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Interview with Abby Goldsmith

She is a member of SFWA and attended the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. She has directed video games for LeapFrog and Nintendo, and her Torth series gained an audience on Wattpad and Royal Road before it got published. Goldsmith has sold works to Writer’s Digest and Escape Pod, and she co-hosts the Stories For Nerds podcast from her home in Austin, Texas.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
My student films, made at CalArts, were screened in film festivals such as Annecy International in France and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you shortly? Any new project you’re working on?
Yes! I am creating a new series set in a fantasy world where magic is overcomplicated by bureaucracy, and peasants struggle to afford simple healing spells. Ordinary folks can’t guess why unicorns are extinct, and sky folk are hunted - until a bookish outsider challenges the Gnosortium by reinventing spellcraft from the ground up.

Q.3 What inspired you to write the Torth series?
The Torth universe arose from my experience as a weirdo who didn’t fit into the society around me. What if everyone can vote on everything? Where does that leave people who hold minority opinions? 

Where does that leave individuals who want things that directly conflict with the desires of the many? Innovators and creative people tend to be those who go against popular opinion - yet the peer pressure to join the majority is enormous. I wanted to explore that.

Q.4 What is the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I have a lot more fun writing characters of the opposite sex than writing characters who are too much like me! I do my best to avoid familiar tropes and pitfalls. Luckily, I am married to a male reader who lets me know if my heroic male characters are too over the top or if they’re coming across in any sort of negative way.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I think I have a storyteller’s equivalent of dead reckoning. I instinctively followed the Hero’s Journey before hearing of Joseph Campbell. In the Torth series, the mentor character shows up late and disappoints the heroes (dual protagonists), but otherwise, it’s on target with the beats and everything.

I also learned, after the fact, that I had already divided my Torth series into books with four-act structures. Like this:

ACT 1: Set up story question. Escalating stakes.
ACT 2: Darkest hour.
ACT 3: Problem solved generates new problem.
ACT 4: Story question answered, new problem set up.

Overall, I don’t strictly follow formulas with no deviation. I read a ton of fiction. I’ve studied storytelling on my own enough to teach a mastery course in it.

Q.6 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintain its independence or intertwine with other genres of literature?
Science Fiction and Fantasy have always been closely intertwined, and that will continue. Some people see a huge difference between those two genres, but I see them as blended. 

Isn’t Star Wars a space fantasy? Isn’t extremely advanced alien technology indistinguishable from magic? Is superhero fiction more sci-fi, or is it more fantasy? What about litrpg? And space opera? And science fantasy? Is sci-fi romance really all that different from paranormal romance? 

As for literary speculative fiction, that can have any flavor of time travel or social commentary, but it’s still mostly historical or mostly literary, even if it gets put on a Fantasy or Science Fiction bookshelf.

Q.7 How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
A first draft will take me six to eight months if I don’t get a major disruption in my life, and that is with a day job. I let the draft rest and will do revisions later, sometimes years later. Revisions may take a few weeks or months, depending on what I think it needs. Then it’s ready to go. I have manuscripts in various stages.

Q.8 What’s your writing schedule while working?
I’m usually able to find time in the early afternoon and late in the evening. I get more writing done on weekends. Like many writers who want to make it a career, I have minimized other hobbies and obligations. I don’t watch movies or much TV or play games.

Q.9 Is classic science fiction literature different from modern science fiction literature? Have the critical aims of the genre changed considerably or not?
Modern sci-fi has spun into many subgenres that did not exist before the 1970s. LitRPG, Cyberpunk, Dystopian, Technothrillers, Military Sci-Fi, Space Opera, Superhero, Hard Sci-Fi, First Contact, Galactic Empire, Literary Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi Romance, YA Sci-Fi, and all the crossovers. 

It wasn’t niched down quite so much during the classic “Golden” era of the mid-20th century. Many people today classify classic sci-fi as Hard Sci-Fi. But I actually think the key aims of the genre remain unchanged. It’s about exploration, innovation, extrapolation, and a sense of wonder.

Q.10 What do you think are the main reasons for the popularity of science fiction? To what extent has the film industry helped in popularizing the genre?
Sci-fi allows us to critique society or innovative ideas in reality by exploring them through fictional exaggeration. Would human cloning be a good idea or a bad idea? 

Watch “Rick and Morty” to see a version of what might happen with clones. Would it be cool or icky to hang out with aliens? “Star Wars” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” can give you a taste of what it might be like. 

Is social media healthy or toxic to civilization in the long run? Check out my Torth series, which starts with Majority, to explore the possibilities. Good sci-fi will always be popular.

Q.11 Is it vital to get exposure and target the right readers for your writing? Tell us about your marketing campaign?
I’m fortunate to have an awesome publisher who is helping a lot with that. I’m lucky to have the best husband ever, and he did a lot for my website and newsletter. On my own, I’m experimenting with outreach to booktube and bookstagram, podcasts, and sites such as this one. 

I’ve had bookmarks printed, and I want to create car magnets and swag. I’m always trying something. But it’s definitely harder than it looks to juggle the joy of writing plus the obligations inherent in serious marketing. This is a tough business.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most influential period in the whole history of the genre?
Wow, that’s an interesting question! I suspect that some of the earliest fiction novelists, like Jonathan Swift and Mary Shelley, had a major effect that rippled into Victorian-era sci-fi authors such as HG Wells and Jules Verne. 

Their works then influenced Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, and those impacted Frank Herbert, Vernor Vinge, and Michael Crichton, who later influenced Blake Crouch, Hugh Howey, and so many more. The first generation had the biggest effect by dint of being the first.

Q.13 If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to play the role of Thomas Hill?
Maybe a younger Jack Gleeson? Thomas would be extremely hard to cast! But The Umbrella Academy managed to cast Aidan Gallagher as a kid with the mind of an old man, so it’s doable!

Q.14 Who designed your book cover? How do you select them?
A. Jeff Brown Graphics
. He was hired by my publisher, and he has an impressive portfolio!

Q.15 What advice would you give aspiring writers who want to explore themes related to sci-fi in their writing?
There is no one-size-fits-all advice unless it’s “read a lot at some point in your life.” Everyone’s journey to publication is different. This is a brutal industry, so if you’re new to it, be prepared for heartache. For every success story you see on social media, there are 10,000 failure stories that you haven’t heard because no one is discussing them. Few people brag about their setbacks. Writing is not a get-rich-quick path or a guarantee of a happy life, despite the online gurus who want to sell courses about how easy it is.

Q.16 How do you select the names of your characters?
For the main cast of characters, their names are all about contrast with vowels, consonants, and syllables. “Thomas” sounds understated, weak, and possibly sinister. It’s associated with Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Edison - innovators.

“Ariock,” in contrast, sounds bold, hard, heavy, and complex. These are the brain and brawn dual protagonists. Thomas’s sister is also Ariock’s love interest, so I wanted her name to contrast with both of theirs. One simple, lighthearted syllable: “Vy.”

My series has lots and lots of aliens. I invented languages. I spent a lot of time researching linguistics on the Omniglot website. So, each alien culture in the Torth series has thematic vibes with their character names. 

Ummin names include Kessa, Pung, Utavlug Hano, and Molyt Dazel. Nussian names include Weptolyso, Nethroko, Ruchtmarucht, Hitheneisel. Alashani names include Jinishta, Migyatel, Chaniyelem, and Deschubah. Govki names include Nror, Dyoot, Gyatch, and Ferl.

Q.17 What do you want readers to take away from your books?
I want to leave them impressed. And it would be great if my Torth series got people thinking more deeply about the nature of freedom and the nature of individualism.

Q.18 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
Six books in the Torth series, one techno-thriller stand-alone novel, one science fantasy novel, a personal memoir, and many books I don’t count because I wrote them as a kid. 

The epic Torth series remains my favorite work. And I will single out Torth Book 4: Megacosmic Rift as the one I’m most proud of (although it’s a close tie with Book 6, the series finale).

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
This is hard for a series author to answer because I enjoy series more than stand-alone novels. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan was a huge inspiration to me. If I have to single out one book from that series, I will name The Shadow Rising.

Q.20 Share the experience of your writing journey so far?
It all began when I was born. I picked up a crayon as a baby and started telling stories with pictures. I’m a success-driven overachiever, so I threw everything into this writing fiction obsession. 

In hindsight, I’m not sure that’s a healthy way to go about things. But I’ve written a series of books I’m proud of, and I am excited to try and do it again. And I LOVE readers! I am one, and I love hearing from readers of my work.

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