NY Times Bestselling Author Meagan Spooner Explains What It Takes to Be a Published Sci-Fi Writer

Wednesday, 22 March 2017 - 2:24PM
Wednesday, 22 March 2017 - 2:24PM
NY Times Bestselling Author Meagan Spooner Explains What It Takes to Be a Published Sci-Fi Writer
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Every sci-fi writer has their own journey, but for Meagan Spooner, it took what was probably the geekiest route possible. Growing up with video games, Ray Bradbury, and Star Trek, Spooner's Starbound Trilogy has become a New York Times bestseller, though it began as a roleplaying game session. We sat down with Meagan to talk about her work, as well as her experiences at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, which she credits for taking her writing to the next level.

Tell me a bit about yourself—hobbies, passions, private obsessions, etc.

"All you really need to know about me is that I'm a massive geek…A spattering of my favorite shows/books/games/etc. include Firefly, Star Trek, Dracula, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dragon Age, Contact, Cosmos, The Last Unicorn, Persuasion, Rear Window, Lolita, Fallout 3 and 4, Final Fantasy, Frankenstein, and Where the Wild Things Are. When I grow up I want to be some horrifying hybrid of Robin McKinley and Carl Sagan (it'll be beautiful)."

What inspired and influenced you as a sci-fi writer?

"I fell in love with science fiction before I knew what a genre was. I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad and attended a science and technology magnet school, so it wasn't really until college [that] I first encountered anyone who seemed to think science fiction was any different (read: less important or valuable) than other genres.

"When my creative writing professor started grading me down solely for choosing to write fantasy and science fiction instead of "literary" fiction, that pretty much sealed my fate. I was always going to write, but tell me the genres I love are crass and commercial and worth less than others, and I will come at you with all the fury of a very shy and anxious but extremely passionate writer.

"I'm hugely influenced by Carl Sagan and Robert Heinlein, as well as Ursula LeGuin and Ray Bradbury. One of Bradbury's lesser-known short stories, "All Summer in a Day," remains probably my all-time favorite piece of short fiction. I read it in seventh grade and I still remember sitting there at my desk after finishing it, crying in the middle of class, and thinking, "So that's what good science fiction does to you." 

Tell me about your experience at the Odyssey Writing Workshop.

"Odyssey changed my life. I applied to the program thinking, "I can already write, I just need to learn how to get published"…that lasted a few hours into the first day. I wasn't the best writer in the class; I wasn't going to get glowing "OMG YOU'RE BRILLIANT" critiques; and I wasn't going to know the answer to every question. I suspect my experience is pretty common, because Odyssey selects students that are already talented writers and therefore have often had some form of positive reinforcement already.

"But to be a successful artist of any kind requires a unique balance between arrogance (enough to feel you have something to say that no one else can) and humility (so that you can actually digest critique, be open to the techniques and ideas of other artists, and become comfortable with the realization that you'll never be done learning and improving)."

Tell me about the Starbound Trilogy, your bestselling sci-fi series.

"These Broken Stars, the first book in the Starbound trilogy, was never originally going to be a novel. I was living in Australia at the time with my best friend (and eventual co-author) Amie, working on my debut novel, Skylark. Amie and I met from opposite sides of the planet via text-based roleplaying games, and even though we weren't playing the games anymore, we'd still come up with characters and scenarios to instant-message/email back and forth. TBS happened because we decided to create a new sandbox to roleplay, and because we both like survival stories and we both like space, we figured what could be more fun than a shipwreck in space?

"We created Lilac and Tarver, and figured we'd spend a month or so playing with them and then move on to follow a different set of survivors. Over a year later, we were still playing them, and I'd just signed with my agent for my debut novel, and suddenly-I don't remember which one of us first thought or said it-we realized, 'Hey… if we're still in love with these characters after a year, and if this writing thing is actually possible… maybe there's a book in this?' And a trilogy was born."

Tell me about the intersection of science and sci-fi in your writing.

"Writing science fiction for the YA market is both thrilling and frustrating. Because the target audience for YA is largely teens, and particularly young women, there's a tension when it comes to STEM areas-[publishing is] a business, on the industry side, and there's still a significant perception that young girls wouldn't be interested in science. Dystopian fiction is embraced, thanks to The Hunger Games, but "harder" science fiction involving space, artificial intelligence, multiple universes, chaos theory, etc. can be a harder sell.

"So on the one hand, it's a constant battle to convince people in the industry that their perception of science fiction as "belonging" to men is not just a myth, but a self-perpetuating one; the fewer science fiction novels they publish, the fewer science fiction novels young women will read, and the fewer they'll sell. So the science in my fiction often (especially in the first book of a series) comes in sneakily, letting the reader focus on things like character arcs, romance, action, emotion-until they're hopefully too swept up to notice we're talking about interdimensional aliens, relativity, and what defines the human soul.

"The thrilling part is that I have stacks of letters and emails from teens, all young women, telling me that they thought they hated science fiction until reading our books."

Meagan Spooner is the New York Times bestselling author of the Skylark trilogy, the Starbound trilogy, and the Beauty and the Beast retelling, Hunted. She attended Odyssey in 2009 and sold her first novel a year and a half later.  She grew up in Virginia, reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.
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