Today we're sitting down to talk with Cliff Ball, author of Don't Mess With Earth.
FQ: You have previously written a short novella. What made you decide to tackle a full-length novel? How does writing a novel differ from working on a novella?
My novella, Out of Time, wasn't meant to be a novella when I started writing it, but, I ended up with major writer's block when I tried writing it that I pretty much got frustrated with it, since I spent years trying to write it. So, last year, I decided to use Iuniverse to publish it, get it out of the way, even though it wasn't exactly polished, and work on something fresh and new. Don't Mess With Earth is at a little over 50,000 words and I'm trying to work my way to the official length of other mainstream novels that have more than 80,000 words. It only took me about 8 months to write Don't Mess With Earth, but, it took me over 10 years to try to write Out of Time. My opinion on the differences between the novel and novella, as of right now, I'd say a novella was more difficult for me to write.
FQ: Both books have science fiction themes. Why is this the genre of choice for you?
I enjoy reading and watching science fiction, and I find I am more comfortable writing science fiction, so that's the genre I've chosen. I do write other forms of fiction though, and I'm currently working on a novel that isn't science fiction.
FQ: Growing up, were you strongly influenced by shows like Star Trek? Do you feel that science fiction continues to play an important role influencing today's society?
When I turned 13 was around the time that Star Trek: The Next Generation came on the air. It was new and exciting, and the whole genre really caught my interest; while at around the same period of time, Quantum Leap showed up on TV and that got me interested in time travel. I watched shows or movies back then like Back to the Future, The Explorers, Flight of the Navigator, Out of this World, Knight Rider, ALF, V, and some of the others from the late '70's and early part of the '80's in re-runs, so they all strongly influenced my interest in science fiction.
Do I think that science fiction plays a role in today's society? Yes, I do. I keep reading that some inventors and scientists were influenced by Star Trek back in the 1960's and they wanted to invent some of that technology that was in the show. The military, from what I've read, is working on cloaking fields and transporters, along with exoskeletons like the ones in Alien. Who knows, sometime in the near future, we may have a warp drive.
FQ: The first several chapters of Don't Mess With Earth deal with historical figures who were actually Terrans. How did you decide who would be Terran vs. those who were simply influenced by Terran actions.
King Arthur and Merlin seemed like natural choices to me to be aliens, and I guess the writers of Stargate SG-1 thought so too! ha ha! Anyway, I chose Galileo because it made sense to have a scientist like him with the oppression he faced, to be an alien and trying to bring technology to a society that was not all that into science. I chose Amelia Earhart to be an alien, but, she replaces the real Amelia Earhart who dies in my novel during the 1918 Spanish Influenza outbreak, so the Terran who replaces her picks up where Amelia leaves off. The Terran authorities let Amelia play her little flying game until 1937, when they pick her up and she disappears. Since the real Amelia Earhart disappeared, I thought it would be cool to make her not from this Earth, since there were a lot of questions on what had happened to her.
FQ: Ostoro, the captive Ragnor, spends a significant time as a captive on Earth. Do you see his character as developing or changing during his captivity?
Ostoro remained mostly belligerent during the whole 50 to 60 years he was on Earth, but, he softened his attitudes over time until the very end when he realized why the humans had kept him alive for the entire time. When he realized he was going to be disposed of, he reverted back to form and condemned the humans as being backward and way too primitive to be an advanced species using space travel.
FQ: There are numerous references throughout your book to old science fiction movies. For instance, when deciding on the name for the new starship, an airman asks if it will be named Enterprise. Names of other famous starships from old movies are also mentioned. There is a character named Chief of Staff Frank Pike (perhaps from Christopher Pike of Star Trek fame?). Is this your way of paying homage to these science fiction movies?
Actually, I hadn't thought of Christopher Pike from Star Trek, it was a reference to Zebulon Pike, the namer of Pike's Peak. As for most of the names of nearly everyone on Earth in the later part of the novel, most of them have the last names of a historical figure in American history. As for the starship names, they all pay homage to Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate SG-1, and Battlestar Galactica, but I humorously suggest in the novel that the new starship being named for any of those ships in those series would be considered copyright infringement and the government could get sued. I had Ostoro watch the original The Day the Earth Stood Still because I thought it was kind of funny having an invading alien watch a movie about aliens coming to Earth being greeted by humans who shoot first and ask questions later. There are subtle references to science fiction movies throughout the novel, you just have to really pay attention, but one obvious one has to do with Star Wars and Excalibur, King Arthurs' sword.