’Anniversary Day’ :: Kristine Kathryn Rusch Talks 9/11 and the Far Future

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday January 5, 2012

Science fiction is not the only genre in which Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes, and prodigiously so. But it's the genre for which she's best known... at least, under her own name. (Rusch maintains a healthy publication schedule under several pen names as well, and not only writes books but also runs a company that publishes them. She also writes "The Business Rusch," a column on the nuts-and-bolts commercial side of publishing.)

From sci-fi to fantasy to mysteries and romance novels, Rusch is something of a genre-hopping magpie; indeed, she has no natural inclination to confine herself to any particular stripe of writing, which comes in handy in the case of her "Retrieval Artist" series.

This line of books follows the cases of a hardboiled detective named Miles Flint. The books are set centuries in the future, when humanity has colonized the Moon and beyond, and begun to interact with alien races--beings so very unlike us that human beings are forever getting caught up in systems of law that make little sense to Earthlings, but that extraterrestrials take very seriously indeed. When a human being breaks an incomprehensible alien law, galactic treaties specify that he or she answer for it according to the aliens' own code of justice, which can mean death... or worse (such as the surrender of a convict's child to be raised by aliens).

For some, the only way out of such nightmarish legal quagmires is to disappear--retreat to some nook of the known universe and assume a new life and identity. But old lives are hard to abandon, and when the time comes for refugees from alien justice to be contacted, a special kind of detective is needed to track them down. That's what retrieval artists, like Miles Flint, do.

But Rusch's series, while set in a suitably grimy and dangerous universe, isn't just about Flint's cases--though the books would be colorful and adventuresome enough if that's all they dealt with, Rusch is a consummate world builder. Whether tacking the infinitely complex task or re-imagining our world if crucial historical events had played out differently, or constructing meticulous and comprehensive visions of future societies, Rusch seems to delight in the essential question asked by any writer--"What if...?"--and then following the avenues she carves out of endless possibility through their logical courses.

In the case of the eighth, and latest, book in the series, "Anniversary Day," terrorist events that unfolded in a previous installment recur with full force. In a way, "Anniversary Day" is a therapeutic novel, the dreaded, if fictional, falling of the other shoe that we, as a culture, have more than half expected in the decade since 9/11.

Rusch has always excelled at addressing contemporary concerns in a speculative setting (as her Hugo Award-winning novella "Millennium Babies," among a multitude of her other stories and novels, amply proves). EDGE, naturally, thought the timing of "Anniversary Day" was an artful means of addressing cultural angst over the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Rusch, in a wide-ranging interview conducted via email, revealed that there was more to the story.

To recap the new novel: Four years to the day after a terrorist bombing of Armstrong City, the domed lunar outpost where Flint lives and works, a coordinated series of assassinations begins. Noelle DiRicci, Flint's former partner from his police force days and now the Moon's head of security, finds herself in charge of the city and, as the endless day wears on with tragedy after tragedy, the entire government.

While Flint keeps his daughter close and works to help DiRicci, a number of characters familiar from earlier books step up to take center stage. Prominent among them is police detective Bartholomew Nyquist, a man for whom the yearly observance of the terrorist bombing brings back unpleasant memories--and whose psychological scars following an attempt on his own life run deep.

Fans of Rusch's Retrieval Artist series, already chomping at the bit because of "Anniversary Day's" cliffhanger ending, have plenty more to look forward to. Rusch filled EDGE in on the story so far, her other projects, and what's next.

Art Reflecting Life?

EDGE: "Anniversary Day" deals with terrorism, and its release comes only a few months after the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I'm guessing this isn't just a coincidence?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Actually, it is a coincidence. The timing of the book had more to do with publishing schedules than the 10th anniversary. However, "Consequences," an earlier Retrieval Artist book is about 9/11, and "Anniversary Day" moves from the events in "Consequences." That's one of the ways fiction takes a life of its own, I think.

EDGE: There's quite a resonance with 9/11 all through the book, with a sense of uncertainty and impending panic in the air--not to mention that line near the end of the novel, "Nothing would ever be the same again." Do you think that it's true in our post-9/11 world? Are things still significantly different, outside of the permanent new hassles associated with getting anywhere via air travel?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I do think that's true in our post 9/11 world. A few years ago, I got invited into an anthology of alternate history stories and I decided to write about what would have happened if Bush v. Gore [the Supreme Court case that suspended recounts in Florida in 2000 and resulted in George W. Bush's first term] went the other way. I had a three-page single-spaced list of the things that would be different before I forced myself to quit.

I know that Gore--who was VP when the first World Trade bombing happened, and knew what a threat Bin Laden was--wouldn't have ignored that memo [warning of Al Qaeda preparing to hijack airplanes and provided to the White House a month prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11]. I don't know if 9/11 wouldn't have happened because some of the destruction was an unintended result of where the planes hit and [the fact that they were fully tanked up with] jet fuel. But it would have been different.

I'm answering your questions three days after December 7, 2011, and I thought throughout that day how different the news coverage is now that the WWII generation is passing on. When I was kid, Pearl Harbor Day was a Big Deal. Now it's a passing mention. But the 9/11 anniversaries are a big deal for the same reason. One event, from the outside, changed life in the U.S. "Anniversary Day," in the Retrieval Artist universe, will change everything forever, whether following generations know it or not. (I mean, imagine our world without WWII. It's tough, isn't it?)

EDGE: You've expanded the Retrieval Artist universe quite a bit, showing us more of the fictional future world you've developed. As you write the books, does your imagination (or the requirements of the story) reveal more to you about the world you're inventing? Or did you start out with all the details already worked out?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: My imagination is stingy. I never know what will happen next. So it all happens to me, just like it happens to the characters.

That said, my subconscious is tricky. It knows what's going on. So it'll set up something five books in that will impact something in book eight. And it is a set-up. I, the clueless writer, just don't know it when I write it.

EDGE: The series has progressed to the point of introducing all sorts of characters and giving them large roles, especially in the new book, where we don't even see Miles Flint until about halfway through. Why the shift in focus from Flint, who is the main character of the series?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I've always said that this is my 87th Precinct series. For those non-mystery readers in the crowd, Ed McBain wrote the 87th Precinct [novels] starting in the early 1960s. The books were (are) highly influential. They had a huge impact on everything from police procedurals to "Hill Street Blues" and what's being written now.

More than that, though, McBain followed a group of characters in the 87th Precinct, focusing on one most of the time, but every second or third book, he'd bring someone else front and center. I remember when "Fat Ollie's Book" came out, because Fat Ollie is an obnoxious character, and I didn't think McBain could pull off making him the protagonist. He did, though.

I also told my Roc editor that I admired what Elizabeth George is doing in her mysteries. She writes British police procedurals that started with Inspector Lynley, but have moved into other characters taking point. I always meant for the Retrieval Artist to do the same.

Miles is the point character, but right now in the series, he just wants to raise his daughter. He is effectively retired. So others must do the dirty work. And besides, sometimes the dirty work has to be done with someone who has more authority than he does. So they get the story.

He will go back to being a Retrieval Artist, however. My stingy subconscious wrote a story near the end as the very first tale in the series, and I'm heading toward that. I think. That story, "The Retrieval Artist," was a Hugo finalist, and got it all started in my brain.

EDGE: In addition to this expansion of characters and their roles, you have also set up a compelling storyline in "Anniversary Day" that could carry the series for quite a few installments. Do you have a whole saga mapped out? Or are you allowing the story to unfold as you go?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I suspect there are three books. I have been surprised before. But the story is too big for one book. I got freaked when I realized that I had 100K [words] done and I had just finished the first day of the saga. This has happened to me before, and I can't cut. So I sighed and wrote the book the way it wanted to be written. What do I know?

I do know that all of this will incorporate subplots from many past books. And you'll see a few characters you haven't seen since "The Recovery Man."

EDGE: These new developments also hint at plans to take your reader to new places around the solar system and the galaxy. Or do you intend to keep things pretty much local and concentrate on crafting a detailed image of life in the Moon's domed cities? (That subject alone could generate and serve as backdrop to the whole series, after all!)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Oh, no. We're heading out to other places, while remaining Moon centric. If you think of [comparing this to a story set on] Earth, this is a story taking place in New York, but with international ramifications. So you do need to show the places where the problems are unfolding or began.

Building Worlds, Charting Sagas

EDGE: In general, how do you approach your various series? Do you ever start out with an overall arc and an ending in mind and then write the books with those things in mind?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I really wish I was that organized. I think things would be easier. Of course, I'd be bored...

EDGE: For that matter, should a series have a definitive end? Or should they remain forever open ended, allowed to live on in the imagination of the fans?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Some series need to end. I have an ending for my Smokey Dalton mystery series that will probably piss off fans, but I like it. Only it won't happen until [the books reach the year] 1985 or so, and the series is at 1970 right now. (I write that under the name Kris Nelscott.)

EDGE: The next installment of The Retrieval Artist is due next summer. Care to tease us with any hints as to what's next?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: This one is more of a spy thriller, and a world-builder. After all, DeRicci is the remaining face of the Moon government. She'll have to make some decisions about power and government. And our heroes need to find and catch the bad guys, which is easier said than done. This is a big event, and it needs a big solution, which we will have.

EDGE: What else will be new in 2012? What new plans do you have for your other ongoing series?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Pyr is putting out the next Diving book in January. Then my Kristine Grayson weird funny romance novels (fractured fairy tales) will have two installments in 2012. I'm hoping that the next Smokey Dalton book will be out about a year from now, but it depends on the author and her workload (ahem). Plus some standalones.

And WMG Publishing is putting out my backlist, which continues apace. That's keeping me busier than I expected.

EDGE: Not to mention all the stories you make available to your fans online with "Free Fiction Mondays." Are some of those "Free Fiction" stories new? Are they all from your backlist?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Right now, they're all from my backlist. That backlist is extensive, so by the time I put up new ones, they'll probably be backlist too. I'm still marketing most of my short fiction to the major markets (except for the weird pieces that have no market, like a few romances and YA stories.) I have about 400 backlist short stories, so the key is keeping up with the weekly demand from WMG, not having enough to post.

EDGE: The online promotion of your work is a terrific marketing idea, but then again, you are also a businessperson with a publishing concern to help run. What's it like to be on the publishing as well as the writing side of the business?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I've always enjoyed the publishing side. Writing itself is a business, after all. Most writers don't look at it that way, and that's wrong. They're running a small business. It might be a business based in the arts, but it's a business nonetheless. So helping with the publishing, especially after all of my years of experience in the biz, is quite nice.

EDGE: I'll bet you have at least one entirely new series in the planning stages, if not ready to spring on us any time now...

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: I do. It's a Kris Nelscott mystery series featuring Valentina Wilson and set in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1972. I've done a few stories about her--she was a character in "Stone Cribs"--and she'll have three books out bang, bang, bang in 2012.

And then there are a few other series that will start in late 2012 or early 2013-a couple mystery, and two SF, one based on my story "G-Men." That's a series that looks at what America would be like of J. Edgar Hoover got murdered a few months after JFK did. (The story ["G-Men" focuses on that event.) It's fun and challenging.

EDGE: There's another spot of synchronicity, seeing as how the newest movie from Clint Eastwood is about J. Edgar Hoover. Did that film give you any ideas for what the world might have been like if Hoover had, as your original short story envisions, been killed (and while attending a gay party, if memory serves!)

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Oh, no. The story predates the film by a few years.

My husband Dean Wesley Smith gave me the idea, actually. I was writing for an anthology of alternate history mysteries and I really didn't have time to do the work. So Dean suggested that I write in my Smokey Dalton mystery universe that I write in under the name Kris Nelscott. Well, Smokey's world is very real, so there's no alternate history there.

Then Dean tried again-just use 1968. What would have happened differently if Hoover died in '68? Not much, the damage was already done. But if he had died in 1964... and I was off and running. The world would be very, very, very different if that man had died then. I haven't even really gotten to the difference yet in the first book, but that'll start in the second--when I get a chance to write it. All of this new publishing stuff is keeping me very, very busy. Lots of backlist to get up, lots of stories to tell. I reeling a bit from the amount of work I want to do, let alone the stuff the fans want me to do.

EDGE: I love the anthologies of your short stories and novellas that have seen print. Are there any new anthologies in the works?

Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Oh, yeah. WMG will be putting out a few. There are quite a few e-book collections now, that will eventually see print. The 10-story collections (a series WMG does for all its writers) is closest to collections I've done in the past. There are two of those out now: a Christmas collection called "Silent Night," and a collection of my award-winning, and award-nominated mystery stories called "Secrets & Lies." They'll have a print version next year, with more to follow.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.