One of the books that we’ve been most excited about this spring is Elizabeth Bonesteel’s debut, The Cold Between, the first novel in her Central Corps series. The book comes out this week, and we had a chat with Bonesteel about her inspirations for her writing and this book.
Bonesteel’s maternal grandfather was one of the chief builders for the Saturn V rocket, something that stuck with her as a child and pushed her towards her interests in programming and software development. It’s only recently that she’s become a full-time writer.
The Cold Between is your first novel, and it takes place in a really well-detailed universe. Can you tell us a little about how you developed your world, and what influenced you along the way?
I began by thinking about what sorts of challenges humanity will be facing over the next several centuries, and the sorts of social and technological developments that would have to happen to allow us to survive as a species. From there, I posited an Earth where there has been a large loss of population — due to climate disaster, war, or both — but where information has managed to largely survive. At some point, I figured enough people would look at the devastated Earth, look up at the stars, and think “How much worse could it really be?” Add evolving technology and many centuries, and you’ve got a scattered system of colonized planets.
What I’ve realized is that from a political and economic standpoint, I’ve built something that’s quite old-fashioned. Colonies have local economies that operate at various levels of sophistication, but most of them rely on materials brought from elsewhere, and are often at the mercy of other governments in ways they can’t control. Supply chain disruption can be life or death. There’s a lot of luck in who thrives and who doesn’t.
There’s definitely political commentary there, although I didn’t think about that as I was writing it!
Who are some of the authors who are important to you as a writer?
Agatha Christie is a big one. She started writing one day, and just didn’t stop. I like some of her books better than others, but overall her output is incredibly consistent. P.D. James is another. Her characters are always so vivid, and never pure, not even the good guys. And in every book she manages to break my heart.
In-genre is harder, because I tend to remember individual books rather than an entire body of work. But Tanith Lee was huge for me growing up. I remember sitting down with one of her books — Lycanthia, I think it was — and pulling apart her sentences, trying to figure out how she wrote such beautiful prose. And of course prose falls apart if you take individual words out of context, so I never did get a good answer.
There’s a blend of genres on display here: mystery, space opera and romance. How did you find the right balance between each of these?
I really do think most stories are mysteries, one way or another. Murder is a good driver of plot, because in order to solve the mystery, you have to piece together the past without the input of the person most relevant to it. So I didn’t think specifically “I will write a Space Mystery!” It was more that the story began with a mystery, and it happened on a distant world.
As far as romance goes — romantic entanglements are a fairly common occurrence in many lives. Crisis can create strong bonds even between relative strangers, so it made sense to use romance, among other things, to motivate my characters. But past Elena and Trey’s first encounter, the relationship builds from the action rather than the other way around. At the start, despite their lovely night together, it’s far more important to Elena that Trey is unjustly accused of a crime. Her feelings develop as she gets to know him, and sees how he responds to what is happening.
Space opera flows naturally, I think, from both mystery and romance. Maybe it’s the only thing big enough to hold both at once! But really, once I decided what was behind the killing, there was no other way to tell the story.
Commander Elena Shaw and Treiko Zajec are central to this book, thrown together after a one night stand. Why is it that Shaw is so adamant on sticking with Trey, when she can just as easily cut her ties and leave everything behind her? What is it that drives her?
Elena is a black-and-white thinker, probably to an extreme degree. But when she first comes to Trey’s defense, she doesn’t expect to get so involved. She figures she’ll tell the cops they goofed, and they’ll say “Oops! Sorry!” and take it from there. When that doesn’t happen, she gets angry, and her focus becomes justice for the dead man, which she feels is her obligation, both professionally and personally. So at the start, at least, she’s not so much sticking with Trey as sticking with her investigation. That he is willing to help her, and risk himself to do so, is what strengthens that relationship.
The subtitle here is A Central Corps novel: and another installment, Remnants of Trust is due out this fall. What do you have planned out for future installments?
There are some natural consequences that flow from the events of The Cold Between, and the plot of Remnants of Trust deals with some of that. But we also see more of the Corps’ role in helping colonies survive, and what happens when things don’t go as planned. Stories begin when things fall apart. That’s true for Remnants of Trust, as well as the installments afterward.
The Cold Between will be released on March 8th as a trade paperback and as an audiobook from Audible.com.