The Aphelion Interview

Kate Thornton

by Jeff Williams

This month, we are proud to present a new feature called "The Aphelion Interview". Each month, writers who we feel are a cut above the average--writers whose body of work without question is on the whole excellent-will answer questions put to them by the staff. Before going any further, let me personally thank the authors who have agreed to be interviewed thus far for this column. They have given very generously of their time, their minds, and their hearts.

Anyone who has read fiction on the web over the last few years will know the name Kate Thornton. She is a well known and popular contributor to such sci-fi/fantasy zines as Aphelion, Titan, and Eternity Online. What you may not be aware of is her extensive catalog of horror, mystery, and romance writing, much of which is also available on the web. Kate Thornton is as diverse as she is good!!!

(For a full listing of her writings, honors, accomplishments, go to )

Because of her tremendous talent, we couldn't think of a better person to inaugurate "The Aphelion Interviews" than Kate Thornton...

Q: About how long have you been writing?

A: I started writing about 8 years ago and wrote several mystery, fantasy and romance novels, which never went anywhere. I heard once that you have to write 7 books before you could really learn how to write. Maybe I took that too literally.

I started writing short stories in 1997 and discovered that I preferred the discipline of the short story form.

Q: What led you to start writing?

A: It was a form of revenge therapy at first - it felt good to research murder methods and write them up with a specific person in mind. Then I discovered how much I liked creating characters and situations. I had always wanted to participate in space flight, and writing about people who did so seemed like a way into that world.

Q: Initially, what were the types of writing that held the greatest attraction to you? How have your tastes changed (if at all) since you began to write?

A: At first I tried my hand at mystery novels, then mystery short stories. I prefer to write in short story form, and spend about an equal amount of time writing mysteries and science fiction. I have always been an avid science fiction reader, but my writing has ranged throughout genres (I even had a romance story published once, just to see if I could do it!)

Q: Who would say were and are the greatest influences for you with your writing?

A: Robert Anson Heinlein has been the greatest influence on my writing life, both as a writer of great vision and wit, and as a person of great humor and kindness. I also devoured William Gibson once I found him - rather late in the cyberage, I'm afraid - and many of the newer science fiction and fantasy writers of today, who exhibit vision and complete fearlessness when facing an unknown future. And let me mention Samuel Delaney, Robert Anton Wilson and Alfred Bester - a few of the greats.

Q: What types of experiences (personal and other) do you draw on when you are searching for ideas for your work?

A: I think at my stage in life there are virtually endless experiences on which to draw - everything from the basic human emotions to more complex situations involving work, family relationships, fulfillment and loss. Lots of good stuff comes from the experience that grows us all in such a painful way - loss.

Q: Authors have an almost infinite number of methods for writing. How would you say your writing process works?

A: Actually, I have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the computer to write, but then I have to be dragged away from it, too. I have the usual love/hate relationship with the actual writing of a story, and find that if I have a deadline, or limited time available to write, then I tend to do better than if I have all the time in the world and nothing to do.

I guess I get the germ of an idea for a title or a character and let it take its course from there. Just thinking about the Mare Inebrium as a real place can get me started, but then almost anything can. Like, what if... I play "what if" a lot, and that's where many stories start. What if there really *are* little green men, only they're green from chlorophyl or something. What if your Mom found out that your new girlfriend was really of the masculine gender on her own planet? What if she didn't tell you? What if she did? What if you really had a problem with authority figures and had to become one? What if the way you experience the passage of time turned out to be different for everyone, and the people you always thought were just a little slow really *were*? You get the picture - and it changes all the time. I get some of my best ideas in mundane situations, like waiting in line at the supermarket or putting gas in my car. People are interesting and they all have dozens of "what if" stories attached to them.

Q: When I read your stories, I find that the characters have very rich, very real personal and internal lives. Is this something that you spend a great deal of time trying to create, or does it just seem "to happen"when you write for these types of characters?

A: When I write about characters, they take on a peculiar reality for me. If they do not take on this reality for me, I stop writing about them and choose someone else. They create themselves in many ways, maybe from my mind's wastes, excesses, cravings and experiences. I am all the characters, from my shuttlerats to the eleven-year-old boys. I am all their experiences and lives. They come from everyone I have known in a rich and interesting life, everyone I have read about in a lifetime of voracious reading, everyone I have seen on the freeway or written an email to or been jostled by in a supermarket. I guess to answer your question, "it just happens" or I don't continue writing about them.

Q: In my own writing, I sometimes find it very difficult to give characters, particularly when they are in similar professions, a voice that is uniquely their own, a voice that also doesn't directly mimic my own. Is this a problem for you, and if so, how do you get around it?

A: I don't find it a problem, since I have so many different people inside my head. This multiple personality thing is probably a great advantage for a writer! Another good technique I use is to change gender (or even species) to get a different voice. And another way of coping with similarity in character voices is to simply use the same characters over and over, as I do. I know some of them very well indeed!

Q: Most of your science fiction stories involve the moon and Mars as settings. What drew you to these locations?

A: Well, they're fairly close and they already have a lot of locations named. A lot of the places I write about on the moon really exist - I just make them into cities or settlements or outposts, the way we really would have done had we continued the space program. I remember the late '60's and the excitement of being at Caltech in the mid-'70's when there really was a space program.

Q: Many of your science fiction stories involve a rotating group of shuttlerats, all using shuttlecraft called "Linda Rae". What has drawn you to the shuttlerats, and why do you name the ships "Linda Rae"?

A: I love the idea of a highly structured society in which there are renegades. My shuttlerats are all living on the edge, having sacrificed material success for the thrill of being independent. This is such a fun theme that I won't leave it alone.

As to the 'Linda Rae' - I have thought long and hard about whether or not I should tell the world *that* particular story...

A long time ago, I had a group of friends - some I had known since high school, some more recent - and we were an interesting bunch just setting out on our lives. One of these friends was my best friend, Linda Rae. In 1983 Linda Rae severed all ties with me and my friends - she was a writer at the time, and even published a small literary magazine, hand-bound as this was before the Internet was more than a sparkle in DARPA's eye - and we never saw or heard from her again. I don't remember what the problem was because it happened right at the same time my father was killed, and events of that magnitude tend to dominate one's memory. When I started writing science fiction, I toyed with the idea of naming a character after her. Then I named the spacecraft after her instead, so I could resurrect her with each story.

I always thought she might read one of my stories and get in touch with me, but that has never happened.

Q: When and where was your first story published?

A: My very first short story was published in DreamForge in 1997. It was a disturbing fantasy called "The Chinese Tinker Belle" and came in 5th in the Editors and Preditors Best of the Net contest for that year. My first mystery story was published in March of 1998 in the premier issue of Blue Murder Mystery Magazine, and has been nominated this year for a Derringer Award.

Q: How did you discover Aphelion?

A: I wanted to read science fiction - and the Internet seemed like the logical place to find it. I searched the engines for science fiction short stories and Aphelion was the first one to pop up. From there, I discovered many other places on the 'net, and even began trying my own hand at writing. But even after hitting the paying markets, I found the quality and humor at Aphelion made it one of my favorite places.

Q: Electronically published fiction seems to be the new route for getting published initially. How do you feel about the world of electronically published writing, and in what directions do you see webzines going in the future?

A: I love the world of writing and publishing, and I see the world of electronic publishing blending with hardprint publishing - much the way Steve Algieri over at Eternity Online does. Pulp Eternity is the quarterly hard print manifestation of his publishing efforts. Many webzines publish hard copy anthologies - Ivan Graves over at FrightNet is one - which embody the best of their webzine offerings. I love Titanzine, too - the perfect incubator for new writers in the science fiction field.

While many of us get our publication starts on the Internet at webzines, I have seen a rise in editorial standards and in the prestige which these publications command in the publishing world. I hope there will always be a place for fresh, new voices and a nursery for developing writers on the web.

I am looking into the exploding world of e-published books. Some of my fellow writers have had great success in that endeavor, and I will be exploring it in the future.

Q: What are some of these endeavors?

A: I am thinking about an anthology of all the "Linda Rae" stories. What do you guys think? Or maybe an anthology of all my science fiction stories, to include the "Linda Rae" stories...any feedback on this idea?

Q: When was the first time you sold a story (for actual monetary gain, I mean!!!).

A: "Just Like in the Movies" was sold to Blue Murder Mystery Magazine in late1997 and published in March 1998. It was my first professionally published story, and happened to be a mystery. (It's one of 2 of mine up for a Derringer this year!) My first science fiction piece which brought in money was a time-travel piece sold to FogFire Magazine in February 1998. "A Matter of Time" is available in the archives at and I think it's worth a visit. FogFire has temporarily ceased publication, but you can find a couple of my stories there.

Q: Science fiction/fantasy, to me, seems to be a male dominated field though I realize that there are some very popular exceptions. First, do you think that this is true? Second, if so, why do you think there seem to be so few women writing and publishing science-fiction/fantasy?

A: Science fiction - especially hard science fiction - has an emphasis on the mechanics and adventure of the genre. Many women of my generation were steered away from science, mathematics and engineering as they were considered unsuitable interests. I can remember when I was in high school and many of the colleges I might have been interested in were closed to women. It wasn't easy being the only woman in some situations and it wasn't easy to fight the system. When I joined the Army twenty years ago, it opened up whole worlds which had been denied to me. Okay, some of those worlds were made out of mud, cold, heat, snakes and some drill sergeant barking day and night, but the adventure of it made up for a lot of the shock and horror.

Many of the women writers available to me as a child were practicing primarily in the fantasy field and the hard sci fi writers were for the most part men. But I was such an avid reader that I guess I didn't care, and when I started writing, it didn't really bother me until I found some publishing doors closed.

Now, as to so few women writing and publishing in the field today - I beg to differ! Here's a very short list of some of my current favorite women science fiction/fantasy writers!

McCamy Taylor Marcie Lynn Tentchoff

Donna Manganaris (whose time travel romance, "Echoes of the Past" is a winner!)

S. Joan Popeck Kate Hill

Octavia Butler (from my own city of Pasadena, CA!)

Sharon L. Reddy

If you do a net search, I am sure they will pop up with stories!

Q: The world seems to be becoming more and more fantastic and unreal by the day. The pace of change now is greater than at any other time this side of Renaissance. Science-fiction/fantasy, by its definition, mines that fantastic and unreal territory. As the world changes, as technology evolves, as societies mature, in what directions do you think these genres will go in the future?

A: The fantastic and unreal becomes commonplace and mundane. But there is always a frontier of the fantastic - and it is the job of the science fiction/fantasy writer to explore it first.

Q: What do you see yourself doing with your writing in the future?

A: I hope to see more stories published and maybe get a book or two out there. My fantasies are modest in this regard. I just want to keep on writing.


Kate Thornton lives in Pasadena, CA where she writes science-fiction and mysteries when she is not busily engaged in other nameless pursuits. She would be delighted to hear from you at

While herding a sturdy diesel across the highways of life Jeff Williams dreamed of becoming a writer. In between haunting railroad yards and airport observation decks (and grading, grading, GRADING!!!-argh!!!!!!!) he scribbles cryptic notes on slightly used paper napkins and tries to get a little writing done. Jeff can be reached at