AHF Interviews Cody Sisco

Cody Sisco is an alternate history writer, author of the Resonant Earth saga which begins with Broken Mirror, and continues with Tortured Echoes. His website is at www.codysisco.com and he can be emailed at author@codysisco.com.

Thank You Cody Sisco for your interest in being interviewed. There follows below, the questions and answers:-

How long have you been writing?
I was seven when I used my parents' electric typewriter to write a two-page portal fantasy involving a magic mirror. In college, I wrote a hideously stereotypical play about a gay painter, I started a novel about a rhinoceros prince who doesn't want to inherit the throne, and I wrote many, many poems. There was a decade-long hiatus until 2013 when I started writing what became the Resonant Earth series.

What is the earliest work of yours that you have published or intend to publish?
There's a poem called Modern Love still lurking on the Internet that was published in 1999 back when web search was new, before smart phones and social media. Literary magazines associated with San Francisco State University published several of my poems. At some point, I may revisit the rhinoceros prince story.

Who were the earliest authors to be an inspiration for your writing?
Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Anne McCaffrey were all early favorites. In my teens, I couldn't get enough of Stephen King, Clive Barker, as well as the "golden age of sci-fi" canon, including Isaac Asimov, E. E. "Doc" Smith, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Which other authors do you consider to be an inspiration and for what reason?
Kim Stanley Robinson shapes exquisitely detailed worlds and populates them with characters that aren't cardboard cutouts; they feel real, mysterious, and complicated like real people. Each of his books has had a lasting effect on me. Because of his works, I'm not content to write a cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers kind of story. It has to challenge me and it has to challenge the reader, while still being enjoyable.

Are you inspired by any landscapes or buildings, or even towns and cities?
I spend a lot of time imagining and thinking about the built environment my characters inhabit and how they experience the natural world. I went so far as to create simulated cities of the major locales; some even made their way into the books as prefatory maps.

Which was the first book you published and why?
Broken Mirror helped me grapple with the tragedies of how mental illness and addiction play out in our society. My cousin suffered from schizophrenia and died in an institution. So many people I went to school with saw their lives cut short or wasted. I wanted to uncover my own feelings and beliefs, especially a sort of countervailing thread about the medicalization of neurodiversity, through the course of the novel.

Have you been surprised by a negative reaction to any of your work?
Someone wrote a very strongly worded review complaining about how I divided Broken Mirror into three parts. The novel is 450 pages and, I thought, divides pretty cleanly into different locales, so there's are dividing pages that say "Part One," "Part Two," "Part Three" to indicate a shift in the story. I don't really understand why this would cause such a strong reaction. Turn the page or swipe and you're onto the next chapter. Of all the aspects of my writing that I pay a lot of attention to, that's definitely not one of them.

Other than authors (and friends and family) who are your heroes?
Scientists - They have the courage to face the mysteries of the universe and try, with painstaking and meticulous patience, to understand how it all works. There's also a special place in my heart for science communicators: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Max Tegmark. And, of course, I owe my civil rights as a gay man to decades of heroes, sung and unsung, alive and dead, who fought against oppression and bigotry.

If you could go back in time to learn the truth about one historical mystery or disputed event, what would it be?
Oh, this is a good question! Hmmm... There are so many. I have to admit I've always been fascinated by the question of how political assassinations do (or don't) change the course of history: the JFK, Martin Luther King, and Julius Caesar assassinations to name a few. It would shameful of me to fail to point out that we are living through one of those moments right now. The 2016 U.S. election has such a cloud over it because we don't know who knew what when related to foreign influence. And the consequences are monumentally significant.

What inspired you to write your most recent work?
Tortured Echoes is the continuation of the Resonant Earth series and I felt it was important to bring the past back into the story. Victor Eastmore's troubles began when he was four years old and a madman massacred people in the town where he lived. The event led to the stigmatization of people with mirror resonance syndrome and had a lasting impact on Victor's life. I wanted Victor to have to face his past and his demons and to see what lengths he would go to find the truth behind his condition. What better way than to have to physically face the man who started it all?

Would you do anything differently with it if you were to write/edit it now, or prepare it for publication?
I'm very happy with how it turned out. I had initially written a rough draft of the first three novels in the series. When I started with the second book, I started building from my existing drafts. I wouldn't do that again. My writing craft has evolved a lot over the last few years. The drafts are great preparatory work, but they held me back. When I broke free and wrote the second half of the novel from scratch, it flowed more quickly and was of better quality than anything I'd written to date. So now I'm very careful about how I try to incorporate previous drafts, using them much more sparingly and strategically, if at all.

Internal logic can lead to strange places. Have you written works where you never intended to end up with a situation, but the internal logic of the piece led you there, much to your surprise? Which examples stand out most strongly to you?
There's a period of time in Tortured Echoes where Victor learns a difficult truth and it almost breaks him. As part of his recovery, he's taken in by a kind of cult, which leads to the crisis and resolution of the story. It's not what I had at first planned for the story arc, but it's what the story and the characters needed.

When writing Science Fiction elements, do you tend to try to remain true to the existing state of Science, or do you work on the basis that the current understanding of Science will be superseded by a new paradigm? How do you make it internally consistent, regardless of which approach you use? Does it ever run away with you?
I'm a hard sci-fi writer. Every time I hear the term "science fantasy," I cringe. To me, that's just the fantastical with a techno-sheen, and it bothers me the same way flat-earthers and other conspiracy theorists bother me. It can be fun as fiction, sure, but it's not where my passion lies.
I like extrapolating from known scientific facts and theories and expressing what might be possible. I spend a lot of time reading about recent scientific discoveries in Nature, New Scientist, and Scientific American, and the science sections of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Most of what I want to put in a story doesn't fit and will never get used, but for the fans I have who are knowledgeable, I imagine it's like an endless succession of Easter eggs - little bits of satisfying scientific plausibility that can seem rare when you look at the sciency fluff floating around out there.

Do you have any names or surnames that tend to crop up and repeat themselves throughout stories, without the intention being there to make them related in any way? How about the names of ships, and so on - do you find favorites invading your new work?
The names of some of the characters in some of my favorite authors' stories tend to crop up in my work, when it makes sense and they fit seamlessly. I've loved the character of Circe from Greek mythology since I read about her in fifth grade - and the way she was incorporated into the Marvel universe in the Eternals comic books deepened my attachment to that character. Similarly, Victor comes from Mary Shelley, Alia from Frank Herbert, and Ozie from The Watchmen.

When writing science fiction elements, do you feel that some of what you write is deliberately archaic, in a sort of reverse anachronistic fashion? For example, do you use current terms for something which would have similarities but be much different in a future time period? Have you ever found yourself wondering if you were doing an EE Doc Smith in space, with the equivalent of your astronauts smoking cigars and using paperclips?
Thus far, I've focused on near-future or alternate history settings. The 1990's in my Resonant Earth series features technological developments that are 10-20 years in our future. There's a specific reason for this that will be explained in later books. Suffice to say, I want readers to feel the setting is uncomfortably odd yet also familiar.

What is the longest period you have written the same piece of ongoing work over? Do you feel that the style changed at all during this period, or that you managed to retain a consistent and coherent approach?
I wrote Broken Mirror over the span of three years and rewrote the entire draft several times; some chapters saw dozens of rounds of edits. I was still learning the craft and rapidly improving. Looking back over my early drafts is cringe-inducing. The one major improvement between my first and second novels is the ability to fluidly summarize story developments between scenes and bring a sense of continuity and momentum to the story.

How easy is it to write this alternative or secret history without upsetting the established timeline?
Nothing about writing is easy! Alternative history adds a layer of complexity because the "true history," although its interpretation is often disputed, represents a series of facts and reference points for readers. I focus on raising the question "How could things be different?" in a way that emphasizes cultural influences, social conflicts, and political choices, rather than a timeline of causality. Of course, I do have a timeline of alternate history events that helps me keep everything consistent, but this is mostly backgrounded rather than foregrounded.

How many ideas for future books in your series do you have? Can you give any hints or teasers?
There are at least two, possibly three, books remaining in the series, depending on how I divide them up. I can say that each book will enlarge the scope of the story world. Book Three, for example, begins to show the western nations of the American Union in the context of the whole continent. Book Four will expand further and we'll see a significant part of the story take place in Europe. There may even be an important plot element that involves Moonbase One. And the mysteries of blankspace and crossing over will be fully revealed in time.

Can you tell us about your cover artist, where you found them, and about the design process?
The cover to Broken Mirror was designed by Scarlett Rugers, who I think I found through The Book Designer's e-Book Cover Design Awards. For Tortured Echoes and Believe and Live, I found Steven Novak, who could do a fantastic job at a more economical price point. He came through a recommendation from another sci-fi author.

How have your life experiences informed your writing career?
I've always felt that I exist somewhere on the border between outsider and whatever the opposite is: insider? group member? I tend not to trust "official narratives." I think this helps develop a curiosity about the world and about how other people's minds work, which is helpful in imagining characters with fully developed wants, needs, and flaws.

You have a strong presence on social media. Can you give any advice to other aspiring authors about how to use this to boost sales and enhance their "brand"?
That's the first I've heard of it! Good to know you think so. I'd say: start thinking of yourself as a storyteller beyond whatever writing project you're working on. Give people a glimpse of your process, your values, your creative journey. Start with the basics: create a website, post to social media, and start a newsletter. Beyond that, focus on making connections and developing relationships, one at a time, emphasizing depth rather than breadth. And my number one likely surprising nugget of wisdom - it was surprising to me when I realized it: every significant advancement in my career has come from exploring what I could give back to the community and how I could help others. Every. Single. One. So figure out what you have to offer and who could benefit from it, and start putting it out there.

Cody Sisco , Thank You very much!

Cody Sisco's work can be followed at www.brokenmirrorbook.com

On social media, Cody can be found at:-
Twitter: @codysisco
Facebook: www.facebook.com/codybriansisco
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+CodySisco_Author/posts
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/codysisco