Interview with Valerie J Mikles

What was your inspiration for this book series?
I was sitting at work one day. When I was an undergrad, I got a job as a research assistant, because there was no way I was going to grad school to become a full time scientist if I couldn’t handle doing it ten hours a week. My boss had a picture in his office – a satellite composite of North America at night – just the city glow. That picture was next to my computer and I looked at it every day as my programs were processing data. One day, I opened a text file and started to write a story about someone on the moon, looking down at the Earth, seeing that view that the picture captured. That’s where it all began. When I graduated, my boss gave me a copy of that picture, and it still hangs over my desk.
Ultimately, you did go to grad school and got a PhD in Astronomy. How did you get into that?
In the second grade, maybe third, we had an astronomy unit, and the teacher told us to learn as much as we could, because astronomy was not part of the science curriculum after that year. And I felt so cheated, because I loved space. It really stood out to me in the years after, how the biology/chemistry/physics trio got more and more focus and every other branch of science was phased out. So in the eighth grade, I did a research project about the Life of Stars, and that’s when I discovered black holes, and I thought they were the coolest thing—dead stars collapsing under the weight of their own gravity into tiny, tiny dimensions. Then I found out someone would actually pay me to do that, and so I became a black hole hunter.
Science has clearly been a big part of your life, but what about writing? When did you start writing?
Also in the second grade. When we had a list of ‘Spelling’ words, and we were supposed to use them each in a sentence, I would write one long story. In third grade, I wrote a story called “Pterodactyls All Over,” and over the summer, I turned it into a book, and had my sister illustrate it. I wrote my first full-length novel in the fourth grade. It was called ‘Trouble With Migrating” and it was kind of like “Watership Down,” but with birds. Being a novelist has always been in my grand plan. I majored in physics because my parents told me that it’s very difficult to make a living as an artist, and for me, physics was the next easiest thing.
Why did you decide for a series book?
I loved reading series books growing up. I started with Babysitters Club and Hardy Boys, and then I graduated to Star Trek novels. I love going into a story with familiar characters and finding new adventures, because that’s how life is. You can ride off into the sunset at the end of one story, but tomorrow, the sun comes up again. There’s a new adventure, a new chance, and a story.
Being an astronomer and a writer, it seems pretty natural that you’d write books set in space. But how would you say your scientific background has influenced your writing?
I think it worked the other way around for me—that writing helped me discover I was a scientist. When I wrote ‘Pterodactyls All Over,’ I wasn’t thinking about writing science fiction; I was thinking about writing a story, and that was what came naturally. When I got into Star Trek, I wasn’t thinking about it being science fiction; it was the world I wanted to live in. In the 9th grade, a teacher noticed I was finishing my math work really quickly and suggested I become an engineer. I immediately thought of Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and how I wanted to live in that universe. In the 11th grade, when we had to write a 25-page short story for class, and I wrote a space opera inspired by my fandom. My teacher wasn’t willing to take something with spaceships and aliens and made me redo the project. I came up with a near-future sci-fi story, but it wasn’t until then that I started thinking of science fiction (or any genre fiction) as separate from the ‘literature’ we read in school.

I do, on occasion, use science to inform my writing. For example, I keep an ephemeris telling me the rise/set time of my moons and their current phase, so I don’t randomly say in one chapter that both moons are up, and then have them orbiting haphazardly. I always know what day it is and where my moons are in the sky (or where the planet is, if I’m on the moon). But I was a sci-fi writer long before I was a scientist.
You mention Star Trek as an early influence. How has fandom influenced your writing?
Well, I’ve been a Star Trek fan my entire life, but it wasn’t until 2006, when a friend of mine demanded that I sit down and watch Firefly with her that everything changed. I adamantly refused to watch the show, because I was already too deep into Star Trek and didn’t have time for another fandom. I do not even know how she tricked me into coming over, but she put the DVD in, and I probably talked over the first 10 minutes before something happened (I think it was Adam Baldwin’s arrival on screen) and I was hooked. And I made her go back to the beginning. And that got me into cons and cosplay, and a litany of other fandoms. But Firefly got me back into writing. See, I was absorbed by physics and astronomy in college, thinking I had no time to write, but after I ran out of Firefly episodes, I started reading the fanfic online. A lot of it was awful. I decided I could write something better. I think I wrote over 100,000 words of fanfic that year alone. I tried so hard to get the voices right, to practice the different characters, to make stories that read like episodes. People left comments like ‘never stop writing’ and it just boosted my confidence. It was really hard to leave my fanfic audience to write original works again. I still occasionally put something out, but never the novellas that I did before. So fandom inspired me. It taught me about writing characters with unique voices. It reminded me that I have time in my life to write. It even inspired a few original characters that I translated into the New Dawn universe.
Firefly got you into cosplay – creating costumes of admired TV characters. What is your favorite cosplay that you’ve created?
My favorite that I’ve done has to be the Kawoosh coming out of the Stargate. It’s a 4 ft hoop skirt of the Stargate, and a sparkling blue dress that is the Kawoosh. It’s designed to come apart and fold up and fit in a carryon suitcase. I’m most proud of that concept creation. The most fun to wear, though is Waldo, because people are so excited to find you. It’s like they’ve been searching for you their whole lives. I dressed as Waldo when I went through the airport once, and the TSA guards were arguing about whether or not it was a costume.
One of your projects before this one was a web series called Aces - a story about asexual friends surviving a hypersexual world. Can you talk about that and what inspired it?
Aces and the spin-off shorts Aced It are about asexuals—a group of people who do not experience sexual attraction. The shorts are designed to entertain and educate people about what it means and what it’s like to be asexual. There are so many blogs and documentaries, but I learn through comedy and entertainment, so I created that. Those shorts were inspired by my life and my journey to discovering that I am aromantic/asexual. That means I don’t experience romantic attraction and I don’t experience sexual attraction. Am I into guys? No. Am I into girls? No. Once I realized that dating and marriage was optional, and I had a word for why I didn’t want to take that option, I kind of stumbled. You grow up, you get married, you have kids. That’s what a ‘successful life’ looks like. What is success when that’s not part of your life? So I started Aces. I produced it in L.A. with my own money. I ran out of money and moved cross country to Maryland, and started a series of shorts called ‘Aced It’ and those are on the same youtube channel. I’d love to get back to producing some day, but I decided that this is the season for writing.
How has being asexual affected your writing?
Well, when I write about sexual tension, it’s kind of like a colorblind person describing a rainbow. Just because it looks different to them doesn’t mean they can’t write about it. We experience the world with so much more than our eyes. I did write an asexual character into my third book, and the funny thing was, I wrote her that way before I even realized I was asexual myself. Once I went on the journey, I was able to give more form to her struggle.
What is your favorite thing about writing?
Writing is like breathing. It doesn’t stop for me. It can hold my attention for hours, until my head drops and I realize I haven’t eaten and need to sleep and don’t know which to do first, so maybe I’ll just finish this paragraph. I see articles every now and then—people asking how to get over writer’s block. For me, the question is ‘how do you get the muse to shut up?’ I write my characters into bed at night because I don’t sleep until they’re sleeping. Writing fiction is very different from writing fact. I knew I could never be a journalist. I don’t live in this world, and I don’t want to. When I write, when I cosplay, when I’m on stage at the theater – that’s real. That’s my life. There’s a line in a song: “To dreamers, the real world can be unreal.”
What are you working on now?
Books 1-9 make up a complete story arc. They’re all written, at least in first draft format, and I am working on getting them edited and out to my audience. Books 10-12 are going to be a more compact trilogy, and I have informed the muse that he is not allowed to begin work on any of those until revisions are complete on the first 9. So naturally, work has begun. I look forward to feedback and fan interactions on the first releases, though. Nothing is canon until it’s published.
Published 2017-06-07.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

The Gray Market - The New Dawn: Book 5
Pre-release—available August 23, 2018. Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 112,100. Language: English. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Hard sci-fi
Everyone wants a piece of Amanda Gray. She has a power worth stealing. When a rising crime boss captures her, she finds herself on the market, her powers up for auction. No one is prepared when her true power is revealed.
Hybrid - The New Dawn: Book 4
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 104,020. Language: English. Published: May 25, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
Liza killed her people. Can she bring them back? Determined to prove that she is not a war machine, she draws Oriana to her city and starts the crew down a path that could leave them trapped there forever.
Trade Circle - The New Dawn: Book 3
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 89,080. Language: English. Published: January 12, 2018. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
Seeking a cure for a mysterious illness, the crew find themselves in an unexpected fight for their ship, their freedom, and their lives.
Sequestered - The New Dawn: Book 2
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 98,490. Language: American English. Published: November 10, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
Sky has been running for years. Douglas Hwan dreams of escaping. When their worlds collide, the entire city of Rocan is caught in the middle.
The Disappeared - The New Dawn: Book 1
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 101,360. Language: American English. Published: September 8, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Adventure, Fiction » Science fiction » Space opera
Corey’s ex knows where she’s hiding, and he won't let her go. Now, the Terranan Guard have posted a bounty for a rebel named Amanda Gray. If Corey finds her, the head of the Guard will get rid of abusive ex forever. Things spiral when Corey learns that Amanda is innocent—another victim like her in search of freedom. Can Corey save Amanda and still break free from her ex?