It’s a pleasure to have my friend, talented YA author Maureen McGowan, visiting with us today! She’s twice been a finalist in the Golden Heart® and a finalist in the inaugural Amazon Breakout Novel Competition. Deviants, the first book in her sci-fi thriller series, The Dust Chronicles, will be released in hardcover, kindle and audio formats on October 30, 2012 by Amazon Children’s Publishing.
Her previous career moved her to Palo Alto and Philadelphia. She now writes and goes to a lot of movies in Toronto, Canada. Aside from books, Maureen is passionate about art, dance, films, beautiful handcrafted objects and shoes. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Goodreads.
Can you tell us about your new Dust Chronicles series, specifically your first book, DEVIANTS? In a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is buried by asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans, orphaned, sixteen-year-old Glory must hide and protect her younger brother. If their Deviant abilities are discovered, they’ll be expunged—kicked out of the dome to be tortured and killed by the Shredders. Glory would give anything to get rid of her unique ability to kill with her emotions, especially when Cal, the boy she’s always liked, becomes a spy for the authorities. But when her brother is discovered, and she learns their father, who was expunged for killing their mother, is still alive, she must escape the domed city that’s been her entire world.
Outside in the ruins, they’re pursued by the authorities and by sadistic, scab-covered Shredders who are addicted to the lethal-to-humans dust now covering the planet. Glory’s quests to transport herself and her brother to safety make up the thrilling and fascinating first volume of The Dust Chronicles. That’s it in a nutshell.
The premise came from merging two separate ideas. One was an adult urban fantasy idea in which a woman, who must keep her emotions buried or she’ll hurt people, is torn between two men—one who loves her, but can never know who/what she really is, and one man whom she can’t love because he’s untrustworthy and dangerous. The second idea came to me when that volcano erupted in Iceland and global travel was interrupted. I wondered: what would happen if something like that occurred on a bigger, more catastrophic scale?
When I was discussing the first idea with my critique partners, and telling them about my heroine’s backstory and explaining what happened to her as a teen to make her so emotionally closed off, (I can’t say what, because it’s a spoiler), they both told me I should write about her as a teen, rather than as an adult. And after thinking about it, I realized they were 100% right.
Was it challenging to write a trilogy? How did you approach plotting out the three books? Great question… especially since I’m still writing the third book and I’m not sure I fully know the answer yet. The second book was the most challenging. I hope. I’m not finished the third, but have a clear(ish) idea of how it will unfold. I think some trilogies sag in the middle book and to keep that from happening, I tossed a lot into book 2. I love the result, but it was really hard to write! As of this moment, book 2 doesn’t have a final title, but has a planned release date of May 21, 2013.
I really hope each book in the trilogy works as a standalone, but I also want each book to entice readers to pick up the other two, no matter which one they start with. So, I kept that as a guiding principle while plotting the stories. Trilogies are somewhat different from open-ended series, I think. In spite of the fact that each book can stand alone, the three taken together also constitute a single story.
I think that’s important in a trilogy. It’s not just three books about the same character, set in the same world.
What qualities do you love most about your main character, Glory? Is she the protagonist throughout the series? I’m kind of in awe of how grown up Glory has to be at such a young age. She’s very independent and probably too stubborn and untrusting at the beginning of the series, but she’s gone through a lot of terrible things even before the story starts—losing her parents, and having to protect and hide her younger brother, who’s a paraplegic and will be killed if he’s found. Not to mention having to hide/curb her emotions. So, even if Glory’s a little prickly at the start, I admire her. She’s not one to expect others to help her. She’s used to doing things for herself and so she resists too much when she does need help.
Prior to DEVIANTS, you also wrote two Twisted Tales — Cinderella: Ninja Warrior and Sleeping Beauty: Vampire Slayer. What is the premise of each of these? Those books were such fun to write! (Except that I was doing them on a write-for-hire basis and had to produce them way too quickly.)
I took traditional fairy tales and retold them with more adventurous stories and with heroines capable of fighting for their own happy endings. The girls in these books don’t sit back (or sleep) waiting for a handsome prince to save them. (But there are cute boys. )
The books also have a choose-your-own-adventure-like structure. Each has only one ending, but there are multiple routes through the books and the reader gets to make decisions for the heroines which dictate which paths to take.
I know you wrote fabulous women’s fiction (!!) before to venturing into the young adult genre. What draws you to YA literature? Any chance you’ll return to WF sometime, too? I absolutely love YA fiction right now. I honestly think that some of the most interesting, challenging and exciting-to-read books being currently published are in the YA market segment. I wish there had been books like this when I was a teen! I’m many years past being a young adult, but am gobbling up YA books right now.
To be honest, I stalled on the idea of writing YA at first, because I assumed that I’d have to tone down my voice and/or story ideas, and that there would be a bunch of “dos and don’ts” to follow. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think the first YA I read was The Hunger Games and since then, I’d guess that close to 80% of the books I’ve read have been YA. I can’t get enough. I love how today’s YA books blur genre lines. Anything goes. They’re gripping to read and fun to write. That said, I do hope to go back to women’s fiction at some point.
Do you have any writing advice that you’ve found especially valuable on your publication journey? I just heard this articulated recently, but realized it’s a philosophy I adopted soon after finishing my first manuscript. The line was: good writing doesn’t happen by accident.
What I take from that is that while, sure, some people are natural storytellers and/or have an innate way with words and/or a strong voice, it takes a lot of hard work, practice and studying the craft to be able to produce consistently strong writing. Even with all that work, it’s hard.
So, my biggest piece of advice to newer writers is to learn. Learn all you can and then keep learning more. Keep pushing yourself. Keep working on getting better. Seek out and accept critical opinions of your work. Even someone who sells a book right out of the gate, or has some success self-publishing right away, shouldn’t rest on his or her laurels. The work will suffer and readers will notice.
What books are you reading at the moment? Have you read anything recently that you’ve especially loved? Right now I’m reading The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and enjoying it a lot. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but this one is set in a fascinating world (a fantasy version of historical Spain or North Africa or South America or maybe Mexico?—probably a combination of all of the above) and has a very unique heroine who’s easy to root for.
Two other books I recently read and would recommend to any reader (even if you’ve yet to try a YA novel) are Blood Red Road, by Moira Young, and For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund. Although both have post-apocalyptic settings they couldn’t be more different from each other, and both are fabulous.
Blood Red Road has a very tough heroine (whom I wish I’d written) and although the style of the prose is very unique, (no quotation marks on the dialogue, for example), once you get sucked in, which doesn’t take long, the story takes hold of you and doesn’t let go. I can’t wait for the sequel.
For Darkness Shows the Stars is a loose retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Yes. Jane Austen written as a post-apocalyptic YA novel! (That sentence requires an exclamation point.) This novel has all the best features of a historical romance, but wrapped in a very interesting, if scary, future version of the world (which reminded me a little of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake in its origins). It’s a very compelling story and I admired how seamlessly it wove in questions about religion and science and ethics and socio-economic classes and even slavery together without being at all pedantic. Peterfreund’s best novel to date. For me, anyway.
Anything especially surprising that’s happened to you during your time as a published author? I think the best thing so far has been getting e-mails and reviews from kids and teens. Whether they love or hate a book they’re not afraid to tell the author. I love that. Even the adult readers of YA fiction (of which there are a lot) tend to be very passionate about books and reading.
Thanks so much, Maureen. I can’t wait to read Deviants this fall!! And a question for everyone — what are some of your favorite YA novels (written in the distant past, perhaps, like one of mine, Anne of Green Gables…or just recently released)?