AC: Before its release, on your website you provided a teaser for your Skylords series, and outlined your plans to make the books appeal to both younger and older audiences. Did you feel a certain amount of trepidation in pitching a work for a younger audience?
JM: A little bit, yes, because I’d never done it before and wasn’t sure where to begin. I’d wanted to write a crossover book for a long time, something that would appeal to younger readers as well as my usual readers, and the ideas in Skylords seemed particularly appropriate for that. But I knew I had to retool the way I’d been doing things. All of my previous books were very long, and I knew that wouldn’t work. I also had to reintroduce myself to the classic three-act structure of story-telling. I didn’t want the story to meander all over the place. This is something I’m trying to address in all my writing, in fact. I know some readers love big books, but maybe what they like is actually the “bigness” of the story. The trick is keeping that epic feel while moving the story along at a brisk pace.
AC: How did you go about addressing the different readership you hope to attract with Starfinder? It could be argued that traditionally, if something was written for youth, then it was not to be entertainment alone. It would also have to educate, and often, shelter them from certain themes and topics (I’m thinking Disney). Have this been a pressure for you? Are you censoring yourself in anyway?
JM: I never thought of the word “censoring” before. I think I’m trying to control myself more. I do think juvenile and YA fiction should educate, but then I think all fiction should, at least to a degree. I want it to hold a mirror up to the reader’s face and get them thinking. That’s what attracted me to YA in the first place, because when it’s done well it nails that element in a way a lot of books for older readers doesn’t. I’m not talking about being preachy, and you don’t have to shelter younger readers. They’ve got TVs and the web and they’ve already seen it all.
AC: Starting a new series often requires an entire new world, histories, cultures and geography, a labour intensive process for many. Do you find it tempting to stay in an existing world you’ve created, in terms of efficiency, or is world-building something you enjoy?
JM: I don’t think of myself as a world-builder, actually. I feel like I do just enough world building to make the story happen. The details kind of build on themselves as the story progresses, and by the end of the book you’ve got a world! It’s never really tempting for me to stay “comfortable” in a world I’ve already created, though. I like to move on to new things. What I like about writing a book isn’t one thing like world-building or creating characters—it’s the whole thing, seeing it all come together and start to breathe.
AC: In Starfinder you’ve incorporated ‘budding technologies’ into your new world. Readers often treat generic conventions in a very inflexible manner – something either ‘is’ or ‘isn’t’ fantasy/SF/romance etc unless it has or doesn’t have ‘X’ or ‘Y.’ What kind of lines, if any, are you drawing around the science in the book, in order to maintain a certain genre?
JM: Okay, in my previous answer I said there wasn’t one particular thing I loved about creating a world, but now you’ve hit on something. The one thing I love to do, probably more than anything else, is mix up technologies in my books. All of them have some anachronistic quality to them. In Tyrants and Kings, for instance, the armies use weapons like sword and bows, but they also have flame cannons and impossibly powerful warships and poison gas and other things. In Skylords, we have a world just on the edge of an industrial revolution, with the first flying machines and steam trains and gaslights, and it’s pressed right up against a fairy world without technology at all.
There are some limits though, in that it all has to somehow make sense. If there’s going to be that kind of technology in a book, it has to be weaved into the backstory. There has to be a reason why it exists.
AC: Skylords has a focus on younger characters. Are there any unique challenges facing you in respect to characterisation, as compared to writing about adults?
JM: Definitely. For one thing I’m a lot older than any teenager who might pick up the book, so sometimes it’s hard for me to remember what being that young is like. But there are emotions that everyone feels, and that’s what I concentrate on—making an emotional connection with the reader. I don’t write about breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend because that’s not what I’m about these days. So I have to write about things that interest me, and then make them appealing to my readers by giving the characters a sense of wonder.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed - and thanks once again to John for giving such great responses! Here's some links if you missed Part 1 or Part 2.
Free ebook with every newsletter sign up in 2016
Ashley Capes is an Australian writer of fiction, poetry and very occasional non-fiction.
Imperial Towers (Never Book 5) - draft 1
Moss Dragon - draft 1
Reed Lavender (working title) - draft 1
Unnamed Spec Fic - draft 1
Whisper of Leaves (sequel) - Outline