Former software engineer Kerry Nietz is an award-winning science fiction author of novels and short stories. He is best known for his Peril in Plain Space series (Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies from Space) and his DarkTrench universe with its two trilogies—the completed Saga and the ongoing Shadow series. His most recent release is Fraught (2018), the second of the DarkTrench Shadow books that follows debugger ThreadBare in a search for truth and significance in a world filled with “forgottens.” You’ll find Kerry on KerryNietz.com and his Amazon author page, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. And look for A Star Curiously Singing (the first book in the DarkTrench Saga) for FREE on Kindle/Nook/Kobo/Apple iStore.
Your DarkTrench series is known for its “dystopian/cyberpunk vibe.” What unique challenges did Fraught, the newest entry in this universe, pose for you?
The biggest challenge was staying fed. After my wife read the first book in the series, Frayed, she demanded I write another one. Frayed isn’t a cliffhanger in the conventional sense—no one is in immediate peril at the end—but there were enough questions that she (and other readers, it turns out) wanted more. So Fraught is my attempt to make everyone happy. My wife never threatened to stop making dinner, but I didn’t want to risk it. She’s a good cook.
Tell us about your main character in the Shadow series.
The main character of Fraught and Frayed is a techno-slave named ThreadBare. He and his kind are known as debuggers. They have implants in their heads that connect them to the future version of the Internet along with the machines they maintain for their slave masters. The implant also throttles their behavior via little “stops”—brain shocks—keeping them on the right path. Thread is generally okay with his lot in life, though he longs for significance. That longing takes him into some harrowing and uncomfortable experiences, and ultimately changes him.
How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
A portion of Fraught takes place in a “school” for new debuggers. That setting affects Thread in a variety of ways. He has a personal connection to the facility, because he, like all debuggers, started out there. So, in a way it feels like home. He becomes a temporary instructor there, which pushes him outside of his comfort zone—as kids often do. That discomfort propels the rest of the story.
The world of DarkTrench is a complicated place with its unique settings, language, and social structure. How did you manage the balancing of just enough information (for clarity and suspension of disbelief) with trusting readers to “get” your world?
To be honest, I don’t give the management of the DarkTrench world much thought. I only write it as I see it. I focus on the immediate setting and what is important for the protagonist and let the rest of the world remain a little shadowy until he has to go there. That’s one advantage of the story’s point of view. All five books are written in first person present tense. So, it is a little like the reader is sitting on the hero’s left shoulder and experiencing what he’s experiencing. As a writer, I’m on the other shoulder. I’m often surprised by what we find.
I think for some readers the point of view can be an unexpected adjustment. The opening chapters of the first books in the two trilogies, A Star Curiously Singing and Frayed, are a bit of a mind warp. You’re sort of dropped into this place with its own jargon and social structure and need to swim for a bit. Frayed is a little easier, I think, because the main character has a more relaxed temperament, but even in A Star Curiously Singing the hero (Sandfly) warns you with something like, “This will take some explanation, I know. But don’t worry, we’ll get to that.”
What sparked the initial story idea for the DarkTrench series? When you finished the original trilogy, did you know you would continue in this world with the Shadow novels?
A Star Curiously Singing (the first in the DarkTrench Saga trilogy) was inspired by several things. I was intrigued by the idea of writing a story in first person present tense, because I’d experimented with it in my memoir FoxTales (that details the growth of Fox Software) and readers had enjoyed it.
I’d also read a handful of memoirs by people who’d grown up under sharia law and realized there was solid potential for a dystopian world in that context. Plus, I’d seen a documentary about one of the Saudi princes. In one segment, they showed this small room where three guys spent their whole day recording TV shows the prince might want to see later. All day every day they stared at screens and swapped video tapes. So, one day I had a long layover in tech-savvy Seattle. I popped open my laptop and started freewriting. The elements came together.
To answer your second question: After I finished Freeheads (the last book in the original trilogy) that story felt complete. And it was—it still is! But the DarkTrench setting sort of drew me back. There’s something unique and compelling about it. Like Narnia or the Star Wars galaxy, there is a sense—at least for me—that somewhere that place exists. At first, I tried writing a few short stories in that world again, mostly in the hopes of creating an anthology to help sell the trilogy. Then Ben Wolf of Havok magazine challenged me to write a flash fiction story (of less than 1000 words) for his publication. The story I came up with revolved around this debugger named ThreadBare. There was enough cool about him and his situation that after the story was published I couldn’t let the scenario go. Frayed was the result.
What was the most difficult aspect of world building for the Dark Trench books?
Since the setting is a world under sharia (Islamic) law there was a requirement to research that belief system and culture enough to give the DarkTrench world an authentic feel. Even mundane things like what people eat and wear, or what they commonly say as a greeting. There is some room for extrapolation, of course, because my stories take place hundreds of years in the future. The tech portions of the story are more natural to me. I have a degree in Computer Science and worked in the field for many years, including at Microsoft. Still, there are slices of that—like robot surgery—that are outside my knowledge. So that requires some research too.
Of all the books you’ve published which one was the most enjoyable to write and which was the most challenging?
Every book has its own challenges and joys. They are like children in that way. Probably my most enjoyable book of late was the soon-to-be-released sequel to Rhats! (an offering in the shared Takamo Universe). It is pure space action and adventure akin to TV’s Firefly. I’d never written something like that before, so it was a fun change of pace. Plus, the main characters are human-sized rats. That screams fun, doesn’t it?
The Amish romance genre is a big business in publishing, but your Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies from Space—who would have guessed? What do you think is behind their success?
Well, a mention on the Tonight Show didn’t hurt (along with Newsweek and the Washington Post). But really, I think it is the fun factor. The titles are intriguing, and Kirk DouPonce’s covers are fantastic. Conversation starters.
Last year I attended the Salt Lake City Comic Con with the Realm Makers mobile bookstore. We had a big poster of Amish Vampires in Space right out front. It was fun to watch people mouth the title as they went by—or scream it out loud. The title Amish Vampires in Space intrigued me enough to want to write the book. I asked the same question everyone asks: How did the Amish get into space and become vampires? Then I came up with an answer.
If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
I don’t know if I could, but I think short-lived Firefly had some of the best series writing ever. Funny and insightful at the same time.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve been churning on a third book in the Peril in Plain Space series (The Amish Vampires series). Readers have been asking for more and there is certainly more to explore there. So here I go.