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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author-Musician-Dancer Jennifer Pelland

Jennifer Pelland is probably best known for two Nebula-nominated short stories “Captive Girl” (2007) and “Ghosts of New York” (2010). “Captive Girl” also made the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards short list. Her stories have appeared in HelixSF, Abyss & Apex, Apex Online, Apex SF & Horror Digest, ASIM, and Electric Velocipede. Her debut science fiction novel, Machine, and a collection of her short fiction, Unwelcome Bodies, are available from Apex. Her other creative outlets are belly dance, radio theater and she’s one-half of the tribal fusion duo Tassellations. She lives in Boston with her spouse and three cats. Find Jennifer online at and also on Facebook and on Twitter as @jenniferpelland.

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in science fiction and fantasy come from?

Jennifer Pelland: I came by my love of Science Fiction through my dad. He raised me on Star Trek repeats, took me to see Star Wars in the theater and let me read his books, which is how I was introduced to Harlan Ellison at age ten. No wonder I’m screwed up.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors/books growing up? Other than Ellison?

JP: I was into Clarke and Heinlein and Vonnegut first, then I discovered Douglas Adams.

SFFWRTCHT: Ah yes, Adams, the rite of passage. Were you involved with cons and fandom? Cosplay?

JP: I was in a Doctor Who fan club in high school, but didn’t hit cons until college. We didn’t have cosplay in those days.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get your start as a writer? Did you study writing in college? How did you learn your craft?

JP: I took only one writing course in college, then after I graduated, I got sucked into fanfic writing. When I hit thirty, I decided to write my own stuff, so I took a course at Grub Street, then did Viable Paradise, and just got cracking. I also did the WisCon writing workshop several times. My last time, I workshoppped “Captive Girl” with Ellen Klages.

SFFWRTCHT: Didn’t you also attend a workshop at Shore Leave with AC Crispin?

JP: The Crispin workshop was good for the ego. She took me aside and told me I had real talent. I needed that!

SFFWRTCHT: Your novel Machine is the story of a lady who takes a bioandroid body to await a cure for Alzheimers and finds herslf isolatd from friends and family. Later, as she finds new friends who have similar bodies, she struggles with her identity and future. Explain a bit about how the bioandroid bodies work please.

JP: Well, you do know that they are fiction, right?

SFFWRTCHT: Hold on. Let me just call my doctor to cancel that surgery then…

JP: In my book, they’re supposed to look and feel just like your own body. And they do in all the ways that count.

SFFWRTCHT: And the goal is that the human body stays in stasis awaiting a cure then the person can be restored to it?

JP: Correct. They’re supposed to be strictly controlled for that purpose. But that never works in real life, so it doesn’t here. I have been told by folks who study this that the brain copy process in the book is pure fantasy.

SFFWRTCHT: How much research on robot science, stasis, etc. did you endeavor to do? Or did you just make it up as you went?

JP: I did some research back when I started writing this in 2004, but never bothered to follow up as the years went on. At this point, I honestly can’t remember how much of the science came from research vs. imagination.

SFFWRTCHT: Did the “brain copy process is pure fantasy” ever deter you from writing the book?

JP: A writing teacher once said that you’re allowed one whopper per story. I counted this as mine.

SFFWRTCHT: Wow. 2004. How long did Machine take you to write?

JP: I think it took about two years to write. And then it took a looooooong time to sell. I didn’t tweak it until I got an agent. I sent it to a few slush piles first and a few solicited subs, but had no luck on my own. I think I landed an agent maybe 2-3 years ago? It’s too depressing to do the math. The poor guy would probably like me to write another one someday! I’ve only completed two novels, so they’re aberrations for me, really.

SFFWRTCHT: Yes, I imagine. What role has your agent played in shaping the story?

JP: He mostly had me tighten it up a lot and pointed out a few minor plot holes. My writing group had caught the big ones.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you bring a lot of your work to your writing group?

JP: I used to bring most everything to them, but I actually dropped out about a year ago when I admitted to myself that I wasn’t writing anymore. I’ve started up again, but slowly, and haven’t gone back to them yet.

SFFWRTCHT: Why do you think it took so long to sell? Political implications over the fact she’s lesbian and gets involved with prostitution and experimental sex? The whopper? Those plot holes?

JP: I have no clue why it took so long to sell. I don’t want to be one of those authors who sees a conspiracy behind every tree so I just assume it took so long because most publishers didn’t find it up to snuff.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, I thought it was a page turner. And if I’d have read the cover blurb it wouldn’t have been a topic I’d typically expect to draw me in, but it totally did. How did you find Apex?

JP: Thanks. But Apex found me! I was trying to sell a story called “Big Sister/Little Sister” and the rejection from Strange Horizons called it “a story about horrible people doing horrible things.” So I thought, “Horror, hmm.” And I decided to take a chance on a new SF/Horror magazine called Apex Digest.

SFFWRTCHT: Congrats on your Nebula nominations. Tell us about “Ghosts Of New York” and “Captive Girl” please.  “Captive Girl” can be read online at and “Ghosts Of NY” can be heard on Podcastle here

JP: “Captive Girl” came out of Boskone. It started with a painting in the art show, and finished with something Ellen Kushner said:  “Write about what scares you.” I brainstormed the piece on the spot. “Ghosts” is similarly a “write what scares you” story. I was inspired by the Esquire piece on the Falling Man photo. I couldn’t get it out of my head, so “Ghosts” came out of me wrestling with it. Here’s the link to an interview on “Ghosts”:

SFFWRTCHT: That’s great. FYI, other stories are linked from Jennifer’s website What’s your writing time like? Grab it when you can? Specific hours?

JP: I’m very much a spree writer. If something’s grabbing me, I’ll find time to work on it. I am writing short stories again! Very slowly, though. I even sold one. Although I’ve had to force myself to spree of late. I find I want to dance more than write lately. I like the endorphins.

SFFWRTCHT: Well, you are a musician, so that connection with music seems natural. I’m a musician too. Do you use any special software or music playlist?

JP: I can’t write if I hear music. It hijacks my brain. I just use good old MS Word. My favorite writing drone is a purring cat. I have one next to me right now, in fact.

SFFWRTCHT: How does your process differ between short stories and novels?

JP: I have no process. I am so undisciplined, it’s not even funny. I could be a sitcom.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you deal with writer’s block?

JP: I figure that if I don’t want to write, then I shouldn’t. It’s not paying the bills, so why do it if it’s not fun? Life’s too short to make myself miserable for something that I don’t have to do.

SFFWRTCHT: Ok so, you’re not a full time writer. Is that a goal at all?

JP: It’s not a goal, no. It would be nice to be one, but I don’t write blockbusters. I write niche stuff, so I’m being realistic.

SFFWRTCHT: I didn’t think Machine was niche myself.

JP: I think the publishing industry disagrees. Plus, it has a sex scene that would kill a human!

SFFWRTCHT: Well, I’m a family friendly writer usually, and I thought the sex was not gratuitous and was used in context of her journey and story rather than for grit or titillation or other purposes. And that sex scene was rather non-sexy if you ask me. The 1101 was not very sexual. More methodical.

JP: Some people will probably find it sexy. But yes, most won’t.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us a little please about your other novel. Is that out yet?

JP: The other novel isn’t published, and my agent doesn’t think it’s worth shopping around. I figure, that’s what I pay him for, and I think his reasoning is sound.

SFFWRTCHT: Sorry to hear that. We all have them. Does your agent rep your short fiction as well or just your novels?

JP: He will rep shorts to mainstream magazines, but SFF magazines don’t like agented subs, so he hasn’t yet.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best writing advice you have to offer new writers who ask?

JP: Best advice? Take your time, do the work, and be realistic about your goals.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you have any more stories that were inspired by art?

JP: I’m writing a belly dance time travel story. Does that count as inspired by art?

SFFWRTCHT: Speaking of belly dancing, tell us about your other creative endeavors. Tassellations and your dancing please.

JP: Tassellations is me and my friend Kate. We do Tribal Improv and choreos, and most recently danced together at Arisia. We gained our geek notoriety by dancing to “White and Nerdy” in Star Trek uniforms at Arisia a couple of years back. Here is the video proof:

SFFWRTCHT: Do you do any filk then?

JP: Filk? Only when people die. Seriously. I’ve been to two filk memorial services.

SFFWRTCHT: How long have you been a dancer?

JP: About five years, although I also danced a couple of years back in my 20s. I miss my knees.

SFFWRTCHT: You’re involved with WisCon. Do you attend a lot of other cons as well?

JP: I mostly go to local cons, so for me, that’s Arisia, Boskone, Readercon, and I’ve added Pi-Con recently. Maybe Vericon this year. Four of them are within half an hour of my house, so it’s easy.

SFFWRTCHT: What future projects are you working on that we can look forward to?

JP: Well, I have a story coming out in a succubus anthology shortly, and beyond that, I’m just slowly getting back into writing. I also belly danced to Irish music in a bookstore on St. Patrick’s Day to sell Machine There’s nothing like a sweaty belly dancer shedding glitter onto your book as she signs it.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA. For preorder information or blog tour dates on his latest novel go to:

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