Kathleen Goonan is surrounded by innovation. As a visiting professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and
award-winning science fiction writer, it is impossible to escape from the world of science and information. Luckily,
she has no interest in getting away from it all.
Goonan is the author of such bestsellers as Queen City Jazz and In War Times, the latter having won the John W. Campbell
Memorial Award in 2008. She has been heralded as a major voice in modern science fiction, and has won praise from her
contemporaries with each new novel. At the Georgia Tech School of Literature, Communication and Culture, Goonan focuses
on the history of writing, and of science fiction, specifically. She has devoted herself to instructing others in the
craft of writing, while immersed in the research and technology which have so inspired her own work.
I was able to sit down with Goonan herself, over Skype, to discuss the future of her writing and of the sci-fi industry
as a whole. Over the course of our interview, she weighed in on the role of science in today's fiction, what brought her
to sci-fi in the first place, and why verisimilitude is key.
Why start writing? When did you decide you wanted to write for a living?
I began seriously writing as an adolescent, something that I was always did and planned to do. But when I was nearly done
with getting degree in English and philosophy, I realized I would need to make a living. The first time I really took it
seriously was when I got my Montessori degree. It was so much fun to have the school -- I had two schools and about
100 kids -- that I forgot what it was that I had really wanted to do. At about 33, I woke up on my birthday and the
voice in my head said, "You had better write."
What led you to science fiction?
I have to say it was probably my dad's influence -- he was an electrical engineer and an avid science fiction
reader. Science fiction novels were around the house for most of the 50s and 60s. I grew up thinking it is the ultimate
form of intellectual literature. When I began writing science fiction, I had to take a crash course in science, because I
am not the least bit technical.
Tell us about your career progress. How did you get to where you are now?
The science fiction field gave me a good basis for short story writing, and then I began moving into novels. It started
off with small placements, about three or four stories all at once.
In 1992, I had finished Queen City Jazz, my first novel, and sent it to an agent -- Virginia Kidd.
It was published in 1994. After that, I focused mostly on writing novels and only wrote short stories in between
novels. More recently, I compiled a short story collection named Angels and You Dogs. It was a collection
of 15 or 16 short stories that I wrote over this summer.
Do you think if you have drifted into fantasy more than science fiction?
I thought I was going to write fantasy, but I never got published. Originally, I was thinking about getting a master's
degree in children's literature. However, I would have just become a librarian and surrounded by books I didn't
write. I felt like I needed to shape myself up a bit, so I went into English literature. My first book was elves in
space and about time travel. After that, everything I wrote morphed into science fiction without actually understanding the science.
In your experience as a writer, what are the greatest challenge of writing science fiction and meeting the needs of science fiction?
I would say verisimilitude. You have to be very careful. Don't throw some information in that the reader may know
more about than you do. This is especially important when it comes to historical fiction. You need to be aware of
your facts. If you are writing about physics or mathematics, find someone who is an expert in those fields and send
the story to them. You also want to make it accessible to all readers, who may not know a lot. Then you have to blend
the information in with characters and everything else going on while writing the story.
Do you hear from your readers often? What do they say?
I receive about two or three letters a month, which doesn't sound like a lot. I got more after I
published "A Love Supreme," around September or October. It was more widely read, so more people wanted to talk about it.
What do you think makes a good story? What is important in a good story?
It is important to get the reader to engage with the character or characters in the story. You have to make it
real for the reader. Reading fiction is like becoming immersed in a dream, once you grab the reader with whatever
your hook is, you're good. It does not have to be dramatic; it can be as simple as utilizing voice. With this, you
can be endlessly creative. Your goal is to get the reader in any way you can. You have to make them feel they
didn't waste their time by reading your book.
Why do you think that science fiction is so important in a society like ours? That is to say, one that is so driven
by its interest in the hard sciences.
There is a logical relationship between science and science fiction. Obviously, there is a huge interest in all
things science. The New Yorker did an issue at the beginning of the summer -- it was a sci-fi issue -- about science fiction
authors making it into the mainstream. I mean, the writers they talked about were not actual sci-fi writers, they
put [the real science fiction authors] in the sidebar. They said people are realizing that technology, perhaps more
than science, is here to stay.
Technology is truly changing everything around us so rapidly, it's how we share with one another now. As future
technologies become apparent to us, we like to tell stories about how it might spin one way or the other. Science
fiction is a reflection of the culture of the time, and how we relate to these amazing things being created around us.
Are there any themes that you would love to explore in future writing?
I read a lot of periodicals, and I especially like the Smithsonian Magazine. Right now, I am terribly interested
in neuroplasticity. There are all kinds of discoveries or revelations being made every day. Scientists are
working on ways to enhance our brains right now, and to change the way they normally age. They think that it might
be possible to reverse the damage done by diseases like dementia, or to help us retain information. The Montessori
school gave me a good background with neuroplasticity, and it's something I would love to research more and write about.
Are you working on anything now?
I'm working on a short story for Tor.com, with a deadline of two weeks ago. [Laughs] It will be finished this
weekend, you can tell my editor. Really, I have to get started on a new novel. I took my job at Georgia Tech in the
summer of 2010, just after I had turned in This Shared Dream. It is very intensive, to concentrate on just
a novel, and after I am done, I'm ready to clean office and think about the next project. I felt like I had a little gap
between my last book and the next. I was just taking the place of someone who had left the college, it was not supposed
to be long term, but it turned out to be.
Copyright © 2013 Danielle Davis
Danielle has just begun her career in speculative fiction, and has the half-written novels to prove it.
She can generally be found, book in hand, at the University of South Florida, where she studies creative
writing and mass communication.