Pauline, an Australasian Shadows Awards finalist, has short-form horror and dark fiction in numerous publications in Australia and abroad. Her action-packed novel, Memories Don’t Lie, stemmed from her interest in déjà vu: what causes it and how we can harness it. Throw in a dose of genetic engineering, and voilà, you have the makings of a compelling science fiction novel. Read on to find out more about Pauline’s journey to publication.
What is your career outside of writing?
I’m a mum, and for 25 years, I’ve run a business making equestrian gear. I love horses, always had horses, and am a horse rider, so a job involving horses and working from home while I raise the children is ideal for me.
But my passion has always been writing. I’ve lugged around boxes of notebooks full of my scribbling for years. The main character in Memories Don’t Lie has always been with me, but it took me a long time to figure out who she was, and even longer to understand her story. When I was ready, it came out in all its messy glory.
Can you please share the blurb for Memories Don’t Lie?
Sarah Wilson, orphaned niece of Lieutenant John Wilson, is determined to escape his restrictive upbringing and find her place in the world.
Her journey takes a deadly turn when she uncovers secrets about her past, hidden deep in her mother’s memories, that threaten everything Sarah wants.
They could cost her everything she holds dear—and her life.
What drew you to writing science fiction?
I didn’t specifically plan to write sci-fi. Most people think of spaceships when you mention sci-fi, but it’s much more than that. The genre encompasses a broad range of anything science based. The aspect of our world that I wanted to write about happens to fall into this realm: What is déjà vu? How does it work? Why do we experience it?
The concept of déjà vu led me to believe if a person thinks they’ve done something before, maybe they’ve done it in a past life. I didn’t go down the reincarnation path, but it led me to another area of interest: cellular memory.
In brief, cellular memory is a hypothesis that every cell in your body holds memories from your ancestors, so if you’re put in a situation similar to one they’ve been in, it can jog those memories. You think you’ve been in this situation before, and you haven’t, but your ancestors have. That’s my take on déjà vu.
Back in 2017, I wrote a story that followed a similar line, ‘Renascent’, for Aurealis magazine which was reprinted last year with Pseudo-pod. In that, I explored organ transplants, where patients take on the traits of the organ donor, which connects with cellular memory. And that led me to genetic engineering.
How did the field of genetic engineering influence your writing?
I spent many years researching genetic engineering in humans and why it’s banned, and I stumbled across some pretty dark stuff. I’m interested in the repercussions of experiments gone wrong, so I applied what I’d discovered about genetic engineering to another layer involving the dangers of gene doping in sport and performance enhancement drugs.
The combination of what I learned plus my own imaginative take on my areas of interest formed the backdrop to my theme: natural versus unnatural. My novel has a military setting, and my characters are challenged with the dilemma of natural physical training verses genetic enhancement short-cuts when the military seeks to fast-track soldier training and improve performance.
I put all these elements together into my fictional hypothesis: If you’re given someone else’s DNA you will remember their memories. How close to the truth I am remains to be seen.
Besides the science, what are the key themes in Memories Don’t Lie?
My protagonist’s initial goal is finding her place in the world, but that’s quickly compounded when she discovers her true background. Having that science as a backdrop forces Sarah to find out who she is when she’s faced with being any of the other characters with whom she shares DNA. Her challenge is to truly know who she is in order to win.
The underlying emotional theme is about trust and loyalty, which are important virtues to me. Sarah is also seeking family, and a place to call home, but she doesn’t find these in the places she expected.
The story revolves around a team of five. I love exploring group dynamics, and each team member brings something to the story and experiences their own character arc.
Speaking of teams, I believe your daughter contributed to this book in a special way. Can you tell us about that?
My daughter, Chryselle Webb, is an artist, not by trade, it’s her hobby, but she’s very talented, and I asked her to bring my characters to life in artform. I shared her artwork with the publisher, and they loved it so much it will be used on internals and for promos. It’s so nice to have her a part of this, as she, and all my children, were a big inspiration for the characters.
You’re Australian, but the book is set in California in the near-future, how did you make this authentic?
I’ve never been to America, but I used American editors to make sure I had the terminology and other details right.
How did you take the book to publication?
When I was ready, I spent about a month sending queries to agents. Anyone who’s been through this understands it’s the most soul-destroying part of the journey. Despite spending hours researching agents and putting together personalized query packages, I either received instant rejections, no response, or “we really love it but it’s just not what we’re looking for”. It was crushing. Doubt crept in.
I began to question whether I really wanted an agent and if going straight to a publisher would be a better path for me. I’m a business owner, and I’ve worked directly with publishers for my short stories. Maybe I didn’t need a middleman. Through my short story sales, I’d developed a strong relationship with Black Hare Press, a great Australian publisher with connections in America. Why go to someone I don’t know when I can go to someone I trust? I’d poured my heart and soul into my book, so trust was a big factor for me. I sent the book and said, “Please save me from this process and publish my book.” Then I thought, hang on, my story has dark elements, but maybe it isn’t dark enough for what they like to publish.
Twelve weeks later, I got an offer. It was the best day ever, honestly.
Since then, it’s been pretty intense getting it all together and I’m in it 100% of the way, which I absolutely love. Choosing Black Hare Press was the best decision I made, and I couldn’t be happier.
What did you learn about yourself in writing Memories Don’t Lie?
After living with my characters for the past 10 years, they have impacted me greatly. I’ve sent them down some pretty dark paths, and they’ve really dug deep to get past the rough parts. I’ve been on the same journey as my protagonist. She has come out confident about who she is and what she wants, and now I, too, can find that inner strength and am more confident about what is right for me.
I’m working on the sequel. I originally wrote this book as a stand-alone, but when I got to the end, I kept writing. The characters had become so real, and they had so many more stories to tell. I drafted the next two and then shelved them and went back to work on the first one. My characters made revelations – they’d kept secrets from me – and changes in the first book impacted what followed. I’ll be getting back into that as soon as I can.
You can follow Pauline Yates on:
Book sales links: www.blackharepress.com/memories-dont-lie-by-pauline-yates/
2 thoughts on “Pauline Yates on science fiction – it isn’t all about spaceships”