Please welcome Stacey Berg to the blog! Her brand new book, Dissension, just came out on March 15th, and she answered a few of my questions about it, and more!
Will you tell us a bit about Dissension and what inspired you to write it?
Dissension is a character-driven science fiction novel. It’s set in a world where the Church exploits the remaining knowledge of genetic technology to lead humanity’s struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. The main character, Echo Hunter 367, is a clone who must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill. My favorite stories have always been ones where characters face impossible choices with no right answer. Part of the inspiration for Dissension was to write a story where the main character’s choice should be literally impossible, because she was genetically engineered not to be able to make it.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
Most of my research was about low-tech details, like how long it would take to walk across a city the size of say Houston or Chicago, how much grain you need to feed 40,000 people, and so forth. Since I’m a medical researcher I had enough basic knowledge of cloning to make up what I needed for those parts of the book, and besides, the story isn’t really about the technical details.
My writing process is hybrid. I need to know the emotional outline of the story before I get down to the mechanics of the plot. I do get nervous if I have no idea where the plot is going, but often I can’t figure out where it’s going until the characters take me there. It’s an iterative process. Mostly it involves a lot of early mornings at the keyboard, trying to figure out what needs to happen next.
You have a background in medicine, but have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I always enjoyed writing. One thing people don’t realize about medical research is that you’re writing all the time: applications for funding to support your work, descriptions of your projects and results to disseminate the information to your colleagues. My research is about finding new anti-cancer drugs, and there is literally not a day that I’m not working on some kind of document related to that.
I always imagined or hoped that one day I would write fiction, but I didn’t think I had time, especially to face a whole novel. But I finally understood that if I worked at it consistently, even just a little bit at a time, I could eventually get something done. That’s where all the early mornings come in!
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
I think I was in fourth or fifth grade, I wrote a story based on The Swiss Family Robinson. Nowadays we would call it fan fiction. I don’t have a copy any more, but I remember it had lots of words like “lest” that I’m sure have never crossed my lips in real life!
Why SFF? What do you enjoy the most about reading, and writing, in the genre?
For me the great thing about writing SFF is that you can make everything up—not just the plot or storyline, but the whole world. You’re not stuck with the conventions and limitations of our world. As a reader, I love to be transported away from day to day life. Spaceships, magic swords, mysterious portals, it all works for me. I do find that the people matter to me at least as much as plots and settings, so I would say that I prefer character-driven stories in general.
What authors have influenced you the most?
CJ Cherryh, for the high stakes and grim choices her characters always seem to be facing, and for the detailed world-building that makes it all feel real. Patricia McKillip, because I wish I could write descriptions half as beautiful as hers. Peter O’Donnell, whose Modesty Blaise novels (and especially comic strips) provide an incredible example of economy in conveying tone and character.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Probably the Harry Potter series (I know, that’s cheating a little bit). It’s not that the books are my favorites ever, although I do love them; it’s that opening The Sorcerer’s Stone and falling into the whole wizarding world that JK Rowling imagined in such exuberant detail was so much fun that I wish I could do it all over again.
What are you currently reading?
My “To Be Read” pile is stacked embarrassingly high; what I’m in the middle of right this minute is Ancillary Sword.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m working on a sequel to Dissension. I hope everyone enjoys my book! Thanks so much for having me today.
For four hundred years, the Church has led the remnants of humanity as they struggle for survival in the last inhabited city. Echo Hunter 367 is exactly what the Church created her to be: loyal, obedient, lethal. A clone who shouldn’t care about anything but her duty. Who shouldn’t be able to.
When rebellious citizens challenge the Church’s authority, it is Echo’s duty to hunt them down before civil war can tumble the city back into the dark. But Echo hides a deadly secret: doubt. And when Echo’s mission leads her to Lia, a rebel leader who has a secret of her own, Echo is forced to face that doubt. For Lia holds the key to the city’s survival, and Echo must choose between the woman she loves and the purpose she was born to fulfill.