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Interview with Bruno Martins Soares

He writes fiction since he was 12 years old, and his first book, 'O Massacre' (The Massacre), a collection of short stories, came out in Portugal in 1998. His first novel, A Saga de Alex 9 (The Alex 9 Saga), was published in Portugal in 2012, by publisher Saída de Emergência, within a series that features authors like George R.R.Martin or Bernard Cornwell. After that, he published several books and short stories in different media, in Portuguese and English, including the Scifi novels The Dark Sea War Chronicles and Laura and the Shadow King.

He worked in Project Development for Television and was a journalist and communication, HR, and management consultant, among other trades. He was also an international correspondent in Portugal for Jane's Defense Weekly and a researcher for The Washington Post. In addition, he wrote several plays, TV pilots, and short and full-length pictures screenplays, and he wrote and produced English-spoken Castaway Entertainment's full-length feature film 'Regret,' distributed in the USA and Canada in 2015. He lives and works in Lisbon.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I won the Young Creators National Award for Writing in ’96 and represented my country in Torino, Rome, and Sarajevo fairs. I was in Sarajevo when Clinton decided to bomb Belgrade, which was a little bit scary, but not so much as the earthquake we felt a few days earlier.

Overall, it was a special experience for me. I was there 3 years after the Civil War, and scars were everywhere. Every single wall had bullet holes in it, and in some quarters, the windows were still covered with United Nations’ plastic, as no window had survived the war. But the worst scars I saw were in the eyes of people around me. You could see they had all gone through Hell. Sarajevo is separated in two by a river, and during the war, no one could go from one side to the other without being shot by snipers. And children could only play outside when there was fog. These kinds of stories were very impressive to me. I wanted to go there because I wanted to learn for myself, up close, the real consequences of war, and I did see them. My parents were involved in the Portuguese Guinea Independence War, and I knew they had been scarred by it. And I’m fascinated by those extreme events. War brings out the best and the worst in people. That’s a little bit of what I try to show in my writings.

A couple of years ago, the Portuguese version of The Dark Sea War Chronicles won the Adamastor Award for Fantastic Writing, which was my latest award and one I’m really proud of.

Q.2 Are we going to read more from you in the near future? Any new project you’re working on?
I’m now working on a sci-fi/horror psychological thriller, a stand-alone small book called INSIGHT. Next, I will be continuing my Byllard Iddo Scifi series that started with The Dark Sea War Chronicles - which was a kind of WW2’s Battle of the Atlantic but in Space, in a different solar system far away from ours. The sequel will be The Outer Sea War Chronicles, and it will be like a WW2 Battle of the Pacific. But my pipeline is very long, so I have a lot more stuff in my mind.

Q.3 What inspired you to write Laura and the Shadow King?
This story was started in 2017 or 2018, so well before the Covid-19 pandemic. I never could have predicted the toilet-paper rampage by then! So I’m not totally sure what brought me to write it. I think the first thing was falling in love with a Special Forces team, operating against hostile forces in Southern Spain and Portugal, in places I know well. Everything grew out of this idea, I think. Still, my last few stories, including Laura And The Shadow King, reflect the idea of very human characters going through challenging situations. 

My previous novel, The Dark Sea War Chronicles, was all about sacrifice and resilience - my characters go through the unimaginable again and again and manage to keep going. LATSK is a novel about Hope. It’s about how, in the deep of darkness, hope can appear from the most unlikely places. We usually overestimate bad surprises that can happen in our future and underestimate the good ones. Still, if we are ready for them, they do appear and help us when we least expect it. That’s what this book is about in the end.

Q.4 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
I think I write good female characters. At least people tell me that. Usually, women identify with my strong female characters. Any real difficulty, I ask my friends and my partner how women go through this or that. So I never really felt too constrained about it.

Q.5 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
Yes. My process has several levels. It goes from gimmick (that little detail or device that will attract people to the story) to concept, story, structure, writing the first draft, and writing the final draft. I use Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet if I need to; it’s always a good tool to work your structure with. But the first steps are what ensure originality, so it’s there I invest in.

Q.6 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
I’ve written many but published 2 trilogies and 1 two-part series (actually, the second volume of Laura And The Shadow King) will only come out in the Fall. My first trilogy is not yet published in English. I think I like The Dark Sea War Chronicles the best, even though it’s difficult to decide. It’s a kind of a WW2 Battle of the Atlantic, but in Space, in another solar system away from us.

Q.7 How do you see the future of science fiction literature? Will sci-fi maintains its independence or intertwines with other literary genres?
Sci-fi is already intertwining with other literary genres. It has been happening for a while. Just look at the books of Portuguese Nobel-laureate José Saramago or Salman Rushdie, or George Orwell. Which ones are sci-fi, and which ones are realistic fiction? 

Sci-fi has been dwelling a lot on what I call Narratives of Consciousness - like ‘Neuromancer,’ ‘Man in the High Castle,’ ‘Altered Carbon,’ ‘The Matrix’ or ‘Inception’ - where you never know when you are looking at reality or some kind of illusion in the minds of the characters. It’s all about how our unconscious perceives and creates reality. But recently, we’ve been reading and watching things like ‘Arrival’ or ‘Annihilation,’ what I call Narratives of Perspective - they do not deal with illusions but with different perspectives, in particular, the distinct perspectives of aliens. I don’t know where Sci-Fi will go from here, but these kinds of Narratives of Perspective still have a lot to give, I think.

Q.8 To what extent can science fiction effect or improve the developments in science and technology in human life? Is it right to say that science fiction can change what human life looks like in the future?
Of course. Do you think we would have had shell-like cell phones without Star Trek? Or drones or lasers or 3D printers without sci-fi? It is always changing the way we think and the way we imagine things. And imagination is where everything starts. Even science.

Q.9 In many science fictions stories, the existence of God is denied. Could we call science fiction an atheist literary genre?
Of course not. There is this narrative that has been repeated throughout History that Religious Faith and Science are at odds with each other. I know a lot of scientists and priests that completely disagree. Some even say the Big Bang is the proof of Creation. I don’t want to go there. I have written about it, actually. Science is a language to understand reality. It is an Ethical Standard: you only take something as truth if you prove it. In some ways, Sci-fi is the scout, the point of the spear of Science. Even things like space opera are inspirations for scientists. Religion, however, is an Aesthetic Language. You can find the Universe beautiful because it is God’s creation or because it’s nature itself. Either way, there’s no logical thinking behind this. But read Dune, from Frank Herbert, or Star Wars, and you’ll be pressed not to see some kind of God-like narrative behind it.

Unfortunately, there are many people out there who think the other way around it: that Religion is an Ethical Standard and Science is an Aesthetic Language. This is very dangerous and puts in check both Science and Freedom of Religion.

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?
A lot, actually. But Jules Verne and Orson Wells reading H.G.Wells on the radio were already creating their pearls before movies and TV. I think Sci-fi becomes almost inevitable after the Industrial Revolution changed the world. Before that, there was no sense that scientific knowledge was in any way practical nor that it could change the world. Nowadays, we don’t have to wait centuries to see our world changed by technology - it happens almost every day. And so, we can identify with Science Fiction characters, and it is a privileged genre to confront us not only with questions posed to us by technology and evolution but also by the Universe of things that becomes opened and reachable, like Deep Space or virtual worlds.

Q.11 Ray Bradbury considers sci-fi as “the important literature in the history of the world because it’s the history of ideas and the history of our civilization birthing itself.” Do you agree with him, as many sci-fi stories do, indeed, depict disaster?
Yes, I do. Today, science and technology also shape the ideas of the End of the World that, for centuries, were attributed to the Gods. Climate change, nuclear armageddons, asteroid hits, pandemics, you name it. Today we can easily imagine the end of the world coming from technology or natural events we finally understand. But there is hope in evolution and in Mankind, and Sci-fi also tells us that.

Q.12 Science fiction has a long history. Which era do you consider the most effective period in the whole history of the genre?
I have no idea. I haven’t studied the history of Sci-fi. But I believe that those years after the ’50s, when you had Bradbury, Dick, Herbert, Kubrick, and Lucas et al., to be one of the most interesting periods. But if I had to choose, I’d choose today. It is becoming more and more respectable and mainstream.

Q.13 Among all your protagonists, who is your favorite and why?
That’s asking which one of my children do I like the best. I think I have three perfect ones. Alex 9, a commando from the 22nd Century with a prophecy on her back (The Saga of Alex 9); Byllard Iddo, a young Space Navy officer who becomes the youngest and most decorated Captain of his day (The Dark Sea War Chronicles); J.J.Berger, a SpecOps lieutenant with a tender streak (Laura and the Shadow King). I love them all. I’m now working on Matt Collins, a small-town psychologist who’s a loving father and husband - it’s one of my best, for sure (Insight).

Q.14 What about supporting characters? Who is dearest to you?
Mirany Cavo (The Dark Sea War Chronicles), Paige Drexler, and Maria - Laura’s mom (Laura and the Shadow King). They are all-powerful women, each with its own character and posture. They are very different from each other - Mirany is smooth and intelligent; Paige is funny and loyal; Maria is courageous and determined. But they are all-powerful. Mirany is probably the one that changes the most, and that is interesting.

Q.15 Who designed your book cover? How do you select him/her?
I work with an Austrian designer named Les, who’s been doing all my English-language covers for the past three years. She’s terrific, fast, and easy to work with. I really love her work.

Q.16 How do you select the name of your characters?
The main character’s names usually come to me as I develop the stories in my head. It’s not uncommon that my books take years to develop. I have more than a dozen I’m working on at the moment. But other characters, I have several techniques: I look at books or any name in any label around me and change them just enough - that’s usually the case. I may use Google from time to time. Or even going through soccer player’s names in Football Manager - how about that?

Q.17 Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with good or bad ones?
Of course. I love the good and dread the bad. But I read them and consider them all. They are part of what keeps me going and what helps me improve.

Q.18 Which famous person, living or dead, would you like to meet and why?
Not sure. Freud, I think. He was a real genius with a lot to teach us. Even though it’s been a hundred years since he started writing and teaching, and much of his work has been improved upon, the core of his theories is still serious, profound, and revolutionary. Most of my character development owes a great deal to his work.

Q.19 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
Not sure. Have many. A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway, Dune by Frank Herbert, and To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf comes to mind, but they are only some among many. Hemingway because of the dialogues and the simplicity. Herbert because of the intimate POV and the epic narrative. Woolf because of the sheer talent in style and the amazing ending.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I don’t really know how old I was when I started writing stories. I wrote them for school, I’m certain, but the first time I wrote without any academic goal, I was 12, I remember that much. I just loved reading, and stories and the books I laid hands on didn’t last that much, and I had so many stories in my head I just started playing with them until it was impossible not to write them down.

I kept writing different stuff. When I was 22, a friend of mine incited me to enter one of the largest and most prestigious Young Writers’ contests in Portugal. I did and won an Honourable Mention. I tried again two years later and won it. I went to Torino and then Rome and Sarajevo, representing my country as a Young Writer. One of the best times of my life. Then, one day, I decided to write a Scifi novel I had been chewing on for some time: The Saga of Alex 9. I showed it to a publisher who’d just included a short story of mine in an anthology, and he loved it. I was a published novelist one year later. Recently, I decided to go beyond the Portuguese market and jump into the Global one.

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