Q&A with Raima Larter, a double-threat in science and fiction writing

The celebrations at Little Patuxent Review continue! Raima Larter, one of our fiction readers (there must be something in the water) will be publishing her book Spiritual Insights from the New Science with World Scientific Publishing. Congratulations!

Raima was kind enough to chat with me about the book, her writing career, and the publication process.

Q: Congratulations on your book contract for Spiritual Insights from the New Science! For us non-scientists, how would you describe the book?

A: This book is a guide to the deep spiritual wisdom drawn from one of the newest areas of science: the study of complex systems. Before I became a full-time writer, I did research on this topic for over three decades. When I realized I was using concepts from my studies to understand my own life, I wanted to share what I’d learned. So, the book is partly memoir, partly a popular-science explanation of this field.

Raima Larter reads at The Potter’s House in Washington, DC

I explain these concepts through my own story of being attracted, as a young student, to the study of self-organizing systems where I encountered the strange and beautiful topics of chaos, fractals, and other concepts that comprise complexity science. Using the events of my own life, I describe lessons drawn from this science that provide insights into not only my life, but all our lives. These insights show us how to weather the often disruptive events we all experience when growing and changing.

I know you’ve been working on this book for a long time—what’s your writing process been like?

It took me many years to make the transition from writing for a technical audience to writing for the general public. As I’ve been finishing up this final draft and looking at some of my early drafts, I see how far I’ve come with this. So, understanding the needs of my audience was a big part of the book’s development. Over the period that the book took shape, I also started writing fiction and learned much more about how to tell a story. That also informed the way I worked on the book, since it’s a piece of narrative non-fiction where story is key.

Speaking of writing fiction, how do you see your science writing and your novel writing interacting in your life? Are there lessons from one that you bring to the other?

These two types of writing very much influence one another. In both, I need to tell a story, so that’s one similarity. I do a lot of freelance science writing these days and sometimes the studies I write about give me ideas for the science fiction stories I’ve been working on lately. So, there is a back-and-forth flow of information and influence between these two writing realms.

How has the publishing process differed for this book versus your novels?

The publication process for this book has been very different from that for my novels. I’d tried to find publishers for this book years ago, and even had an agent for a while. When those attempts failed, I put the book aside and wrote the novels. I had to seek out publishers for both of those on my own, without an agent, so I was very surprised to get an inquiry from my current publisher asking if I’d like to write a popular science book for them.

I pulled out this old project and pitched it to the acquisitions editor, who loved the concept. When he contacted me, he referenced my novels and my freelance science writing, so apparently my other writing work had some influence on this editor’s decision to reach out. The process of publishing this book has really been a lesson in the importance of patience and never giving up.

What other writing projects do you have cooking right now?

I was just finishing a science fiction novel when I received this new book contract, so I’m trying to get that novel (it would be my third) ready to start querying while simultaneously meeting the submission deadline for the contract. It’s a lot! I also always have a bunch of short pieces—flash fiction and poetry, mainly—in various stages of being done or pending somewhere. I like having short things to work on when the book projects become too wearing, which always happens with really long pieces of writing.

The process of publishing this book has really been a lesson in the importance of patience and never giving up.

Somehow, in addition to your own writing, you find time to read fiction submissions for LPR. What do your favorite submissions have that make you say, “Yes, I will pass this one on”?

A story can have a lot going for it in terms of character, good dialogue, interesting plot, etc., but if I’m left at the end wondering what the point of the story was, I’m not likely to recommend it to the editor. I’m looking for that feeling of satisfaction or an unexpected insight that comes at the end of a good story. It’s thrilling when I run across one in the LPR queue.

What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

I believe it was Neil Gaiman who answered this question with, “Finish your work!” and it really struck home for me. I have a tendency to start a lot of things and leave them sitting in a folder instead of finishing them and getting them out in the world. I’m trying to take Neil’s advice to heart and finish my work. If not now, when? You can write the most astounding poems or short stories or books, but if they sit unfinished on your desk, it does the rest of the world no good. So: finish your work!

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Raima Larter is a writer and scientist. A former college professor and government scientist, she is the author of two novels: Fearless, a modern-day mystery/thriller, and Belle o’ the Waters, set in late-1850s pioneer America. Larter is the creator and author of the blog Complexity Simplified, which covers topics ranging from science to spirituality and writing. She holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Indiana University and an MA in Writing from Johns Hopkins. She does freelance science writing for a number of organizations, including the American Institute of Physics and the American Institute for Cancer Research. She has authored numerous short stories, some of which have won awards, and is the author of the short story collection, The Gate of Heaven and Other Story Worlds.

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