Nancy Kress is one of those writers that I have to work hard not to squee all over. I have loved everything that she has written. She has a new book out, Flashpoint, which I am very excited about.
Nancy has also, consistently, given me some of the best writing advice both in terms of fiction and overall career sanity. One of the things that I love most about her as a writer and a person is that she never stops asking questions. Her work evokes strong feelings in part, I think, because of how deeply personal it is.
How so? You’ll see when you take a look at her Favorite Bit.
Recently a friend asked me, “Why do you write so often about strained relationships between sisters?”
“Do I?” I said, surprised. Then I thought about it. I do.
Beggars in Spain, my most commercially successful novel, features two sister, Leisha and Alice, at odds with each other. A host of my short stories, including the current “Mithridates, He Died Old” (Asimov’s, January), also have two warring sisters. And two sisters are at the heart of my new YA novel, Flash Point (Viking). But none of these works are actually about sisterly relations. Beggars is about genetic engineering; “Mithridates” about judgment; Flash Point about a future TV reality show for teens. And yet there the sisters are.
Do I have a sister? Yes. Do we ever have issues? Yes. Are we nonetheless good friends bound by unbreakable bonds of blood and loyalty? Yes.
But I also have two brothers, two sons, two parents, and a husband. And although I do write about those kinds of relationships as well, my friend’s comment made me realize that I don’t do so as often, or as intensely, as about a pair of sisters. Why?
The only honest answer: I have no idea. Unlike other writers I know, much of my creative process does not seem to be under my control. I write like a person running past a haunted house at night: get the first draft down as fast as possible and don’t look back. My unconscious does a lot of the composition, and apparently my unconscious is concerned about sisterhood.
The sisters in Flash Point, Amy and Kaylie, have a complicated relationship. In a near-future United States in economic crisis, sixteen-year-old Amy tries to earn money for her dying grandmother by taking a job as a contestant on a new TV reality show. The show invites viewers to predict how the seven teen-aged contestants will behave in various bizarre ‘scenarios.’ The contestants themselves don’t know in advance when these scenarios will occur or what they will be, and initially—and disastrously—Amy often guesses wrong. She finds allies among the other kids as well as enemies. Each scenario on the show becomes riskier than the last as the producers attempt to drive up ratings. Meanwhile, the United States moves toward riots and then revolution by unemployed and desperate citizens. The political situation is exploited by the show.
Amy’s sister Kaylie is a wild card in this mix. Given to shop-lifting, she gets herself on the show, where both her behavior and romances are unpredictable. She is jealous of Amy, yet needs her. Amy attempts to control both their participations in the increasingly desperate scenarios. This does not work well.
She is incredibly talented. We see each other whenever we can, and stay in close touch. She is nothing like Kaylie, or Alice, or Beth in “Mithridates.” But in some convoluted way I don’t understand and probably never will, she has influenced what my unconscious throws my way to write about. Kate is my favorite bit, and I’m grateful.
Although not grateful enough to cut her in on the royalties.
Nancy Kress is the author of over thirty books of science fiction and fantasy, the most recent of which (released two weeks ago) is FLASH POINT. Her work has won four Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (for PROBABILITY SPACE). She lives in Seattle with her husband, writer Jack Skillingstead, and Cosette, the world’s most spoiled toy poodle.