Author Mindee Arnett has been immersed in the world of sci-fi/fantasy since she was a young girl, cutting her teeth with the big names like Star Trek and The Chronicles of Narnia. Her new young adult/sci-fi thriller, Avalon, takes place in a far-off future where the technology has advanced but the politics seem all too familiar. In this interview, Arnett discusses the book,Doctor Who, and worldbuilding.
Bookish: Avalon takes place in a future where the government is just as corrupt as the crime bosses. This is similar to what happened in big cities like New York and Chicago in the 20th century with the Mafia. When writing, were you conscious of the historical parallels, or did that come out organically? Do you think it’s important to look at the past when writing about the future?
Source: We Heart It
Mindee Arnett: Yes and yes, actually. I think it’s absolutely important to look at the past. So much of what we’re seeing now is a repeat of what’s come before. I don’t think I started off completely aware of the parallel, but certainly the more I wrote, the clearer it became to me. I think the very nature of having an, if not corrupt, then overly powerful government, is what enables organized crime to flourish. In the 20th century, the federal government established a far greater power over the American people than ever before. The same thing has happened in the world of Avalon, where the government agency has a monopoly on the tech that enables space travel.
Bookish: Speaking of history, you were a participant in Civil War reenactments in high school. What brought you into that world?
MA: I came into the world of reenacting a little by accident. I started dating a guy who was into it. Not that he had to try very hard to get me to participate. The moment I knew it was a thing, I wanted to do it. I love history, and am automatically drawn to anything old. I even bought a home that was built in 1892.
Bookish: Would you ever consider writing historical fiction?
MA: Given the time to research, I would love to write a historical novel, although I would have a heck of a time picking my favorite time period!
Bookish: In your bio, you mention that you’re a fan of Joss Whedon and Doctor Who. SFF is clearly a passion of yours inside and out of your writing. Is there a moment from your childhood, perhaps a book or film, that you remember distinctly as the beginning of your love for that genre?
MA: There wasn’t a specific moment, but I’m pretty sure that I was hooked on Star Wars and Star Trek before I could even read or write. My dad is a big sci-fi fan, and he had the VHS tapes. I would watch them over and over again. Later, I added movies like The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and the original Clash of the Titans. I also cut my reading teeth on the Oz books,The Chronicles of Narnia, and Roald Dahl.
Bookish: Very often in SFF, the success of a story hinges on worldbuilding. How did you approach building the world of Avalon and what advice do you have for authors who struggle with this?
MA: I world build mostly from “the bottom up,” as it’s called, starting with my characters and defining the world through what they know and see. Most writers I know do it this way. It’s a far easier route than building from “the top down,” as it’s called, where a writer will start by defining all the large social/economical/geographical elements of the world first before moving down to character level.
Bottom-up is a very organic way to worldbuild, but it can be extremely problematic if not done thoroughly. If a writer only relies on what the characters know on a surface level, then the world can end up feeling thin and unbelievable to readers. Characters, like real people, are generally pretty ignorant of the world around them. For example, I can drive a car, use a computer, text message on my phone, but I have very little understanding of how it all works (on a technical level) and even more so why it works. My characters are the same way, and, to be honest, they’re perfectly happy with this ignorance.
We writers, on the other hand, must not be happy with only having a basic/surface-level understanding of the worlds we are building. Instead, the writer needs to constantly ask why, how,what each time a character identifies something new about the world. Very little of what the writer knows about the world will end up in the story, but the writer should still know it nonetheless. Readers can tell when the writer doesn’t know. The story will out. So, I guess my advice is don’t skimp on fleshing out the world. Be the complete authority on it.
Bookish: If you could write a story in a sci-fi/fantasy universe created by another author, which universe and what author would that be?
MA: I’m afraid this isn’t a very current example, but I would love to write stories set in the Tiger and Del universe written by Jennifer Roberson. Roberson was one of my earliest influences as a writer, and I absolutely love the novel Sword Dancer. In this fantasy world, sword dancers are single combat mercenaries hired by kings and other politicos to settle disputes, and some of the swords are imbued with magical powers. It’s such a simple premise, but I adore it. Always have.
Bookish: Do you have a favorite indie bookstore?
MA: My favorite independent bookstore is Joseph–Beth. I frequent the Cincinnati store.
Mindee Arnett lives on a horse farm in Ohio with her husband, two kids, a couple of dogs, and an inappropriate number of cats. She’s addicted to jumping horses and telling tales of magic, the macabre, and outer space. She has far more dreams than nightmares.