Committing to the Shiny New Idea

Shiny new ideas can come at you with all sorts of speeds. There are the ones that slap you upside the head so fast, you twirl and forget your surroundings ("Groceries? Who cares! MUST WRITE NOW.") There are the slow brewing ones that squat like a frog in the corner of your brain, begging to be turned into something more majestic.

Either way, at some point, writers must commit to their new idea. Here are some of the steps I go through when deciding to spend the next months (or year? Years, even?) with the next novel.

What else is already out there?
Source: Giphy
Every story you write is uniquely yours. If you ask two people to write a story about paisley-patterned pixies that live in Greenland, they will still be different. But--I know that personally I don't like to write a novel if that type of story is already glutting the market. I want to write something that truly feels unique to me. How will I know readers will find it different? What can I add to the already plentiful number of beautifully written books out there? So I always take that into consideration.

What is my main character's journey going to be like?
Source: Giphy
So. The journey. There are lots of classic journeys that main characters go through. Will it be a classic hero's journey? How will the MC change and grow? What are the stakes? Are they important enough? When I ask these questions, I try to feel if this is a story I actually care to create, watch unfold, and be involved in.

How familiar am I with this genre?
Source: Giphy
I am a genre-hopping writer. CONTROL and CATALYST are firmly in the realm of science fiction, defined by the genetic manipulation and near future realities within it, but I've also written historical, urban fantasy, and have high fantasy and even more historical on my list of things to write. I've lived in YA but also dabble in MG. I always try to read lots of books when I'm entering into new territory, so I can get a feel for how other authors tackle them (also known as the most fun homework, EVER.) I know we hear the common phrase "Write what you know," but part of writing is about using our imaginations to expand into what we're unfamiliar with. However--if it's so unfamiliar that you're deeply uncomfortable in that territory, well. That's telling.
Can I speak the language?
Source: Giphy
This is really a research/brainstorming question. Before I can write a single word, I have to know what my characters are going to sound like, what they wear. I have to know what the buildings look like, if the food is spicy. I have to know about the politics of the time and the historical background--and I'm not just talking about writing historical novels. This is true for epic fantasy, and futuristic thrillers, and contemporary. If you can sit inside your world and really see it--you're ready to live there a while.

Who else lives here?
Source: Giphy
World building is one thing, but who else lives there? These are the people and animals and creatures that can really bring vibrancy to your world. A main character is nothing without the supporting cast. So I have to meet them and be just as entranced with them as the MC and world.

Am I in love with it?
Source: Giphy
This is the biggest question of all. After all this work, am I still in love with it? Because to tell you the truth, I've never written a novel where my heart didn't flutter at the very concept of it. I can't explain why, but the spark sometimes disappears after fleshing it all out. Those books have never been written. However, if I'm still swooning over the idea, then Spock isn't allowed to destroy it all. I open up my Scrivener program and start writing page one. :)

Twirl that Moustache: Your Favorite Villains

We love our heroes. But villains are worthy of our love, too, for so many reasons. These days, villains seem to have as many (or more?) fans than the heroes of our favorite SF/F stories. 

Here, our Leaguers share some of their favorite villains, and why!

Beth Revis:
My favorite villain is The Operative in the movie Serenity. He is absolutely evil, but he absolutely believes that what he is doing is the right thing. He's not a mustache-twirling bad guy (which, despite the helmet, Darth Vader totally is); he has explicit, specific--and even reasonable--logic for doing the horrible things he does. His reaction to everything that happens in the end of the novel is amazing, something very few villains do, and that makes him even more perfect.

The Operative, from Serenity. "Darth Vader is flat Stanley. Because Beth says so and I agree."
Mindy McGinnis:
My favorite SF/F villain is Black Jack Randall from the Outlander series. Every villain has a reason for what they're doing, and Gabaldon actually made me cry for him at one point. HOW!??! I don't know, but she did.

Black Jack Randall. A keen eye and a bloody good hat.
Bethany Hagen:
Both Victor and Eli from V.E. Schwab's Vicious.  They are both so clever and original, plus I really dug the idea that they were battling each other, and it wasn't necessarily a hero vs. villain.  More like villains versus each other.

This is Victor, turning his back on you.
Lissa Price:
I will go with the Master from the David Tennant version of Dr Who. 

The Master, from Dr Who. Source
"This? Oh, it's just a fork. Trust me."
E.C. Myers:
I am going with General Zod, specifically from the film Superman II. He isn't the worst villain, but he's definitely evil and ambitious and a match for Supes. He's also inadvertently funny and entertaining. "Kneel before Zod" is classic, and there's this great moment in the film where he's being interviewed on TV and he ends it by using his own name as an exclamation: "Zod!"

General Zod. "Kneel before my superlative facial hair stylings."
Lydia Kang:
I would say Loki from Thor. He's so devilishly evil but with a squishy heart inside. And then there's Khan, from Star Trek into Darkness. I also had a major villain crush on Pitch, from Rise of the Guardians. That scratchy voice was too much. Who doesn't want to strive to just exist? I could go on...

Here's Loki looking SO evil. Um. Wait. Let me try another. 
Hmm. Evil looks too good. Let's try another.
That's better!

So do you have a favorite villain? Tell us who and why in the comments below!

Interview with Meagan Spooner, author of LARK ASCENDING

We are so excited here at the League that our own Meagan Spooner's final book in the Skylark trilogy just released! The book is called Lark Ascending, and it's AMAZING.

We're here today with Meagan to find out some more about her process and how she came about writing an end to a series with characters we've fallen in love with.

Peggy: You have an incredible ability to write compelling, complex, real characters that readers fall in love with. Tell us a little about your process-- do your characters come to you fully formed, or do they become who they're going to be as you are writing and editing?

Meagan: My main characters are usually greatly informed by the worlds they live in and what the story needs them to be. I had the setting of the Skylark trilogy before anything else, and thought about whose story would be most interesting to tell in this world where magic is a fuel source, and rapidly dwindling. The answer: a girl with the power to generate magic herself. Of course, for those who've read Skylark, the first book, they know that's not really the whole story on Lark and her abilities, but I won't spoil the twists for those who haven't! For side characters it's usually an archetype that first comes to me. Like "the teacher" or "the familiar." That allows me to see how the character will fit into the story, and lets me build him or her (or it, in Nix's case!) out from there into a more realistic person.

Those touches inevitably come from the characters' histories, most of which never show up in the books themselves. Kris, for example, has a lengthy origin story that will probably never see the light of day. Oren does as well--I wrote quite a bit of what happened to him in his childhood and what happened to his parents, and how he survived on his own. Sometimes you see side characters who only exist on the page, seemingly coming into existence for the first time when they're introduced in the manuscript. But real people have stories that span years or even decades, and for me, figuring out what brought each character to the place they enter my story makes them feel more real for me.

Peggy: You have been applauded by so many advance readers for writing a satisfying ending packed with action, tension, tough choices, romantic conflict, and reveals, with an incredible series arc and character arcs. Was the ending one you knew from the start, or did it surprise you?

Meagan: Let me tell you first what a relief that is to hear! Any series writer will tell you that there's nothing more terrifying than trying to end a series. If you can't please everyone with one book, you certainly can't please everyone with three! For me, the ending of Lark Ascending feels inevitable. I wasn't 100% certain exactly how it would end, but I knew the feeling I wanted to end with. For me, that's often where my plot structures and twists come from. I figure out how I want my reader to feel at any given point in the story arc, and then I figure out what would make them feel that way. So I knew exactly the note I wanted to strike with the ending, and by the time I got there, I knew how to do it.

The real trick was to keep that feeling of inevitability, like everything was always leading to that climax, that decision that Lark has to make in the end (no spoilers, don't worry!) from the very first words of the very first book—while also keeping it surprising. You don't ever want to feel like you can see what's coming--what you want is for readers to look back after finishing and think "Oh my god, I should have seen it!" That's what I aim for with every book—surprising yet inevitable.

That said... it surprised me, so I hope it surprises readers too!

Peggy: I think readers are going to LOVE it! Want to find out more about Megan and her books? Check out the links below.

Tumblr  |  Twitter  |  Facebook  |  Pinterest  |  Email

Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.


Lark Ascending Ascends Today!

Meagan Spooner's Skylark was written in my spare bedroom.

Not many books you can say that about, right? This series is incredibly close to my heart--I remember the first words Meg got down, I remember her bedroom walls covered in post-it notes as she carefully revised the novel. I remember carrying printed pages and a red pen on the train to and from work, getting home each night to hand over my notes and demand the next chapter. Neither of us had any experience with publication, and neither of us knew a lot about what we were doing, but she was writing this book, and I was hovering over it like a proud aunt, cheering at every tiny milestone.

I remember crying tears of joy when the series sold, and losing my cool completely when I held a copy in my hands for the first time. The day it came out in Australia, I visited five different bookshops, just to admire it on the shelves. I wanted to grab passers by and show them this amazing thing, right there in front of us!

These days I have a published series that I co-author with Meg. We talk every single day about our work, dividing up editing and emails, brainstorming chapters, troubleshooting and exchanging entertaining gifs. These days, writing is our normal, and we love it, and we're grateful for it every day.

As Lark Ascending releases today, I'm reflecting on my gratitude--for this book, for the path it made for its author and me, for the fact that it paved the way for me to spend every day working with Meg.

I'm also reflecting on how much I love this series. Skylark, Shadowlark and Lark Ascending go dark places, and ask questions you don't hear every day--questions about what it is to be human, what it is to lose everything, and what kind of person you'd be if you had to start again. Though I've read these stories over and over, this trilogy still makes my heart pound, the imagery and poetry makes my breath catch, and as I finished book three, I cried—not because it was overwhelmingly sad, but because it was the end of a poem, simply perfect. It was the right ending for this story, and though we’d talked many times about where it might all lead, I didn’t know Meg’s final answer until I held my finished copy in my hands.

Set in a world where magic is a resource--indeed, the only thing that will keep you alive--and centred on an ordinary and extraordinary girl who refuses to accept the status quo, this series takes you across a twisted, post-apocalyptic landscape on a journey you'll never forget.

To celebrate the release of Lark Ascending, you can get Skylark for only $0.99 and Shadowlark for only $4.29, but not for long!

So, grab this series with both hands, read it, love it, let it challenge you and make you think.

Four Reasons You Need to ASCEND

Tomorrow is the day that LARK ASCENDING ascends onto shelves!   LARK is the third book in the SKYLARK Trilogy, penned by the wonderful (and wonderfully talented) Meagan Spooner (who also co-wrote the beautiful These Broken Stars [which made me have Feels.])

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an early copy, and so I'm here to tell you that there are some VERY IMPORTANT REASONS that you need to find your way into Lark Ainsley's world, if you haven't already.

1. Magic!
If you haven't read any of the Skylark books yet, I won't ruin it all for you, but there is most definitely magic and Lark is most definitely able to use it, like a BAMF magic-warrior-lady.

Magic Hands!

2. Oren
Again, if you haven't delved into the Skylark books, I won't be spoilery, but I will say that Oren is fiercely loyal, fiercely wild, and has one heck of a dangerous secret--one that could destroy him and everyone he comes near.

Oren:  Safe? No.  Hot? Yes.

3. Nix
Nix is a magically-powered steampunk-pixie-pet who used to be bad and is now mostly good, but has an extremely smart mouth.  In addition to protecting Lark, it also makes sure that everyone around it knows how dumb it thinks they are.  Nix may be my spirit animal.

4. Answers with a Capital A
A mysterious girl named Eve.  The evil Institute and its overlord Gloriette. The architects who started it all.  Lark returns to the city of her birth and finally unearths the Truth.

Sorry.  Couldn't resist.

So there you have it!  LARK ASCENDING is beautifully written, haunting, magical steampunk-y goodness, and it is going to be here TOMORROW!

And it's available at all of these fine places:

The Perils of Near-Future Science Fiction—and How to Write it Anyway, by Shallee McArthur

Science fiction. It makes people think “voyages of the Starship Enterprise” and “in a galaxy far, far away.” Those things—far flung futures, space adventures, new planets, etc. etc.—are some of my favorite things about science fiction.

But that’s not the kind of science fiction I wrote. (At least, not for this book.)

The Unhappening of Genesis Lee is about a girl who’s genetically altered so that her brain can no longer store memories. Instead, she uses the rest of her nervous system to store memories in external objects through touch. It takes place in Arizona in the year 2084. That’s not exactly next week, though it’s also not far, far away. All things considered, 70 years in the future is relatively soon. And sometimes in the world of science fiction, “soon” can be a little dangerous.

The world has reached a point where the theories of yesterday are tomorrow’s news stories of success. We have so much technology, it enhances our ability to create more technology, faster. For a writer of near-future sci fi, there’s always the worry that the progression of science is going to outstrip your imagination. In a previous story, I wrote about a kind of body armor that I thought was so cool and high-tech…only to find out it was actually a real thing already.

There’s nothing worse than having your futuristic story look behind-the-times.

So what’s a writer to do? I’ve learned a few tricks that help me write better near-future science fiction—and these can extend to all genres.

Research – To me, this is a given. It’s science fiction, after all. This doesn’t mean I’ve got to become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics overnight, but it does mean I better look beyond Wikipedia and that one cool news article on Hypable. Look into the history of the science—how it got where it is now. Look into where the experts want it to go—what’s their vision of the future? Over the course of writing Unhappening, I read approximately eleventy billion science journal articles about how memory works and what current research is doing with memory. And a good thing, too, because I had to modify some things along the way!

Imagine it more than once – I’m sure we’ve all had that moment—you read something online and immediately think, “That’d make a killer story!” DON’T just sit down and write a story based on that cool new thing you learned. That’s the easiest way for your story to be old news before it’s even written. Instead, speculate. (It is speculative fiction, after all—though this concept applies to pretty much any genre.) Ask what could go wrong. Ask what could go right, and then go wrong. Ask what society will look like if this thing happens, how economies and communication and human interaction will change. Ask what other advances this could lead to. Basically, imagine the idea more than once. Come up with three or four or ten possibilities that could come from this single new thing, and write the one that wasn’t your first thought.

Focus the story on universal human truths – This is the single best way to make sure your book won’t become irrelevant. People don’t care as much if science passes up your science fiction—if you “got it wrong”—as long as the story is focused on the universal human truths behind the science. In Unhappening, the heart of the story is really about forgetting. Because forgetting makes me afraid. It makes all of us afraid. It’s also about remembering, and the power in memories to shape us as human beings. It’s a story that asks what makes us who we are, and that’s something that will exist even if memory modification treatment for PTSD doesn’t happen the way my book claimed it would.

George Orwell wrote 1984 in the year 1949. The story speculated a mere 35 years into the future. But just because the book was “wrong,” because it’s now 30 years past its title-imposed expiration date, is it any less relevant? I think the entire world around us would say no.

I’ve read before that near-future sci fi is a gamble, even that it’s no longer possible to write it and stay relevant in this day and age. I disagree one hundred percent. Science fiction is and always has been about possibilities, not probabilities. It’s why people love it—it’s why I love it.

So go dream up what might be possible.

Shallee McArthur originally wanted to be a scientist, until she realized she liked her science best in fictional form. Her debut YA sci fi, THE UNHAPPENING OF GENESIS LEE comes out November 4th. Her other adventures have included wrangling a group of volunteers in Ghana, changing her hairstyle way too often, and raising two small nerdlings with her husband.

Review of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis

Okay, so it's time for another book review! This time I got to read an early copy of IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by fellow Leaguer, Mindy McGinnis. This is a companion novel to Mindy's first book, NOT A DROP TO DRINK. And I'm a real fan of companion novels, having written two myself.

With DUST, we get to follow Lucy, who was a child in the first book. Her caretaker and stand-in mother is Lynn, who was the teen narrator in DRINK. If you liked the format of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH and it's companion THE DEAD TOSSED WAVES, you'll enjoy the companion style of DUST to DRINK.

About NOT A DROP TO DRINK: Sixteen-year-old Lynn will do anything to protect her valuable water source, but the arrival of new neighbors forces her to reconsider her attitudes. With evocative, spare language, and incredible drama, danger, and romance, debut author McGinnis depicts one girl's unwavering efforts to survive in a harsh frontier-like future.

"A high-quality survivalist story for readers who enjoy internal story arcs as well as external dangers." (Kirkus Reviews)
About IN A HANDFUL OF DUST: In a Handful of Dust is set ten years after the first novel, Not a Drop to Drink, as a dangerous disease strikes the community where teenage Lucy lives. When her adoptive mother, Lynn, takes Lucy away from their home and friends in order to protect her, Lucy struggles to figure out what home means. During their journey west to find a new life, the two face nature's challenges, including hunger, mountains, and deserts.

Why You Should Read It:
1. If you're a fan of dystopian novels, this series has a fresh twist, taking us back to the frontier times. I just read a historical novel set in the harsh climate of Montana, and DUST and DRINK has this distinct feel of the harshness of a "wild land" where anything goes and there's no law.

So it's unique. There's no oppressive government. There's not a "utopian" feel that a lot of other dystopian novels/series have. So if you haven't picked these novels up yet, you should! You'll get something fresh and different.

2. IN A HANDFUL OF DUST is a continuation of the story started in DRINK, but it has a story arc of it's own. So don't feel like you need to start with the first book. Mindy does a great job of letting readers know what's happened without dragging down the current plot.

3. The premise of the series is that there's hardly any water. Being a lover of the ocean, I really identified with Lucy, who wants to go to California, where she's heard there are desalination plants. Lynn--the older, more seasoned woman--decides to accompany her, but really this is Lucy's fight in the wilderness. And there were some pretty terrible situations--betrayals from a friend, gun fights, people wanting Lucy for her ability, treacherous mountains to climb (literally!), and reaching a city that doesn't have any more water than they had back home--that Lucy had to overcome in her quest to get to California.

I think most of us have had our own "mountains to climb" from time to time in our lives, and this adventure story of a cross-country trip in pursuit of a dream (even if that dream is simply having clean water to drink!) is appealing.

So be sure to buy these books today! Here's where you can find IN A HANDFUL OF DUST: