By day, Carol Van Natta is immersed in the world of business continuity and disaster recovery planning, but by night--and weekends, and while waiting at the dentist office and any other pockets of times she can find--she takes off to other planets and universes to hang out with shapeshifters, telepaths, cyborgs, fairies and space cats (yes, you heard me right, space cats) to write their stories. As a USA Today bestselling author of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, and space opera, she has written and published over a dozen books and novellas.
© Carol Van Natta
I chatted with her about her writing and about space opera.
So, let’s start with space opera. It brings an interesting mix of images to mind, like aliens, Don Quixote, space ships… nevermind, what is it exactly?
Space opera is one of the sub genres of science fiction. Science fiction is pretty big and space opera is one of them. It is generally characterized by big sweeping story arcs with lots of adventures, space battles, and lots of relationships that are changing and evolving. You can think of Star Trek to some extent as space opera.
Yes, you can also think of Firefly as space opera. They are very relationship driven and you care about the people. They are three-dimensional characters, not like just good guys and bad guys. There are shades of gray and people you like.
Who came up with this term and idea of space opera?
The term was actually coined by a guy who did literary criticisms, specifically in the science fiction field, in about the 1940s or so. He coined it as an insult because writers were taking his precious science fiction with its big important ideas and making thought provoking concepts that the average person wanted to buy. It was like a soap opera in space, so it was space opera. He was quite serious about how it was ruining his favorite genre. Authors read that, liked the term and they ran with it.
That’s awesome. I love that instead of authors being offended, they embraced it and “ruined his genre” even more. Why did you decide to hop on this space wagon and choose to write in this genre?
All the stories in the series involve romance and I did that very deliberately. The big story arc in my space opera is about rebellion and revolution. That is never a pleasant time and I didn’t want readers to get so depressed by the end of book one that they wouldn’t go on to book two. Romance has inherent hopefulness and an inherent positive ending. So even if the world is going to hell in a handbasket, if you’ve got romance you got hope.
That’s so true. During the day you are dealing with spreadsheets, government regulations, IT people and policies. Then to write your novels, you need to do a 180 in order to create new worlds and characters and explore space. How do you make that shift?
I need about ten minutes between doing something really left-brained to something more right-brained. I like to do something physical like go for a walk or go up and down the stairs (which I really hate). Just doing something physical really helps. I wish I had a set schedule where I could say, “this is my time for writing,” but I don’t. I have learned to be an opportunistic fiction writer. Which means if I am in the doctor’s office and they are running late, I can pull out my phone or some other device where I can make notes about a plot or even write a little scene. I prefer to have it nice and quiet but since I don’t always get that, I have trained myself to write in coffee shops and other places and block things out. I am not as productive, but I do get some stuff done.
Wow, that’s dedication. I can’t imagine typing out a scene from my phone, my thumbs tend to have a mind of their own. When did you start becoming serious about your writing?
When I was in high school, I and my friends wrote Star Trek fan fiction. It was God-awful stuff. I know this to be true because I found some years later and thought, wow, that was stinky. But what it did was prove that we could all sustain writing and have the discipline to finish something. I think the trick to a successful writing project is asking yourself, can you finish it? Whether that is flash fiction or the short story or the article or the novel.
Fast forward to about 2013. I was ending a big responsibility I had running a film festival and suddenly I had time on my hands again. I had this idea with this big damn story arc about rebellion. I spent the entire summer plotting this whole big arc. I published the first book in my space opera series in 2014.
There’s a wide range when it comes to sex scenes in romance books; everything from Amish romance where a kiss is a ginormous deal, to erotica which leaves nothing to the imagination. Where do your books fall on the steaminess scale?
It’s all behind closed doors. You know they have sex (because they say so) but its behind closed doors and that was deliberate. I did not want the people to complain and say, “you got romance in my precious science fiction” to give me one-star reviews for that. There are those who ask, where’s the sex, but I have more people who say thank you for not including the sex. I can also point people to my paranormal romance series of five books and counting, where the doors are open and the lights are on for the sex scenes.
Let’s say a wizard shows up at your front door and she has the power to create a life for you where you could quit your job and write full time. Would you accept her offer?
Yes. But then I would have to train myself. I had two weeks off at Christmas. I was really good for about the first three days but then my productivity went to hell in a handbasket. If I did write full time, I would have to work out arrangements: This is my writing time, this is not social media time, this is not clean the house time, this is not play-with-the-cats time. But I would do it because I love the writing. I also love the challenge of marketing, creating graphics for it, and the other business stuff associated with it.
Success can be such an ambiguous term, especially in the writing world. How do you define success for yourself?
Money is a big part of it because it is quantifiable. But getting lovely emails from readers or people putting you on their list of top ten authors, that’s kind of nice too. Ultimately, I write stories because I love telling stories to people and sharing them. And since my very lazy cats will not write the books, it falls to me. They insist I put cats in many of my books and sometimes I succumb to this, but that’s the extent of their willingness to help.
To learn more about Carol and her space opera series, Central Galactic Concordance, along with her other books, visit her website, author.carolvannatta.com or chat with her on Facebook at facebook.com/CarolVanNattaAuthor.