New Author Spotlight: Jocelyn Koehler
What drew you to writing stories that were moving across genres? Is this a new direction for your writing?
I have always loved science fiction, but I’ve been writing a lot of fantasy lately, particularly fairy tale inspired pieces, so it was satisfying to be able to write a more realistic story, where I didn’t have any templates to follow. I could focus on the character’s thoughts and reactions (and the math!), which was fun.
In “Message in a Bottle,” there seems to be an almost desperate desire for connection and communication. Can you talk a little about why you tackled these topics in the story in the way that you did?
You can’t look around today without seeing how much humans crave connection, no matter how trivial. I think we’re just wired to communicate, and that won’t change, even after we get our rocket packs.
In the story, the characters do seek out connection, without necessarily knowing how it will end up. Dorian makes a empathetic connection with the writer of the message in the rocks, and the result of that connection is that she doesn’t actually pass the message on right away, which you might expect her to do. That’s the other side of connection and communication: sometimes we want to keep things to ourselves, and that’s not always easy. There can be enormous pressure to share what you know…even before you really understand what you’ve got in your brain.
And of course, there’s a practical level of communication as well. When Dorian is caught in the storm, she loses her connection to her shipmates. Being isolated really changes her perspective, and maybe is the only reason she can truly understand the original message in the rocks.
One of my favorite lines in the story is, “And with every new planet mapped, humanity got a little lonelier.” Do you think humanity is growing lonely? Why or why not?
Loneliness is definitely something I think about when I stare up at the stars too long. It’s linked to how incredibly small I feel whenever I remember just how frackin’ big space is. Think about the things humanity has already done to try to find alien life: SETI, including Bach recordings on our Voyager probes, beaming radio waves out from Earth. Why would we do that, if not because we’re feeling rather lonely and fragile? On a grand scale, wouldn’t discovering that there is another form of intelligent life out there be a joyous thing? I hope so. I also hope we meet the nice aliens first…
Math as the universal language is such a wonderful choice in this story. Can you talk about the inspiration behind that?
I was an English major, but I’m a big fan of mathematics (and science nerdery in general). Note that doesn’t mean I understand any of those subjects except at a superficial level. But I try. The history of science is endlessly fascinating to me.
One of the most intriguing things about math in particular is that it really does seem to be constant; that is, unless you do some fancy logic tricks, 2+2 does indeed equal 4, no matter who (or what) you are. So it was a natural choice for my “writer” to use in making the message. It was the common denominator (pardon the word play) and thus the best guarantee that someone would understand that an intelligent being had been there. Of course, my protagonist isn’t an expert, so it’s possible that there are other messages written in the rocks that she didn’t notice…an idea that I might have to explore later!
Is writing an act of discovery for you? In what way(s)?
Sometimes I really am surprised by what I write, especially when I allow characters to make their own decisions. For example, in this story I knew only that I wanted to have my character discover some very specific patterns in the rocks (I was reading a bunch about the Fibonacci sequence…everyone does that, right?). I didn’t know what she would do with the knowledge at the end. It’s not uncommon for me to write two or three endings to a story, and then decide which one to go with.
Where is your favorite writing place? Can you draw us a visual picture of the kind of space you create for yourself when you write?
I write almost exclusively on my laptop, so I can bounce around inside my house. My only requirements are absolute quiet and near constant supply of hot or iced tea (depending on the season).
You can read Jocelyn’s newest story, “Message in a Bottle,” in the current issue of Crossed Genres.