“At least we can be happy that with our final acts we pissed off a bunch of very powerful people.”
In spite of everything, Wu smiled “Yeah, I think we can feel proud of just how irritating we’ve managed to be” she said. “yay for us”
In spite of everything, Wu smiled “Yeah, I think we can feel proud of just how irritating we’ve managed to be” she said. “yay for us”
About Captain Wu
Captain Wu’s the name. Smuggling’s her game.
To be fair, they only started shooting after she started insulting them.
She was just about to hand off the package—Wu didn’t know what was inside, and she didn’t want to—when three tentacle-faced strangers attacked.
Wu loves a good fight and lives for a good heist. The Captain and her crew make their living taking undercover assignments from questionable clients… and it pays. Or at least, it used to.
But this time the merchandise is a little too hot to handle. So when the squid-shaped xenos show up and destroy the guys who are there to receive it, Wu is barely able to make it back to her ship alive. Soon the Nameless is racing around the galaxy with not only the powerful Commonwealth on its tail, but another dangerous creature bent on revenge.
And then an unexpected visitor arrives, putting Wu and her crew in the position of taking care of some very precious cargo. Is it time for the Captain to give up criming and retire to a sedate life more suitable for a woman of her age?
Not a chance.
BWG: What do you think makes a good story?
Patrice: There are so many ways to tell a good story! I think that it’s important to pull the reader right into the action, to have a compelling main character with contrasting personalities around her or him, and to lean into the conflict. Ideally, your story is entertaining and surprising but is more than just fluff—it has some kind of moral center and makes a point about what’s important—although it can make that point by having it end in opposition to what is good and right. And then you might have to write a sequel to save the world!
Jack: I’ve always felt telling a good story is about immersion first. Yes, it’s good to have some kind of message to communicate, but the stories that really seem to stay with me, the ones that I keep thinking about again and again and going back to, are all the ones that pulled me in and made me feel as if I was a part of their world. There are a million ways to achieve that of course, and character is probably the best—because real and believable people can make a story seem real even when they’re placed in absurd situations—but it also helps to have a world that operates on some kind of logical base and is reflective in some way of the world we know.
BWG: How did you get into writing? Were there any catalysts in your life that set you on your path to loving the written word?
Patrice: Like so many writers, I was a great reader. And so I wanted to create stories myself from an early age. But I often wanted to do the things I saw adults doing when I was a kid. I considered teaching, singing, writing, doctoring, lawyering, and even ministry as I went through life. (That last one not for very long!) I ended up as a singing lawyer who writes and publishes.
Jack: I have never really not been a writer. I spent a lot of time as a child making up stories and drawing maps of fantasy worlds. My mother read “The Hobbit” to me when I was too young to read it myself, and then I read it again as soon as I could. I can remember being in primary school and telling the other kids what happens in the book, except that I was adding in new events and new characters as I told them. I spent most of my school years daydreaming of fantasy and science fiction worlds. When it came time to go to university it was sort of obvious that I had to study literature and creative writing. Despite starting off so enamored of genre fiction though, it took a while to convince myself that I wanted to write it seriously. For a long time, I was trying to be the next Patrick White or Virginia Wolfe. It took a while for me to figure out that wasn’t really who I was.
BWG: What comes first for you, the plot or the characters, and why?
Patrice: The plot. I tend to envision a scene or two forces in opposition, and then I create the people to bring that conflict to life.
Jack: Characters. Probably no surprise to anyone there. I often have characters floating around in the back of my brain for years before I find a good plot for them. Oftentimes it’s easier for me to just start writing about a character and see what plot develops than to try and make it go the other way.
BWG: How was your first SPSFC? If you have other books, do you think you will submit them to future contests?
Patrice: It was lots of fun! I was thrilled to get to the end of the competition and see that our book—the first in the Starship Nameless trilogy, which is a space opera adventure—had placed so highly. Jack and I have released the second and third books in the trilogy already. We’re in the process of editing the first book in the next trilogy, which centers on Rev, Captain Wu’s slightly peculiar pilot, who is one of the main characters in the first one. I can’t wait to expand the Starship Nameless universe!
And yes, I would love to submit another book to future contests. But for 2022 I’ve volunteered to be part of a team that helps judge the competition, so that’s not an option for me right now.
Jack: This whole thing was incredible. When I first heard that we were involved, my initial reaction was, “Wow, that’s great, but it’s not like we’re going to survive past the first round so I won’t worry about it too much.” And then people kept saying nice things about the book, and we kept getting through and I was more and more amazed each time.
I would absolutely submit to future contests but seeing as how my co-writer is going to be one of the judges, I feel there might be a teeny bit of conflict of interest if we tried that with any more of the Nameless books.
BWG: What was the best part of the SPSFC experience?
Patrice: I think it was the excitement as it wrapped up and I could see our book and others making progress through the judging teams. I also loved the reviews the judges wrote and published—it was flattering and enlightening to read their reactions.
Jack: Seeing all the other books! I have a such a fantastic reading list now. To be perfectly honest, prior to meeting Patrice I wasn’t very involved in the self-published side of sci-fi and fantasy and I didn’t know how much was actually out there. This contest has been eye-opening.
BWG: For readers unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us about your SPSFC entry?
Patrice: Captain Wu, the first book in the Starship Nameless trilogy, is a fun romp through an intergalactic future with a bunch of charming misfit smugglers. It has shades of steampunk, quite a lot of wry humor, and features a sixty-something grandma who fights xenos barehanded to let off steam. Lots of quirky characters and many dangers that our hardy band just barely escapes.
Jack: Patrice has pretty much covered it. The Nameless books, for me, are primarily about fun and adventure. They’re pulp sci-fi, with all the necessary explosions and ray-guns that requires.
BWG: Where did you get the idea for your book?
Patrice: I have to admit that the original concept came from Jack, who is a genius writing machine from Australia… whom I’ve never met! He submitted a short story involving elements of the Starship Nameless universe to one of my space opera anthologies, BEYOND THE STARS: Infinite Expanse. And I was so taken with that story and his writing that I asked him if we could cowrite.
We know each other pretty well now through the written word both in books and email, and I’ve even spoken to him on the phone. But I think he might secretly be a hobbit. (Wait—that’s New Zealand, right? Or Middle Earth, actually. Both of which I visited… at least, I visited the Hobbiton set in NZ… but I didn’t know him then, or I would have swung by to meet him in Oz!)
Jack: First of all, Patrice, I am a hobbit, no secret about it. We have hobbits in Australia too, they migrated here from the Shire to escape the scouring by Saruman and are now a beloved part of Australia’s multi-cultural society.
As for the idea for this book, there are really two answers to that.
The first is that I started building the Perseus Arm so that I could run a table-top role play game for my friends, that was set there several years go. They played as a crew of bounty hunters and explored many worlds that have since ended up appearing in these books. That’s part of the reason there’s so much left to write about in this universe. Even after the game finished, I kept adding notes and coming up with ideas of things to add. Characters, locations, conflicts that could arise. I did think for a long time about putting it all into one large novel, or series of novels. Then I met Patrice, and she was the one who suggested doing smaller stories and trilogies set around the larger plot points, so I went away and came up with some suggestions. One of those suggestions was essentially “A bunch of smugglers end up with a package that they shouldn’t have.”
The second answer is that I came up with the character of Wu because I was annoyed by Star Trek Discovery casting Michelle Yeoh as a captain and then sidelining her. I’m not actually much of a Trekkie and haven’t really watched much of the show. I am however—and no one gets any prizes for guessing this—a huge fan of old Hong Kong action movies, and Yeoh is a favorite actress of mine. The idea that Star Trek was going to have this badass lady in her 60s (well, OK, at that point she would have been mid-fifties) as captain, got me very excited to watch, particularly knowing that she was still able to do a lot of the action moves from the old days. I wanted to see her beat up a Klingon! But alas, no, before I even got a chance to watch the show, I’d heard that she wasn’t actually going to be the lead and would only be in the first couple of episodes.
That would have been in 2016, so since then I have been carrying around the idea of an older woman martial artist on sci-fi adventures in the back of my mind. I was just waiting for a good plot to show up for her. There were a few early ideas about her running a bar on Mars that I kicked around for a while. Lilly, her estranged granddaughter, would show up needing help, with thugs after her or something like that. Those ideas never built to much of anything though.
Then, one day, the wonderful Patrice said she liked the smugglers on an adventure idea of mine, and everything just clicked into place.
Oh, and the family name comes from Naomi Wu, a technology reviewer on YouTube from Shenzhen, who was a big part of the inspiration behind Lilly’s tech savviness.
BWG: What was your most brutal scene to write, and why?
Patrice: True confessions: Jack and I work out general plot arcs and characters, and then he writes the first draft. I do the tweaking, editing, fine-tuning, etc. But for myself I would say the toughest scenes are the ones without a bunch of pew-pew, and with more conversation than action. You need to have them in there to give life to a story and the characters, while not bogging down the book. Also, endings are hard. And of course, beginnings. Though middles are probably the hardest of all. It’s all kinda hard! But fun.
Jack: The first one that comes to mind is one I won’t actually mention because it happens toward the end of the second book in the Starship Nameless trilogy and it’s a huge spoiler. If anyone has read that particular book you probably don’t need me to clarify which scene in particular. It’s exactly the one you’re thinking of.
As for book 1, Captain Wu, the hardest to get right was probably Wu’s meeting with her old boyfriend Tell. At that point Wu’s history is still mostly obscured and the exact nature of her relationship with this guy hasn’t really been communicated. What ended up in the finished product was very toned down from what it was in my very first draft. It’s not a spoiler to say that Tell is not a good person, but that was made a lot clearer to begin with. I actually liked some of those early sketches of that scene, as slightly icky as they were to write, but ended up feeling like they completely broke the fun light tone of the first book. The second is a bit darker overall, and features Tell more heavily, so a lot of what was cut there ended up being reused.
BWG: What is a significant way your book has changed since the first draft?
Patrice: The first draft I saw was pretty darn good—since, as I mentioned, Jack is a writing phenomenon. I would say that it was tightened and simply cleaned up. A writer often doesn’t know how much weight to give each scene or “beat” in a book until the whole thing is finished, and then you go, “Aha! That needs more time, and this part is slowing it down, and I need to sprinkle in a little more conflict, a battle or two, and lose this dull part.” So our first draft was quite good and simply needed smoothing.
Jack: Well, there’s the first draft that Patrice read, and then there’s the actual first draft which was burned in a fire and shall never see the light of day again.
I’m kidding, of course, but there were some early ideas that got tossed. The big one was probably the role of the Com themselves in the plot. Originally, everything was going to be completely under their radar, and involve groups much lower down the pecking order of dangerous in this world. But then, as the story unfolded, it seemed more and more natural to bring them in.
Patrice: Jack and I have both spent our lives reading SF, as well as lots of other genres, and I’ve written my own SF, cozy mystery, and historical romance novels, so that was the research I needed to do about writing itself. I would say that Jack did the digging into rabbit holes (falling into rabbit holes?) in checking astronomical terms and making sure of physical details or space travel phenomena. In fact, I think he’s still trying to find his way out of a stargate as we speak…
Jack: The biggest rabbit hole I went down was rotational gravity generation. The idea of using a spinning space station to be able to have apparent gravity in space. I know this is a sci-fi staple at this point, but I’ve rarely seen it explored in much depth and wanted to get it right. The biggest question I was trying to answer was, when you were moving toward or away from the center would the apparent force increase or decrease? Would somewhere like Meridian have higher gravity on the outer edges than it did in the center? I tried to teach myself a bunch of physics and do a lot of the math myself to get to an answer. In the end, I had to give Meridian free-rotating inner sections to allow it to make sense on the scale I wanted it to, so not all of the station spins at the same rate.
The other big one was to do with starships overheating in space. It’s a misunderstanding that space is “cold”—it’s very much not. Vacuum is the ultimate insulator, so any heat generated in a system has nowhere to go unless it can be converted into radiation of some kind, typically infra-red. For the kind of starships I wanted—bulky, clunky old things with big nuclear propulsion engines—it didn’t make sense to just ignore the fact that they would be in constant danger of overheating. Not much of this ended up in the final book, but I could tell you a lot about the vast acetone-based coolant systems that these ships employ and how they work. Also, the oxygen “candle” that generates O2 heats up a lot as well, and has to be shut down whenever the coolant system is taken offline, which means they operate on “passive” life support—essentially just CO2 filtration—any time that they can’t run the engines because the coolant system requires the engine to be spinning to pump it around the ship and…
You know what, I’ll stop now before I end up writing a whole extra book on starship engineering. The important takeaway is probably that, at every stage of designing these things I asked myself the question “Yes, but is this the most dangerous way that they could do this?” I really, really like the idea of starships being horrible deathtraps with about a million different things that could go wrong on them. At all times they should be about a second or two away from overheating and exploding, otherwise it’s not a proper starship.
BWG: What do you have coming up in the future?
Patrice: A whole world of stories set in this universe! We have the entire second trilogy drafted, starring Captain Wu’s fabulous pilot and sidekick, Rev. And Jack has a million more ideas floating around his fertile frontal cortex. It’s only a question of capturing all that imagination on paper. I hope we’ll be exploring the Starship Nameless Universe for years to come.
I also typically publish one of my BEYOND THE STARS anthologies filled with space opera short stories every year, but I haven’t put one out in 2022 because I was concentrating on the first SNU trilogy. I hope to get a new one out next year.
So many new tales to tell!
Jack: I have so, so, so much more that I want to write in this universe. The immediate ones that Patrice mentioned above, as well as lot more. I’m not joking when I say I have years of ideas in the back of my mind. I won’t tell much now, since a lot of it is in early drafts, but there are a lot more planets and systems and characters that are ready and waiting to have their stories told, that no one but me and Patrice have even met yet.