Interview with Helen Hunter - a guest post by George Ebey

We've come across an exclusive interview with Helen Hunter, young heroine in George Ebey's upcoming Rovers of Mars series - his novella DEBBI will debut soon so stay tuned! She was interviewed for a local newspaper in Portland where she's from. We asked the editors to allow us sharing the interview. 

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus is the saying most of us are familiar with. But that's not the case with Helen Hunter, a fifteen-year-old Portland local who’s taking space up by storm. She’s a competitive gamer and an amateur Mars rover model designer who likes to tinker with gadgets and build things. Here at The Portland Pop-Off, we had the pleasure to chat with her about her hobbies and her place in this mostly male-dominated field.

Helen, tell us more about what is it that you do. You said you’re a competitive gamer. What exactly does that entail?
Some gaming platforms let you play against other individuals or teams, and a lot of these offer tournaments where you can play for prizes. I’ve dabbled in that some. Hence the term ‘competitive.’

And have you ever actually won anything?

Just once. I started a quest in a popular fantasy RPG and was the first to complete it. I’m told that I beat out over two hundred other players. The whole thing was sponsored by Meow Mix, though, so I won a year’s supply of cat food. Too bad I don’t have a cat.

How many girls would you say share this hobby of yours? It’s a well-known fact that it’s mostly boys who play video games.
You’d be surprised, actually—many of my competitors play under assumed names with custom-made avatars, so you don’t always get to see who you’re really playing against. But a lot of these characters are females. So unless there are a plethora of guys out there playing as women warriors, it’s a safe bet that I’m not alone.

Hm. Do you have any big contests coming up?
Yes, in fact, the biggest one I’ve ever entered. It’s being sponsored by MARSCORP—you know, the company that sends remote-controlled rovers to Mars to mine for ore? They’re hosting a convention in San Francisco next month. Part of it involves a gaming competition for teens, and I was lucky enough to qualify for it.

What kind of game is it, exactly?
Essentially, it’s a basic battle simulation. But it’s unique because rather than controlling a digital avatar, you have to battle with an actual robot that you design and build yourself. It’s sort of like those old battle-bot competitions where people built robots that slugged it out in an arena. Only here, the arena is a virtual video game full of simulated levels and environments that you have to play through. It’s really cool, and unlike anything I’ve ever done before!

This is a good lead into my next question. You also enjoy tinkering and inventing. Did you actually design and build your own robot for this competition from scratch? That seems … a bit farfetched, for a girl of your background.
Yep, did it all myself, actually. I’ve been into model building for a while, mostly replicas of Mars-mining rovers, in fact. These often have animatronics that make them move and maneuver and such, so it wasn’t hard for me to adapt this to a functional design for the MARSCORP competition. I call it DEBBI.

Most girls are not into science and technology, but prefer fashion and music, for example. Do you ever feel lonely? How do your friends feel about your hobbies?
Not at all. In fact, my best friend, Misty, is coming with me. The rules let you play the game in teams of two if you want, so Misty and I worked out a new system that will allow us to share control of DEBBI’s various functions while in the game. We have every intention of showing the world what a couple of girls from Portland can do.

Let’s talk about MARSCORP for a second. Their rover mining program is a tough field to get into. Stakes are high. What are your thoughts on it?

Part of me really admires what MARSCORP has done. Mars is a harsh and desolate planet that’s not very friendly to human life. But in a few short years, MARSCORP has made it possible for us to explore the planet safely, by allowing us to control their fleet of robotic rovers from here on Earth. As a tech fan, I’m fascinated by all of it. But I’m not a big fan of their mining policy. I get that they have to make money, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible to do what they’re doing. But the way they go about it… Well, in order to get one of those Mars rover contracts, you have to practically sign your entire life away. Agree to work and make a certain amount of money for them before you can turn a profit for yourself. And if something happens that prevents you from making that quota, you end up in their debt. It seems like just asking for trouble, you know?

How do your parents feel about you entering this contest? It must have taken quite a lot of convincing on your part.
You’re right, it did take some convincing, though not for the reasons you obviously think. But they’re very supportive, and for the most part, I’m doing this for them. They recently decided to enter into a contract with MARSCORP for a lease on one of their mining rovers. They see it as a great new business venture, even though they’ll have to risk going into debt to make it happen. I just don’t like the risk. If I win this competition, though, they won’t have to do that—the grand prize is a full access control pass to a MARSCORP rover. Winning this completion means that my parents will get their rover, and won’t have to risk anything for it.

Good luck with that. We have just one final question: Any plans for the future?
The only plan I have is to get to that convention, dominate the battle bot tournament, and win that grand prize. Oh, and maybe get a cat.  

Author George Ebey
George Ebey is the author of the forthcoming Phoenix Saga, a series of fantasy adventure tales for young readers. In addition, his soon to be released novella, DEBBI, is set to be the first entry in his upcoming Rovers of Mars series. 

Prior to turning to the world of Middle Grade and Young Adult adventure, he got his start by writing works of mystery and suspense. Ebey’s previous titles include: Broken Clock; The Red Bag; Dimensions: Tales of Suspense; and Widowfield.

These days he’s proud to be an author with Glass House Press as well a contributor to the International Thriller Writer’s online webzine, The Big Thrill.

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