January 05, 2021

Stina Leicht

Diving into the sci-fi end of the genre pool
Interview by

Fantasy author Stina Leicht makes her science fiction debut with the rollicking Persephone Station.

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Fantasy author Stina Leicht makes her science fiction debut with the rollicking Persephone Station, which follows a crime lord with a heart of gold and a mercenary who team up to protect a pacificist alien species from a ruthless corporation. We talked to Leicht about making the shift between genres, how she devised the unique characters that populate her world and more.

Persephone Station is your first science fiction novel. What inspired you to switch from writing fantasy and what did you enjoy about sci-fi? Was there anything from fantasy that you missed?
My editor asked me if I had any ideas for a science fiction novel. No, really. That’s the whole story. I’ve been into SF since I discovered Star Trek at age 4. Now, ask me why I didn’t start with science fiction.

The Boys Club.

After decades of hearing that women can’t write science fiction and all the snide comments about “hard” versus “soft” SF . . . *eyeroll* well . . . the prospect was unappealing. I might even use the word intimidating. So, I wrote fantasy first. Of course, when I think back on it now, I don’t know why I thought SF would be more terrifying than writing about the troubles in Northern Ireland. Fear doesn’t have to make sense, I guess.

What I enjoy most about SF is the optimism—the thought that humanity will still be kicking in 300 years or whatever. I love thinking that we’ll come up with some way to stop killing the planet and, thus, ourselves. I want to believe that we’ll solve hunger and the problem of unequal opportunity and provide education for everyone. If everyone gets a shot at living up to their potential, we all benefit. And I guess you know why Star Trek is my favorite. Mind you, I enjoy the action/thriller stuff too. Clearly.

"I didn’t want the aliens to be perfect victims—no one is a perfect anything."

Anyway, writing SF versus writing fantasy isn’t that different. Technically, they both fall under surrealism. You have to focus on getting different details right, of course. For that reason, there’s nothing to miss. It’s not like I can’t go back to writing fantasy. I even indulge in horror sometimes. Having range as a writer is a good thing.

Do you plan to write a sequel, or more science fiction in general?
In my experience, sequels depend upon the publisher and how many copies are sold. I’d love to write more novels and stories set in this world, but I have to wait and see how Persephone Station does. Mind you, I’m already working on a new science fiction novel. I think I’ll be hanging out in this end of the genre pool for a while.

How did you come up with the idea of the Emissaries?
When I sat down to write Persephone Station, I wanted to write something feminist. The setting, the characters, the aliens—I wanted them all to mean something. I like building layers into stories. I’m a rereader, and it’s fun to find something new in a story that I like. That’s why I prefer to craft the surface parts (action, characters, dialogue) that make the story fun and, then provide the more cerebral bits that a reader can get into. But you don’t have to pay attention to the thinky parts to enjoy the story.

So I gave the aliens stereotypically feminine qualities. Their purpose for existing is to serve as mediators and peacemakers. They’re strongly discouraged from aggression. (If you don’t think these are feminine qualities, I invite you to observe a women’s martial arts class. Instructors often struggle to get the average woman comfortable with hitting another person.) A majority of women’s labor is unseen, unappreciated and unpaid, including house cleaning, care work, cooking, laundry and so on. Historically, men have taken credit for women’s creations, too. Finally, as a teen girl, I felt all this pressure to transform myself into whatever it was the male in my life desired. Boyfriend is into country music? Listen to country music. Boyfriend is into tabletop games? Be into tabletop games. I didn’t give much thought to what I wanted for the longest time. The young men I was with weren’t interested in what I wanted either.

I didn’t want the aliens to be perfect victims—no one is a perfect anything. So I made the Emissaries powerfully passive-aggressive. Because I live in the South and passive-aggressive is peak femme.

Your characters have such a jovial sense of fellowship to them, and the pacing of the story feels like a tabletop roleplaying game like Dungeons and Dragons. Was this intentional? Do you play tabletop roleplaying games?
Ha! I learned from the Sir Terry Pratchett school of character and dialog. So I didn’t have RPGs in mind at all. I do play and have for decades, but the pacing should be standard action/adventure pacing because that’s what the plot is based on. But that’s just me.

Kennedy was one of my favorite characters. What did you like most about writing her?
It’s interesting to me how much computer terminology and metaphor are used to describe human brain functions. However, structurally and functionally, they’re not even remotely close. For that reason, Kennedy is one of my favorites, too. She’s basically my Tin Man/Data character—so sincere. She’s all heart and extremely intelligent. As an electronic being with programmed empathy, she needed to live in the emotional equivalent of an uncanny valley. (Just not so much as to make her unlikeable.) She’s a newborn in a way. Physical experience is wondrous to her. Still not sure I carried that off, but that was the idea.

 

What do you do to find inspiration? Do any of your characters have a fun story behind their inception?
I’m a big fan of observing and experiencing life. Long walks with my husband are great—he’s extremely funny. Travel is inspiring too. Listening to ordinary people chat with one another. That kind of thing. I love wandering through junk shops and thinking about what the people who owned the things there were like. I also study how other writers write characters. I like people. I suspect you have to if you’re going to write about people. Sometimes I borrow qualities from people I know—no character is 100% anyone I know in real life. That wouldn’t be right. And I only use names and qualities from people I like. I don’t believe it’s ethical to put anyone you dislike into a story. It feels creepy, you know? Comedy is another influence. My favorite films contain snappy dialogue. Have you seen The Thin Man? Good stuff.

The way my imagination works is I start with a person and then I follow them around in my mind. It’s the same thing as daydreaming. Usually, they’re happy to tell me all about themselves. That’s great until you end up with a tight-lipped character or a character that behaves a certain way and refuses to explain why. For example, when I wrote Of Blood and Honey, Mary Kate kept apologizing about the baby. It made no sense. None of what happened was her fault, but she wouldn’t stop apologizing. So I paused the scene in my mind and asked. And that was when I found out that she’d been pregnant before. That was amazing.

Do you typically write in long, protracted sessions or in quick bursts? Or another way altogether?
Each story or novel is a bit different. I’ve written shorter works all in one go. Last Drink Bird Head was like that. Usually it happens in chunks. Five hundred words here. Two thousand words there. Writing requires persistence.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Persephone Station.


How have you been holding up in the pandemic? Has it affected your writing process?
Like everyone, it’s affected how much bandwidth I have for creativity. In spite of the mythology around the creative arts—people who are in insecure situations with tons of drama do not do their best work. Creativity requires safety and security. It has to be OK to make mistakes. If you’re worried about whether or not you’re going to eat or be homeless, you’re not going to be very creative because you’ll be under too much pressure. (And that’s why turning a hobby into a profession can sometimes kill your love of it.) I’m super lucky. I’ve a stable home life. My husband rocks. We’ve been married for 19 years and we get along great. That said, anxiety takes up a lot of headspace, and I’m an Olympic-class worrier, but you have to push on.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?
Honestly? The vaccine. I can’t wait until everyone gets the vaccine. Being able to write in a coffee shop again would be amazing. I miss bookstores and movie theaters more than just about anything. Traveling would be lovely too. But above all else—I’m looking forward to there not being hundreds of thousands of deaths in the news. I want everyone to be safe, healthy and happy.

Get the Book

Persephone Station

Persephone Station

By Stina Leicht
Saga
ISBN 9781534414587

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