A Few Quick Questions With…Marjorie Thelen

Earlier today I posted my thoughts on A Far Out Galaxy, the first volume in Marjorie Thelen’s Deovolante Space Opera. Thelen was kind enough to give me a few moments of her time to A my Q’s — not much story-specific (and no spoilers), but we touched on this book as well as writing in general. I kept the number down, because we’re all better off with her working on her next book(s) rather than spending time answering all the questions I might have. I appreciate her time and answers (you never go wrong with a tip of the cap to Robert B. Parker around here).

There was some pretty extensive world-building in A Far-Out Galaxy — how much of it had you done before starting, and how much was on the fly?
All on the fly. I started with the idea that I had read about at the time, back in the late 80s that we live on an insignificant planet in an insignificant galaxy. And I had read some of Von Daniken’s books like Chariots of the Gods and his ideas that the lines on the Cusco plane were drawn by extraterrestrials. So I thought what if an extraterrestrial civilization had seeded Earth with human beings and then stepped away. That is how a Far Out Galaxy started. I had two main characters in mind– male and female leads. I do no outlining before I write. I just sit down every morning and say, I wonder what they are up to today.
What’s the difference in how you write/how you have to think/how you plot a SF story from a Mystery (or something else)? Is there a genre that you particularly enjoy reading, but could never write?
I don’t plot out the story ahead of time. Whether mystery or sci fic I know I have to keep the plot moving so I try to have a hook at the end of each scene or chapter. There’s always a bit of mystery in the sci fi books I write. I once read to paint oneself into a corner in a mystery and I try to do that. It is sometimes a challenge to get out of that corner! So far I’ve managed to do it. I seldom read fiction anymore. I’ve read so much romance, mystery, thriller, etc. that they all seem the same. I seldom read today’s sci fi because it is dark and dystopian and that bores me to tears. A Far Out Galaxy and its sequels are light and fun and that is what I like to read. I read a lot of non-fiction, which I would never attempt to write. I like to stick to fiction and make things up. My mind needs something to create, or it gets me in trouble.
Who are some of your major influences? (whether or not you think those influences can be seen in your work — you know they’re there)
Robert B. Parker and Tony Hillerman in mystery. I love how Parker writes almost entirely in dialogue and that is how I like to write. In one sentence Hillerman can describe an entire landscape and I try to get close to that and not get wordy in descriptions. Ursula Le Guin, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, Kurt Vonnegut are the sci fi giants on my bookshelf. I especially admire Ursula’s amazing writing career and her ability to take a stand on issues.
I’ve often heard that writers, or artists in general, will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
One time I entered a romance writing contest and one of the judges said my heroine was too stupid to live. That heroine is Vita in A Far Out Galaxy and some people love her to death. The American reading public is very fickle, and an author has to keep that in mind. I just keep on writing ’cause I like to.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the fourth book on in the Deovolante series called Earth Rising. A Far Out Galaxy is the first book in that series, Hoodoo Canyon is the second, and The Next Universe Over is the third. This past week I resurrected a book called Wings of the Dawn, an Oregon Trail epic, that I started six years ago but never finished. After writing around 100 pages I decided that I would outline the rest of the book. When I completed the outline I thought this is a stupid story and never finished the book. One of my writer friends in my writer group, the Harney Basin Writers, keeps nagging me to finish that book because she really likes what I have written so far. I just might. But I’m not going to follow the dang outline.
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