Sarah Daltry & Pete Clark Talk Backward Compatible, Gaming, and Monty Python

Backward Compatible © SDE Press
Backward Compatible Cover © SDE Press

A few months ago, many of the the other writers here at GeekMom and I fell in love with Backward Compatible, a Young Adult novel about gamers Katie and George forging a relationship with each other. The characters spoke to many of us and we all found ourselves quoting along with the Monty Python references and laughing at the multiple references to Firefly, Portal, and more.

It has been a difficult six months for author Sarah Daltry but both she and her Backward Compatible co-author Pete Clark agreed to talk to us about the book, future projects, and whether or not aliens exist…

Backward Compatible Cover © SDE Press
Backward Compatible Cover © SDE Press

GeekMom: Where did the concept of Backward Compatible first come from?

Sarah Daltry: So, basically, I had written a few books before it. One wasn’t out yet, because it was with the publisher, and the others were intense emotional realistic romance about characters with severe depression, anxiety, and trauma in their pasts.

The thing with that series is that it was eating away at me for two reasons. One, my own life was closely tied to a lot of the things in it, at least emotionally, and I was struggling to get through writing Blue Rose and Orange Blossom simultaneously. After finishing Lily of the Valley, I hadn’t really been able to stop being in that place where I needed to go to write about depression.

Secondly, because the series is, at heart, a love story about finding hope even in darkness, it was reaching a bigger romance audience. There’s a lot of sex and people were coming to me telling me that the sex scenes were really hot, including the ones that were traumatizing and were meant to highlight some of the darker parts of the characters. That bothered me and I put the series aside and went to Pete, my fellow gamer and Borderlands addict, and said, “Can we write something fun? About video games? I need a break.”

Pete Clark: Sarah came me to me and said, “Can we write something fun? About video games?” To which, I replied, “Yup.” And thus Backward Compatible was born.

How did you come to co-write the book with Pete Clark?

Sarah: Pete and I go way back. We game together all the time and he was a natural choice, because we don’t write at all in the same genres, but we’ve taken several writing classes together, been in writing groups together, and always read each other’s stuff. So I knew what I would be dealing with, as did he, and we were able to build off the other’s strengths.

Pete: As Sarah said, she asked me to write a book with her. I figured that, even though she’s sometimes a bit of a camper and not a very good shot, she’s “quick with a joke and she’ll light up your smoke,” even though neither of us smoke. I figured what the hell, and I love video games. I hadn’t yet written a book about them. It seemed like a good idea and then Lanyon showed up.

GeekMom: Did you set out specific characters or chapters that each of you would write in advance or did it grow more organically?

Sarah: It was a combination of both. We decided immediately it would be in alternating first person, mainly because I started it and that’s my POV of choice. I’m a huge YA addict, reader, advocate, etc. from my previous work in schools as a teacher and librarian and all my favorite classics are in first person. So I wrote the first chapter as Katie and then gave it to Pete to write George. We alternated throughout, with him sending me George’s most recent additions and I would add Katie’s and then send it back.

In that way, it was kind of like one of those writing exercises where everyone tells the story and it developed organically because we literally only knew it was about two gamers who met and had a relationship when we started. The secret boss appeared in a section Pete sent me and we went with it, as did most of the pieces.

Pete: She pretty much covered it. Basically, I knew she was writing the female POV and I was writing the male POV, we would alternate, and it would be about gaming. We just sort of moved forward based on the last section the other wrote, and because of the alternating, it felt more realistic. It was a lot of, “here’s what your characters are doing now,” rather than having to set it all up myself. Also, I’d set something up, then she’d smack it in a different direction, and I had to react. It was pretty fun.

GeekMom: Are there any other authors you would like the opportunity to work with?

Sarah: I really don’t think co-writing would naturally work for me, because I’m a bit of a control freak. When people ask why I self-publish, that’s really what it comes down to, since I don’t like trusting others with my ideas or my work. I like knowing what’s happening at all times, because my experiences have made me pretty self-sufficient. However, since Pete and I are close and we always talk about writing and gaming and life in general, it worked well and I would be happy to team up again.

Pete: Co-writing with most people would be an impossible pain in the ass. You sort of have to have similar philosophies, backgrounds, and ideas for the overall story. You also need to be really flexible and adaptable to what the person is going to do and, in most cases, that would involve a lot of outlining, plot development, and pre-writing, which is not something I enjoy.

GeekMom: What books have you been reading lately and which ones from the past have really made an impact in your life?

Sarah: Catcher in the Rye [J.D. Salinger] and The Sun Also Rises [Ernest Hemingway] had the most impact on me, because they were realistic and captured something people generally don’t talk about. Lately, I have a giant TBR pile, but nothing has been really sticking with me. I’m so excited for All the Rage by Courtney Summers, but that’s not coming until April [2015].

Pete: I’m working my way through Game of Thrones. I really like Douglas Adams, as far as impact, because his books show how much you can do when you throw out all the rules and write chaos.

Flowering Series © Sarah Daltry
Flowering Series © Sarah Daltry

GeekMom: The majority of Sarah’s other books are romance stories, even erotica; how different did you find working on Backward Compatible in comparison?

Sarah: I actually took down all my erotica (although my New Adult series has a great deal of sex in it) and what’s funny is I really don’t consider myself a romance writer.

I like relationships and how they evolve. My urban fantasy is romance, but it’s about a romance between a college girl and two immortals, and my New Adult series is more about breaking free from assumptions and judgements. The main girl is from a perfect world and she’s always been expected to be one way, but it gets shaken up when she meets a guy she would never have expected to matter to her. He, on the other hand, has given up on people. So, in that way, really, all my books tend to be about people who are a little on the edges trying to find their own “normal.” And I like to give them relationships, because I like to hope that everyone can find someone who makes them feel happy to be who or what they are, regardless of social expectations or social attitudes.

What I tend to find is that all of my books seem to get the same reactions–a lot of people hate the characters, especially the girls, and find them “whiny” or “slutty” or “rude.” I don’t get it, because they’re nothing alike. Katie is nothing like Nora from Bitter Fruits or Lily from Flowering, but I’ve finally begun to accept that the problem is that they’re all, in a way, pieces of me. And I’m not normal and I struggle to relate to people, so I guess all my books are about people who don’t make sense–and the ones who also don’t make sense seem to relate and everyone else misses the point. So Backward Compatible was really the epitome of all that. A story about two people who probably never get noticed or, when they do, it’s negative a lot of the time. But, together, they’re just fine. (It’s a little to do with the title, too, which is obviously a play on words for gaming, but also that they’re both considered socially “backward.”)

Pete: This question is obviously not for me, so please make up an answer for me while picturing me tap dancing in a giant bunny suit.

GeekMom: How closely (or not) do Katie and George’s lives reflect your own at their age? Did you grow up thinking of yourself as a geek?

Sarah: For the most part, their lives are exactly like mine at that age and not really that different from my life now. Except rather than college, I have a job. I worked sometimes during the school breaks, but in New England, our semester breaks were about three weeks and usually, between snow and holidays, work was reserved for on campus jobs during school and a summer job (Katie works at a day camp in the summers, which isn’t really addressed in the book). I was a teacher, too, so my breaks pretty recently were a lot like theirs–staying up and playing Xbox all night!

Growing up, I knew I was a nerd, because people made sure I knew it. When I was in school, it wasn’t really cool to be a geek or nerd. I’m really happy we’ve stopped that attitude, although sometimes I think it’s a little fake. It also bothers me to see divisiveness in geek and nerd culture, like “you’re not nerdy enough because you only saw the new Doctor Who” or “you haven’t read Silmarillion, so you aren’t a real Tolkien fan.” In my experience, being a nerd meant I had no friends and was always told I wasn’t the “right” kind of anything, so I guess I don’t get how people who’ve been there can then turn around and be so judgemental.

Pete: No specific events are from my own life, but I used my own experiences of winter break and gaming for a framework for the book. I don’t remember categorizing myself as a geek, although other people seemed to do it for me. I played a lot of sports and I had a lot of friends, but I was nerdy as hell and plenty of people told me so.

GeekMom: What Hogwarts house do you pledge allegiance to?

Sarah: Ravenclaw. I am 100% Ravenclaw, yet 99% of those online quizzes put me in Hufflepuff. But I’m all about learning for the sake of learning. I’m more of a nerd than a geek, I guess, because my pop culture knowledge is decent, but I’m not really the type who quotes things regularly, unless it’s classic poetry or some fact or trivia detail no one cares about.

Pete: Ignore her. She’s 100% Hufflepuff. I’m mostly Ravenclaw, because that’s the coolest name and they’re thinkers, which I like. However, I am also a little Slytherin, because I would love all-encompassing power and crushing my enemies with green colored spells that murder them.

GeekMom: What’s the geekiest thing you’ve ever done?

Sarah: Jeopardy is #1 on my DVR and I’ve been called in to audition twice. Is that geeky? I used to play Vampire: The Masquerade (it was actually inspiration for my urban fantasy novel), including LARP. I’m sort of terrified of people and leaving the house, though, so I guess most of my geeky stuff involves Xbox, like playing games multiple times to see all the endings or get all the collectibles. Or watching entire TV series on Netflix over a weekend. If I have to go out and talk to people, I tend to not do it.

Pete: At a comic book convention, I got into an argument with famed writer, Chris Claremont, about how much his character, Jubilee [X-Men], sucked.

GeekMom: Do you consider yourself a gamer? What video games have you enjoyed over the years?

Sarah: Hell yeah. I have enjoyed all of the games. 😀 Seriously, I play way more Xbox than any mature adult should admit to, but that’s okay. I really love it. I also have every other system, even going back to the old ones, because you never know when a game like Heavy Rain will come out and you need to have a PS3 handy. I haven’t gotten the new ones yet, but I will.

Pete: I am definitely a gamer. Get comfortable. There are a many games I have enjoyed. From my early days of loving Pac Man, Q-Bert, Dig Dug, Rolling Thunder, Gauntlet, Shinobi, Double Dragon, Demon Attack, Spider Fighter, Defender… okay I will stop there. Also, current games, such as all the Bioshock and Mass Effect and Assassin’s Creed games (although III was disappointing), anything with Arkham in the title, anything by Naughty Dog, and a whole bunch of others.

GeekMom: There are a lot of Monty Python references in the book, was that something you grew up with? What are your favorite sketches?

Sarah: I grew up watching it, but I didn’t have cable and I don’t even know if it was actually on, but in high school, all my friends seemed to have it somehow, so I learned all about it that way. Obviously, I’ve seen Holy Grail a million times, but I think it was Meaning of Life I actually saw first. But the parrot sketch was my introduction to Monty Python and I know I’m not going out on a limb with that one, but because it was my first, it’s probably that. You have to understand–I grew up in the 80s and early 90s with no cable, a Commodore 64, and parents who hated TV and still listened to 8-tracks. My pop culture exposure was delayed.

Pete: I’ve sort of always liked Monty Python, but I would never classify myself as a die-hard fan. I’ve seen it and enjoyed it, but wasn’t the kid coming in and talking about the Spanish Inquisition and what not. I do love Holy Grail and most of my references are very Grail-centric.

GeekMom: How do you imagine George & Katie’s story continuing? Do you think we might see a sequel on day?

Sarah: A sequel has been in discussion since shortly after finishing this one. I really do want to write it, because I like the idea. One thing that irritates me about movies, books, TV, etc., though, is when people take something that exists and just keep beating it over your head because it was good the first time, and that scares me a lot. I don’t want to write a sequel just because people liked the first one, but because there’s a plan that really speaks to us. However, we do have a solid plan. It’s just not solid enough to make it official at this point, because we haven’t gotten all that far in it. Pete’s really resistant to the idea of sharing until we know it’s written.

Pete: A sequel is tempting, because I really like the characters and the style of the story and I had a lot of fun tucking in the Easter eggs. However, you have to be careful, because it can hard to recreate what worked the first time, and no one wants to be The Matrix and ruin their own story.

Primordial Dust © Sarah Daltry
Primordial Dust © Sarah Daltry

GeekMom: You have a new YA Fantasy novel out called Primordial Dust, can you tell us a bit about it?

Sarah: What’s hard for me, I think, as a writer, is that I never intended to be locked into this idea as a smut writer. I wrote some erotica, while I was writing novels, because I already had it written and it wasn’t any good. But there was a market for it. However, as I tried to evolve my writing, I realized it was not what I wanted to be known for writing and I took it down. I still have this whole endless back and forth internal debate about my Flowering series–do I keep the sex or take it out? Really, I love YA. I want to write YA and I want people to take YA seriously. I also enjoy NA [New Adult], but I think that the label has become convoluted.

To me, NA was an extension of YA. It was a little more mature, probably with sex and maybe violence and drugs or more vulgarity (like Backward Compatible), but along the line, we have begun to call Fifty Shades of Grey New Adult. How? I have never met a college girl who ends up in a relationship with a billionaire sadist. All YA, even fantasy and dystopian YA, speaks to the key themes of growing up in some fashion, and I guess I expected NA to do the same.

Backward Compatible isn’t deep, but it’s still about connecting to someone and letting go of things that have clung to you from high school. (I know it’s a small part, but still).

Anyway, that’s not really about Primordial Dust, but I do think I struggle to find my audience because this book is PG. There is no swearing. The violence is there, but it’s certainly not graphic. And there is only a veiled hint at the relationships and the degree of the physical nature of them. So people who think my books are erotic are going to be confused and then I feel like others won’t give me much of a chance because they think I write smut.

This book took me three years to write. It’s a story of morality, of a princess growing up and watching her kingdom fall, mostly due to the lies that kept it running for her entire life. It’s both fantasy and realistic, in the way that it’s a fable for life. About how our choices define us, but we are often pawns for other people’s choices. It’s nothing like my other stuff, although it is also just like my other books, because it’s about defining yourself. It’s about accepting your own flaws and coming to terms with what you want rather than what you’re told to want. I tend to draw from this theme a lot, because it’s really the theme of my own life. Even still in my 30s. We all tend to define ourselves more by the words and actions of others than by our own words and actions and that’s really sad.

GeekMom: And to finish up: Best roller coaster you’ve ever ridden? 

Sarah: I can’t decide between all the roller coasters at Cedar Point (I used to love Disaster Transport!), although I think my favorites were DT, the Gemini, and Iron Dragon, because they’re fun without having excessively long lines and also you didn’t feel like they were made to be bigger or faster, but just to be awesome. Also, I was pleasantly surprised at Space Mountain in Disneyland Paris. It may have been because it was raining and there were no lines so we just rode it again and again. Actually, the Paris Disney has better roller coasters than the one in Florida, but they don’t have much else. Except signs in French, and when you’re a stupid American like me, that’s kind of cool.

Pete: I’m not a big fan of roller coasters. I get nauseous in cars and boats and sometimes the Subway. I mean the sandwich shop. That being said, I’ve tried a couple and although I will certainly be mocked as it’s far from the most badass coaster in the world, I do like the Rock n’ Roller Coaster in Disney. I rode that three times in a row and it was fun. In comparison, Space Mountain sucked.

GeekMom: Film that scared you the most?

Sarah: Okay, this makes no sense, because it wasn’t that scary, but for some reason, I was in tears watching Insidious in the theater. It’s creepy, yes, but apparently that day was just a day when I wanted to be terrified and I was scared to death during it. However, for long-lasting effect, I would say The Exorcist had the scariest plot. I thought the movie was dumb, but then couldn’t sleep for a few days because the idea bugged me. The Blair Witch Project still scares me every time I see it. But really, if you want to be scared… play Silent Hill instead.

Pete: The scariest movie I ever saw was The Blair Witch Project. We saw it opening weekend in a small theater and it was packed, but silent. Everyone was into it during the showing and it’s the kind of movie that you need that to get the most out of it. It’s one of the only movies when I remember thinking, “God, I wish it was daytime.” The most disturbing scene–although it may not be disturbing to most–is in Pet Semetary when Rachel’s mom, who’s dead, comes back to berate her. That scene is messed up, man.

GeekMom: Do you believe in aliens?

Sarah: Yes and no. I believe it’s a little arrogant to think that we are the only real “human” life in all of space, but I also don’t believe in any of the nonsense in science fiction. I just think the universe is really big.

Pete: Since there are more planets that the human mind can conceivably fathom, I think it’s safe to say that something is probably living on some of those. Do I think they’re getting all Jackson Pollack with our crops? No.

GeekMom: Dinosaurs or Dragons?

Sarah: Dragons. Need I say more?

Pete: They’re both pretty awesome. Dragons are dinosaurs, in a way, but cooler versions. T-Rexes are cool, but dragons would beat them down.

Backward Compatible is out now and was reviewed here on GeekMom in February. If you’re interested to find out more, the opening chapter is available for free on Sarah Daltry’s website.

Get the GeekDad Books!