Liz Coley’s short fiction has appeared in Cosmos magazine and speculative fiction anthologies. Her passions beyond reading and writing include singing, photography, and baking. She plays competitive tennis locally in Ohio to keep herself fit and humble.
With a background in science, Liz follows her interest in understanding “the way we work” down many interesting roads. Pretty Girl-13’s journey into the perilous world of dissociative identity disorder is one of them.
1. Hi Liz, what have you been up to in the year since we last had you on the blog?
Over the past year, I’ve been exploring another dimension in authoring—writing for the stage. While I continued doing library and bookstore events for my novels, I felt the need to recharge my creative batteries. A playwriting masterclass at University of Cincinnati was the perfect jumpstart. Similar to breaking into print, I started with the equivalent of short stories: ten-minute plays. I’ve written a dozen, eight which I’m proud enough to show the world. Fortunately, the world has been obliging, and one was fully produced at a short-play festival in San Diego. Another theatre company is performing staged readings of most of the pieces, and my high school alma mater is talking about using them as the basis for a drama-filled alumni reunion. I’ve just completed the basic draft of my first full length play, a dark comedy called “Planting Grandma.” The next step is to take that into formal development with the help of a director and three actors.
2. What do you do when you aren’t writing?
And that would be most of the time, cough-cough. I play tennis three days a week, and ever since I made a Lenten resolution two years ago to get my daily 10,000 steps, I’ve spent a lot a lot of time on the treadmill each day, above and beyond tennis. I sing with a delightful choir, and I just started taking beginner tap dancing lessons. Inspired by my son Connor, I’m also going to try to get into indoor farming in the spare, sunny room. It’s sooo millennial.
3. There has been a lot of conversation about book piracy and when downloading a book for free is “ok”. What’s your take on the matter?
It’s never ok to download a book for free unless the author has made it free on promotion, free for review purposes, or permafree as a series starter. Otherwise, it’s like walking out of a store with a candy bar in your pocket saying, “Nestlé will never miss this one, and besides I’ll tell people how good it was and someone else will go buy one.” If an author’s novel doesn’t sell enough copies, the publisher won’t sign that author up for another book. Yes, it’s that simple.
4. If you had to pick your favorite independent bookstore, where is it and what would it be?
Joseph Beth in Cincinnati is a wonderful resource and so supportive of local authors. They throw great launches, and they manage book sales for a bunch of festivals and events in the Ohio/Kentucky area. The coolest independent bookstore I ever visited was The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. Among other nifty features, there are flying book sculptures, a book tunnel, and $1 used books organized by color.
5. If you had to describe yourself using an animal which animal would you pick?
No doubt I identify as a cat.
6. Do you have an author that you consider to be a “must read” for fans of your books (other than you, of course)?
Anyone who likes science fiction must read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. She has a great touch with adventure, humor, serious stakes, and brilliant characters.
7. If you were book swag what kind of book swag would you be? (poster, postcard, pin, bookmark, jewelry, sticker, etc)
I would be something boring and useful like a custom pencil. That way I wouldn’t get tossed into recycling or a junk drawer.
8. In your opinion, what is the most important skill for a writer to possess?
There’s knowledge and there’s skill and there’s character. I’d say the most important knowledge is a vast vocabulary, the most important skill is networking, and the most important character trait is persistence. It’s either that or making a good latte.
9. What is next for you this year?
I have a long list—another play I want to write, a finished novel to revise, and two unfinished novels to revisit. I might even self-publish another science fiction novel from my inventory. But my number one need in this world is to find a new agent, which I’ve been working on for 18 months since mine retired. Volunteers?
10. Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Since my most recent book, The Captain’s Kid, is unabashedly science fiction space opera for tweens and teens, I thought I’d say a few words about why I’m serious about putting the science in science fiction. I’ve been complimented by some authors I think the world of for the way I integrate real science into my stories, and that gladdens my heart. I think it’s important. It’s a great way to both teach and inspire readers while telling a good story.
As a sci-fi writer and “stealth” sci-fi writer, I had an advantage going in. I love science. I always have. In fourth grade, I wrote an essay about stellar evolution—it was the first time I was introduced to the idea of red giants, white dwarves, neutron stars, and black holes. I’ve followed space science and cosmology news ever since. What we know, what we suspect, and what we don’t yet know only gets weirder and more wonderful over time. In college, I majored in Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, then worked in hospital administration for nine years, which put me in the way of learning about advances in the eternal battle between viruses, microbes, and ourselves, as well as the multitude of ways our own internal systems fail. My curiosity leads me to keep up via science magazines (Discover, Cosmos, Planetary Society) and science news in the popular press. I soak it all up and find story kernels therein.
Also, I confess to being a sci-fi purist. The general rule of science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, is that it represents things that could happen under the rules of physics and our universe. The one exception we all seem to make is allowing faster-than-light travel with only a wave of the hand for an explanation. Otherwise, all the future things we imagined in the 1960s have arrived or are in the process of being developed: tractor beams, replicators, cloaking devices, wireless communication devices, medical devices you can hold in the palm of your hand, a computer which answers your spoken questions, bionic limbs controlled with a thought. Artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and gene repair are exploding. Next steps—memory uploads, human clones, gene selection, the end of cancer, etc. Dystopian fiction is based on extending trends we already see in the physical, political, and social spheres to their dire possibilities—the darkest what-ifs. The hardest fiction to write is near future, because by the time you hit print, the futuristic advances you imagined have already been invented. All this is to say, I think science literacy is super important, and if an idea first encountered in a novel turns a kid into an engineer, an astronaut, a physicist, a medical researcher, or a futurist, I think that’s great.