Interview with an author: Laurel A. Rockefeller
It is a pleasure to welcome Science Fiction author of The Peers of Beinan Series, Laurel A. Rockefeller.
Welcome Laurel to The Adventures of the Everyday Fangirl and thanks so much for taking the time out your busy schedule to help us get to know you and your story better.
What does the title of this novel, series or set of stories signify?
The Peers of Beinan Series is about a medieval feudal monarchy in another galaxy on the other side of M31 (Andromeda). “Peers” here signifies that the stories involve nobles and royals from across Beinarian society. The planet name “Beinan” has a double meaning depending on how you pronounce it. Say it as “Bei-Nan” and it means “North-South” in Chinese (a point I was very strict upon when the first two novels were translated into Chinese). But if you say it “Bein-An” it means “beautiful” (Tolkien Elvish) “peace” (standard Chinese).
Do the names of the characters in your novel have some sort of significance or importance to you? If so, give a few examples…
I like to name my characters based on meaning. I used a wide number of languages in this process. For example, “Anlei” means “peaceful tears” in Chinese to signify the sorrows she experiences during “The Great Succession Crisis.” Her descendant, Lord Knight Elendir has a partially Elvish name — “Elen” of course means “star.” The arch villain Lord Yelu gets his name from the Liao dynasty of northern China. Yelu was the family name of the Liao dynasty emperors. Princess Anyu has a Chinese name meaning “peaceful treasure.”
What prompted you to write in this genre and who or what inspired you to?
My passion for science as a little girl made me an early fan of classic science fiction. I grew up on 1970s and 1980s classics like Star Trek, Star Wars (before it was “A New Hope”), Wonder Woman, Incredible Hulk, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. In 1983, I was one of the few fans of Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince. In fact Prince Yubi (played by Christopher Burton) was my first fangirl crush back in 1983. Though BZAP was cancelled after just 13 episodes, I never forgot the show, even as I enjoyed new favourites like Star Trek the Next Generation, Babylon 5, Star Trek Voyager, Quantum Leap, and the 1984 film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” starring Patrick Stewart and Dean Stockwell. In 1991, I discovered J.R.R. Tolkien and became a massive fan of his books as well.
But as much as I loved watching these films and television series and reading these books, it really never occurred to me to write science fiction until November 2010 when I found Benji, Zax, and the Alien Prince on Netflix. That is when I decided I wanted to write a prequel novel exploring planet Antars and the revolution that brought Prince Yubi to Earth. In fact the original title for the series was “The Prince of Antars” which was conceived as a single book.
As planet Beinan emerged from math/science I used to create it (including calculations of planetary size, mass, and rotational speed; chemistry, ecology, and sociology), I discovered that the world I created was completely different from the world Joe Camp outlined for his series. Prince Yubi and Trask quickly morphed into Princess Anyu and Lord Knight Elendir before taking on lives of their own. Divorced of BZAP’s canon I was free to create my science fiction epic that used the best of what I felt works and while avoiding the errors I found in my favourite classics like Star Wars and Star Trek.
Today, the completed Peers of Beinan Series books (three novels, two prequel novellas, plus companion books and boxed set volumes) retain very little of the original ideas and details that originally inspiring their writing. But the result is a vibrant, believable medieval feudal society grounded in math, science, and social science. You are completely transported from your everyday life into a complete world with its own units of time, distance, plants, animals, technology, governments, religions, even its own system for mapping the universe. There are murderous villains, conspiracies, personal vendettas, romance, and even a secret alien society playing with people’s lives from behind the scenes. Characters struggle with religious questions, with unfair laws, with political corruption, and are haunted by the sudden deaths of loved ones. It really is a complete world and complete society designed to be everything that I like best in science fiction and fantasy.
What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer and do your characters reflect some of these attributes?
It really helps to have a life outside of your writing. Leave your desk. Play with your pets. Spend time with family and friends. Do not fight your inner process. And when you are having writer’s block, that is the time to really sit down with your metaphorical red pen and go into editorial mode. Don’t be afraid to delete what is not working. Start over if you need to. There is no shame in that. Do keep archives whenever you make major deletions to your work so you have something to look at later if you need to. But above all else, you stay sane by keeping a work-life balance.
As to my characters — I think in my fictional work (I am best known for my Legendary Women of World History biography series which is non-fiction) reflect deep parts of myself that I usually do not feel comfortable sharing with even family and friends or they are not comfortable hearing from me.
For example, when I was writing “The Ghosts of the Past” (the epic 400 page middle chapter to the Legacy of Princess Anlei Trilogy in the Peers of Beinan Series) I experienced a lot of nightmares. That’s because the book required me to tap into my darkest memories of childhood violence. Quite unconsciously, but inevitably, I channeled qualities from those extremely violent and terrifying childhood events into my villains. So these villains really do have a believable and often frightening quality to them. They kill without mercy and rejoice in the agony they create. They are truly sadistic and very intelligently so. Just as my assailant did, they know how to use flaws in the social system to get what they want. In that respect, in sharing through those characters what I cannot talk about otherwise was very therapeutic for me.
Despite all that darkness though you can really see the optimism, love, and light that are at the core of who I am personally. The original songs in the novels really reflect that with their message that no matter how bad things get in life, there is always hope if you have the courage to believe in tomorrow.
What kind of research did you have to do for the novel, series or set of stories that was different from others?
The Peers of Beinan series involved creating an entire universe from scratch — starting with math and physics. So for example, I consulted three different versions of the periodic table of elements so I could reference every facet of every element and work out plausible plants, animals, and physical conditions. All life on planet Beinan is silicon-based. This is scientifically sound because silicon is directly below carbon on the periodic-table. I also used this chemistry in “Princess Anyu Returns” when Princess Anyu is in exile on D425E25 Tertius, a carbon-based world where the animals breathe in oxygen (called “bilast” by Beinarians) which is extremely poisonous to Beinarian humans and animals. Princess Anyu Returns was very challenging to write because in the first half of the book (her exile) I had to stick to Beinarian points of reference while interacting with a planet that holds much in common with our own. So for example “water” had to be rendered “arnile-bilast” (hydrogen-oxygen).
In addition to the pure science research, I also consulted lots of experts to help me get the details right. For example, I consulted an emergency room doctor when it came to exactly where a crossbow quarrel landed during one murder. I needed the victim to be able to speak a few last words but die quickly. Asking a physician made all the difference in the world on that scene. Likewise, I’ve talked to engineers when designing technology and medieval re-enactors when describing some of the heritage weapons or when writing a fight scene. This research really helped me keep the details accurate and believable.
What makes you laugh?
Cockatiels are usually a good starting point. I have two beautiful birds who give me endless hours of enjoyment. I also really enjoy the company of my best friend in Wales. Not only does he have that irresistible British accent that always puts a smile on my face, but he is kind, caring, and is good at helping me smile when I’m having a bad day.
What makes you cry?
I’m very emotionally sensitive and empathic, so it’s pretty easy to make me cry. I cry out of both happiness and sorrow. The first time I heard the first draft of “Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni” performed for audio edition by British voice artist Richard Mann I actually cried tears of joy because the performance was so beautiful and because until I heard him narrate my work I didn’t really realize just how powerful of a writer I am. I knew before hearing him narrate that the biography was accurate and compelling to read because of the human drama it explores, but I didn’t know just how lovely the writing was; that’s something that often needs an actor’s touch to communicate. So I will cry when I find something beautiful and that audio book absolutely is. I’m very proud of it.
What are you a fan of and is this reflected in your writing?
I love classic science fiction: Star Trek (original, The Next Generation, Voyager), Star Wars, original Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Babylon 5, and Quantum Leap are all favourites. I love J.R.R. Tolkien and his Middle Earth.
But in terms of actual direct influence on my writing, I must give credit to Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series. If there is a book or film that the Peers of Beinan is most like it actually is Dune. That’s because I love Herbert’s world building and the way he explores social issues (another reason why I love Star Trek actually) and social institutions. I know a lot of people in fandom love the JJ Abrams reboots of Star Trek and Star Wars, but I personally do not. Instead I really love it when a book or film makes me think and I find Dune does exactly that. So does the original Star Trek canon that upholds Gene Roddenberry’s vision. My favourite episodes are always the most thought-provoking episodes, not the action-centered ones. As a matter of fact action-heavy sequences bore me until I want to scream. Okay, so these characters fight. Great. They fight; let’s move on to something more intellectual or emotional. Let’s explore whether or not someone has the right to commit suicide (Star Trek Voyager: Death Wish) or our attitudes towards the elderly (Star Trek the Next Generation: Half a Life). Let’s do more than entertain; let’s make the world a better place in the process. As a rule, those are the works I am most interested in and the kind of science fiction I write.
Again, thank you Laurel for answering these questions and helping us to become better acquainted with both the The Peers of Beinan Series and yourself.
About Laurel A. Rockefeller
Born, raised, and educated in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA, author-historian Laurel A. Rockefeller has published over twenty book titles since August 2012. Best known for the Legendary Women of World History biography Series, she is a tireless history educator and advocate for social justice.
Laurel is very active on social media, especially when working from her home office. You can check out her Amazon author page or Website: http://www.laurelarockefeller.com. You can also like her on facebook or follow her on pinterest or Twitter: @laurelworlds. Most social media tweets/comments are responded to within 48 hours.