Episode 1: Interview with Sci-Fi Author ARK Watson


ARK Watson:
I think if we imagine a future, that's the way we would like it to be, that can give us a goal to set for.

Jayne:
Welcome to Tales with the Sales, where we discuss stories that matter because you are a living one. I'm your host, Jane de Sales. I'm a writer, poet and storyteller. It is my pleasure to introduce you to authors as we explore how fiction impacts our lives and culture. My guest today is science fiction author ARK Watson. She started writing with both arms and braces as a broke college student. Her love of the Church and the written word drove her to start Catholicreads.com, a website aimed at popularizing quality Catholic books. 

She is an American living abroad in South Korea, a world traveler and an absolute and unrepentant nerd. Her debut publication, The Dunes, won an honorary mention in the Writers of the Future contest, which in the past has discovered such sci-fi and fantasy greats as Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson. Her sci-fi murder mystery, The Vines of Mars, earned her a place in Yale's Summer Creative Writing workshop. 

Here's a brief summary of The Vines of Mars for you. At a colony on Mars in the future, Tomas misses his sister. Maria is presumed dead after going missing on a windswept planet over a decade ago. But a stranger appears and makes him question everything he knows, from the man eating vines in the forest to his sister's disappearance. He will put everything on the line, including his marriage and family, in order to learn the truth. There is a murderer within their tight knit community, and he aims to expose them.

Jayne:
I'd like to give you an opportunity to just share with us a piece of literature that really has changed things for you. 

ARK Watson:
So a piece of literature that changed me, I think was The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It was the first science fiction book that I ever read, remains one of my favorites and started a far deeper obsession than anyone ever expected. There's this quote by Ray Bradbury from Zen in the Art of Writing, which is also a great book for artists in general, not just writers. “I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room.” 

Jayne:
I love it. And you know who I think of immediately when you read that? Wash. Yeah, it just immediately takes me to Serenity and packing up your dinosaurs, and that just warms my little nerdy heart. So tell me a little bit about this quote, because there's a little bit to unpack there. I mean, it's comedic, but at the same time, it's showing that he kind of seemed to know what his strengths were. 

Where were you in your life when you encountered this? 

ARK Watson:
I think I was in high school and it was just one of the quotes that I heard by him, and it didn't really strike me at the time. But then as I've moved into adulthood and been trying to find my own voice in my writing and trying to find just like a job and my place in the world, it's come back to me again and again that you aren't in charge of other people's opinions about you. You're in charge of your opinion about yourself, and that might be based on some things that other people find absurd or even offensive, but it's about what you can do in your life that makes you respect yourself, that makes you happy. But not like hedonistically happy. 

But yeah, content with yourself and following your artistic passions is part of that, but also just having integrity in all levels of your life.


Jayne:
So authenticity. 

ARK Watson:
Yeah.

Jayne:
Authenticity is in regards to your identity and your creative pursuits. The whole shebang, huh? I find it interesting that you encountered it in high school, but it's worked on you over the years and just keeps coming back to you. It surprises me how much art can do that, that it can impact over time, and it can take time to chew on. I know that was my experience with C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, but I read them in the second grade and then listen to the audio books with my kids and completely different experience. Or even Lord of the Rings did the same thing for me. I loved Lord of the Rings when I was a kid and Gandalf was my hero. But reading it as an adult and turning me into a deeper nerd, that was important. And so how is this quote helped you to live this out? What kind of boundaries do you think you've had to cross or self realizations you've had? 

ARK Watson:
Well, I think, especially with artistic endeavors, I think it shows my attitude towards publishing in general. I went to this fancy conference once where we got to meet a lot of publishers and make a lot of connections, and it was really a great conference. But there was also a lot of undercurrents of anti-religious snobbery, anti-science-fiction snobbery, too, although I will say that most of that seem to come from the less professional members. And I was young and I was trying to find my voice and I was a new convert, which was another wrench in the works because there's this mantra to write what you know, to write where you come from. And when you come from the Bible Belt and Catholics are less than 3% of the population and you're coming to terms with some deeply ingrained prejudice and you're trying to throw that off. You don't really want to write in that voice like you're trying to find your own voice. 

Now, apart from that, it drove me to decide that I wanted to independently publish, at least at the start. I might traditionally publish in the future, but I wanted to have full control to decide what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it. And I also wanted to learn the industry inside and out. And indie publishing forces you to do that, so that when or if I do traditionally publish, I'll understand. I'll know what the publishers are doing, what they're going through, so that I can be an effective partner as well, but also so I don't get conned or something. 

Jayne:
So the experience at that conference just really forced finding your voice to the front for you then? 

ARK Watson:
Yeah. It was very much like, okay, I need to pack up my dinosaurs and go sort of situation like, this isn't bad. This is just not where I want to be right now. 

Jayne:
And where were you at in the writing and publishing process when you went to that conference? 

ARK Watson:
I was very beginning. I wasn't even done writing The Vines of Mars. I had a couple of chapters at the time. I thought one character was going to be the point of view. And then after that, because of that conference, I realized that Tomas was going to be the point of view character, not his mother. But yeah, so it was pretty early in the process. 

Jayne:
That must have really been an opportunity, though, because it allowed it, if I'm understanding correctly, for it to kind of shape your creative process and that it probably removed some barriers from you and some conventions, for lack of a better word.

ARK Watson:
I don't regret going. And it was the Yale Writers Conference. If anyone has an opportunity to go to that, I highly recommend it. The teachers were excellent, and the teachers, I will say, were not the source of any of the snobbery that I experienced. And like, I learned a lot. I do not think that I would have been able to figure out how to write the book before going. I could write a good scene, but figuring out the structure was really helpful. 

Jayne:
Very fine. Was this conference strictly for fiction, or was it for all writing? 

ARK Watson:
It was for all writing. It was like a two week course. The first week was more literary, We had more memoirs and nonfiction as well as fiction, but definitely the vibe was we were trying to write the next great American novel. And me, they're talking about robots and aliens. They were like, what? I was like, but that can be the grit next great American novel. I think Martian Chronicles is one of the greatest American novels. And then the second week was more focused on genre fiction, so there was less snobbery there, of course, but I think that the course selection was less intensive, strangely enough. 

But when I went into there the first week and a lot of my critique partners were like, oh, we don't read Sci-Fi. How do we give you feedback? And I was like, I'm not looking for feedback on the Sci-Fi part. So I'm looking for feedback on the dialogue and the characters and the pacing and all the stuff that's universal to stories. 

Jayne:
That's one of the things that's so interesting as I'm working on my own novel, is you realize how many things in the structure of a story you take for granted. Like all of those things that you named as a reader, you just kind of take them for granted. As the undercurrent of the story you're like, oh, well, how do I evaluate plots but the pacing and the characters and all of that? As a reader, you take for granted until it's your responsibility as a writer. So what brought you around to writing fiction and then science fiction? 

ARK Watson:
I couldn't not. For as long as I wanted to write books. I wanted to write fiction. I will say historical fiction was actually my first love. Then I discovered science fiction. And I think what really interests me about science fiction is it's driven by questions, at least the Sci-Fi I like. And that also ties into me integrating my Catholic faith into my vanity as an artist. Do I write fiction that's meant to convert people to Catholicism, or do I write something more covert? And I found that for me, writing fiction is kind of a spiritual meditation. It's a way that I grow personally, and it's driven by questions I have about the faith. How would the Church react to a sentient alien asking for baptism? What would that mean? Would it mean the same thing or would it be something different? 

And I think, too, I'm actually influenced by a lot of atheist Sci-Fi writers that I grew up reading. I love Isaac Asimov. He's typically very negative about religion. Any religious characters in his books are like stupid or villainous, but that part of his books was always just very kind of secondary. What made people come back to keep reading him and what made him keep writing was questions he had, right? So he developed the three laws of robotics, and a lot of his stories that I love are kind of breaking these three laws apart and saying, hey, are there exceptions to them? Are there ways that there could be perceived exceptions to them? And it was driven by questions he had about the logic of morality, I think, is what's really cool about his robots. His robots are perfectly logical beings, which he seems to posit that they are moral, that morality is logical. But people mistrust in his world sometimes mistrust robots and second-guess them. And so they often are struggling to do good despite people's misunderstandings and questions about how would that play out and how would they win our trust.Yeah, it's the questions he had about morality and intelligence and sentience that make his work eternal. 

And so similarly, my work has driven my questions. I have and I'll make guesses and stuff. 

Jayne:
It seems almost like the questions that you're asking could only exist in a fictional world, not that they are purely fiction and that they are not possibilities, but that you couldn't explore these ideas in a nonfiction setting. 


ARK Watson:
I think you could. It would just take a different symbolic imagination. I think you could explore it in other genres as well. But there's something about positing it in science fiction, kind of. So the difference I've heard between science fiction and fantasy is science fiction is like, this could happen, this could be possible, and fantasy is more about the past that this could have happened, or maybe it didn't happen at all. Maybe it's just something completely separate. But there's something about the immediate relevancy of positing it as a possible future for us that I think, kind of raises the stakes a little bit, as a reader.

Jayne:
I can see that, and I like the idea of questioning, Especially when you look at the name science fiction, when you really look at science as the art of observation and then asking questions about it, you look at Star Trek and how many of the technologies that were imagined for the TV series ended up being scientific reality within just a couple of decades, which is pretty mind blowing when you think about it. 

ARK Watson:
I think it's because of things like Star Trek, because we were imagining handheld devices that we could talk to over long distances, like other people were like, hey, let's figure out if we can do that the way we imagine the future has moral impact on the world. I think if we imagine a future, that's the way we would like it to be. That can give us a goal to set for. And you can also dystopian, which also is like, let's not do this, but you need a balance of both, I think.

Jayne:
Absolutely, so that we can both strive to and avoid at the same time. So if you could bring to life any technology or experience from The Vines of Mars, your novel, what would that be? 

ARK Watson:
I would love to go to an alien colony. I wouldn't really want to meet the vines in my first book because I probably would die, probably hurt, but I would love to just walk around the colony. I researched a lot about current theories of terraformation. So I kind of have two terraforming dynamics going on on Mars. So you have humans who are trying to terraform Mars using a lot of theoretical or currently existing technologies, and you have the vines, which are an alien plant, which is not like sentient the way we are sentient, but it is terraforming Mars for its own self. You end up in this sort of like symbiosis, but also this war between these two species and that the vines are creating a lot of the oxygen that gave humans the opportunity to get out of domes. 

Before I had, like, I hint that they had mining colonies, like underground bubble dome stuff, but it was very small. The presence of the vines being able to take all that carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere and actually start converting it to oxygen give humans the opportunity to get out of the domes and start kickstarting their terraformation. So they depend upon each other because the humans are also bringing a lot of the water, the source 99% water of a lot of what the vines need, but they also don't have competing interests. I forget cycling back to your question now, and I forgot what it was. 

Jayne:
No, totally fine. I was saying, I was asking what technology or experience from your book would you want? 

ARK Watson:
I find the vines interesting, but I wouldn't want to actually go walk around in the forest because I wouldn't survive. But I'd love to walk around and see the ice blackeners and see the labs where they're trying to integrate fungus and insects into Martian soil. 

Jayne:
So you have all of these story ideas, right? What things do you do to help bring them to life from your mind out onto the paper? 

ARK Watson:
Oh, I free-write. “Write drunk, edit sober.” I think it's good advice, or at least like write buzz, don't actually write drunk. What I mean is, do what you need to do to get out of your own insecurities. And I've been to writing sprints, where we have taken a shot and written 500 words, but not everybody can do that safely. So there's a tool called Write or Die its kind of buggy. But if you use the online version, not the desktop version, it's all right. So it has parameters where you set a time limit and like a word goal and generally how fast you want to type. And you press go and you have to start typing. And if you stop typing, bad things will happen. So in the easy setting, what will happen is if you stop typing, the screen around the text will go from white to pink to Pinker to fuchsia to red. And then it'll go BRAAACCKKK really loud. So if you're in a cafe, it's really embarrassing. You have to keep typing to get the sound to go away. And if you're on the hardest setting and you stop typing too long, it'll start deleting words and letters from your text. It's very write or die. But it's good for getting you out of your head and just getting the words on the page, because I think once you have something on the page, it's easier to go back and edit it. It's less intimidating, at least for me, than to just be staring at that white space and that blinking cursor. 

And then there's also a lot of the classical tools. I think I'm a bit of a mix of plotter and pantser writing with or without an outline, but I do find it whenever I'm stuck useful to look up a different outlining tool, a different plot structure and just fiddle with it and play with it and see what my story would look like in that structure and if I like it or not. 

Jayne:
That's a really fascinating idea. I never considered plugging it into another format essentially, another framework. 

ARK Watson:
Yeah. There's the classic three act structure, but there's also lots of other stuff out there. Hauge’s Six Stages is really good. It's very good for focusing on character growth. The Dan Well’s Seven Point Plot is also really good if you're a pantser or if you have like a couple of disconnected scenes but you don't really know where to go from there. Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient this is really good for figuring out your endings and beginnings. So if you have an ending but you don't have a beginning, or if you have a beginning but not an ending, which a lot of pantsers will do, they'll have like a really good beginning, but they don't know where it ends. 

This one is hard to find, but I think there's like one YouTube series on it, Kishotinketsu. It's the plot structure that comes out of Japan. So if you're an anime fan like Studio Ghibli movies, it's really neat to look at their structure, which is a four-part structure. 

Jayne:
That sounds fascinating to me. For the kid appropriate movies, our family are hardcore Ghibli fans. We actually have a cat named Soot Gremlin. So what can I say? My Neighbor Totoro and The Secret Life of Arrietty are favorite movies for family movie night up in this joint. 

ARK Watson:
Yeah. Excellent. I can tell you grew up with the second version because you called them Soot Gremlins and not Dust Bunnies. And then the 90s version, it was Dust Bunny. 

Jayne:
Well, you know, in some ways I had a late introduction to anime when I was in college. I had a late introduction to Ghibli. Let's see, when I was in College, I did watch Spirited Away back then, which I do know is Ghibli, but we also watched like Doomed Megalopolis and The Count of Monte Cristo. Those are the ones I remember. I went to College a day or two ago, so it's been a while. And in between then and now, I was also in the army for five years. So the memory is shot. 

ARK Watson:
Yeah. I came to anime late as well. 

Jayne:
And for me, I'm glad that we have those kind of gentler stories that I'm experiencing through my children's eyes. And it's especially amazing with My Neighbor Totoro is we have two little girls that are about the same distance and age as Mei and Satsuki from My Neighbor Totoro. And watching their interactions together and their body language and their movement and the things that interest them, you experience it through the wonder of the child's eyes, this fairy tale story. But at the same time, I'm experiencing through the parent's eyes simultaneously. And it's just good stories can awaken such wonder. 

I was listening to something. It was with Malcolm Guite at Hutchmoot, and he was talking about 20th century authors that talked about reawakening the imagination and recognizing that there will never be. I forget who said the quote, so you have to forgive me. There will never be a lack of wonders in the world, but we do suffer from a lack of wonder. And I think that's one of the reasons I wanted to talk about fiction with people is to reawaken the wonder, to recognize the magnificence of the world that we live in, whether we're recognizing it in terraforming Mars, forming community, learning about cultures that are different than you, life experiences different than you. So I figure it's okay to be a nerd, because we get to experience all this cool stuff. I share that about how this movie impacted me. What impact do you want your art, your literature, your books and short stories to have on people? 

ARK Watson:
I want people to not be afraid, but also to have a little heebie-jeebies. I've dabbled a little bit in horror, and my aliens are certainly quite scary. Alien invasion is a scary thing, but also it's beautiful and wondrous and awe inspiring. And the fear is that I want to say bad things don't happen. Bad things are going to happen in my stories, but it doesn't end there. Your whole world might be changed more than you could ever imagine. It's terrifying, but it's also wondrous. Yeah. That's kind of the theme I'm finding in all my writing. I tackle scary things, but I also talk about how they're not what we think they are. 

Jayne:
And they're certainly not the end of the story. 

ARK Watson:
People talk about like, oh, if we visit an alien world, our microbiome, the nutrients we need in our body is going to be different. Is it just going to be war and genocide between our environment and theirs? Maybe. Probably to a certain degree, yeah. But also nature isn't just war, it's also integration and symbiosis. And that's going to change us. We think when Europeans came to the New World, there was a lot of plague and death and destruction, but there was also a lot of people's bodies change, like having horses in the US changed Native American cultures drastically and gave some of them kind of a resurgent golden age for a darker time.

And then places as far as China, suddenly you had an influx of potatoes and corn and all these high energy food resources that they hadn't had before, and people were physically able to do things that they hadn't been able to before. It's scary, but it's also good.

Jayne:
So it gives us a little bit of strength when we say, but change hard!

ARK Watson:
It makes a wonderful story and conflict resource. 

Jayne:
We like it in everything except our own lives. And then we gripe and complain. 

ARK Watson:
Oh, yeah, exactly. And I think that is where it's good for me. And my spiritual growth because writing reminds me of that. 

Jayne:
I've found that I've definitely had to do a significant amount of introspection in my writing. And it's not always comfortable for myself because I start writing a character and then I realize, oh, yeah, their faults? The reason they're so easy to write is because they're mine. Have you had that experience as well? 

ARK Watson:
I have. I've also had kind of a greater understanding of my family history as well. Writing characters. It's funny, too. There was a little discussion once amongst friends and family when my book came out. I was like, oh, which character is she and people guess. And I was like, really? They're all of them. Because I wrote them all and they're all in my head. Yeah. 

One of the themes in my book is kind of the generational trauma. This is a colony that is going through some very traumatic experiences, struggle with this alien force, and many members die and people mourn them. But also it is a normal human small town. You find out pretty early in the book that in the previous generation, one of the teachers was sexually abusing his students. And these students are all adults now. And it's kind of this secret but not secret thing that a lot of them are survivors of that abuse and that's affected them and their children, their families. I don't get graphic or show rape, but I talk about the community effects of that. 

And I had, like, a great grandmother who was a victim of abuse, of that abuse. Writing this story was, I think, part of me understanding like that was a great grandmother. Right. But it does affect your family. It does affect how you cope with things well. 

Jayne:
And sadly, with the statistics in our modern culture, there are so many people who are victims of sexual violence and to have that recognized and that this isn't something you can just push down again and again and not have an impact on you and your family, as you were saying, generationally, but also society at large. Yeah. You handle it in a graceful way. 

ARK Watson:
Thank you. Yeah. 

Jayne:
It is a tough situation. It is a tough situation. But at the same time, one of the things I see in fiction is a means of encountering ideas that are hard and giving us time to chew on them without chewing on the people that they happen to, that we can engage with these fictional characters and kind of work through our emotions and our thoughts about these experiences and come out on the other end with more empathy. And we can do it at our own pace, which is so much different than working with an independent interpersonal relationship, because that person's feelings and thoughts and experiences need to be examined not under microscope, as they're a human being, but in the here and the now that their emotions are being experienced in the present. And so you don't necessarily have the time to catch up, whereas if you engage it through fiction, you already have some of the mechanisms of engaging people. So I thought that was pretty cool. I know we haven't talked a ton about your book, but I think we've given people a little bit of an idea that we're on Mars, there's vines and there's small town world on this extra planetary colony. And how you see science fiction is different. But what I'd like you to tell our listeners is how do you see your books as different within the genre of science fiction? 

ARK Watson:
I love reading big robots and rocket ship engineering Sci-Fi. But I'm more interested in writing science fiction that explores other branches of science. So biology, chemistry, entomology, mycology, just other branches of science Besides big ship engineering. And I'm a gardener, so that's also a big part of that, too. 

I'm interested in showing it's not even that I'm interested in showing it seems completely unrealistic to me to show a future story set in space where everyone is the same race and religion or lack of if you look at the diversity of scientists on the ISS and the diversity of faiths represented on the ISS, it's simply unrealistic to me to not have stories of interpersonal intercultural conflicts and friendships and partnerships and alliances and irritations happening at the same time when we get to space, when people remember, oh, wait, this is actually realistic. Every country is going to want to have their representative person up on the first space colony, whether or not they have a space industry or not, they're going to want to be able to say, oh, yeah, we have this family, first Japanese family on Mars, first Arabic family on the moon. I think it's just going to happen as a nature of consequence. 

And there's this dialogue among fiction to include more diverse voices, which I think is very good, very positive. But I think what is missing is we also need religious diversity. So my main character is Catholic, but his neighbors have different faiths and different religions, and that is a source of some miscommunication a little bit in the story because there are symbols that they use that they don't always understand each other's symbols. But yeah, that is both interesting to me and completely unrealistic to not include it. The science fiction where, like, everyone doesn't have, oh, we've left religion behind sort of thing makes no sense. At the very least, humans would make up new religions. Just kind of in our myth making, storytelling nature. 

But yeah, and I think it's important to show interracial, but also inter-religious friendships and relationships. People talk about problems that interracial couples deal with nowadays on Earth, but there's almost no representation of couples of two different faiths in media, which I think also comes with its own struggles, but also comes with a lot of good, a lot of empathy. And I think we can learn a lot from stories that talk about that. 

Jayne:
One thing that really struck me about what you were just talking about is that you can tell it must be close to your heart when you talk about the first Japanese family to be on Mars, the first family to be on the Moon, and it kind of breaks down. Another thing that you can often experience with adventure style fiction is that it's always about the individual. 

ARK Watson:
Not in space, because if it's the individual. And it was like that when Europeans started coming to America, it was individual traders. But it was when families started to come to the New World that it was a sense of like, oh, this is something that we can build that is stable. It's not going away. We can send a man to the moon and they completely forget about space travel for the next 60 years. But if we send a family to the moon, we can't forget about it. 

Jayne:
I never thought about that. That's pretty cool. So I want to know what you've got in the works. Do you have sequels to Vines of Mars? What else are you working on right now? 

ARK Watson:
So I actually wrote The Vines of Mars as a standalone. I don't think we've really it's a murder mystery. So the main character thinks his sister died ten years ago, finds out not quite the case, but when he finds her body, it's like ten years older. So she's clearly been living, but she's also clearly just been murdered. So he's trying to dig through a lot of the colony secrets, a lot of the planet secrets. I kind of wrote it as a standalone story, but then when I started to send it, people, people are like, what happens next? And I did leave, like, some things unresolved are like, vague, I guess. I wouldn't even say they're unresolved, vague, that I could elaborate on more. 

So I am working on sequels to The Vines of Mars, and I think it's going to kind of follow like a Sackett situation. Louis L’Amour, if there are any Western fans in your listeners, he had a series that followed a Sackett family. The first book was the first man from England coming to from England to the US. And there were a few books following his explorations of the US. And then each book afterwards seemed to follow a different descendant of his. And it also kind of mirrored the expansion of American borders in the formation of, like, American identity through history, through this family. And so I'm kind of thinking that my story is going to be the same sort of thing, but it's going to be expansion of space through generations of the family, and also the development because humans are changed by their encounter with the vines, and the vines are changed by its encounter with the humans. And I'm also going to show the development of that alien species and what effects long term, it's going to have. 

And then more recently, probably early 2022, I'm going to have a novella come out called The Cyber Exorcist and the Mermaids of Mississippi. And it's taking the worlds of Blade Runner. And although Carbon and sticking an Exorcist in there and kind of bringing questions of the paranormal to those questions. And I think that really works for the Cyberpunk genre because the Cyberpunk genre has always been about questions of what is a soul, what is human? If you can make something that imitates humans perfectly, then what's the distinction? is there a distinction? So bringing kind of a Doctor of Souls into that universe is letting me explore those questions and ask them. 

Jayne:
That sounds fascinating. It really does. And how you broke down the Cyberpunk genre for me, because I'll be honest with you, clueless other than like Cyberpunk garb at a Con. That's about the extent of my knowledge of Cyberpunk culture. 

ARK Watson:
Blade Runner is an excellent introduction, but I know it's kind of a slow paced series of movies, so it's not everyone's cup of tea. But I was also really influenced by an anime called Ghost in the Shell, and that one was actually a very traditional Buddhist take on cyber technology. 

So I'm living in East Asia now, and even today in East Asia, it's hard to get organ transplants. So you think in Buddhism, the body that people are reincarnated, but in Buddhism, they don't really have a dualistic distinction of body and soul. Body is the soul. And so that's why reincarnation is the body getting changed and reformed, brought back to something that looks different. And so when you have an organ transplant, it turns a lot of people from Buddhist cultures off because it's like merging souls, like stitching two souls together. It's like a weird what does that do? That's a big theological conundrum for them. 

And so Cyborg technology where it's man merging with the machine that brings in question of can the soul be? Or can someone be reincarnated as a sentient computer? And I love the series. Wonderful, wonderful series. Big fan of the TV show. There's a movie that's very famous. The movie is great, too, but the stand alone complex TV show is where it's at guys. But I knew that I couldn't write. I wanted to write the next ghost, Michelle, but I can't because I'm not Buddhist, but I'm Catholic and I can take so many of our rights as Catholics are very physical. Oil, incense, Holy water. So what happens if you have a post human who needs an exorcism or a baptism?

A post human is someone whose consciousness has been uploaded to a WiFi digital state. So essentially they're immortal and they can go anywhere, into any technology or anywhere there is a signal sort of thing. That's the concept of a post human in Cyberpunk. So if you have something that their body is electricity you can't baptize that. You can't really put water on that. What do you do with that? I don't know. I'm going to figure it out and posit some guesses in the series. 

Jayne:
Wow, you just blew my mind. I never even considered the theological ramifications of Cyborg culture. Thank you. And that's the thing, like you said, all of these possibilities that when you limit a genre to an atheistic worldview, that you're actually limiting the creativity and the ideas and the what ifs that can happen in it. And that would be a real shame to happen in science fiction when, like you were saying, it all goes back to the questions. That by eliminating the spiritual, whether you view it as reality or possibility, you've cut off so many ideas and so much conflict. I mean, it's great. 

ARK Watson:
Even as a Catholic and as someone who started like a whole business devoted Catholic literature, I also want more Buddhist and Jewish and Muslim and other religious writers writing in science fiction, because I think they can ask questions that don't occur to me. And I can ask questions that aren't occurring to them. And I think together we can help each other grow in empathy and imagination a lot better than we would by ourselves. 

Jayne:
You briefly touched on Catholic Reads and this why don't you tell us a little bit about that, what that is in a nutshell, and why you created it. 

ARK Watson:
So Catholic Reads is a website and an email newsletter. The website is a database of Catholic literature of all genres. It's all like book reviews and such. The thing is, we read every single book submitted to us, and we do not accept a book for writing review unless we can write a positive review. And unless, like, it passes muster on editing and being authentic to Catholic Orthodox theology. 

In Catholic publishing, there's a lot of great resources for nonfiction books, less for fiction. There are some, and I'm always happy to champion them. But most Catholic authors have to self-publish, which means you have this big thing and it's hard to find them. And when you find them, you don't know if they've been edited or if they're any good at all. So we provide that vetting, like any book on our website, I can confidently recommend. Of course, you wouldn't have a range of good to great within that, but that's the service we provide. And then we have an email newsletter where you get a book a week marked down 50% off to free. So it will be like a dollar. And that's a really nice, easy budget, friendly way to educate yourself about what's out there and to find books in the genre that you're already a fan of and to find authors that you want to support that are good for you and your family and your kids. 

And we do every genre, and I mean every genre. Any little weird thing you can think of. 

Jayne:
Cyberpunk romance. 

ARK Watson:
We do have Cyberpunk romance. Yes. But I would also characterize that one as RPG, the one that pops in my head. It's killing me. The title. Oh, yeah, I have to book on my bookshelf. Let me grab it. All right, so this is more Cyberpunk romance. It's a little more lit RPG. Cyberpunk. It's The City and the Dungeon by Matthew P. Schmidt. And a boy enters a video game or like the video game enters the world, and he enters that to make money for his family and ends up almost being like Brideshead Revisited. And he kind of finds love and God and meaning through that. And then this one, GodCountry by Colleen Drippe, the main character, is kind of a cyber slave that got freed, but he was so conditioned to serve the company that enslaved him. And he has memories of an education and a childhood that aren't real. They were put into his brain, but they're real to him. And he has to grapple with that. And she also had a really character and a couple of other her Star Brothers books. It was like a posthuman who was finding God. That's a romance in GodCountry, though. 

Jayne:
Wow. And for our listeners who are unfamiliar, could you explain what a lit RPG is? 

ARK Watson:
Lit RPG takes the mechanics of video games and role playing games and merges it with literature. So the big hit that came out was Ready Player One, that film and book, that’s lit RPG. And The City and the Dungeon, it's mechanics of D&D that are at play.

Jayne:
Tabletop Dungeons and Dragons, going old school.

ARK Watson:
Yes. And what's really cool about Matthew Schmidt is he plays on this understanding that a lot of characters have that a lot of what happens. The mechanics of the world they're interacting with are determined by chance, by the roll of the die, if you will. But then as they delve deeper into the dungeon, they start to realize that there is a greater power at play, both within the dungeon and perhaps within reality. 

Jayne:
I think that actually serves as an amazing segue into your rolling the dice of fate, my friend. So we have come to that time where we are going to have a rando round, and I have no idea what questions you're going to end up with. So there's 100 questions on the sheet in front of me. I have percentile dice that are. Yes. Used in role playing games. Yeah. And so would you like tie dye dice or pink with sparkles to decide your fate? 

ARK Watson:
Tie dye. 

Jayne:
All right. A girl after my own heart, and I'm going to roll. And we're going to see which one of these questions we end up with. And I wrote these over-caffeinated, so they should be good. Oh, good. All right, let's see what the first question is. Who has been the kindest to you in your life. 

ARK Watson:
I can't mention anyone in my family because the other ones will be like, hey, what about me? But I do have a very wonderful family that I'm very grateful for right now just to well, it's not quite like my entire life, but right now my husband has been amazing. We moved to Korea two years ago and got a house. 

And like a week after we got the house, we were living in suitcases, no furniture. We had a baby in a Korean hospital. And then just as I was starting to heal from the labor, the pandemic hit and shut everything down and I couldn't go out. And he has been so supportive of me personally and my work. So many days that I've been like, oh, I'm really behind with work or writing. Can you watch the baby for a bit and let me catch up? He's done that and he's been there. 

Jayne:
He sounds like a keeper. 

ARK Watson:
I think so. 

Jayne:
All right, I'm going to roll again. If you were a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would you be? 
ARK Watson:
I don't know if this is what popped in my head. I don't know if this is a flavor, but chocolate with Pop Rocks. Chocolate because it's great and it's fun. It's my favorite and Pop Rocks because there's just a little bit of weirdness in there. 

Jayne:
That's awesome. You gotta keep it weird. Alright, I know the answer to this question. It's do you garden?

ARK Watson:
Oh my goodness, so much. So we've been living in apartments the first house we've gotten. So as soon as I saw the place, I was like, I have plans for this yard. And the pandemic certainly helps because it's not like I could go anywhere for the first couple of months of that. But yeah, if you follow me on Instagram, I post monthly updates on my plant babies. 

Jayne:
Do you grow the vine? 

ARK Watson:
No, I grow muhly grass and roses and lavender. We’ve got a ton of marigolds right now, some mums, but I think struggling with hydrangea. Usually I can get hydrangea to grow, but getting stuff to grow in a different country is a different beast. And hydrangea are native to Korea, so you would think they would be great, but maybe next year, maybe after a year of getting their roots set. 

Jayne:
Well, and they do say that that first year of observation is what teaches you so many things in the garden and it never stops. I've learned in gardening is you never stop learning.

ARK Watson:
And you don't know what the weeds are when you move to another country. There was this plant, I was like, oh, this is a really cute little grass. I love the structure of it. I'll let it grow. And now I'm like, oh my God, kill it with fire. Nothing dies. It spreads everywhere. It takes everything. 

Jayne:
I've encountered a couple of weeds like that myself. You're like, oh, look at the pretty flowers. Oh, my gosh, this thing makes thorns that never go away. Yeah. I can't even read my own handwriting. What would you say is your most joyful childhood memory? 

ARK Watson:
We're just talking about gardening. So I think of like, gardening with my mom. That was something we could do. We did together growing up. It was really nice. I remember playing with dinosaurs and Barbies with my little brother in the backyard. And she had one little plot that she was like, okay, I'm not going to plant anything. So you guys can just tear it up for your own enjoyment, which is quite considerate of her. So we had our own little mud pit. 

Jayne:
Because who doesn't love mud? Yeah, that's the thing about being a kid that you realize when you have kids is that really all kids need is mud and sticks. If they have some boxes, then you're like really golden. 

I think the last question I have for you today is something that I think I'd like to ask all of my guests and that's what gives you hope right now? 

ARK Watson:
Living abroad and the Pandemic has been hard, but it's also been incredibly helpful. So Korea was actually one of the first countries to get the COVID virus. And so I could see it coming to the west like a slow tidal wave. No one believed it won't reach here. We've got a good ocean between us and that was really hard. But also Korea has done really well with the Pandemic and it's also given me an opportunity to meet people from other countries as well. And I think that these past few years have been hard for everyone. 

But living abroad, it's a constant reminder that my problems and the problems my community are the problems of my community. And it is not the whole world. The whole world is not like that. There are places where those problems aren't even blip on the screen. Just remembering that your problems, whatever stressing you out, it is not the whole picture. And I think living abroad, that is constantly with you, you're out of your bubble. It comes with some stresses, but it's also quite freeing.

Jayne:
It kind of comes full circle with that recurring theme that you noticed in your books that you're going to face struggles, but that there are blessings that you can't yet seek. 

ARK Watson:
Yeah, I write about it because I need to write about it. I need to remember that.


Jayne:
Maybe you write about it because we all need to remember that. Well, ARK, our time together has flown by and I have really enjoyed this conversation with you and having the opportunity to have my mind open to new ideas about science fiction, which is a genre I had read off and on throughout my life. But really tackling some deeper tensions within the genre has been fascinating. And I learned that there is such a thing as Cyberpunk RPG romance. Mind blown. I want to thank you heartily for coming and having this conversation with me and with our listeners to just get to know you a little bit better and see some fiction that can really open their mind to some new perspectives. 

ARK Watson:
Thank you. This has been fun.

Jayne:
It was a pleasure to share this time with Ark Watson. Her exploration of ideas through a questioning mind and a faith filled heart is fascinating. Her novel, The Vines of Mars is on sale on Amazon starting November 1. You can find her work and updates arkwatson.com or follow her on Instagram @Ark Watson. Be sure to check out Catholicreads.com to find many other works mentioned in this episode. If you enjoyed listening to this conversation, click on the follow button for more tales every other Tuesday and in the meantime read stories that matter because you are living one.

 

 

 

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1 Response

  1. Mark says:

    Thanks for your blog, nice to read. Do not stop.

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