Q: When did you first begin writing stories?
I wrote my first story when I was in first grade, at the ripe old age of 6. It was about aliens trying to steal the character’s skin, and she outwitted them by giving them a piece of colored paper instead. My mom still has it somewhere. For posterity. Or blackmail.
Q: Was it scary diving into the book publishing world?
Absolutely. The ocean of publishing is dark and deep and full of mysteries and secrets. People will tell you before you start querying agents and submitting work to publications that you need to develop a thick skin to handle all the rejection, and they’re not wrong, but we can’t all undergo spontaneous carcinization. Some of us have spiny exteriors but soft undersides. Some of us thrive under pressure, but then we turn into blobs if we come up for air. It’s tough to work on something for a long time, pour a lot of yourself into it, then send it out into the world and have it been met with indifference at best and scorn at worst. And the odds are not in your favor! So, before you start, you need to have coping strategies in your back pocket, or maybe your front pocket, whichever is easier to access. And as a smart fish once said, just keep swimming.
Q: How did you get into the space opera/fantasy genre?
I’ve always read sci-fi and fantasy books, and horror as well, and I’ve loved stuff like Star Wars since I was a kid. I used to go to the library and check out a huge sack of books and inhale them like Kirby, and then they’d become part of my writer DNA. You could say the genres got into me, but don’t, because that sounds weird actually. I’ve also been a gamer for most of my life, and a lot of the games I played were sci-fi and fantasy, like Final Fantasy and Legend of Zelda and Metroid and Doom. And of course, there was stuff like Star Trek, The X Files, The Fifth Element, on top of old cartoons like Transformers and Exo Squad and Gargoyles and a bajillion others.
Q: Who was your favorite author when you were younger?
It’s hard to choose, I read so voraciously. Definitely on that list: Robin McKinley, Anne McCaffrey, Tamora Pierce, Patricia C. Wrede, Stephen King, Patricia McKillip, Douglas Adams. Also, this one Gargoyles fanfic writer whose name I can’t remember. Sorry, stranger. You were super great, though.
Q: How would you describe your writing style in three words?
This is a tough one! I think my style molds itself to the story to a certain extent, but if I had to pick three words, they would probably be: bright, fruity and tart. These are also kinds of wines I enjoy.
Q: What themes will readers find in your novel?
My book deals with family tensions, found family, duty, adventure, fighting, revenge, monsters, chases, escapes, love, miracles… Maybe, not the last one, that’s The Princess Bride. Everything else though. It’s also a story about people who are given an enormous, important responsibility they aren’t sure they can handle, but they do it anyway because someone has to, and it might as well be them. Other people might mess it up worse.
Q: What inspired you to write your latest release: Fault Tolerance?
I’ve been planning this book pretty much since I wrote the first book in the trilogy, Chilling Effect. I planted the seeds of robotic confrontation throughout and have been gleefully petting my cat like a supervillain ever since, waiting for my plans to unfold. In terms of specific inspirations, the main three are Mass Effect 3, Transformers and Voltron. It’s also a pandemic book in that I wrote it during the pandemic, and some of my feelings about that show up here. Spoiler: they are mostly bad feelings.
Q: What future projects are you currently working on that you can share with us, readers?
I’m currently editing a space opera/planetary romance that should be published sometime next year. It’s called Where Peace Is Lost, about a former space knight turned refugee who has to come out of hiding to defend her new home against enemies from the war her people lost. It’s more serious than Fault Tolerance, dealing with empires and colonization and the perils of attempting to ignore oppressive power structures, but I like to think it has shades of utopia in it as well. Also, giant robots and magic
Q: Do you outline your stories, or do you just dive into writing them?
I need to have my route planned before I start driving. That doesn’t mean my plans don’t change along the way, because you never know what accidents will happen, or when lightning might strike, or when your car might break down in the middle of nowhere and you have to stay at a seedy motel with suspicious stains in the bathtub. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a line, or a scene and I’ll jot it down without context, but then I’ll outline the rest. I usually start by writing the pitch or blurb, basically what you’d read on the back of the book. Then I expand that to a synopsis, and then I expand that to a full chapter outline. Along the way, I make a lot of notes about the characters and the setting and potential tentpole events, and I make lists of names for people and places so I can pull from them when I need them. I end up with, if not a full story bible, then at least a pretty robust notes document. It’s good to have something heavy to use as a weapon when you get stuck at seedy motels.
Q: What is your go to beverage when working on your writing?
My tears. I mean coffee! Delicious coffee. I also love various kinds of tea, alcoholic beverages, and Dr Pepper. Honestly, Dr Pepper should sponsor me, I drink it a lot. Call me, Doc!
Q: What is the writing and publishing process like for you?
First, I draw a summoning circle and fill it with things my agent will like. Then I give her my ever- expanding list of pitches and she tells me which ones she thinks she can sell. I pick one of those and write it, then give her the manuscript. She reads it and makes a lot of notes in digital blood, then sends it back to me with an edit letter full of excellent critiques. I spend somewhere between six hours and a week feeling miserable, then dig in and fix the book. I send it back to my agent, and when it’s ready, she
sends it to editors at different publishers in the hopes that one of them will beg their accounting department to write me a check. Months later, I sign a contract and get some money. That editor then adds more blood-notes and writes their own edit letter, and I once again wallow in misery for an indeterminate time before revising. Once my editor is satisfied, a copy editor marks up the manuscript, deeply embarrassing me with my inability to use proper grammar or remember whether my characters have hazel or green eyes, or whether they’ve already sat down or stood up within a scene. I fix all those errors or assure the copy editor that I definitely meant to do that, and then a proofreader goes over the page proofs and catches more errors that were clearly inserted by gremlins to torment me. Finally, approximately ten thousand years later, my book is free and it’s time to conquer Earth!
Q: For aspiring writers in your genre, what advice would you give to them?
You’re going to be working on your novel for a long time, probably, so make sure it’s something you really want to write. Love your characters, cackle maniacally at your plot, marvel at your worldbuilding. Find ways to make the process enjoyable instead of focusing on the end product, or you’ll burn out faster. Know what other writers in your genre are doing, but don’t force yourself to write to the market, because by the time you finish, the market may have moved on. Find writer friends and take care of
each other. Take chances, make mistakes, get messy! Hijack magic school buses and drive them into space!
Q: Tell us about your main characters in Fault Tolerance.
Captain Eva Innocente is a former mercenary and smuggler, who left her old life behind with her friend and ship’s doctor, Pink, to start a legal cargo and passenger transport service. Now they’re co-captains of La Sirena Negra, working hard to keep their ship fueled and supplies stocked. Their crew includes Min, the pilot who inhabits the ship like a second body; Sue, the mechanic whose army of tiny robots help her repair the ship; and Vakar, Eva’s partner, a quennian special forces member whose emotions manifest as different scents. Also, along for the ride are Leroy, a former crew member who is now a reality TV star, his fellow star and girlfriend Momoko, and Eva’s sister Mari, who works for a secret agency called The Forge. Their main antagonist is Tito Santiago, Eva and Pink’s former captain, a conniving mercenary with a heart of coal, who doesn’t care what happens to the universe as long as he gets paid. Also, giant robots.
Q: Where can readers find you and your work online?
My website is candleinsunshine.com or valerievaldes.com, and you can find me on Twitter
@valerievaldes, or on Twitch at https://www.twitch.tv/thekidsareasleep