Enjoying the show so far? We have plenty more Issue 044 circus stars to shine our spotlight on. Today Rocky Breen takes the stage, answering our questions about her story “Skyboss.”
LSQ: A circus in the sky! Where did you get this idea? Would you ever brave a sky circus?
Rocky: First off, no, I would never brave a sky circus. I wouldn’t even brave skydiving! I might not be brave in the skies, but I’ve been pushing myself a lot as a writer. So, the idea came from a thought experiment: what kind of circus story would I actually want to write? I’m not big on circuses, so when I saw the prompt for LSQ’s theme issue, I pushed back against my immediate instinct (“it’s not for me”), and instead asked myself questions and did some circus 101 research to see if that sparked anything.
It’s not that I was trying to force myself to write about something I didn’t care about, but more that this is my new approach with idea generation: if my knee jerk reaction is “subject x is not for me,” I want to at least dig a little and try and understand that side of me. And sometimes that leads to good ideas for stories I want to write.
The idea for the specific premise in “Skyboss,” though, was from 1) re-discovering my love of astronomy through some summer reading which, 2) introduced me to the Red Bull Stratos Jump (it’s real, it’s nauseating, go find it on Youtube).
LSQ: This story is very science-heavy. What kind of research did you have to do to nail the details?
Rocky: Is it? I’m very relieved to hear that impression. My go-to genre is fantasy, so writing something very solidly sci-fi was daunting. The reading I had been doing that inspired the story in the first place is Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs by Dr. Lisa Randall — that’s where I first learned about the Red Bull Stratos and learned a lot more about comets. For some reason, astronomy concepts were just kind of static in my brain after elementary school? So learning generally about astronomy updates (both from the book and from rabbit holes I went on out of curiosity) planted a lot of the ideas which eventually manifested in “Skyboss.” A lot of those rabbit holes were on Wikipedia and Youtube.
Dr. Randall’s book goes over my head in some places, though! So maybe coming from a place of imposter syndrome kept me on track with asking ‘the right’ questions in researching, such as: “Where would the launch be? Where would Camille reasonably land? How much time is passing?” I can’t go an hour without using the restroom, and this is set not too far in the future, so I needed to address thoughts like this to feel like the concept was plausible.
LSQ: What was the most enjoyable part about writing this story and why? The most difficult?
Rocky: I really enjoyed writing about someone who loves space but isn’t going to be one of the astronauts that goes up there in ‘zero gravity.’ That’s me. That’s Camille. Not because we somehow aren’t cut out for it but just… that’s not where life took us. Other passions, other pursuits. But where we ended up doesn’t diminish the draw of space and how much joy and awe we get out of witnessing its magnificence. I felt like child-Rocky would have really liked this story.
The most difficult part of this story was writing a character from a background fairly different from my own. Camille is Black, whereas I’m white. She’s married and a mother, I’m not. I grew up poor and rural, she grew up upper-middle class in the city. So I did my best at researching and mapping her character and made sure to have a few sensitivity readers go through and help me spot some obvious issues.
One thing that went directly into making “Skyboss” possible: I signed up for and learned a LOT through a Writing the Other Course, specifically their Deep Dive Into Dialogue class. I was honored to receive one of their Sentient Squid Scholarships, and without it I probably wouldn’t have written the story I have here. So a big shout out and THANK YOU to Nisi Shawl, K. Tempest Bradford, and everyone else involved with Writing the Other!
LSQ: Are there any other projects you’re currently working on? If so, could you tell us a bit about them?
Rocky: I’m writing a short story about pirates, alcoholism, love potions, and consent.
I’m also writing an audio drama crossover of Alice and Thumbelina that’s mostly modern (probably set in 1990’s), and they both get pulled into Wonderland! It’s a lot of things, but it’s definitely a romance! I’m doing something new with this in that I’m hoping to draw from memories of internalized homophobia. I’m bi/pan. Normally I just write queer romance on the page and no one bats an eye because, duh, love is love. But lately I’ve been thinking about the thorns I’ve brushed against in this part of my life, and for the first time I want to see how those thorns might look in a story.
There are also two novels I’ve been working on: one is a romance, wlw of the arranged marriage trope (fantasy), set just after one country has completely eradicated sexual assault (and possibly all violence–still working this out) from its culture.
The other novel is more solidly fantasy, with an illusory magic system loosely inspired by the impact of memory/scent or memory/music recollections. It’s stuck in the research stage, but one thing that’s been certain for a while is that it has an explicitly gender non-binary printpress owner that I’m in love with and really happy to be writing.