The delightful Michelle Berger tagged me in the “Next Big Thing” blog meme. I’m not usually one for these kinds of things, but I love the premise of this particular meme, as it gives me an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite projects. I’m passing the torch onto two excellent individuals, who are listed at the bottom of this post along with the date of their Next Big Thing. Please check them out!
1. What is the working title of your book?
The Aeronauts. The original title was Joshua Shell and the Aeronauts, but everyone who heard it immediately thought of the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
What’s really strange about this is how much the stories parallel one another, totally unintentionally. Joshua’s grandfather was half-human, half-Aguien (mermaid-like people that live in the planet’s endless sea), and had to be smuggled to land before the Aguien royalty could kill him for being an abomination.
And, like Jason and his Argonauts, Joshua and his Aeronauts are on a long quest that lands them in many strange places. He is accompanied by the heroine, Maria, which (completely without conscious intent) does recall Jason’s love interest Medea. Though their ending is a little different, I might say; Jason’s story ends with some pretty brutal child-killing and the burning alive of his bride. Spoiler alert, my book does not end this way.
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Like most of my better ideas, the idea for The Aeronauts sprouted out of a dream. I had it not long after writing the first draft of Devil’s Fire (August 2013) and right away, I scribbled the story down as I remembered it. Back then it was more of a war epic, with all kinds of strategerizing and other silliness I really have no interest in writing about. Nevertheless, the beginning and the ending were there, and sometimes that’s all you need to launch a story.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
With “New Adult” becoming a thing, I would probably classify it as that–my heroine is seventeen going on eighteen, and a lot of the themes are mature (technological revolution, ethnic cleansing) and the characters engage in grown up sexual relationships. It’s really on the edge of YA and NA, and perhaps the old term “crossover” fits better.
Regardless, it is a sci-fi/fantasy novel somewhere in the upper YA/NA category, with a steampunk twist. (I use both sci-fi and fantasy to describe it, as there is a parallel universe sci-fi element with an epic fantasy questing element.)
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
It’s disappointing that there aren’t many young latina actresses to choose from in Hollywood, but I would definitely have to pick Natalia Baron to play Maria, the heroine of The Aeronauts. She’s pretty but not supernaturally gorgeous, she’s busty, and she’s got a lot of attitude. She plays “Carmen” in Veronica Mars, where I discovered and fell in love with her.
Joshua is a bit trickier. I know it’s cliché, but I’d have to pick Zac Efron. He’s got the right hair, the pointed chin, the thick eyebrows to give him just the right amount of intensity, and a good holier-than-thou attitude. Oh, that last one is absolutely essential.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript?
Maria wakes up from near-death on a world that is definitely not Earth, and becomes embroiled in a bitter racial war between this new world’s humans and the mermaid-like Aguien.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Absolutely represented. The Aeronauts garnered some agent interest back in August, but the manuscript was broken at the time and I ended up never following up. That’s all right. I still think it was the right decision. One of the agents I spoke with told me, “Send it to me when it is perfect.” I realized this is how I should treat all agent queries, and since I have to take the manuscript back to the drawing board anyway, I decided to hold off my query process until the manuscript was ready. (This only happened because I purchased my agent pitch sessions months in advance, thinking I’d be ready, but then I fell into a funk and it all went to hell in a handbasket.)
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I started writing The Aeronauts when I was on a trip in Argentina. After living in Buenos Aires for about three weeks, my boyfriend and I left to backpack across the country. I brought my Macbook Air along and wrote the first 25,000 words of the manuscript on buses and in dirty hostel rooms. After that, my productivity dropped off. I hit 80,000 probably in March or April, and from there it ballooned into a monstrous, 140,000 word atrocity.
The problem is that I don’t think I knew then what story I was really trying to tell with The Aeronauts. I knew how the story ended–the very, very, very end–but hadn’t quite nailed down a climax. I got mired in world-building and lost sight of the truly important part of it, which is the story itself.
As a result of that, I got extremely disheartened both by the lack of outcome and by the sheer length of this creature I had built. In September I set it aside, unfinished (I know, this is the cardinal sin in writing, and I’m totally fine with that) in order to perform revisions to Devil’s Fire that had been requested by my publisher.
The reason I didn’t finish The Aeronauts was because I wanted to know first what story it was that I wanted to tell, and then the finale would reflect that. I realized I’d have to go back through and re-engineer earlier parts of the novel in order to discover exactly what purpose I had with Maria’s quest and what kinds of things, thematically-speaking, I wanted to accomplish. Also, 140,000 words is totally unacceptable and I need to trim out some of those threads before I can be sure they all get tied up at the end.
I consider The Aeronauts my “Next Big Thing” because I have marked off all of December to rewrite, rework, and finally finish the manuscript, and start sending it off to the agents who requested it oh-so long ago. The premise is a strange one so I’ve got my fingers crossed that they’ll remember me–or at least remember my story. If not, I’m confident the query can still make an impression all on its own.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?
Absolutely Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass series. Like The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, The Aeronauts involves a character crossing between parallel worlds. I have heard that “portal” fantasy is not selling well right now, but I think the reason for that is authors of “portal” fantasies don’t give enough backbone to the world where the character originated. In The Aeronauts, even though Maria leaves Earth behind to reach Navica, there is a connection between the two worlds that the bad guys are trying to exploit; the human Empire on Navica wants advanced technology with which to kill and destroy their enemies, and reaching through the fabric of the worlds to Earth is the only way they can see to do this.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Probably my biggest inspiration is not a book, but a Japanese TV show from the 90s called “Escaflowne.” The heroine, Hitomi, is “whisked” away from Earth to a parallel world called Gaea, where she teams up with a dark, sullen prince to defeat the evil Zaibach empire and reclaim his throne.
I loved Escaflowne as a teenager because Hitomi is a girly-girl with a fierce independent streak. The Zaibach empire’s bizarre “Fortune Machine” also gave me an idea for a way to incorporate magic in the form of pseudo-science. Not to give away any spoilers, but there is also a machine in The Aeronauts that obeys the rules of magic and not of what we traditionally consider science.
Last, but not least, Joshua’s character was inspired by Robin Hood, with his Aeronauts acting as his Merry Men. I like a male hero who has good intentions, but is so full of himself he can’t see the forest through the trees. Plus, who doesn’t want to steal from the rich and corrupt and give to the poor and disenfranchised?
10. What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
I like to think there’s something for everyone in The Aeronauts. For the acti0n-lovers in the audience, there are huge sky battles between the Aeronauts in their tiny airships and the evil Empire’s giant zeppelin-like monstrosities. For the romance-lovers, there’s frustrating and palpable tension between our two antagonistic heroes. For those who like intrigue, there are grand betrayals and political machinations by the many nations of Navica. And, to bring a little realism to the story, Maria has a long history of drug addiction and family trauma to give her plenty of angst and reasons to change ast the story progresses.
I’ll be passing the torch on to:
– Kashif Ross of The Voice of Writing, posting about his Next Big Thing on November 28th
– Eddy Rivas of What Eddy Writes, posting about his Next Big Thing on November 29th