Kristyn Merbeth "Writing is often a way of processing and working through anxiety for me. So, I think I’ve always been naturally drawn to a genre that explores possible futures."
Kristyn Merbeth, author of the Nova Vita Protocol novels consisting of Fortuna and the new release Memoria as well as the Wastelanders novels she writes as K.S. Merbeth. Kristyn was kind enough to sit down with GdM and discuss her passion for gaming, story creation, and the ultra-dysfunctional family that is at the heart of the Nova Vita Protocol novels.
BWGB: Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I’m the author of the ongoing Nova Vita Protocol series (starting with Fortuna) and, as K.S. Merbeth, the post-apocalyptic Wastelanders books (Bite and Raid). When I’m not writing or reading, I’m often gaming. I also love to cook, make alcohol-infused ice cream, and hang out with my bulldog, Albus.
BWGB: I read that you are a gamer. What games do you play? And what role does gaming play in your life?
Yes! I play all kinds of games – video games, board games, tabletop games. I have a D&D group that has been meeting consistently for about three years now, and some of my recent video game favorites have been Hades and the remake of Final Fantasy 7. Sometimes I game to socialize, and other times to immerse myself in a great story, but, perhaps most importantly, it’s one of the main ways that I can fully relax. It’s hard to turn off my writer brain when I’m doing other things, including reading, but games make it easy to get out of my own head for once.
BWGB: What aspects of the science fiction genre attract you to it? What do you see happening to science fiction as a genre in the future?
Writing is often a way of processing and working through anxiety for me. So, I think I’ve always been naturally drawn to a genre that explores possible futures. It helps me approach the kinds of subjects and emotions that scare me without facing them head-on in a way that might be overwhelming.
I imagine I’m not the only one that pours my fears into my writing, which might partially explain why science fiction has been really thriving over the last few years. There has been such an incredible rise of new, diverse voices in science fiction, and some excellent books that have pushed the boundaries of what the genre can be. I look forward to more of that in the future. Bring on the genre-bending weirdness!
BWGB: You have written the Wastelanders series and the Nova Vita Protocol, of which Fortuna and your newest book Memoria are a part. Was the process of writing the two series similar?
Writing them was very, very different for me, actually. I’m a pantser at heart, and my instinct is always to jump right in and start writing. That worked well enough with the Wastelanders, but when I tried doing the same thing with Fortuna, I found it impossible. I kept getting stumped by world-building questions and having trouble picturing scenes in a world so very different than ours. Plus, I usually jump around and write scenes non-chronologically, which is tough with multiple POVs. So I had to sit down and do quite a bit more world-building and outlining than usual before I could begin to write.
BWGB: When you start a book, do you have an end goal in mind for the narrative and characters? Or do you go where the ideas take you?
I have a sense of where I want the characters to end up, and how I want the ending to feel, but I don’t know everything that will happen along the way. For me, a sense of discovery is the best part of writing, so I like to give myself plenty of room to explore as I go along. And even though I outlined more than usual with this series, on occasions where my outline tugs me in one direction and my heart pulls me in another, I always follow my heart.
BWGB: Both your series have to do with family. What family is, specifically for Nova Vita, how a family can mold you. Is this an idea that you gravitate towards?
Absolutely. My family is very important to me; I have two brothers, in particular, that I’m very close with, and I’ve always wanted to write something with sibling relationships at the heart because of that. For many of us, our relationships with our siblings are the longest relationships we have in our entire lives. Years of inside jokes and stupid fights and shared experiences that no one else can ever truly understand. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of exploring all of the ways in which our families can bring out both the best and the worst in us.
BWGB: Can you tell me about the Nova Vita Protocol thus far?
The Nova Vita Protocol is about the Kaisers, a deeply dysfunctional family of criminals who make a living smuggling illegal goods between the five human-settled planets of their system. It’s told from the POV of the two oldest siblings, former “golden child” Corvus who left the ship three years ago to fight in a civil war on his home-planet, and family screw-up Scorpia, who has been struggling to fill his shoes ever since. In Fortuna, a deal gone wrong drags the family into a deadly interplanetary conflict, and forces Scorpia and Corvus to decide the future they want for their family while they grapple with grief and their own strained relationship. In Memoria, the siblings will be faced with the consequences of all of their messy past choices as they discover buried alien secrets and find that interplanetary war, once again, is threatening Nova Vita.
BWGB: Memoria is your second book in the Nova Vita Protocol series. What was your experience like writing this one, versus writing the first book Fortuna?
Though I wrote companion novels in the Wastelanders series, Memoria is the first true sequel I’ve written. I was really nervous about it at first! I felt a lot of pressure to do the characters and the story justice. But once I was able to get over those initial nerves, I loved being able to revisit a world and characters that I already knew and cared deeply about. And it also meant I didn’t have to do as much up-front world-building, so I was able to dive right in to the fun part.
BWGB: Tell me about the characters Scorpia Kaiser and Corvus Kaiser. I love how Scorpia has “middle child” syndrome. How did you first come to know them?
Some of my first ideas stemmed from their respective roles within the family: Corvus as the responsible oldest sibling and golden child, and Scorpia as the scapegoat and troublemaker. From there, I thought about what kind of people they have had to become in response to these roles – and also, the ways in which they aren’t a perfect fit for them. Both of them are saddled with expectations about who they should be, but Corvus isn’t sure if he can be the person his family remembers anymore, and Scorpia is trying very hard to overcome her past failures. I also considered how they were affected by the shift in the family when Corvus left. Corvus being alone for the first time, no longer defining himself in relation to his siblings and what the family needs from him, and Scorpia suddenly realizing she had a different slot to fill than the one she was accustomed to.
BWGB: Both Scorpia and Corvus are developing and coming into their own through Memoria. What do you see for the future of these two characters?
In book three, both characters will be more secure and confident about who they are and who they want to be. I think the series, at its heart, is the story of Scorpia and Corvus discovering themselves in stages, and how the relationship between them shifts in response. In book one, they mainly explore who they are in relation to their family, and their roles within it; in book two, they spend more time exploring who they want to be as individuals; and in book three, they begin to consider their place in the world as a whole, and how they want to be remembered when they’re gone.
BWGB: Your battle scenes are exciting! How do you choreograph them? Do you have a set way that you want them to flow, or do you watch it unfold in your head and write down what happens?
Fight scenes are my absolute favorite thing to write! My process usually involves staring at a blank page for an extended period of time, visualizing how I want it to go – and then, the second I figure it all out, I start word-vomiting everything onto the page as fast as possible before it slips away. I’m a very slow drafter otherwise. I jump around chronologically, edit as I go, write “insert description here,” all sorts of bad habits. But I always write out fight scenes, start to finish, without stopping, trying my best to capture the vision in my head.
BWGB: Has the last couple of year’s world events affected your characters and writing? I know that Fortuna and probably most of Memoria was written before the Covid virus, but the virus and the xenophobic president Leonis seem almost prescient.
I never sit down with the intent to write about what’s happening in the world, but I think it’s impossible not to live through such tumultuous times and not be affected. Real world events and my feelings about them tend to seep onto the page without me realizing it. But there are also some eerie coincidences. I was just re-reading a scene in book one where the characters go through a sanitation checkpoint on Gaia and everyone is wearing medical masks, which I’m sure some people will assume is a response to Covid, but it was written years beforehand. I suppose part of it might be that I tend to explore worst-case scenarios in my writing, and unfortunately, that has been pretty spot-on for the last few years.
BWGB: You have some fascinating world-building in Fortuna and Memoria. How did you go about creating the different settings?
I started with the geography of the various planets, and the difficulties they face. Each planet in Nova Vita has its own fair share of issues to grapple with, from the deadly jungles of Deva to the harsh tundra of Titan. From there, I considered how those challenges might shape them as a society. For example, Titan’s harsh climate and sparse resources have led to an ongoing civil war, which created an intensely patriotic and militaristic culture. On Gaia, a terrible virus years ago has led to deep distrust of the other planets, the everyday wearing of gloves, and greetings that don’t involve touch. I’ve written pages of notes about the different worlds and cultures – things like values, common sayings, architecture, unique laws, main imports and exports – and only a fraction of it ended up on the page, but I think all of it contributes to making each setting feel distinct.
BWGB: Finally, a fun question. What is your favorite series? Are you a Star Trek fan, into Star Wars, Battlestar Gallactica, Firefly, or something entirely different?
Ohh, it’s gotta be Firefly! I’m a sucker for charming rogues and, as an Arizonan, I’m very into the western vibes.