Hey, all, and welcome to the latest edition of Genre Talk here on The Novel Approach Reviews. Today we’ve got DSP Publications author Lyn Gala here to talk about her hot off the press Sci-Fi release Tap-Dancing the Minefields, so before we start the grilling, let’s have a look at what we’re in for.
Tap-Dancing the Minefields
Sometimes the fiercest battle a man faces is against himself.
In the hidden alleyways of New York City, George “Tank” Tankersley defeated what he believed were demons. But the victory cost too much. Tank joined the Army in the hope of outrunning the guilt haunting him—only to stumble into a vast and deadly conspiracy, the enemies he’d hoped to never encounter again, and the arms of the brilliant, eccentric scientist tasked with saving humanity.
In a world where the line between dark magic and alien science is thin, Dr. Lev Underwood must reverse engineer recovered alien technology to give humans a fighting chance against the extraterrestrial beings who consider Earth nothing more than a petri dish. His old friend, Colonel Clyde Aldrich, wants to protect Lev from entanglement with the scarred and emotionally volatile young soldier, but Lev cannot help the pull he feels toward Tank. Still, his first loyalty is to the secret government program, and love might have to take a back seat to protecting the world. But if he can find a way, Lev wants both.
Carole: Oooh, aliens and science and complicated characters! Sounds wonderfully complex. So talk to us a minute about genre and where this fits in.
Lyn: Tap-Dancing is traditional science fiction with the secret government conspiracy ala Dark Skies and Stargate and maybe a little bit of V. I love traditional science fiction because it allows readers to explore beliefs without the burden of having to deal with all the complexities of reality. It opens minds. It lets people take a different point of view to explore a topic that matters here and now. Star Trek dealt with racism while avoiding some of the knee-jerk entrenched attitudes that defined reality in the age of Civil Rights. In my case, Tank is dealing with PTSD and struggling to love himself and others, but I don’t have to engage in the politics of Afghanistan or American nationalism. Tank and the others are fighting aliens, so I can focus on the consequences of the fight without having to deal with the realities of Islam or Islamophobia. What does it mean to be human and to give more to a fight than you have to offer? I love that science fiction allows me to explore the idea.
Carole: One of the manifold reasons the genre will always be relevant. So tell us more specifically about Tap-Dancing the Minefields and how it uses those storytelling tools in what sounds like some pretty complex characterizations.
Lyn: As the book starts, the reader immediately knows that Tank is damaged. He has fought so hard and for so long that he’s left shattered pieces behind, but he’s hiding it well. That comes in part from the fact he is young enough that the other characters assume he’s had the sheltered life of an American teen. He hasn’t. He’s been engaged in a secret war, and now he’s about to land in the center of an even larger fight.
He doesn’t have any more to give, but he needs to find a way to keep fighting. He has loved too much and that love has damaged him, but ironically love is the only power that can give him the strength to keep fighting. That includes love for Lev—who respects, lusts after, and trusts Tank. However, Tank also has to learn to trust and accept love from new friends, mentors, and pseudo family members. That’s hard for him because of the losses in this past, but the hardest obstacle is the need to love himself.
Tank’s guilt is another character who walks beside him for most of the book, and Tank has to forgive himself before he can allow others into his life. This really is about the difficulty of surviving when others didn’t and the pain of forgiving yourself when it is far easier, in some ways, to live in self-hate.
Carole: Speculative fiction has always been kind of a taboo breaker when it comes to diversity. Tell us how you define “diversity” in your writing, and how you explored it in this book.
Lyn: All my books focus on characters who live outside the strict boundaries of “normal.” And for me, diversity is writing about normal humans who don’t look or act like the media-enforced image of “normal.” Many of my stories have racially diverse characters, but in this couple, I really explore more of the intellectual diversities. Lev was a child prodigy who graduated with a science degree when he was still a teenager. He took a position within the government, and because of his remarkable abilities, he was always sheltered. He never had a chance to make the mistakes normal young people make. He never got to explore his sexuality or play with his identity because he was already a scientist employed by the government at a time when others were embarrassing themselves with stupid choices. So even though Lev is much older than Tank, this really is his first time exploring a relationship. The fact that he is outside the norm has left him stunted even as everyone expects him to be advanced.
Tank is on the other end of the spectrum. He barely passed high school, and getting that diploma might have required some cheating on state tests. He sees himself as stupid because others have defined him that way and because his lackluster education left him uneducated. During the course of the novel, it becomes clear that Tank is actually brilliant at engineering, but he is not a “book” learner, and that has defined him in a world where grades are used to evaluate intelligence.
This is also a world where some people get help being “abnormal.” Aliens are using humans to experiment, so a number of characters have superhuman reflexes or strength—all thanks to the genetic engineering of alien experimenters. However, the aliens are also engineering human intelligence, seeking to find the boundaries of what humans are capable of. But the body was not designed for such extremes, so the people who are the subjects of these experiments each have their own burdens because of these “gifts.”
So in many ways, this book is about how diverse humans fit in with the larger society. In the case of John—the most genetically engineered of all the characters—he doesn’t fit in at all. His patchwork skin, superhuman strength, and inability to understand “normal” humans make him an outsider. Most of the characters, though, are struggling to figure out how to be themselves while fitting into the world.
Carole: Tap-Dancing the Minefields is being published through DSP Publications, Dreamspinner Press’s imprint for genre novels that don’t necessarily focus on or even contain romance. Tell us about the relationship in Tap-Dancing the Minefields and why it doesn’t fit the accepted definition of Romance in the M/M genre.
Lyn: I do think Tank and Lev have a traditional love story. They meet, they have alien hormone-inspired sex, and then they learn to respect and love each other. Okay, maybe that isn’t all that traditional, but it’s also not that unusual as a plot. However, this book doesn’t focus only on Lev and Tank. This is about how relationships in general can strengthen or weaken us as humans. This book is about how each of Tank’s relationships either helps him heal or reinforces the damage done in the past. Colonel Aldrich is a cranky ass, but he’s an ass who understands Tank’s self-hate and knows how to guide him toward self-forgiveness. John is the survivor who suffered young and can teach Tank how to let go of the past and focus on the present. Major Sadler both teaches Tank and respects his opinions, showing him that he can trust her leadership in the field. Many of the chapters are written from Aldrich’s point of view because, as the oldest of the major characters, he understands these people, in some cases better than they understand themselves.
So while there is a traditional love story at the core, this book is about finding all forms of love from friendship and passion to self-love and patriotism. I know one of the greatest compliments a reader once gave me was that my writing reminded her of C.J. Cherryh. I do admire Cherryh’s ability to show the complex relationships people (or aliens) form within a group. It’s not about two people needing each other; it’s about a supportive family or friend group being stronger than any individual. My characters might be gay and have more on-screen sex, but I do aspire to tell the story where the complex psychology takes center stage.
Carole: You’ve mentioned some intriguingly named characters. What goes into naming characters for you? Do the names have significance?
Lyn: I spend a lot of time worry about names, so much so that many times I will “test” two or three different names, writing the same character while trying on different names. I feel sorry for my beta readers who have to navigate the changes. In the case of Tank, he had a number of earlier names that I can’t remember. Tank saw himself as the weak link as a teenager, and I imagine that whoever first gave him such a manly nickname was trying to make fun of him. His last name, Tankersley, came from a need for him to have Tank as his nickname.
But I also wanted a first name that showed Tank’s less-cool side. His first name is George, a name I imagine could cause some teasing in a New York public high school. Colonel Aldrich’s name is a call-out to how similar these two men are because he is named Clyde, although very few people call him that. So those are the sorts of details I obsess over.
Carole: You’ve been clear that the story is mainly about the characters and their interrelationships, but it’s still sci-fi, so I imagine there had to be a lot of legwork for the worldbuilding and plot. What sort of research did you need to do?
Lyn: I am always researching. My greatest tool is Google maps. I am always going to the neighborhoods where my books take place and doing virtual tours of the streets. I will check out driving times and look at what sort of stores exist in an area. And since so many of my books use military heroes, I have pretty much Googled every military base on either coast. If the FBI hasn’t flagged my search history, I am very disappointed in them because for this book, I researched roads around The Picatinny Arsenal, I used Google to tour the main road and check out what the fence line looked like, and I researched how to use fertilizer as a bomb. Yeah, some poor FBI guy probably had to look at my search history, and then he looked at who the computer was registered to and rolled his eyes as he realized that I was one more crazy writer and not an actual terrorist. The search histories of the two groups are probably pretty similar.
Carole: Ah, Google history—the bogeyman in every writer’s closet! 😉 We’ll all be sure to lend you an alibi if you ever need one. Thanks so much for being here, Lyn!
And thank you, Awesome Readers, for spending some time with us today. Tap-Dancing the Minefields is out today, so check out the buy links below before you go!
Lynsey “Lyn” Gala started writing in the back of her science notebook in third grade and hasn’t stopped since. Westerns starring men with shady pasts gave way to science fiction with questionable protagonists, which eventually became any story with a morally ambiguous character. Even the purest heroes have pain and loss and darkness in their hearts, and that’s where she likes to find her stories. Her characters seek to better themselves and find the happy (or happier) ending.
When she isn’t writing, Lyn Gala teaches history in a small town in New Mexico. Her favorite spot to write is a flat rock under a wide tree on the edge of the open desert where her dog can terrorize local wildlife. Writing in a wide range of genres, she often gravitates back to adventure and BDSM, stories about men in search of true love and a way to bring some criminal to justice… unless they happen to be the criminal.
And that will do it for us this week. Thanks for joining us, everyone! If you’d like to keep tabs on Genre Talk and never miss a post, hop on over and like our Facebook page, join our Facebook group, and check out our web page.
We’ll see you next time on Genre Talk when the fantabulous Lloyd A. Meeker will be here with a new addition to his regular feature Through My Lens. And you know Lloyd’s always got something fascinating to say, so don’t miss it!
Until then, that’s all for us. On behalf of me and Co-pilot Extraordinaire Elizabeth Noble, thanks for spending some time with us, and have a great week!