In Asking the Prophet, we use our alien probes on the brains of sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction writers. This week, we grill Nicole Luiken on building futures from the past, the line between science fiction and fantasy, and more.

How did you go about fleshing out your future world in Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes?

I have several different ideas before it snowballs enough to get going. Violet Eyes came about through a combination. I remember when I was in Grade 11, I wrote the small scene when Angel is talking about when she was in Grade 1. Her teacher said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and she said, “A tree.” At that time, I thought it was going to be more of a fantasy story. I thought she would actually be able to turn into a tree. But it never quite jelled for me.

Then a little later, I was taking science classes about genetics and I got the idea for genetically engineered super-teens. I put that together. Even though it ended up being a small scene in the book, it really cemented her character for me. I took that character and the genetic idea and wrote a first draft. Then it sat for a long time until I went to revise it a decade later and realized that a lot of the references were 1980s-based. That’s when I came up with the idea for the historical immersion program. That really is what started to make the world grow.

How do you conceptualize your future world — gadgets like loyalty brain chips and augmentation for the disabled?

The loyalty chip was actually an idea I had for a totally different story that, again, never quite jelled. I had never actually intended to write a sequel to Violet Eyes until the publisher asked for one. So I had a weekend to brainstorm an idea and to decide if I was going to say yes or no. I remembered that I had this loyalty chip idea and then once I put that in with the Angel and Mike’s story, I thought the big part of the appeal for Violet Eyes was the romance between Mike and Angel. I was not quite sure how to continue that since they had already fallen in love in book one. So I decided what if one of them had amnesia and then I put that together with the loyalty chip and that really got the plot rolling for book two.

Do you do much scientific research when you write?

The plot for Silver Eyes originally included a historical immersion with the Incas. I did a lot of research on them; then my editor didn’t like that idea and it got cut. I don’t do an awful lot of scientific research. What I’m more interested in is science fiction books. Taking a look at the effects of future technology rather than the step-by-step of how to do the technology.

What’s something interesting you learned that got cut?

They had a really cool system like the Pony Express — the guy jumps on the horse and rides a short way and he jumps on a new horse and the message gets passed quickly. They had a system like that with runners. They could get a message going between two of their cities and in a fairly short period of time because they had people stationed all along the route and they just do a short, 200-meter dash and off to the next messenger.

What are some of your favorite books?

I love the Vorkosigan [Saga] series by Lois McMaster Bujold. I ran out and bought the hardcover copy of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen when it came out this week. I read it already. Honestly, I read 200 books a year, so it’s hard to pick favorites. A lot of my other favorites are more in the fantasy line, like Patricia Briggs, Ilona Andrews, Jim Butcher, Wen Spencer.

The science fiction and fantasy are often grouped together. Since you do both, where’s the line for you?

I consider myself a writer of both science fiction and fantasy. Probably the majority of my books are more fantasy-oriented. For me, I guess the line is, could it happen? Does it have a magical underpinning or a scientific underpinning?

What are you working on now?

I’m working on book three of a young adult fantasy series. It involves parallel worlds. There’s the true world and then four mirror worlds, which each have their own elemental magic. So book one was the fire world and the water world. Book two, which is coming out in March, was the air world. It’s sort of a steampunky thing, and stone world, which was a dystopian, underground-cave type of world. The third book I’m working on is the true world and we’re also going back to fire world. I’m having a lot of fun creating the five different worlds.