Diverse Space Opera, Fight Scenes and NaNoWriMo
An Interview with Valerie Valdes, author of Chilling Effect
What can I say, I’m a sucker for power couples.
— Valerie Valdes
Valerie Valdes is the author of Chilling Effect (Harper Voyager, September 17), first in a new series of fun space opera novels starring a Cuban-descended spaceship captain, Eva Innocente, and her misfit crew as they blunder their way through the galaxy trying to save her kidnapped sister from an intergalactic crime syndicate.
Valdes is a member of the NaNoWriMo community and also writes short fiction and poetry, with stories in Nightmare Magazine and poetry in Uncanny Magazine. Chilling Effect is her debut novel and perfect for fans of the weird world-building in Farscape and the crew camaraderie of Firefly.
Interstellar Flight Press: Chilling Effect is really fast-paced, and I thought the action scenes were particularly original and well done. Do you have any kind of martial arts background yourself? Did you do any special research to make the fight scenes more visceral?
VALERIE VALDES: My “special research” for fight scenes varied depending on what I was doing. I studied martial arts and stage combat a long time ago — shout-out to Chessmasters, ‘sup my Rennies — and I relied on that primarily for sensory details. Stage combat especially is very focused on selling reactions, which I think is one of the most important parts of writing a fight; it’s one thing to lovingly describe a punch being thrown, but if you don’t then describe how the punch lands, it loses impact — pun absolutely intended.
I’m also a fan of kung fu, gun fu, and wuxia films, which tend to have the best fight choreography in the history of ever. They’re not only amazing on a technical level, they also nail the emotional trajectory and stakes for the primary characters involved, and they’re tonally appropriate to the situation. A fight scene in a comedy will be wacky and wild and fun, where a scene in a drama will be tense and brutal; compare, say, something from Police Story to Sha Po Lang, or Kung Fu Hustle to Ip Man. Seriously, go do it, everyone needs to watch more of these movies and then come fangirl about them with me.
IFP: A large component of this book is Eva’s bond with her crew. How did you “assemble” her crew as you were writing? Was it a conscious process “Oh, I need an engineer, a doctor, some muscle…” or did the characters emerge as you were writing? And, this might be mean, but do you have a favorite member of the crew? (Mine’s probably Vakar.)
VV: Putting the crew together was a lot of fun. Mostly I thought about a combination of characters I loved from books, movies, video games, and TV shows, as well as my friends and family, and then mashed it all together. Considering logically what job roles would need to be filled on a small cargo ship was also part of the process; what kinds of skills could each person bring to the party, and how could they be showcased in the story? I also wanted there to be a good mix of backgrounds, ages and so on, and a variety of outside interests that not only gave readers a sense of each character, but also the wider universe of the novel and each person’s place in it.
Once I started writing, some of the characters changed a bit from how I originally intended as their voices solidified in my mind — Min, for example, was initially much more formal and withdrawn, but after watching a few Korean soap operas I decided to make her more of a bubbly teenager. I also had a character who was part of the crew in the first draft, but who was way too badass and basically did all the cool stuff, leaving Eva sidelined in her own novel. I didn’t kill that particular darling, but I did change his role entirely and give Eva all his awesomesauce moves instead. If I had to pick a favorite, it’s probably Pink, because she’s incredibly easy and fun for me to write; she’s world-weary and snarky, but extremely caring, and I more or less just picture a hybrid of two of my friends and Laverne Cox and she writes herself.
IFP: I’ll try not to spoil too much, but the romance in this is a bit unorthodox, as Eva’s love interest is not human. What made you want to give your main character Eva such a different love interest than the norm? Did writing an outside-the-box romance present any challenges for you?
VV: Two words: Mass Effect. It’s definitely not the first or only series to tackle romance between a human and a member of a different species, but it got me thinking about the concept more deeply and made me want to try my hand at it. What points of overlap might one find in courtship rituals, on a personal and cultural basis? What physical aspects could inform attraction on both sides, or make relations more complicated? What kinds of miscommunications might occur? How is a baby formed? And of course, on the Monster F***er Kinsey Scale, where would this fall? There’s a big difference between, say, Aeryn Sun and Garrus Vakarian in terms of generally accepted concepts of attractiveness. Certainly, there had to be enough similarity between my characters for any connection to occur at all; that goes for any human relationship as well, but when you factor in an entirely separate evolutionary trajectory and its accompanying diversity of societies, things can get much more complicated if you let them.
I also didn’t want this to function as a metaphor for any existing variety of marginalized human relationship, which is one path similar situations can take; the danger there is in dehumanizing or exoticizing those pairings and groupings and unintentionally implying that they’re intrinsically alien in nature. Eva is pansexual, not because she’s interested in someone from another species, but because she’s attracted to people of all genders, as many people are.
IFP: Your bio mentions that you’re an active member of the NaNoWriMo community (National Novel Writing Month). How did you get into NaNoWriMo? Do you feel like the NaNo experience and/or community is an important part of your writing process?
VV: I got into NaNoWriMo right at the tail end of college. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but it seemed like an incredible challenge to write 50,000 words in a single month. I’d pretty much stopped writing fiction entirely at that point, and had been focusing on poetry instead — I had written a book of poems for my senior thesis, a few of which eventually found homes in various publications. But I was also participating in a fairly brutal online poetry workshop that ultimately did more harm than good, I think, and my productivity and confidence were both battle-damaged. The NaNo community was, by contrast, intensely supportive and focused on quantity over quality, which was incredibly freeing once I managed to get out of my own head enough to embrace the ethos. I failed the first two years I tried it, including my first year as a Municipal Liaison for the Miami region, but then I got the hang of it and started routinely churning out new novels every year. Most of them were unfinished because 50,000 words is apparently not enough for my brand of story, but every time I “won” it was proof that I could do the thing, and I leveled up a lot by doing so much so quickly.
Chilling Effect started as a short story, but I used NaNoWriMo to expand it into a novel, writing the first half in November 2014 and then finishing the rest over the course of the next nine months. I have three other novels I’m working on now, including the sequel and two completely separate fantasy novels, and NaNo helped me make huge progress with all of them. I also have NaNo to thank for helping me connect with local writers; I’ve been running a “shut up and write” group for several years now, and we’re a pretty tight-knit bunch.
IFP: Book Two in this series has been announced already. For fans of Chilling Effect (like me!), can you give us any news about what’s coming next? Will the romance continue in B2?
VV: SO! Book two is currently called Prime Deceptions and it should be out next year. Trying to avoid spoilers… The crew’s adventures continue as an unlikely ally gives them a big job that turns out to be very personal for one of the characters, very problematic for another, and downright traumatic for Eva herself as it digs into dark places from her past. New planets to explore, new people to meet, new secrets to reveal, and more of the same wacky action from the first book. And yes, more romance! What can I say, I’m a sucker for power couples.
Chilling Effect is out September 17 from Harper Voyager. Valerie Valdes attended the University of Miami, where she majored in English literature with minors in creative writing and motion pictures. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and has taught classes in speculative short fiction writing. She also has over 15 years of experience in copyediting for individual and corporate clients. Valerie has served as the Municipal Liaison for the Miami region of National Novel Writing Month for over a decade. She currently lives in Miami with her husband and children. Learn more about her on her website.
Interstellar Flight Magazine publishes essays on what’s new in the world of speculative genres. In the words of Ursula K. Le Guin, we need “writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope.” We use affiliate links and Patreon to pay our writers a fair wage. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.