Author Spotlight Interview: Susan English
Today’s interview is with award-winning author Susan English. Her debut novel Callisto 2.0 is the transformative first book in the Shambhala Saga feminist science fiction series. It was an honor to learn more about her writing journey, why this book is important to her and about her upcoming projects.
HG: How would you describe yourself to somebody who isn’t familiar with your writing yet?
SE: I am someone who writes from the heart. I try to be as honest and open as possible, both with my autobiographical work and fictional characters. My main impetus for writing the Shambhala Saga in particular is to imagine what the not-too-distant future might look like. But instead of the typical post-apocalyptic dystopia, with brutal regimes, zombies, or nuclear fallout, I figured if I’m going to create my own reality through my writing, why not go for something more positive? Why imagine a future full of horrors when I have the power to construct one filled with hope? Not that my saga depicts an idealized and unrealistic utopia by any means, I’m still writing about human beings with all our foibles and flaws, and the very real issues we will be forced to confront, such as climate change, global pandemics, and mass extinction. We humans are capable of so much—not only unscrupulous cruelty and rampant destruction but also astounding creativity and acts of great compassion and love. For me, the biggest challenge we face as a species is how to honor and fully utilize the positive side of human nature. This is one of the themes I want to explore in my work.
HG: That’s awesome. You’re a physicist and a born adventurer. When did you take the plunge into “author life” and what was the transition like?
SE: In the back of my mind, I always had the idea that I would like to write a novel, and about three years ago when my work schedule opened up, I decided to just do it.
I knew writing was hard, but had no idea going in just how difficult it would be. Callisto 2.0 took me two solid years to complete. And that was just the beginning. Then there was setting up the website and various author pages, contacting bloggers and reviewers, not to mention figuring out how to market my work (I’m still working on that part!). I’m very grateful to have the time and energy to dedicate to my writing, but it’s a full-time job for sure. So I basically went from working full time to working full time, ha ha!
HG: For real! What has been the most challenging part of your road to publication?
SE: Originally, I wanted to go the traditional route and find a publisher or an agent, but I also understood how difficult it is. Agents receive literally hundreds of submissions every week and only take on about five new authors per year, and most publishing houses won’t consider a book if an agent isn’t involved. So the odds were definitely not in my favor! I decided to reach out to one hundred agents and a handful of publishers who don’t require an agent, and if that didn’t work out, I would publish my novel myself. Well, as you might have figured out, after a hundred rejections, I chose to self-publish, and here I am.
HG: Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future is an award winning science-fiction book. Can you tell us a little bit about the main characters and what readers will love about this story?
SE: The main character is Callisto, and the novel is written completely from her point of view. Calli, born in 2066, grows up in a conservative, parochial family and endures a childhood and adolescence of loneliness and isolation, a stranger in her own life. Her brilliant analytical mind and a love of physics save her when she is offered a full scholarship to study at the best university in North America. Her scientific passion, faster-than-light travel, however, is widely considered a dead end. But, as Calli herself admits, she was never one for conventional wisdom.
Her studies complete, she is drifting when Diana, a beautiful and mysterious older woman, contacts her with an offer of a research position on Shambhala, a lab in orbit around the Moon. Shambhala, and the lunar base, Arcadia, are both women-only by design. Together, they are a utopia of beauty, scientific discovery, and community.
Calli’s crewmates include her best friend Naomi, a vibrant and enthusiastic biologist specializing in parthenogenesis; Tanya, a compassionate materials scientist, who, due to a “tragic biological error”, was born male and was forced, because of her ultra-religious parents, to wait until adulthood to begin hormone therapy; Elena, a shy, sincere Guatemalan astronomer with a focus on extrasolar planets; Mei Xing, a talented engineer and ex-Chinese opera singer; Kamana, an ingenious Indian computer programmer and creator of Annie, a helpful and slightly socially inept artificial intelligence. These are just some of the quirky and brilliant characters in the novel.
Over the course of the novel, Calli flourishes in this unique environment, thanks to her growing relationships with these remarkable women and the profoundly curative power of female connection.
My hope is that readers resonate with the idea of women working together in harmony and cooperation for a greater goal, and perhaps in some small way my vision will encourage all of us strive to build a society based on empathy and compassion for all living beings.
HG: Fantastic! How do you come up with character names?
SE: My characters come from diverse, international backgrounds, so I tried to give them names that reflected their diversity.
HG: If Callisto 2.0 was made into a movie, who would you cast?
SE: That’s a tough question for me because I am really bad at recognizing actors. And when I say really bad, it is an understatement! My wife, Ximena, on the other hand, has a long list of possibilities. 😉
HG: Fair enough! What feeling do you want to leave people with when they finish one of your novels?
SE: Since this is a series, I hope that my readers will want to read the next book!
HG: I like that answer. Switching gears, tell us about your actual writing process. Did it change during the pandemic? When and where do you write?
SE: When I was writing Callisto 2.0, I would write pretty much anywhere—sitting on a park bench, waiting in line at the supermarket, in coffee shops, at my desk at home, or lying in bed with a pen and notebook. Once the pandemic hit, Ximena and I followed the curfew and quarantine rules here in Colombia where we live, so our entire life was in our apartment. We thought of it as a spaceship—totally self-contained (though we did have groceries delivered, of course!). Now that things are opening up here, I’ve been toying with the idea of trying a coffee shop again. The nice thing about our city, Medellin, is that the weather is perfect, so most coffee shops are open air. Though since we still have a mask mandate, even though I’m fully vaccinated, I’ll probably keep working at home for the foreseeable future.
HG: Understandable! Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what’s on your playlist?
SE: I prefer silence. There’s too much going on in my head already, so no need to add to the din. 😉
HG: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
SE: I don’t know if this is interesting, but any time I make even a small change to my manuscript, I have to read the entire book again, to make sure each piece fits together. This is a very time-consuming endeavor! Another quirk, though I think this is common with authors, is I always have a notebook or a few scraps of paper nearby to jot down ideas. I also make spreadsheets and diagrams to keep track of everything, and I just recently invested in a whiteboard.
There is one thing I do which I believe is unusual. I have created portraits of all my characters using various computer software programs. I’m not great at recognizing faces (which is why question 6 was impossible for me to answer!) so having the character images in front of me as I write is super helpful. Anyone who is interested in what the characters look like can find them on my author webpage.
HG: That’s really cool. What do you like to do when not writing?
SE: Pre-pandemic I was really active, taking sign language and piano classes, salsa dancing, going on long bike rides and walks, and enjoying city life, but nowadays I’m much more of a homebody. I love spending time with Ximena, working together on projects around the house, or watching our new favorite genre on Netflix now that there are some which have been dubbed in Spanish—Korean dramas! I am especially attracted to this genre because the shows we’ve seen so far all have a kind of sweetness innocence that is very appealing, with none of the gratuitous violence which is so common in other series.
Now that things are starting to open up in Colombia as more people are getting vaccinated, we are hoping to do some traveling here in the next few months, to visit some pueblos or maybe the coast.
HG: If you could ask your author idol one question about their writing, writing process, or books, what would it be?
SE: One of my all-time favorite authors is Jane Austen—I love her wit and strong female characters. My question to Ms. Austen would be: Want to read my book? 😊
HG: I love that! Before we wrap up, what can you tell us about any projects you have in the works?
SE: I’m just finishing up book 2 of the Shambhala Saga, to be released at the end of the year. The story takes place on the Moon and begins moments after the ending of Callisto 2.0, the first book of the series. So for my readers who want to know what happens to the space station Shambhala, you’ll have to wait for book 3! But not to worry, it should be out by the summer of 2022.
HG: Wonderful! We will keep an eye out. For readers that want to find out more about your stories and keep up with you, where should they go to connect or learn more?
SE: You can visit me on my website or my Facebook page. I’m also on Goodreads.
To download a FREE copy of my book Callisto 2.0 – A novel of the future, use this link: https://books2read.com/u/me9pBE
Also, I love getting email from my readers, so feel free to drop me a line.
Looking forward to hearing from all of you!
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What an interesting life this author has lived, and it sounds like that sense of adventure shows up in her work. Can’t wait to read this!