In 2008, I woke from a dream about two people on a bridge. Two friends, one afraid the other had already betrayed her. He does reveal a secret – he’s an alien, from a planet where authorities exiled all the unwanted orphans and old people by sending them to random locations in space. She realizes she trusts him anyway, even more so now that he’s shared the truth about himself with her. Off they go, ready to make their valiant but probably doomed attempt to save the human race from other, more brutal aliens.
For months prior to this dream, I’d struggled trying to write a serious novel about a woman who worked too much, who never fit in, who believed herself to be inadequate to all the tasks put in front of her. I could not make the story “work;” I seemed to spend hundreds of words explaining why she felt so alienated and insecure, and my writing bored even me.
But when I woke up from the dream of the two friends on the bridge, most of the rest of the plot of what became An Alien’s Guide to World Domination, my first novel, took shape in my head. I discovered the story needed to be set in a world like ours, but different: one in which aliens are real, and all around us. A world where a boss isn’t just incompetent, but he also turns into a snot-like blob the color of lime Jell-O gone wrong before your very eyes. A world where exile is measured in light years instead of miles. And, a world where dogs save the day, mainly by saving humans from the worst parts of our own nature.
This experience taught me the deeper truths of the human condition that science fiction and fantasy help us express. In An Alien’s Guide, the threat that all humans will be turned into a giant cyborg army reflects our experience that too often, we do what we’re told without question, as if we’re cyborgs. (As Louise Armstrong Holliday, the heroine of this tale, says: “After all, aren’t most humans already cyborgs, anyway?”) We all know the feeling that somehow, we’re the only one in the room who’s human – like the bar scenes in Star Wars. As I like to say, this book is for anyone who’s ever looked at her boss and thought, “You must be from another planet.” In other words, all of us.
But having the plot and world for An Alien’s Guide take root so vividly in my head didn’t make finishing the novel easy. Over the three and half years following that dream, I gave up on the book more times than I can count. Sometimes, small plot contradictions felt insoluble. Other times, I became convinced the story was about as stupid as the brutal aliens I was trying to describe. And often, I lost confidence in my writing. Words seemed elusive, sentences felt stale, and chapters became giant messes.
I think that’s why An Alien’s Guide to World Domination turned out to be as much about the process of trying to do something you’re sure is absurd and impossible as about a bunch of aliens who want to destroy humanity. So often during the writing process the whole idea of crafting a book anyone would want to publish seemed the most absurd and impossible thing of all.
But then it was finally done, and about six months after I held my breath, flung a quiet wish to the universe, and hit “send” on queries to several agents and publishers, the acquisitions editor from Champagne Book Group replied with encouragement. And a few weeks of manic revising of the manuscript later, CBG offered a contract.
Just a little over five years after that dream of two people on a bridge, deciding they would continue what should have been an impossible friendship, An Alien’s Guide to World Domination was published by CBG’s BURST! imprint. The book is slowly finding its audience, as a quirky, funny, and essentially hopeful story about people who stare the impossible in the face, and do it anyway. In other words, all of us.
Elizabeth Fountain left a demanding job as a university administrator in Seattle to move to the small town of Ellensburg, Washington, and pursue her dream of writing novels. She started writing in grade school; fortunately, most of her tortured high school poetry and song lyrics are lost to posterity. Her first book was five years in the making, and offered lots of opportunities to give up along the way; that might be why it’s a tale of people, aliens, and dogs who face the impossible, and do it anyway. An independent publishing house in Calgary, Champagne Book Group, released the novel in April. Now Liz has three more novels in progress. She takes breaks from writing to teach university courses, spend time with family and friends, and take long walks while leaning into the diabolical Kittitas valley wind. She holds degrees in philosophy, psychology, and leadership, which contribute to a gently humorous view of humanity well suited to tales of aliens and angels, love and death, friendship and dogs. Liz strives to live according to a line from British singer-songwriter Chris Rea: “Every day, good luck comes in the strangest of ways.”
Her latest book is An Alien’s Guide to World Domination.