Today I’m interviewing Tami Veldura about her story Perihelion, a story she wrote for last year’s DRitC event. I’d seen her around the forums during last year’s Love’s Only Road event, but it was in the M/M Romance Writers Group on Goodreads that we met. Welcome, Tami!
Tami: Hello! And thank you for hosting me 😀
Last year was my second DRitC event. I think it’s a great way for writers to challenge themselves and learn and readers to be introduced to a variety of stories and authors. Most of all, I find the collaborative atmosphere it produces really inspiring and encouraging. What attracted you to the DRitC event, Tami?
Tami: I first learned about DRitC not long after discovering Goodreads itself. I was still very new to the publishing world and had no real production schedule to fill my days. The event was in its second year, and back then they released all the prompts at once. I spent some time browsing them, not intending to write, but very captivated by the range of photos and stories being requested.
As these things tend to go, I came across a story that grabbed me and I claimed it. Oddly DRitC has always prompted me to claim photos/stories that are outside of my usual comfort zone. The first story I wrote was a contemporary M/M, the second, a small town contemporary M/M, then a historical paranormal story, followed by, finally, a hefty science fiction novel. While I’ve read my share of contemporary and historical books, I’ve never considered them “what I write” when someone asks. That’s probably something I should change!
Although you’ve written a lot of shorts, you mentioned that Perihelion is your first novel. I found DRitC a real learning experience, I imagine that you were in the same boat (spaceship?) with Perihelion! What did you learn from writing it?
Tami: Oh, goodness, what didn’t I learn from writing this book? First, it’s the longest work that I have finished and attempted to revise. I have a few other works pushing the 70k and 80k mark, but they’re not done and I haven’t made any effort to fix their errors. Perihelion is also a first on several other levels: my first multi-POV book, my first deliberately inclusive book, my first science fiction book, and my first trans main character!
All of these firsts added up to an intense experience while drafting the story. Thankfully I had no job at the time, I honestly believe it never would have been finished otherwise. I, personally, adore the outlining/brainstorming phase of writing the most and I spent a lot of time working Perihelion’s outline, almost 42 scenes if I remember correctly, before I ever started writing. The drafting phase of any project is the least fun for me. I find it a slog to get through on the best days and have only one good approach: hammer through it as quickly as possible. The editing and revising that happen afterward is another preferred phase and this phase with Perihelion was a massive overhaul that I’d never attempted to undertake before.
Two things kept me from abandoning the project. 1: I had a deadline to meet that I’d met three times in the past. I could do it if I focused. 2: I had an amazing editing team supporting me. There would be no Perihelion without them.
I still blew 3 deadlines in the course of the project, insisted on about 3 extra editing passes after my editor wanted to be done, and near the end of the project, I lost track of what day it was. My head was SO involved with the story that I missed about a week of my real life without noticing.
Wow, Tami! I thought my DRitC experience was intense, but that takes the cake! Based on your DRitC experiences, what advice would you give new authors considering participating in it or similar events?
Tami: If you have the time and you’re just starting on your writing adventure, absolutely take part. Assume that whatever project you start is going to take twice as long as you think it will. Then outline/brainstorm a short story that you know you can write within the deadline. Having a finished product, even if it’s small, is better than having nothing at all!
Onto Perihelion itself! How did you know that Perihelion was the prompt for you?
Tami: Having done DRitC a few times, I knew I wanted to utilize the event to write something personal rather than commercial. If it was going to take over three months of my life, I’d better get something I loved into the process.
I wasn’t thinking specifically scifi as I browsed through the prompts. In fact, this prompt wasn’t my first choice! I had settled on something more fantasy, but the prompt was released around 4 in the morning and I wasn’t quick enough with an alarm to claim that one. I’m glad I didn’t get it, because I also wasn’t planning on writing a novel for this event and look how that turned out.
But the Queenships as a concept have been in my head for at least five years, if not longer, and when I saw the photo and the prompt for this story that was the first thing that came to mind. I’m so glad it did.
Perihelion’s main characters look to have some really interesting dynamics! They start off soldier-prince and untrained pilot, and over the course of the story become a war hero and an injured, discarded veteran. That is almost like writing two relationships! Tell us about Kato and Mas’ud.
Tami: Kato and Mas’ud were both undefined characters that the time of the prompt claiming. It was really the Queenships that I knew most about. But the prompt specifically asked for a building relationship between the men that is then interrupted when they get amnesia in the middle of the story. The prompter wanted to know what they had going for them and then how they were going to deal with having lost that.
It’s hard to say that one character or the other suffers more. Kato looses his memory permanently. Mas’ud looses his memory only temporarily but permanently looses his ability to father children–something really important to him. The two of them are very different, they handle their situations is vastly different ways, but ultimately the story of the Queenships is larger than both of them.
You mentioned that you came up with the idea of Queenships for about five years before writing Perihelion. Reading the blurb, the Queenship sounds almost like a third party in Kato and Mas’ud’s relationship. What role does the Queenship play?
Tami: The Queenships and their pilots are central to the plot of the novel. The ships themselves are sentient. They talk to one another, their pilots, and the pilots of other ships. Through them, the pilots can contact any other ship or ship’s pilot instantly, even across the stretch of the galaxy. The first Queenship, Gaia, was built to be a haven in space for an overcrowded planet. She was intended to be an advanced AI, not sentient. How sentience came about is a story I want to write some day.
But all the Queenships are related to each other. New Queenships are born from older Queens, a combination of living crystal, metal, and organic membrane. They have genetic memories they pass from one to another.
All of this provides context and leverage for each Queen’s pilot and they’re organized into political families. A Queenship is a powerful thing to have on your side when there’s something you’re negotiating for.
What influences shaped Perihelion? Alternatively, what was your inspiration?
Tami: I have always loved the idea of ships that are aware or sentient. Magical devices. I didn’t know how I was going to use the idea, and for a long time I played with the thought of sailing ships. This concept eventually evolved into the Queenship idea which I held onto, waiting for some kind of plot to go along with it.
When I decided to apply this world to Roger’s prompt I knew immediately that I didn’t have the right background to write this story. But I also knew, immediately, how to fix that. Back in the 90’s a TV show called The West Wing was a popular show in my household. It’s on Netflix now. While I was outlining the story, I watched all 9 seasons of The West Wing in about 4 weeks. I just steeped in the political situations (and amazing writing!) in order to understand how political groups of people might butt up against each other. That show was a massive directional arrow for me, and fans may see echoes of it in the book.
During LOR, I remember being struck by Roger’s prompt. The fact that amnesia was not being used as a plot device to hide information from the readers was really interesting! How did that impact the story decisions you made?
Tami: It made outlining the story a lot easier than you might expect! I knew from the beginning that 1: not only were my characters supposed to forget themselves but 2: I knew it had to happen in the center somewhere. It divides Perihelion neatly down the middle, a before and after that none of my other stories have.
But I was also glad to see that specific request because I could develop these characters without worrying about knowing what came before them. And then I could explore the aftermath of amnesia and how these two very different men (with very different support groups) might react to it.
You mentioned that 90% of Perihelion’s cast was non-white. What dynamic did this decision add to your story?
Tami: It added a lot of research, for one. When selecting character names from foreign countries, especially for a cast this big, I made pages and pages of notes that never made it into the book. The vast majority of named characters have only one or two scenes in which to make an impact, so I wanted to give each of them traits that were traditional or common in their country of origin. The limitation here was me! I know very little about places outside my city, especially when it comes to cultural and religious influences, so I opened myself up to a lot of research to get the details right.
On the other side of that coin, all of that research and those details have put unique descriptions into my story where that texture wouldn’t have been otherwise. I’m a very spartan writer at the best of times and a poor visualizer of scenes and setting. Placing unfamiliar characters into my Queenships forced me to expand my visual vocabulary. I intend to maintain this for future books.
Perihelion’s full title is Perihelion (Queenships #1) — clearly a sequel is in the works! What direction are you taking the sequel?
Tami: I don’t know! I do know that Perihelion is just one little story in a very, very big one. Bigger than the humans that are in the galaxy. I have an idea for a prequel focusing on Gaia, the First Queenship. I also know that there’s a lot more to tell about Melpomene, the artificial Queenship.
As of right now, I’m not working on the world or its characters. The first book was a massive, painful undertaking and I’m not ready to put myself through that again. It will come, though. Ideas never stop bubbling up and one day I’ll have enough of them linked together that the next book will start nagging at me.
Not an interview question exactly, but I loved your multi-choice quiz that you hosted on the M/M Romance forums throughout the writing of Perihelion! I checked in a couple of times and it looked like a lot of fun! Are you a big quiz fan yourself?
Tami: Oh, I’d forgotten about that. Yes. Ok, so when an author is writing, there’s really nothing at all for the fans to do except wait. Which is really quite boring. I started the multi-choice quiz the year before with Blood In The Water and it was a big hit, so I repeated the event for Perihelion. People really seem to like it! No doubt I’ll do it again this year, I like how it keeps people involved and coming up with the questions also forces me to do a lot of world-building.
I don’t know if I’m personally a big quiz fan? The quiz layout seemed to work well 1: in a forum context and 2: over time. My goal was to stretch information out over a long period. But there have been adjustments to the system and I will probably continue to adjust it every year that I do it.
And finally, very off-topic, in addition to your writing, you also make your editing skills available to self-pub and indie authors. Do you have any difficulties balancing your editing and your own creative endeavours? Has editing other authors’ work helped you edit your own work?
Tami: I am! I generally find my clients through twitter or upwork and I’m always happy to give people a quote when they ask. Organizing my time around editing and writing is an always evolving process, and I wouldn’t say I have it down to a science just yet. Often the editing takes priority since it’s what pays the majority of my bills lately.
Yes, editing and critiquing other writers is absolutely the best way to see new flaws in your own writing. It’s something I did on a daily basis when studying in college and it’s something I encourage all writers to get involved in. If you have writer friends, ask if you can beta-read for them. If you don’t, go to critiquecircle.com and get started!
The other thing that has helped me both in editing and writing is having a work I consider complete edited by someone else. The mistakes and better phrasing and awkward moments are so obvious when someone else is pointing them out. And the process of revising that work to fix the odd spots is a big part of how I improve book over book.
Thanks again for allowing me to interview you, Tami! Before we say goodbye, please let us know how we can keep up with you and your writing.
Tami: I’m all over the place on the internet and would love to see you wherever you are!
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Kato Ozark, crown prince and soldier, has just been chosen to pilot his family’s queenship. He’s trained his entire life for this honor, but it comes with a catch. It seems that First Engineer Mas’ud Tavana has also been chosen as the queen’s pilot. Mas’ud has no formal training, and they both believe a mistake has been made. But when an attack on a distant Ozark queen forces them to work together, it’s clear their minds are better as one than apart.
They might even go on a proper date. Through mission briefings and politically required offspring, the mental link their queenship forges between them only grows stronger. Within this bond they find strength in each other. Then a rogue AI attacks their ship, ripping the queen open to the core. The two pilots feel it all; the assault destroys their connection and tears them adrift into open space.
Kato and Mas’ud wake up in the medical bay of a rival family with no memory of their queenship or each other. Hailed as a war hero, Kato retrains as a kingship pilot, preparing to defend Earth against the AI. Mas’ud, dismissed as permanently broken, struggles to rediscover his own truth.
Their queenship is out there, waiting for her pilots to come home. The future of their family depends on it.
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Tami Veldura is a writer, reader, lover, and artist. She currently resides in sunny California. She writes queer science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and YA fiction.