By Adam Bicksler
C.A. Hartman is the author of The Refugee, The Operative, and the forthcoming The Forbidden Planet.
First of all, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. Our followers are eager to hear about fantastic up-and-coming authors in their favorite genre.
Let’s dive right in.
I came across your booth at Anaheim Wondercon this past April. I was intrigued by the cover of The Refugee, your novel, and then by your short elevator pitch. On a whim I picked it up and boy am I glad I did so. I proceeded to read three chapters while still at the Con. The pacing of the story, as well as the immediate familiarity with the environment (thanks in part to your excellent writing and descriptive detail), is what hooked me. I then read your brief bio at the end and was surprised to discover that this hasn’t been your full-time job, nor was it your first job. The quality of your writing certainly fooled me. I finished the book and knew I had to have an interview for the benefit of our readers.
I don’t want to give it all away; I’d prefer the readers hear it from your mouth. Can you give us a brief biography of yourself and how your previous career influenced your writing?
C.A.: I have a PhD in behavioral genetics and spent many years doing academic research studying the genetic underpinnings of behavior and behavioral disorders. I think the genetics and the psychology pieces have certainly influenced the series, especially the science and character development aspects. Both areas are just so infinite in nature; no matter how much you study the genome or behavior, more mysteries emerge. Makes for great writing fodder.
How much of yourself did you pour into Catherine, the main protagonist of your novel?
C.A.: There’s some of me in Catherine for sure–she’s a scientist and an introvert like me–but she’s her own person. I like to write protagonists I can relate to.
You certainly don’t come off as an introvert! Part of why I decided to buy your book was your warm personality.
What effect do you hope to achieve by writing from the perspective of a female scientist, both in and outside of the novel? There has been a lot of criticism on the STEM field as of late for not being conducive to or encouraging more female participation. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. I know our readers would love to know!
C.A.: I love female protagonists in books and film, probably because part of me imagines myself in those roles. To me, writing from the perspective of a female scientist seemed completely natural because I am those things. The relative lack of females in STEM is a big topic, and I’d like to see more women in STEM. Part of it is self-perpetuating: the fewer females there are in STEM, the fewer examples there are for young women to follow or get inspired by. Another issue is outdated attitudes about women in science that a few people still have. In my undergraduate and master’s work, being female was never an issue and I got plenty of support from male and female mentors. But things changed when I got into a PhD program and joined the world of “big research.” Most of the male scientists were good people who valued women in science, but a few came up short; I didn’t expect that at all.
It’s definitely an area of concern, but thankfully the field of SF/Fantasy has had a slew of female authors, queer/trans authors, and authors of color to pave the way for future generations. You’re a pioneer, Christie, and we thank you for that!
Why did you decide to leave academia and begin writing?
C.A.: Academia didn’t suit me like I thought it would. Writing does. I’m more creative than I thought, and I like that writing gives me a closer link to those I work for (my readers) than academic science did. I took a giant pay cut, but it was worth it. Life’s too short to do work you don’t enjoy.
How much of your past studies is present in the novel? What are the implications and ramifications of such studies in the real world?
C.A.: Genetics, genetic engineering, and epigenetics are topics that come up in the book series. I think these things, and especially epigenetics, are going to be huge in the future. The possibilities for medicine and the treatment of disorders are endless. I also think abuse of genetics and biological information theft (topics also touched upon in the series) could become issues in the future.
That brings up an interesting subject: Do our genes really belong to us or do they belong to humanity as a whole? Can genes be considered intellectual property? I guess we’ll have to wait and find out.
Your universe is inhabited by five sentient species (so far). Catherine’s character, and the organization she belongs to, has regular contact with four of them. Eshel, belonging to the fifth, more secretive species, is certainly an interesting character. Can you describe the process of imagining these distinct species and their attributes? Are they influenced by any Terrestrian cultures in the past or present?
C.A.: When I created the worlds and peoples, I tried to think scientifically. What is their climate like? What is their social structure? How do they reproduce? Are they dimorphic (2 genders) or genderless? What are their primary values? How do they structure their government(s)? Are they technologically advanced or not so much? All of these determine who the peoples are and how they live. I tried to come up with traits that would naturally cause conflict between peoples, such as a xenophobic people clashing with another people who love exploration and new things.
The Refugee is the first novel in your Korvali Chronicles trilogy. The second, The Operative, debuted just a few months ago. Tell us, what path do you expect to take after the conclusion of your trilogy? Will you return to being a scientist or will you continue writing? If the latter, can you give us a teaser of your future projects?
C.A.: I’ll definitely keep writing. I’ve already begun outlining and writing new stuff, and I’m going to do more series. All science fiction, of course. I’m working on one project where the protagonist uses genetic manipulation to do morally questionable things. It’s beginning to feel noir- or superhero-like, but we’ll see where it goes.
All science fiction? We wouldn’t have it any other way!
Lastly, I was impressed to find that you established your own press, 5280 Press, to independently publish your novels. What were the steps involved in that and how did that help you publish your work?
C.A.: I’ve done it both ways and found that independent publishing is definitely the way to go, at least for me. I registered my publishing company through the state of Colorado. They make it easy here. I handle (or oversee) all steps of the publishing process: formatting, cover design, editing, writing sales copy, submitting to sites such as Amazon, and marketing. I’m fortunate to have a husband who’s a graphic designer, so I don’t have to hire out tasks such as cover design.
It looks like all your hard work is paying off! I’m certain our readers will devour this novel.
Christie, this was certainly an informative and interesting interview. On behalf of our readers, I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions. I hope to see you again at next year’s Wondercon!
For more information on Christie and her works, click the picture of her book below.