Congratulations to Meagan Spooner, whose dark, futuristic fantasy SKYLARK debuts today from Carolrhoda Lab! Veronica Rossi says of Skylark "Dark, original and beautiful, this is a novel you don't want to miss." NYT Bestseller Carrie Jones says Skylark will "transport you into a mesmerizing and horrifying world".
Meagan was kind enough to sit down with Lucky 13er (and her all round partner in crime) Amie Kaufman for a chat about —among other topics—her debut, the end of the world and her super brilliant writing partner. (Hint: She's posting this interview.)
First, a bit about Skylark:
Vis in magia, in vita vi.
In magic there is power, and in power, life.
For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley waited for the day when her Resource would be harvested and she would finally be an adult. After the harvest she expected a small role in the regular, orderly operation of the City within the Wall. She expected to do her part to maintain the refuge for the last survivors of the Wars. She expected to be a tiny cog in the larger clockwork of the city.
Lark did not expect to become the City’s power supply.
For fifteen years, Lark Ainsley believed in a lie. Now she must escape the only world she’s ever known…or face a fate more unimaginable than death.
1. In 2010 you got an agent for Christmas. Now here we are in 2012 -- you're under contract for two different trilogies, and will release six books in four years! Eek! Tell us a little about your road to publication!
You're right that my road to publication has been fast, sometimes a bit dazedly so. I started writing SKYLARK (then titled THE IRON WOOD) in March of 2010 and finished it a few months later. I queried in November, and got pretty lucky with multiple offers, meaning I got to choose my agent. I was even more fortunate that SKYLARK sold at auction in the US, because I could pick my publisher. I ended up going with Carolrhoda Lab, an imprint of Lerner Books, because they seemed to most GET what I was trying to do. The other publishers wanted to make it a big dystopian release and market it that way, which isn't really what the book is. There are dystopian aspects, particularly in the beginning, but the story itself bears much more resemblance to fantasy, and the epic hero's journey, than it does to a traditional dystopian structure. I had the summer to revise SKYLARK with my editor, and then in the fall I and my SUPER BRILLIANT WRITING PARTNER (hint: it's Amie) (Amie: I am not paying her to say this) finished our collaborative book, THESE BROKEN STARS. Our fantastic agents jumped on it; they gave us ONE weekend to make a few changes and then put it out there, and it sold almost immediately, meaning that I had two trilogies going barely six months apart. It's pretty overwhelming--but pretty awesome, too!
2. Skylark's world is incredible--dark, eerily familiar in places, full of magic, danger and wonder. How did you build it? Research? Sudden inspiration?
One of the things I had the most fun with was that the city Lark lives in is an alternate universe version of Washington, D.C., where I live. It's not explicit, but basing the city in the book on a real life location meant I could do all kinds of real world research, and include my own life experiences (always challenging, when writing fantasy!). I could use Google Maps to figure out how long it would take to walk across parts of the countryside. I could actually GO downtown and pick out which buildings I wanted to include. And because the whole thing is set after an apocalypse, once I figured out where and what everything was, I got to figure out how long it would take for all of that to fall apart. I learned that New York City (whose alternate universe sister city appears in book two) would be unrecognizable in a matter of mere weeks without humans sustaining it.
It's fascinating to me how quickly our human monuments disappear, and how quickly and quietly the signs of our civilization vanish. Much of what Lark encounters beyond the Wall is a reclaimed world--nature has begun to fight back. The result is a wilderness made of old ruins and new growth--she shelters at one point in a storefront with a tree growing up through the roof. My favorite part was coming up with scene settings that would be recognizable to readers as something they might encounter in their own lives, but altered by magic and nature and the passage of time.
3. You're a full time writer, living the dream! What's a day in the life look like for you?
It really depends on what I happen to be working on. If it's THESE BROKEN STARS, then my time revolves around my writing partner (hint: it's still Amie). We live on opposite hemispheres, so we're constantly reorganizing our lives to have some overlap when we're both awake and can discuss the work. SKYLARK, however, is a very different story. (No pun intended, hurr.) It's a very solitary thing, and with no one waiting on a daily basis to see my work, self-discipline comes into play. So I keep my time really structured, as close to a desk job as I can stand to make it. I almost always wake up around 6-7 AM and get immediately to work for an hour or so before breakfast, whether it be drafting or revising. Then I have breakfast and eat while I'm doing administrivia, like checking email, managing my site, Twitter, responding to messages on Goodreads, and so forth. That either takes the rest of the morning, or I can squeeze in a little more drafting/revising after I'm done.
Then I usually walk across the street or down the block to get lunch, and I let my mind rest over an episode of TV while I eat. Then I work solidly pretty much the rest of the day, one long push until my roommate gets home. Sometimes I work in the evenings too, depending on how busy I am, but I try to leave that time for hanging out with my friends and family, or else I would just NEVER see them. The thing that surprised me most about becoming a full time writer is how little time you actually HAVE. I see my friends and family far less now than I did when I was working at a desk job.
4. Do you have a favourite scene from Skylark? Can you give us a hint about it?
Oooh, this is hard. My favorite scenes are almost entirely full of spoilers. There are a lot of twists and turns in the story, and to talk about my favorite scenes would totally ruin those! But ultimately, I think my favorite scene in the book is the first time Lark sees the sky. She's lived her entire life inside a city inside a dome, and when she escapes the sky is cloudy, easier to deal with. But when the clouds finally clear and she sees the night sky in all its glory, she's absolutely flattened. It's far vaster and huger and deeper than anything she's ever imagined, and her terror is crippling. It was one of my favorite things to write, because it involved surrendering myself wholly over to something I've never felt myself. Research can only take me so far as a writer--I have to FEEL it to write it. For a while I had nightmares about the sky. Everything in my life reminded me of its vastness. I went to a U2 concert during that time and got serious vertigo because the sea of cell-phones waving in the darkness kept becoming the sky, and I kept feeling I would fall into it. Translating all of that onto the page was a pretty fantastic experience. Lark's relationship with the sky is a constantly changing, evolving thing, and it's extremely important symbolically and literally in the story (there's a reason its title is SKYLARK!) so I know that moment to be absolutely pivotal.
5. We Luckies love to ask about writing superstitions and lucky charms! Do you have one?
I have a particular pair of pants that I wear when I'm writing. Yeah, I'm serious. They're my writing pants. They change, obviously, through the years--they are usually evolved from pajama pants or sweat pants, chosen for comfort more than anything, but they have to be that awesome state of totally worn in and soft, right before they fall apart. I always mourn the loss of a pair of writing pants when they finally do just fall apart in the wash. Or get eaten by a dog, on one memorable (and TRAGIC) occasion. (Hint: it was Amie's dog.) (Amie: I am ashamed to say it was.)
Otherwise, I'd say my position actually is a kind of talisman. I always sit the exact same way while I'm writing, which I didn't even know until someone who'd seen me writing a few times remarked on it. (Hint: Just assume everything in this interview to do with writing references Amie.) For some reason, just the act of sitting in that position gets my mind opening up and the words flowing. And finally, on the occasions when I'm having real trouble focusing, I'll often light a candle on my desk and dim the lights elsewhere. For some reason I find it centers me and quiets me and keeps me focused on what I'm doing.
Meagan Spooner 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. You can find Meg on Twitter, Facebook or at her website.
This interview was conducted by Lucky13s member Amie Kaufman, whose YA sci-fi novel THESE BROKEN STARS (co-authored with Meagan herself!) will be released Fall 2013 from Disney*Hyperion. The interview is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies -- YA, MG, and children's book authors debuting in 2012.