LSQ Author Re-Boot: Visiting with Lauren C. Teffeau

Hello fellow Luna Station dwellers! We love our authors and along with hugs via the internet, we like to know what they’ve been up to since their varied appearances in our Quarterly pages. That said, we recently caught up with an Issue 008 author, Lauren C. Teffeau. Lauren has recently published her first novel, Implanted, with Angry Robot and we were excited to catch up with her to see how things were going.

LSQ: Given you’ve been publishing short fiction since about 2011, how long has this novel been in the works? When and how did you decide to try your hand at the longer form?

Lauren: In my mind, I’ve always been a novelist first, even though I racked up over a dozen short story credits well before Implanted came out. But it can take a long time to break-in, as it did for me, and so I wrote short stories on the side and in between projects. From drafting to revising to soliciting feedback (and that’s before we get to the publication process), everything takes longer when you are dealing with novels, and sometimes the relatively instant gratification from writing a short story and having it published can be a good way to stay motivated.

While I’d say I wrote Implanted off and on over roughly a two-year period, that doesn’t include the time I spent before that thinking about the story world or the time I was on submission. From the first draft of the book to holding it in my hands, the process took maybe three-and-half years. From the first kernel of an idea? Maybe closer to ten.

LSQ: Were there notable differences in your writing habits between writing the novel and your shorter pieces? Do you prefer one length over the other? In what ways did you find the novel easier and harder than writing a short story?

Lauren: I’m more comfortable writing longer stories, and even when I do write short, too often my beta readers come back with the oh-so-helpful advice that my shorter works should be novels instead. Short stories are technically quicker to write and revise and submit, but that’s assuming the author knows what kind of story they are working on. And that’s the piece I struggle with the most—what elements to include, what to leave out.

That said, I’ve learned a ton from writing short stories, from craft and voice, sorting through feedback, and what makes for a good contract. The short stories I’ve had published have tended to either be the result of an intriguing story prompt or an exploration of novel concepts and/or subplots, using the shorter form as a proof of concept. So it’s not that I don’t enjoy writing short stories, but I often write them in service of a larger project I have in the works.

LSQ: Are you a pantser or a planner–meaning, did you outline your novel before you sat down to write it or did you craft it by the seat of your pants?

Lauren: I skew planner on the pantser-plotter continuum, though how strict I am depends on the project. I want to ensure that even when I have the entire story worked out in my head there is some space for the unexpected, for the story elements to breathe, and in some instances surprise me.

LSQ: Where did the inspiration for your novel come from? Can you name some authors who have heavily influenced your writing, both for short stories and for this novel?

Lauren: At some point I was describing Implanted thusly: Take Johnny Mnemonic, add a dash of Person of Interest, mix with Logan’s Run, and wrap it all up in a Blade Runner-meets-solarpunk aesthetic.

But really, I simply wanted to write a cyberpunk story with a soul. Or as much of one as the subgenre allows, given the overt capitalism and classism that also comes bundled up with it. I wanted to take the cinematic stylings and eyeball kicks and cool tech and remove the misogyny and exoticism. I wanted to show a way to navigate the coming climate apocalypse in a hopeful manner. I also wanted to really explicate the impact connectivity has had on communication and all the various ways that trickles down into every facet of society. Which modes of communication (frex. implant fostered communication versus spoken word) are used in which scenarios, for what purpose, and how does that change when people are in group situations or one-on-one? How does that change for platonic contacts versus intimate ones? And so on.

LSQ: Can you describe your local writing community and how it has helped you develop as a writer?

Lauren: Local writing groups have been extremely formative to me as a writer. It helps to have a regular schedule, people you are accountable to, and experiences and expertise outside your own to draw from. Regularly critiquing other people’s work and receiving it on your own work also helps hone your craft. I’ve been a member of a group in some shape or form since I started taking my writing seriously. It can be hard to find a group that sticks, members who are all committed to the same thing, and are writing at a level that’s well beyond the basics, but when all those things come together, great things happen.

I’m very fortunate that Critical Mass in New Mexico is one of those groups. Walter Jon Williams was my instructor at Taos Toolbox, a two-week master class on writing science fiction and fantasy. Afterwards, he endorsed my entry into Critical Mass, which has had a rotating group of pro-level writers critting together for well over a decade at this point (maybe approaching two). There’s a wealth of talent in the group, not only craftwise, but in terms of publication experience as well.

I workshopped Implanted in that environment and benefited tremendously from the feedback I got from the group.

LSQ: Do you identify in any way with your protag, Emery? If so, how? Please give us a brief intro into Emery’s character–who she is and why she does the things she does. What are her flaws? What are her strengths? What was enjoyable about creating her? What was challenging? 

Lauren: Emery is a young woman who’s blackmailed into working as a courier for a shadowy organization, and Implanted follows what happens when the life she was forced to leave behind comes back to haunt her after she’s left holding the bag on a job gone wrong. Action and adventure abound, along with high-tech gadgets, light espionage, romance, and hard questions about the future.

When the book opens, she has just graduated from the prestigious College of New Worth and is debating whether she wants to meet one of her close friends in person for the first time after years of synching via their neural implants, which allow for the near-instantaneous exchange of thought-text. (Hello, cyberpunk!) But after growing up in the Terrestrial District, Emery’s slow to trust, even though they have so many things in common, including a love for the city’s Arcades where their implants pair with the latest cutting-edge tech for super-immersive games like the one that introduced them in the first place. She also has a BIG secret she’s been keeping from him, and most everyone else in her life, making her easy prey for the folks wanting to turn her into a courier.

I’d say Emery’s like me in that she’s driven, committed to her friends, loves video games, and always tries to do the right thing, even when it’s hard. Despite our similarities, she was the hardest character to write. She valiantly fought me over the course of successive drafts. Sometimes I had trouble uncovering her motivations or pinning down her voice, but I eventually brought her to heel. I am the author after all 😉

LSQ: Was there any part of the world building for your novel that was difficult? 

Lauren: I try to give a lot of attention to world building in all my stories, struggling to find the right balance between too much and not enough details. You can glean a bit about my process from a Tor Roundtable I was a part of here. But basically I really enjoy this part of writing, so for me it’s not necessarily what’s difficult so much as what takes longer to come together. Especially Implanted, which was built in bits and pieces over the years. I researched art nouveau and sustainability practices to get a better handle on the architecture of my domed city. I took a look at cybersecurity practices. I also included a lot of world building assumptions that can be mapped back to my social science background in information science, data curation, and mass communication as a graduate student and later on as a university researcher. The hardest part was getting the details of hemocryption right because that was the point where I had to call in reinforcements. Kelly Lagor, one of my critique buddies who has a background in biology, helped me to design a process for encoding blood cells with the data Emery’s responsible for transporting.

LSQ: Can you briefly describe your journey in getting an agent? And how was the road between getting an agent and getting a book deal?

Lauren: I first got an agent in fall of 2014. I had been writing novels with an eye toward publication for a couple years and had unsuccessfully queried two novels prior to that. But things came together this time. Unfortunately that project didn’t sell after about a year on submission. By then I had started writing Implanted since you should always be working on the next project. I had my first child in early 2016, and writing while pregnant and writing while being a new mom slowed down my progress a bit, but it all worked out in the end.

LSQ: Any tips for writers working on their own novels?

Lauren: Finish your shit. And it will feel like shit. It will feel like you’re a fool for wanting to write and for wanting to share your stories with the world. But you have to push through all that to get to THE END. Then, take a break. When you return to your project, you’ll discover that maybe it isn’t as bad as you thought it was. Or that you are in a better position to see the story’s flaws and how to fix them. Either way, you cannot submit something that is incomplete. And it is only once a draft is complete that you can get a full sense for how to revise. If nothing else, remember there are no shortcuts and try to enjoy the journey along the way.

LSQ: Plans for novel number two? Perhaps a sequel?

Lauren: I’m hard at work on a few sekrit projects, which may or may not include a sequel to Implanted. My website is the best way to stay up-to-date on any news on that front. However, the world is extremely rich and there are definitely different facets to explore. I hope to do that in some fashion one day.