Liana Brooks’ new sci-fi mystery, The Day Before, just came out in May, and she stopped by to answer a few of my questions! Please give her a warm welcome!
Huge congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about The Day Before and what inspired you to write it?
THE DAY BEFORE is a sci-fi police procedural along the lines of JD Robb’s NAKED IN DEATH series or the later Vorkosigan Saga books by Lois McMaster Bujold. It follows rookie CBI agent Sam Rose as she tries to solve the murder of an unidentified woman. Everything starts simple and looks easy, but the deeper she digs the more corruption she finds and the more precarious her situation becomes.
The original idea looks nothing like the final story. It started with the rather macabre idea of a police officer investigating her own death. I didn’t want a ghost story, but some sci-fi-ish idea of pre-sentience or something that would compel the detective to need to solve her own death before it happens. Sort of Sean Ferrel’s MAN IN AN EMPTY SUIT meets THE FACE ON THE MILK CARTON. That’s not what the story became, it evolved quite a bit.
Why do you think readers will root for Agent Samantha Rose? What do you think makes her a compelling heroine?
BECAUSE SHE’S SAM AND SHE’S AWESOME AND HOW DARE SOMEONE NOT LOVE MY AMAZING CHARACTER?!?!?!
No? Too overprotective?
Sam really starts out as a Jo Everywoman. She’s working her first job, has a few close friends, a new rental house, an ex she doesn’t want to talk about, a boss she hates… she isn’t written as The Chosen One or some super-special magical creature. Because most heroes aren’t super special. A hero is an everyday person, with no extra training and no extra superpowers doing something no one else is willing to do.
The whole book focuses on choices. Anyone could have conducted this investigation. Anyone could have found what Sam did and taken care of the problem, but no one did. Everyone else looked the other way, made excuses, or avoided the responsibility. That’s what I hope readers take away from the book—that they don’t need a spider bite or a magic sword to be a hero.
Sam makes a great heroine because she doesn’t have an unfair advantage. She makes being a good, dedicated person her secret weapon. She’s a different kind of strong than you usually see in sci-fi and UF, and I hope people will be willing to give her a chance.
What kind of research did you do for the series?
This is a very dangerous question to ask a sci-fi author. I have stacks of papers and two notebooks full of notes on this book. You have to. To make the science believable for a SF novel you need to know the science behind your theories backwards and forwards so you can bend them just a little.
The clone part was probably the easiest because I am a biologist by training and spent years studying genetics just as the idea of cloning was becoming a reality in science.
Some of the other parts of the book were harder to research. I read a lot about quantum physics to create Dr. Emir’s machine and his lab. The truth is stretched, but the theories are there. I used Hugh Everett’s Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Physics, the einselection from Wojciech H. Zurek’s work, and expanded on some of Ronald Mallett’s theories. And, of course, there’s a nod to Novikov (Novikov’s self-consistency principle) in the opening pages. Sharp-eyed readers will also catch a reference to Russian author Alexander Veltman in the name of the lab.
I couldn’t lecture on quantum physics, but I’ve gained a full appreciation for the people working in that field.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’ve always loved books, and I’ve always enjoyed making up stories, but when I was little my goal was to be a marine biologist. I’m not sure I knew exactly what a marine biologist did, but that’s what I wanted to be. For about a week I wanted to be an astronaut, but no one could tell me how you went about become one, so I stuck with marine biology.
That’s what I went to school for. That’s my degree field. If I went back for a graduated degree I’d probably do evolution and ecology with a marine emphasis. I love the ocean.
I’m a writer because my husband has a job that moves us around a lot, we have special needs kids who make it difficult for both of us to work outside the home, and writing allows me to play with all the science stuff I love without leaving the house. I wish I had a better story to tell you, but how many authors do you know who can honestly say they have been bitten by a shark?
What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
It was a picture book I wrote in kindergarten with a sea turtle swimming along the reef talking about pollution. Our school district had a Young Authors Competition and every year we had to write a book. My mom did the actual writing, I drew the pictures. I’m not sure what I did in first grade, but in third grade I wrote a story about twin dwarves who were hunting for the golden rattle the goblins stole from their baby sister. I think I won an award for that one.
Looking back I can’t think of a time I wasn’t scribbling down stories, but I never thought of it as a future career. It seems almost obvious now.
What are a few of your favorite authors?
Who isn’t a favorite author would be a shorter list. There’s Bujold, Pratchett, McCaffery, and Ilona Andrews of course. I like a sense of humor in my books. But I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire of authors this year. SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi sucked me in. I tried Devon Monk for the first time this year and HOUSE IMMORTAL was good fun.
I have a whole stack of books to read that look amazing but I haven’t gotten to yet. My to-be-read pile is going to fall over and seriously injure me one day. As I finish the books I’ll let you know which ones I loved and which new authors I can’t live without.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
I want to cheat and say all of them. Or, no, you know what book I’d really love to read for the first time with no prior knowledge? My own. That’s not hubris talking.
Authors never really get to read their books. We tell ourselves the story on our first draft, but the difference between the first draft and the final polished novel is so drastic. Characters vanish, plot lines die, all sorts of things happen and the author never gets to experience their novel without knowing the ending.
Being able to read my own work for the first time would be a genuine gift.
But, if I have to pick someone else’s book I think I’d choose CORDELIA’S HONOR by Bujold. It’s a compilation of two of her books that are best read together and I love that book. I love the whole Vorkosigan Saga, but Cordelia will always have a special place in my heart.
What are you currently reading? Is there anything that you’re looking forward to this year?
I’m really looking forward to reading THE THREE BODY PROBLEM by Liu Cixin. It’s a translation and I’ve never actually read a sci-fi story that wasn’t originally published in English so I’m excited to see what differences there are in the storytelling. I have THE BURIED GIANT by Kazuo Ishiguro on my ereader. It’s not my usual genre but it was nominated for an award awhile back and I was intrigued enough by the premise that I picked it up.
I also have some Suzanne Johnson in my TBR pile. I read ROYAL STREET set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and enjoyed it. I want to finish the series. There’s also UNEXPECTED RAIN by Jason LaPier, DESERT RISING by Kelley Grant, PARADIGM LOST by Hugh Taylor (no clue what the premise is but I loved the cover), NEXUS by Ramez Naam, and then the new Jim Butcher and Ilona Andrews books will be coming out this fall.
I told you, my TBR pile is about to fall over and give me a concussion. I’m a book addict and there’s no cure.
What’s next for you?
Life, the universe, and everything!
The second book of the Jane series comes out in November, so that’s my major project at the moment. This morning my editor and I played email tag as we talked about cover art and possible title changes.
After that I’d like to finish up the fourth book in the Heroes and Villains series. And then I have a couple of side projects that are there on the back burner slowly getting somewhere. More sci-fi, a few SFR titles, and one Scottish UF that I’ve been talking about for years but that’s been stuffed to the back of the list for various reasons. One day I’ll get it all written!
About The Day Before:
A body is found in the Alabama wilderness. The question is:
Is it a human corpse … or is it just a piece of discarded property?
Agent Samantha Rose has been exiled to a backwater assignment for the Commonwealth Bureau of Investigation, a death knell for her career. But then Sam catches a break—a murder—that could give her the boost she needs to get her life back on track. There’s a snag, though: the body is a clone, and technically that means it’s not a homicide. And yet, something about the body raises questions, not only for her, but for coroner Linsey Mackenzie.
The more they dig, the more they realize nothing about this case is what it seems … and for Sam, nothing about Mac is what it seems, either.
This case might be the way out for her, but that way could be in a bodybag.