We’re talking today with A. M. Roelke, author of a SciFi novella The Space Station Murders due out Spring 2011 by Muse It Up Publishing.
A.M., When did you begin writing?
When I was eight. Science fiction was my favorite thing to write almost from the beginning.
What do you like most and least about writing?
I like inventing. I dislike feeling nervous about what I’ve written, and worrying about revisions.
Who is your favorite author? Why?
Ray Bradbury. He inspires me, and he’s just such a cool guy.
What do you do for relaxation when not writing?
I read, swim, play with my cats, write some more, or watch TV. (I’m a fan of Jeff Goldblum stuff like “Raines” and “Tenspeed and Brown Shoe.”) I also like buying books, as my crowded quarters can attest.
Tell us a bit about your upcoming book.
Herb Molloy is a homeless ex-cop living on a space station, dealing with alcoholism after his partner's death. He meets station newbie, Zack Ives, and the two investigate a string of homeless people murders on the station. Friendship is cemented, old wounds are healed, and the secret of the murders is revealed as the killer strikes far too close to home.
The story is fast-paced (hey, it’s only 20,000 words, so it’s got to move along at a pretty good clip), but it also tackles emotions and grief, and things like the very human feeling of not wanting people to feel sorry for you when you’re down and out; how you’d almost rather keep your pride and stay in the gutter than get help from people who pity you.
When is the anticipated release?
Why did you choose Muse It Up Publishing?
Why did they choose me??
Well, I came across MIU from hearing about Terri Main’s acceptance there for her sf/mystery novel, The Dark Side of the Moon. When I saw they accepted novellas, I decided to submit my story, “The Space Station Murders.” I’d written it without any thought of publication, but I really loved it and the characters. Beyond reason, perhaps.
Do you have a blog or website where we might read more about you or you stories?
Do you have any other book(s) available for purchase?
Nope, nothing yet! ;)
Where did the concept for the book come about?
I’m a big fan of buddy stuff, like Starsky and Hutch; I was thinking about cops, and about space stations (because of a stalled sf novel of mine), and about loss and the way people deal with it. The ideas came together in the creation of Herb Molloy, and how he's trying to deal with grief and survive in this marginal existence that he’s exiled himself to.
But he doesn’t just wallow in grief. He tries to look after his fellow homeless people, and risks his own safety to help a station newbie, Zack Ives, who later becomes a friend.
How long did it take you to finish, from concept to final product?
I really don’t recall. I wrote most of it pretty quickly. I got quite involved in the process. Then I got stuck. After a break, I ended up writing the ending in maybe one long sitting. I’d say the whole thing took at most a month, but probably less than that.
The revision took longer, though. I went over it several times, fiddled with it a lot, and then edited it further before sending it to MIU.
Has there been anyone/anything who influenced your writing?
I think I’ve probably been influenced by more people than I know. As a child, the book The Runaway Robot, by Lester del Rey was a big influence on me, both in its science fiction elements and its focus on character (in both senses of the word). Ray Bradbury is also an inspiration to me. He writes about things that really matter to him. I want to write that way, too.
Where is your favorite place to write? Why?
On my laptop! It's faster and easier than any other way I've found. Seriously, I had no idea how useful these things were until I got one. I’d never want to go back to transcribing everything from longhand — or even just working on a non-portable computer.
What does your muse require? (music, candles, incense)
It’s hard to say. If I ever figure out a sure-fire way to write, I’ll be one happy author! Maybe I’ll finally finish my stalled novels, too. :)
As a writer, what is your greatest fear?
That I’m really just a fraud, a terrible story-teller, and everyone will realize one day, laugh at me, and probably kick me off the internet. That and editing. :)
What projects are you working on now?
A couple sf stories. A sf/fantasy project about a woman who can teleport. And I’d really like to get back to my detective novel set on a space station.
What tip would you offer to a new writer who is just beginning their submission journey?
Follow guidelines carefully and format professionally. It says a lot about you. If you don’t read the guidelines, you’re disrespecting the very place you want to accept your story. Also, don’t be afraid to go with non-paying publications at first. You can really learn a lot and get some wonderful encouragement while working your way up and improving your skills.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’ve been told that The Space Station Murders feels like the beginning of a series, and that I should consider writing more. I can see what people mean, but honestly, I don’t know. I want to think, and I do think, that these characters go on to have useful and happy lives. I believe I’ve set them on that path. They don’t really need anything more from me. Although of course it would be fun to revisit their wisecracks, their personal issues, their energy and enthusiasm (or moodiness, as the case may be!), and the station itself - I don’t have another mystery for them to solve right now. I respect them too much to just crank something out. Besides, I have a certain other fellow to get out of trouble on another space station….
But having said all that, if I come up with another story for these characters, I’m very open to writing it. I had a lot of fun writing this story, and the characters mean a lot to me. :)
Thanks for reading, and ‘happy writing’! =)
A. M. Roelke
You can contact A.M. Roelke at:
Here is an excerpt from her up-n-coming thriller:
facebook: http://on.fb.me/avHvJ0 writing blog: http://thewritinglifeforme.blogspot.com/ writing credits: http://sites.google.com/site/aliceroelke/
Ahead, a fight.
Herbert’s long, loping run took him to the fracas. Three thugs—the Jensen brothers—wailing on a smaller guy, curly hair. He was giving as good as he got, but with three to one, the odds were obvious.
Herb detoured, slammed a fist into the eldest Jensen’s ribs, hooked a leg around his and pulled him down. Trod over him and tackled the next guy, leaving Curly with only one opponent. Curly, breathing hard, trying not to double over, blew on his fists, rocked side to side, and clocked his opponent a left hook.
Herb smashed the giant’s face a few times, riding on his back. They both toppled to the floor. By the time he’d gotten loose, the biggest Jensen was getting up, the one Curly had been fighting was down, and both he and the third one had a busted lip.
“Molloy,” growled the biggest Jensen, picking up a pipe hidden beneath the park bench and smacking it into his palm. He advanced on Herb, murder in his eyes.
“Time to go, kid,” said Herb Molloy, voice rising. “Street fight looking to turn into a homicide fest.”
The kid kicked the guy in the back of his knees, and took off running, his ratty sneaker soles flashing behind him. He ran all out, the way he’d fought; Herb was behind him the whole way, even when he put on a burst of speed.
They stopped three streets down, leaned against a shop’s wall (spaceship repairs), and panted. “Thanks,” said the kid, doubled over, panting, holding his side. He spat phlegm in the alley and stood up, offered his hand.
Herb looked at it a second, took it. Most street folks didn’t offer to shake hands.
“Zack Ives,” said the kid.
“Herb Molloy.” He eyed the kid, who wasn’t as small as he’d looked, fighting the Jensens. He was almost Herb’s height, and he wasn’t as young as Herb had first thought. Ives moved with youthful energy, but the lines around his eyes said he was probably closer to Herb’s age.
He wore ratty jeans, blue sneakers, and a flannel shirt that had seen better days. He had a medium build and dark blue eyes. His hair was the unruly kind that curls naturally, getting bigger and bigger if you didn’t do some serious pruning. He hadn’t for awhile. His tanned, olive-colored skin and his accent marked him as someone from a planet, not a native space rat.
“You new to the station?” said Herb, drawing back from the firm handshake.
“Yeah. What’s it to you?” The kid drew back, looking like he was ready for another fight.
“If you weren’t, you’d know to stay away from that bench. That’s Jensen territory after 1200.”
“Military man, huh?” said Ives.
“I was,” said Herb, wondering at the kid’s nerve. “Come on, I’ll show you a place where the homeless aren’t quite so territorial.” He turned with loping steps, headed towards the bridge.
“I’m not just perpetually homeless, you know. I’m gonna get a job.” He caught up to Herb.
“Yeah, you and everyone else. Look, you don’t have to prove anything to me, kid.”
“Yeh. Sorry.” He was silent a moment, jogging beside Herb, still sending off jittery vibes from the fight. “Tried to buy passage to Magnus, you know. Supposed to be work there. I just got off Marshall. Job market’s bust. Thought I had enough for a ticket here and then to Magnus, but they said the price has gone up. And then somebody stole my dough when I was sleeping, so now I gotta try and find a job here. I mean, I didn’t come here just to take advantage of the park benches.”
“Nobody does.” Homelessness was a huge problem on stations, though, just like in casino cities. The weather was nice, and you could lose all your money easily and not have anywhere else to go.
“I can drive a cab, but I guess there’s not much use for that up here.” He gestured vaguely to the wide, metal walls of the space station. “I didn’t think it’ud smell quite so bad in space. Aren’t they supposed to recycle the air? Clean it or something?”
“They do. They never get all the smell out, though. Everything’s reused up here.” He found himself slowing his speech a little, perhaps for contrast to the quick-talking Ives, perhaps in an effort to calm the kid down.
“Yeah. How ‘bout that? I mean, you can’t get a drink of water without it being somebody’s recycled pee.”
“It is on planets, too. Everything is. Just not recycled quite as directly.”
“Hey, I never thought of it like that.” By now the kid sounded quite cheerful. He was practically skipping as he kept up easily with Herb’s pace. He would be a talker, thought Herb.
“Here it is.” He stopped in front of the bridge, a real bridge over a small, artificial stream segment. It was meant for station beautification, but the homeless had pretty well claimed it—at least after dark, when the cops stopped patrolling to keep them away. Already, a few of the regulars were setting up camp.
“Listen, I’ve got stuff to do. Take care of yourself.”
“Yeah. Hey, thanks! See you around!” The curly haired kid (why did he keep thinking of Ives as a kid?) turned a big smile on him and waved. Herb raised a hand in brief reply, blinking. He got out of there.
He walked the station streets, back the way he’d been going, past uniform gray walls, floors, and ceiling that were decorated in a few places with paint to advertise shops. Most of the walls were sprayed with a chemical substance that kept paint, etc., from sticking to prevent graffiti and keep the station looking clean and crime-free, never mind what it was really like.
Herb went to the back of the Bubble ‘n Grease, washed a few dishes, ate the meal Narsl had for him, and pocketed the three credits. He detoured by the Bread Maniac’s, went around back and knocked on the door. “Got the bread, Jed?”
“Yeh. Here ya go.” The balding man wore an apron dusted heavily with flour. He gave Herb a careful look. “You, uh, doing any better, Herb?”
“Yeh, sure. These are for the people down at the bridge.” He raised the bags and smiled, fake.
“Yeah. Um, you know, Mark was asking about you. Saw him at the bar the other day. Said you weren’t at your old place.”
“Yeah? Well, maybe you ought to stop by the precinct sometime and see him. He seemed worried.”
“Yeah. Maybe I will.” He handed over two of the credits, took the bread. “Thanks.”
He felt Jed’s eyes on him while he walked away. Damn it.
By the time he got back to the bridge, the station was powered down for night. Only a few wall lights remained lit, dim as a city street at midnight. With the lights low, you couldn’t even see the curvature of the station, or the metal ceiling overhead. You could’ve been on any city street.
He walked jaunty and tough, his ‘cop walk,’ a real “don’t mess with me” signal. Best not come off as a target, what with that killer still on the loose.
“That you, Herb honey?” Dolores’s hoarse smoker’s voice croaked out at him.
“Brought more bread? Well, ain’t you a darlin’?” Several others emerged, took the bread he handed out with silent nods and quiet thanks. The old timers, the booze hounds, the kids hooked on various drugs. He saved a couple of rolls for breakfast, and the kid.
“Seen a new kid, Dolores?”
“Yeah, honey. I’m ’fraid he took your spot. Told him not to, but he wouldn’t listen. Said he’d fight you for it.”
“Talk about nerve.”
“Yeah, but he seems all right except for that, honey.” The end of her cigarette glowed, reflected in her eyes like a cat’s. “Listen, just teach him a lesson. Don’t send him away, okay?” She laid a hand on his arm, brief as a spider.
“Don’t worry.” He rolled up the bag with the bread, stuffed it in his pocket, and strode towards the fifth niche. It wasn’t much, just a little spot crumbled from wear, dug out further with a knife and a piece of metal.
Herb had a locker for most of his things; he only kept a blanket in his niche, but still. He crept quietly over. The kid was curled up in it, snoring lightly. At least he hadn’t stolen the blanket. It got cold at night, with the heat turned down to conserve power—how low depending on how the station’s budget was faring. Sometimes it was so cold a person on the streets could freeze to death.
“Hey.” Herb tapped Zack’s shoulder.
The kid jerked awake and grabbed him by the shirt, fierce and deadly, ready for a fight.
Herb closed his hands over the kid’s wrists, hard. “Get up. That’s my spot. You can’t steal someone else’s spot.”
The fierceness left the kid. “You?!” His voice came out strangled. He let go of Herb and tried to pull free. “But you’re not homeless.”
“That’s right, I’m mayor of the whole damn station. Now get out of my spot.” He half hefted, half helped the kid out, brought a hand up against the side of his face—part slap, part pat—both a wake-up call and a reprimand. “You won’t get far with an attitude like that. You’re gonna be homeless here, you learn the rules. Don’t take someone’s niche.”
“’M’sorry. Thought they were jerking my chain. Didn’t wanna seem like a weakling.” He sounded humble enough, anyway. He let go of Herb’s shirt and edged out of his spot. “I didn’t take your blanket.”
“And if there’s a blanket there, it should clue you in, it’s somebody else’s spot.”
“Just don’t do it again. Here.” He pulled out the bag from his pocket; the paper rustled. “Got you some rolls.”
“Don’t wet yourself. I gave some to everyone else here.”
The kid didn’t even eat right; he was snarfing his food loudly when Herb curled up in his pre-warmed niche and pulled the blanket over his shoulders.
Herb woke early; he always did; hadn’t has a good night’s sleep in six months. (Benders didn’t count.) But the kid was already up, sitting moodily in front of the mostly-worn-out heating coil, holding his hands over it.
Herb folded his blanket, tucked it away, went to the stream for a drink. The water was clean if you got it from the nozzle. He joined the kid by the ‘fire.’ Pulled out his bread.
Ives watched him glumly. “So I guess the job market really is bad, if a guy like you is out of work.”
Herb snorted. “What do you mean, ‘a guy like me?’”
“You know. Tough. Edjicated. Good lookin’.”
Herb looked at him quickly, but the kid just looked glum. It wasn’t a line. Well, Herb knew he was good looking, tall, broad-shouldered, light-haired and with blazing blue eyes. But his looks hadn’t improved any with his time on the street and he’d gotten used to not thinking he still had them. Not that he’d relied on his appearance in his old life. Being a cop wasn’t about looks.
“If that’s a cue for me to tell you my life story, it’s falling on deaf ears.” Herb started to bite into his breakfast roll, then thought better of it, tore it in half and gave the kid half.
Ives dark-blue eyes widened, showing absurd gratitude and disbelief.
“Just a roll, kid. Take it.”
“Thanks.” Again, he ate like a starving dog. Herb shook his head a little.
“Get one of the guys to show you the pay showers. You can’t bathe in the stream without being arrested, and it only costs half a credit.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks.” He sat staring into the coil, a hungry look still on his face, making it tight, pinched. Herb watched him a moment.
“Listen, kid, if you’ve got family or something and need some money for a call, I can loan you a couple credits.”
Ives shook his head. “No family.”
Herb waited a beat. “Friends? Somebody who owes you a favor?”
Ives gave a mirthless snort. “Nobody with the money to get me off here. Listen, don’t worry. Thanks for the help, but I’ll land on my feet. I always do.” He got up, dusted off his pants.
“You just watch yourself here, kid. You make a few dumb mistakes like you made yesterday and you just might not survive.”
“Hey, I can handle myself—could’ve even with the… whatsit brothers. You didn’t have to jump in.”
“You’re lucky I did. But that’s not what I’m talking about. You seen any papers since you got here?”
The kid shook his head, a blank look on his face. “Too busy and didn’t have the money.”
“Well, let me give you a clue, then. Somebody’s been offing homeless people, and if you’re not careful, you could be next.” He watched the kid’s eyes widen. “Don’t hang around alone. Stay in travelled areas, avoid dark alleys. That’s usually where the bodies are found.”
“Bodies?! How many has he killed?”
“The cops are working on it. But it’s always a dark spot, usually near a trash heap and a busted light so the victims won’t be found till morning.” He cocked a finger at the kid. “Do your job hunting in the open, and get back here before dark. This is a safe spot.”
“Yeah, I know. They told me—that lady, Dolores?—she says there’s an ex-cop here. Says he keeps them safe. I bet it’s that old guy with the harmonica.”
Herb smiled to himself. “Look after yourself, kid.” He got up and started towards town.