Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Interview with Caitlin Starling, author of The Luminous Dead

Please welcome Caitlin Starling to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Luminous Dead is published on April 2, 2019 by Harper Voyager.

Please join all of us at The Qwillery in wishing Caitlin a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece you remember writing?

Caitlin:  When I was eight years old, I wrote a several chapter (read: ten pages in very large font) Sailor Moon fanfic. I actually got to reread a copy a few years back, and my grammar was spot on!

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Caitlin:  Hybrid, all the way. I tend to outline in very broad strokes, either before I start or sometime after the first chapter or two, once I have a sense of where things are going. I add to the outline as I go, usually just a few scenes ahead of where I’m writing, because I’ve found that I’m far more creative when I’m drafting than I am when I’m thinking about drafting. I set marks that I have to hit (X character needs to feel Y way by the time Z plot moment happens), and fill in the details organically.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Caitlin:  It’s incredibly humbling. Drafting is like trying to balance twenty spinning plates while also juggling chainsaws. There’s so much to keep track of, and so much I don’t know yet but that will inevitably shape the story. Not only that, but each project I work on requires that I learn more, try new things, get better at what I do. I can never write a project perfectly, let alone on the first draft, and I will always have things I wish I had done differently.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Caitlin:  I used to write a lot of fanfiction, where it’s not unusual to focus in with laser-like intensity on one or two characters, and to explore relationships from multiple angles as the focus of the story (without following the genre conventions of a romance novel).

TQDescribe The Luminous Dead using only 5 words.

Caitlin:  Angry, traumatized lesbians in caves.

TQTell us something about The Luminous Dead that is not found in the book description.

Caitlin:  It is, in many ways, a love story. A dark love story that may not be for everybody, and a nontraditional one, but it’s there.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Luminous Dead? What appeals to you about writing Science Fiction?

CaitlinThe Luminous Dead was inspired by an initial image - a woman, alone in a cave, listening to a woman she doesn’t trust. I’d been playing a lot of Zombies, Run, which I expect contributed. I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship in video games between the player character and tutorial/handler/guide characters (Cortana in Halo, GLaDOS in Portal, Sam in the aforementioned Zombies, Run), and I’ve also always been drawn to small casts.

I write science fiction (really, all flavors of specfic) because it allows me to isolate certain elements of relationship dynamics and heighten them in interesting ways. You can’t have the relationship between Gyre and Em the way it is in The Luminous Dead without some significant tech advances. I also find it very freeing to not have to stick to reality. I can choose to diverge at any time if I think it will make the story stronger.

All that said, while The Luminous Dead is science fiction, the scenario and technology isn’t that difficult to believe, and it should also appeal to fans of general survival fiction ala 127 Hours or I Am Still Alive.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Luminous Dead?

Caitlin:  My biggest resource for designing the cave and the physical challenges Gyre faces is the book Beyond the Deep by Bill Stone, Barbara am Ende, and Monte Paulsen. Beyond the Deep covers in great detail Bill and Barbara’s expedition into Sistema Huautla, a very real, very deep, very terrifying cave. It covers gear, technique, landscape, and the psychological impacts of taking on an expedition of that scale.

Beyond cave research, I also paid attention to ongoing conversations on resource colonialism and exploitation, read up on gold rush town dynamics, and researched feeding tubes and colostomies. I also read In The Dust Of This Planet, which (among many other amazing points) has some fascinating theories about setting-as-monster in horror.

TQPlease tell us about the cover for The Luminous Dead.

Caitlin:  The cover for The Luminous Dead features art by Alejandro Colucci and art direction and design by Owen Corrigan. That hand probably belongs to our main character, Gyre… but perhaps not. ;) I absolutely adore it for its sense of space and isolation, as well as the lush, rough textures of the stone and the surrounding cave walls.

TQIn The Luminous Dead who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Caitlin:  I don’t have many choices here! But of the two characters in the book, Gyre was probably the easier, if only because I was able to spend so much time in her head. We never see Em’s inner workings, which means I had to do a lot of invisible work to make sure that what we do see is cohesive, even if Gyre can’t make sense of it immediately.

TQDoes The Luminous Dead touch on any social issues?

Caitlin:  It does touch (in a limited way) on some of the ways colonialism, forced settlement, and industrial resource extraction can damage community cohesion, as well as how poverty and lack of an extended family can shape decision-making.

TQWhich question about The Luminous Dead do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


The movie question- Who would you cast as Gyre? Em?

Going to have to go with Tessa Thompson as Gyre and Janelle Monáe as Em. A girl can dream!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Luminous Dead.


          “Anything interesting happen while I was out?”

          “I made you a roast dinner,” Em deadpanned.

TQWhat's next?

Caitlin:  Nothing I can talk about in any detail, but I’m playing around with gothic horror on a few projects. More lies, more creepy locations, more isolation. Right up my alley, in other words!

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

The Luminous Dead
Harper Voyager, April 2, 2019
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages

"This claustrophobic, horror-leaning tour de force is highly recommended for fans of Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and Andy Weir’s The Martian." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

About Caitlin

© Beth Olson Creative 2017
Caitlin Starling is a writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction of all flavors. Her first novel, The Luminous Dead, comes out from HarperVoyager on April 2, 2019. It tells the story of a caver on a foreign planet who finds herself trapped, with only her wits and the unreliable voice on her radio to help her back to the surface. Caitlin also works in narrative design for interactive theater and games, and is always on the lookout for new ways to inflict insomnia. Find more of her work at www.caitlinstarling.com and follow her at @see_starling on Twitter.


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