Interview with Megan O’Keefe (VELOCITY WEAPON)
Megan E. O’Keefe was raised amongst journalists, and as soon as she was able joined them by crafting a newsletter which chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. She lives in the Bay Area of California, and spends her free time tinkering with anything she can get her hands on.
Her fantasy debut, Steal the Sky, won the Gemmell Morningstar Award and her space opera debut, Velocity Weapon is nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. She is represented by Sam Morgan at The Lotts Agency.
Hi Megan and welcome to the Hive!
Your book Velocity Weapon, has been well received in the blogger community, and your sequel Chaos Vector is receiving much early praise too! How does it feel to see the excitement for your books circulating on platforms like Twitter? Are you just as excited to have your books out there in the wild, or do you ever feel nervous?
It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking! By the time a book releases into the wild, I’ve spent at the bare minimum a year with it and, like most long-term relationships, that experience has its ups and downs. I keep a list of everything that made me initially excited about the book to get me through the troughs of woe, but by the time a book hits the shelves it’s very easy to have lost perspective and wonder if this thing that I’ve invested so much in is any good after all. The praise is validating and uplifting. I’m extremely grateful for it.
You’ve added a fantastic main protagonist to the canon of Strong and Independent women. I absolutely loved the way Sanda overcomes problems, especially when in relation to her disability, and I admire that she never wallowed in despair. What was your inspiration when creating Sanda’s character?
It’s difficult to point to a specific inspiration here, but I will confess that a lot of the way Sanda thinks about problems maps to my own methods of thought. When I was younger, my flight instructor drilled the axiom ANC – aviate, navigate, communicate – into me, and the basic principles have stuck with me throughout my life. As a teen, I also attended a workshop on the construction of autonomous robots run by NASA Ames, and there I was first exposed to KISS – keep it simple, stupid (though I believe people now say “keep it simple and safe”) – and those principles further reinforced my natural pattern of thinking. Both formative mindsets have helped me to handle my own chronic illnesses, and extending that instinct to a character like Sanda, who would have experienced similar training, was perfectly natural for me.
You created some great non-human characters too, in particular the AI ship Bero, and Grippy, who by the way, is ADORABLE! Were these characters fun to write?
So much fun! I love robots, and getting to explore different versions across the spectrum of artificial intelligence was a challenge, but most of the time it felt like getting to play.
If The Protectorate series was adapted to the big or small screen, who would you ideally cast for the main characters? Ooh, who would be a great voice for Bero?
Ah, this is where I confess that I am atrocious at matching names to the faces of actors! I am the person who says “who is that, they look familiar?” only to be told the actor is, in fact, an a-list celeb that I have absolutely heard of but could never pick out of a lineup.
That said, I tend to prefer new actors for protagonist roles as it helps open up the industry and gives the up-and-coming actor a chance to shine. I did, however, see a pic of Dev Patel on Twitter the other day and thought he’d make a good Vladsen – who plays a larger role in the story in Chaos Vector and Catalyst Gate. (Although if you ask me this again in a few months I will have most likely forgotten Mr. Patel’s name, sorry!)
It is a consensus amongst the blogging community, that you Megan, write some of the most amazing twists! I know you’ve written a thread about this recently on Twitter, but I wanted to ask here, do you plan twists right from the beginning or do they come organically to you as you’re writing?
Hah, thank you! The big twists I plan in advance, as they’re integral to the world and the story, but some of the smaller twists along the way pop up organically. It’s amazing how many breadcrumbs you can leave yourself as an author without realizing you’ve done so until you need them. If you’d like more in depth thoughts from me on twists, you can find the aforementioned Twitter thread here.
Which do you find is the toughest element of writing? Is it the plot, characters, dialogue or action scenes?
I have a natural tendency to be sparse with my exposition, so often my first edit passes are going back through and adding setting details, expanding on character internalizations, and making sure I touch on important McGuffins – whether they be objects or themes – enough that they aren’t forgotten by the time I need them in the story. My drafts are always about 5-10% shorter than the finished work will be.
Since this is our Women in SFF month, who were the women in SFF (or beyond) that influenced or inspired you? (Authors and/or characters!)
There really are so many to choose from! I carried a copy of Patricia McKillip’s Ombria in Shadow around in my backpack until the cover was falling off. Elizabeth Moon wrote the first science fiction book I really clicked with, which was Remnant Population. After that I picked up and devoured the Vatta’s War books. In wider media, Ripley from the Alien franchise will forever hold my heart and, more recently, Imperator Furiosa.
What’s a good female-authored SFF book you’ve read recently?
This is another “too many to choose from!” question, hah. Coming out later this year, there’s Essa Hansen’s Nophek Gloss and Andrea Stewart’s The Bone Shard Daughter. For work that’s already out, I highly recommend Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter and Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes.
I’ve just started reading the opening chapters of Chaos Vector, and without giving away too much, I have to say, being a wheelchair user myself, I adored the way you have created a world which is fully accessible and accommodates disabled people effortlessly. What influenced you to represent disability in such a positive light? Was adding further technology to your world-building something that was easy or tricky to do? (By the way I loved how the wheelchair had a small slot for keeping chocolate in! If only that were true!!)
It’s my opinion that an inaccessible society that far in the future has failed its people so catastrophically that the failure must become a critical part of the world-building and be addressed in the story. Prime has its problems, but for them to have overlooked such a basic human right would have been too glaring a fault and, frankly, Sanda already had a lot on her plate.
On a personal note, as someone with chronic illnesses, I’m weary of stories that assume an inaccessible futuristic society and have no interest in contributing to that particular narrative.
Following your award-winning steampunk-ish (without actual steam) western-ish Scorched Continent trilogy, was the pivot to SF something you always had in mind, and what was it like launching a second series compared to your debut?
My ideas tend to leap back and forth across genre lines, so I knew that SF was something I would write eventually. After the Scorched trilogy, I sent five proposals that I’d love to write to my agent – a big mix of genres – and Velocity Weapon was the one he picked.
As for the launch, things weren’t much different overall. The same principles apply, generally speaking, but there’s always small differences. Having already launched a trilogy, I’d like to say I was less nervous about the experience but, alas, I think I’ll have butterflies in my stomach during launch until the day I’ve finally croaked over my keyboard.
Both your series seem averse to playing it straight with genres, is this something you set out to do? How do you see genres and sub-genres? Rules to be broken? Meaningless marketing categories? Malleable trappings around the solid core of the story?
I always start out thinking I’m writing something straight to genre, then proceed to fail spectacularly. At this point, I embrace the chaos. With the Scorched trilogy, I thought I was writing a secondary world fantasy, but those books have been shelved as steampunk, science fantasy, and epic fantasy. The Protectorate trilogy manages to swing a little closer to centerline as space opera, but there are some heavy cyberpunk elements and a wee dash of horror.
As long as readers can find the books they love, I have no opinion about what categories they end up in (although Velocity Weapon does occasionally rank highly in an Amazon category that could be considered a spoiler for the book). If you’d like to hear me ramble at length about my 3D modelling theory of genre and read from a novel that I swear is science fiction but very much starts out reading as textbook epic fantasy (even my poor agent was baffled, hah), you can find that ramble over on the Tales from the Trunk podcast.
Lastly, can you tell us about us about what readers can expect in Chaos Vector? And possibly in book three?
Chaos Vector is a direct sequel to Velocity Weapon, picking up where the first book left off. It’s a heavier hitting book, emotionally speaking, and you will get to learn the fate of Bero and see a team dynamic emerge that I’m quite fond of. As for Catalyst Gate, that’s a bit tricky to talk about without spoilers, but here’s a little teaser – Sorry Tomas fans and, also, you’re welcome. 😉
Thank you for your time, Megan.
Thanks for having me!