Skyler White brings freshness to her unique brand of dark fantasy romance by including strong elements of science and philosophy (and a touch of steampunk too!). In this week of her second release, In Dreams Begin, Skye graciously agreed to drop by to talk about what inspires her.
SHARON: I have always written fantasy and paranormal stories, but over the last five years or so have found my imagination really fired by reading about science, from biology to physics to psychology to technology. I feel like this helps me bring a freshness to my character development and plotting. I love that the hero of and Falling, Fly is a brain scientist, and how you’ve incorporated that into your paranormal framework. Can you talk a bit about how you came up with the idea for that aspect?
SKYE: Honestly, it came out of curiosity. It all started with Steven Johnson’s book “Mind Wide Open,” which I read in 2007, so I was geeking out on neuroscience before I became a novelist. It’s just such an amazing cool and rapidly expanding field of study. It got into the writing because, with and Falling, I was curious about the nature of desire. Olivia, the vampire, is the fallen angel of desire. She’s the mythic interpretation.
Dominic is a neuroscientist because he has to be, because it would be the only way a guy like him would go about trying to answer the questions he has, but also expressly because it allowed me to explore the field more deeply. I did a lot of very specific research once I started writing him. He needed a medical model for Olivia’s ideas of damnation. For him it’s temporal lobe seizures. But it’s scary introducing that kind of information into fiction.
Falling is a challenging book that asks a lot of its readers. It’s my hope that it gives a lot in return, but to some extent, the neuroscience is the easy part. I’m asking folks to engage with me on some very complex terrain. The neuroscience, at least, exists elsewhere. But it’s a very fine line between asking enough of readers that they engage with their whole self, mind and emotion, and asking so much that you exclude people you want to reach. I wanted to reach people with this book. I wanted to touch them. I didn’t want to confuse folks or overwhelm them with language or science, but I truly believe that my best chance to deliver the experience to readers that I hope I can, lies in taking exactly those risks.
SHARON: Did you research other areas of science for Falling? There are definitely strong threads of psychology and philosophy, even a nod to quantum physics!
SKYE: You caught that! Thank you! Yeah, well…. I did that research, but not really for the book, not directly. I’m a novelist though, so everything is my field, right? It’s a wonderful excuse. Also my whole messy life up til now? Also research. I’m interested in psychology and philosophy and biology and physics because they’re all part of being a person on the planet, and that’s what I want to write.
SHARON: How did you come up with/research the steampunk elements of your book?
In writing and Falling, Fly, it seemed to me that Hell, to the extent that I was going to make it real, had to be self-powered and inertia-driven. I felt like it was important to create an ecology for Hell that was more environmentally conscious than our world, and that made sense both metaphorically and literally. So my steampunk isn’t actually steam-driven; it’s powered by people. All the energy that is used in Hell comes from people in Hell. The mechanisms that capture the excess human energy and re-purpose it towards the upkeep of Hell are all mechanical, they’re cogs and ball-bearings and wheels. And Hell is without plastic or electricity. There’s a story reason for that, but it’s explained in In Dreams Begin, and I don’t want to spoil it.
SHARON: Will we find scientific components in your new release, In Dreams Begin? What research have you done for that book?
SKYE: Most of the research I did for Dreams was historical, but the brain science definitely sneaks in. The most obvious place is the mind/body game I’m playing by having my POV character’s mind inhabit two different bodies. Most of the motivation for that was story-driven. I wanted my time traveler to be physically inconspicuous in the past. But I borrow heavily from Antonio Damasio and his ideas around embodied cognition, and make liberal use of the research I did for Falling on the differences between procedural, semantic and episodic memory, so that my modern woman, in her Victorian body, “knows only what one remembers without words, and what she has not done. She has never cut up a chicken, but she knows how to drive a motorcar.”
SHARON: Thanks for the fascinating chat, Skye, and best of luck on your new release!
Questions for Skye? Please leave a comment!
Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels and Falling, Fly (Berkley, March 2010) and In Dreams Begin (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX. Visit her on the web at http://www.skylerwhite.com.
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