Diannika Alyse Star: Thanks for agreeing to speak with us for Science Fiction month!
To start us off, could you tell us a little about your book Untrustworthy
JR Gershen-Siegel: Untrustworthy is an LGBT dystopian science fiction novel. It explores what happens when an oppressive society more or less eats itself.
Star: That sounds very interesting. What inspired you to write about that?
Gershen-Siegel: It was kind of an odd story. I had had some of the more science fiction elements just sort of come to me, but the idea of essentially an alien Kristallnacht came to me and it would not let go until it was written.
Star: That sounds rather intense. Do your story ideas usually come to you that way?
Gershen-Siegel: This one came deceptively easily. It spoiled me! Now the ideas are different, but the process is similar. I get some sort of nagging concept and then want to expand on it because it becomes all-consuming. For last year’s NaNo, I wanted to comment on primitive societies and evolution. Year before, I wanted to comment on aliens and immigration. This year, the commentary will be on class and teamwork, most likely.
Star: Very cool! At least you’ll never be left wondering what to write!
(For readers who may be unaware, NaNo is short for NaNoWrMo, a writing event in November)
I know you have written for a few anthologies. Were those pieces Science Fiction as well?
Gershen-Siegel: One is sort of roundabout. It looks like science fiction (it was for The Longest Night Watch, which is a charity anthology benefiting Alzheimer’s research), but the reader begins to realize it’s just the ravings of a woman being affected by her illness. Hence she mentions aliens and space ships but it’s just the trappings of her nursing home (sorry, spoiler alert!).
This year, we are publishing a second Longest Night Watch Anthology, and for that one, the story is told from a dog’s point of view. Which I suppose is sort of science fiction, sort of not.
Star: Was Science Fiction a genre you planned to write in, or did it just kind of happen?
Gershen-Siegel: I love science fiction and I do try to write in it. Short stories can be in other genres (I have a few in the works which definitely are not), but sci-fi is, to me, the perfect genre because you can fit nearly anything into it.
Star: Very true, I think that’s one of the reasons it is such a prolific genre. Anything can happen!
When did you first realize you wanted to be an author?
Gershen-Siegel: I wrote when I was a kid but I didn’t really see it as a viable thing to do (and for actual, you know, money) until a lot later. But I was a five year old child drawing and writing little captions so I suppose I started off as a graphic novelist.
Star: Awww, that’s cute. 🙂
Who would you say has inspired you most in your writing?
Gershen-Siegel: Ray Bradbury. I love how short stories work so well. I also admire his work ethic tremendously. He wrote a book on writing and it makes a lot of sense, that you keep a jar of ideas on your desk. And I do! Even if I rarely open that jar, it helps a lot to know there is stuff in there.
Star: That definitely seems like it would be useful.
I know you entered a contest, and it led to you being published. Would you care to tell us a bit about that?
Gershen-Siegel: Sure thing.
I had casually mentioned to my mother back in 2013 that I had written a book in a month and she was intrigued and thought it was kind of amusing. So I got the dreaded question: are you going to try to get it published? I suppose I was in a mood to try, so I figured, why not?
I did some creative Googling and also checked Twitter and again this is such serendipity, but I stumbled across a contest being run by Riverdale Avenue Books. They wanted to publish a NaNoWriMo novel! The prize was a one-time publishing contract with them to get right of first refusal on my next work. I did some digging into them and discovered they were very LGBT-friendly, plus they were looking to expand their HSF imprint, which is horror, science fiction, and fantasy.
This helped tremendously as I fit the bill in terms of having a NaNo novel but also fit their mission and happened to fit well into the niche they wanted to promote. Timing helps a lot with these things. I have a friend who is a professional editor for textbooks, but she doesn’t normally handle novels. I gave her mine (e. g. I contracted with her to edit the piece) and she did so, and told me she thought I was going to win.
And here we are.
Star: Wow. Definitely a bit of good luck in that timing!
I know I’ve taken quite a bit of your time. One more question to wrap things up.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Gershen-Siegel: A few things. 1) Don’t stop. Even if you think what you’re writing is dumb. Just write. 2) Don’t delete wholesale and don’t throw things away. Save them, move them, repurpose them. Ideas are the ultimate recyclable goods. 3) Get an idea you can’t use immediately? Write it down, park it, and move on. You’ll want that bank of ideas when you’re stumped. You’d be surprised on how those ideas morph and work for you. And 4) Take risks! Step outside yourself and do something new. I never thought I would write LGBT and I really didn’t think I would be published.
You can do this. Yes, you.
Star: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. It was a pleasure speaking with you.
Gershen-Siegel: Thank you. I greatly appreciate your interest and support. May we all be creative!