Today I am interviewing Caitlin Starling, author of the new sci-fi, horror novel, The Luminous Dead.
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DJ: Hi Caitlin! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Caitlin Starling: Hi DJ! I’m a writer, knitter, and cocktail drinker based near Portland, Oregon. I grew up doing costuming, NaNoWriMo, and all sorts of collaborative storytelling. The Luminous Dead is a science fiction/horror/thriller mashup, and while not all my projects are science fiction, they all share a twisty dark character and relationship based heart.
DJ: What is The Luminous Dead about?
Caitlin: It’s about a woman who lies her way onto a dangerous solo caving expedition in pursuit of a fat paycheck, only to find that she doesn’t have the surface support she expected, and that her only contact with the outside world is a cold, manipulative, lying stranger. Or, more quicky, “Angry, traumatized lesbians in caves.”
DJ: What were some of your influences for The Luminous Dead?
Caitlin: Video games like Firewatch, Portal, and Zombies, Run!, which all feature a voice in the player’s ear helping– maybe– them through the game, were a huge influence. That sort of forced intimacy, and withheld information, is like catnip to me.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Caitlin: “Sympathize” might be a stretch (at least at first)! Both Gyre (in the cave) and Em (on the comm line) are extremely driven, broken women who make some extremely questionable decisions. My hope is that both are interesting in the ways they’re wounded and yet continue working towards their goals.
Gyre’s mother abandoned her when she was young, and she chose to cope with that loss by obsessively pursuing caving, to the point where she doesn’t have much of a life outside of it. She’s built her entire identity around finding her mother again, and while that sort of intensity is fascinating, it’s not a particularly stable base to build from. The cave, and Em, put a lot of stress on those fracture lines, which has some pretty explosive results.
Em is a little harder to discuss without spoilers, but I will say that she mirrors Gyre to some extent, and then adds a huge helping of power, money, and “objective” remove on top. She is in many ways an unforgiveable character, but my hope is that by the end of the story, she is also sympathetic.
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role for in story? Why?
Caitlin: This is a tricky question, because there are very few side characters, and we never see them on the page with Gyre or Em– at most we “see” a few video clips, or hear stories about them second hand from our leads. Of those characters, though, I’d have to say that Isolde is my favorite. I’ll have to be vague, as her entire identity is a spoiler, but she has such an impact on the whole story that the concept of her permeates the entire book. We get conflicting views of her: is she strong? Broken? Courageous? Selfish? Grieving? Mad? Can all of those things be true at once? And what does that mean for Em and Gyre?
Apart from Isolde, I’d also have to say the cave itself. It’s not a character in the traditional sense, but it’s also not just a setting. It’s an entity all its own.
DJ: What is the world and setting of The Luminous Dead like?
Caitlin: The desert colony world that Em and Gyre live on is constructed around mineral extraction practices that are truly exploitative, not just of nature, but also human lives. The colony’s whole existence is for those mines, and they’re marginal enough that the people who live on Cassandra-V are essentially trapped there. Of course, we get this information entirely from Gyre, who has a biased, limited understanding of her world and her place in it; but because of the extreme focus of the book, whether she’s correct or not both is unanswered and not particularly important.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing The Luminous Dead?
Caitlin: Writing the most atmospheric, spooky, tense parts. Immersing myself in the feeling of being in the dark, of not being able to trust what you’re seeing, of letting my characters completely break apart and have big reactions to terrible things. It’s not fun in the traditional sense, but it’s fascinating, consuming, and a lot less fiddly than carefully calibrating each step of Gyre and Em’s very twisty relationship. (I’m very proud of those relationship steps, they’re some of my favorite passages, but they weren’t my favorite to write!)
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Caitlin: Exactly what happened in that cave, and how much any one character is responsible for it.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing The Luminous Dead? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Caitlin: Grief, and how grief shapes our sense of self. Grief can both motivate us and trap us in harmful patterns, and there’s no one way to reconstruct your life after a major death or loss.
DJ: Now that The Luminous Dead is released, what is next for you?
Caitlin: I’m dabbling in gothic horror right now, still with small casts and limited settings, though branching out a little more. I’ll also be hopping around to various conventions this summer to talk about The Luminous Dead and meet new people: the Nebula conference in May, ALA in June, Thrillerfest in July, and Worldcon (in Ireland!) in August.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Author Newsletter: www.caitlinstarling.com/newsletter
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Caitlin-Starling/e/B07HDTSY4C/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about The Luminous Dead that we haven’t talked about yet?
Caitlin: Please don’t try spelunking alone! Always take an experienced buddy (and preferably one you trust).
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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***The Luminous Dead is published by Harper Voyager and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.
When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.
Instead, she got Em.
Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .
As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, her control giving way to paranoia and anger, Gyre severs her connection with Em and the outside world. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.
But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?
About the Author:
Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.