Guest Post & Giveaway — Sharon Lynn Fisher: Writers Are Magpies

Ophelia Prophecy Blog Tour Button

Today I have a guest post from Sharon Lynn Fisher, author of Ghost Planet, a science fiction romance which had a premise I loved, which is that everyone that lands on Ardagh 1 eventually has the ghost of someone they once knew attach themselves to them. She’s also the author of the recently released The Ophelia Prophecy that takes place on Earth in the aftermath of genetic research gone awry. The Manta, products of human and insect DNA experiments, are now the dominant culture, and this story is about a Manta and a human getting thrown together and the resulting clash and fallout — another great premise. I was quite excited to hear from Tor about hosting a stop on her blog tour, and actually very pleased she picked the question I’d asked about world building. Enjoy.

(Tor has also offered 3 copies of The Ophelia Prophecy to give away to 3 readers of this site, so check that out at the bottom of this post).


I’m going to start off this post with the terrific question provided by Janicu:

I imagine that writers, like a lot of creative people, are like magpies that save little bits of something from the world, internalize it, and remake it, rearrange it, add a whole lot of their own magic, and voila. What would you say are little pieces of inspiration that went into the making of this new story? (If you wanted to mention ECHO 8, I wouldn’t mind hearing about that too)!

World building is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I’ve mentioned in a few interviews how I used to hate it. I found world building really intimidating, and thought of it as the stuff that happened between bits of “real” story (action, dialogue, romance).

I have since become disabused of that oversimplified understanding. World building is so much more than descriptions of setting (though that part is pretty important too). It fuels just about every other aspect of the story. It helps develop character and motivation. Drives creation of the plot.

But moving on to this magpie thing, because Janicu really hit on something there.

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Connemara Abbey (image courtesy of Sharon Lynn Fisher)

In my current release, THE OPHELIA PROPHECY, I built settings based on real-world locations. Places I had visited and wanted to return to. Sanctuary, the last human city, is located in the otherworldly landscape of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah. After Asha, the heroine, is abducted from Sanctuary by the hero, Pax, their next stop is Connemara, in County Galway, Ireland. Connemara is one of my favorite places on Earth (based on what I’ve seen of it so far). Dramatic and often bleak landscapes, and a living sky, constantly shifting from sun to rain to wind. You can feel its history. You can almost hear the voices of the people who’ve lived and died there. No wonder Ireland produces such amazing writers.

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Granada Alhambra (photo by Javier Carro, distributed under a CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

But the real showcase setting of OPHELIA is the Manti capital in Granada, Spain. The Manti are the human/praying mantis transgenic organisms that all but destroyed humanity with a targeted plague. I needed a location suited to them — exotic and sensual, with a complicated history. This Moorish city is charming just as it is, but I depicted the fictional version as enhanced by the Manti to included living, organic architecture inspired by Gaudi structures I’d seen in Barcelona (and then finished it off by layering on some political and religious conflict). One key location, a tavern called Debajo, was inspired by an image I came across on the Internet. A stone, squat, clearly medieval building situated among the more graceful architecture of the Albayzin. This tavern peddles a drug inspired by a flower I saw and learned about on a trip to Costa Rica.

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Colman School (image courtesy of Sharon Lynn Fisher)

As my hostess mentioned ECHO 8 — my third book from Tor, due out early next year — I’ll say a word or two about that. That book is set in current-day Seattle, and also on an alternate Earth that has been devastated by an asteroid strike. The primary location is an old school building visible from I-90 on the way out of Seattle. I used to drive past the circa 1900 building with its boarded-up windows and thought what a shame it was that someone was going to tear it down eventually. But they didn’t. It was renovated and converted to an African American history museum, with affordable housing on the upper floors. For ECHO 8 it became the Seattle Psi Training Institute. Another key location is the creepy decommissioned ferryboat, Kalakala, which has a very colorful past. I once lived in a tiny house on a dock on Lake Union, near downtown Seattle, and this massive derelict was parked there for a time. I always wondered about it, and when I started writing ECHO 8 I did a bunch of research, and it became a setting (and almost a character) in my book.

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Kalakala (photo by Barnaby Dorfman, distributed under a CC BY 2.0 license)

But the book of mine that best illustrates the magpie idea, I’m working on now. I don’t want to say too much about it yet, as it’s still in the earlyish stages, but it’s set in Portland and features an artist heroine and a physicist/warrior poet hero. The heroine, Neve, IS a magpie. She collects bits of garbage she passes on the street, and she turns them into art books. She sees meaning and beauty in discarded objects as ordinary as a dry ballpoint pen or a popped balloon.

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Magpie (photo by Adrian Pingstone)

Writers are just like that. It can be things or people or places or even garbage. They are captured and cataloged every day of our lives. And they decorate our mental landscape. I remember one day I was walking down a busy street in downtown Seattle, near the Pike Place Market. I saw a woman walking toward me carrying a box. As she came closer, I saw she was wearing a fairy costume, and she looked annoyed. As she passed, I noticed her wings were in the box. There she was, a whole story walking down the street in broad daylight. And nobody seemed to see her but me.

 


Sharon Lynn Fisher Author PhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: A Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, SHARON LYNN FISHER lives in the Pacific Northwest. She writes books for the geeky at heart—sci-fi flavored stories full of adventure and romance—and battles writerly angst with baked goods, Irish tea, and champagne. Her works include Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2014). You can visit her online at SharonLynnFisher.com.


GIVEAWAY:

This giveaway is closed!

 

Rules:

  • This giveaway is for U.S./Canada only
  • Contest ends: Wednesday, April 30th.
  • One entry per person please!
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Ghost Planet by Sharon Lynn Fisher

This review is based on an eARC sent to me by the publisher.

Ghost Planet
Sharon Lynn Fisher

The Premise: Elizabeth Cole was starting a new job as a psychologist on the newly discovered world of Ardagh 1, also known as “the ghost planet”. This is a place with a remarkable phenomenon – everyone who goes there starts being followed around by a manifestation of a deceased person they once knew. Why the local aliens have chosen to do this is a great mystery, but to cope, settlers have set up the Ghost Protocol. The protocol is not to acknowledge the ghosts whatsoever.  Interaction has had adverse effects and colonists find that ghosts weaken if ignored for long enough. When Elizabeth lands on the planet she is apprehensive about what will attach herself to her, and when she meets with her supervisor Dr. Grayson Murphy, her first thought is to wonder if he’s human. He is, but Elizabeth is in for a shock – she’s the one that’s the ‘ghost’! Her transport to the planet crashed, killing all aboard. Now Elizabeth is faced with the alarming prospect of knowing she’s ‘real’ but being treated as if she’s not. She has to fight for herself and against the Ghost Protocol, while being tethered to the man responsible for it.

Read an excerpt of Ghost Planet here

My Thoughts: I’m not sure how long Ghost Planet has been on my radar, but I’ve been following the author’s blog since sometime last year. Its premise just got me aflutter: a planet where everyone has ghost following them around? And the heroine is surprised to discover she’s a ghost too? And there’s chemistry with the guy she’s linked with? AND Linnea Sinclair calls it a “fresh and fascinating take on the human-alien problem”? Uh, yeah, needless to say, I had pre-ordered this long before I was contacted about a review.

The tarmac was deserted. Foggy and disoriented, I wondered how long I’d been standing there, listening to the evergreens groan in the wind and dreading my first encounter on this new world. Would it be human or alien?
I breathed in the crisp, impossibly clean air, trying to clear my head. My gaze traveled around the landing pad hemmed in by towering conifers, and came to rest on the transport terminal, oblong and silent under a slate-gray sky.
What now?
I had the unsettling feeling I was the only person on the planet—Ardagh 1, more commonly referred to as “the ghost planet” by people on Earth. Inexplicable things happened here. The planet itself was a study in the impossible.
Finally the terminal doors slid open, and a figure stepped out onto the tarmac. Half a dozen others spilled out behind him, and a transport whined into view, landing about thirty meters away.
The presence of the other passengers eased my sense of isolation. But that first man out of the building—he was headed right for me. My heart beat out a warning, and my mind snapped back to the original question: Human or alien?
“Elizabeth?” He raised his dark eyebrows, and my gaze locked on his startling eyes. Piercing, round, and the lightest shade of blue, like sky behind a veil of cloud—clean cloud, not the brown smudges that passed for clouds back on Earth. Something about him tugged at my memory, but I found this the opposite of reassuring.
“Yes?” I answered, uneasy. If he wasn’t human, I was minutes on the planet and already breaking the rules. It was dangerous to talk to them. There were institutions back on Earth devoted to caring for people who’d done so. I’d met some of those people.

I think my instinct for what I like served me well with this one. I loved the concept that promised some interesting world-building, but because this is also Romance, there’s a burgeoning relationship for me to enjoy too. I like a balance between these two things, and Ghost Planet does a good job of it. I especially liked this early on, when Elizabeth has to adjust to her new reality. What first struck me was that although she was on a new planet, far from Earth, her work as a psychologist was something relatable and not high-tech or military. She was a middle-class woman, without any special combat skills, just her degree. And because this was told from her point of view, having the ‘ghost’ tell the her side of story was a nice spin on the extra-terrestrial encounter trope: no one knows exactly what she is, but then, neither does she. Until she’s told she’s a ghost, Elizabeth doesn’t realize anything is wrong, and her shock and confusion at having her most basic identity questioned is good stuff. The irony is that the human Elizabeth was interested in the ‘ghosts’ from an academic standpoint before traveling to Ardagh 1. Now her experience with the Ghost Protocol is much more personal and her questions about her existence much more pressing.

At first it seems like Elizabeth’s unlucky to be attached to her would-be-supervisor Murphy. He’s the psychologist responsible for helping the settlers cope and he’s told them rejecting their ghosts is the best thing to do. But before he realized what she was, they were enjoying each other’s company. When Elizabeth turns out to be a ghost, it’s a surprise for both of them. So Murphy is kind to her and conflicted about his own protocol. Their relationship mirrors the people on both sides of the equation. On one side, there are the humans, wary of a phenomenon that has no explanation, on the other, there’s the ‘ghosts’, struggling to be acknowledged.

Because any interaction with Elizabeth is verboten, the relationship took some time to develop, and I enjoyed seeing how it happened despite the rules against it. Elizabeth’s persistence and Murphy’s empathy were characteristics that brought them closer, but the connection they forged from quiet proximity had it’s own power. The romance takes a natural path there that I liked, and Elizabeth and Murphy make a compatible couple. The one quibble I had, was that once they hit a turning point in their relationship, something went away. I think that that suddenly the discord came from sources external to the relationship, and these two were very harmonious.  I suppose at that point they had enough to deal with.

Anyway, this is a story with a healthy amount of romance but has a plot that doesn’t just evolve around that. There are some suspenseful, action-adventure aspects to the story and Elizabeth and Murphy have to face several threats to their lives. I can’t really go into these without spoiling the story, but I was impressed by how thoughtfully Ghost Planet explores the the ‘ghost’ concept in its storytelling. It’s a concept that’s also a mystery, and thankfully the author doesn’t leave the reader with a lot of hanging questions. It explores a lot of the questions I had and organically integrated the answers into the plot. For example, I’d wondered about other ‘ghosts’ and what they were like, what Elizabeth could do and not do as a ghost, what would happen if she was strengthened by Murphy rather than weakened, what happened if she tired to separate from him, and so on. I even felt like I got something of a satisfactory explanation for why the ‘ghosts’ were there in the first place, or at least a working theory that made sense to me, by the end of the story.

Overall: I’m excited about other people discovering this author. I thought Ghost Planet was very enjoyable science fiction romance with a heroine who is more regular girl than action hero, and a setting that feels very unique (and not just for not being on a spaceship).  I really liked the thoughtful way in which the ‘ghost’ concept was explored in this story, and I also liked how I was engaged by scenes that weren’t all about action. Fisher made relationship dynamics and the fight for dominance (or just acknowledgement) between personalities just as important as physical fights for control. I’d recommend Ghost Planet for fans of Sara Creasy and Linnea Sinclair.

P.S. As far as I can tell, this is a standalone (!)

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

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