1. Tell us about your most recent project (written or published). What inspired it?
Thousand Tales: How We Won the Game is a SF novel about saving what’s important. In the 2030s a game-obsessed AI invents brain uploading technology, making it possible to (arguably) live forever as a digital ghost in her game world. The heroes are the people who befriend or oppose the AI, all with good reasons.
I was troubled that “science fiction” bookstore sections seem to consist of fantasy, far-future space opera, and game/TV tie-ins. I really wanted to write something (1) set in a near future, (2) with plausible technology, (3) that didn’t terrify or depress me.
I’d been interested in artificial intelligence and game design for years, even dabbling in AI programming. I also studied animal intelligence, including college work with the world’s most over-educated parrots. These things didn’t come together as a good story until years later, when to my embarrassment I got pulled into the fandom for a certain cartoon. Among the fanfiction for that world, was a setting called “Friendship Is Optimal”, only tangentially related to the show. “Optimal” involves a runaway AI who’s superficially nice but who deliberately crashes civilization to upload everyone to her cute video-game world. That shared setting got me and other writers arguing creatively about the setting’s implications. I wanted to write about a nicer AI, in a better-developed future, with a different focus.
So, I used the basic premise of “Optimal”, my own take on AI, some world-building about the near future, and even a loose recycling of my first novel as fuel for National Novel Writing Month in 2014. The book sparked enough discussion that I still haven’t run out of stories I want to tell in that setting, so I’ll be releasing a 20K-word novella (“2040: Reconnection“) probably in December, and a longer work early next year.
2. What’s your writing process like? Are you a “pantser,” an outliner, or something in between?
I like to plan, and don’t feel comfortable unless I can shoot an arrow ahead and say “there’s my destination”. Planning doesn’t mean knowing every scene before I start, but knowing something about the characters, setting, and the conflict that needs resolving. Despite planning, I get surprised by details or even plot twists that I didn’t consciously expect. I love it when that happens.
3. What’s your favorite kind of story to write?
Most of what I write is furry, and a lot involves transformations of some kind. I’d been reading something recently contrasting “grimdark” fiction where any victory is personal and costly in a frightening world, versus its opposite of “noblebright”: stories where heroes and villains can make a real difference, and the setting provokes wonder more often than fear. I’d much rather write the second kind.
4. Which character from your work do you most identify with, and why?
On a bad day: Peter the Dragonlord from “Ivan and the Black Riders” (ROAR #6). He’s introverted and thoughtful, has cool magic powers, and is determined to do great things… but your freedom means nothing to him. On a good day: Garrett Fox from Everyone’s Island. He’s an engineer at heart, learning to deal with more and more responsibility even if he’s not sure where he’s heading.
5. Which authors or books have most influenced your work?
Years of reading and participating in the TSA-Talk mailing list and Anthrochat IRC have been great sources of stories and discussion, so I point to writers Phil Geusz, Michael Bard (RIP), and Jon Sleeper from there. Outside the fandom, there’s L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy and Tunnel In the Sky, Asimov’s “Foundation” series, Bradbury’s short story “The Toynbee Convector”, and too many worldbuilding-heavy tabletop RPG books such as Bard and Victoria Bloom’s memorable World Tree.
6. What’s the last book you read that you really loved?
Weir’s The Martian, for being hard science fiction set in the near future with an upbeat tone. Besides that, Vinge’s A Deepness In the Sky.
7. Besides writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
Reading nonfiction, sometimes. (The history of an ordinary thing like cargo containers can be surprisingly interesting because it cuts across a lot of other topics.) I’m also an avid board/tabletop/PC gamer who plays or runs games like Pathfinder. I program games for fun as well.
8. Advice for other writers?
Seek out critique and be profusely grateful toward anyone who offers reasonably polite explanations of what you’re doing wrong. It’s okay to read comments on your work and go sulk, but then you should come back and write something better. Critique groups (like Critique Circle) can be helpful, especially if you make it clear you can handle serious criticism. Besides that? Save old scraps of ideas, because they might spark something years later. Challenge yourself with projects like NaNoWriMo. Try completely rewriting a scene without looking at the original, to knock new ideas loose. Try taking apart stories you like by writing down exactly what’s cool about them, and adapt those elements into something original.
9. Where can readers find your work?
10. What’s your favorite thing about the furry fandom?
At a furry convention, I asked some idle question about why there’s no such thing as vintage cola, like wine. The room launched into a detailed discussion of things like pressure storage vessels and chemistry. The fandom has people with varied backgrounds and a lot of knowledge about obscure subjects, who’re ready to think creatively about anything!
Check out Kris Schnee’s member bio here!