where the writers are
Interview with Christine Amsden, author of The Immortality Virus

Christine Amsden has been writing science fiction and fantasy for as long as she can remember. She loves to write and it is her dream that others will be inspired by this love and by her stories. At the age of 16, Christine was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease, a condition that effects the retina and causes a loss of central vision. She is now legally blind, but has not let this slow her down or get in the way of her dreams.

Christine currently lives in the Kansas City area with her husband, Austin, who has been her biggest fan and the key to her success. They have two children, Drake and Celeste.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Christine! Have you always been a fan of science fiction?

Oh yes! The first story I ever wrote, at the age of seven or eight, involved Cabbage Patch Dollars going to Mars. I liked aliens, the future, magic, witches, and anything strange or unusual. As a teenager, I had a crush on Wesley Crusher. My favorite books were A Wrinkle in Time and The Chronicles of Narnia.

When did you decide you wanted to become a novelist?

This was never something I decided, it's just a part of me, something I have to do. I could no more not write than not breathe, and novels are my natural style. I like to spend time with stories, getting to know them, and so while I have written and read a few short stories here and then, I vastly prefer novels.

Tell us about your novel, The Immortality Virus.

The Immortality Virus is a far-future science fiction novel that asks: “What if the entire human race stopped aging?” It takes place in 2450, four centuries after The Change (when humans stopped aging), and tells the story of a blacklisted P.I. named Grace who is hired to find the man who caused The Change – if he's still alive. There's action, mystery, and a sprinkling of romance to help brighten the darkness of an otherwise dystopian novel.

What was your inspiration for it?

The Immortality Virus didn't come to me in a burst of inspiration. I started out with the idea that I wanted to write a science fiction novel (I had just finished a paranormal novel and wanted to try something a little different), and then started doing a random search on Wikipedia. The search led me to the article on DNA, which helped me recall something I'd read about a genetic source for aging, which led me to more articles, and after about a week of reading and researching, it all came together in my mind: Someone released a virus that altered the human genome in such a way that we no longer aged.

After that, things came together fairly quickly. I got into characters (which is where I usually start, to be honest), world building, and I wrote an exploratory draft. Grace came to life as I started writing, as if she had always been inside of me and we were just waiting to be introduced.

How did you create the dystopian world in your story?

It all started with a what if: What if the entire human race stopped aging? I didn't set out to write a dystopian novel, although I clearly realize that is what I did, but rather to consider the actual consequences of something that we (the human race) has always wanted. How long have we searched for the Fountain of Youth, both literally and figuratively? The current popularity of vampire novels is, I think, largely about the draw of immortality. And maybe it would be exciting, to be one among many, watching history move, but what if it were all of us? Would history even move very quickly, without the natural momentum of birth, growth, and death?

After that, I went back and outlined a social and political history, focusing on the Unitd States, from the time of The Change (in about 2050) to the time of the novel (2450). Much of this did not end up in the book, but having the information clear in my mind helped me to realize the world of the story.

What makes your protagonist special?

Grace is a strong woman – touch, determined, and smart – but inside, she's vulnerable. She often sees the world through a cynnic's eyes, and yet she stops to help those in need, grumbling the entire time. She truly cares, but is afraid there's really no such thing as love, especially when forever is truly put to the test.

What is your greatest challenge when writing science fiction?

My greatest challenge changes as I grow as a writer. When I wrote The Immortality Virus, my greatest challenge was action sequences. I spent many hours with my husband, coreographing them with him, and acting them out, to aid in the believability. (My husband being well-versed in marshall arts.) The experience helped me a lot, though, and I now feel much more confident writing those same scenes.

What is your writing and editing process like?

So far, it has been different for each book I have written. I'm not sure if I learn something each time, or if I just have to mix it up to keep things interesting.

Lately, I've decided that the trick to writing is to listen to that voice inside my head telling me something isn't right and not just bash my way through a story that isn't working. Writer's block means something is wrong, and if I stop to fix it, I have much better success.

Editing is difficult for me, especially because I have to blow up my screen to a hugely large font so I can catch those obnoxious errors the word processor missed. I take it slowly, one chapter at a time, going through twice for content, once for style, and once for grammar and spelling. With all but the first content run, I put all the chapter numbers in a hat and pick them out one at a time, to help me keep things interesting.

How long did it take you, from idea to final draft, to complete the novel?

I first dreamed up the idea in the summer of 2006, at which point I wrote a novella-length story that I always knew needed to be a novel. I spent most of the next year working on other projects, including the promotion of my debut novel, Touch of Fate, then I picked it back up in the summer of 2007. I wrote a full draft that summer, then once again, worked on other things until August of 2008, when I finally wrote the last draft. This was something of a summer project because I was involved with a summer critique group for a while. All together, if I carve out the times I set it aside to work on other things, I probably spent 9-12 months on it, but as you can see, the math isn't all that simple. :)

What advice would you give to aspiring SF authors?

Writers write! (For more details, visit my blog. I have weekly tips for writers there.)

Thanks, Christine!

Thank you for having me!