Tag Archives: interview

Daydreaming the future: An interview with Jenny Martin

Cars, racing and a passel of my favourite movies! I talk with Jenny Martin about what makes YA sci-fi awesome and her book, Tracked. 

Don’t forget to check out how you can win a copy of Tracked at the bottom of the interview.

BELINDA: What is YA science fiction to you?

JENNY: First and foremost, it’s something near and dear to my heart. I spent a lot of my childhood with my nose science fiction novels. And while there were several wonderful speculative novels written for middle grade and teen readers, many of them were shelved in the adult section. Now, there’s a new generation of YA science fiction books, and it’s just wonderful to see. So many people, of all ages, are interested in asking “what if?” They daydream about the road ahead, where science, technology and humanity can take us. They’re interested in the intersection between the ingenuity of the mind and the restlessness of the heart. They’re fascinated by the prospect of faraway worlds and new frontiers, full of wondrous (and sometimes frightening) possibility. To me, that’s what YA science fiction is…an answer to that call.

BELINDA: What drew you to the genre?

JENNY: Again, the answer probably lies in childhood. When it comes to science fiction, I don’t think my heart ever had a chance. I was always in our little public library. I always watching adventure movies like Star Wars and SF shows on TV. I was always daydreaming in class, about rocketing into space or traveling to another time or conquering a kingdom. SF was, and still is, my window, mirror, anchor and escape.

BELINDA: Do you think there’s a difference between YA science fiction and science fiction marketed for adults?

JENNY: Yes, and no. I think some SF has a distinctly old school or adult flavor. For many years, science fiction was largely dominated by white male authors, and/or authors explicitly interested in intensely focusing on hard science. But over the years, the genre has slowly evolved and now, there are so many subgenres within SF. Yes, the time honored conventions are still thoroughly explored, and many different authors pen these traditional SF sagas, but now, there are so many other types of stories. There’s something for everyone. There’s room for everyone to share a fresh point of view.

I will say, that by and large, most YA SF seems to focus on heroes and heroines who are coming of age, on the raw cusp of adulthood. There is some crossover, with older narrators in YA and younger narrators in adult novels, but this pattern tends to hold. Overall, it’s a great era for SF. The field is wide open. Many readers are willing to champion both YA and adult books.

The cover of Tracked by Jenny Martin
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BELINDA: Tracked is marketed as The Fast and the Furious (one of my favourites) with a futuristic twist. What inspired you to write
a SF series about racing?

JENNY: Believe it or not, the inspirations for the racing world of Tracked hit me all at once. Around that time, I came across the remake of Death Race 2000 (the one with Jason Statham). I was intrigued by the premise, and thrilled with the foot-to-the-floor racing scenes. Not long after, I watched a documentary called Hot Coffee, a fiercely critical look at politics, corporate greed, and its impact on the criminal justice system. From there, my Star Wars-obsessed brain put these two elements together. I imagined a planet (one that had been colonized and settled through land run races, like home state, Oklahoma) where corporations held all the political cards. And then I imagined how a spitfire street racer might fight to take them down.

BELINDA: What’s next for you after the next book in the Tracked series, Marked, comes out in May?

JENNY: Thanks for asking! It’s been so wonderfully cathartic to wrap up Phee’s story in Marked, and now I’m working on a top secret project, something completely new and unrelated to the Tracked world. It’s a star-crossed, epic, multi-POV saga that rides the line between science fiction and fantasy. I like to think of it as a tech-drenched, swashbuckling, feminist Game of Thrones.

BELINDA: What are some of your favourite YA sci-fi novels?

JENNY: This past year, I really enjoyed Zeroboxer by Fonda Lee (a fantastic, speculative book at zero gravity boxing), Lost Stars by Claudia Gray (a gripping story set in the Star Wars universe) and Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (an action-packed saga told in a really cool, really original way).

About Jenny Martin

Jenny Martin, author of Tracked
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Jenny Martin is an author and librarian. Her first novel, Tracked, released on May 5th, 2015, by Dial, an imprint of Penguin Random-House. Tracked was named one of Paste Magazine’s and Teen Magazine’s ‘Best Books of 2015’, and its sequel, Marked, will be released May 17th, 2016. Jenny is also an experienced speaker, panelist and presenter who’s appeared Texas Teen Book Festival, Texas Library Association and San Diego Comic Con. She lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with her husband and son, where she hoards books and writes fiction. And yes, she’s still on a quest for the perfect pancake.

Find out more about Jenny and her books on her website or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

YA Sci-fi giveaway

Win a copy of Tracked, along with six other awesome YA sci-fi books, in our giveaway running from 8 April 2016 to 10 April 2016.

Sign up to be notified about this and future giveaways.

Feature image courtesy of Anne Worner (via Flickr). Used with a Creative Commons license.

On mirrors and YA sci-fi: An interview with N.K. Traver

A computer-hacking teen. The girl who wants to save him. And a rogue mirror reflection that might be the death of them both.

That’s a great opening line and it’s on the back of Duplicity, a YA cyber-thriller by N.K. Traver. Find out how you can win a copy at the bottom of the interview.

BELINDA: What is YA science fiction (sci-fi) to you?

N.K.: YA sci-fi is about exploring current or future technology from a teen standpoint–specifically, as technology that can be influenced or changed.

BELINDA: What drew you to the genre?

N.K.: I kind of fell into it by accident. I’ve always had an interest in technology and the hypothetical ways it could affect our future, but I didn’t realize that was the direction Duplicity was headed until it came time to work out the explanation behind Brandon’s moving reflection. I didn’t want to go with a full fantasy bent, so I steered it toward a technological explanation.

BELINDA: Do you think there is a difference between YA sci-fi and that which is marketed at adults?

N.K.: To me, I think they’re pretty similar, especially as far as theme. I think there’s great crossover appeal for both age groups since the uniting factor remains the same: how technology might go wrong, or how it might go wrong in the wrong hands.

BELINDA: How much of your background as a programmer influenced the world you built in Duplicity?

N.K.: Almost all of it. The entire world behind the mirror in Duplicity is influenced by my understanding of computers and what they would be capable of–with a few liberties taken on future tech, of course.

BELINDA: As a programmer, are there things that authors get wrong that bug you?

N.K.: Most authors do their research when it comes to programming, but I will say that a star dies every time an author makes programming an easy skill to pick up or makes it some kind of god-power – i.e., a character who’s dabbled in website hacking suddenly knows how to hack everything from FBI vending machines to NASA launch codes.

BELINDA: What are a few of your favourite YA sci-fi books?

N.K.:I enjoyed The Silence Of Six by E.C. Myers, and I also really enjoyed All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill and The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

About N.K. Traver

The cover of Duplicity by N.K. Traver
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As a freshman at the University of Colorado, N.K. Traver decided to pursue Information Technology because classmates said “no one could make a living” with an English degree. It wasn’t too many years later Traver realized it didn’t matter what the job paid—nothing would ever be as fulfilling as writing. Programmer by day, writer by night, it was only a matter of time before the two overlapped. Traver’s debut, Duplicity, a cyberthriller pitched as Breaking Bad meets The Matrix for teens, was named one of the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers in 2016.

Find out more about N.K. Traver on her website or follow her on Twitter.

YA Sci-fi giveaway

Win a copy of Duplicity, along with six other awesome YA sci-fi books, in our giveaway running from 8 April 2016 to 10 April 2016.

Sign up to be notified about this and future giveaways.

Feature image courtesy of Chloe Blanchfield (via Flickr). Used with a Creative Commons licence.

Geekdom, YA sci-fi and Africa: An interview with Shallee McArthur

Shallee McArthur is the author of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, a sci-fi thriller about a girl who remembers everything, until the day she doesn’t.

Don’t forget to find out how you can win a copy of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee at the bottom of the interview.

BELINDA: What is YA science fiction (sci-fi) to you?

SHALLEE: Ooh, a big question, that one! I believe science fiction is a wonderful way to explore all kinds of fascinating future possibilities, and YA is excellent at focusing a story tightly on a character. So I guess, to me, YA sci fi is finding out how a futuristic possibility impacts a specific character’s life and world.

BELINDA: What drew you to the genre?

SHALLEE: Well, I think I became a sci-fi-geek in the womb. I grew up on a steady diet of things like Star Trek, Star Wars, and X-Files, so it’s a genre I’ve always loved. The flip-side to my geekdom is that I’m also a science nerd. I was the weird kid who spent my summers doing science experiments in my kitchen and staring at Jupiter’s moons through my telescope. I simply couldn’t NOT write science fiction!

The cover of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee
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BELINDA: Do you think there is a difference between YA sci-fi and that which is marketed at adults?

SHALLEE: That depends a lot on the individual books, I think. I do see less space opera aimed at YA (more YA space opera, please!), and adult sci fi sometimes uses a different storytelling method—like focusing as much on a milieu or the science itself as it does on character or plot. YA tends to have stronger romance threads (yay kissing!). It definitely depends on what books you’re comparing, though. I’d LOVE to see a wider range of YA sci fi consistently on book shelves, just like I do on the adult sci-fi shelves!

BELINDA: In your bio, you mention that you’re raising your children to be ‘proper little geeks’ (awesome), how much of that and your love of Africa has influenced The Unhappening of Genesis Lee?

SHALLEE: Ha! Yes, I dearly love my little geeks. Passing on my love of science and science fiction is part of not just my parenting methods, but why I write sci fi. With Genesis Lee, I really wanted to delve into the psychological impact of the science of memory—and what happens when it’s lost. It’s something very personal to me, especially having had a grandmother who struggled with Alzheimer’s, and I knew it mattered to a lot of other people as well. As for my time in Africa, it impacted this story in one big way—the worldbuilding. Having the incredible experience of being immersed (fairly) long-term in a different way of life, I wanted to show that in my books. Our culture and world is a big part of who we are!

BELINDA: As a science nerd, are there things that sci-fi books get wrong that really bug you?

SHALLEE: I’m more or less of the opinion that if the writer can make it work for the story, it works for me. But for me personally, it will completely throw me out of the story if a basic law of nature is broken. I’m all for stretching the science—it is science fiction, after all—but I can’t suspend my disbelief if the basic foundations are broken.

BELINDA: What are some of your favourite YA sci-fi books?

SHALLEE: Ooh, yay! One that I ADORE is the Partials trilogy by Dan Wells. It’s got some dystopian flare, but what I really love about that one is how the science merges with the near future to seem so possible. In the space-sci-fi area, I also enjoyed These Broken Stars. It gave me something unexpected, and I always appreciate that! And I have to throw this in, even though it’s not YA, because it’s my favorite sci fi in the entire world: anything in the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Absolutely brilliant in every way, and SO fun!

About Shallee McArthur

Shallee McArthur, author of The Unhappening of Genisis Lee
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Photo credit Erin Summerill Photography

Shallee McArthur is the author of The Unhappening Of Genesis Lee. She originally wanted to be a scientist, until she discovered she liked her science best in fictional form. When she’s not writing young adult science fiction and fantasy, she’s attempting to raise her son and daughter as proper geeks. A little part of her heart is devoted to Africa after volunteering twice in Ghana. She has a degree in English from Brigham Young University and lives in Utah with her husband and three children.

Find out more about Shallee and her books on her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

YA Sci-fi giveaway

Win a copy of The Unhappening of Genesis Lee, along with six other awesome YA sci-fi books, in our giveaway running from 8 April 2016 to 10 April 2016.

Sign up to be notified about this and future giveaways.

Feature image courtesy of clement127 (via Flickr). Used with a Creative Commons license.

Someone to empathise with: Bokerah Brumley on antiheroines

Bokerah Brumley is the author of the upcoming novella Feather, an urban fantasy about a vampire named Jane, the assassin out to kill her and the hotel she drags him to.

BELINDA: Tell us about Jane and what makes her an antiheroine.

BOKERAH: Jane Jones hides in average. She isn’t tall, she isn’t thin, and she isn’t drop-dead gorgeous. She wears baggy jeans, t-shirts, and has had the same pair of prescription glasses since the fifties. The only time she struts her tail feathers is when she’s hunting in Central Park. For her, the constant chaos of the mortal world is an annoyance, an interference in her nightly buffet. Jane’s caustic and blunt. She’s more than happy staying that way. After all, she’d earned it. The sweet has been burned out of her by the harsh realities of surviving. For hundreds of years, the universe has spun a vindictive web around her. She doesn’t love, she chooses not to have sex, and she doesn’t save anyone’s skin but her own. That is, until her assassin comes along and forces her to risk everything to save herself. It’s not her fault that means saving New York, too. Continue reading

On space opera, YA and druids: an interview with Janine A. Southard

Queen & Commander by Janine A Southard
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Janine A. Southard is the author of the Hive Queen Saga, a sci-fi (space opera, to be exact) trilogy about a group of teenagers who steal (kinda) a spaceship and take off on the adventure of their lives.

If you haven’t read the first book, you can find out how to get a free copy of Queen & Commander at the end of the interview.

BELINDA: I love space opera, but as a genre it can be hard to define and often means different things to different people. Personally, I like to think of it as underdogs in space, sticking it to the universe. How do you like to think of space opera?

JANINE: I love space opera too! I think of it as fiction which is both set far enough in the future that the technology involved isn’t currently possible and also where the plot is more focused on the non-technological aspects.

Even though the tech is an important backdrop piece, it isn’t what a space opera story is about. For instance, a space opera mystery is about the whodunit, not figuring out how the robot serial killer gained its sentience.

Additionally, I think of space opera as an innately hopeful form. It presupposes that our current society has continued to improve technologically while also not imploding.

BELINDA: That’s a great way to think of it, and a nice break from the trend towards the dystopian, particularly in young adult (YA) fiction. Speaking of YA, your Hive Queen Saga is among the first in a new wave of YA space opera. Apart from those genres being awesome, what drew you to mashing them up?

JANINE: That is what drew me to mashing them up! I was really nervous about it during the writing phase because you didn’t see any young adult space opera at the time (now there’s a lot more). I wasn’t sure how it was going to do, but it was the book I wanted to write. So I did! It turns out to be popular enough that you’ve heard of me. (Phew!)

BELINDA: What do you think about the YA space opera you see today, is it the kind of thing you expect when you think ‘space opera’ or do you think YA is putting a unique spin on it?

JANINE: I haven’t actually seen a lot of new YA space opera yet. I mean, I love Beth Revis’ Across the Universe… and I just finished reading Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall, though the latter is more middle grade than young adult. Give me your recommendations?

BELINDA: I sure can! Earth GirlAvalon and These Broken Stars are some of my faves, but you can find a whole host of others here.
 
In the Hive Queen Saga, there’s a heavy emphasis on Welsh mythology. What inspired you to create an entire society based around it?

JANINE: Thank you! I’ve got a bunch of these in my reading queue now. Plus, hey, I’d already read about half of the first page.

Oh my gosh, the Welsh mythology. It was kind of an accident.

See, before I started writing, I knew I wanted to name a ship Ceridwen’s Cauldron for all its symbolism regarding inspiration (great for YA characters discovering themselves) and, y’know, being a bucket people could live in. I also knew that I wanted to rename said ship as Manawyddan’s Mousetrap for how the characters grow in the face of adversity.

So this meant two things: some characters had to know a bit of Welsh mythology and building a society cool with alliteration. (Note that the book titles all alliterate: Queen & CommanderHive & HeistReign & Revolution.)

It probably could have stopped there and just been one character’s quirk. However, when I was picking my favorite mathematics for an FTL drive, I found out that the physicist whose work I liked best had studied at the University of Cardiff. (Miguel Alcubierre. He’s Mexican and a wonderful physicist.)

That was too much coincidence for me. So I went for it.

I had a small medievalist background in Welsh otherworld literature already, which helped in making things up. Then I dove into the language, the current political climate, and (of course) druidry. Using all of this, I tried to picture what a future would be like where a Welsh colony was settled by the people who want a return to the old ways as they rebuild their national heritage.

It pretty much has nothing to do with modern politics or druidry at this point, but my Cymraeg language skills got better.

Aside: for book 3 (which comes out in a few months), I got to learn about all the different kinds of Welsh and Anglo-Welsh poetry. My new favorite poet may just be Gillian Clarke, who is the current National Poet of Wales.

BELINDA: Wow, I love that you chose the FTL you used based upon the mathematics, almost as much as the matriarchal/hive-based society that’s a feature of the series. What inspired you to create such a different society?

JANINE: I do get a bit nerdy about my science research. Never let someone tell you that space opera writers don’t care about science. (It’s more that so much doesn’t make it onto the page because they’re not necessary to the story. The things I have learned about modern neuroscience!)

As for the Queen-centric Hives, they’re a case of art imitating life through a cracked lens. I think everyone has noticed that large groups of friends tend to have a leader, right? That’s just the way things are.

But when I was a college freshman, I noticed something else: a bunch of smart guys will all form an interest in the same young woman. There’s no set criteria to which woman they pick, and it’s clearly a case of “she’s so cool” rather than “let’s all agree to go after the same person.”

So I wanted to combine these things: an informal group leader with a lady people followed out of love as well as admiration. Thus, the basics of the Hive system were born.

After creating that base plan, I worked in some more sensible structures, read up on the court of Elizabeth Regina I, and added the standardized testing angle (which I’d previously made the focus of another book that hadn’t worked out).

With each book in the series, I send my characters off to another society, which is also fun for me. Yes, Book 1 was all Hives of future Wales, but Book 2 did an American Frontier space station, and Book 3 is set largely on a Chinese (mainland-descended) research lab. I had a blast deciding the right things to futurize.

BELINDA: That’s a great observation about the formation of friendship groups. I’m going to have to research that myself and no doubt tuck it away in the creative compost heap where I keep my worldbuilding ideas 🙂 

Do you have a particular method you use when building your worlds?

JANINE: Well, I usually start with a fairly strong idea for some part the story setting. Sometimes that’s a general sense of space and time; others, a particular aspect of society (such as theatre actors). To take it deeper, past that initial idea, I like those lists of questions that you see everywhere. The list makers always come up with something that would not have occurred to me. At the moment, my favorite list comes from Outlining Your Novel by K.M. Weiland. It has great questions like “What kind of clothes are in style?” and “What historical epochs have shaped society?”

Actually, I recommend this book to any writer who doesn’t yet have an outlining method. The exercises are great!

BELINDA: When does the research come into it, and how do you keep track of all the data you collect?

JANINE: Research is a strange beast. For a novel that’s been percolating for a while before I even start outlining it, I’ll have done a bunch of “unofficial” research until I have a strong sense of something that’ll go into a story.

During my outlining phase (3-6 weeks usually), I’ll go deeper. Often my research will inform my final outline by integrating with the plot. What does the tech have to do? How does society work? The novel has to make sense in a larger context.

Anything relevant goes into the outline. (I’m a die-hard outliner. My latest novel has 35k words of outline.) For instance, I can copy a quote from a neuroscience article into my worldbuilding section, or include a photo with a link under it.

Some stuff, though, is less easy to describe. For instance, we talked about Welsh mythology earlier. Yes, I let modern druidry inform my version of future druidry, but they are emphatically not the same. So I’ll listen to the DruidCast podcast while I walk, and that will end up flavoring my stories but isn’t directly documented. Alternatively, I have a character who translates idioms from his own language, and I don’t document those at all other than the fact that he does it (so I can look up an appropriate saying from a “learn to speak” book or website as needed).

After a draft is complete, I’ll do a bunch of passive research while it’s out with beta readers and my editor. That way when someone says “I want more about X,” I’ve got a stronger foundation. I’m really horrible about documenting stuff that comes in during the editing phase though.

BELINDA: You’re releasing the third book in the Hive Queen Saga this year, do you plan to write any more stories in the series or will you be starting on a new project?

JANINE: Reign & Revolution wraps up the current story arc, which still leaves a lot of room in the Hive Queen universe! I currently have lots of plans for shorter fiction there. I’m very excited about doing alternate universe novellas, for instance. (I might have planned out the AU of book three before even outlining R&R.) Plus, I’m intending multiple origin stories for how the sentient robot has gained sentience over the years; the first of these is already available: “The Robot Who Stole Herself.”

But I’m definitely taking a short break from these for a while. My next two expected projects are

  1. A 7-part novelette series about Victorian Vampire Vice Cops. Episode one is already written (though not available yet) and entitled “The Death of Sloth.” I see it as sort of a Sherlock Holmes and Matt Helm pastiche starring Ada Lovelace and her vampire great-great-great-grandfather.
  2. A medieval quest fantasy “done backwards” that I’ve been working on for, oh, a decade, which is almost ready to see the light of day. It takes every point of order that belongs in a book of this type and twists it. The blond farm boy? Actually a manipulative villain. The mercenary with a heart of gold? Actually a sadist. The dragon the villagers defeat? Just grandstanding.

About Janine A. Southard

Janine A. Southard
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Janine A. Southard is the IPPY award-winning author of Queen & Commander (and other books in The Hive Queen Saga). She lives in Seattle, WA, where she writes speculative fiction novels, novellas, and short stories… and reads them aloud to her cat.

All Janine’s books so far have been possible because of crowdsourced funds via Kickstarter. She owes great thanks to her many patrons of the arts who love a good science fiction adventure and believe in her ability to make that happen.

Right now, get Queen & Commander as a free ebook when you sign up for Janine A. Southard’s newsletter. The newsletter will keep you current on things like her latest release dates (and fun news like when her next Kickstarter project is coming). Usually, this is once a month or so, but sometimes goes longer or shorter. Your address will never be shared, and you can unsubscribe at any time. Plus: free ebook!

You can hang out with Janine online where she’s crazy about twitter (@jani_s) and periodically updates her website with free fiction and novel inspirations (www.janinesouthard.com).

Featured image courtesy of davidd. Used with a Creative Commons license.

Just trying to get out of it alive: D. Scott Johnson on antiheroines

D. Scott Johnson is the author of Gemini Gambit, a novel about a woman who’s in hiding after she “accidentally-but-sort-of-on-purpose flash-freezes the son of a drug kingpin”.

BELINDA: Tell us about Kimberly and what makes her an antiheroine.

Gemini Gambit by D. Scott JohnsonSCOTT: I went and looked up the definition first, just to be sure I didn’t blow it by getting the basics wrong. Wikipedia says, “An antihero or antiheroine is a protagonist who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality.” By that definition, Kim isn’t an extreme form of antihero, because at the opening of the story she does have a moral compass and can be courageous when she has to be. But she didn’t start out that way. In her earlier life, Kim was a cyber-thief who thought nothing of destroying people in the pursuit of a self-defined “greater good.” She lost her idealism when those decisions came back to haunt her. At the opening of the story, Kim’s been on the run and almost completely alone for five years because of that.

And, personality-wise, she’s not conventionally likable. She’s not fair, and she doesn’t want to be nice. Kim has anger issues, says what she thinks, and has no desire to fit in or get along. It’s usually her way or the highway. She doesn’t go on crusades, but if people show up at her door needing to be rescued, she won’t slam it in their face. She will, however, probably make them question whether this is the hero they were looking for. Continue reading

I don’t give a shit: Rebecca Lim on antiheroines

Rebecca Lim is the author of the Mercy series, a paranormal fantasy about an angel, named Mercy, who hijacks the bodies of mortal girls.

BELINDA: Tell us about Mercy, what makes her an antiheroine?

The cover of Mercy by Rebecca LimREBECCA: In Mercy and the other books in the series Exile, Muse, Fury and the next instalment I’m writing at the moment, Wraith, I created an amnesiac, exiled creature of spirit who calls herself Mercy.

She’s been forced to live thousands of human lives for her own protection and keeps “waking” inside a new human body with no idea of who and what she really is, and why this is being done to her – a process that I called “soul jacking”. Continue reading

On starcats, worldbuilding and cinematic storytelling

This is a reposting of an interview I conducted as part of the launch of Leonie Roger’s second book, Frontier Resistance, and has been edited to reflect the growing list of Leonie’s published works.

Frontier Resistance by Leonie Rogers
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Starcats are the kind of animals that we all would have nagged our parents to get for Christmas. Fortunately for our parents, starcats only exist in the works of Leonie Rogers, author of the Frontier trilogy.

Set on the alien world of Frontier, where everything is deadly, the Frontier trilogy (starting with Frontier Incursion and continuing in Frontier Resistance) tells the story of Shanna and her starcats as they defend their home from the invading Garsal.

Q) How did you come up with starcats?

I’ve always loved cats. I’m a cat person. When I began to write about Frontier, I always knew that the settlers needed to have some kind of special companion animal, so of course my mind gravitated immediately to cats. The normal house cat isn’t big enough to be much help on a planet as dangerous as Frontier, so I began to imagine a larger cat, and all of a sudden the cat was 100kg, and had glow-in-the-dark markings that flickered and glowed. They’re able to vanish at will, move at extraordinary speeds, and are completely loyal to their chosen humans. They also like to sleep on the bed, just like any other cat. As a result, beds on Frontier are often built with humans and starcats in mind.

Q) As someone who shares her bed with 2 regular-sized cats, I applaud the Frontier bed-makers’ thinking.

When you started thinking about the setting for the Frontier series, what came first, the starcats or the planet’s dangerous ecology?

I think I might be a little odd. I write from the pictures inside my mind. The initial concept for Frontier came from one of those pictures. I pictured a girl scaling a cliff face, above a dangerous jungle. I immediately knew that the girl was called Shanna, and that the planet was dangerous. I always knew that the settlers would need some kind of companion animal so that they could be safer than just humans alone on an alien world. So, it’s probably dangerous ecology, followed by starcat companions.

Q) That makes two of us! I also write from pictures inside my head; I think of it as a cinematic approach to writing. How does it work for your approach to world building?

It’s nice to meet another ‘pictures in the head’ person! Sometimes people give me funny looks when I try and explain it…

It’s very much like I ‘see’ the vegetation, I ‘see’ the animals, and then I just describe what’s happening. Sometimes it means that I use way too many adjectives – I’m an excessive user of adjectives – which then have to be edited out. Having said that, I have to make sure that my world building makes sense – that the ecology actually works, and that the world is believable. In my first book I wrote a scene that involved a tornado serpent, and because of the way the serpent appeared in the story, I had to explain that they were very rare, and constantly roaming, otherwise Frontier would have been completely depopulated and also denuded of vegetation. It’s one thing to know all of that inside my head, but another to realise that the reader isn’t actually reading my mind!

I think a key element to world building is to make sure that the world you’re building hangs together. For me, practically, it means that I sometimes have to slow the pictures down a little to examine them properly, or later on, go back and edit really well so that I weed out the ‘silly pictures.’

Q) Do you do all of your world building in this fashion, or do you employ other methods as well?

Most of the time I see the images inside my mind, and then I write them down, but at the same time there’s stuff that isn’t pictures. That’s the stuff that’s the building blocks of the society I’m creating – things like socio-political stuff, governmental organisation and the odd bit of back history that motivates the characters. Every now and then I’ll even write a short story of the back history so that it solidifies itself in my mind and makes sense. I have a few of them tucked away in folders on my laptop. I like to think that the world I’ve built is almost another character.

Frontier Incursion by Leonie Rogers
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Q) I think you’ve done a really good job. In fact, as I was reading Frontier Incursion, I was struck by how the characters interacted with the environment, not just in their physical movement through it, but in how they used and recorded the things they saw. It was a little like David Attenborough meets Bear Grylls. Is this utilisation and observation of the natural environment inspired by your work with the SES (State Emergency Service)?

The answer to that is partly… I was a volunteer with the SES for a number of years in Western Australia, prior to moving to NSW, but I’ve always been fond of the bush, and particularly walking in the bush. As a teenager and young adult, my group of friends would go walking on day trips, or backpack for a week or so somewhere in the Western Australian wilderness areas. One of the most useful adages of writing is ‘Write what you know.’ The people of Frontier like their natural environment, and so do I. Even now, I walk for exercise, and love seeing the native wildlife on my wanderings. The Scouts of Frontier can navigate flawlessly and they’re very competent with climbing and abseiling – I wish I was as good as they are – and I drew on skills learnt when I was a vertical rescue team member and search team member in the SES in the Pilbara.

The Scouts of Frontier are their people’s lifeline. The things they learn keep their community safe and allow them to spread out across the planet, so they have to be keen observers and they’re extraordinarily well educated. In that way they are both Bear Grylls and David Attenborough – who I suspect would enjoy exploring Frontier!

Q) Do you have a system for organising your world building, or do you keep it all in your head?

I began with lists and a card index, but a lot of it’s now written down in the bodies of three manuscripts. As I write, I try and update my character list as I go so that I can make sure that they’re consistent. Consistent as in the same sex, with the same cat (who is also consistently one sex), and the same name spelling. I also have a reader (our eldest daughter who’s now 21) who tells me bluntly when I’ve got something wrong. As you can imagine, sometimes you can get those things mixed up, despite the fact that you invented everything! I have all kinds of files with all kinds of funny names in folders on my laptop. I’m a bit obsessive about backing it all up as you can probably imagine.

Since finishing the Frontier Trilogy I’ve begun to experiment with a program called Scrivener. It has spots to file all of those things into one document, so that with a click on the sidebar I can pull up a character sketch, a helpful link if I add one and I can label chapters/scenes if I wish. So far I’m liking it, as it has everything in one place which makes it simpler than having ten documents sitting in my task bar.

Q) You’ve finished the trilogy already?! Wow! So, since you’ve only just released book 2, Frontier Resistance, when can we expect book 3?

Well, that will mostly depend on Hague Publishing! I submitted the manuscript last week, however submissions for this year have actually closed, and they’re flat out with several other books, so I can’t imagine it’ll be particularly soon. One of the reasons I submitted it knowing all the above was because I needed to stop fiddling with the manuscript. It had been completed and compiled, it had ‘rested,’ and I’d gone through three complete edits myself, so it was time for me to leave it alone.

Authors are often picky, and we can edit ourselves into oblivion, looking to perfect that “one little thing – oh and then that other thing I just noticed! But hang on – I need to change that over there so the other thing makes better sense…and I really hate the way I worded that, so I’d better rewrite that whole chapter…” Sometimes you just have to stop, and wait for some external feedback from a completely objective other party.

Q) Sounds like excellent advice. What other advice would you give to young writers, and readers, wanting to create their own worlds (and possibly, starcats)?

The biggest thing is to keep writing. If you never try, you’ll never know if you could have done it. That seems self evident, but it’s still very true. You also need to think – a lot.

Examine your work for plagiarism. Being influenced by another writer’s style isn’t plagiarism, but blatantly reusing their work or world is. Get someone else to examine your world – sometimes we unconsciously model our world building on someone else’s world.

Remember that you are unique, and so are your stories, and somewhere inside of you, you have the special thing that’s different. For me, it’s been starcats. For you, it might be a volcano made of cheese, or a talking frog, or perhaps you’ve just invented the most amazing time travel machine using two straws and a piece of elastic BUT it has nothing ‘Timey Wimey’ about it!

When you’re world building, use concepts that you really know about. Stuff you actually do or have experienced in real life, or talk to someone who knows a lot about those things or does them. If you want to know how to shoot an arrow, go and learn or talk to your local archery club people. You need to convince your reader that what you’ve created is really real, so that when your character is experiencing something in the story, they’re seeing, feeling and experiencing the right things.

It also needs to hang together. You need to know which way in your world is north or south and you need to know how the government works and why there’s only one language (or lots of languages) and where your character fits into the world. I tend to think about this stuff a lot, mainly because readers are picky, and I know this, because I’m a picky reader.

Having said all of that, none of us are perfect. We’re often blind to our own faults as writers, and having that external set of eyes that says “Hey Leonie, did you know that that bit really sucks?” or “Leonie, did you realise that you’ve just plagiarised Tolkien?” is more valuable than you can imagine.

Q) Thanks for that Leonie. With Frontier Resistance out and the third book with your publisher, what’s next for you? Will we be seeing you at NaNoWriMo?

I’m currently experimenting with a few new characters. I have several different things in mind, all quite different and I’ve been playing around with the characters, using a few short stories, just to get them solid in my head. There’s two in particular who have interesting stories to tell, and I’m vacillating between them, trying to decide if I want to tackle ‘Plague in Space’ or ‘Aliens Invade Earth’ – with a few more twists than those themes suggest. And I also had this weird image of a girl who wakes up with a talking wombat on the foot of her bed…

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. Is that a bad thing for a writer? And I’ll be on a blog tour with Frontier Resistance during the NaNo month, so I’m guessing perhaps not. Of course it doesn’t mean I won’t be writing – I’ll just be trying to juggle the new story/ies, a blog tour, the other job and two kids arriving home from Uni instead!

Sounds like you’re going to be busy!

Thanks Leonie, for taking the time to let me pick your brains about starcats and worldbuilding. It’s also great to meet another ‘cinematic storyteller’.

Leonie Rogers
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You can read more about Leonie, her cats and her books on her website, and connect with her on twitter (@RaeYesac) and Facebook.

Leonie’s Frontier trilogy starts with Frontier Incursion, continues in Frontier Resistance and concludes with Frontier Defiant, due for release this year. Additionally, she has short stories in May the Fourth: A Collection of Stories Across Time and Space, The Cat The Crow and The Cauldron and the upcoming Novascapes Anthology 2, due in March 2016.

Header image courtesy of clement127.