A meme, it would seem.
Nicole Murphy (who sometimes writes under the none-too-opaque nom de plume of Nicole R Murphy, and has also been known to go by the moniker of Elizabeth Dunk) is a fantasy/romance novelist, editor, and specfic convention organiser. Her Harper Voyager fantasy trilogy Dream of Asarlai (‘Secret Ones‘, ‘Power Unbound‘, and ‘Rogue Gadda‘) is a fast-paced, highly-charged tour de force brimming with magic and romance. Nicole tagged me to help keep the ‘Next Big Thing’ meme afloat. It’s taken a month and a half to find the time—sorry, Nicole—but here goes.
The meme is supposed to be about an upcoming work, but seeing as Nicole has already established the precedent for talking-up something that’s already out there … I’m just going to go with that, too. The book I’ll talk about has only been out a couple of months, so it’s nearly new, at least.
What is the title of your book?
Flight 404, published by Peggy Bright Books. (Actually, to complicate things slightly, the print edition is ‘Flight 404 / The Hunt for Red Leicester‘, a pair of novellas, but Flight 404 is offered as a standalone in e-book format, and for various reasons it’s the story I’d prefer to talk up here.)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
I was home with my teenage daughter one day, and out of the blue she announced, “They’re dead. They’re all dead.” It transpired she was commenting on a vase of flowers on top of the TV cabinet, but in the few seconds before I realised that, the wheels in my head had begun to turn. From that, I had the germ of an idea: of something nasty, and a spaceship.
What genre does your book fall under?
Um. Science fiction and mystery, with a bit of transgender fiction blended in. The SF component is mostly ‘hard’, but there are some elements of space opera there too.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is one of those ‘you tell me’ questions—I have a really hard time picturing my characters. Below is a detail from the wonderful illustration Lewis Morley provided for the front cover: this is my protagonist, Charmain Mertz.
She’s smart, persistent, a bit brittle. The hairstyle kinda says (the late) Persis Khambatta …
… but I’m going to go with Christine Lahti, who was brilliant—I think the more correct term is probably ‘iconoclastic’—in Housekeeping:
I’d need someone to play Charmain’s offsider, the android K@rine (pronounced ‘Katrine’). K@rine—supremely capable, disconcertingly intuitive, sometimes somewhat naïve—is effectively genderless, humanoid(ish) but sufficiently nonhuman in appearance that it’d have to be CGI, which means it’d probably work best with Andy Serkis, best known for this:
… though I hasten to say that K@rine wouldn’t be caught dead (or rather, deactivated) looking like that.
For the villain? No name-dropping here, from the book—spoilers, it is a murder mystery after all—but I was aiming for someone who could at least display the persona of Christopher Lee:
There are several other characters in the story—notably, some figures from Charmain’s past—but it’s largely a three-hander between Charmain, K@rine, and the here-unnamed villain. As long as those three were cast right, I’d be happy.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The search for a missing spacecraft, and the desire to solve her sister’s disappearance, brings pilot Charmain Mertz back to the world of her boyhood.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Off and on? 14 months. I’m not one of these writers who can manage a thousand words or more, day after day after day. And SF murder mysteries are by their nature quite demanding, quite exacting: even after I had the bones of the story well-and-truly fleshed out, there was another eight or nine months of exploratory surgery, amputation, and tissue grafting before the patient could be pronounced viable.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have to acknowledge the influence of Asimov’s ‘The Caves of Steel’ and ‘The Naked Sun’. And a nod or two towards Larry Niven’s ‘organlegger’ SF mysteries would also be appropriate, although Charmain is no Gil Hamilton. I’m not for a moment claiming that I meet the standards of Asimov and Niven in their respective heydays, but the aspiration is there.
And (with the same obvious disclaimer) then there’s Alastair Reynolds’ ‘The Prefect’.
There are bound to be other genre books I’m missing here. Even though the intersection of hard(ish) SF and murder mystery isn’t particularly heavily built up, I just know there have to be other titles there—but I haven’t encountered them. And the writing in Flight 404 is a bit more twisted than Asimov, Niven, or Reynolds, I think.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Once I had the crime, and its coverup, I had to get it in words. It took much longer than I’d anticipated, and the story turned out rather differently, not least because, as Charmain took form, she uncovered some stuff that surprised me.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
It revolves around a crime, an utterly monstrous crime, hidden in plain sight. A transgender protagonist, sympathetically portrayed (at least, I hope so). A high-speed chase across great distance, with a final destination not apparent until late in the piece.