2009-05-31: MilSciFi.com interviews Danielle Ackley-McPhail, contributor to
the military science fiction anthology, So It Begins, book two in the Defending
the Future series.
MilSciFi: "Welcome back. Please tell us a
little something about your story, First
Ackley-McPhail: "My story, First Line, is an
exploration of combat through the eye of Lieutenant Sheila Tremaine. What makes
the story unique is the fact that "Trey", as she is called, is dead.
Before she died she consented to an experimental process where her brain was
scanned and her life experiences imprinted as data on the processor of a
packbot, a demolitions robot already used by the military today. She is told
her consciousness will not be recorded but she learns otherwise the first time
the unit is activate. Not only is the story a study of what it would be like to
exist as one of these robots, but also about personal redemption."
MilSciFi: "Is this part of a large series or
Ackley-McPhail: "This story is currently a stand-alone
arc, but it does take place within an established universe; that developed by
Mike McPhail for the Alliance Archives Martial Role-Playing System. Having
played the game for years it was a natural backdrop for my military science
fiction writing. It gives me a stable, established base to work with so that my
mind can focus on the particulars of the story itself, rather than the window
dressing. The Alliance Archives is a very rich universe with a complex
backstory that gives me plenty of room to play in as well as a framework to
MilSciFi: "What inspired you to write this
Ackley-McPhail: "This particular story was one of
those odd, off-the-cuff ones. I knew I needed to come up with something, but I
didn't know what I wanted to do. The current story arc I was working on wasn't
quite what the editor was looking for so I was somewhat at a loss. By chance,
though, we were at a friend's house just hanging out and watching TV when one
of the guys stopped on a station airing a documentary on packbots. All of a
sudden, pretty much the whole story just sprang into my mind. About a third of
it was written right there while they watched the program and the rest was
polished after a bit of research into the different packbot configurations and
options. Ironically, the story arc that I was not able to pursue for this
collection, The Devil You Don't, was later finished and accepted for
publication by bookstore owner Greg Schaur of Between Books
(www.betweenbooks.com) in Claymont, DE for a 30th anniversary commemorative
anthology called Storied Between, which is to be published by The Fantasist
Enterprises (www.fantasistent.com) later this year."
MilSciFi: "Does science and technology play
an important role in this story (or in your work in general), or is it
secondary to the story telling and characterization?
Ackley-McPhail: "Most of my work is
character-driven; all the other elements are there, but secondary. In fact, I
like to say that the plot is what happens when you are getting to know the
characters. However, in this story, characterization and tech were very much
intertwined. This was an exploration of altered consciousness in a manner we
have rarely seen. Because of this I had to understand the workings of these
robots, how they were used and what they were capable of. Still, that having
been said, I can't say I didn't take some liberties, not having access to
anyone that has actually used a packbot in combat situations. Regarding my work
as a whole, mostly I indulge in informed technobabble. What I mean by that is I
throw in a few terms and concepts that I have some limited understanding of,
but I don't go in depth. I have my husband to keep me technically correct,
within reason, or I research something I want to use to see if there is a
scientific or technical basis actually being explored that would lend my
concept validity. Is what I write plausible? I try and make it so, but in the
end…it's fiction, after all."
MilSciFi: "Do you have plans to expand upon,
or write other works based on this story?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Not necessarily this story, though
the potential is there and I will do so if a good concept starts nagging at me,
but in this universe? Definitely. So far I have written four stories directly
in this universe: In the Dying Light (Breach the Hull, 2007), Carbon Copy (Space Pirates,
2008), First Line (So It Begins, 2009), and The Devil You Don't (sequel to
Carbon Copy, to be published in Storied Between, 2009). I'm also in the process
of writing a fifth, with the working title Star Crossed, intended for an
upcoming woman pirate anthology that follows the Carbon Copy story arc, and
have planned a sixth, also in this arc, titled No Joking Matter, and that one
is slated for By Other Means, the third collection in the award-winning
Defending the Future series. I'm thinking the Carbon Copy arc will likely turn
into a novel at some point, or a linked collection, once I have enough short
stories to make a cohesive storyline."
MilSciFi: "Most authors we encounter write
novellas/novels, do you find it a challenge to write short stories?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Hmm…not really. I've done both and
am fortunate that I am able to switch between the forms without too much
difficulty. Mostly it is deciding what portion of the story you are going to
tell. The challenge with short fiction is keeping the buildup to a minimum and
getting right into the action as quick as possible. You have to economize on
the words and tell a tight story. With a novel you can kind of meander… spend a
little more time on characterization and backstory, get a little more into the
descriptive. The challenge with novels for me is finding the end…I don't know
where the story is going most of the time. I let the characters guide me, or I
let the story develop from things I encounter in my research so it is more like
traversing a maze than running a race. Also, since my novels have developed
into a series, the other challenge is maintaining personal interest in
finishing the story arc when so many other ideas intrude."
MilSciFi: "Since time is of the essence for
getting a reader up to speed in a short story, do you have a strategy, or
preferred method for doing this?"
Ackley-McPhail: "Mostly I try for a real
attention-getter of a first line; once I have that I get you into the character's
head, preferably with some occurrence that makes you care what happens. In the
one I'm currently writing I start with the death of a character from the
previous story and the fate of her remains. It is a very intense, ritualistic
scene that really grabs you and draws you in as a reader, makes you want to
avenge the death, and then I go from there. I make my characters real and
tangible, like a friend, so that it matters what happens to them."
MilSciFi: "Do you have any other projects in
Ackley-McPhail: "Oh my…how long do I have? There is
always something. Mostly I spend my time compiling anthologies. Those I'm
working on right now are the Bad-Ass Faeries series, which has been signed by
Mundania Press (www.mundania.com). For that I have to redesign the first two
books in the series, as well as put together the third. I'm also working on two
stand-alone anthologies for Dark Quest LLC, (www.darkquestbooks.com): Dragon's
Lure, about all things that tempt a dragon…and why; and In An Iron Cage: The
Magic of Steampunk, which is self-explanatory. For my non-anthology work, I am
completing a novella, The Halfling's Court: A Bad-Ass Faerie Tale, also for
Dark Quest. Once all of that is done I have a vampire novel I am co-writing
with Jeffrey Lyman, one of my fellow contributors to the Defending the Future
Anthologies, as well as co-editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries series. Right now we
are using the working title Blood Will Tell, but we discovered there are so
many vampire novels out there with that title that we are going to use it as
the series title and give the novels their own unique monikers."
MilSciFi: "Do you have any upcoming author
Ackley-McPhail: "The next major event I have is the
Collingswood Book Festival (October 3), followed by Faeriecon (November 6-8),
and Philcon (November 20-22). There are a bunch of one-day events sprinkled in
there that you can find out about on the Appearances page of my website."
MilSciFi: "Thank you"