Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Interview with Joshua McCune, author of TALKER 25

Today, the Inkpot is thrilled to interview Joshua McCune, a debut author who’s going to have people talking about his book. It’s called TALKER 25 and has one of my favorite covers of 2014. Here’s the Goodreads summary:

 It's a high school prank gone horribly wrong-sneaking onto the rez to pose next to a sleeping dragon-and now senior Melissa Callahan has become an unsuspecting pawn in a war between Man and Monster, between family and friends and the dragons she has despised her whole life. Chilling, epic, and wholly original, this debut novel imagines a North America where dragons are kept on reservations, where strict blackout rules are obeyed no matter the cost, where the highly weaponized military operates in chilling secret, and where a gruesome television show called Kissing Dragons unites the population. Joshua McCune's debut novel offers action, adventure, fantasy, and a reimagining of popular dragon lore.

Welcome, Joshua! Let’s dive in with some questions!

There are many dragon stories out there, but I haven’t read anything quite like this one. Where did you get the idea for modern day dragon wars?

I was on an airplane, daydreaming out the window, and the image of a dragon popped into my head. Then a first line popped into my head (Normally it’s the farmboys who become the heroes in the stories with dragons.) The first line ended up changing, but the basic idea of dragons in the modern world developed fairly organically. I grew up on epic fantasy (Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, etc.) and so the natural scope for me was something big, a modern day tale where technology is the magic to counter/combat the ostensibly evil dragons.  

I think Melissa is a wonderful heroine – so complex and imperfect. How did you find her as a character?

For some aspects, I drew from those closest to me. My wife, my mother, my sister. Complex personalities, for sure. In terms of character arc, I’ve always imagined Melissa as a young Sarah Connor. She starts off as this every-woman who gets thrown into an extraordinary situation. She toughens both internally and externally, goes a little mad in the process, but learns what’s most important to her.

Quick aside while I reminisce about one of my all-time favorite shows. WHY did you cancel Sarah Conner Chronicles, Fox TV, why? Not to be over dramatic or anything, but I will never not be sad about that.

Anyway Joshua, tell us a little about yourself. Have you always been writing?

I was born in Brazil, grew up in Washington DC, earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in Houston, and got married in New Zealand. I’ve been writing the entire time, most of it badly. I wrote my first non-assignment story in third grade. WWIII. Complete with pictures. A sign of things to come, though I did once write a lighter story about an intrepid squirrel named Charlemagne, his basset hound sidekick, and their lemur guide (note: this was the first story I ever queried, back when I knew nothing about the industry – 81,000 word MG… I did mention that I grew up on epic fantasy, right?)

What are you working on now?

I just sent my editor the first draft on the TALKER 25 sequel and am now outlining the final book in the trilogy. I’m also polishing up a MG about a boy thief recruited by a covert government organization with patriotic pretenses and sinister intentions.

How exciting! We can't wait! Now for some quick answers:

Beach or Mountains? Mountains
Most irresistible dessert? Angel food cake (preferably slightly smushed)
The last book you could not put down? EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN (Lindsey Lane)
Most listened to song on your playlist? Recently: Tired (Stone Sour). While writing T25: The Sound of Madness (Shinedown)
Worst job title you’ve ever had? Telemarketer (though it did come in handy for the call center scenes in T25 J)

You can learn more about Joshua and his books on his website here. If you want to purchase a copy, please support your indie bookstore first! Find the one nearest to you at Indiebound.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chatting with Soman Chainani

So today I am chatting with the fabulous author of The School For Good and Evil series, my friend Soman Chainani, who’s second book, SGE 2, A World Without Princes, is coming out on April 15th.

If you haven’t read the first SGE book, what are you waiting for? Go read it! It isn’t a NYT bestselling book for nothing! I rhapsodized over how much I loved this book in this earlier post (link here). And today we are going to have a giveaway for A World Without Princes! All you have to do is leave a comment for a chance to win the sequel. So let’s get chatting!

Ellen– Soman, you have your second book coming out now. One I have been dying for since I read the first book last year. And you teased and tortured me this entire time! Tell me, what the experience was like for you writing the second book as opposed to how you wrote the first one.

Soman – First off, I have to tell you how much I love your PROPHECY series. What I loved most about Kira's journey in the book is her emotional complexity and fallibility. She's prone to impulse and misinterpretation, like every volatile teenager. Your hero feels fully three-dimensional and I can't wait to see what happens in the final volume.

Ellen – Aw, thank you, Soman, it is always lovely to get Prophecy love!

Soman - On another note, I was raring to do this chat with you, because I always feel like you're one step ahead of me in your experience as a debut author -- your books always come out first -- so you can give me a peek at what I can expect, what I should avoid, and how to keep my mental sanity. 

Ellen – Are we supposed to keep our sanity? Isn’t book 2 where most authors usually lose their grip on reality? At least that’s what happened to me, and I’m not quite sure I ever regained all my senses.
Soman – The funny part about Book 2 is I tried to outline and organize it ahead of time, like a good student. When I started writing, though, I ended up accomplishing practically my entire outline in the first 50 pages. Talk about panic. But somehow here it is…

Ellen – Panic in the Sequel. Isn’t that a song? I think panic actually might be good for us.  Or maybe I’m fooling myself… Anyway, personally, I learn a lot from you and how hard you work on promoting your book. I find it really impressive.

Soman – It’s so funny, because I’m horrible at promoting me as a personality or anything about my personal life. I have no interest at all in people knowing anything about me. But when it comes to the work, I’ll stand out there on Queens Boulevard and shove it into people’s hands if I have to. I learned that from my Dad, who is a master at separating his own ego from the product.

Ellen – Dude, you need to teach me how to do that. I can’t even ask people to pay me back money they owe me. Look at us digressing again. Let’s go back to the second book…

Soman - First off, I found writing the second book in a trilogy at once easier and yet much more difficult than the first volume. On the one hand, I felt much less pressure writing A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES -- partially because I had put so much pressure to make THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL perfect. Such a silly thing to do, of course, but with your first novel, it's so easy to get worked up and believe that if you make even the slightest mistake, your career will implode before it's ever started. (I was the kind of student in school who thought he failed if he got a 92.) If there's one thing that irks me about my first book is that sometimes it feels too controlled, when I wish I had been just a tad more reckless. So with Book 2, I tried to just quiet my thinking mind and let my unconscious run. Perhaps it's why I like the second book more than the first.

Ellen – Me too! I do love my second book, Warrior, even more than Prophecy.

Soman - That said, on a practical level, there was much more time pressure for the second book -- only about ten months to write it versus the 18 months I had for the first book. But perhaps a focused deadline forces you to be more linear and drive through the story. With A WORLD WITHOUT PRINCES, I found myself worried where and when to end it, since the middle volume of a series so often withers because it can't find any meaningful conclusion. But the time pressure really let me just feel my ending and commit to it without the usual hemming and doubt that comes with having too much time to work on something. What was your experience like writing WARRIOR? 

Ellen – I had the same time constraints. I mean I had years to rewrite Prophecy and literally months to first draft and edit Warrior. And yet, I loved it more. I do well under deadlines anyway. I think it makes me a more efficient author. Ok now I want to talk about the trailer for World of Princes. Let’s share it here:

I love this trailer as much as the first one! Was it fun working with your producers? What guidance did you give them on both of your amazing trailers?

Soman – I think one of the bigger lessons in life I’ve learned as an artist is that when you collaborate, it’s so important to find people who care as much as you do. And the two guys who do the trailers – Manny Palad and Michael Blank – are not just geniuses, but they live and breathe these things. As for guidance, I just send them a list of images in my subconscious and they use it as a kind of brainstorm bank. Speaking of book promotion, what have you learned from your experience with the Prophecy series about the need for an author to be a businessman as much as an artist?

Ellen – Well, I do think that there is only so much an author can do unless you are willing to put a lot of money behind your book. Which is why it is usually the big books with the big marketing push of their publishers that make it on to the lists. Having a small book means doing everything in my power to garner as much attention as I can. But I am a realist. I wrote a fantasy novel with Asian mythology and set it in ancient Korea. Plus I’m an author of color. These are not easy things to overcome in our very western centric society.

Soman – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on how you perceive marketing in the YA genre. Chad Harbach (author of the blockbuster THE ART OF FIELDING) recently edited a book called MFA vs. NYC about the split in publishing between literary fiction and commercial fiction, and how your book either ends up siloed into one of these categories, often artificially. In children’s Middle Grade books, there is the stereotype of the same split – where books are either considered ‘high’ literature and thus pushed towards teachers, librarians, and the so-called ‘gatekeepers’, or considered ‘popular’ fiction, and marketed directly at the kids. But I don’t know if it holds true anymore. Plenty of schools have been teaching THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL, despite its controversial elements (or perhaps because of them) – and we ended up creating a Common Core-aligned discussion guide to facilitate it. In the past, that might have been less of a possibility because SGE is fairy-tale themed. Growing up, I felt like all the books we read in school were either Newbery-award winners or had that same kind of lofty feel. But with so much competition for kids’ attention these days, perhaps some teachers feel it’s worth teaching something they know will engage them, without necessarily sacrificing language, themes, etc.?

Ellen –I’m so glad schools are teaching SGE! Man, I would have loved to have been in that class! The split you are talking about has always irked me because it doesn’t feel true to what our kids are really reading or interested in. Sometimes it feels as if the gatekeepers are reading these books as adults and not with their inner child. What makes a work of popular fiction any less worthy than one which is a so called “literary” book? There should be no true division in that sense. It’s different in YA. While there is definitely a separation of “literary” vs “popular”– there isn’t the same issue with gatekeepers. But in some ways I think it is also harder to promote yourself directly to the readers in the oversaturated world that YA has become. I don’t know that there is anything that we can really do except write your next book.

Soman – Speaking of which, we should probably get back to it. What’s next for you?

Ellen –Finalizing book 3! I should be seeing first pass pages soon, I think, which is always an exciting time. And there are a few fun projects that I’ve been working on that I love. What about you?

Soman – Because Middle Grade is more tour-heavy than YA, I’m literally packing for a 2 month tour around the country and then to Canada and the UK. (My mother’s been barking at me to pack light this time, because of my overpacking last year. I think at one point I yelped over the phone, “I REFUSE TO WEAR THE SAME OUTFIT TWICE.” After that, she lost all respect for me.) When the tour’s over, I’ll hide in a cave and write Book 3, which is out in October 2015. Or maybe I’ll come to your cave and write there. I go through Ellen withdrawal if I don’t see you for too long.

Ellen – Oh you should have me pack for you! I’m the most efficient packer. And I would happily have you come to my house and write if you weren’t on deadline – because you know you won’t get much writing done as we would spend all the time talking and eating! But wouldn’t that be so fun anyway! Speaking of fun, note to self, must schedule NY trip to see Soman after his book tour!

Ok Soman, thanks for being on the Inkpot again. Next time let’s share crazy family relative stories like the time your grandmother took you white water rafting even though she refused to row and how my mother forced me to eat the same plate of broccoli for a week because she wanted me to lose weight. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Soman – My mother made me drink nonalcoholic beer in high school, hoping it would make me GAIN weight, since my father got fat from drinking beer. So I totally understand your pain. Until next time Ellen…

So that's the chat! Thanks for tuning in and don’t forget, leave a comment below for a chance to win the exciting sequel – SGE2 A World Without Princes!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kate Milford on Trad-Pubbing, Self-Pubbing--and Kickstarting BLUECROWNE

Kate Milford
Kate Milford is Kickstarting the second book in her Arcana Project series, just as she did the first. But she also has four traditionally-published books either out or coming soon. She talks to EI about why a writer with a publishing contract is also splashing in the self-publishing pool--and shares her thoughts on the trials of marketing and the secrets of her prolific-ness.

1. You've been traditionally published in the past, and you've got more trad-published books coming out this year and next. What drew you to self-publishing as well?

Honestly, it started because I was bored. I was in between contracts back in 2012, waiting for The Broken Lands to come out and waiting to hear about my next sale. I don’t sit still well, and I don’t take time off from writing well. So I got this idea that I could write extra stories set in the world of my books, stories that would offer extra content, extra information, extra insight into the world and into the larger story I have planned for down the line. It was basically a way for me to tell more tales related to the bigger books and to help flesh out the world. It was a way to keep busy, initially.

The project definitely didn’t arise out of any dissatisfaction with my publishers, or out of the belief that I’d be happier doing everything on my own, or the idea that I’d make a bunch more money this way. I love my publishers. I have two editors that I adore personally and have learned buckets from professionally. My editors make me a better writer, and the books they’ve made out of my novels are beautiful objects as well as better pieces of storytelling than they would’ve been otherwise. And they’re very supportive of the Arcana Project.

2. This is your second Kickstarter, right? Why did you choose Kickstarter?

I chose it because I knew what I wanted from the project and I knew my limitations (which are many). For one thing, when I imagined what I wanted the novellas to be, I pictured not only great stories, but also beautiful objects. I wanted the physical books to be just as beautiful as my trad-pubbed books, and I wanted bookstores to be willing to carry them. I brought in Andrea Offermann, the artist who did the covers and the interiors of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (who’s become basically a partner in the ongoing project). I decided to print the paperbacks on the Espresso Book Machine at McNally Jackson Books, where I work a couple days a week, not only because it prints absolutely beautiful paperbacks, but because I feel very, very, very strongly about supporting independent bookstores. And lastly, because I had this idea about doing an illustrated edition with art from young artists, and I wanted to pay them for their work. The Illustrated Kairos Mechanism is one of the things I’m most proud of having done. (Here’s a link to a slideshow of the art; the entire PDF is free/pay-what-you-like here. ) Fifteen kids between 11 and 20 contributed artwork in all different styles. I can’t wait to do it again with Bluecrowne.

All of these things, taken together, put the first installment of the project, The Kairos Mechanism, outside the realm of things that I could afford to do out-of-pocket. But then I remembered a book we’d carried at the bookstore and had sold the heck out in 2010 of that had been kind of a big deal--it was this beautiful quality hardcover anthology, the contributors to it had all been paid up front (which is not always the case, of course), and it had been crowdfunded with Kickstarter. It sounds funny now to say I thought of using Kickstarter in a sort of eureka moment, but I had completely forgotten about it.

So that’s why I originally decided to do it this way—because I couldn’t afford to do it exactly the way I wanted otherwise. But one of the things I learned the first time that made me eager to do it again for Bluecrowne was that Kickstarter allows you to involve your readers in the process in a really direct and wonderful way. People who funded The Kairos Mechanism were emailing regularly to find out when Bluecrowne would be happening. I feel like I know the names of the readers I’m writing for. It’s kind of amazing.

3. Do your self-pubbed and trad-pubbed books complement each other at all? Or are they entirely separate tracks?

They’re definitely complementary. That was another reason I started this project: I figured these shorter books would have the added benefit (in addition to keeping me busy) of helping to show readers how the different trad-pubbed books are connected, because each of them so far is set in what I’ve started to call in my own mind the Walking World. The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands are very directly connected because they’re both part of the larger story of an uncanny itinerant called Jack who was turned away from both Heaven and Hell and now roams the world with a coal of hellfire looking to start his own place. Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate are less directly connected, but they’re still set in the same world. So these novellas, in addition to being stand-alone stories, help to connect the dots between the different books. (Bluecrowne, for instance, while having some very direct connections to The Boneshaker, is set in Nagspeake, which is also the setting for Greenglass House and The Left-Handed Fate.) At the same time, though, they’re also beginning to run on their own unique track. The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne share a villain, for instance.

4. Well, don't stop there. Tell us about Bluecrowne. 

It’s set in 1810 in the Sovereign City of Nagspeake. Lucy Bluecrowne has grown up aboard a British letter-of-marque, a private ship of war called the Left-Handed Fate. However, her father, the owner and master of the ship, has decided it’s time to put his family (twelve year-old Lucy, her step-mother Xiaoming, and her seven year-old half-brother Liao) ashore in Nagspeake, which has remained neutral in the wars in the Atlantic. Lucy can’t bear the idea of life ashore—she’s a sailor, through and through—and is struggling to adapt. Meanwhile, two peddlers called Trigemine and Blister arrive in town under orders to find two items for the great merchant they work for: a knife in the shape of an albatross, and a conflagrationeer, which is a pyrotechnical artificier capable of near-magical feats. Trigemine has identified this as the ideal time and place to acquire both the Albatross and the conflagrationeer. They find the Albatross immediately, but discover that they aren’t the only ones attempting to acquire it, and the maker is seriously considering selling to the other buyer, a man named Simon Coffrett. They identify Liao as the conflagrationeer they’re looking for, but standing in their way are Liao’s very formidable mother, and Lucy, who despite being stuck on land is a fighter through and through. Hijinks ensue.

We’re finishing the cover titling this week, but this is the main illustration:

Cover illustration from BLUECROWNE
by Kate Milford. Illustration by
Andrea Offerman.

(Editor's note: Check out Kate's Bluecrowne Kickstarter--it's pretty awesome.)

5. I've noticed you're awfully good at making your books sound delicious. I'm sure they ARE delicious, but not all authors are as good at the alluring pitch as you seem to be, and that would be a drawback for someone trying to self-publish. Any marketing tips?

I’m really glad they sound delicious! I guarantee you the question here I’ll obsess over the longest is the one where I actually have to talk about the book. The truth is I don’t feel like I’m a particularly good marketer—I don’t enjoy the marketing element at all, and I always feel like I’m fumbling when I try and tell people what my books are about. I’m feel like I’m terrible at synopses and worse at short pitches. Since I’m not a natural marketer and I’m awkward at self-promotion, all I have going for me is the stories themselves.

So I guess I think the best marketing advice I can give—which doesn’t guarantee big sales, but does get you the loyalty of your readers—is to focus on the story first and always. None of the rest of it matters if it isn’t the very best tale you believe you can tell. Then the next thing is to treat the pitch, when you have to write it, the way you’d treat a query. Actually, maybe the ability to make a book sound delicious is a side benefit of all those months spent writing queries however many years back. I do think that running the gauntlet that is the agency search has value beyond simply finding an agent. There’s value in being told “no” and having to keep working and working and working until someone says “yes.”

But I really struggle with the marketing piece, I do. I’d rather spend time writing than selling, and I consider the self-pub books as more of a fun project than a source of income. I could be way better at selling books, but the truth is I really want to focus on revision and polishing and writing more. That’s what I’m good at. That’s how I want to spend my time.

6. You seem terrifyingly prolific! I guess that's not really a question (she said in a small voice) but  . . . how do you do it?

Terrifying? Me? Nah. I just can’t sit still and I’m truly not happy unless I’m writing. Plus there are
Back vignette from BLUECROWNE by Kate Milford.
Illustration by Andrea Offermann.
always four or five stories kicking around in my head at any given time. A big part of what keeps me going is that I know this world so well, and I love all the characters in it. I know their pasts, I know where their lives intersect. I know who the ubervillains are and what their long-term plans are. And I’m a history nerd, so I’m constantly finding times and places I want to write about. Then I just have to figure out who might have been there at that time and why, and what kind of trouble they might have gotten up to, and how it could fit into the master puzzle.

As for actually finishing stuff, I focus on adding words and powering through until I reach the end. Then I revise like crazy. I keep track of my words per day—seeing projects advance is wildly motivational for me—and I make sure I’m focusing my primary attention on the projects I need to complete first, since I’m always working on more than one thing at a time. My brother built a program to help me do both those things and it’s my favorite writing tool, right up there with good pens and fun notebooks. It’s called Spadefish, and it allows you to manage your works in process. You set your word count goals and your deadlines, then add writing sessions, and Spadefish calculates how many words you need to write per day to meet your deadlines and it updates your progress as you go. You earn badges when you reach milestones and you can share your progress. I love it. It’s in beta, but it’s live and it’s free.

I also have a really amazing group of beta-readers and critique partners for once I do get to the end of a project. My critique group is absolutely outstanding, plus I have five young beta-readers. I don’t usually show anything to them until I have a draft, though. I’m usually figuring stuff out right up until I get to the last chapter, so it doesn’t make sense to focus too much on polishing the beginning until I really know where I’m going. I will admit that often leads to a lot of revision and retrofitting, though.

Kate Milford is the author of The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands (both from Clarion Books), the forthcoming  Greenglass House (Clarion, 2014) and The Left-Handed Fate (Holt, 2015), as well as two companion novellas, The Kairos Mechanism and Bluecrowne. She is also an occasional travel correspondent for the Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture and a bookseller at McNally Jackson Books. Kate hails from Brooklyn, New York by way of Annapolis, Maryland and sometimes remembers to update her website at

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Interview with Scott Bly, Author of SMASHER

It's always exciting when we interview a debut author on the Enchanted Inkpot.  Today we are featuring Scott Bly, whose middle-grade novel, SMASHER, came out just yesterday!  Here's what's it's all about:

SMASHER is a fast-paced techno-thriller about computers, magic, and time travel, set in an alternate Los Angeles in the near future. A magician’s apprentice in the Renaissance era is recruited by a time-traveling bionic girl to help stop Gramercy Foxx, the most powerful media mogul alive, from releasing The Future — his most exciting and mysterious product ever.  They race against time to unlock the secret of The Future before the magical computer virus enslaves every human being on the planet.

And now for the interview:

Lena: Welcome to the Enchanted Inkpot, Scott, both as an interviewee and as one of our newest contributors—and big congratulations on your debut!

Scott:  Thanks for having me, Lena!  It’s a real honor to be included among the ranks of authors such as yourself, Gretchen McNeil and my fellow Scholastic author Jennifer Nielsen.

Lena: I really enjoyed SMASHER.  One of the things I found the most original was the way you wove together both magical and technological elements.  How did your own work with computer technology influence the book?

Scott:  I’ve spent the last fifteen years helping people with their computer issues and dealing with small business technology needs – everything from getting a computer virus to identifying hacker intrusions and working with the FBI.  Of course, there are lots of other little things, too, but those are the most dramatic examples!  One the most common pieces of advice that writers get is to “write what you know."  I certainly know computers.  And I wanted to give kids a way to learn about computers in a way that wasn’t dry.  So finding the most interesting story where that could happen was a really strong motivator for me.

Lena: I saw that you began your novel in 2006 and wrote more than nine versions.  My own first novel took ten years to write, so I’m always interested to meet others who have had a similar experience.  What stayed the same from that first early draft?  Was there a key moment when the final story began to come together?

Scott:  Yeah, it was quite a journey!  There are two key chapters that never changed – the second, in which Gramercy Foxx is introduced (although it was originally chapter one), and the scene where Jane Virtue is running through the shopping mall as Foxx calls for her video call.  I’m sure there are other pieces here and there that were largely unaltered, but those two stood out as being nearly untouched the whole time.

Even for a long process like mine, there are times when the voice and the structure and the pacing all line up and you just have it and it rings true.  I think I just got lucky with those two.

You ask about the final story, and I think that by the time I was most of the way through the first draft, which in and of itself took nearly three years (I had no idea what I had gotten myself into), the story was pretty well locked.  It became a matter of cutting and cutting and cutting.  There were a few key elements that changed, and things shifted a lot and tightened a lot, but the story itself never really changed.  Of course, this is over nearly ten years, so who knows?  Memory is a fickle thing.

Lena: I know what you mean! Sometimes I think we authors forget what a story was like in an early draft and then when someone asks, we end up struggling to make something up.

Everyone’s path to publication is different.  How did SMASHER end up being published with Scholastic and what was the editorial process like?

Scott:  Well, I had stopped writing for quite some time after film school and a frustrating introduction to the entertainment business.  So I started writing and playing music for a creative outlet as I got my computer consulting business off the ground.  One of my clients referred me to my editor, Bonnie, here in LA when she got a computer virus. 

During that first lengthy conversation she said to me, “In twenty years of unsuccessfully trying to use a computer, you’re the first person who has been able to talk to me about this stuff in a way I can understand.  Have you ever thought about writing a children’s book?”

So I gave it some thought and we had a series of conversations over lunches that ultimately started to turn into chapters. She had a very brilliant way of asking just the right questions that would turn my entire worldview on its head and send me off into different directions.  I was really fortunate in that she served very much as a mentor through the whole process. 

Lena: Tell us about Charles and Geneva, your two main characters.  I thought they were great foils for each other.

Scott:  Thanks!  I really enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them as they in turn served as master/student then reversed roles.  It was very important to me that each had a gift that was the opposite of the other so that they would depend on one another.

Lena: Charles is a boy from the past who is brought forward in time.  Did you have to do much historical research for the book?  What about computer research?

Scott:  The historical research was probably more involved for me than the computer research.  There were certainly some details about some of the theoretical quantum computing and DNA encoding that I had to dig around for, but the computer side of things was primarily stuff that I use on a day-to-day basis.  Also, I love the magazine Scientific American, so getting to read about whole worlds of scientific research as a layperson really informed a lot of the book's future technologies.  Of course, some is completely made up, like the AquaFase screens.  Seems cool, seems plausible, but outside of some knowledge of how researchers use lasers to cool atoms, I have no idea if something like that could ever exist.

The historical side, though, required research for almost every detail that made it’s way into any draft, whether it survived to the end or not.  There are actually a tremendous number of chapters that served as episodic educational adventures that were cut from early drafts, and those will almost all end up online in the very near future.  That represented the lion’s share of the research that I did, and was actually a lot of fun!  It’s just that about 95% of it isn’t in the published novel.

Lena:  I know that you’ve developed children’s interactive computer games.  Do you think that books and reading will become more interactive in the future?  If so, is that a good thing?

Scott:  I don’t want to overstate the development I’ve done, but I’ve certainly been involved in the creation of some alternate reality gaming that I have worked on with a team.  We’re gearing all of that toward the educational market, and it’s very much a story-driven experience.  But that’s more about the educational experience, which I think has to change – we’re a couple hundred years into the current educational paradigm of teacher in front of class, and we’re finding that the approach is only partially successful.  Kids are driven to games because of the interactivity, the fact that those individual small goals on the way to a larger goal – they totally hit the pleasure/reward centers of the brain – and they’re learning the entire time.  Unfortunately, most of the skills they’re learning aren’t particularly helpful in the real world except to maybe a drone pilot in the military, but they are skills nonetheless.  With the gamification of education taking place right now, I think we’re going to see a dramatic rise in gaming theories and approaches change the education landscape.

As for the book business, I’m not so sure.  The process of reading hasn’t changed in thousands of years.  There is of course, a different language in images, and now in moving images, but that’s a different paradigm altogether.  Books may be available on e-readers and what not, but I think that the fundamental process of being told a story is something that human beings want at a nearly genetic level.  And with reading, if the interactivity takes you out of that experience, I think it can be a negative effect.  That said, if the interactivity is a truly organic part of the storytelling experience and can be done smoothly, without technical glitches and the other frustrations that we all run into with computer issues, then I think we might see a real increase in “interactivity” as it were.  Of course, I say all of that having now positioned myself very much in the interactive space.  I hope that the trend continues, but it really depends on the successes being a transformative experience.  I think Avatar is a great example from the film world, where a 3D movie successfully accomplished what 3D is meant for.  There are a lot of films where the 3D is just an updated version of the same gimmick that we’ve seen since the sixties or seventies.

Lena: What were you reading when you were thirteen?  Do you think any of your childhood favorites have influenced SMASHER?

Scott:  I was reading Dungeons and Dragons novels, specifically the Dragonlance books, which I loved.  And of course Lord of the Rings.  So a lot of fantasy, but not many of the other real established names like Piers Anthony or Asimov on the scifi side.  Once I was just a bit older I started reading Stephen King and Tom Clancy, and I think that their influence is more obvious on the kind of writing I did in SMASHER, especially Clancy.  I really see SMASHER as a Tom Clancy novel for kids.  With magic.

Lena: I like that!  Any advice for debut authors like yourself (or debut-authors-to-be)?

Scott:  Eat your vegetables and stay away from high-carb meals, especially late at night.  And call your mother.  She misses you.

Lena: Thanks Scott! And congrats again!

Read chapters one to three of SMASHER here!

Lena Coakley's first novel, Witchlanders, was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for the Americas.  It is a 2013 MYRCA nominee and a 2013 OLA White Pine honouree.  Lena is also the author of two children’s picture books and the former administrative director of CANSCAIP. Learn more about her at