In a rather nice piece of serendipity, Jessica Meats, an author I’ve long followed on Tumblr and whose book Shadows of Tomorrow is currently next on my TBR pile, recently relaunched her website and asked l’il ol’ me to answer some questions about my writing for it. So I thought I’d grab the opportunity to ask her a few questions in return, and point you all in the direction of her excellent new website. Jess is a writer of Sci-Fi and YA books, and you should definitely check her work out. I know I will be. So… to the question-mobile!
PS: Hi Jess, thanks for answering my questions. Maybe you could let people know a bit about yourself?
JM: My day job is in the IT industry as a Microsoft consultant, so I spend a lot of time immersed in technology and this bleeds through into my writing. I like creating things, and this creativity comes out in the form of jewellery making, cross-stitch, and other crafts. When I’m not delving into my creative side, I enjoy learning martial arts. I’m not an expert in any style, but it’s a fun way to keep fit and it gives me a great source of knowledge to draw on when writing fight scenes.
PS: If you were to recommend one of your books to a new reader, what would you go for and why?
JM: Either Child of the Hive or Shadows of Tomorrow. Child of the Hive was the first book I had published and it completely stands on its own. It’s a thriller set so near in the future that some of the things I wrote to show it was the future have now happened. It follows the adventures of a group of people caught in the middle of a conflict between two secret organisations.
Shadows of Tomorrow is first of a trilogy but it works as a standalone book. It deals with parallel worlds, time travel, and a man who can remember his future.
Omega Rising on the other hand is more like the pilot episode of a TV show. It introduces the characters and situation but doesn’t answer any of the questions. You’re supposed to finish this book and instantly rush out and buy the second one in the series to find out what happens next.
PS: What was the first thing that made you want to write, and what was it that you wrote?
JM: I’ve written stories all my life. I have memories of when I was really little, folding sheets of paper together into little ‘books’ and writing stories in them, complete with cover illustrations. The ones I remember writing were about fish wars, which I think was mainly because I could draw fish.
I also remember I story I wrote when I was six. It was about how I killed a dragon in the living room and my mum made me clean up the mess. My mum thought it was hilarious.
PS: How do you approach a new story? How do you get from idea to the finished article?
JM: I generally start with only a vague notion of where I story is going. With Child of the Hive, I started with the idea of Will in hiding from two different groups of people. I didn’t know who those groups were, but I knew there were two of them. Then I just started writing to see where it ended up. I’m very much in the ‘figure it out as I go along’ school of plotting and it can lead to some interesting twists. I get a lot of people saying about Child of the Hive that they didn’t see the ending coming – neither did I!
On the other hand, this leads to a few false starts. When I started the stories that would become the Codename Omega series, I knew that at some point, a character on the wrong side would have to be swayed to the side of the ‘heroes’ and help them out. I wanted to make sure that felt as natural as possible and didn’t come across as a deus-ex-machina, so I spent a lot time thinking about that character and their motivation. I realised eventually that that was a much more interesting story – someone believing they’re doing the right thing but coming to the realisation that they’re on the wrong side. It was only when I went back and started writing the story again from the perspective of that character that things started flowing.
This isn’t the only time I started with the wrong person. When I started Shadows, I thought Cassie was going to be the protagonist, but Gareth was the person who kept playing the most important role in the plot. That meant I had to throw out the first six chapters and rewrite them with a focus on Gareth as the main character.
So my process in general involves starting with a vague idea, writing a first draft usually quite quickly, and then going back and making major changes to the second draft to get it into a state that makes sense.
PS: I first became aware of you through your Tumblr, which is an excellent source of writing advice, fandom and social awareness. You’re very natural at the social media side of things, is this something you have to work at, or are you just being the normal you online?
JM: I try and just be me. This means certain sites end up being a chaotic mass of anything that seems interesting to me. Tumblr would be a good example. I post about sci-fi and superhero films, feminism, books, racism, puns, and amusing comics. Twitter is similar, but I follow a lot of writers, so that ends up being more about books and writing. In general, I try and keep the social media side of things fun. If it’s something I enjoy, I’ll keep at it more.
I also think people won’t follow me if I spend all my time trying to force my books down their throats, so I keep the advertising for my books to a minimum unless I have news or a new book release to talk about.
PS: Do you listen to music when you write or do you prefer silence, and what kind of music do you write to?
JM: I keep it quiet. When I’m focused on my writing, I tend to block out what’s going on around me, so even if I had music playing I probably wouldn’t notice it.
PS: What are you working on at the moment?
JM: I always have way too many things going on at once. I’m working on the next book in the Codename Omega series. The working title is Under the Radar but that may change. Jenny is hiding from Grey’s Tower and trying to protect her mum, but in the meantime, Nuke’s team have picked up a signal from a ship heading towards Earth.
I’m also about halfway through the final book in the Shadows of Tomorrow trilogy. Gareth needs help from an old friend to track Abby down, but there’s one minor problem – that old friend is dead. Gareth has to find a parallel universe in which recent events took a different course.
On top of that, I’m seeking representation for an urban fantasy novel dealing with themes of racism and prejudice. This one has a black, bisexual protagonist and uses werewolves as a metaphor to draw attention to real-world issues.
PS: You’re very vocal online about representing diverse groups in your fiction, which is something I try to achieve with my own works, and you do a lot of work online to promote diverse authors, tell me a bit about that.
JM: I think diversity is important for a number of reason. The first is simply that we live in a diverse world so bringing some of that to the page makes the fictitious worlds richer.
On top of that, fiction can be used as a window or a mirror. As a window, diverse fiction lets us see more about the world, understand different people, and see things from different points of view. I think it’s got to be a good thing for people to spend time seeing people who are different from them as complex and interesting human beings, and worthy of respect.
As a mirror though, people can see themselves in fiction and realise that people like them can be heroes, or important, or have adventures. In some cases, fiction lets people see that people like themselves exist.
I had a conversation a month or so ago with a woman I believe is asexual. We were talking about sexual attraction and her words to me were: “I’ve always just assumed I was broken.” This was a woman in her fifties who has lived decades believing she was broken. I read an autobiography of an autistic woman who went undiagnosed until well into adulthood. Her first realisation that she was autistic came when she read a book with an autistic protagonists and recognised herself in the pages. There are people in this world who feel alone or lost or broken, and having diverse characters in fiction lets people understand that there are other people like them out there.
I think diversity is particularly important in children’s and young adult fiction because people shouldn’t have to wait five decades to learn that they’re not broken.
In recent years, this is something I’ve come to care about so I do what I can to support diversity: buying books that have diverse characters, encouraging representation, and trying to promote books by authors who are telling their own stories. I started the diverse book giveaway on Tumblr to try and help authors who write diversely and to help readers connect to books with different forms of representation.
PS: What’s the best interaction you’ve had with one of your readers?
JM: There’s an old guy who’s a neighbour of my parents’ who bought Child of the Hive when it first came out. He struggles on the stairs so he tends to have two books on the go at the same time – one upstairs and one downstairs. He told me that Child of the Hive was both an upstairs and a downstairs book. He took it with him when he manoeuvred the stairs because he needed to know what happened next. Best review I’ve ever received.
PS: Finally, you’re in the process of relaunching your own website, so where can people go to find out more about you, and what can people expect to see from your new site?
JM: The new site will be a blog with discussions about writing in general, science fiction and fantasy books in particular, along with book reviews, author interviews, and news about my books. Anyone who wants to know more can go to http://www.plot-twister.co.uk to find out more.
PS: Cheers Jess!
Visit Jessica’s site to find more info on her and her books at plot-twister.co.uk