While the writers of fortune cookie fortunes may disagree, everything is better when you add the phrase “in space” at the end. So says writer Aimee Ogden in the following email interview about her polyamorous space opera novella, Local Star (paperback, Kindle), a sci-fi rewrite of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing…in space.
To begin, what is Local Star about, and when and where does it take place?
I like to say that Local Star is Much Ado About Nothing if it were polyamorous, low on misogyny, and set on a space station. The lead character, Triz, a mechanic on that space station, is determined to prove her girlfriend Casne’s innocence in a military action that appears to break the rules of engagement; to do that, she’s forced to accept help from Kalo, her ex and Casne’s friend, and along the way, the two have to deal with their past differences.
Where did you get the idea for Local Star and how, if at all, did that idea evolve as you wrote it?
I love retellings, and tackling my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays seemed like a natural fit, but I wanted a setting where I could dispose of the casual misogyny that doesn’t fit well with a modern sensibility. (Besides, adding “in space!” to the description of anything makes it 113% cooler.) It took some wrangling to get all the pieces to fall into place, and I ended up having to combine the characters of Hero and Claudio into one person, who became Casne, in order to control the size of the cast somewhat. I also had to cut out a subplot with a Dogberry-esque character trying to finagle favors out of Casne’s father, who is an important figure in the station community — it was stealing the momentum from the important characters and the humor didn’t really fit in with the rest of the novel’s tone.
The press materials for Local Star call it a “polyamorous space opera.” First, do you agree with this assessment?
“Polyamorous space opera” seems a good fit to me. I think it’s also a romance to some extent, but kissing, along with explosions and shoot-outs and impossible odds, seems to me something of a staple in the whole space opera genre, too.
Second, what makes this space opera “polyamorous”?
This is a polynorm world; Casne’s family, who we meet in the story, is made up of four parents. And by the time the narrative starts, Triz and Casne and Casne’s girlfriend Nantha are all in an established relationship and Triz is considering seeking out a fourth to meet some of the needs that Casne and Nan can’t.
Now, unless I’m mistaken, Local Star is your second novella after Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, though you’ve also written a metric ton of short stories. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Local Star but not on Sun-Daughters or anything else you’ve written?
When I set out to write this book, I really wanted to make something fun; other than a piece or two of humorous flash among that metric ton of shorts, “fun” hasn’t really been my wheelhouse. So besides, of course, Shakespeare himself, who provided the core material inspiration here, I’d say the main influence for me was the X-Wing books that I mainlined as a kid, and really Star Wars as a whole — something with a lot of excitement and big feelings that promised the reader (or viewer) a good ride.
Along with your novellas and short stories, you also write poetry. How do you think writing poetry — and, I assume, reading poetry — has influenced your fiction, and especially Local Star?
Although I think Local Star is one of my less poetical works, I think poetry teaches a certain density or economy of language that is always of service to a prose writer — finding ways to describe actions or feelings or situations in language that is striking without being cumbersome. It’ll be up to the reader, I think, to decide to what extent I managed to do that.
Now, space operas are sometimes stand-alone stories, and sometimes they’re part of larger sagas. What is Local Star?
At least for the time being, this is a stand-alone story. I hate to rule anything out for the future, but I don’t have any plans at the moment to revisit Triz and Kalo and Casne, and the “why” isn’t any more interesting than that I haven’t really had time to put another idea together to see if it’s something I’d want to explore. If I ever did revisit this setting, I think it would only tangentially touch on these characters — they’re (spoilers?) happy and doing well and while as an author I don’t mind roughing my protagonists up a little bit, I do hate to bring the hammer down on a happy ending that way. (I still haven’t totally forgiven Star Wars for Leia and Han.)
What about your short stories; are any of them connected to Local Star?
No, this is a brand-new setting that I’d never written about before. Although, again, I’m not ruling anything out in the future…
Now, as I mentioned earlier, you also recently put out another novella called Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters. What is that story about, and when and where does it take place?
So as it worked out, Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters is also something of a retelling, addressing the aftermath of The Little Mermaid story in, again, space opera format. “Mermaids…in space!” See, I really do like adding “in space” to things. This book is set in a far, far future, with different varieties of genetically-edited human beings inhabiting different planets; and it’s about a woman named Atuale who sets out with the far-traveling Witch of the Worlds on an interstellar trip to bring home a cure for the plague that is killing Atuale’s husband and his people.
Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters is also a sci-fi space opera story, but is very different from Local Star. It seemed more ethereal and more spiritual. Do you agree with this?
I think that’s an apt description! With Local Star, I set out to write something I thought was fun; with Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters, I set out to write something I thought was beautiful. Both have messy characters that care deeply, but they’re two very different genres of space opera and events unfold accordingly.
How did writing Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters influence what you did in Local Star, and vice versa?
I wrote Local Star back in the spring of 2017, and Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters exactly a year later in spring 2018; it’s just because of the vagaries of publishing that they’re both coming out in the same year. The biggest factor in having Local Star in hand when I wrote Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters was that I wanted to write something different — I have a short authorial attention span. I’ve been working on two more novellas since then, too; one that I’d call a high fantasy tragedy and one that I’d call a near-future artificial intelligence detective story. I definitely have a habit of genre-jumping, which factors into short story writing too.
Going back to Local Star, earlier you mentioned it being influenced by Star Wars. Star Wars, of course, is not just books, it’s also movies and TV shows, too. Do you think Local Star could work as a movie or show?
I think most often books work best as a TV show, but I think Local Star is bite-sized enough, without the level of B- and C-plots that you get at full novel length, that it would work as a movie.
And if someone wanted to make that happen, who would you want them to cast as Triz, Kalo, and the other main characters?
Have I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this? Yes.
For Triz, I feel like Kelly Marie Tran [Star Wars: The Last Jedi] is way too famous now for a part in a novella adaptation originally written by an unknown, and the role is too close to Star Wars, but I love her and that’s very much who I see in my head. And honestly, I’m very uncool and don’t watch enough non-Disney-megacorporation TV to know enough current actors and actresses to name people at the right level, so all of my choices are similarly out of scope.
As for Casne, Danai Gurira [The Walking Dead] is a little older than I would envision the cast, who felt like twenty/thirty-somethings figuring their lives out, but I feel like she has a serious face that seems as if she could kill you with a look and a smile that’s just incredibly warm and gorgeous.
Kalo is the hardest to pin down, but I could see him as Zac Efron [Baywatch] minus a layer or two of irony, or possibly Jordan Fisher [Liv And Maddie] — someone with a sense of humor and a confidence that would be outrageous if it wasn’t earned.
Finally, if someone enjoys Local Star, they’ll obviously go get Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters if they haven’t already. But once they’ve read that, what space opera novella of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I’m going to cheat and name a novel instead, but I think Valerie Valdes’ Chilling Effect is a really charming and fun space opera romp, especially for anyone who loves found family stories as much as I do.