Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow. It was created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction. From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it was intended to help us share our love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
Today I am interviewing Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler, authors of the new science-fiction novella, The Burning Light.
◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hey Bradley and Rob! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Bradley P. Beaulieu: Sure thing. I’m the epic fantasy author of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and The Winds of Khalakovo. That may seem a bit odd, as what we have in The Burning Light is most decidedly not epic fantasy, but I’ve been known to dabble in science fiction now and again. It’s all been short fiction so far, this new project with Rob being the longest foray into sci-fi for me to date.
My tastes in terms of writing and reading are pretty similar. I tend to like longer tales with a wide cast of characters. I like worlds that are both broad and deep. And I like the spec-fictional elements to have bearing not just on the world, but to have real meaning and consequences to the people who use it, often to the point that those elements are world changing to some degree. Some of my main influences are J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, C. S. Friedman, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, and Stephen R. Donaldson.
Rob Ziegler: I’m the author of the novel Seed. It’s the story of a young scavenger cum highwayman trying to save his younger brother from a giant agri-corp in a southwest ravaged by climate change. It has the feel of a western by way of The Road Warrior.
I write full time. Currently I’m working on my second novel, Angel City, as well as the occasional side project like The Burning Light. Over the years I’ve basically done everything—landscape design, IT, bartending, real estate management. My wife and I live a mostly chill life in western Colorado. We hike a lot.
DJ: What is The Burning Light about?
Bradley/Rob: The Burning Light is a sci-fi thriller set in a world which has just begun to recover from climate-change. The emerging order is based on connectivity. People are connected–very connected, organized into collectives. Through the flooded canals of Old New York, it follows a young addict named Zola as she chases the Burning Light, a “communal drug” so addictive it can lay entire collectives to waste. But Zola is being chased as well, by a disgraced government operative named Colonel Melody Chu.
The story follows Zola as she tries to find the truth about the light, while Colonel Chu tries to find Zola and stop her before the Light causes even more devastation. What they find together is something neither of them expected.
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Burning Light?
Rob: Theodore Sturgeon and his ideas of gestalt were a pretty direct influence on how I thought about The Burning Light. But more than that, there were real-world moments that, for me, informed the feel and themes of the story. Like…maps of what NYC will look like after seven meters of sea level rise, and imagining what that would be like at street level. Or a moment at a Boston intersection during rush hour, when I had the overwhelming sensation that the city as whole was a singular organism, and that we, as individuals, were profoundly unimportant beyond our roles in the greater metabolism. Things like this definitely found a home in The Burning Light.
Bradley: For me, William Gibson plays a strong role here. Neuromancer was a watershed moment for me in my reading (as it was for so many other people). I loved the mixture of technology and “the street,” that Gibson merged so well in his books.
The other main influence, I’ll admit, is Rob’s own debut novel, Seed, a book I was impressed by from the first time I read it before publication. It’s a strong, powerful, no-holds-barred story about a future American Southwest, and I loved every page of it.
DJ: Actually, where did the idea to co-author this book from? Have you done this before, or had you two been joking around with the idea and finally decide to give a go for real?
Bradley: I originally approached Rob about doing a collaboration. I thought I had this fun, unique idea for a story using the idea of connected minds, people sharing thoughts, emotions, and memories without even thinking about it. I was embarrassed when Rob mentioned he’d written something similar. And that I’d read it. Luckily, Rob took pity on me and decided to do the collaboration anyway.
I’d done one collaboration previously, another sci-fi novella with Stephen Gaskell called Strata. My aim then was the same as it was with Rob, to have a fun, shared experience with another writer whom I admired. Writing is such a lonely profession, so I think half the fun (perhaps most of the fun) of collaborations is to simply break out of your shell and do something interesting with a story and see how the creative flow goes. On those fronts, The Burning Light was a rousing success, because this was a blast to write. Even better that it got published!
Rob: I’ve never collaborated with a writing project before. It was Brad’s idea to do so, but I was an easy sell. Some of my favorite times as a writer are workshops and cons, when you sit down with other writers and riff on each other’s ideas. So the notion of hanging out and brainstorming with a buddy whose ideas I like…and then we make a story out if it? Yeah, of course I was in.
DJ: What is the universe for The Burning Light like?
Bradley: I touched on this above, but let me go into a bit more detail. It’s set in a post-climate change New York, a few hundred years into the future. That part of the story was pretty fun, envisioning this sunken, scavenged New York that still thrived, but in a much different way than it does today. People scrape by. They hustle for cred. They protect themselves from the roving gangs, or join them if they must. It’s a world where high finance mixes with concrete scavengers.
The more interesting part of the world, though, was the technology. People are connected. I mean really connected. They share thoughts without, well, thinking about it. But only in the collectives they decide to join, or are sometimes forced into. We made a very conscious decision not to get deep into the weeds about how that technology works. In the end, that isn’t what matters. What matters is what people decide to do with it. So, while the technology is advanced and ubiquitous, we abstracted it one or two levels so we could focus on the social changes that would take place because of it, and how people would live in that altered world.
That’s largely how the story evolved. By constantly returning to that envisioned “state of being,” we were able to cast ourselves into the world and steer the story.
DJ: Without spoiling anything, is there anyways you can tells us a little more about what this “Light” is?
Rob: The “Light” is pretty much an answer to the following two questions: What are we when we are all connected? And what if, connected, we were to realize what we are?
DJ: How do you outline and break up who writes what? (Alternate chapters or certain POV characters?) And I’ve also read that some authors who co-write books will edit each other’s chapters, too.
Bradley: We ended up taking quite a while to just brainstorm the world and some of the main characters, especially Zola. We did that in person a few times, but also over a slew of Skype calls and emails. We worked out the plot to some degree. It was loose, but we knew more or less where we wanted to end up.
Then we started writing. Rob tackled the first scene, which really set the tone for Zola and the story as a whole. I then wrote a scene after that. Then Rob. And so on. We’d often stop along the way and just regroup, Rob reading my stuff, and altering it, then taking it one step forward, then me reading what Rob had written, altering a bit, and taking it one step closer to the end. Like Zola and her ships, we navigated the current to the end of our journey, each of us taking a hand at the tiller.
Rob: The skype sessions were crucial as we wrote that first draft. This was one of those stories that sort of found its own way as we wrote it. We’d come up with waypoints that served as a general direction, but these often changed. Again, we didn’t outline. Fairly often the story would want to go its own direction. Especially writing every other chapter. We’d see something in what the other had done, and Skype it out. “Wow, I think this needs to happen now. What do you think?” For me, every chapter of Brad’s had something unexpected in it, and offered a whole new point of departure. So there was a lot of navigating.
Brad: Yeah, same here in terms of constantly revising my thoughts on where the story was going after I’d read Rob’s latest scene. Over and over, we’d read each other’s stuff and pick up on subtle changes the other had added, and sometimes that spun into new ideas that we’d adopt. It’s a common misconception that writing collaborations are easy. They’re not. You’re constantly trying to do right by the story, which by its very nature forces you to back off on a direction you really wanted to head in, or forces you to fight for an idea when you really believe the story needs some element or another. You have to check your pride in at the door, because writing with another person by definition means that it’s not only your story. Finding the right balance can be difficult.
Rob: This was my one hesitation in collaborating, that we might reach differences of taste/opinion that we couldn’t reconcile. But it turned out fine. That aspect was easier actually than I thought it would be. I thought I’d be more territorial. Part of it is just that Brad’s a really easy-going guy, great fun to work with. And from my end it was also easy just because I liked his ideas a lot. I liked what he’d come up with, chapter by chapter.
Brad: It’s also interesting to note that we saved no time whatsoever by writing the story together. It’s not two people putting in half the time to write a story. For us, it wasn’t even two people putting in 75% of the work. In the time we spent writing this, I could easily have written a story of similar length on my own. Thing is, it wouldn’t have been the same story. Not by a long shot. Which again, is part of the point. We wanted to write a collaboration precisely because it would be different than something either one of us would have come up with on our own.
A common refrain among collaborations is that by the end, the authors won’t be able to tell what they wrote and what the other person wrote. After getting the bones down of the story, we rewrote the story about twenty times. Fairly inefficient, but that’s what it took. Rob would read and add, then I would, then Rob, each time taking the story closer and closer to its final incarnation. I remember bits and pieces of things I wrote, and I remember who wrote what first draft. But at this point we’ve both touched pretty much every sentence in the story.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Bradley: Ha! No idea. Ask me again in six months!
Rob: I just hope people do talk about it.
DJ: This may have skipped some reader’s attentions, but The Burning Light is actually a novella. It seems to me that novella is gaining a rise in popularity again: what is it about the novella format that you like? Do you feel there is a particular advantage to telling your story that way over the novel?
Bradley: We definitely had a short story of some sort in mind when we started. We knew it wasn’t going to be a novel. Neither of us wanted that sort of commitment with the other stuff we had going on. But we also knew it wasn’t going to be too short. A large novelette or small novella was where I thought we’d end up initially.
But as we continued to write, and the story kept growing, I didn’t mind. Both Rob and I like larger, meatier stories, so we consciously said, let’s just see what it’s going to be.
Rob: Right. We actually had a conversation specifically about this. The story was getting bigger than we’d planned, and we were entering territory where just because of its length there weren’t going to be as many potential buyers. So we had to ask the question, do we want to truncate this? Do we want to keep it a more marketable length? It was an easy conversation. We were both completely in favor of letting the story dictate its own terms, and staying true to whatever it wanted to be and however long it needed to be.
Brad: Exactly. We didn’t want to artificially limit it. We didn’t want fat on the story, mind you. We just didn’t want to pre-determine what the story was going to be. As it turns out, it became a pretty hefty novella.
I think that size is great. As Joe Haldeman told my class at Clarion, the novella is the perfect size to explore “an idea,” and in my humble opinion that’s exactly what Rob and I did. The novella is gaining a bit in popularity, I think, because it’s the perfect size to read in a reasonable amount of time while at the same time being complex enough to provide a satisfying story. To me, they feel about as long as a movie runs, which I think it’s a somewhat natural length for a lot of readers today.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from The Burning Light that you can share with us?
Bradley: One part of the story that gives me chills is when Zola finally stops running. She’s speaking with Jacirai, who is essentially a dealer in the Light. Zola tells him she’s finally ready to face her fears, and Jacirai replies:
“‘My girl.” The sound of Jacirai’s laughter filled the world. “From out of the desert. Loud like a prophet.”’
Loud like a prophet… Might be my favorite line in the whole story.
DJ: Now that The Burning Light is released, what is next for you?
Rob: As I mentioned above, I’m working on my second novel. Currently titled Angel City, it’s the story of a crooked cop who teams up with an investment quant to investigate the murder of a young celebrity. It takes place in a future LA where all minds are more or less connected, and fame is actual, literal currency. (Connection is a theme with a lot of draw for me, as you’ll see when you read The Burning Light).
Bradley: I’m off to write more in The Song of the Shattered Sands. I’ve just finished up Book Two, With Blood Upon the Sand, and am now deep into Book Three, A Veil of Spears. Pretty soon, though, I’m going to need to drop out of drafting mode and hit the copy edits for With Blood, because it comes out in February. For those who want to get their feet wet in the world, a great place to start on the series is the small novel I just released called Of Sand and Malice Made. It’s a prequel to Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and provides easy entrée to the series.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Author Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/b-MSpv
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Bradley-P.-Beaulieu/e/B004C1TZ04/
Amazon Author Page: https://amazon.com/author/robziegler
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
Bradley: Stepping briefly into the production side of things to mention that I was super-psyched to have Richard Anderson create the cover art for the book. I’ve been a long-time fan, so it was a thrill to have a piece from him grace the cover. I mean, just look at it!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of both of your days to answer my questions!
Rob: Thank you, DJ!
Bradley: Thanks for having us!
◊ ◊ ◊
*** The Burning Light is published by Tor.com Publishing and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Goodreads | Kobo
◊ ◊ ◊
Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying.
A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.
The Burning Light is a thrilling and all-too believable science fiction novella from Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler, the authors of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and Seed.
Bradley P. Beaulieu began writing his first fantasy novel in college, but in the way of these things, it was set aside as life intervened. As time went on, though, Brad realized that his love of writing and telling tales wasn’t going to just slink quietly into the night. The drive to write came back full force in the early 2000s, at which point Brad dedicated himself to the craft, writing several novels and learning under the guidance of writers like Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers, Holly Black, Michael Swanwick, Kij Johnson, and many more.
Brad and his novels have garnered many accolades and most anticipated lists, including two Hotties–the Debut of the Year and Best New Voice–on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo and more:
* Top Ten Book and Debut of the Year for 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Best New Voice of 2011 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
* 2011 Gemmell Morningstar Award Nomination for The Winds of Khalakovo
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on The Ranting Dragon’s Best of 2011
* Top Ten Debut for The Winds of Khalakovo on Mad Hatter’s Book Review Best of 2011
* Honorable Mention for The Winds of Khalakovo on LEC Reviews Best of 2011
* Top Five Book for 2012 on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for The Straits of Galahesh
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on Staffer’s Book Review
* 2012 Most Anticipated for The Straits of Galahesh on The Ranting Dragon
* 2013 Most Anticipated for The Flames of Shadam Khoreh on The Ranting Dragon
In addition to being an L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award winner, Brad’s stories have appeared in various other publications, including Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. His story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat,” was voted a Notable Story of 2006 in the Million Writers Award.
Brad continues to work on his next projects, including The Song of the Shattered Sands, an Arabian Nights epic fantasy, and Tales of the Bryndlholt, a Norse-inspired middle grade series. He also runs the highly successful science fiction and fantasy podcast, Speculate, which can be found at speculatesf.com.
Rob’s fiction obsession began in high school and took him to The Evergreen State College, where he studied American Literature. In the years before the publication of his first novel, Seed, he donned myriad professional hats, including dishwasher, IT strategist, bouncer, day trader and poker player. He has lived all over the country, from Portland to Boston, but the mountain west is his home. He and his wife live in rural Colorado.
Find out more at zieglerstories.com