Elizabeth Fountain left a demanding job as a university administrator in Seattle to move to the small town of Ellensburg, Washington, and pursue her dream of writing novels. She started writing in grade school; fortunately, most of her tortured high school poetry and song lyrics are lost to posterity. Her first book was five years in the making, and offered lots of opportunities to give up along the way; that might be why it’s a tale of people, aliens, and dogs who face the impossible, and do it anyway. An independent publishing house in Calgary, Champagne Book Group, released the novel in April. Now Liz has three more novels in progress. She takes breaks from writing to teach university courses, spend time with family and friends, and take long walks while leaning into the diabolical Kittitas valley wind. She holds degrees in philosophy, psychology, and leadership, which contribute to a gently humorous view of humanity well suited to tales of aliens and angels, love and death, friendship and dogs. Liz strives to live according to a line from British singer-songwriter Chris Rea: “Every day, good luck comes in the strangest of ways.”
Her latest book is An Alien’s Guide to World Domination.
About An Alien’s Guide to World Domination:
Louise Armstrong Holliday is the last person on Earth you’d expect to save the human race. But when she uncovers proof that her boss is an alien the color of lime jelly gone horribly wrong, and is at the center of a plot to destroy humanity, Louie decides to do exactly that. She begins a journey from her company’s suburban Seattle office park to the old cities and castles of Eastern Europe. Along the way, Louie is attacked by flying books, overly-sensitive bat-crow monsters, and her own self-doubts. She must learn the truth about her closest friend, stand up to her boss, confront her oldest enemy, and make peace with her Aunt Emma, who annoys her in the way only true family can. She also has to rely on Buddy, the little blind mini-Schnauzer who saves her life twice – and really is from Mars.
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Q: Thank you for this interview, Elizabeth. Can you tell us what your latest book, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, is all about?
An Alien’s Guide to World Domination was published by BURST!, the sci-fi/fantasy imprint of Champagne Book Group, in April. It’s the story of Louise Armstrong Holliday, the last person on Earth you’d expect to save the human race. But when she uncovers proof that her boss is an alien the color of lime Jell-o gone horribly wrong, and is at the center of a plot to destroy humanity, Louie decides to do exactly that. She begins a journey from her company’s suburban Seattle office park to the old cities and castles of Eastern Europe. Along the way, Louie is attacked by flying books, overly-sensitive bat-crow monsters, and her own self-doubts. She must learn the truth about her closest friend, stand up to her boss, confront her oldest enemy, and make peace with her Aunt Emma, who annoys her in the way only true family can. She also has to rely on Buddy, the little blind mini-Schnauzer who saves her life twice – and really is from Mars.
Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
Louie, the main character, finds herself in a crazy job working for a crazier boss. She’s spent her whole life trying to figure out where, and with whom, she belongs, without much luck. When she meets Jack, another lost soul at her company, they click in ways she never experienced before. Together they decide to tackle the absurdly impossible task of stopping a group of stupid but brutal aliens from transforming the human race into the biggest cyborg army in the galaxy. Their arch-enemy, Sergio, is a loser who somehow seems to come out on top each time; Louie knows his secret past, although it’s locked away in her own lost memories. The race is on to see whether Louie will discover herself and her true family before Sergio destroys her, and Jack is right in the middle of her quest.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
Real people provide a great deal of inspiration for my writing. There isn’t a single character who is “really” someone I know, however; what happens in the writing process is their quirks, tics, emotions, eccentricities, and unique ways of looking at the world and themselves find their way into my characters, making them that much richer.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A little of both. The main plot for An Alien’s Guide came to me in a dream, and the final version doesn’t deviate much from what the dream left in my brain that day five years ago. Some elements truly surprised me, though. I didn’t know whether Josef, an important supporting character, would turn out to be a good guy or a bad guy until nearly the end. When I was writing his final scene, the words spilled out and made him into… well, I’ll let you read that part for yourself!
Q: Your book is set in Seattle and Prague. Can you tell us why you chose these cities in particular?
I lived in Seattle for a long time, nearly 30 years, and began writing this book while I still lived there. It’s a wonderful place and lent some of its quirkiness to the tale, like the fact that everyone who lives there long enough develops allergies, even the aliens. Important scenes also take place in Prague, a city I was lucky to visit several times, and its air of mystery and age made it a great setting for a major confrontation between good and evil.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
Definitely. Louie’s geographic journey from a small town to Seattle to eastern Europe and back again mirrors her inner journey of testing her own boundaries and limits, and trying to get “home again.” And Seattle is the perfect place for a strange little company like PPP3, where Louie, Jack, and Sergio all work. It’s the kind of city that nurtures both innovation and weirdness.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
On page 69, Louie reflects on her history at PPP3, how it’s always been “a haven for mediocrity,” and convinces herself that she’s only survived the backstabbing and squabbling there because she doesn’t threaten anyone in power. Yet, of course, she has the most power of anyone at the company, if she could only see it in herself. She has the power to decide to attempt the impossible, and to do it.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
This is from the prologue; the exchange between Sergio, the villain, and the evil alien lord he’s working for, makes me giggle each time I read it. Warning – it’s a bit PG-13 in language.
“Have you brought me what I seek?” The continuous sonic boom of the alien lord’s voice came from somewhere near the middle of his giant black bulk, poised on his throne in a shape that recalled a comma. Sergio, in his wiry short human form, felt his knees tremble but tried to show confidence.
“Yes, my lord. You will have the largest cyborg army in the galaxy.”
In his luxurious chamber on the spaceship Kryha, the lord of the planet Kleptofargh roared with pleasure. Sergio began to shake despite himself.
“And where is this army?”
“Well, it doesn’t actually exist yet, my lord.”
The lord roared again, this time with displeasure. Sergio felt his trousers turn warm and wet. It’s a good thing the lord has no eyes, so he can’t see I’ve peed myself.
“What?” roared the lord. “You told me you brought me what I seek. And I can smell the piss in your pants, peon.”
Damn. I can’t win with this lord. “You will have your army, my lord. But I need a little more time.”
“What happened to the plan?”
“My lord, we had to reconsider it, adjust it a bit, in order to adapt it to the, um, contextual realities ‘on the ground,’ so to speak…”
“Yes, yes, yes.” The lord always hated Sergio’s way of taking ten words to say what could be expressed in one. “And?”
“My lord, the Grythylwecs are bit less…stupid, shall we say, than we initially thought. And a bit more brutal.” Sergio shuddered, remembering watching his boss tormented by the Grythylwecs. Still, his boss’s death resulted in his own promotion to this post, which came with a big title and a modest but meaningful raise in salary. He supposed he owed the Grythylwecs something.
Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?
As a matter of fact… right now I should be working on a manuscript for a new story, one that an agent has already expressed interest in, my first try at a book for younger readers. There are several knotty plot problems I need to solve, but so far, my mind is disconcertingly blank. So, in addition to doing this interview (a great distraction!) I’ve been reading books by other authors for the same audience voraciously. I will read until I feel that “click” in my head – a kind of “ohhh, I know what this needs…” and then next thing you know, I’ll submerge into a writing jag, hours and hours of words pouring forth. That’s the fun part!
Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?
Sit on the split log bench in the Japanese Garden that’s about half a mile from my apartment, soak up the sunshine, and let my mind wander over everything and nothing. (If this is in magic-world, I’d bring my dog, Charlie, who died two years ago, with me. He’d love it there!)
Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?
Oh, so many…let’s see. One book that inspired me to write more than almost any other is Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde. His ability to create a world so much like ours, and yet so far askew, is delightful, funny, and a wonder to behold. It’s the sort of world where mastodons might trample your garden, and dodo birds make great pets. The best part about it, though, is that some people can move from it into Bookworld, where plots and characters from all our favorite novels are real. Such an amazing idea, and one all avid readers can relate to – we slip into Bookworld all the time!
Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?
Believe in your own work. When I go to writers’ conferences, the major keynote speeches are always inspiring, communicating the message to “write what you love, write the story your heart wants to tell.” Then I go to the workshops and seminars and talk to agents and editors and hear, “yeah, but you need to write what sells.” The truth is, if anything is going to sell, it still has to be good writing and good storytelling. That takes so much work, you have to love it, or it won’t sustain you through the effort. So write what you can believe in, and think about finding readers who will believe in it, too.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Elizabeth. We wish you much success!
Thank you! Success is already here – in the joy of knowing that An Alien’s Guide is connecting with its audience, one reader at a time.