DATELINE: Lostetter - An Interview
(Citizen Star News) - 2014-04-04 - The "DATELINE: SESEN" novella, serialized as a weekly COMM-LINKs on the Roberts Space Industries website, has been garnering considerable interest and praise from the Star Citizen Community. We've been following the adventures of intrepid space-journalist Ulla Yadav, who continuously leaves us on the edge of our seats with weekly cliffhangers as she investigates the mysteries of the pirates of planet Sesen and tries not to die in the process.
Citizen Star News: First off let me say how much I am enjoying "DATELINE: SESEN". It debuted just as I was starting to launch my Citizen Star News project which is a Star Citizen web site, combined with an in game "corporation" that supports reporters. Very timely.
Now, how did you get involved with the Star Citizen project?
Marina J. Lostetter: This might require a little back story. I am a full time writer, focusing on science fiction and fantasy. Every year, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (a professional organization for writers in my genre, known largely as SFWA), holds a convention called WorldCon. I attended WorldCon in San Antonio, Texas, in August of last year. There I was introduced to a Star Citizen writer, Griffin Barber, by a writing friend (who deserves a shout-out: Alistair Kimble), who in turn introduced me to David Ladyman. Mr. Ladyman was on the hunt for authors who could produce tie-in novelettes for Spectrum Dispatch.
CSN: Were you familiar with Chris Roberts and Wing Commander before getting involved with the Star Citizen project? What do you think of the 'legend' that surrounds him?
Lostetter: I can't claim intimate familiarity. I knew about the game and the movie, mostly because my husband loved Wing Commander when it first came out. When Star Citizen's kickstarter was announced, he and his friends were super excited about it, so we started looking up all of Chris Roberts' industry history.
One of the first things I said to David Ladyman when I met him was, "Hey, that's the game my husband keeps talking about!"
CSN: Who are your influences as a writer? Your inspirations?
Lostetter: Believe it or not, this is a tough question for me. I feel like I'm an amalgamation of everything I've ever read, and individual works stand out in my mind more than any one author's entire body of work. How about I just give three examples? The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, got me writing fiction in the first place. Hyperion, by Dan Simmons, exemplifies the type of epic-scope stories I love. And Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer, is a great example of what I think thoughtful speculative fiction should be.
CSN: I see you are an illustrator as well as an up-and-coming Science Fiction focused author. That's an interesting combination. As an artist do you consider yourself traditional media or electronic? Looks like your work at least starts with traditional?
Lostetter: I'm a hobbyist artist, yes. I find the visual arts very intimidating, but also extremely engaging. I do like to start with plain old pencil and paper, but then often move the piece into Corel Painter. Digital art is far faster to produce, in my opinion, largely due to that wonderful 'undo' button. When I make a mistake in traditional mediums I can spend what feels like forever trying to correct the problem. In Painter the solution is just a click away.
CSN: Do you visualize the story as you are writing it? I notice that some authors are very visual while others are more prose oriented. How does that work for you?
Lostetter: I'm much more action-oriented. I see movement more than details. That's something my husband often picks on when reading my first drafts. For instance, I have a tendency not to describe my characters at all (save gender) on the first pass, and have to fill in hints of description later.
CSN: On the personal side, how long have you been married? Sounds like you have a very good relationship. Do you two discuss works in progress?
Lostetter: I've been married a little over three years. My husband is my first reader and critique partner. He's fantastic, and incredibly supportive of my writing. We're two nerd-peas in a pod.
CSN: You seem to be a bit of a film buff as well. Is that true? What films would you say inspired or affected you the most?
Lostetter: I love movies. Well, I love stories in general, and movies are a great vehicle for telling stories. I've always been most drawn to adventure and action, plus anything with a speculative fiction element, so early on movies like "Back to the Future" and "Jurassic Park" really captured my imagination.
But, while you could find some pretty good sci-fi, most fantasy movies were fairly corny up until "The Fellowship of the Ring." When I saw that movie for the first time it took my breath away.
And then, of course, I'm a child of Disney. Disney's animated movies still capture me today.
CSN: Do you also consider yourself a gamer?
Lostetter: This question reminds me of something my Sensei said when I was learning Japanese. Bear with me. She said, "If you go to Japan and someone asks you if you speak Japanese, say no." Essentially, it doesn't matter if you've reached conversational proficiency or not, say no, because if you say yes, native speakers will interpret that as total proficiency, and will be irritated when you aren't fully fluent.
So, do I consider myself a gamer? I have to say no, because I don't think I have the "fluency" required to answer in the affirmative.
And no, I don't speak Japanese, either.
CSN: You don't consider yourself a gamer, that's fair. Particularly with people around that want to challenge those kinds of declarations. But what games have you played or that have made an impression on you? Any that you have spent a significant amount of time with?
Lostetter: I used to be very into console gaming, especially around the time from Final Fantasy 10-13. When I met my husband he introduced me to LAN parties, and one of my favorites since then has been Call of Duty, though I don't really get to play a lot.
One of my favorite games of all time is actually a really cheesy PlayStation 2 game from Capcom called Darkwatch, in which you basically play a vampire cowboy who hunts Hellish creatures. My brother and I have played it over and over together--which is probably why I like it so much.
CSN: Are you a backer? Plan on playing Star Citizen?
Lostetter: I am not a backer, but I may play the game when it's released. My husband will be all over it if he ever finds the time to get back into gaming.
CSN: That was an interesting comment on studying Japanese. Why were you studying it?
Lostetter: It was in college. I was pursuing a degree in history and needed to take a language. I was interested in Japanese history, even though it wasn't my main study focus, and decided that it would be a good fit for me.
I do regret not keeping up with it after graduation.
CSN: Following up on the Japanese angle, have you kept up with Japanese story telling? Anime or Film? Any favorites you'd like to mention?
Lostetter: Trigun! And Fullmetal Alchemist! Two of my favorite animes. Oh, and Death Note.
I do wish I was more familiar with Japanese literature, though. I am constantly trying to improve my craft, though, and earlier this year I was introduced to the kishotenketsu (let's see if I spelled that correctly...) style of storytelling, which hinges more on tying seemingly non-related events together to culminate in change, rather than on conflict and resolution the way your average American story does. I've tried my hand at writing short stories this way, but it's very hard for me to write something absent of traditional conflict.
CSN: The story "DATELINE: Sesen" contains a lot of "lore" and details of the Star Citizen game. How closely did you work with CIG staff on that?
Lostetter: David Ladyman and I worked very closely throughout the process. First I was given the most up-to-day world bible and the previously published stories. Once I'd read through the materials I pitched a couple of ideas. We settled on one to develop, and I wrote up several outlines and treatments before getting the green-light to write the story proper. Once the draft was complete, we spent a good chunk of time ironing out the details to make sure things didn't conflict with the current understanding of canon.
CSN: Did you work with David Haddock at all, or others? Or was it fairly exclusively with David Ladyman?
Lostetter: I worked pretty exclusively with Mr. Ladyman, but Mr. Haddock did give editorial input during the various stages.
CSN: Were you given a list of "lore reveals" or other things they wanted to accomplish with the story?
Lostetter: Actually, no, but I was given a few things to stay away from, so as not to reveal too much or to tread too similar ground (I was asked for something without aliens, for example). So, nothing I've written has specifically alluded to anything new in-game, though that doesn't mean it couldn't be expanded on and included at a later date.
CSN: How close was your original pitch to the story that got accepted and is being serially published?
Lostetter: I'd say the essence of the plot is fairly similar, though the main character in my pitch was a male Marine instead of a female journalist, and I'd originally thought I could put most of the story on a ship instead of on a planet. But Star Citizen ships just aren't built for large crews and intrigue at the moment, so I had to drop it planet-side.
CSN: How was the lore "bible" to you? What impressed you about it? Where could it use more work at this point?
Lostetter: I liked the bible a lot--there was a ton of material to draw from. I felt inspired right away and pitched my ideas as soon as I was done reading it. I think at this point it's just missing some detail specifics, but that makes sense since it's still evolving.
CSN: I noticed an interesting detail of in Part Six of "DATELINE: SESEN", a news tattoo used as identification. Did you come up with that or was that already in the lore? Are there other details about that? Is it active in some way? Subdermal electronics maybe, embedded RFID?
Lostetter: That was something I snuck in there. I originally wanted Yadav to have all sorts of implants and such, but we ended up dialing it back because we weren't sure how common that would actually end up being in the universe. So Yadav didn't go full-on reporter-cyborg.
I don't have any extra details about how the tattoo might work. Perhaps that's something that can be built on later.
CSN: Is there anything else that you think the Star Citizen community might be interested in, that we've not covered? Behind the scenes tidbits, your hobbies, future projects?
Lostetter: Hmm, hobbies. We've covered art a bit, and video games. I also like board games and card games. I like to travel. (I've been to Japan twice now, and really wish I'd been able to communicate better.) And...I have two cats, named Boomer and Starbuck. (Yes, after BSG characters.)
CSN: Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my questions. It's been a pleasure interviewing you. Hopefully, we can follow up later after the series completes and we find out how this serial ends for Ulla Yadav.
Lostetter: Thanks for the interview! I'm glad the story has gotten so much positive interest.