Interview with Karen Bao

This weekend I had the privilege of interviewing Karen Bao, a young author, musician, and college student.  Her debut novel, Dove Arising, will be published February 2015.  We talked about her writing process, putting the science in science fiction, and balancing writing with school.  But before the interview, take a look at the book itself:

Dove Arising, by Karen Bao

Phaet Theta has lived her whole life in a colony on the Moon. She’s barely spoken since her family died in an accident nine years ago. She cultivates the plants in Greenhouse 22, lets her best friend speak for her, and stays off the government’s radar.

Then her mother is arrested.

The only way to save her younger siblings from the degrading Shelter is by enlisting in the Militia, the faceless army that polices the Lunar Bases and supposedly protects them from attacks by desperate Earth-dwellers. Training is brutal, but it allows Phaet to come out of her shell and make friends, including an uneasy alliance with the preternaturally accomplished Wes, a fellow outsider.

Rank high, save her siblings, free her mom: that’s the plan. Until Phaet’s logically ordered world begins to crumble…

Haunting and prescient, Dove Arising heralds the emergence of a bold new voice in science fiction.

Read on for the interview!

***

Reading your book’s summary, Dove Arising seems to have engaging characters and an intriguing setting— what inspired each?

I’ll start by talking about Phaet, the silent, bookish protagonist. I’m friends with many introverts who are much more than what they seem on the outside, so I wanted to write about an introvert forced into a tough situation. And writing something set on the moon seemed like an interesting challenge — how would a society breathe, eat, and create the “illusion” of increased gravity? Once I answered those questions, I put a quiet girl in that hostile natural environment. The rest of the story grew from there.

How much science did you include in the book, and how much research did you have to do?

Phaet’s an aspiring bioengineer, and her knowledge of science helps her on multiple occasions. She thinks very analytically. Since she’s much smarter than I am, and the Lunar Bases are very advanced, I had to do quite a bit of research. Consulting the internet and asking questions to my teachers usually did the trick.

Did you ever worry about making sure readers understood the science?

Yeah, I did! My goal was to explain scientific plot points without bogging down the story.

It’s a difficult balance. Did you outline the story beforehand, or make it up as you went along?

It was all improvisation, so: no outline. I don’t suggest doing that, though. It created a lot of plot holes and inconsistencies — I’ve got the first draft of Dove Arising buried in a hard drive somewhere, and I hope it never sees the light of day. Lesson learned: planning is good.

I’ve been in that place before. Are you working on a project at the moment? If so, what’s it about?

I’m working on the rest of the Dove Chronicles — that’s two more books. At the same time, a fantasy story world is taking shape in my mind, and it’s going to be a blast. Working with people at Writers House and Penguin has taught me so much about writing, and I can’t wait to try something new. But that’ll be after I finish the series!

It looks like you have a lot of plans for the future. How do you balance your writing with school and other requirements?

During the school year, studying takes over my life. When I can finally write, over the weekend or over summer and winter breaks, I get so excited that I practically attack my keyboard. It’s almost frightening. Being in school makes the writing something of a guilty pleasure; it doesn’t feel like work. Also, my classmates and professors are endlessly inspirational.

What’s your favorite writing advice you’ve received or seen?

“Just write people as people, no matter what kinds of skin or body parts or idiosyncrasies they have.” Heard that one from Christopher Paolini. It really keeps me in check when I’m writing characters who are different from me. Everyone deserves representation in stories, but it had better be true to their experiences. And it definitely shouldn’t reinforce harmful stereotypes.

Good advice.  What’s the best book you read recently?

Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead was a great read! It’s about an American ballet dancer who helps a Russian one defect from the Soviet Union. The book reads almost like a fantasy because the professional dancing world is so far removed from everyday life. And Shipstead’s language is gorgeous. More recently, I just started Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote, and I already love it.

Quite a stretch from moon life science fiction. Speaking of which, what’s your favorite line (in your humble opinion) from Dove Arising?

I’ve got more lines I’m ambivalent about than ones I like, but the opening sentence is decent enough: “Umbriel says I’m so good with plants because I’m as quiet as they are.” Yay for blatant self-characterization!

And finally, where can we find information about you and your book online?

You can visit my official website, www.karenbaobooks.com. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter — those accounts get updated more often. Don’t hesitate to reach out!

***

Again, Karen Bao’s book Dove Arising comes out next February from Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  While you wait, read an excerpt online, add it on GoodReads, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.  I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I did.

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11 thoughts on “Interview with Karen Bao

    1. Ha… That’s a funny typo. As if she’s schizophrenic or something. You… and you… and you… What are you, a Russian doll?

      I’m glad you liked it.

  1. Ooh, this sounds awesome! And that’s really cool that she did so much research…yes, I’m a nerd for that kind of stuff. I don’t know many scientific things myself, but I LOVE reading well-researched sci-fi so this gets auto-bumped up my want-to-read-list. (Also, I’m shallow, but: I really love that cover.)

    1. I noticed you had marked this as To-Read before I did the interview, so I’m glad you read this as well. Hard science fiction is pretty awesome, I agree.

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