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[SFFWRTCHT] A Chat With Author Leah Petersen

Leah Petersen lives in North Carolina. She does the day-job, wife, and mother thing, much like everyone else. She’s also been a leading force on the internet behind 5 Minute Fiction, the writing contest on Tuesdays. She prides herself on being able to hold a book with her feet to knit while reading. She’s still working on knitting while writing. Her first novel, Fighting Gravity, is available now from Dragon Moon Press. A YA science fiction space opera with similarities to Card’s Ender’s Game, Fighting Gravity is the tale of a young man from the ghetto whose scientific talents get him into the military academy where he shines, obtaining the attention of the emperor and eventually winning the emperor’s heart, but like most relationships, theirs takes challenging paths. She  can be found online at Twitter at, on Goodreads at, on Facebook at and via her website

SFFWRTCHT: Where’d your interest in SFF come from?

Leah Petersen: Breathing? I don’t remember ever not being interested in science fiction and fantasy. I grew up watching Star Trek: TNG.

SFFWRTCHT: Who were some of your favorite authors and books?

LP: I read every Anne McCaffrey, Stephen R. Donaldson, Piers Anthony—for years. And the one-offs, too many to remember.

SFFWRTCHT: When did you develop an interest in writing and how did you pursue that? Classes? Workshops? Learn on your own?

LP: I remember writing when I was just a kid. I don’t remember starting to do it, just that I already was. I never studied writing formally. It was just something I did for myself, for fun.

SFFWRTCHT: How long did you write before making your first sale?  Did you start with shorts or novels? 

LP: Fighting Gravity is the first project I wrote with intent to sell. Took about a year. I was very lucky. I know how rare that is.

SFFWRTCHT: What are the key elements of good science fiction for you?

LP: For me, science fiction is about possibilities. I love it for all the things we can’t do…yet. I’m a terribly undiscriminating SF reader. So long as I love the characters and it’s internally logical, I’m good.

SFFWRTCHT: What was the impetus for the Fighting Gravity story?

LP:A dream. I woke up with the idea in my head and followed it for months until it was a book-length story. I wrote it in my head for over a year, never intending to do anything else w/ it. But it wouldn’t go away.

SFFWRTCHT: Pantser or Outliner?

LP: Pantser. All the way. I scribble up outlines to organize what I’ve written, but mostly dump ideas on paper and fix later.

SFFWRTCHT: The book has similarities to Ender’s Game to my mind with both feel, protagonists and setting at a military-type school. Was that book an influence?

LP: Funny thing about that, I didn’t read Ender’s Game until about three people told me there were similarities. I loved other OSC books, just had never gotten to Ender’s. I have now. The ending blew me away. Wow.

SFFWRTCHT: Was your growing up watching ST:TNG an inspiration to do the wide canvas setting of Fighting Gravity?

LP: I have no doubt. I tend to see generic future settings in a Star Trek type universe.

SFFWRTCHT: In what genre would you classify this besides Young Adult and science fiction? Space opera? Romance?

LP: Any? All of the above? I don’t know, what I think it is and what other people call it, aren’t always the same. Hearing other people classify it has surprised me at times. Romance, scifi, YA, LGBT, space opera? Sure. OK. I actually worried it wouldn’t sell, because it was a little of everything.

SFFWRTCHT: Tell us about the future world of Earth, etc. where you set the story. What inspired its creation and aspects?

LP: It’s an empire, Earth plus other worlds. It was fun figuring out how we got to hereditary autocracy from here. Originally it wasn’t Earth, but moved it to challenge myself to make that a plausible development of current events. That’s something I get into more in book two—how we got from here to there. In short: Devastating religious wars.

SFFWRTCHT: How much of that history is actually detailed in a “bible” somewhere, when/if you return to this setting?

LP:  I’m about as good at documentation as I am at outlining. So that “bible” is still a nice idea half-started somewhere.

SFFWRTCHT: What authors do you see as role models for your own writing?

LP: Role models: Robin Hobb, Stephen R. Donaldson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Brandon Sanderson. The good ones.  Mostly just how they manage to move me. I read for the emotional experience.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you wind up with Dragon Moon Press?

LP: Short version: saw announcement of their open sub period on Miss Snark’s Authoress blog at: Sent query. Got a request for the full. Then a contract. They’re wonderful. My editor Gabrielle Harbowy is the person I want to be when I grow up.

SFFWRTCHT: Do you use Scrivener or other “writing software tools”? Write to music? Any rituals?

LP: I use Scrivener now, and I like it. If I listen to music, it’s sad songs. That should be a clue to what I write.

SFFWRTCHT: Yeah, um, do you own stock in Kleenex? Ok, so it’s a series. How many books planned? What is book 2 about? Is it written?

LP: This one’s a trilogy. Book 2 WAS written. And now it’s not. There’s a story behind that.  I’m working on it now. The title has changed w/ the major revisions. Very tentatively right now it’s Cascade Effect.

SFFWRTCHT: Actually, speaking of titles. You got into some copyright issues with the title Fighting Gravity and the America’s Got Talent namesake as I recall, didn’t you?

LP: After that copyright brouhaha, I considered Not Fighting Gravity. Full story’s here. It was short and painful.

SFFWRTCHT: How do you fit in time to write in your busy schedule? Early in the morning? Late afternoon or evening? Whenever you can?

LP: I’m terrible at scheduling and procrastinate. I tend to do frantic writing weekends after not writing for a while. My record so far is 28k words in three days.

SFFWRTCHT: How did you get involved with 5 Minute Fiction and what are its goals?

LP: 5 Minute Fiction was something to do while learning about the publishing industry. It was fun and built a community. I met a lot of great people that way, including you. It’s tons of fun. Just panic-induced writing. You get a prompt and five minutes to write.

SFFWRTCHT: Yes, I was just remembering that, in fact. Now, due to other obligations, I know you’ve handed that off this year. Where can we find it? And how can people participate?

LP: It’s on Nicole Wolverton’s blog now at Just head over and write like mad for five min every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. EST.

SFFWRTCHT: What’s the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten?

LP: Best advice: There’s no one right way. Worst: Don’t listen to criticism, stay true to your vision. Instead, listen to crit. Don’t lose sight of your vision, but be open to the possibility your vision might suck.

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

LP: I’ve got tons of ideas in my head wanting face-time, but right now I’m just focused on this trilogy. Then I’ll decide.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.