We interviewed Sherry Decker in September, 2014. She has just signed a contract for her novel Hypershot.
R&R: Congratulations on your Hypershot deal.
Decker: Thank you. I’m very happy about this. It happened the way I always assumed it would, by total surprise.
R&R: When did you start writing Hypershot?
Decker: In the late eighties, about three months before I met you at Louisa’s, (Tio’s Bakery back then wasn’t it)? I wanted to apply to your fiction writing class at the U.W. and that required sending you a minimum number of pages. I had just written the first thirty pages of Hypershot, so that’s what I submitted. Thinking back to that early manuscript, I’m amazed you accepted me into your class.
R&R: When did you finish?
Decker: The first time? It’s been rewritten and revised so many times that question is difficult to answer. I thought it was done when I sent it to Richard Curtis, my agent in New York. Especially after he read it and liked it, and decided to represent me. That was August 15, 2011.
R&R: We like to cluster questions. So here are a few: What genre is Hypershot? Is it science fiction? Urban fantasy? Dystopian?
Decker: I like what Ray Bradbury said about his Martian Chronicles: “I don’t write science fiction,” he said. “Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see?” Therefore, even though my book might be offered as science fiction by bookstores or online, it’s really a futuristic adventure about a dystopian, subterranean city and a woman who is (of course) its reluctant savior, especially when you consider the green-skinned mushroom growers and the blind, aggressive, albino fish.
R&R: Can you give us a quick synopsis of Hypershot?
Decker: Krea-D is thirty years old and clawing her way through the patriarchal military ranks of Undercity in 2210 CE, three miles beneath Mt. Mesquite in the New Mexico desert. Krea craves the solitude and security a high rank can deliver in such a harsh, post-apocalyptic world.
Entering a combat-weapons contest using the Hypercon, Undercity’s experimental, high-tech weapon, Krea wins but ends up sharing the title, Hypershot with her long-time nemesis, Makk-A.
Makk, with the connivance of Undercity’s highest-ranking officer, Jacquard Crop, takes possession of the sought-after trophy, leaving Krea with only the promise of the actual weapon ‘once it’s perfected.’ Beneath her apparent calm, Krea revolts against the chicanery but her actions uncover secrets hidden by Undercity’s most powerful Elite, someone who left her as a newborn in Undercity’s orphanage.
Krea’s astonishing achievements have attracted the attention of Jacquard Crop. Crop is on the hunt for a new wife, because to become Premier he must father a healthy heir in a world with a high enfant mortality rate. Crop forces Krea into marriage. Soon pregnant, Krea sees her goals unraveling. She regrets entering the contest and losing her independence.
Crop’s power-hungry sister, Lona Tors uses her brother’s high rank to control people, but her efforts to control Krea backfire. When Lona discovers Krea has stolen her boy-toy artist lover, she has Krea sent to hunt down Jero-K, a notorious rebel AWOL from the military and Krea’s best friend. Krea and Jero make a run for the surface. Their very survival depends on Krea’s warrior talents in a final, no-rules battle for freedom.
R&R: When is it due out?
Decker: I thought it would be out by the end of the year, or very early next year. Now I suspect it will be mid-2015.
R&R: Who is the publisher?
Decker: Eldritch Press. The editor/publisher, Michael Randolph seems very pleasant to work with. He always gets right back to me with answers to my questions and says he wants to involve me in the publishing process.
R&R: What formats? hard cover? soft cover? e-book? other?
Decker: Michael Randolph said, “…paperback, e-book, audiobook and possibly hardcover. I want most of our novels to be available in hardcover. I am setting up auditions with different audiobook recorders to start (that) process.” I am also pleased that Michael Randolph wants my input on the cover art. That’s rare, from what I’ve always heard about the publishing and marketing process. Authors seldom have a say in cover art.
R&R: You sold the book yourself, but you went through a long agent search. Tell us about that. How did it work? How long? Do you think having an agent is necessary in this time of independent presses and self-publication?
Decker: It wasn’t such a long search, since I struck gold with the fifth agent I contacted. I thought signing with an agent like Richard Curtis guaranteed landing a major publisher. He sent the manuscript out and the waiting was both exciting and dreadful. One by one, they replied and Richard forwarded their comments. They were all complimentary but, ultimately they rejected it. Three of them said, “Send us her next book!” That was encouraging, and Richard wanted me to jump straight into a sequel for Hypershot, and I did write 22,000 words on a prequel, but I reached a point where I was so weary of Undercity, its cruel government, all the societal hierarchy and the desperate characters, I didn’t care enough to keep writing about them. I set it aside and started working on something that had been on my mind for years – a horror story that takes place on an Olympic Peninsula farm. I submitted it as a short story to five or six publishers at that time, and one of them was kind enough to explain that she felt there was far too much story there for short fiction. It took me about fourteen months to write it as a novel, and then I sent it to Richard Curtis, who during our initial emails had asked what else I had to work on after Hypershot – and I had mentioned the horror story and he asked to read it, so Richard had already read this tale as a short story. Afterward, he advised me to write the sequel to Hypershot instead. When he received this horror novel instead of the sequel, he said he didn’t care for it and didn’t want to represent it. Naturally, I was disappointed. And yes, a bit angry. Other people might be able to write to spec, but I must write what is pestering my thoughts in the middle of the night, with characters who whisper things that make me think . . . what?! That horror novel is languishing in a drawer. I’ll get back to it. Now I’ve started work on a futuristic, off-world story. It’s different from and yet similar to Hypershot. After a year of non-communication with Richard Curtis, I doubted that he wanted to represent me anymore. It didn’t feel like he did, so I asked him outright. He seemed surprised. “Certainly,” he said. “I want to represent you. I loved Hypershot and was disappointed when I failed to find a publisher for it.” So, we’ve agreed to keep trying. I’m not a fast writer, so I told him it would be at least a year, maybe more before I sent him the next novel. He said, “Okay.” I don’t think everyone needs an agent, but I like having Richard Curtis’s name at the top of my credits. Not sure what that says about me, but I’ll admit to it. I decided to submit Hypershot around myself, and soon spotted Eldritch Press. I submitted Hypershot and ended up with a contract. To answer your question about how long this process took: from the initial dream, the writing (many scenes were written at Louisa’s or in one of your classes) the revising, the marketing, the start-overs, the years of doing things other than working on the manuscript or marketing it, more revisions, to the acceptance . . . twenty-plus years. I guess that means I’m persistent. Admittedly, it’s an odd story, so I understand why some publishers felt it didn’t fit any specific genre.
R&R: Here is another clump. Feel free to answer the ones you want. What made you write Hypershot? What is the world like in Hypershot? You’re a student of science fiction and horror. What writers helped you do the work? Who do you owe? Do you work with a group or alone?
Decker: Hypershot came from a dream. Under most circumstances I would consider the dream a nightmare, but since I was a spectator in this dream, it was intriguing. It plagued me. More dreams followed, about a month apart, with the same character in the same subterranean world. When I wasn’t dreaming about it, I was writing bits of dialogue that came to me in the middle of the night, or the middle of the day while I was supposed to be doing something else. Writers who influenced me were Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood, in about that order. The world in Hypershot is dark, depressing, deadly, and dystopian. Lots of D words there. I belong to a three-member writers group along with Kerri Hakoda and Becky Warden-White. We meet about every three months. They read everything I write before I submit it. I owe them a great deal. I owe Jack Remick too much to measure. Without Jack, Hypershot would never have been finished. It would have been choked with adverbs and other grievous mistakes. Without Jack I doubt my short story, Hicklebickle Rock would have been accepted by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, or my novelette, Hook House accepted by Cemetery Dance Magazine. I work alone, but I’m always thinking about my next writers group meeting with Becky and Kerri. I love the way we work together. We do timed writings, read-aloud-critiquing of our scenes, and we do a ton of brainstorming. I love those two women. We met in Jack and Bob’s class in the nineties. We’ve been together as a group for – I’ve lost count – maybe twenty years.
R&R: You published a magazine—Indigenous Fiction—for years. It seems that there are now hundreds of niches in speculative fiction. Can you pinpoint some of the differences—say between Science Fiction and Horror. Where do you put writing about zombies and vampires in your hierarchy?
Decker: Indigenous Fiction – born in September 1997 and closed down in June 2001. Good memories. This project interrupted Hypershot for five straight years, but I don’t regret it. The differences between science fiction and horror are unimportant to me, other than to label something for a bookstore shelf. Alien remains one of my favorite science fiction movies. Yet it must also appear in the horror category. Alien scared me. I watched a good portion of that flick through my fingers while holding my breath. 2001 A Space Odyssey has terrifying moments. The Silence of the Lambs. Wow. Zombies or vampires – I’ve read one zombie novel, ever. It’s not my favorite genre, but I have nothing against it either. Bram Stoker’s, Dracula is a great book. I read it in junior high school and loved it. Same with Frankenstein. The stories made me pause and think. They made me want to write. I’ve written one zombie story, titled, Apocalypse Station, published by James B. Baker in 1998. My one and only vampire tale is, The Clan. It appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It was illustrated on the cover for their Halloween issue, 1999. Very proud of that. I’m not a literary snob.
R&R: When you were writing Hypershot, what techniques helped you the most?
Decker: I had my favorite techniques: rewriting a scene and ‘getting closer.’ Writing it again and getting even closer. Again. Closer. Again. That was how I wrote the infamous scene with the cooking barrel. The cooking barrel scene was illuminating. It explained something important about my protagonist’s background and also her motives. Another favorite technique: Chaining. [Note from Jack and Bob: Chaining is a rhetorical device often used in conjunction with anaphora and epistrophe. We’re very happy that Sherry uses these devices.]For me, chaining feels like chanting or marching, like connecting metal links, all the while approaching something unseen, something unexpected up ahead, something eye-opening. There are many other helpful techniques, like the very act of timed writings. Together, the techniques kept me writing.
R&R: What’s the target audience for Hypershot?
Decker: Anyone who enjoyed The Time Machine, The Thing, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey To the Center of the Earth, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alien (the movie, not the book), Silence of the Lambs, In Cold Blood, The Shining, Salem’s Lot, The Stand. I’ve described Hypershot’s storyline as The Handmaid’s Tales meets Journey to the Center of the Earth.
R&R: Now that you’re a pro, tell our readers something about your writing process. Early morning? Late night? Longhand draft going to computer? Do you compose on the computer? How much do you write before you start to rewrite?
Decker: “Pro?” –funny. I always hope to get into my office early in the day, but sometimes life gets in the way and I don’t ever make it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t write. Sometimes I write on the kitchen grocery pad, or on a tablet in the car, sometimes on a legal pad in the downstairs office where this computer sits. (My writing computer, upstairs, is not connected to the internet.) My process is to plunk myself down, pick up a ballpoint pen and release the dragon, even if it’s from the middle of a conversation. There are always ideas trying to escape my psyche. The other day, a television commercial sparked an idea. My stories include a fair amount of dialogue. So much can be accomplished with dialogue. To me, the narrative is simply connecting one place or character to another so that there can be more dialogue. I love character-based stories. Characters talk. Sometimes they think, but that’s not as interesting as what flies out of their mouths. I type much faster than I write, but the deepest and best ideas come from handwriting. I don’t know why. Jack always said it was Zen. Okay. I believe our innate desires come from someplace we cannot tap into without allowing some daydreaming and for some reason, writing with a pen taps that vein. Sometimes I’m lucky and it comes from my keyboard. I love it when I’m typing super fast and something lands on the screen that astonishes me. This happens during revisions, and usually leads to another key scene. I revise or rewrite as soon as I go back and read what I’ve written, and then again weeks or even months later. There is no such thing as leaving it as-is. Every time I read my work, I change something. A word, a phrase. Something. That’s just me. Picky. My husband describes it as,chink-chink-chink, like some obsessive-compulsive artist chipping away at a marble statue from day-into-night. I’m both flattered and annoyed by that description.
R&R: Another clumpy set of questions. How do you create your main characters? Body-type first? Job/Profession first? Do you make-up character profiles? How much backstory do you devote to each main character? How soon do you give them dialogue lines? When do you drop them into a scene?
Decker: My protagonist is usually, at least partly, me. Bumbling, naïve, but lucky. Of course she does things I’d never really do. That’s what’s great about fiction. I can live the life of anyone I choose, heroine or killer. Mother, daughter, crone. I love the idea that as writers, we stand back and lob tribulations on our protagonists, like rocks pelting their heads. It’s how we force them to take the direction we want. Sooner or later I’m in the head of every character I write, and they’re in mine. I start with a situation. A bad situation for my protagonist usually gets me started. Even though she resists for good reason, she is prodded and forced to do something she doesn’t want to do. Sometimes she ignores the prodding and does what she wants but that gets her into more trouble. Luck (or the helper) gives her another chance. Her innate physical or mental strength helps her arrive at a place where she can regroup and try again. I don’t do character profiles for short fiction. I did have them for Hypershot. For my current work-in-progress, I haven’t gotten around to character profiles yet, but will. For the first third of the book, I’m just flying by the seat of my pants to discover where I crash. Right now I’m having fun discovering things. I often start scenes with dialogue and edit later for variety. Dialogue reveals so much about a character. Sometimes it’s one character listening in on a conversation. To what he/she eavesdrops on, reveals something about him/her. Where a character first appears depends on the natural flow of a story. If they’re a hard-nosed bully, they might arrive in a gentle manner, opposite of their nature. A gentle character might arrive while involved in a brawl. It depends on how I feel when the discovery scene begins.
R&R: Do you use the same process for writing novels and short stories?
Decker: No. There is a sense of urgency when writing short fiction, a sense of timing that I don’t feel with a novel. Some novel scenes have urgency, but the novel itself allows time for development. Novels allow the time for sub-plots, secondary characters and side adventures that lead the reader into (for lack of a better term) red herring territory. Not everything must lead to a conclusion. Sometimes, these side adventures are meant to confuse and disappoint the protagonist and I like that. Short fiction was a good way to learn how to write. It proved to me that I could start, develop and finish something. And sell it! Short stories dictate their own length. I suppose novels do also, but that feels more acute with short fiction. Right now I am enjoying the freedom from that sense of urgency while writing novels.
R&R: Back to Indigenous Fiction–What kind of stories did you publish? How many pages in an average issue? Was it print? E-Book? Both? Why did you start the magazine? How much help did you have? How much editing did you do? What criteria did you use to sort submissions? How did being an editor make you feel? Who was your target audience? Why did you stop publishing I.F.?
Decker: I looked for weird fiction, something odd in the plot or the character. I had precise guidelines that stated what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Some people read those guidelines and some people, it seems, didn’t. Indigenous Fiction was a print magazine, and every issue contained at least one story that ended up reprinted in a Year’s Best anthology, or earned Honorable Mention in one of the Best Of Year collections. I.F. had about 150 reliable subscribers. The publication came out every four months and had, on average, between 75-85 pages. We always included some interior black and white art and poetry in addition to approximately eight stories. I did all the editing. One friend-volunteer, Evelyn, read things when I wanted a second opinion. Another volunteer, David Otteni, did all the work putting I.F. on a disk for the printer. All correspondence, I handled myself, and that took seven days a week and at least eight hours a day. I didn’t sort the submissions. I logged everything in by hand into a ledger by the date received. I never allowed more than a week to pass without reading all the submissions. I usually knew within the first page or two, if I’d accept something. Being an editor and publisher made me feel responsible and obligated. As an editor you have promised something to your readers and contributors, even to those people who are neither, but who have submitted material for your magazine. You owe them your time. You owe them a reply. You owe them respect. My target audience was people who liked a touch of the bizarre. Indigenous Fiction ~ wondrously weird and offbeat was our full title.
R&R: How are you promoting Hypershot? Public appearances? Blog tours?
Decker: Promoting Hypershot is going to be a learning experience for me. I am willing to make public appearances. I’ll do readings, signings, classroom visits, whatever. I mention as much as I can on Facebook, but there is a limit to how much one can post there. Some people become obnoxious with their non-stop book promotions on Facebook. I’ll talk to my publisher and do what he recommends. I’m even willing to travel. I will eventually come up with a blog. Blogs seem to be necessary these days.
R&R: What are you writing now? Is there a sequel to Hypershot?
Decker: If I ever write about Undercity again, it would be to tell the story of Wren, the mother of Krea (Hypershot’s protagonist). Wren’s story is even more in the fantasy realm than Hypershot. More of Wren’s story takes place on the surface. There is a supernatural element to Wren’s story. There is time travel. If there is ever a sequel to Hypershot, I might kill everyone off because I. Am. Sick. Of. Undercity. I’ve already mentioned my work-in-progress. The working title is, Salvage. My protagonist, Layla works for a salvage company that, on occasion, sends salvage crews into dangerous and illegal territory, such as to a man-made penal colony satellite.
R&R: You have several other books in print. Can you tell us about them and where to find them?
Decker: My short fiction collection, Hook House and Other Horrors was originally published by Silver Lake Publishing, but within five months that publisher stopped answering emails, phone calls or sending checks. In 2011 she sent a brief apology, a full written release and a check. Relieved, I submitted the collection to Damnation Books and it found a new home. It is currently being recorded for an audio edition in addition to the trade- back and e-book. I’m having a blast listening, as every story is recorded by professional recording artist, Becky Parker Geist. She gives every character a unique and recognizable voice and has contacted me several times to double-check on correct pronunciation.
Rusty the Robot’s Holiday Adventures was first published by Sam’s Dot Publishing. I could expound volumes about that disappointing experience, but let’s not go there. After it was finally released, my co-author Michael McCarty began a search for a new publisher. He discovered a publisher he was excited about, and long story short, it’s now available through Pie Plate Publishing, both in print and as an e-book. I love the cover art.
A final thought: More than once I’ve relived the night of Jack’s first class at the U.W. Another student drove and I remember heading west over the 520-bridge toward a blood-red sunset. Clouds like shredded rags. A sense of the calm before the storm. I was excited beyond description because something told me my life was going to change. Finally, someone who knew the ins and outs of excellent writing was going to teach me. My brain was a dry sponge and my heart was open. I don’t think the woman with whom I traveled that night, understood my enthusiasm. Somehow, she thought it had to do with the U.W. campus. It wasn’t that. It was the teacher, the opportunity, the moment. Thank you, Jack.
R&R: Thank you, Sherry. We love the way you work and we’re very happy that you and Eldritch connected. We think it’s a fine book and a great find for Eldritch.
You can find Sherry’s work on Amazon. When Eldritch Press releases Hypershot, we’ll pass along the info.