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Interview: Andrea Monticue, author of Memory and Metaphor

All authors I’m sure see this one at least once: What prompted you to get into writing?

I really don’t remember. I was in the 5th grade when I wrote my first book, Castaways of Skull Island. My teacher was quite supportive, and even bound it for me, and placed it in the classroom library. I think it was all of two or three thousand words.

When I was in the sixth grade, we had weekly writing assignments to use all the word in our vocabulary list in a short story. We were only supposed to write one page or so, but I always wrote more than was needed. At the end of each week, I’d end the narrative with “To be continued!” The next week, I’d continue with different characters and a different setting. In the end, the story was a little like Kerouac’s On the Road with lots of characters and mini-adventures, but no overarching plot. The teacher never complained.

You’ve worked on aircraft as a profession. Do you feel this helped your attention to detail in the story, and how?

Yes, it helped me pay attention to the way things worked, although I’m not certain that the average reader will appreciate the details. Instead of imagining a black box that the character activates, I imagine the details of the box. Does it work with hydraulics or electrical power? Pneumatics? EM fields? I worked for Northrop on the B2 project, and I know how complicated a machine like that can be, and all the things that can go wrong if you don’t stay on top of maintenance.

With all the detailed information on how the mind is affected for the main character, I’m guessing you had to do a lot of research for your book. Could you detail some of the subjects that you had to research, and how they affected the story?

I did do a lot of online research, but I didn’t understand a lot of it. The human mind is still mostly uncharted territory even for experts, and I’m the furthest thing from an expert. In the end I had to assume a lot of properties of the human consciousness. I also assumed that though much research had been done, a complete map of the human mind had remained an elusive goal, much like fusion research is today.

I was specifically interested in how an old personality might die and be replaced by a new one. There are actual historical cases where this happened.

What was it like for you, when you found out that your story was going to be published?

Are you kidding?! I was beside myself! The submission guidelines at Paper Angel stated that they’d reply within a month and, after six or seven weeks had gone by, I figured it was another no-go. When I finally received an email, I convinced myself it was another rejection and I had to read it twice before I realized that it was not, because the words made no sense on the first reading.

I don’t think I slept at all that night. I remember trying to tell my wife, and the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth in any coherent order, so I just let her read the email.

I was attending weekly weight-loss support group meetings, and I almost didn’t go to the meeting that night. I went, and told everybody what happened, and they gave me a round of applause.

My feet have only occasionally touched the ground since.

What was it like to see all the parts of getting a book published, such as the cover design, manuscript formatting, etc.?

Frustrating in some respects; fascinating in others. There are aspects of the story that only I have ever imagined, and now other people were trying to imagine them, too.

To shift back to the book again, the book seemed to actually have two stories ongoing. Was this structure something you planned out ahead of time, or did the story develop the parallel threads as it evolved?

You’re absolutely correct. There is the personal narrative of the protagonist, and then the global narrative of how society and government reacted to a new existential threat. People don’t exist in isolation, and I wanted to offer insights into the larger universe of Kentaurus. Plus, I have done a lot of world building for this story and wanted to show it off.

Your story raises some interesting and thoughtful questions. The foremost one, is the question of “What constitutes a living being?” The situation the main character seems to have that as a central theme. Was this a deliberate choice?

Not so much a living being, but a legal civil entity. There are debates in the story about whether the protagonist has civil rights, and if so, do they outweigh the rights of society to protect itself. These are old themes in science fiction, as well as other genres, but the debate still rages. An additional dimension to the debate in this case is that the protagonist used to have civil rights. Should government and military leaders ignore that, or do they have a point?

What authors, if any, did you read that might have helped steer you into writing Memory and Metaphor?

I was inspired by David Weber’s Honor Harrington series in terms of creating a space navy and how spacecraft of the future might navigate. I intentionally steered away from the Star Trek and Star Wars models of spacecraft that are basically airplanes in space.

The ghosts of Isaac Asimov and his robots were always haunting me in this story.

There’s also a bit of Spider Robinson in there.

I reread several of Elizabeth Moon’s books from her Vatta’s War series while writing it.

Finally, I’m sure you recognized the influence of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

What was the thought behind the title of your book?

It’s pretty obvious that memories play a big role in the plot. The metaphor part is subtler, but I really liked the alliteration.

Finally, as a new author, what words do you have for other authors looking to become published?

An obvious one is: Don’t give up. But more importantly, stop treating your writing as something you do after all the other chores are done. It’s far more than just a guilty pleasure; it’s a part of who you are. If you don’t think it’s important enough to give it your best, then publishers won’t, either.

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