Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Little Conversation with...Cynthia Echterling

I came to know about Cynthia Echterling when her daughter Jenny Humphries, who I worked with at Joe's Crab Shack, told how her mom was a write/artist like me. I connected with her on Facebook, but circumstances kept me from really connecting with her. I recently started following her on Twitter and downloded her latest book, Called Torqed: The Quest for Earth and started reading it. Very good stuff. Hence, the request for an interview went out and after, some e-mail tag, we got it done and here she is...

FOC: I grew up in East Hammond, near Calumet Ave. What part of Hammond did you grow up in?

CD Echterling: First of all, thank you, Wesley, for the interview.

I started life near downtown Hammond. Across our street were train tracks and behind it was L. Fish furniture. That was great. We didn't have many toys, but there were always lots of big cardboard boxes and packing materials to turn into houses, forts, and vehicles and the loading ramp to slide down on with a piece of cardboard when the store was closed. Later, we moved to Hessville. There were still areas that were wooded before they built the new Morton H.S. and Briar East Shopping Center. My brothers and I spent a lot of time in the woods, hunting for critters and playing Indians or pirates, or just exploring nature. Along with the normal dogs, cats, fish and hamsters, we always had bugs, frogs, turtles, snakes and such that we kept as "pets." Mom didn't care much for the crayfish and leeches, or the alligator snapping turtle and the baby copperheads, but she really got upset about the duck. It pooped too much. We also had relatives with farms out in Crown Point and Crete, so we spent a lot of time there too, learning about farm animals, crops and more fun things to do in the woods. Oh, and I attended All Saints and Saint Catherine, so I learned a lot about nun abuse. I went to high school at Morton and Lake Central where I was involved in speech and theater.

FOC: How long were you in the army? Did any of those experiences filter into your work?

CD Echterling: I did a three-year enlistment in a tactical communications signal unit and was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC. When I first reported to my platoon, I was told that I wouldn't be there long because the platoon leader hated women. All the other women had requested transfers after a few weeks, but I'd grown up with brothers out in the woods. Once they learned I was willing to do anything the guys did, including maintain vehicles, bury cable, pitch tents and clean out the port-a-johns, I was okay. I also ate ants and snakes and could out shoot most of them. I couldn't drive a deuce and a half vehicle though. Too short. And yes, my military experience does work its way into my writing, even though I don't write much about war. There is more survival and hand-to-hand combat. I also learned that when you take a bunch of guys out on maneuvers, they mostly talk about food and how horny they're going to get. Also, when girls talk about something that has happened, they listen and empathize. Guys "one-up" each other:

"Oh, I cut my hand."

"Aw, that's nothin'. One time I slid down a pole and drove a splinter through my chin into the roof of my mouth."

"Oh, yeah? Well, one time I ..." Such fun. Oh and I learned a lot about bureaucrats, rules, regs and talking in acronyms.

FOC: One of your favorite genres is Science Fiction. What is it about Sci-Fi that draws you to it as a writer and a reader?

CD Echterling: I had always enjoyed science books -- biology, paleontology, archeology and astronomy especially. When I was about eleven, I read Red Planet by Robert Heinlein almost by accident. After that I was hooked. I loved the endless possibilities of it -- exploring new worlds, encountering beings unlike anything on Earth. There were no limits to what could happen in the human imagination. And science fiction isn't just about the science to me. You can explore human nature in contrast to alien nature in an endless variety of ways. That's what I tend to do in my writing, examine how the individual responds to new, unexpected situations. How do they adapt? What human qualities aid or hinder them?

FOC: Who are some of your favorite Sci-Fi authors and how do they influence your work?

CD Echterling: I tend to prefer more humanistic works rather than the technical or empiric battles. I like Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer (a fellow Hoosier), and Orson Scott Card. I love the humor and twisted science of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. I also am a big Vonnegut fan, though some would say his work isn't really Science Fiction. Some people say that about me too. People tell me, "I don't like Science Fiction, but I like what you write."  I suppose because my work has well-developed, unique characters. Science fiction is often criticized for flat, stereotypical characters, but much of Sci-Fi is more about the technology than the individuals who have to deal with it. I also enjoy works with well-developed worlds. That to me, is the fun part -- working out how the world works. There are so many things to consider: the environment, how that affects the inhabitants both physically and culturally, the economy and customs.  I also read non-SF. I love Twain and Dickens, Malamut and Ecco. I think TV has been a big influence also, growing up with Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. I think my favorite recent series were Farscape and Firefly.

FOC: Who are some of your favorite artists? Are you influenced more by painters or Comic Book Artists?

Oh, I don't know. Hieronymus Bosch? He was weird. I like Medieval art, cave paintings, Indian and Chinese art. I also like impressionist artists like van Gogh and Monet and the way they used light.  I would say my style tends to be somewhere between realistic and impressionistic. I think of myself as an illustrator rather than a fine artist. My favorite illustrators are George Catlin who traveled among the Native American tribes, painting portraits and scenes of their lives before their way of life was changed by white incursion. NC Wyeth, whose most famous work is probably Treasure Island. Science Fiction illustrators such as Frazetta and Vallejo are interesting, but I always wonder if those women didn't need better bras. I'm sorry if you're a fan, but I don't like Anime. There is something about the faces I find a bit creepy.

FOC: Humor is a large part of your work. Is that by accident or design?

CD Echterling: I can't help it. I think it's how I handle stress. I get funny. Even when I was writing Scavengers, which is a dark psychological post-apocalyptic novel, I would get so upset, I had to occasional insert chapters that were for my own comic relief. I think humor helps us, not only laugh at ourselves but it opens us up to learn new ideas. It gets your defenses down so you’re ready to have your brain invaded. Bwah-Ha-Ha!

FOC: What are some of the newer projects that you’re working on? What’s coming out next?
CD Echterling: Right now, I'm re-editing my e-book Torq: The Quest for Earth for print publication, which I hope to have available on Amazon by August or September. I am also working on a novel entitled Courting Corporal Coogan. I've never written a novel with a female lead character before and I am incorporating more of my military experience. A problem I've always had with some  Sci-Fi films is all the big high tech weapons which I think are more Freudian than practical. Who fixes that stuff? So, my military unit in the Coogan novel is the Technical Weapons and Electronics Repair Personnel (TWERPs). Coogan is the medical tech. There are some unknown aliens who have been relocating humans to an uninhabited planet the way we might relocate wildlife to a sanctuary. There is only one rule: get violent and you'll disappear. The humans come from many different places and times, so our TWERPs find themselves in a village with Neanderthals, Upper Paleolithic hunter gatherers, former slaves from a 17th century Caribbean plantation, a few Vikings, pre-Columbian Indians, a Civil War doctor and his daughter and a WWII bomber crew all trying to get along. I know the title sounds like it might be a romance novel, but only if you think having a Cro Magnon trying to give you gifts of raw hearts and wanting to show you his man parts is romantic. It's more about gender roles, diversity and community. It won't be done for some time. This one requires a lot of cultural and historical research. I'm finding the Civil War era medicine fascinating. They were still leeching and bleeding people, but they had stethoscopes and ether. And there's a lot on basic survival skills like fire starting, flint knapping, hunting with a spear thrower and food preservation. Oh and voodoo.

By the way, You should go to Amazon or to Cynthia's site and support her because, if, for no other reason, she's a fan of Firefly! She gets all kinds of cool points for that!

          Cynthia Echterling

Torqed: The Quest for Earth




Beer Wars: The Legend of Utti

HWH Book Cover

Help Wanted Human book cover link

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