Wednesday, February 10, 2016

4 Beth Revis and Cristin Terrill on women writing science fiction

It’s Jocelyn sneaking in a non-weekend post because Lindsey was kind enough to let me borrow one of her WoW slots for an interview with Beth Revis and Cristin Terrill. A while back, I attended one of their Wordsmith Workshops and Retreats, and it was amazing! In between craft sessions, critiques, writing, fellowship, and delicious food, I found time to chat with these delightful ladies. See what they had to say about being women who write science fiction.

Did you read science fiction when you were younger?

Beth: I actually did not because I was under the assumption that all science fiction was hard-core chapters and chapters describing the spaceship. But I loved it as a genre without realizing it – like, I loved Star Wars and some of the Star Treks, but I never thought of them as sci-fi. So I was actually absorbing sci-fi without realizing it.

Cristin: Yeah, it was kind of the same thing for me. I never really identified myself as a science fiction fan until college, when I had a really serious TV on DVD addition. I had a lot of box sets, and one day I was looking at them and was like, “These are 85% science fiction. I guess I really do like science fiction.” So I think I actually discovered science fiction through movies and TV first.

Beth: Yeah, people started asking me “what’s your favorite movie?” and “what’s your favorite television show?” and my answer was always Firefly. And I realized if my answer was always Firefly, then clearly I liked sci-fi.

Even if you didn’t read much sci-fi as youngins, were there any women sci-fi writers you looked up to?

Beth: Madeleine L'Engle. I never thought of her as being sci-fi, but now I do. You could argue that it’s science fantasy, but there are aliens and planets, which to me means sci-fi. And it’s one of the ones that influenced me a lot.

Cristin: Definitely. A Wrinkle in Time was big to me as a preteen.

Why do you think sci-fi has been dominated by men for so long?

Cristin: I think that’s a misconception. I mean, Mary Shelley was probably one of the first real pioneers in science fiction.

Beth: Wasn’t it Virginia Woolf who said that whenever a work was labeled Anonymous, it was actually done by a woman? Like we’ve always been in the background doing these sorts of things. I do think there is a little bit of sexism in society’s attitudes towards women’s creations in the same way that women’s professions tend to get paid less. But a lot of women are writing genre in terms of romance and YA, and the two things most looked down upon in our society is children and romance. And that’s sad. That’s just really pathetic of our civilization. We should be celebrating love and children – those are happy things. But they are most often the things that are put down, and that kind of reflects on women who tend to be writing those sort of things.

Cristin: Yeah, it’s not so much that there aren’t women in sci-fi, it’s that there aren’t women recognized as being in sci-fi.

There was a surge of women winning sci-fi awards in the 70s (like Ursula K. Le Guin and Anne McCaffrey), but then it died down. It now seems to be on the upswing again. Any thoughts about why?

Beth: I think in some ways it is a shift in the type of literature that people are writing and wanting to consume. For example, dystopian was extraordinarily popular within the last five years and reached its high point with The Hunger Games and Divergent, but the reason those books became so popular was in part due to our culture and what teenagers were facing at that time. If you look at what was in the news a few years ago, there was some very depressing things, and the same is true of when Ursula and Anne were writing. Those were very dark times in terms of our civilization and what teens were looking at for what their futures could hold. And I think the response to that from these brilliant women writers was to either address it head on, as you see a lot with Ursula K. Le Guin, or to sort of shift that dynamic and present different possibilities.

I always think science fiction holds a mirror up to our society, and those women grasped that mirror so perfectly with their books of that era, and now you see that happening today, with Suzanne Collins and Veronica Roth. And you also see it with the new space opera trend that’s happening. Marissa Meyer is a great example of that because her books walk that line between the romance, and the fairy tale, and the science fiction, and the culture that is so dark. And that’s what people are craving right now – either an escape or an address to the way civilization currently is. And it’s the women’s voices who are addressing that in a more direct manner.

Cristin: Rather than talking about how an engine in a spaceship is built. Women aren’t penalized for exploring emotions like men are. We have the latitude to really get into the emotional side of things in a way that’s harder for them. Just the same way it’s harder for us to get accepted for writing hard sci-fi and technical stuff because we don’t get the cultural leeway as much as they do.

Did you always want to write sci-fi?

Cristin: I don’t gravitate particularly to sci-fi over any other genre. The stories that attract me are really across the board, so I end up writing in different genres all the time. The one unifying element of everything I write is that it’s some kind of heightened version of reality, so obviously that lends itself well to sci-fi because that’s what sci-fi is – a heightened version of our current reality – so that’s why I end up writing sci-fi sometimes.

Beth: I wrote Across the Universe as science fiction by accident. I had this story idea that required a spaceship, and then obviously the spaceship led me to sci-fi. So that was a total accident. But like Cristin, I am more concerned about writing something that is a little weird and a little different. I don’t want a story that is totally linear, like I want something fantastical – it can be unicorns or it can be spaceships or anything in between. My next book is actually a contemporary, but it’s very, very twisted, and I think a lot of science fiction readers are going to like it because there is a time travel element to it because I could not write a story without adding something weird.

Cristin: Yeah, like I lived high school, and it was mostly boring and sometimes horrible, so I don’t really need to relive that through my books that I either write or consume. So generally I’m not interested in writing about a life that I lived.

Beth: I really like to have explosions in books, which isn’t contemporary – that’s a totally different book. I would much rather blow things up in space.

Were you worried it might be a challenge to get a sci-fi book published because you’re a woman? Did you consider using a pseudonym or only your initials?

Cristin: No, because I was always writing science fiction for young adults. If I had been writing for the adult market that might have come into play in my mind, but because it’s YA, and because we’re allowed to write about children because we’re ladies, it’s not a liability to be a woman in YA.

Beth: I actually did have a lot of fear. When I started writing it, there weren’t that many science fiction YA books on the market, particularly space sci-fi, so I was a little nervous. I went to my local bookstore and asked them to give me all space sci-fi they had in the YA department, and they handed me The Hunger Games. I said, “That’s great, but I want a spaceship or something that’s more hard sci-fi,” and they handed me The Host by Stephenie Meyer. And I said, “Okay, but how about aliens we can actually see in space?” And they handed me Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I said, “Awesome! Can I have something that was published after I was born?” And they did not have anything. I was pretty terrified that it would just not happen. And some of the rejections I got from agents reflected that exactly. I had agents specifically say, “We would take this but it’s in space, and space sci-fi doesn’t sell.”

Cristin: Yeah, actually, Beth’s book came out right before I started writing mine, and I really felt like Beth softened the ground for sci-fi in YA. I don’t know if I would have felt as comfortable writing a time travel novel if sci-fi wasn’t already a thing because Beth had made it a thing.

Do you think social media has had an impact on women sci-fi writers by building a community?

Beth: I think social media has helped. It’s also brought the conversation to the readers as well. And it’s also enabled us to have a voice to say that this is not something to be dismissed. When The Hunger Games first came out, a lot of people kind of dismissed it as, “This is weird, and this is just for shock value and doesn’t really have any value.” And it wasn’t necessarily Suzanne Collins, who notoriously isn’t on social media, it was her readers who were able to jump in and say, “No, this book is important and here’s why.” And by giving the readers that voice to say what they claim as being important – and teenage readers are the best because they have no qualms about shouting about what’s important to them – I think that has helped a lot of people who would dismiss YA pause and realize that there is validity in these stories.

What was your initial seed of inspiration for your sci-fi book? Was it the sci-fi aspect or did that come later?

The initial inspiration for All Our Yesterdays came from me not being able to sleep one night, and I got up around 3 or 4 am and turned on the TV, and The Terminator was on. I tend to watch things and ask questions, and I was like, “What if the Terminator was the good guy? What if the world really would be better if he managed to kill this person? Or keep this person from being born?” And because I was a YA person, I was like, “What if he was a teenage girl?” That’s kind of how it started. So it definitely came from me completely ripping off a very famous piece of science fiction, which in and of itself was ripped off from another piece of science fiction.

Beth: For me it was actually the idea of an unreliable narrator. I won’t ruin the book, but there’s a character who lies, and everything stems from that lie. There’s a chapter of the book that’s only one sentence long, and I wrote the entire book to get to that sentence. So that’s where it came from: the lie required the setting, the lie required cryogenic freezing, and that required the spaceship, and everything built from that.

How much and what kind of research did you have to do to be able to cover the ‘science-y’ aspect of your science fiction?

Cristin: I didn’t do a lot of research myself because I’m kind of a physics nerd anyway. I just find it interesting. So most of the physics behind the time travel machine I kind of already knew. And I also subscribe to the Doctor Who theory of science fiction, which is that no one cares why the sonic screwdriver works, it just works. We just accept that because it enables the story, right? So I was like, “There’s a time travel machine. It works. Deal with it.” I gave it enough science to give it the veneer, hopefully, of believability so that readers can invest in it, but, like, ya know, I didn’t discover how to travel time. You can’t build my machine. And I don’t care that it’s like that, which would horrify a lot of male, hard sci-fi writers, but I don’t care.

Beth: I only researched when I came to a problem I couldn’t solve with my very limited high school knowledge of science. For example, cryogenic freezing, we don’t have that today because the cells will form ice crystals that burst the cell walls, and we humans will basically become the same thing as freezer-burned meat over a long period of time. So I just invented a blue goo that they get injected with, and I don’t have to explain why, I just say it makes it so the cell walls don’t burst, and we’re good.

There were some things I had to do a little bit more research on to get the feelings right. Like there’s a scene in Shades of Earth where a main character has to leave the spaceship without a spacesuit, and we know that we can survive for a certain amount of time, but I wanted to know what it felt like. And unfortunately for me, but fortunately for NASA, we’ve never had an astronaut go outside without his spacesuit in the void of space. But fortunately for me, the Russians were not as good with their safety procedures, so the cosmonauts had a lot of first-hand experiences of what it felt like for the saliva on their tongue to boil away and for their eyes to hemorrhage and awesome things like that. So I had to research that part, and it was super, super fun!


A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.  

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone - one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship - tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the Author

Beth Revis is a NY Times bestselling author with books available in more than 20 languages. Her latest title, A World Without You, is a semi-autobiographical story blending the supernatural with mental illness. Beth is also the author of the Across the Universe series, The Body Electric, numerous short stories, and the nonfiction Paper Hearts series, which aids aspiring writers. A native of North Carolina, Beth is currently working on a new novel for teens. She lives in rural NC with her boys: one husband, one son, and two massive dogs.


What would you change? 

Imprisoned in the heart of a secret military base, Em has nothing except the voice of the boy in the cell next door and the list of instructions she finds taped inside the drain.

Only Em can complete the final instruction. She’s tried everything to prevent the creation of a time machine that will tear the world apart. She holds the proof: a list she has never seen before, written in her own hand. Each failed attempt in the past has led her to the same terrible present—imprisoned and tortured by a sadistic man called the doctor while war rages outside.

Marina has loved her best friend, James, since they were children. A gorgeous, introverted science prodigy from one of America’s most famous families, James finally seems to be seeing Marina in a new way, too. But on one disastrous night, James’s life crumbles, and with it, Marina’s hopes for their future. Marina will protect James, no matter what. Even if it means opening her eyes to a truth so terrible that she may not survive it... at least, not as the girl she once was. Em and Marina are in a race against time that only one of them can win.

All Our Yesterdays
is a wrenching, brilliantly plotted story of fierce love, unthinkable sacrifice, and the infinite implications of our every choice.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

About the Author

Cristin Terrill is a young adult author and aspiring grown-up. She grew up semi-nomadic and graduated from Vassar College with a degree in drama. After getting her masters in Shakespeare Studies from the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, she lived in London, Austin, Boston, and Washington, DC while working as a theatrical stage manager. Now she writes and leads creative writing workshops for DC-area kids and teens. All Our Yesterdays is her first novel.


  1. Great interview, ladies. I'm a huge sci-fi fan!

  2. Great to see this! I've always liked SF for its ability to put humanity in situations that aren't yet possible, and thus illuminate who we are in a new way.
    I never thought there was a big deal with women writing SF until I had this review for one of my novels 'Time to hide your prejudice. Women can write great Science Fiction.'
    Power to us.

  3. I've searched the library in vain for any MG or YA sci fi. I want to read spaceships, and my son craves space ships like water. I don't care who writes it, I just want a good story. And there just isn't any--we get shelves and shelves of fantasy. I'm so glad that publishers are finally letting a trickle through.

    1. If you're looking for spaceships, in addition to Across the Universe, check out:

      --Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
      --Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
      --Starflight by Melissa Landers
      --These Broken Stars by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kaufman
      --Black Hole Sun by David McInnis Gill

      There are definitely a lot of good ones hitting the market now! :)


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