J.D. Moyer - Colliding Worlds and Repopulation of a Wild Earth
J.D. Moyer lives in Oakland, California, with his wife, daughter, and mystery-breed dog. He writes science fiction, produces electronic music in two groups (Jondi & Spesh and Momu), runs a record label (Loöq Records), and blogs at jdmoyer.com. His previous occupations include dolphin cognition researcher, martial arts instructor, Renaissance Faire actor, dance music event promoter, and DJ. His short stories have appeared in several magazines and his novelette The Icelandic Cure won the 2016 Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction contest. His debut science fiction novel The Sky Woman was published by FLAME TREE PRESS in 2018. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about this book.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Sky Woman is about.
The Sky Woman opens with a 28th century ringstation anthropologist investigating what appears to be a Viking village in the Harz mountains of Germany. Who are they? and How did they get there? are a couple of the opening questions, as is the question of why Earth is mostly depopulated in the first place, and how the ringstations (vast orbiting space habitats) came to exist. Car-En, our anthropologist, becomes far more involved in the lives of the villagers than she’s meant to, and uncovers a mystery that confounds even the technologically advanced ringstation people.
What inspired you to write about colliding worlds and the contested repopulation of a wild Earth?
I’m fascinated by the idea of having a “second chance” environmentally. If humanity were given a vibrant, green, unpolluted planet, would we do a better job in terms of stewardship? And given that chance, how would different factions of humanity approach the opportunity? I tried to explore those questions, with the twist being that the “uninhabited Earth” is in fact inhabited by various remnants of prior civilizations.
Your book is a combination of hard scifi, light romance and mystery. Why did you decide to write across different genres?
I went in with the idea of writing science fiction, but elements of medieval fantasy and mystery crept in. I’d hesitate to call anything in The Sky Woman romance, but two of the characters do fall in love (which I didn’t initially plan). In terms of hard scifi, I try to write plausible science fiction, and I did a deep dive into materials science and space habitats for The Sky Woman. But I also gave myself permission to vigorously make stuff up (if I hadn’t, I would have been dead in the water). Regarding mystery, I’m a huge fan of William Gibson, who is a master of weaving mysteries into his science fiction (Pattern Recognition and The Peripheral are great examples).
Does creating surreal worlds and enigmatic scenes pose any particular problems?
The Sky Woman contains some scenes in virtual, highly realistic emulated worlds, but in some ways these were easier to write due to fewer constraints. I tend to usually write more realistic, concrete scenarios, so it was fun to get a little more psychedelic and free-associative in some of those scenes.
You have worked as a dolphin cognition researcher, martial arts instructor, Renaissance Faire actor, dance music event promoter and DJ. How have all of these work experiences influenced your writing?
I’m not sure if any of those show up directly in The Sky Woman, but anyone who knows me will see the details of my life show up in my fiction. I make an effort not to write too close to home (who wants to read about another white male author protagonist?!). But of course I use my life experiences. I met hundreds of people in the years I worked as a DJ and nightclub promoter, and I often use aspects of those people — a very wide swath of humanity — as I develop characters in my stories.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I’ve been told I’m a good Dungeon Master (Dungeons & Dragons) and miniatures painter. I produce electronic music in a few groups (Momu, Jondi & Spesh). I’m reasonably good at rock-paper-scissors. I can cook a steak.
The Sky Woman contains a couple of twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
I wrote a detailed outline, which changed significantly as I wrote the first draft and got to know the characters. I made a few big changes in the second draft based on feedback from my first readers (mostly my wife, who doesn’t pull punches if she feels a character does something out-of-character).
This was your debut work. How has the experience been like so far?
It’s been stressful but also gratifying. Flame Tree Press is a great partner. I’m still learning the ropes, and learning how to effectively co-promote my books with my publisher (which, for better or worse, is a reality of modern publishing in a social media world). I’m learning how to take a gentle, sustainable approach that I can maintain over the long term without stressing myself out.
What is an aspect of being an author that you didn't know about going in?
I didn’t know how much I would enjoy having my manuscripts be professionally edited. Honestly as a new author I was a little worried — would I be asked to make radical changes that I didn’t agree with? I’d had some bad experiences when I wrote a few screenplays and received notes from producers that were just filled with terrible, story-breaking ideas. But working with Don D’Auria at Flame Tree has been wonderful. His insights and suggestions made both books (The Sky Woman and The Guardian) vastly better.
This book is the first of a series. Can it be read as a standalone? How will the other books tie in with this one?
Absolutely it can be read as a standalone. One of my favorite series is the Culture by Iain Banks, which can be read in any order, and I hope that’s true for the Reclaimed Earth series as well. There are a few open threads at the end of The Sky Woman, but the main plot fully resolves. In The Guardian, some of the same characters appear, but the main characters are different, and the world and plotlines can be easily understood even if you haven’t read The Sky Woman.
Readers say your book was a page turner that kept them riveted until the end. How did you pull this off?
I’m glad readers feel this way! I try to follow Lee Child’s advice on how to create suspense: dole out information slowly, always leaving the reader hungry for more. Hopefully by the end of The Sky Woman the reader feels most things have been adequately explained, or at least fully make sense. It’s unfair for writers to create mysteries and then not explain them. I still haven’t recovered from watching Lost. What was that enormous statue of a four-toed foot all about?
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I write in the mornings, Monday through Friday. I do take weekends off, and sometimes take short breaks, but I try not to take long breaks because then I get “keyboard rust” — writing can feel like a hard workout when you’re not in shape. I get ideas on long walks with Leia (our dog). I get even more ideas when I travel, though I don’t like to travel very often due to airports and jet lag (I hate airport security so much that I recently applied for and received Global Entry status, which will hopefully encourage me to travel more often). I may not have any particularly weird or interesting writing habits myself, but I’m fascinated by the details of how other writers write; I have a series on my blog called “Word Craft” where I interview other writers about their methods and practices.
What are you working on right now?
I just finished a first draft of a new science fiction novel called The Savior Virus about a bioengineer pulled between two competing groups, each trying to mold human beings and society with behavior-influencing, brain-changing retroviruses. I’m also outlining Book 3 of the Reclaimed Earth series, which takes place about twenty years after the events in The Guardian, and will take place on the island of Sardinia and the ringstation Michelangelo.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I have a goodreads author page (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17648281.J_D_Moyer) and I blog at jdmoyer.com. And my DMs are open on Twitter (@johndavidmoyer). I’m always happy to meet readers online and answer questions.