Welcome to today’s tour stop for Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells. We have a busy schedule — my review, Jennifer’s terrific detailed answers to my interview questions, and a giveaway! Let’s get right to it…
Book: Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Blue Bedlam Books
Publication date: 2014
Source: From the author for the Virtual Author Book Tour
Summary: Dr. Jane Holloway, linguist, is on the mission of a lifetime — a first visit to an alien ship that has lingered in an asteroid belt of our solar system for decades. Her skills are needed to interpret a completely new language that is presumed to be on signage and in computer systems of the apparently abandoned ship. As the only non-astronaut on board for the mission, her impressions and instincts differ from her colleagues. Any misunderstanding risks the crew and, perhaps, even Earth.
Thoughts: Although I read science fiction as a teenager (a bonding moment with my father), I rarely read it as an adult. Generally, I only pick up ones that are described as science fiction for people who don’t read science fiction or ones with a strong female lead character. Fluency hits both of those points. I also loved the linguistic aspect of this novel — how fun to think about what it would be like to understand an alien language!
Appeal: This is a wonderful book for lovers of language, whether fans of science fiction or not.
How were you able to make the future world of space travel and alien life come alive for the reader?
That’s an interesting question. First of all, I think of Fluency as being a contemporary novel. It’s set in 2017, though I never say that anywhere in the book. You’re the first to know. 😉
I guess that I just realized early on that research was going to be important to give the novel the feeling that I wanted to achieve. So I spent an entire month, morning, noon, and night researching and scribbling notes. And whenever something came up during the actual writing, I stopped everything to research then too. That’s because research often fuels ideas, believe it or not. As I studied, things would catch my interest and, as I contemplated them, they’d find a home in the novel, sometimes months later.
For example, I remember reading that everything that goes to the International Space Station (ISS) is pre-screened by a NASA scientist for off-gassing. They can’t afford to accumulate problematic odors or chemicals in that encapsulated environment. I didn’t think about that again until I wrote a scene about Bergen falling for Jane and secreting a picture of her onboard that had passed the off-gassing tests.
As far as giving alien life a vivid feeling, that comes from empathy. As an author, empathy is our greatest tool. We have to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and literally think for them. It doesn’t matter that they aren’t real. Inside my head, in those moments, their thoughts feel very real and plausible. All my life I’ve been accused of being too sensitive. I think that finally paid off. 🙂
As a librarian, I’m always interested in the research that authors do for their books. What research was required for Fluency and what were your best resources?
I did a lot of research online—that’s where the most current information about the space program can be found. I’d start with something general like a Wikipedia article and then delve deeper whenever possible by reading entries on the various NASA-maintained websites.
I was most interested in the Orion program, which had been abandoned at that time due to funding cuts but has recently been revived. (Fluency was written in late 2012 to early 2013.) In my alternate history of NASA, the Orion program became the Providence.
I read several biographies of astronauts. I remember reading Sky Walking by Thomas Jones and a book by Mike Mullane, just to get a feel for what the lives of more contemporary astronauts were like and how astronauts are currently being chosen. I found that the current astronaut profile was very different from what I imagined. NASA wants adventurers that are very grounded, unflappable, and easy-going. I decided to base Compton, Varma, and Gibbs on these types of more contemporary astronauts.
I couldn’t have every astronaut behave this way, though, or the story wouldn’t be exciting enough. Interestingly enough, I get dinged for these three characters falling a bit flat. These are the quiet people at the party, silently taking everything in and content to not make a lot of noise or be the center of attention. They just do their thing without complaint.
So, as I researched I also read about the history of NASA, especially the earliest days, to get a feel for the more maverick test-pilot types–these were the astronauts that I based Walsh on, just to make the narrative more interesting. Someone a bit more fiery, but still with a good head on his shoulders. Someone to take charge.
Believe it or not, one of the most helpful resources was watching YouTube videos of astronauts describing what their lives were like at ISS. For example, the scene where Bergen describes Jane washing her hair—I actually watched a video of an astronaut deliberately washing her hair. I think it was either Cady Coleman or Sunita Williams.
Fluency has a satisfying ending, but there are unresolved questions. Will there be a sequel?
Yes! I’m working on it, diligently. I’m hoping for a June 2015 release of the sequel to Fluency, called Remanence. This winter has been hard, though. I’ve fallen behind. I’m hoping I can catch up to my schedule so I can publish on time.
I should note that independent publishing does not have the same delay to go to market that traditional publishing does. So when I published Fluency, at first I went back to writing a book that was unrelated to it. This other book is titled Druid and it’s set in the same universe, but with different characters. (It’s also a space opera.)
I didn’t want to work on the sequel to a book that, at the time, I didn’t think anyone would read. I knew that my writing had improved quite a bit and I wanted to tackle something different. So I was midway done with Druid when Fluency was just exploding. I started getting messages every day asking when the sequel to Fluency would be ready.
At first I just stubbornly kept writing Druid, because I was absolutely in love with that novel. Then when Fluency had sold enough that I ended up with an agent, he, my husband, and all my writing friends were counselling me that if I published anything other than a Fluency sequel next, I’d be losing readers.
So, I spent time preparing the plotlines for the next two books in the trilogy and started writing Remanence. Balancing writing that and all the other stuff going on in my life has definitely been a test. I’ve gone from being a stay-at-home-mother that writes as a hobby to a full time indie author/entrepreneur. I wear many hats. I’m working harder and more hours than I ever expected. I’m living the dream that nine-year-old me dreamed. And I’m loving every minute of it.
Thanks, Jennifer, for stopping by to answer my questions and everyone else for stopping by for the tour.
What science fiction books do you recommend to people who don’t read science fiction?