Mirth & Matter: The Journal of Elizabeth Bunce (elizabethcbunce) wrote in enchantedinkpot,
Mirth & Matter: The Journal of Elizabeth Bunce

An Interview with Anna Sheehan

As part of our month-long exploration of the relationship between science fiction and fantasy, Enchanted Inkpot is pleased to bring you a conversation with debut novelist Anna Sheehan, author of A Long, Long Sleep, a science fiction retelling of "Sleeping Beauty" that released this August. I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of this book (and blurbing it, as well!), and knew it would be a perfect selection for our science fiction month.

  From her website:
Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose — hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire — is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat. Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existance, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes — or be left without any future at all.

Welcome, Anna!

--What was your inspiration for A LONG, LONG SLEEP? How did you decide to write a version of "Sleeping Beauty" set in a futuristic world... and how did your evil Plastine assassin come into play?
A Long Long Sleep was inspired as I had the thought that every parent has while chasing down an errant toddler – "If I could only put you on pause!" Of course, I’d never do such a thing, but I realized, there are people who would. And if so, what would that mean to the person who endured it? Of course, Sleeping Beauty did play a part. I always wondered how someone asleep for a century would reincorporate herself into a world that had moved on without her. About the same time as I was chasing that toddler, I had the good fortune to hear a writer – the screenwriter Blake Snyder – mention the phrase, "Stasis equals death." This meant that if your protagonist does not change his or her situation than it might as well be death. But the phrase resonated, and the book sprang from that.
The Plastine was an element that grew from the Bodyworlds exhibit – human corpses infused with plasticine and paraded around the world for entertainment and profit. It struck me as wholly amoral, akin to the Nazi’s who made buttons and soap out of human remains, so I took the concept a step further, and made that the antagonist. Really he’s a personification of the manipulation that Rose’s parents and that world has inflicted upon human beings. Rose was emotionally created by her parents. Otto was twisted by UniCorp. The Plastine is an extension of that manipulation of man.

--One of the things that really impressed me was how true you stayed to the themes of "Sleeping Beauty" (eg, the sleep as a retreat from the pressures of growing up). It's such a natural fit for a YA audience. Tell us a little about working with that aspect of the tale.
Ah, the joys of a wretched teenage experience. There’s nothing magic in being able to write an unhappy teenager. I was one. The fates have also decreed that I suffer from dysthymia – a consistent low level depression – meaning, among other things, that I’m often tired, and frequently suffer from insomnia as well. I’ve also had a lot of chronically depressed and/or abused friends. Drawing from the recurrent themes of my life to echo the themes of a novel wasn’t difficult at all.

--Have you always been a fairy tale fan? A science fiction fan? How did you go about combining those two genres? Was it a more challenging--or a more natural--pairing than one might expect?
I have adored both sci-fi and fantasy since I was old enough to blink. I fell in love with Star Trek and Doctor Who at four and six, respectively. I adored Diana Wynne Jones since the fourth grade, when a friend introduced me to her. I read faerie tales, yes, but I also read mythology for fun. People in my middle school thought I was mad when I checked out the Mabinogion – the original, not a dumbed down comprehensive of the stories. As far as blending the stories goes, it was easy. Faerie tale blends seamlessly with everything from literary to sci-fi to thriller. Faerie tale and myth is the truth of human experience, and therefore is easily made into a part of everything.  

--This month on the Enchanted Inkpot, we're talking about the line between science fiction and fantasy. What are your thoughts on where one genre ends and the other begins?
Oh, the two genres have blended. Usually, I define the difference between fantasy and science fiction as a difference in mythology. Religion may be in both kinds of stories. Magic (of a kind) may be in both kinds of stories. Technology, of one kind or another, may be in both kinds of stories. But if your gods walk out of a version of Asgard and start ordering your main characters around, and Asgard is not a mothership and the gods are not aliens, you’re talking a fantasy.
Science fiction at least pretends that their magic is based in some kind of logical progression. Yes, aliens might have mental powers that defy belief. (Like Otto in my story.) But there’s a reason for it, and the reason is something beyond, "The gods decided it that way."
There is a lot of so-called fantasy where there are no gods, or none that actually manifest. Certainly, if it’s full of wizards and dragons, fine, call it a fantasy – though would you call Pern fantasy or sci-fi? Or Jane Yolen’s Pit Dragon series? Both of those are sci-fi to my mind. Most people call Star Wars sci-fi, but its reliance on the mystical almost religious power of the "force" is considerably more fantastical than logical. As I say, the genres have blended.
It’s a lot easier to lump them all under the universal title "Speculative Fiction" – call them all SF and leave it at that.

--Given the popularity of dystopian fiction right now, Rose's world feels decidedly utopian by contrast. Was that intentional?
Not exactly. I wasn’t setting about to write a dystopia. Dystopia seems to be a real "genre" now, which it wasn’t until recently. I think a lot of stories are mislabeled "dystopian". Certainly the world of the Hunger Games qualifies, but when you say Dystopia I think Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale or Orwell’s 1984. When I wrote A Long Long Sleep, I was just writing a sci-fi. I grew up on Star Trek, and a lot of the worlds found in Star Trek people would try to call Dystopian nowadays, rather than just an interesting perspective on society.
My idea of speculative fiction is often to take one idea to its furthest logical conclusion. For example in Max Headroom in the 1980's the idea was that television is taking over the world – and you ended up with a world where elections were voted for by TV ratings, printing presses were illegal, and there was even a conscious living being dancing around the television airwaves.
For A Long Long Sleep I tried to think of a world where Rose being asleep for a century would be possible. The world I came up with wasn’t that different from ours, so I came up with reasons why. That involved crises which resulted in a lot of regulation, but I assumed that society would continue as society always does – slowly and with a predictable progression, as it has gone in the past. When thinking up the future it is best to study the past. Patterns tend to repeat. Was Nazi Germany a dystopia? Most assuredly. Did it last forever? Of course not.

--Do you have any favorite reads in YA science fiction to recommend to Inkpot readers?
My goddess is always Diana Wynne Jones. Anything by her. Anything at all. But Howl’s Moving Castle (don’t go by the movie!) And the Chrestomanci series are particularly good. And Dogsbody. And Hexwood. And on the whole the rest of her writings as well.

--What's next for you in the writing world? More retellings? More Rose? More science fiction? Do tell!
Oh, my! We’re working out a contract for something of a sequel, as well as a stand-alone novel which is, as it happens, something of a retelling. I don’t know what’s going to come out first. I try not to do literal retellings of faerie tales. There are plenty of them out there. Mostly what I do is take the nugget of truth in a faerie tale or myth and build around it. If you’ll notice, A Long Long Sleep isn’t the story of Sleeping Beauty. It’s a reference that the people around Rose use to describe her, and thereby she becomes something of a myth herself. The sequel isn’t based off a faerie tale. If I had to say anything, it’s based more off of Greek myth, like the stories of Perseus or Achilles. Both of those are finished novels that just need some editing and publishing detail. As for what I’m writing next... well, I’m actually planning on trying my hand at an actual dystopic setting, which might be interesting. We’ll see how that pans out. (Hopefully, into gold!)

Thank you so much for letting me talk about myself – everyone’s favorite subject.
Thanks so much, Anna!

Tags: a long long sleep, anna sheehan, elizabeth c. bunce, science fiction vs fantasy, sleeping beauty

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