Friday, September 4, 2009

Meet SF author Juliette Wade

Juliette Wade went straight to the top of the science fiction short story ladder when she made her first sale to Analog. I'm not jealous, honest. >blushes and fidgets<. She's a talented author who brings a unique perspective to her stories because of her academic background, travels and curiosity. Her novelette, "Cold Words," is in the October edition of Analog and she has a blog entries on the new - and way cool - Science Fiction Writers of America website.

AW: What science fiction writer has most influenced your work?

JW: Ursula K. LeGuin, definitely. I remember being impressed with the thoroughness of her world concepts, and also with the simplicity that she used to get those concepts across. Her worlds feel so real, without a word wasted on infodumping! I've actually analyzed her prose (as those who've visited my blog know), and written a paper about the way she takes the strange and makes it feel familiar (ALSC [Association of Literary Scholars and Critics] Conference, 2006).

AW: What first sparked your interest in linguistics and anthropology?

JW: I've always been interested in languages. I learned French as a child, and traveled in Europe with my parents; there was a time when I wanted to learn every language in the world. I took every language I had time for - French and Spanish in high school, and Japanese in college. One of the things that always impressed me about the languages I studied was the way that aspects of culture were revealed in the language, so that was why I ended up going into Anthropology and Linguistics. Whenever I studied foreign language, I had this awesome feeling like my brain was expanding. That's my ultimate test for any language I create - if I can write in an alien perspective and feel my brain expand, then I know I've gotten it right.

AW: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you opened that first acceptance letter?

JW: Yes. I was running out the door, late taking my kids to their gym class, so I didn't open it. I was afraid I'd crash the car; I almost opened it at every red light. Finally I opened it at gym, and had a complete conniption right in front of everybody. When I told them why, they didn't mind.

AW: What was the most valuable advice you've received from a writer?

JW: The most valuable advice I've received came from my best friend, Janice Hardy. She told me that the first thing you have to do is to make your reader care about the story. Without that, it doesn't matter how well it's written in other respects. So I pay a lot of attention to establishing my protagonists, their goals, and what they stand to lose if they don't achieve them.

AW: What defense do you offer when you get the always dreaded, you write science fiction? Really? I used to read it when I was a kid.

JW: Defense? I never really thought about it like that. But then again, I guess I have a rather kid-like enthusiasm about what I do. So my response is usually, "Isn't it COOL?"

AW: What has helped you the most in learning to create truly alien aliens?

JW: Two things, both of which I learned in graduate school. The first is qualitative research, or field notes, which taught me about paying attention to the details of social situations and describing them without passing judgment, allowing my readers to share my observations (and thus my conclusions). In that context I also learned about paying attention to the details of how individuals express their alignment with social groups, and particularly how they describe groups in which they feel like they are insiders. The second is discourse analysis, or transcribing sequences of talk and breaking them down into pieces. This taught me to look for the linguistic sources of the subconscious emotional impressions I got while listening to what people said, and it's helped me immensely in the planning and editing of my alien speech.

AW: Do you have someone you bounce ideas off of?

Definitely. I have a tendency to bounce ideas off anyone who will tolerate them, but my staunchest writing partners are Janice Hardy, Dario Ciriello, and Lillian Csernica. Each one of them has distinct complementary areas of strength, and I wouldn't be where I now am without them.

AW: What was your best convention experience?

It's hard to say. One really great one was when I was on a panel about the Seven Wonders of the World at Baycon a few years ago. I was on the panel with Deborah J. Ross and Paul Chafe, and it was Deborah who introduced me to Sheila Finch (author of The Guild of Xenolinguists), who first suggested I send a story to Analog. I was also privileged this July to be on a panel with Sheila and with Dr. Stanley Schmidt about designing alien languages. It was amazing to be on a panel with people who were both knowledgeable about language and cared deeply about its place in science fiction.

What are you working on now?

I've been designing a new story, tentatively titled "At Cross Purposes," in which humans encounter aliens with a very different view of technology. I'm also working on a collaboration with Sheila Finch about a deaf linguist. And I've just finished revisions on a fantasy novel, so I'll be heading into submissions very soon, and I'm hoping to turn my eyes to a novel-length project that takes place in my multi-caste Varin world. So I've got a long to-do list! It's very exciting.

Learn more about Juliette at her blog,TalkToYouUniverse.

Next Friday, I'll be posting an interview with Jasper Fforde.

vote it up!

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