Lift-Off by Fiona Lehn Genre: Romantic Science Fiction
The world’s first tourist space cruise launches from the International Spaceport in White Rock, British Columbia, on New Year’s Eve. One hundred free cruise tickets are hidden all over North America. You have three days left to find one. Would you...
Break and enter? Risk a billion-dollar inheritance? Betray the love of your life?
It’s a random universe. While millions around the globe celebrate the Quicksilver spaceliner’s impending launch, a handful of our heroes struggle to achieve their stellar dreams.
One of them is a methane heiress desperate for a free ticket. Another is a newscaster digging for a killer scoop. And another is a veteran astronaut who’s never been in space.
There are more. Tween twins attempt a secret mission, a star is almost born, and everyone is trying to get to the launch before the Quicksilver—you know—launches.
A lot can happen in a random universe. Do-gooders become saboteurs, cowards muster courage, and loners find love. Who will crash and who will soar? The clock is counting down to one moment that will change everything: Lift-Off!
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Strumming and singing brave extra long, Ginée leaned forwards to offer the man a glimpse. In show business, some jiggling cleavage never hurt, she’d learned, and sometimes it helped a whole lot.
She ended the song to a smattering of applause. The man didn’t clap, but he was approaching. Ginée smiled her winningest smile and thanked the few who flicked coins at her feet.
“You made a mash-up of The Star-Spangled Banner and O Canada?” the man asked.
She wished very different words had come out of his mouth. Those were the breaks. “Everyone’s a critic,” she said, tuning down the high E string that kept going sharp in the December air. “Check it out.” She pointed at the domes beyond the pier. “That’s the International Spaceport—U.S. and Canada, get it?”
“It sounds awful.”
His twangy southern accent sounded awful, but Ginée didn’t say so. “Take it up with your government,” she said. “You’re a bit late though—the spaceport is already built. You could try joining the protest, for what it’s worth.” She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder at the cluster of bundled-up locals steadfastly protesting the spaceport’s environmental and social impact on their sleepy beach town. The D string was sharp, too. Why couldn’t she have perfect pitch, even perfect relative pitch? Ginée kicked on her pedal tuner and tweaked every string.
“No, the song,” he said. “It’s awful.”
“Believe me, I wouldn’t’ve picked either of them as national anthems.” She clacked off her tuner and strummed. “Again, take it up with your—”
“And then there’s you.”
“Yes, you. Someone’s got to talk to you straight.” He stepped closer and lowered his voice. “How old are you anyway?”
She gave him the stock line. “Twenty-one.”
“Nice try. More like seventeen, I’m guessing.” The guy knew something, at least. “What are you doing here, vying for a world-class—no, a galactic-class gig?” he asked. “Go back to Pipsqueak, Oklahoma, before someone unscrupulous gets ahold of you.”
Another naysayer. It was an epidemic. “Alberta.” She strummed, gazed into the weak noontime sun, blew into her hands.
“What?” He screwed up his face as if trying to remember who Alberta was.
“I’m from Alberta, not Oklahoma, and I’m going. On the space cruise.” She pointed the neck of her guitar in the general direction of the Quicksilver. Just because it wasn’t naked-eye visible from where she stood didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
“To do what? Dishes?” He put his hands on his hips. “Saph Diamond, rockstar of the century, is headlining. What makes you reckon you belong on that stage?”
“I wrote a song specifically for this occasion...and, I had a band once. I know the ropes.” She flipped her hair. Unfortunately, it was prairie brown, not blonde. Still, it was long and curly and flippable, and flippability was what mattered, she’d learned. “Who are you to be so opinionated about my work? You’re just an aging, misplaced southern gentleman who—”
“I’m Zig Powie,” he said, as if she should know the name. He scuffed the sole of one of his blue JPK loafers on the sandy pavement. “I’m the Quicksilver Entertainment Manager.”
“Manager! Really?” She did another supermodel hair flip and jiggled like Annette Funnyjell-o did in those old-time beach movies. “You’re here to hire me, aren’t you? Are we on camera? Is this a test? Where do I sign?”
“Actually, that’s why I’m here.” He shifted his weight and his pants hitched up enough that she caught a glimpse of bare ankles. Loafers with no socks—this really was the big time! “Can you read that sign behind you?” he asked. “No Busking. If you leave now, I won’t call the White Rock sheriff, or deputy, or whatever they have in this country.”
“Come on, give me a chance,” she said. “I wrote this one special for the launch.” She fumbled along the fret board and strummed. “Jet engines are a go...” she sang.
“Go.” Zig Powie rolled his eyes. “Go away.” He flicked his wrist as if to brush her from the planet’s surface, headed towards the pier and, with a flash of his ID badge, disappeared beyond the Mercury security checkpoint.
“Prairie Oysters!” Ginée said. She picked at her strings idly, wondering if she should chase after Zig Powie or stand her ground. If he was her lucky break, he’d be back, right?
The scent of sage suddenly filled the wind, overpowering the low-tide seaweed funk. “I’d like to hear that song,” someone said from behind her. His voice was deep and wild, like a growl. A coin arced overhead, spinning and glinting in the sun before it landed with a heavy tink, scattering the small pile of change in her guitar case. The coin was the size of a toonie, but instead of lead and copper, it appeared to be made of pure gold.
“Sure thing, mister,” she said, glancing at the generous tipper. “Thank you for your patronage—jeepers!”
The enormous grin of Saph Diamond, rockstar of the century, was grinning at her, and it was attached to the body of Saph Diamond, rockstar of the century, of course. A body skinnier than in his pictures, although his mouth was as big as the celebrity rags swore—wider than Julia Roberts, wider even than Animal the Muppet. He wore a coonskin cap, tight black leather pants, a midnight blue silk kimono, and his trademark bare feet, even on the frosty pier planks. Sapphires sparkled where his toenails should have been. Three bodyguards in spangly suits postured behind him like Vegas casino towers. A delicious warmth infused Ginée’s body, probably sexual heat from the collision of two stars.
“I’m always hunting for new material, and new talent,” Saph Diamond said. No question, he was sizing her up. “I would love to try you on, darlin.”
Ginée flipped her hair, offered him her winningest smile, and played the intro.
Little is known about reclusive writer Fiona Lehn, but legends abound. Some claim she emerged from her mother’s womb singing “We Are the Champions,” a half-written story clenched in her angry fists. Many believe she is serving life without parole for leading an Ottawa sit-in demanding that cloudberries be made one of the four food groups. Others tell that Lehn daily frolics with Sasquatch in glacier-fed slipstreams. Still more assert that Lehn will only answer to “Hermit FiFi” and wields a bedazzled staff like a weapon, fending off house-size mosquitoes and meteorites with a single blow.
All we really know is this: Lehn lives in Canada, has ME/CFS, and lovingly serves a Feline in perpetuity. Her songs have earned the praise of Billboard magazine, and she is a Writers of the Future winner.
Which of your books can you imagine made into a film?
This novella, Lift-Off! If Lift-Off were made into a film, whom would you like to play the lead?
Funny you should ask, because I originally wrote this story as a screenplay, with the intention of getting it made into a film. But I kept tinkering with it, adding more detail and fleshing characters out, and it eventually became a novella instead.
My dream cast:
Tatiana Maslany as Captain Roche
Lana Condor as Kandy
Willem Dafoe as Saph Diamond
Nichelle Nichols as Gma
Joe Keery as Starski
Christine Adams as the Methane Maven
Eris Baker as Nell the genius
Manny Jacinto as Zoom
Natalia Coronado and Sonny Bustamante as The Twins
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
I usually do research into the meanings of names and select something that is relevant to the character’s journey and/or themes. For example, Zoom is so named because he is a photographer. Zig Powie is a mash-up of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Nell Bondar, the young genius scientist, is named after Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first woman astronaut. Bondar also is a Ukrainian name meaning “one who makes barrels”, and that fits with Nell’s barrel-shaped “Keg Colony” invention as well. Carla’s name means free woman, and her character reflects that meaning. And Starski and Estelle were given names that mean, or play on the word “star”, simply because those characters tend to be starry-eyed, (and this is a space story, after all :).
How did you come up with the title Lift-Off?
Originally I wanted to call the novella All Aboard! because the story is about all these people trying to get what they want, and several of them want to get on the spaceliner before it launches. But then I realized that everything revolves around the spaceliner launch, the entire book counts down to that one moment when the spaceliner lifts off from Earth, so Lift-Off was the natural title all along.
What inspired you to write Lift-Off?
A lot of things inspired and shaped this story. The very first glimmer came to me in the late 1970s, when I saw a movie called Thank God It’s Friday, in which multiple storylines were linked, or interwoven, around a central event, and each storyline was told from a different character’s point of view. I loved that episodic, multiple-perspective format and always had it in the back of my mind to write a story like that someday. As I grew older, I saw this format more and more--in books like Game of Thrones, and in rom-coms, like Love, Actually--and at that time--this was probably 2008 or so--I was following the work of SpaceX and Branson’s Virgin Galactic dreams, listening to Train’s song, “Drops of Jupiter”, a lot of Muse’s work, and Brian May’s song “ ’39 ”. I was inspired by these works and thinking how our human curiosity about space could unite people around the globe, or could cause division. It all was percolating in my mind, until I was ready to accept the challenge.
I set out to write a near-future, space adventure tale--a tale that was romantic, heart-warming, and inspirational. A tale that encouraged people to dream big and work towards their dreams. The main premise--a spaceliner launch with free tickets that everyone is madly searching for--came out of all that (and a fond childhood memory of people frantically ripping open chocolate bars caused me to pay an homage to Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well).
Such was the inception of Lift-Off! And I’m so glad it’s out in the world to inspire and entertain people. We all need stories that will remind and dare us to dream.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
In awareness, with sunshine on my skin, while savouring a Fernie Beanpod chocolate bar.
Who is your hero and why?
I have lots of writing heroes...Octavia Butler, a truly visionary writer who wrote one of my fave novels, Parable of the Sower. Zoë Fairbairns, who wrote Benefits, an exploration of women’s lives in a dystopic future Britain. Benefits illustrates the harsh realities that women face as second-class citizens. It also serves as a call to action. Though vastly underappreciated, Fairbairns’ novel deserves the acclaim that Atwood’s TheHandmaid’s Tale has received, and then some.
Other heroes include Connie Willis, James T. Tiptree, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sherri Tepper, Liz Hand, Doris Lessing, and Joanna Russ--amazing and inspiring speculative writers all.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I’m a creative artist, with lots of creative ideas, so I’m guessing I’d be a ruler with great vision. I would also be a rather detached ruler. I have such limited energy, I wouldn’t be able to do much ruling directly myself, so my powers would be delegated.
I’d also be an egalitarian ruler--no more of this higher pay, better jobs, and education for people with penises, you know? Women, men, whatever gender or race people are--the gender-defining and systemic sexism and racism that we currently live under would be obsolete. Everyone would get the same job opportunities, education opportunities, housing opportunities, and all other opportunities--in all aspects of life--and would be paid using the same pay scale for the same work, regardless of the worker’s skin color or anatomy.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Only one, and it was thrilling. After reading Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman, I became fascinated by the Neva River and felt compelled to go see it. Off I went to St. Petersburg. For hours I sat on the bank of the Neva and at the feet of Peter the Great, and I thought of Pushkin’s tale, re-imagining the visions he’d created--ah, so humbling and very magical!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A calico cat: playful yet fierce, creative and relentless in pursuit of her goals.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I would change nothing about Lift-Off. I love this story. It's a bunch of fun, romance, and human spirit all rolled into a fast-moving episodic tale. It speaks to adults of all ages, reminds readers of their childhood dreams, and inspires adults to continue dreaming.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Yep, I learned a lot about methane production and its use as a fuel, space launches, and space colonies, in particular.
What is your favorite part of this book and why?
As a reader, one of my favourite scenes in the book is the one in which the legendary rockstar Saph Diamond rehearses a new song with his band. Saph Diamond is a 60-something-year-old gay man who has had enormous music career success for decades. He has all the aches and pains of a person his age who has lived a hard rock and roll lifestyle, as well as the aches and pains of a person who grew up gay in a het-dominant culture to boot. Yet when he starts to play, he feels none of that pain, he loses himself in the music, in the wild rhythmic sensations of dramatic, emotional rock music, and the reader loses herself/himself in the music too.
If you could spend time with a character from your book who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I'd like to spend time with Roche, the captain of the spaceliner Quicksilver. She is a trained astronaut, and I would LOVE to meet her (or any seasoned astronaut, really), and hang out with her all day, try out her anti-gravity training modules, view some of her personal photos taken while on the International Space Station, and just talk about her experiences in space. That would be a most wonderful and memorable day!
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
When I'm writing, really writing a character, I don't have control. It may sound a bit woo-woo, but writing well is kind of like what I imagine channeling a spirit to be. I start to think like the character and the words, actions, and thoughts of that character just flow onto the page. When I re-read something and think it's perfect, yet I don't remember writing it, then I know I'm writing well, without control.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must-read.
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves rom-coms because it’s romantic and heart-warming, fun and inspiring--like rom-coms.
It’s also a must-read for anyone inspired by the idea of space travel, space colonies, and/or space tourism, because it dreams right along with the reader.
And for anyone who feels unloved, isolated, or trapped, this book is a balm for you. Lift-Off reminds us what it is to dream, no matter our age. It reminds us that we are not alone and we have options.
I should also mention that Lift-Off is for readers aged 12 and up. Characters range in age from ten to seventy-something, so everyone can identify with these characters and their foibles.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Yes, LOTS. Since getting M.E., I’ve been dusting them off, one at a time, and tinkering with them whenever possible, and eventually they become ready for publication. It’s a painstakingly slow process, but it’s working.
If your book had a candle, what scent would it be?
It would be Amber, because it's heart-warming, a little sexy, musky, rich, and spiritual. Amber is also used for healing, and my book is a balm for anyone who is feeling down, under the weather, unloved, or isolated.
What did you edit out of Lift-Off?
I edited a full storyline out of the book. It was about someone who is extremely debilitated by M.E. and has a very low quality of life, and she wants to go on the space cruise but doesn't have the money. (I won't give away any spoilers, just in case this winds up in a sequel or something.) I ended up cutting it because the book was complete, and I felt I couldn't do this last storyline justice while keeping the book at novella length.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
I think each writer is susceptible to her/his own peculiar potholes and pitfalls, which makes it hard for me to offer advice. I’ll share some of mine in hopes they may be helpful. Whenever I get an idea that doesn’t fascinate me but which I think will sell well, that’s usually a trap, and I wind up bored and frustrated until I abandon the project. Whenever I try to mold my writing to fit into a specific market, that’s a trap too. I have to be fascinated by the idea, and I have to write the story how I think it should be told, regardless of marketing.
Persistence is also key. Keep sending stories out--nevermind how many rejections pile up. A lack of persistence is definitely a trap.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My health. I don’t have writer’s block, I don’t have paralyzing fear that my writing is terrible, but I do have severe cognitive and physical limitations that affect my energy, cause chronic pain, and interfere with my language skills. This restricts my ability to write well, to write a lot, and to read. My health slows me down a lot--like Kryptonite, it’s the only thing that can deprive me of my super writing powers!
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
You’re a great writer with a unique voice. BELIEVE IT, BABY. Now, go forth and publish!
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