This week again I was lucky enough to have a YA author give me an exclusive interview! The idea behind the “Writer in the Spotlight” feature is that published (and bestselling) authors are the best source of advice for us, would-be-published writers. Today’s interview is with debut author Meagan Spooner. Her Dystopian novel, Skylark, is out now. Her science fiction novel, These Broken Stars (co-authored with Amie Kaufman), will be out in 2013.
A writer in the spotlight – 12
Author : Meagan Spooner
Genre : Young Adult, Dystopian & Fantasy
Location: Northern Virginia
Books : Skylark (2012), These Broken Stars (2013)
Bio: 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 Northern Virginia, 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.
My interview (01/10/2012):
Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?
Yes. As long as I can remember, anyway. I was very young when I first decided I wanted to be an author–about four years old or so. I had one of those little-kid epiphanies where I suddenly realized that real people wrote the books I liked to read, and that blew my mind. You know how it is when you’re small, you never really think about where things come from. Well, when I realized that books were made by actual people, I decided that’s what I wanted to do some day. I’ve always had other aspirations along the way as well, but writing has been the only one I constantly aspired to.
When and where do you write?
Whenever I can/need to, and wherever I happen to be. I know that’s a boring answer, because people love to hear about the routine, but the truth is that once you start juggling deadlines for multiple books and series at every stage of the process, you can’t really afford to be precious about your routine. Ideally I like to write at my desk when I’m alone in my apartment, and that tends to be where I get the bulk of my work done. But I write on my netbook when I’m traveling, and I write by hand occasionally when I’ve got something flowing and no computer nearby. (This happens most often when I’m driving somewhere, and I end up having to pull over to the side of the road and write on napkins and receipts. Seriously.)
What do you say to people who want to be writers? How difficult is it to get published?
That’s kind of a tough question to answer because there are so many factors–it’s not just a level of difficulty on a scale from 1 to 10 that’s the same for everyone. Do you read a lot? Have you been writing for a long time? Do you pay attention to what other authors do and try to utilize those tools in your own writing? Are you talented? Do you work hard? Are you driven and dedicated? If the answer to most of those things is “yes,” then you’ve got a pretty good chance of being published. Yes, there’s luck involved–hitting the right agent/publisher with the right story at the right time–but most of it is hard work and being willing to improve yourself. You have to walk this incredibly fine line between being arrogant enough to keep thinking you can do it even when you get shot down over and over again, while also being humble enough to accept and incorporate criticism, and grow your craft.
To write this book, where did you get your inspiration from? Were you aware of the coming dystopian trend in YA literature when you wrote it?
I wasn’t aware, no. I’d read THE HUNGER GAMES but wasn’t really paying attention to the YA market when I got the idea (which you can read more about here), because I wasn’t particularly driven to get published at that time. It was only after I had the idea for SKYLARK that I knew it was The Book, and I started keeping an eye on what was going on out there. The truth is, even then I had no particular view on the dystopian craze, because to me, SKYLARK isn’t really dystopian literature. There are elements that it shares with many dystopian stories, so it often gets called dystopian (even by me when I’m describing it simply) and shelved that way. But structurally it’s the Hero’s Journey, through and through–it’s fantasy, not science fiction.
Why did you choose to write for Young Adults?
Joss Whedon, one of my writing idols, often gets asked why he writes strong female characters. His response is “Because you’re still asking me that question.” Why write for young adults? Why NOT write for young adults? Why would anybody not want to write for young adults? For one thing, you won’t find a more riveted and dedicated audience anywhere. No one reads like kids and teenagers read, with such investment and heart.
But to me, being a teenager is all about having real choices for the first time in your life, and having to make those choices without necessarily knowing where they’ll lead you. And choice is what all good stories are really about, deep down. The choices protagonists make, and where those choices take them.
What are you working on now?
Everything. Okay, that’s not a helpful response, but that’s pretty much what it feels like. I’m revising book two of the SKYLARK trilogy, planning book three, doing copy edits on THESE BROKEN STARS, and writing the first draft of the second book in that series. And yes, all at the same time. If I had extra time, or if suddenly all my contracted work just vanished, I’d be working on a Beauty and the Beast retelling that I began way back when I first sent out query letters for SKYLARK. It was going to be my next project, in case SKYLARK (then called THE IRON WOOD) didn’t land me an agent. Two years later and I haven’t gotten to finish it yet! Someday.
Which authors inspire you now? Which YA books would recommend?
For dystopian fiction, I’d recommend THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. For science fiction, I’d recommend ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card. For fantasy, I’d point you toward THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle, or if you want a more recent book, GRACELING (and its companion novels) by Kristin Cashore.
As far as authors go, Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Patricia C. Wrede, and Diana Wynne Jones have always been huge inspirations for me. I go back to them constantly whenever I lose sight of what I’m doing, or why I’m working so hard to do it.
Thanks, Meagan, for an awesome interview!
SKYLARK is available from Amazon here.