AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Andrew Penn Romine

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

“The Spirit of Mars” is a story about a crowdfunded expedition to colonize the Red Planet where old grudges and a sprinkling of esoteric magick endanger the mission.

What was the genesis of the story—what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always wanted to write a “haunted spacesuit” story but could never decide whether it should be haunted for real, or some sort of hi-tech telepresence gimmick. The format of this anthology allowed me to blur the lines a little between the two. Maybe Suit-5 malfunctioned. Maybe one of Carver’s esoteric rituals backfired.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

The crowdfunding format is a bit of a modern twist on the old epistolary story but with a greater distance from the narrator. It was a balancing act to reveal crucial information at the right time, and in the right way. I planted telling comments and clues in the reward tiers as to Carver’s real aims, and carefully selected timestamps and dates. I struggled with how to show the ending, especially since there’s a lot of action, and finally decided that “found footage” was my best option.

I think the hardest part though, was deciding on my reward tiers. How much money could a billionaire like Carver realistically expect to raise on such a crackpot mission? Who could afford it? Other millionaires and billionaires with grudges to settle, of course.  Using a near-future virtual currency like “Planetary Shares” (aka space bucks) gave me some leeway in setting valuation. Ironically, not long after I finished this story, Bitcoin crashed, and space bucks started looking real good!

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

I’m fascinated by how even humanity’s noblest actions are subject to our individual quirks of personality. Our mercurial natures. We can’t help but bring who we are, and what we believe to a dinner party, let alone a religious colony on Mars! I like exploring the spaces where ego smashes against idealism.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I researched esoteric ritual and the calling of angelic and demonic powers. I studied a bit of numerology and magic squares to find some good hooks to hang Carver’s intended ritual on. What I found was that many magicians of many eras seem to have contradictory advice on the best practices. In the end, I had to fudge some things to make the story work, but isn’t that always the case? By the way, if you accidentally summon Bartzabel while reading this story aloud, I can in no way be held responsible…

What are your thoughts about crowdfunding generally? Do you back a lot of Kickstarters, or at least find a lot of interesting projects because of crowdfunding?

To date, most of the crowdfunding projects I’ve backed have been publishing related. There have been a lot of great anthologies and indie publishing projects. I haven’t strayed too far from that sphere yet, though I have a friend who spent a year backing all kinds of really great board games, and I have to admit, that’s very tempting! And I have a musician friend whose successful Kickstarter campaign enabled her to tour the United States, playing and singing for radio audiences.

How do you think Kickstarter and self-publishing platforms (like Amazon’s KDP, etc.) are changing publishing?  

I do think that there’s potential for crowdfunding fatigue, but that said, it’s a great way to deliver a product to the people who want it most. I think especially for creatives and entrepreneurs with track records, it’s a valuable way to reach your audience directly.

BONUS: What are some examples of fiction you like in which the format helped dictate the story? (i.e., like the stories in HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!!, or like a found footage movie, or like Jake Kerr’s “Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince,” etc.)

Obviously, “The Spirit of Mars” owes a great debt to found footage films, as it actually includes some found footage of its own!

If I’d had the time and the budget, I was tempted to try and produce it myself as bonus content—maybe one day!

While I didn’t care much for the movie, I loved the general atmosphere of Prometheus. Very spooky (at least until it got dumb.) The soundtracks of that film (and the very excellent Alien) were particularly good music to write this story by.