I have read Jennifer Foehner Wells’ debut novel ‘Fluency’ in 2014, and for several months I was literally pacing the carpet waiting for the sequel. ‘Remanence’ aired this April, and I hear that the fans are pretty ecstatic. I am looking forward to read it as well. It is with my greatest pleasure that I present you our chat about Jen’s books, personal life and everything in between.
Ellie Maloney: Jennifer, thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with our readers. I must admit, I vacillate between being in awe of your celebrity status, and on the other hand feeling like I am talking to an old friend. You burst on the scene like a super-nova and are now selling loads of copies, participating in the cons and signing events. And still, you exude friendliness and a down to earth nature, not only in your writing, but in all your interviews. Thus, my first question is: how is the celebrity life treating you?
Jennifer F. Wells: I’m not a celebrity! I’ve only been spotted in the wild twice. I can and do go to the supermarket just like everyone else!
Science fiction is a relatively small niche and though I’ve sold a lot of books, I’m not a household name, so it doesn’t affect me at all. I do enjoy attending these events but I’m relatively unknown at them, though my devoted readers do turn up sometimes—and I’m always ecstatic to meet them!
Most of my claim to fame is on Twitter, really. Social media is an avenue where I excel. I’m far less interesting in person. ;D
And, anyway, I’ve met tons of truly famous authors now and they’re human just like you and me. We all just do our best to bring home the bacon and lead a good and productive life.
E.M.: You are a self-published author with a high degree of professionalism. Where did you learn about social media and marketing? How do you find the right people and contacts for everything that needs to be done, from the cover art (btw, Fluency and Remanence features one of my favorite sci fi cover art ever!), to editing, to touring etc.
J.F.W.: I pay attention to what other authors are doing and I experiment with various ideas I see, sometimes making modifications that make sense to me. I joined Twitter in 2011 to follow some of my favorite sci fi celebrities and something about it drew me in. It’s like a very friendly cocktail party for the most part and I love the intellectual atmosphere and the exchange of ideas and information. I’m very chatty so it suits me well.
As I was writing Fluency I stumbled across Rachel Thompson’s Twitter feed. I started reading her blog posts about social media marketing and I thought they made a ton of sense so I started implementing some of her ideas. That would have been in 2012, I think. By the time I launched Fluency in June of 2014 I had 10,000 Twitter followers. I had built my platform based on my general geekiness. I tweeted about science, space, and sci fi fandoms. It was fun then and it still is. I look forward to spending time on Twitter each day.
After Fluency launched…the success took me by surprise. I hadn’t expected it. At that time, I knew nothing about traditional marketing and didn’t do any. Over the course of the following eighteen months I began to meet other indie authors—one in particular being Autumn Kalquist. She was generous enough to introduce me to a bunch of other SFF authors and I began to get invited to anthologies which helped me expand my readership. I also observed what these other authors were doing with regards to marketing and I began to try those things and found most of them worked for me. Networking like this has definitely contributed to my success.
As far as finding the right contacts goes, a lot of it has been simple serendipity. I always keep my eyes open for talent and when I find it, I pounce. Finding the cover artist for Fluency was a total fluke. I just ran across some art I really adored and contacted the artist (Stephan Martiniere who, it turns out, is a famous concept artist working on films like Guardians of the Galaxy). It turned out he already worked as a cover artist for traditional publishing. I believe Fluency was his first indie cover.
As far as my editor goes, he was a local writer that joined my SFF writing group. The more I talked to him, the more I respected him—and when I discovered he did editing professionally, I decided to try him for a short story. I liked his style so I started using him for everything. Finding the right people is just about keeping your eyes open!
E.M.: I imagine you receive this question a lot, but I have to ask: Any relation to H.G. Wells? And what’s your favorite classic sci fi novel?
J.F.W.: No relation at all. I’m a Wells by marriage and I don’t think my ex-husband is related either.
My favorite classic sci fi novel was also among the first I read (as a tween): The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham. I’m also partial to Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War. (And I got to shake his hand at the Nebula conference in Chicago recently! What a thrill!)
E.M.: Do you have a daily writing routine? Do you have daily word count benchmarks?
J.F.W.: My routine varies depending on what segment of the publishing cycle I’m in. Often my days are consumed by editing/revision or launching a book. But when I’m in writing mode, I set aside a few hours a day to outline or write and I aim for a minimum of 1500 words per day, but prefer to do more if I can. Sadly, I am a slow writer, by comparison to most of my peers.
E.M.: You are a stay home mom, raising two boys. How old are they? Do they like science fiction? Are they aware of their mom’s celebrity status?
J.F.W.: My boys are currently 7 and 12. My oldest is a huge Star Wars geek and has been since the age of 4. He’s a huge gaming nerd as well. My youngest is less enthusiastic about sci fi, but is very interested in space and science—especially zoology. Lately I’ve been reading him the Harry Potter books every night before bed and he loves them.
My boys know I write books but they aren’t terribly impressed unless I get a perk like a free video game from a reader who works in that industry. It’s just a job to them and I prefer it that way.
E.M.: A lot of beginning authors complain about negative feedback and flippant/negative reviews. How do you emotionally deal with those?
J.F.W.: Early on, the vitriolic reviews bothered me a lot. Then one day it occurred to me that the kind of people who leave such unconstructive reviews aren’t really the kind of people I would like or respect if I met them in person. That realization made a huge difference for me.
If I met such a person on the street, would I care about their opinions about the world? The answer is emphatically no. Anyone who treats other people with such disrespect isn’t deserving of my attention. So now I just let it go. I never anticipated that my writing would appeal to everyone. I don’t love every book I read, so I don’t expect other people to do the same. Variety is a good thing. They can read other books. I hope they find what they are looking for, but I’m not changing what I write to suit them.
E.M.: I really enjoyed reading Fluency, and already purchased Remanence, which I will devour as soon as I have a bit of free time. The part that won me over from the start, is the realistic feel to the events that begin on Earth. A group of astronauts is assembled for a secret mission – to explore an alien ship that was spotted in the asteroid belt since 1960s. The way you write about their long trip, the relations of the astronauts locked in a small craft with no privacy, and all the stunning tech details that you use to describe the mission, reveal a keen scientific mind. What was your research process like? Do you have a background in science? What are your favorite science areas?
J.F.W.: I’m interested in all the branches of science but I studied biology in college with concentrations in botany and plant ecology. I studied a little bit of horticulture and landscape architecture too and even worked in a GMO lab in the early 1990s. I’m a perpetual scholar, fascinated by the world, by the universe, and I never want to stop learning about it.
Before I began writing Fluency I spent a month doing research—reading astronaut memoirs, poring over NASA websites, and so on. Once I started writing, the research didn’t stop. I tend to get easily derailed from a writing session if I have to look up a concept. Some writers put off research until they finish a novel, but for me the science itself may inform the story, so I stop everything, learn all I can, then incorporate as much of it as seems prudent (and won’t bore the reader—just enough science to be compelling without big info dumps.)
In addition, I also have beta readers who are aeronautic engineers, theoretical physicists, nuclear physicists, and planetary scientists—some of them work for NASA/JPL. I ask them to carefully check my facts about the science aspects of my work and they have been incredibly helpful. They help me make sure the science-based stuff is accurate and that my speculations aren’t horribly off the mark.
E.M.: Speaking of the classified UFO information. Just in the past few weeks, Christmas came early to the UFO lovers. First, Secretary Clinton announced her plans to declassify Area 51 files as part of her election platform. Second, new Kepler data doubled the number of confirmed exoplanets. What is your opinion on the probability of extraterrestrial life and our chances to find it? Do you believe that aliens already visited the Earth?
J.F.W.: I firmly believe that life exists on other planets, but the distances between worlds are too vast for casual visitations from alien life—at least as we understand physics today. I believe that in my lifetime one of our powerful space telescopes may see something to prove life exists/existed out there (at least when the light left their far-away system long ago), but our chances of actually going to one of those worlds with the technology we have in development now seems unlikely.
Space, as they say, is a big place. It would take a huge breakthrough in the field of physics to allow us to travel that far. It’s not impossible, of course, but would require a fundamental change in the foundation of our knowledge to accomplish. As we delve more deeply into quantum physics I have some hope that we will make such a discovery, hopefully in the next century. We still don’t have a unified theory of physics yet, after all. The answers may lie within that theory.
E.M.: There has been some controversy among fans about the romantic scenes in Fluency. Some people say there was too much sex in the book, others say there was not nearly enough! Why did you choose to insert intimate scenes in your first book? Which route did you take in the Remanence?
J.F.W.: I refuse to apologize for incorporating a romantic subplot in this series. Nearly every major motion picture and television show, within the science fiction genre or not, embraces romantic subplots. The fact that “hard science fiction” doesn’t commonly contain those plots doesn’t apply to me because that’s not what I write. I write space opera which Merriam-Webster defines as, “a futuristic melodramatic fantasy involving space travelers and extraterrestrial beings.”
Wikipedia further describes space opera as, “a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare and melodramatic adventure, and often risk-taking, inter-planetary battles as well as chivalric romance. Set mainly or entirely in outer space; it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons and other sophisticated technology.”
That’s what I write.
My stories are character-driven and that means that interpersonal communication is important. Here in the real world, people fall in love (and even have sex!) pretty much every day. It amuses me is when reviewers complain that Jane and Berg act like teenagers. Yep. They do. That’s what love does to grown up (otherwise sane) people sometimes (and it makes for conflict which is what story is all about after all). Love makes people shy, unsure, insecure and they often act irrationally. People making such comments haven’t fallen in love for a long, long time…or…like…ever. I got some chocolate in their peanut butter, it seems. But they can go on to read other books and their reviews should serve as a flag to those who don’t want to read that kind of stuff.
Honestly I don’t see what the big deal is. It’s almost like people think that when we go to space our brains will magically be divorced from our gonads and we’ll no longer have a need to feel deep connections to others. But this is the human condition. People feel attractions and experience the need to be close to others. I love reading stories with romantic subplots and I write what I love. I’m not going to stop to please a small subset of sci fi readers because (and the reviews show this) most people enjoy this about my work.
There’s more of the same in Remanence. Not all of my work is in this vein, but a goodly portion is.
E.M.: What’s your comfort food/guilty pleasure?
J.F.W.: Chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache frosting. OMG gimme! Typically, I only indulge on my birthday. 🙂
E.M.: What’s your most hated domestic chore?
J.F.W.: Putting away clean laundry, though I detest all forms of housekeeping really, unless I can listen to an audio book while doing it. Secretly I dream of Alice from the Brady Bunch coming to live with me…
E.M.: What are you working on right now? And where can your fans meet you in the near future?
J.F.W.: Currently I’m working on the plot and outline of the third book in the Confluence series: Valence AND finishing a novel I started long ago: The Druid Gene: Gildrut. It’s a new series in the same universe with new characters and a different set of problems. I’m hoping to release the first Druid Gene novel by the end of the year and Valence sometime next year.
E.M.: Do you see any possibility of the Confluence series coming to the screen? If so, who would you like to see in the leading roles?
J.F.W.: I’ve gotten a few nibbles from Hollywood about putting Fluency on the big screen or being produced as a television series, but so far no serious bites. It still could happen because space opera is so hot right now.
Casting: I’d like to see Kate Winslet as Jane Holloway. She’d kick ass in a juicy role like this and it could really boost her career. She’s the right age and look for Jane. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau would be perfect as Alan Bergen. Mark Ruffalo would be amazing as Mark Walsh. I’ve always imagined Reshma Shetty as Ajaya Varma (thought the character was based on my own hematologist). Michael Ealy would be a fantastic Ronald Gibbs. Victor Garber is the actor I always imagined as Tom Compton. And finally, James Earl Jones would rock Ei’Brai’s voice.
What a cast! I’d like to see this movie! Let’s keep our fingers crossed. Meanwhile, arm yourself with these two wonderful volumes, they may be found on Amazon (click on the picture)
As a child growing up in rural Illinois, Jennifer Foehner Wells had the wild outdoors, a budding imagination, and books for company. Her interest in science fiction was piqued early on when a family friend loaned her a Ray Bradbury compilation, among loads of other wonderful sci fi books. Jen currently lives an alternately chaotic and fairly bucolic existence in Indiana with two boisterous little boys and two semi-crazed cats. You can find her on Twitter, extolling science and sci fi fandoms, as @Jenthulhu. To find out more about Jen, visit: http://www.jenthulhu.com.
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