Interview with Laurel A. Rockefeller

Published 2013-08-31.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska, about one mile from Hyde Observatory, one of the very few public astronomical observatories in the United States. At Hyde, I first learned about the stars and the greater universe. When Star Wars came out in 1977, my interest in astronomy only increased, cumulating in my University of Nebraska astronomy courses as part of my general education requirements. As you might expect, knowing about physics and astronomy is critical to any serious science fiction writing endeavor.

So I must credit Lincoln and the fine science education I received there for providing the foundation for the world building in my books. Without science, I could not write science fiction.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Great question which really comprises two components: becoming an author and publishing independently.

For me, there was never "becoming" an author so much as embracing my talent and giving myself permission to be the person I always wanted to be. For women, especially women who love science as much as I do, this is the most difficult initial hurdle to overcome. All my life I was told not to try, that writing would never make me a living, and to go do x,y,z instead. And of course, I was picked on for being good at science and thinking physics is fun.

My talent, of course, could care less what the naysayers said or what role was allegedly pre-defined for me as a woman. As a teen I wrote fan fiction novels. In my 20s and 30s I shifted my focus to non-fiction, research-centric articles, mostly for regional newsletters that offered me exposure, but no pay.

Finally in 2011, I dared to throw aside all the naysayers and begin work on my first novel, "The Great Succession Crisis."

In August, 2012 I learned about SmashWords. Then and only then did I decide to become an "independent author." Given the difficulties in obtaining contracts with the Big Three publishing houses, independent publication through SmashWords, CreateSpace, and Amazon made sense.

To these I am grateful. Now I can finally pursue the talent that was always there.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
My book trailers are one of my best tools for marketing. The reason is simple: with all the music that is part of the Peers of Beinan series, youtube trailers allow me to sing for you the songs in the books so you can hear them for yourself.

Most authors spam the internet with long excerpts that no one reads. But these simple trailers (also featuring the heraldry I created for the series) convey so much more through music.

In addition, I use twitter extensively to tweet out not the "buy my book" stuff you see everywhere, but links to the over 140 non-fiction articles I've written for Yahoo Voices. I believe that informing you, instead of it spamming you, is more productive. I love learning, I love teaching, and I love making life better for everyone else.

Making your life better -- through a song, through information, or even my books -- is what it's all about.

Life is about what we can give back to others, not what we can take for ourselves. I hope you agree.
What makes your books "interactive?"
There are two different ways the Peers of Beinan series are interactive, depending on if we are talking about digital or paperback editions.

The digital editions are hypertext linked to individual pages on my website, providing enhanced content to readers. So for example, clicking on the word "zhang" brings you to a webpage on my site which explains exactly what a zhang is -- without losing your place in the text to look up "zhang" in the glossaries that are part of every book. You also access heraldry, music, and other multi-media through these hypertext links.

For paperback, I offer a special "QR Interactive" edition filled with square QR codes readable by your smart phone. Scanning each code with your phone pulls up the same QR interactive pages the digital editions linked to.

To date there are over 100 individual interactive web pages, bringing a wealth of information to your fingertips no matter what format you prefer for reading with more added almost every day.
Who are your favorite authors?
I love English Literature, so the first authors that come to mind are J.R.R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen. Among Americans, I love Dorothy "D.C." Fontana (author of "Journey to Babel" for Star Trek), Marion Zimmer Bradley, Frank Herbert, and of course J. Michael Straczynski (JMS).

If you recognize those names, you can tell I love Star Trek and Babylon 5.

All of these authors are very influential on my work. Tolkien, JMS, and Frank Herbert taught me how to world build. "Dune" in particular helps me with the political aspects of exploring the inner workings of a monarchy in "The Peers of Beinan" series; I watch and re-watch the adaptations whenever I feel stuck.

It is perhaps very telling that two of my three favorite women writers were both involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism at one time or another. Marion Zimmer Bradley was part of the very first SCA event in 1966. Dorothy Fontana played in the kingdom of Caid by all reports.

My adoration for "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen led to all the dance scenes in my books. The English country dances you see in Pride and Prejudice date to the 16th/17th centuries, dances I personally enjoy in my living history activities in the SCA. So yes, there is a Beinarian version of "Mr. Beveridge's Maggot" in "Ghosts of the Past" thanks to Ms. Austen and the amazing 1995 BBC adaptation starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Writing is so much a part of my being that I do not think there is a single joy to writing for me, anymore than there is life in general. Music, writing, learning are all so much a part of my being that it is impossible for me to pursue anything else.

When I write a song into one of my books, like "Here Lays My Father and My Lord" from chapter eight of "Ghosts of the Past," my entire being comes together in almost a miraculous way. That song in particular brings together my love of history, my love of music, my poetic nature, and my gift for integrating complex and very different ideas and academic disciplines into something beautiful and inspiring.

That song in many ways encapsulates my entire being, all that I am. To write something like that is to touch something transcendental. Can there be a greater joy than to create something so beautiful?
What are you working on next?
Great question! When last we checked in on Princess Anyu and her family, Princess Anyu just left Beinarian space to begin her exile on D425E25 Tertius (this is no spoiler given the structure of this first trilogy arc).

The adventure continues in book three, "Princess Anyu Returns" which so far explores Princess Anyu's exile. "Returns" is primarily told from Princess Anyu's perspective as an alien on a strange and primitive world, a world where life is carbon based and breathes oxygen; Beinarians are silicon-based and breath nirlar (chlorine gas). So Returns promises to be a fantastic journey. At the moment (September, 2013) I am working on chapter two entitled "A Beinarian Princess in King Arthur's Court" which I am certain everyone will enjoy.

As a hint to everyone: I am bringing back a character from "The Great Succession Crisis" midway into Princess Anyu Returns, so stay tuned!
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