors? Where do you like to promote your writing and engage with readers?
So, I’ve been through the whole gamut of marketing strategies over the last ten years of writing, and the only thing I’ve found truly reliable for bringing in readers is to keep writing, and keep sharing your writing. The more places that are sharing your writing and your information, the more people will start to follow you. Yes, it’s super-valuable to have social media accounts for your writing career, but they only matter once you’ve got a solid body of work out there.
When it comes to platforms to engage with your audience, stick to the ones you are comfortable with. Readers can tell when you’re uncomfortable and stilted, so if your happy place is sharing pictures of your dog, Instagram is great, and your readers will love your dog as much as you do.
On top of that, attend writing classes, teach writing classes, socialize with other writers and with readers at whatever events you can go to. It’s a long, slow, hard slog, and it’s just now starting to pay off, ten years into my writing career. Some people get lucky and get a platform early and fast, and others will take even longer than a decade.
The point is, through all of it, keep writing, as much as you can, and share it as far and wide as you can manage.
Where can our readers find more of your works?
If you’d like to learn more, here are some links for you!