Today I am interviewing TJ Berry, author of the new sci-fi novel, Five Unicorn Flush, second book in the Space Unicorn series.
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DJ: Hi TJ! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
TJ Berry: Thank you for having me! I write science fiction and horror, along with a smattering of fantasy. As a kid, you would have found me in either the US state of New Jersey or on the island of Hong Kong. Living between a bustling international metropolis and a sleepy little sheltered town taught me how to be adaptable and open to listening and learning.
DJ: What is Five Unicorn Flush and then the Space Unicorn series about?
TJ: The heart of this series is how good people cope with—and resist—the horrors of an authoritarian regime. Every day can’t be the fight of your life. There are down moments when people have to get to work and earn a living, even while society crumbles around them. These books are about making hard choices and eking out a life in the margins while having a little bit of fun.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Space Unicorn series?
TJ: A lot of the irreverent tone of both Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush was heavily influenced by the tv show Firefly. I grew up watching the original Star Trek and Next Generation, which were incredible, but also… people don’t speak like that. Firefly managed to combine the wonder of space opera with the jaunty sarcasm of real life. I tried to capture that feeling in the Space Unicorn books.
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?
TJ: Captain Jenny Perata is the person at the center of both unicorn stories. We first meet her after she’s made the decision to stop exploiting the labor of magical creatures and begin helping them escape human rule. This is not a “horrible person is redeemed” story, it’s more of a “horrible person tries to make amends in several ways and experiences consequences for her terrible choices” story. Jenny is haunted by her previous actions, but realizes her discomfort is nothing compared to the pain the Bala have experienced. We’ve all been in a situation where we learned how to do better, but didn’t know how to fix our previous mistakes. Jenny spends a lot of time figuring out how to make things right.
Her counterpoint, Gary Cobalt, is a part-unicorn man who experienced Jenny’s cruelty firsthand. He struggles with anger and PTSD as a result of human treatment, and he has a hard time getting out from under the shadow of his domineering full-unicorn father. Through all of this, he tries hard to maintain his kindness and sense of humor.
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?
TJ: Ricky Tang, the cunning con-woman, was only supposed to have a minor part in Space Unicorn Blues, but she was so much fun to write that she eventually got her own storyline. Reader response to Ricky was overwhelmingly positive, so I gave her a more important role in Five Unicorn Flush… plus a fun little love interest. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the book!
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Space Unicorn series like?
TJ: The Space Unicorn books are set in an alternate human future in which we destroyed our planet through climate change (not too far off, eh?) and set off on generation ships to find a new habitable planet. What humans found, however, were friendly aliens shaped like fairy tale creatures… elves, dwarves, and unicorns. Instead of accepting their help, we oppressed and exploited the Bala—as people often do. These books take place a century after that first encounter. The Bala are captive and downtrodden. It’s a peaceful and plentiful universe, but only if you’re human. An authoritarian military-based government (a joint project between the United States, Australia, and India) called The Reason rules all, and the rules are ever-changing. What we find at the end of the first book is that human authority rests on the backs of the Bala. When magic is no longer plentiful, human society descends into chaos.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the first book of the Space Unicorn series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
TJ: I am really surprised at the positive reader reactions to the Space Unicorn books. I mean, you always hope people will like your work, but I’m thrilled at how many people found bits that resonated with them. For example, I have arthritis in my shoulder and neck from a childhood injury and I’m in pain nearly every day. I wrote that into Jenny’s story—about the tradeoffs you have to make when getting through your day with chronic pain or a disability. Many readers have written to say how much they appreciated seeing their own experiences on the page. I have yet to hear from any part-unicorns, though.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Five Unicorn Flush?
TJ: I love when a character surprises me. Ostensibly, I’m the writer and I control what happens. But in reality, little details jump out and take the story in a new direction. Bào Zhú was supposed to come back as an angry and powerful necromancer in book two; however, he decided instead to show up as a sweet old man exhausted from his disguise as a twentysomething crew member on a Reason warship. He just wants to sit with a warm cup of tea.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
TJ: I intentionally ended the second book with an important reveal about one of the main characters. They’re stable for now, but also a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. At the end of the book, the reader knows more than the characters do about what’s going on. There are definitely loose threads hanging—I hope I get a chance to continue the story!
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the Space Unicorn series? The series is not yet complete, but is 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?
TJ: There are definitely a few themes that have revealed themselves during the writing process. Like the importance of doing the work to make things right. I’ve always disliked the idea of “forgiveness”—that the person who was harmed has to do the work of letting go. I’m much more focused on making amends—the person who was harmful ensuring they’ve make things better. It’s a messy process that’s not linear and might not ever end, but it’s incredibly valuable for both parties. I like to tuck some heavy thoughts into the snarky banter.
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 Five Unicorn Flush that you can share with us?
TJ: I love this quote from Captain Jenny talking with her ship AI, who has just informed her that the crew risk tolerance is at maximum: “Nothing’s ever at maximum if you try hard enough.”
DJ: Now that Five Unicorn Flush is released, what is next for you?
TJ: I’m onto the next book! This one is a complete change of direction from the space Space Unicorn series. Instead of grand, sweeping space opera, I’m focusing down into the head of a single character. It has been incredibly difficult to get right, but when it works it’s incredibly rewarding.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://smile.amazon.com/TJ-Berry/e/B07961KKVK
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Five Unicorn Flush and the Space Unicorn series that we haven’t talked about yet?
TJ: If you’re looking for weird-but-heartfelt adventure sci-fi with unique characters like a female centaur MMA fighter who’s obsessed with protein, or a starship AI who is so dedicated to her captain that she’s devoted 53% of her processing power to keeping her alive… then these are the books for you.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like add?
TJ: Thanks for having me—it was a lot of fun!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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***Five Unicorn Flush is published byAngry Robot and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
Only one woman with a magical parasite can unite the galaxy, in the mind-blowing SF sequel to Space Unicorn Blues
The Bala, magical creatures, have hidden themselves from cruel and destructive humanity, leaving the galaxy in shambles. Without unicorn-powered faster-than-light travel, mankind is scattered, starving and isolated across the stars. Cowboy Jim has the sole surviving FTL drive, and he and his Reason soldiers are determined to track down and re-enslave the Bala. But on their new planet, the Bala are on the brink of civil war: should they accept Unicorn rule, or follow necromancer Bao Zhi and exact revenge on their human oppressors? Only Captain Jenny, with her new elfin parasite, can return peace to the galaxy.
About the Author:
TJ Berry grew up living between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the New Jersey shore. Her favorite pizza is a plain slice from Three Brothers in Seaside Heights. She can be coaxed into a trap using any type of cheese.
TJ has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and she spent a disastrous two weeks on the assembly line in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries. TJ is an activist and a feminist.
She has been writing since the age of ten, when all of her stories were thinly-veiled Famous Five fan fiction. Her writing resides in the liminal space between science fiction and fantasy. She enjoys creating work with a strong voice as well as marinating her characters in the mundane horrors of daily life.
TJ also co-hosts the weekly Warp Drives Podcast with her husband, in which they explore science fiction, fantasy, and horror via pop culture and literary lenses. It’s smart, snarky, and just a little bit saucy… just like TJ. She’s the author of Space Unicorn Blues and Five Unicorn Flush from Angry Robot. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry and online at http://tjberrywrites.com.