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Author Spotlight: P.A. Cornell

What is your favorite coffee shop beverage?

I don’t really have a go-to coffee shop beverage. It varies so much with my moods, seasons, etc. I can say that as a Chilean, I come from a tea-drinking culture, so I tend to gravitate toward teas. That’s what you’ll find me drinking on any given day, and at home I often have upwards of forty varieties of tea on hand, so tea’s a safe bet. I do enjoy coffee, but I’m super picky about coffee quality and I have a hard time finding good coffee these days. I’m always on the lookout for a truly good cup of coffee.

  1. What do you love the most about writing science fiction?

I love so many things about science fiction! I truly enjoy the science aspect of it. Whenever I write something that’s a bit heavier on the science side, I learn so much through research and I find that so interesting. But even the stories with less actual science in them are fun because I can let my imagination run wild and create a world and characters that allow me to explore themes and questions in a unique way. And of course, it’s just plain fun sometimes to throw in tried-and-true SF elements like robots, time travel, spaceships, etc. 

  1. Who or what would you say has had the biggest influence on your writing?

I always have a hard time answering this question because I feel like writing—or anything creative, really—can be influenced by anything and everything. I’ve never made an effort to write like a particular author I admire, for instance, but I’m sure every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me in ways I can’t even begin to quantify. My writing is shaped by the ideas and people around me, through reading and practice, through various teachers (both formal and not), through life experience. I think the key is just to be open to receiving the things that will ultimately make you a better writer as you go.

  1. What inspired you to write Lost Cargo?

Lost Cargo started with a very simple concept. The initial idea came from a conversation with a friend who had recently returned from a trip during which the airline had lost their luggage. I remember thinking, what if the cargo had been something more valuable than a suitcase? What if instead of a plane, it was an interstellar spaceship carrying people? Of course, the story became much more than that as I worked on it, but often just a simple question like this can lead to more questions that reveal setting, characters, and of course plot. 

  1. What kind of research did you have to do before writing Lost Cargo?

There were little bits of research I did throughout the writing process as they came up. I’ve actually had stories that were much shorter that required far more research. But for this one there were things like the way planets and moons move in space, conditions necessary for the growth of certain plants, how celestial objects are classified by astronomers, and I borrowed details like the pod airbags from NASA’s Mars rover drops. There’s probably so much more I’ve forgotten, but these ones come to mind right now. 

  1. What was the hardest scene to write? 

I don’t know that I found any particular scene hard to write, but one aspect that was important for me to do justice to was Parker’s internal, emotional struggle. I don’t want to spoil anything for readers, but Parker’s had a tough life in many ways and she’s struggling under the weight of the immense sadness she carries. As a person who has struggled with depression, I didn’t want to trivialize her experience, nor did I want to make it seem like any one thing was the cause of her pain. I also didn’t want an easy, overnight fix for it all. Emotional struggles are never that simple. In the end I hope it’s clear that Parker’s struggles are still there, but she chooses to face them in a new way, in part because of what she goes through in this story. That’s what I was aiming for anyway.

  1. How do you select your character names?

This varies. Sometimes a character emerges fully-formed complete with name, and they basically tell me, “This is who I am, like it or not.” In this case, Parker insisted on being Parker from the start. Other times I go through several names until one feels right. For Lost Cargo, the names were chosen for different reasons. Many of them are culture-specific and in that way reveal a little bit about the character before I even get into other details about them. This was deliberate in that I wanted it to be clear they’re from all walks of life, and from all over Earth, their differences in background being part of the struggle they face once they’re stranded. 

  1. As a writer, what would you say your mascot/avatar is?

I can honestly say I’ve never given this a thought. I don’t know that I have one.

  1. Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?

As a reader I tend to like stand-alones these days, and I guess that also influences my decisions as a writer where this is concerned. I feel like if I try to connect my stories too deliberately it might seem forced and might limit what I write. I also like the idea that readers can begin reading anywhere in my bibliography and not be lost. Stand alone stories also allow me to explore whatever I want without necessarily having to revisit what I’ve already done, which keeps it fresh and exciting for me. That said, I do have favorite characters and places that I may revisit at some point in the future, and some of my story settings could potentially be in the same “universe” if I wanted to go that route, but so far, I haven’t deliberately connected anything. 

  1. Do you try to be more original or give readers what they want?

I don’t know that either of these things are entirely within my control. I wouldn’t say I strive for either, though if it works out that way, it’s certainly a happy accident. As a writer I just try to tell the story as it wants to be told. I try to write what I would like to read. I figure if I’m happy with it, there are bound to be at least a handful of other people on this planet who’ll agree, and I guess I’m writing for them. I place less importance on originality. There are plenty of stories out there that don’t blow your mind with originality, but who maybe take a new and interesting look at an idea you’ve seen before, and that to me is completely valid. Originality can be great, but it’s just not my main goal, personally. 

  1. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?

Just keep writing. I think that’s key for all writers. You just have to keep writing, even if it’s not very good, because it’s the only way to get better. Often you don’t even realize how much you’re improving and learning as you continue to write, but when you look back at older work that growth becomes clear. And of course, read as much as you can both within your genre and outside of it. But to be honest, I don’t know that I’d need to tell my younger self any of that, since she couldn’t have helped but do both those things anyway. 

  1. What is your favorite thing to do besides writing?

I have lots of things I enjoy. Spending time with friends and family ranks high up there. I like being outdoors in nature. I’m also a huge movie fan, as is my husband, so we see as many movies as we can.

  1. What’s next for you, what are you working on now?

I’m working on a couple of short stories at the moment. I don’t want to get into too much detail with either of them but they both involve a lot of science, so they require considerable research. I’m really enjoying the challenge of them both and I’m excited to finish them and hopefully get them out in the world soon. I can say one is a near future science fiction story set on Mars. The other is a blend of science fiction and fantasy, but where the science is key. 

Pick up her new book Lost Cargo today!

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