Last week, Girl Meets Monster had the pleasure of talking with Michael Arnzen. This week, Alicia Wright joins us to talk about space operas and when she loves writing science fiction and fantasy for YA audiences.
I decided to write books about ten minutes before graduating law school. I’m now an Atlanta attorney, but I moonlight as author, electronics junkie, and secret superhero. With degrees in computer science and a healthy diet of fiction, I love all things high-tech and unreal. I write fantasy and science fiction for young adults. Currently, you can find my work under the name Alicia Wright Brewster, but additional books are coming soon under Alicia Ellis. Visit Alicia’s website and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/writeralicia
GMM: I enjoyed reading your fragment. What was the inspiration for this piece, and why do you think slavery is a recurring theme in Science Fiction and Fantasy? Do you think it’s important to continue to write about slavery despite the fact that many people think it is no longer relevant to discuss it?
AW: I can’t be sure what inspired this piece. I’ve always wanted to write a space opera, and I think one day, I decided it would be cool to write about space pirates. And then this story grew in my imagination.
Is it important to write about slavery? Yes, history is important. I wasn’t consciously thinking of history or trying to make a point when I wrote this. But to a significant degree, the plans I had for this story deal with colonialism, and there’s a historical link between colonialism and slavery. So when I needed a way to return Jax to Ren’s life and simultaneously make the Company look awful, slavery seemed like a good way to go.
GMM: What attracted you to the SFF genres? What was the first book, movie or TV show that caught your attention? Why?
AW: I love science fiction and fantasy because it’s simultaneously real and unreal. It’s different from the everyday, and thus it provides an escape. At the same time, SFF explores real-world joys and problems. I had no choice really; my father raised me on Star Trek and Star Wars, and I loved every minute of it.
My very first favorite book was science fiction, although at the time, I didn’t know what “science fiction” was. My copy of The Girl with the Silver Eyes, by Willo Davis Roberts, was thoroughly battered after traveling with me during at least two (probably three) household moves. It remains my most-reread book, although it’s been decades since I’ve last read it. Perhaps it’s time for reread!
GMM: Is it easier to write for a young adult audience? What are some of the challenges? Do you struggle with subject matter in terms of what’s appropriate for young adults? Do you worry about how you audience will deal with difficult or uncomfortable situations in your fiction?
AW: I wouldn’t say it’s either easier or harder to write for young adults; I’d say it’s different than writing for adults. I love writing YA because the protagonists move me. They are passionate and reckless, and for them, everything is life changing. I can get a young protagonist into a lot more trouble than I can with an adult protagonist, because teenagers are allowed a wider range of mistakes. They mess up and they learn, and as readers, we allow them to do so without questioning their sanity. And when big moments occur, teenage protagonists are filled with excitement or devastation because they are experiencing things for the first time. And that’s why I write YA.
A challenge is that, obviously, I am no longer a teenager. I remember what I was like as a teen and what my friends were like, and that goes into my writing. But it’s important to stay in touch with teenage life to some degree, so that I don’t have teenagers in 2018 behaving as if they are in 1998. Clothes have changed. Schools have changed. Hangout spots have changed. Politics have changed. I need to know what’s happening now for teenagers, and sometimes that’s tough. It actually helps that I write SFF because, often, I make the world so I make the rules. But still, SFF needs to be grounded in reality.
Do I struggle with subject matter in terms of what’s appropriate for teens? Honestly, not much. YA can get pretty real and dark these days, so there’s little that I want to write about that’s out of bounds. I’m sure there are topics I wouldn’t touch, but I have yet to come across any in my own story ideas. Sometimes, I worry about cursing too much in my writing, but that’s largely about being acceptable to adults who choose books for teens. With that in mind, I tend to limit, but not eliminate, cursing. Basically, I save it for emphasis rather than sprinkling it everywhere.
End of Life, by Alicia Wright
I hadn’t shot him in a vital organ. It didn’t call for all that screaming.
“Shut him up.” I gestured with my gun at one of his shipmates, a tall woman with a dark ponytail.
“You didn’t have to do that.” She pressed her hands against the hole in his leg and whispered in his ear, her tone soothing.
“Yes, I did.”
When a sixteen-year-old girl asks a crew to hand over its cargo, they rarely agree—even when she and her team have already ripped open the side of that crew’s spaceship. So I solved that problem. When I shot someone with a fifty-pound gun, they got obedient fast.
It made things easier.
The man’s howls quieted to whimpers.
Weaponless, my shipmate Kye examined the screen on his comm. “Batteries,” he told me, his tone flat.
“Could you put a little energy into it?” I whispered.
He and I stood at the edge of a dining hall. A long metal table sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by sixteen plastic chairs. Four members of the crew had occupied those chairs when we peeled their ship like a tin can. They’d jumped to their feet, and two others had joined them from elsewhere on the ship, thanks to the commotion.
Behind us, a hole gaped in the wall. It led to a retractable tunnel attached to our ship. Before we left and took our tunnel with us, we’d advise them to seal the hole so they didn’t get blown out into space. We weren’t monsters, after all.
Louder, I said, “Where are the batteries?”
The four remaining crew members—other than the man I’d shot and the woman calming him—had clustered on the far side of the table. The largest of them stepped forward and pushed two of the others behind him.
“What batteries?” When I didn’t shoot him right away, he raised his voice. “We don’t have any batteries.” Brave.
Kye read from his screen. “One hundred fifty polynium-nitride batteries of various sizes. Estimated value of sixteen thousand universal credits.”
It would have made my job easier if he at least pretended to be mean. Kye was the nicest boy a knew—Granted, most people I knew were pirates. But between his six-foot-plus frame and shoulders twice as wide as mine, it would have taken little more than the occasional sneer to wrap up these jobs more quickly.
I pointed my gun at the brave man’s face. “You heard him.”
His mouth moved, but no sound came out. Useless.
“Somebody here knows where the batteries are. Or maybe they’re not on the ship—in which case, we might as well make an exit.” I turned my weapon toward the wall and flicked the ammunition switch from bullets to explosives. “This way, perhaps?”
The drug my crew took to survive hyperspace had some pleasant side effects—strength, speed, agility. Even as a Traveler, though, I couldn’t survive in outer space for more than five minutes, but these people didn’t know that.
The woman who’d been soothing the injured man shot to her feet. “There are no batteries. Our orders changed.”
“What are you carrying?”
Her face reddened. “Slaves.”
I glanced behind me at Kye for confirmation.
He offered an almost imperceptible shrug.
“Show me.” To the rest of them, I added, “No one leaves this room until I get back.”
Kye leaned against the wall and stared down at his comm. “I’ve got this under control.”
Even without a weapon, he could take them all down—probably. It worked in our favor that no one outside the Travelers knew the limits of the drug. These people wouldn’t risk their lives by confronting Kye—not for cargo they’d have to turn over to the Company anyway.
I followed the dark-ponytailed woman down a narrow, spiral staircase. My combat boots clanked against the metal steps. We stepped off it onto the dusty floor of the cargo bay. The space held a single item, a cage, barely large enough for the four people inside.
I turned to head back up the stairs. I’d confirmed her story, but we didn’t trade in slaves. There was nothing for us here.
“Ren?” a familiar voice called.
I spun back around.
While the other three slaves slumped on the ground in the tight space, a teenage boy leaned against the front bars, his arms propped against a horizontal rung. His dark hair hung over his forehead. Dirt streaked his face and clothing, but when he smiled, his teeth shone as white and perfect as ever.
“Jax.” I cursed silently at the flipping in my stomach. Why did he still affect me?
“You’re going to leave me here?”
I ignored him and started up the stairs. If anyone deserved slavery, it was Jax.
“I know what happened to your sister,” he shouted when I’d made it halfway up.
I ran back down, shoving the woman aside at the bottom step. I stopped in front of the cage, three feet away from him. The only way he’d know about my sister was if he’d been there. The information wasn’t out there—not in the gossip, not in the official record, not on the black market. “You’re a liar.”
“That’s true. But not about this. You want justice, right?”
I wanted justice more than I wanted those batteries, more than I wanted out of my Travelers contract, more than I wanted my next breath. But the last time I’d seen Jax, I was watching his feet walk away from me as I bled out on the floor. “You’re going to get it for me?”
“Let’s say I’m lying,” he said. “You take me with you, question me, and when you get nothing, I go back to the Company. What’s the loss?”
He had a point. I hated it when he had a point.
“Get him out,” I said to the woman still waiting for me on the staircase.
Next week, Girl Meets Monster gets a visit from across the pond. Stay tuned, and send your fragments to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.