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P.K. Tyler – Your first book Fluency focuses on NASA and UFO’s. How much and what kind of research did you do about UFO’s and NASA before writing the book?
Jen Wells – I did extensive research into everything NASA, from reading biographies of astronauts, to studying diagrams and blueprints of various capsules and space suits and other life support equipment–mainly a lot of stuff that was in the earliest stages of development at that time in 2012 and 2013. So, for example, I studied every aspect of the then-defunct Orion program (which has since been revived) and I studied the earliest prototypes of the Dragon capsules that SpaceX was putting out. I studied different types of experimental drives and decided on one that I felt was the most plausible for the Providence.

I was very keen to learn about all of the technology that was in developmental stages at that time because I wanted to set the book in near-future in a universe where our government was aware that ET life existed and was responding accordingly. So the pace of development was slightly ahead, by a decade maybe, of where we’ll be next year (Fluency is set in 2017, though I never stated that explicitly).

I watched a LOT of YouTube videos of astronauts describing their lives on the ISS–the food they were eating, their exercise regimes, how they felt physically and mentally. How movement feels in microgravity. How things behave–from water to particulates in the air. How it smells. How they smell. How they launder their clothes (or don’t.) How they bathe, use the bathroom, and do other mundane tasks like shave, cut hair–things we don’t often think about here on the ground, but are considerably more difficult in microgravity.

As far as UFOs, I didn’t study that extensively. I did look up the most basic details about the Roswell, New Mexico incident just for fun. I included that as a tongue in cheek detail since the backstory about the Providence mission was a conspiracy theorist’s dream. I’m not saying that backfired, but I did get some negative reviews for mentioning that in the text. Clearly they didn’t understand what I was doing there. 😀

Essentially I put an entire month of research into this. Morning, noon, and night. Goodness only knows how many hours that was. I loved every minute. And then I continued my research as I was writing the book. In the end I took some of those details literally, extrapolated on others, and exaggerated still others to be able to write a good story.

PKT – Some of your books take place on other worlds. When you have an idea for a book, does the book’s universe exist right from the beginning, or is this something that comes out while you’re writing?
JW – As I go through the development of a story in my head, a cosmology begins to form. The details flesh themselves out during the writing process, but many of them started as images flashing through my head as I contemplate which direction to go. I think a lot about all the possibilities before I ever start typing. But in the creative moment I get a lot of deeper insights. Almost all of my work is set in the same universe, but with different cultures. I work very hard to get inside the cultural mindsets of a different species and how they might express themselves through different individuals. I try to extrapolate from things that are known. For example, when I created the Sectilius I said to myself, “What would happen if a people evolved from a bonobo-like species AND autism was neurotypical for them?” Asking myself those kinds of questions leads to some really interesting ideas.

PKT – The covers for all your books are amazing! Can you tell us a bit about developing working relationships with people, like graphic designers who are part of the publishing process?
JW – I always keep my eye out for talent. When I find someone good, I pay them what they are worth. I don’t balk at paying someone more who has more experience. Good artwork sells books. You have to invest money to make money. I never cut corners on artwork or editing. As far as relationships with them go, I find that kindness and honesty go a long way. And spreading the word about someone with talent, crediting them for a fine job done, is key. They always appreciate getting more work. Referrals make everybody happy.

PKT – How do you as an author, especially with the success of your first book, deal with the demands of marketing your published works and writing new ones?
JW – It’s hard to find that balance and I’m definitely still learning. Marketing is time consuming and aside from a few really good resources hasn’t been particularly successful for me. I had to find that out the hard way, I think. At this point in my career my time is best spent getting an occasional Book Bub, a dab of social media every day, building my own email list, and writing as much as possible. The best advertisement is a happy reader sharing their pleasure in a book by word of mouth–and that is free.

PKT – You mention Ray Bradbury as one of your early science fiction influences. Who’s influencing you now, and what was the last science fiction book you read?
JW – I think that my long history of reading everything I could get my hands on from a very young age developed within me what Hemingway called “a bullshit detector”–which basically means that if something makes me cringe, it has got to be reworked in some way. I’m influenced by all the things I have loved over the years–from classic scifi stories to favorite scifi television dramas and movies, and on and on.

I wouldn’t say I’m currently being influenced by any specific thing. (However I did worry that binging on Downton Abbey would alter my character’s speech, though!)

The last scifi book I read was Nick Webb’s Warrior. It’s the sequel to Constitution, which I read directly before it. This series is fantastic. Nick is a talented storyteller and I look forward to seeing what else he’s got coming. And I cannot wait to get my hands on the third in that trilogy which just came out!

PKT – Now for a futuristic question.Where do you see the world of science fiction writing heading? Do you think there will be further divisions into sub-genres, or is there a return to ‘traditional’ science fiction ala HG Wells and Jules Verne?
JW – There seems to be a proliferation of subcategories for everything these days. More and more tiny niches being filled by like-minded people. Best example I can think of is Oreo cookies. There’s an Oreo for everyone now. And there’s a scifi subgenre for everyone too. I write character driven space opera. Other people write shoot-em-up epic space battle space opera. There’s room for all of us. I really think the scifi reading population is underserved. There should be a lot more out there in this genre to read. I think that bottleneck comes from trad pub not realizing just how big their audience really was and only publishing a very specific kind of scifi story for years. Now indies have jumped in the fray and the landscape is changing dramatically.

PKT – Science fiction has criticized developing and future technologies, but also initiates innovation and new technology. Do your books do one or the other, or both?
JW – I’m not an engineer or a physicist like so many of the great science fiction writers that went before me have been. I’m not arrogant enough to think that I could invent a legitimate new technology that would catch on. I focus on writing great stories set in space with technology and science that seems to me to be plausible for that time and place. If my writing criticizes anything, it would be cultural mindsets, not technology.

PKT – For you, what’s the difference between a Fantasy book and a Science Fiction book? We know that you write Science Fiction, but do enjoy reading Fantasy as well?
JW – For me, Science Fiction is a story that is set in either the future, an alternate reality, or world AND involves scientific elements–it’s rooted in physics as we understand it now. Fantasy simply doesn’t have to comply with the laws of physics–i.e. magic is allowed.

The line between Science Fiction and Fantasy is starting to blur. Take NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season for example. That book has both elements of dystopian scifi and fantasy. It’s a fantastic mashup of the genres. I’d definitely call it Science Fantasy–a completely different brand of Science Fantasy than, say, the Star Wars franchise, but Science Fantasy nonetheless.

I don’t normally read a lot of fantasy. I’ve never been drawn to the traditional Tolkien-inspired journey story. Magic doesn’t really do it for me. But every now and then a book comes along that breaks that mold, that does something new, and I always give it a try. There have been quite a few non-traditional fantasy stories I’ve enjoyed recently. One that immediately comes to mind is All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders.

PKT – I read recently you were approached by a major publisher.  What can you tell us about that?
JW – I guess you’d call me a hybrid author. I’ve been published (or am in the process of being published) in translation by traditional publishers in three other countries. Germany’s version of Fluency is Die Frequenz and was put out by Heyne/Random House just a few months ago. I’ve also got deals with Japanese and Russian publishers.

This latest contract was a blurb request for a new author of a new (traditionally published) release. It was a pretty damn exciting moment for me to be honest. As an indie author that is a mark of legitimacy and I’m proud to have earned it.

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Fast Five:

PKT – Would you rather live on an underwater world, or a space station?
JW – 
Tricky question since you know of my love of cephalopods! I’d have to pick space station though!

PKT – Ray Bradbury or HG Wells?
JW – Ray Bradbury! A master of short stories. Made me fall in love with the genre at a very young age.

PKT – Aliens or monsters, who’s on your side?
JW – Aliens are ALWAYS on my side!

PKT – Star Trek or Star Wars. . . or both?
JW – Both, please! I couldn’t live without either!

PKT – Chocolate or Potato Chips?
JW – Dark chocolate!!!!!!!!

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About Jennifer Foehner Wells

As a child growing up in rural Illinois, Jennifer Foehner Wells had the wild outdoors, a budding imagination, and books for company. Her interest in science fiction was piqued early on when a family friend loaned her a Ray Bradbury compilation, among loads of other wonderful scifi books. Jen currently lives an alternately chaotic and fairly bucolic existence in Indiana with two boisterous little boys and two semi-crazed cats. You can find her on Twitter, extolling science and scifi fandoms, as @Jenthulhu. To find out more about Jen, visit: www.jenthulhu.com.

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A Paperback bundle of Jen’s Fluency Series will be awarded to one random commenter.


22 thoughts on “#WomenofSciFi – Interview with JENNIFER FOEHNER WELLS

  1. I loved Fluency. What a great book and I picked up the sequel the day it released. It’s so great to see bold science fiction writing in the indie world.

  2. I just bought Fluency because of the amazing sale offer! I would love the printed books. They make my heart pitter patter.

    I have been meaning to read your work since I saw your name in the Future Chronicles line up. I apologize for forgetting which one.

    You totally rock!

    email — goteamgo72@gmail.com
    Can’t tell if it’s correct on website taker downer thingy

  3. This is a very informative interview. It’s good to see a writer doing that kind of intensive research. I’m a “hybrid writer” too, and I’m glad to see “one of us” getting some attention and success.

  4. What a really deep interview. I enjoyed learning about an author that had missed my radar but I apparently need to check out NK Jemisin.

    I also appreciated you guys discussing marketing. What a new world we’re in with marketing being more & more on the authors.

    & what an important & kind thing to say, about how good cover art sells books & the designers deserve to be paid for their work.

    Congrats, Jen on your new contract! & thank you for this interview, Ms Tyler!

  5. Saw the tweet about only one commenter and raced right over – had to stop and read the interview so I don’t get to be second. Thanks for the giveaway!

  6. Great interview! Also cephalopods 🙂 It is always interesting to me to read about writing process and not a lot of people talk about their research process, especially. Would also be happy to have the paperbacks!]

  7. I really enjoyed reading this interview. It’s especially useful to me, considering I’m interested in writing Sci-Fi novels. It offers incredible insight to hear how an author such as Jen handles the genre.

  8. I fell in love with Fluency, and then I met Jen in person. My husband read it too, and we had a wonderful time discussing the book.

    This was a fascinating interview. Thanks, Pavarti, and thanks, Jen, for a detailed look into your writing methods.

  9. Some people might like to know that there’s an all ages version of Fluency. After I read Fluency I told my kids how much I loved it and told them they’d love it too when they were a little older. Happily, the all ages version came out (yay!). We shared the book that way and it was great!

  10. If it wasnt for Carindi in DBTS, I probably never would’ve picked up Fluency when I stumbled onto the “steal” price. Thanks for the amazingly thoughtout scifi.

    And I just finished Constitution a week ago. Could NOT put it down, which was nice.

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