I’m so excited to welcome Robyn Bennis to the Ball this week – not only does she write some Damn Good books, she’s also my editor-cousin, and is as quick and hilarious in real life as her prose. After going through the traditional publishing route with two books, she’s dipping her toes into indie with a release next week (!!). Talk about a wild ride.
Author of the well-acclaimed, thoroughly awesome, and punchingly-funny Signal Airship series, Robyn Bennis has done research and development involving human gene expression, neural connectomics, cancer diagnostics, rapid flu testing, gene synthesis, genome sequencing, being so preoccupied with whether she could that she never stopped to think if she should, and systems integration. She wrote most of The Guns Above within sight of Hangar One at Moffett Airfield, which was once the West Coast home to one of America’s largest airships, the USS Macon.
She currently resides in Madison, WI, where she has one cat, two careers, and an apartment full of dreams.
Which talent do you wish you had?
You mean, apart from being able to teleport my enemies far away? Hmm…
I’ve always wanted to play an instrument. I tried to learn the keyboard a few years back, but I gave up when it turned out to be, like, super hard. I also played the trombone in middle school, for certain values of “played” that include staring cross-eyed at a music sheet while occasionally blowing into a mouthpiece.
The problem, apart from an abundant lack of musical talent, was that the band director expected everyone to learn the basics before they showed up to their first day of practice. I don’t know if this is a normal thing for middle school bands, or if he was some kind of deviant, but I simply had no means of meeting his expectations. I had sheet music but no instructional books or tuning forks—or whatever the hell you’re supposed to use to learn the correct sound of a trombone toot. And this was long before Youtube, so what was I to do?
Well, you know me, so you can probably guess that I totally Working Girl’ed it. I showed up to the first day of practice and pretended to play the trombone, hoping I could fake it until I at least learned what the notes were supposed to sound like. It’s a credit to my natural deception skills that I made it three whole weeks before the band leader caught on and started sending me off into a corner to practice alone. “Until you know what you’re doing,” he said. Which… I mean… how the hell is that supposed to work?
I quit the next week.
What are your favorite tropes in fiction – either to write or to read?
I love shitty moms. The Guns Above has shitty moms. By Fire Above has a shitty mom. The Devil’s Guide to Managing Difficult People has an extremely shitty mom. Even my work in progress, a trans YA space opera tentatively named Up the Well, has a bad mom, if not an outright shitty one. The book is still at an early stage, though, so she has time to live down to expectations.
I’m not sure I like reading about them as much, but I would say the shitty moms are my favorite aspect of A Song of Ice and Fire.
This, no doubt, is because I had a very shitty mom that I loved very much.
Share something that’s always guaranteed to make you laugh.
Salvinorin A, which directly activates brain centers involved in humor, causing uncontrollable bouts of laughter, as well as dissociation and vivid hallucinations. It’s easier to get than Sudafed in most states, and I highly recommend it.
Isn’t Lord Bernat the best? Wait no, that’s not a question – how did you come up with his character in the Signal Airships series and just how much fun was he to write?
OMG, I love writing Bernat. He is such a colossal douchebag, and I adore him. He’s a mix of the worst people I met in biotech and the most charming people I met in biotech. The first were the sorts of people who took credit for everything that went right, started looking for low-level technicians to blame the moment anything went wrong, and generally behaved as if they could answer all the questions of life and death if they only had a bigger budget and more people working under them. They were also, almost invariably, among the most incompetent scientists I’ve ever worked with.
Despite their ilk, however, biotech is still filled with a lot of very smart people, and there’s a pretty strong correlation between intelligent and charming. This is the opposite of the TV stereotype, of course, but that’s what you get for having faith in television.
There is some overlap between the two categories, because people are complicated, but for the most part I had to squish them together and put them in a blender to make Bernat. He inhabits that wonderful space—part genius, part fool—where the personal-abuse comedy can fly thick and fast in both directions.
It’s nice to meet someone who unapologetically loves him as much as I do, but it also makes me wonder about you.
You’re making the jump from trad to indie – have there been any big surprises? Any advice you’d give to other authors considering such a leap?
There are definite advantages to the independent route, apart from the boost in royalties. So far, the best thing about it is that I get a better idea of where my sales are coming from. For example, it looks like my Twitter feed drives very few sales, which means I can pull back from that vile monstrosity of social media corruption without feeling guilty.
The downsides, however, are also very real. It’s amazing how many things you just don’t have to think about, when you’re publishing traditionally. Sure, you have to do the blog rounds and make sure your revisions are in on time, but you can sit back and let someone else worry about the proofreading, the cover art, the typesetting, the print formatting, the advertising, the publicity arrangements, and etc. Just coordinating all that, let alone executing it, is a huge source of stress.
Ask me again in a year, if it was worth it.
Bonus: If you were a drink (preferably alcoholic), what would you be and why?
Well, I’m definitely not an Old Fashioned, despite my affinity for that cocktail. Like Jordan in The Devil’s Guide, I like it because it’s a girly drink that sounds sophisticated.
As for the drink that best represents me, that would probably be a Manhattan, because I’m Scotch and bitter, but I also have a sweet side. And yes, speaking to the one embittered pedant I know is getting ready to write a letter, I realize that’s not the proper usage of Scotch as an adjective. Bite me. Sweetly.
I met the devil at a Motel 6, poolside.
The devil—call her Dee—followed Jordan home, and decided to keep her. Now, while Dee claims to be helping get her life in order, Jordan has to live with a houseguest who complains constantly, eats all her pudding, and can incinerate her in a pillar of hellfire.
It’s super awkward.
“THE DEVIL’S GUIDE is a great mix: black comedy with a heavy emotional punch, a gripping voice that’s funny and genuine at once, and some truly wonderful banter. Loved it!”
Out May 21st! Pre-order now from Amazon!
And check out the Signal Airship series now!
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