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Today’s guest is novelist, short story writer, and poet Laura Lam! Her first novel, Pantomime, won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction and was nominated for other awards, including the Cybils Award for Young Adult Speculative Fiction. It was followed by the second book in the Micah Grey series, Shadowplay, which was selected for the 2014 Tiptree Award Long List, and some short stories and novellas set in the same world collectively known as the Vestigial Tales. A third book in the series, Masquerade, will be released in 2017, and she has a new book—a science fiction thriller titled False Hearts—coming this June!

False Hearts by Laura Lam US Edition False Hearts by Laura Lam UK Edition

More than Wives, Love Interests, and Daughters: The Women in False Hearts

My next book, False Hearts (June 2016), stars two sisters who should know each other better than anyone else. One has a secret, and the other will do anything to find out the truth. It is a book about women and the fraught, nuanced, interpersonal connections between them. Women are still fighting for equal recognition in stories. In film and television, women still have less than half of the speaking roles. I’m not sure if a similar study has been done for literature, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was similar. Women-dominated genres like romance are still often derided in the media, despite having equal literary merits with male-dominated novels. In False Hearts, I had no interest in writing female characters that are reduced to the love interest to be won, the fridged victim at the start of the story, the kidnapped daughter to be rescued. Every woman I meet is the star of her own story, or to quote The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, she is the architect of her own fortune. Novels should not be any different.

The book stars conjoined twins, who were raised connected at the chest in the secluded cult of Mana’s Hearth, set where Muir Woods is now. At sixteen, their shared heart begins to fail, and according to the beliefs of the Hearth, they should bow to the will of the Creator and let themselves die. They decide they want to leave, but it’s not as though Mana-ma, their leader, will let them simply walk out of the compound. Once the twins escape, they are separated due to the pressures of a San Francisco obsessed with perfection and given mechanical hearts. Ten years later, one twin is accused of murder, and the other has to assume her identity in order to prove her sister’s innocence and save her life.

I’ve tried to reflect the Bay Area I grew up in and postulate a potential future. In this version of San Francisco, everything is recycled and people live minimally. Crops grow in skyscrapers and the bay glows green at night with algae that can be eaten. All meat is vat-grown. There have been numerous medical advancements, such as very good prosthetics, and through gene therapy and walk-in plastic surgery clinics, people often change aspects of their appearance. People can dye their hair various colours and map it to their DNA so they never have roots (as someone who currently has bright pink hair, I think that would be great). Some aspects of this future are a utopia, but other aspects are darker. There is a lot of pressure to fit within Pacifica’s narrow demands of what is desirable.

False Hearts is full of women; possibly more women than men. “Likeable” and “unlikeable” women. Complicated women. I didn’t want to ignore intersectionality, and have women from different backgrounds and of varying sexualities. For instance, Taema and Tila are bisexual and white, black, and Samoan. They have distinct personalities, different strengths and weaknesses. A supporting character, Kim, is Japanese, gay, and a prominent neurosurgeon. Another character, Mia, is a drug addict hooked on the dream drug, Zeal. Mana-ma, one of the villains, is a woman, and another woman in the underground mob, the Ratel, called Malka. That’s not to say I’m reducing the male characters to love interests or pure victims, either, but that I try to make sure all of my characters compelling enough that, under different circumstances, they could lead in their own novels.

Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang Grimspace Borderline by Mishell Baker

There’s been an uptick in female-led thrillers in non-SFF, like Gone Girl, Before I Go to Sleep, Luckiest Girl Alive, and Black-Eyed Susans. I suppose, subconsciously, I wrote False Hearts wanting to bring that feel into a near future setting and blending two genres I really enjoy reading. I’m far from the first. A few other female-led thrillers are Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, Zero Sum Game by SL Huang, some of the Culture novels by Iain Banks, Grimspace and the sequels by Ann Aguirre, and Borderline by Mishell Baker.

False Hearts was a book of the heart. I’d had some discouragements in my writing, and wrote something completely different and fell back in love with telling stories. I’m excited to have my book join the ranks of other female-led SF thrillers, with women who hopefully stay with you for a long time after the book is done.

Laura Lam
Photo Credit: Elizabeth May
Laura Lam was born in the late eighties and raised near San Francisco, California, by two former Haight-Ashbury hippies. Both of them encouraged her to finger-paint to her heart’s desire, colour outside the lines, and consider the library a second home. This led to an overabundance of daydreams.

After studying literature and creative writing at university, she relocated to Scotland to be with her husband, a boy she met online when they were teenagers and he insulted her taste in books and she insulted his right back. She almost blocked him but is glad she didn’t. She is now a dual citizen, but at times she misses the sunshine.

While working a variety of jobs from filing and photocopying endlessly at a law firm to library assistant to corporate librarian, she began writing in earnest. Her first book, Pantomime, the first book in the Micah Grey series, was released in 2013, which was a Scottish Book Trust Teen Book of the Month, won the Bisexual Book Award, was listed a Top Ten Title for the American Library Association List, and was nominated for several other awards. Robin Hobb says “Pantomime by Laura Lam took me into a detailed and exotic world, peopled by characters that I’d love to be friends with . . . and some I’d never want to cross paths with.” The sequel, Shadowplay, followed in 2014, as well as several the Vestigial Tales, self-published short stories and novellas set in the same world. The third book in the series, Masquerade, will follow in 2017.

Her newest book is False Hearts, a near-future thriller released in June 2016 by Tor/Macmillan and in three other languages. Peter F. Hamilton calls False Hearts “a strong debut from someone who’s clearly got what it takes.” Another thriller, Shattered Minds, will be released in 2017.

She is still hiding from sunshine in Scotland and writing more stories.