Christina Dalcher – author of Vox – used to be a linguistic researcher at City University London. Her project focused on how children and adults produced the “r” sounds with the majority of her research focusing on how sound changes. In addition she taught post-graduate language-related courses.
It was only later – after she had spent years working with language – that she began to write flash fiction for fun. Her first novel, Vox, takes on neurolinguistics in a thrilling and terrifying way.
Set in our not-so-distant-future, women are limited to a hundred words or less per day. Dr Jean McClellan is intimately aware of what is lost when children are limited in language. She watches as her once-safe world collapse around her – as women’s rights are stripped right before her eyes. It’ll be up to her to reclaim what’s lost and right what’s wrong.
Her next book, Master Class, tackles a education system that would be anyone’s nightmare. A child’s education and entire future depends solely on a standardized measurement – providing them with a “quotient” and shaping their entire future. Elena Fairchild, a teacher, realizes that her daughter will be thrown out of the elite school and into a federally run boarding school. It’ll be up to Elena to find her child again and save their futures.
I had a wonderful time reading and reviewing Vox, and cannot wait for Master Class to be published (April 2020!). I was absolutely delighted when Christina agreed to be interviewed! Without further ado, here’s Seven Questions on a Saturday!
1) What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
I’ll admit I’ve slowed down since early 2017 when I was writing every day, all day. The business of being a writer (as I found out) involves so much more than plotting and penning a novel. There are events to be attended, expenses to be counted, contracts to be reviewed, and everything else that goes with being a one-woman show. Interviews, social media updates, and—of course—the terrible habit of checking your website stats—definitely interferes. But I do write every day, and I try for between 1,000 and 2,000 words. Also, I’m a morning worker (a trick I learned in graduate school). My motto is, “Get it done, and then go do something else.”
2) According to your Goodreads bio, you began your writing career with flash fiction. Could you talk a little about your early writing career? What made you decide to make the leap to full-length novels and what was the most challenging aspect of that transition?
Actually, the flash career came after I’d written two novels (one really awful YA ghost story and one not-so-bad thriller that landed me an agent). I think I got to a point in early 2015 where I became addicted to creative writing, and when the not-so-bad thriller went out on submission, I fell into a crowd of flash writers on Twitter. What a happy accident that was!
So the transition was more about moving from long-form to short-form and, subsequently, back again to long-form. To be honest, I have a difficult time writing 300-words stories now, but I think that has less to do with conflicts of the form and more to do with the daily pressure (and excitement!) of being immersed in an 80,000-word story.
3) Your full length books, Vox and Master Class, focus on hard-hitting issues and do not shy away from serious topics. Could you talk a little about where your ideas came from for these books?
Having grown up on a steady diet of The Twilight Zone, Stephen King, and every vampire movie I could get my tiny little hands on, I guess I’m a horror addict. But the best kind of horror is the almost-real kind, the twisting of fears and the pushing of limits. One question I like to ask myself: “What if we took an existing issue or a way of thinking—whether past or present—and blew it all out of proportion?” Can we write novels that are both entertaining and thought-provoking? I think we can, and I think we should.
As for the ideas, they come from everywhere—a casual observation or an overheard comment. If I can put my finger on a topic and imagine it being stretched into something extreme while still being semi-realistic, then I probably need to write that story.
4) Vox, your first novel, is set in the not-so-distant future. It grapples with horrific Pure Movement – which focuses on minimizing and marginalizing women through limiting their language. To put it bluntly, Vox has stirred quite a bit controversy among readers. Did you ever expect such a reaction to your book? Do you have any advice for new authors who may be in a similar situation?
Look, you take enough spins around the sun and, eventually, you learn that not
everyone is going to like what you do or what you have to say. Some people might not even like you—sometimes for a reason, sometimes for no reason at all. And art, in whatever form, is subjective. Once a book goes into a reader’s hands (and then into a reader’s mind), the words you wrote are necessarily going to be reshaped by that reader’s experience and world view.
I don’t know what I expected with VOX, but I probably didn’t expect people would publish some of the comments they did. As for how to take it? The best thing to do is look up a few great books — I mean great, like Shelley’s Frankenstein or Golding’s Lord of the Flies or Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Then read through the one-star reviews. Undoubtedly, someone, somewhere, felt it was important to call these books stinking piles of poo. The rest of us know better.
And that’s how you deal with criticism.
5) In your opinion, what are the three most important elements of writing?
Stubbornness, alligator skin (see above), and the ability to banish fear. Everything else—plot, character, the words on the page—are mechanics. I think anyone can create a story and a character and write it down. The trick is finishing the job, taking criticism with a grain of salt, and not letting self-doubt get in our way.
6) Your second book, Master Class, will be published in April 2020. What was your favorite part about writing it? What was the most challenging part?
The answer to both questions is the same: the research. Master Class is a novel, not a textbook, so incorporating historical references into the story was tricky. No one wants to pick up a thriller and find a history lesson. But researching the American eugenics movement and discovering such eye-popping truths about this dark period, then teasing those details into the plot, that was fun. Disturbing and fun, which, for someone like me, are often the same thing.
7) Some authors write one book at a time while others are constantly buzzing around with multiple projects. Which one are you?
I’m a do-one-thing-at-a-time-and-then-do-the-other-thing kind of a girl, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get ideas while I’m working on a project. I read somewhere that Stephen King scratches out notes and sticks them up around his writing area when this happens to him, and if you read enough of the man, you can find those links.
How I came to write books that are part sci-fi, part thriller, part women’s fiction, and part sociopolitical commentary is probably always going to be a mystery (although, as I said, I did have the advantage of watching lots of Twilight Zone episodes as a kid, and no one does scary sci-fi social commentary better than Rod Serling). What I’ve discovered is that this non-genre is my genre. I love it, and I’m pretty sure future books will be in the same vein—taking an idea and pushing it to its most extreme, and frightening, limits.