Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on Christian Schoon's blog tour for Under Nameless Stars, the sequel to last year's Zenn Scarlett. Thanks to Christian and Strange Chemistry, we have all sorts of goodies today. Christian has stopped by for a chat and he brought along with him an excerpt of Under Nameless Stars and an opportunity to win some great prizes. You can see all the tour stops here and learn more about the tour-wide competition to win copies of the Zenn Scarlett and even your own star! But first let's meet Christian.
Welcome to Working for the Mandroid, Christian! For those of our readers who are unfamiliar with your Zenn Scarlett series, how would you describe it in two sentences or less?
The books chronicle the adventures of a teen girl in her novice year of exoveterinarian training. Book one introduces us to Zenn’s occasionally disastrous experiences at the Ciscan Cloister exovet school and clinic on Mars and preps us for the interstellar conspiracy that ensnares Zenn and her friends in book two.
Your main character, Zenn, is an exoveterinarian-in-training. For those unfamiliar with the term, what is an exoveterinarian and why did you choose this particular profession for your character?
An exovet is a veterinarian specializing the diagnosis, care and treatment of diseased or injured alien life forms. Zenn’s is leaning toward a sub-specialty in off-world mega-fauna, so she regularly interacts with such species as Mu Arae whalehounds (marine predator, 80 to 100 feet), Tanduan swamp sloos (estuarine insectivore, 190 to 220 feet), crypto-plasmoid seepdemons (giant unicellular organism, roughly 10-foot diameter), Greater Kiran Sunkiller (gas giant upper atmospheric filter-feeder, 1,500-foot wingspan) and Lithohippus Indrae, or Stonehorse (vacuum-dwelling synapsid, 500 to 800 feet).
I found Zenn’s choice of profession an interesting career since I hadn’t run across it anywhere else in SF novels. There were a few exo-physician types, and after I started my series I later found one or two passing references to vets treating alien animals in TV shows and fan lit, but nothing that really got down in the weeds of what it might take to become an exovet and what one’s life would then entail on a day-to-day basis. And, of course, because: Indra.
There are a lot of aliens running around in your books. Do you have a particular favorite and if so, who/which one is it?
They are all my children…. but we do love each of our off-spring in different ways. I’m fond of Katie, Zenn’s companion rikkaset, a raccoonish, lemur-like marsupial with the intelligence of a chimp or human two-year old and refractive fur that allows her to camouflage herself. And, much like a two-year-old, Katie can be whiny, demanding, obstreperous and annoying. But also like a human infant, she can be damn cute. And she speaks using sign language. Another alien I was intrigued to meet are the Eta Cepheian-Liquissi Drifters. These are a sentient, crustacean-like species. They float above the ground using a shell-like envelope pumped up with naturally generated methane and other lighter-than-air gases. Eta Cepheians inhabit the vast, sparsely populated upper atmosphere of gas giants, so females rarely encounter males. In order to successfully breed, they’ve evolved a way to ensure mates are always at hand: the male “consorts” are permanently attached to the larger female’s body in small, fluid-filled translucent globes girdling her body. This is much like certain deep sea fish here on Earth, who evolved the same solution to finding a mate in their largely empty undersea realm.
Under Nameless Stars is the second book in the series. What challenges did you face writing this second book that you didn't have with the first?
Since these two books were originally one, much longer novel that I split, the main challenge was transforming a single story arc into two coherent, self-contained arcs, while also maintaining the linkages between all the various sub-plots and threads across the two books. Under Nameless Stars, which basically begins as Zenn leaves Mars, was a more linear, action-driven story. That made tweaking it easier than re-engineering the more convoluted plot of the first book.
You've had quite a varied background, working both in artistic fields and more physical and retail fields. How has this varied background helped with your writing about aliens and space?
My work as a marketing writer for the film and video industries, followed by work as scriptwriter for animated and live-action teen and tween TV shows, both helped me out in a number of ways. Both of these pursuits taught me the value of economy in writing. . As far as space and aliens, I’ve always been an SF geek and have long appreciated the way this genre can show us to ourselves in fascinating and revealing ways. As for animals, my volunteer work with various animal welfare groups brought me into contact with a number of dedicated veterinarians, and these people really sparked the concept of combining my love of SF with my scatter-shot knowledge of medical and veterinary sciences
If you had the chance to meet an alien that you could understand and communicate with, what would you ask it?
“Can I come with you?”
What science fiction works of pop culture do you find inspiring?
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (tho this is more sci-fantasy, I guess), anything by William Gibson (partial to his earlier stuff) and the BSG re-boot was genius.
Are there any other genres or areas of science fiction that you're dying to explore once Scarlett Zenn is completed?
I’m cobbling together a pitch for an animated steampunk TV series. If any producers are reading this, drop me a line. It’s gonna be bronze-rivet-copper-plated awesome. Has Humanitas Prize scrawled all over it. IMHO…
Thank you so much for stopping by Working for the Mandroid, Christian! Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers about Under the Nameless Stars and the Zenn Scarlett series?
I just like to say thanks to Leslie for letting me drop in and spend some time here with you and your Mandoid-oids. Always brilliant to encounter others who know just how much SF rocks this sector of known space. And: don’t forget to enter the Strange Chemistry contest to win FREE books and the Name Your Own Star prize package. It’s really pretty bitchin.’ Cheers!
Read an Extract:
Enter to win a copy of Zenn Scarlett and Under Nameless Stars and maybe even your very own star! Questions have been scattered throughout the tour and you just need to answer one of them to enter. Good luck!
14. The cage-crate that Zenn and Liam are hiding in is placed within the Helen of Troy’s:
a. Pilot room
b. Cargo hold
c. Dining Saloon
d. Racquetball court
About the Books:
Released May 7, 2013
Zenn Scarlett is a resourceful, determined 17-year-old girl working hard to make it through her novice year of exovet training. That means she's learning to care for alien creatures that are mostly large, generally dangerous and profoundly fascinating. Zenn’s all-important end-of-term tests at the Ciscan Cloister Exovet Clinic on Mars are coming up, and, she's feeling confident of acing the exams. But when a series of inexplicable animal escapes and other disturbing events hit the school, Zenn finds herself being blamed for the problems. As if this isn't enough to deal with, her absent father has abruptly stopped communicating with her; Liam Tucker, a local towner boy, is acting unusually, annoyingly friendly; and, strangest of all: Zenn is worried she's started sharing the thoughts of the creatures around her. Which is impossible, of course. Nonetheless, she can't deny what she's feeling.
Now, with the help of Liam and Hamish, an eight-foot sentient insectoid also training at the clinic, Zenn must learn what's happened to her father, solve the mystery of who, if anyone, is sabotaging the cloister, and determine if she's actually sensing the consciousness of her alien patients... or just losing her mind. All without failing her novice year....
Under Nameless Stars
Releases April 1, 2014
Zenn Scarlett’s novice year of exoveterinarian training on Mars isn’t quite going to plan…
After barely surviving a plot to destroy her school and its menagerie of alien patients, could things at the Ciscan cloister get any worse? Yes. Yes they could: Zenn’s absent father Warra Scarlett has suddenly ceased all communication with her. Desperate to learn what’s become of him, Zenn stows away aboard the Helen of Troy, a starliner powered by one of the immense, dimension-jumping beasts known as Indra.
With her is Liam Tucker, a towner boy who is either very fond of her, very dangerous to her, or both. On the verge of learning the truth about her dad, Zenn’s quest suddenly catapults her and Liam thousands of light years beyond known space, and into the dark heart of a monstrous conspiracy. Braving a gauntlet of lethal environments and unearthly life forms, her courage and exovet skills will now be tested as never before.
With the fate of entire worlds hanging in the balance, Zenn is racing headlong into trouble… again.
I grew up in Luverne, Minnesota, population roughly 4,500. (My family and closer friends would argue with the growing up claim.) Spent my senior year of high school in Sweden as a foreign exchange student. (I lived in a Stockholm suburb called Djursholm: “Animal Island.”) During various breaks and wanderings-off in college, I did some acting, toured with a theatre troupe, sang lead, played bass and/or wrote lyrics for a number of rock bands (two of them pretty decent, one of them opened for Santana), shingled roofs, sold Halloween costumes, wrote for a med school paper. After ten years, I ended up with a degree from the School of Journalism at the U of Nebraska, moved to L.A., bounced around, got my first serious writing job at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, spent a few years there, went out on my own as a freelancer, wrote entertainment industry ads, trailers, DVD box copy, etc., cranked out scripts for a number of kids/teens TV shows, moved from L.A. to Iowa (!), wrote my first books, landed a skilled and resourceful literary agent (that would be Adam Schear of DeFiore and Co., New York), was elated to see my Young Adult science fiction series sold to Strange Chemistry, new imprint of one of the most admired indy genre publishers in the solar system. And… here we are.
These days, my wife Kat and I live in a rambling Victorian farmhouse on 11 acres of rolling Iowa prairie, where we ride herd on three ferrets, a rotating cast of about a dozen rescued horses and/or donkeys and one busy little Aussie-mix mutt named Django (the guitar virtuoso, not the Tarantino film). When not SF-ing, I continue to write marketing materials for the dreadwizards of the entertainment industry. I’m also a member of several awesomely awesome local animal welfare groups who re-hab wildlife, work to humanely reduce feral cat populations through Trap/Neuter/Release programs and periodically schlep stuff or do some writing for the groups. Part of this involves providing barns, sheds, corrals, enclosures and other spaces on our farm for temporary housing of everything from full-grown black bears and cougars, to orphaned coyotes, raccoons, possums, feral cats, the occasional white tail fawn and, rescued from some over-eager barn cats, one very cool least weasel.