Wherein I interview the lovely Megan Crewe about her new book Earth and Sky. Megan is a Canadian YA author, she wrote The Fallen World series, and is now embarking on a slightly more science fiction series with Earth and Sky. Check out my review of book here, and enjoy the interview below!
1. I’ve read a few of your other interviews so I know that you have always been writing and scribbling down stories. Could you tell us the story of how you came to writing professionally, and writing for young people in particular?
I don’t remember what grade it was, but sometime during elementary school, one of my teachers read my class a book that she told us had been written by a kid our age. This came as quite a shock to me–people my age could actually get books published!? I was writing stories all the time. Was it possible something I wrote could be good enough for that? I didn’t actually start trying to get my stories published until I was in high school, but that was the first time it occurred to me that making a career out of writing might be possible. Before that I’d been writing just for the love of it, without really considering trying to share those stories with people beyond my family and friends. The idea that maybe someday kids in some other classroom who’d never met me might be reading or hearing one of them was pretty exciting.
I started trying to write novels and think about writing more professionally during junior high, and managed to finish my first novel in ninth grade. I was also writing a lot of short stories, partly because it was easier to finish them than a whole novel and partly because I’d read that it was good to get some short stories published before you tried to convince a publisher to take on a whole novel. (This doesn’t really apply for young adult fiction, but at the time I didn’t think of myself as writing YA.) I wasn’t confident enough about my first few novels to try to do anything further with them, but I did start sending short stories to magazines, anthologies, and ezines from when I was about 15 years old. I got published in some that were specifically for teen authors, and then in my early twenties started getting stories picked up in publications with a broader audience. And of course that whole time I was continuing to work on novels, and finally finished one that was strong enough to get me an agent and then a book deal–which would be GIVE UP THE GHOST. Once I had the first book out there, it became a matter of simply keeping at it. :)
As far as writing YA goes, that was something that just fell into place naturally. I wrote about teens when I was a teenager because that was the life I knew. And as I got older I found I still enjoyed writing stories about teens because it’s such an exciting and intense time in life, with all of the firsts people experience and the decisions they make about who they want to be.
2. So far, the books that you have written, The Fallen World series and this first installment Earth and Sky, are science and speculative fiction – what draws you to this subject matter?
I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction more than realistic stories, as a reader as well as a writer, I think because it takes me more out of everyday life. You can explore the exact same themes and issues as in a “realistic” story, but draw parallels through fantasy or imagined futures, and incorporate all sorts of additional conflicts and adventures. Which to me makes it even more fun!
3. One thing that I really enjoyed about Earth and Sky was the logic behind your form of time travel. For me, the logic (and practical logistics) can really make or break a science fiction story (I see that you too are a fan of Monica Hughes and I think logic is something she was particularly good at). What kind of planning and research did you undertake? Did you find yourself double-thinking your rules, or perhaps wishing you could change your own rules?
I’m glad you found my time travel logical! I knew that it’s a tricky subject, and that it’d be much easier to keep that element plausible and consistent if I came up with a full set of rules for how my version would work beforehand, so I spent quite a bit of time figuring that out during the brainstorming and outlining stages. I did some research, reading physics books that deal with the possibility of time travel, and they informed my ideas somewhat, but ultimately the fact that it was an alien technology designed by people much more advanced than we are gave me the freedom to get creative–after all, just because we can’t imagine how certain processes could be possible right now doesn’t mean no one in the universe ever could! (See Arthur C. Clarke’s rule: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”)
The most important factors were that I needed my time travel to be the open-ended sort where changes can affect the present (as opposed to the closed loop sort where everything that’s going to happen has already happened), since the premise rested on the idea of our timeline being altered, and I wanted it to be restricted to taking place within what I came to call a “field,” rather than being something people could to wherever, whenever, because that seemed more scientifically believable to me and also gave a concrete way the Traveling could be stopped. Having those restraints in place made coming up with the other rules much easier. The second factor in particular led fairly logically to ideas like that Travel can only take place during the span of time the field has been active for, and that if the field is deactivated, the history it previously covered can no longer be reached even if a new field is set up.
Despite all that planning, I did end up tweaking my understanding of the rules as I wrote, mainly thanks to feedback from my critique group, who were able to point out places where the logic seemed off to them or where (often) I simply hadn’t explained it clearly enough. I hope I’ve managed to weed out any inconsistencies!
(P.S. Yes, Monica Hughes is awesome!)
4. H.G. Wells wrote the first science fiction Time Travel story with The Time Machine and many critics argue that it also, in many ways, presents a utopian ideal. I think that in Earth and Sky I see some inklings of the utopian and, subsequently, the dystopian. Do you find yourself playing with these concepts? Can you speak more about this? Was Wells an inspiration for you? What other authors or theorists inspired you?
I’d have to say I wasn’t consciously thinking about the trilogy in terms of utopias and dystopias while I was writing it. But there’s definitely an element of that in the Kemyates’ alien society. They’ve become obsessed with efficiency and certainty, trying to determine how they could build a home where nothing could go wrong–but of course that’s impossible, and in becoming so focused on that, their society has stagnated and held people back from pursuing a better life. That idea arose naturally out of the direction the story headed in while I was planning it.
I read THE TIME MACHINE several years ago and I wouldn’t be surprised if the sense of “perfecting society in a way that goes horribly wrong” provided some inspiration. Probably the biggest influence would be not an author or a theorist but Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was my favorite science fiction TV show growing up. I can see traces of its alien cultures, like The Borg’s rigid collectivism and Q’s enjoyment of manipulating “lesser” beings, in my Kemyates.
5. In many ways Skye is a very normal girl except for, what some might call, her disability (would you call it that?). What gave you the idea for Skye’s condition and character?
I’m not sure I’d call it a disability–maybe a mental difference? Her anxieties and coping mechanisms have a lot in common with obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it isn’t a true representation of OCD because Skylar’s anxious feelings are actually caused by an external source (and once that source is taken away, the anxieties will fade too).
The idea for her condition came about in the early stages of brainstorming the story. I knew my main character was going to become involved with the alien rebels because she could pick up on the shifts in time in a way most people couldn’t, but it was important to me both that there was a good reason for her to have developed that extra sensitivity, and that it hadn’t come without a cost. Since what’s she’s picking up on are essentially that details in her life have been written over, it made sense to me that she might be more attuned to this if she’d developed an obsessive attention to details around her in general. (And the reason she developed this obsessive attention, I won’t spoil for those who haven’t read the book yet.) It also seemed natural that, especially since she’d developed this sensitivity at a very young age and never been able to show anyone else or do anything about her feeling that things were changing from how they were “supposed” to be, that she’d find the sensation increasingly unnerving and overwhelming, and therefore have to come up with strategies to control it.
6. Bullying, though not present for much of the book, is very much a factor in the way the story unfolds. It is a serious subject and one that, in the book, has a lasting impact on the lives of the characters. Can you address why you chose to include bullying?
Being vague to avoid being spoilery: It mainly came down to needing an answer to a particular mystery, and that being the most plausible way to getting the end result I wanted. I’d actually had a lot of different ideas for how that scenario might play out before and while the story was being written. In very early brainstorming, for example, before that character got the important role in Skylar’s early backstory, he was actually a former boyfriend or crush, and what happened to him was accidental–I played with the idea of a drowning. But ultimately I couldn’t make that work logistically, and the new role made it even trickier because that presented certain restrictions. (Am I being vague enough? Heh.)
I think bullying in one form or another has come up in all of my published novels, the most extreme example being in GIVE UP THE GHOST, of course. It seems to me that’s something almost every teenager experiences at some point, to some extent–I did, my brother did, pretty much every friend I’ve talked about the subject with deal with it one way or another–so it make sense for it to come up in the lives of my characters too.
7. Many of our readers are aspiring authors do you have a unique “Megan Crewe nugget of advice” to give to them about the art of book writing or the world of books?
The most important advice I give (which I got from a high school creative writing teacher, who got it from some other source) is very simple: Read. Write. Rewrite. To expand on that: Read a lot, in a lot of different genres, so you learn how good–and bad–stories are put together in a wide variety of ways and see what’s already been done and how. Write a lot, because you develop your craft through practice. And rewrite what you write, because no story is ever perfect or even close to perfect the first time you put words down on the page, and you need to get used to adding and cutting and rearranging and rethinking if you’re going to be producing the best work you can.
8. I have my own theories as to how the series will progress, as will most readers – but can you tell us what you are most looking forward to as the next books are released? (Besides our shocked faces!)
As I don’t think should come as a surprise to anyone who’s read EARTH & SKY, in the second book you will get to see Kemya firsthand. But of course the rebels’ mission–and Skylar’s involvement in it–does not go as smoothly as they would have hoped, and there are many… complications. It may help to think of it the same way I did when I was trying to frame that part of the story in my head: it’s essentially a spy thriller in space. You’ll get to know several new-ish characters a lot better, and there’s a much larger romantic element than in the first book, which was a lot of fun to write. (To those who might be made nervous by that news, I will reassure you that said romance does not distract Skylar from her bigger goals.)
And I suspect people will be making very shocked faces at the end of book two. Yes, indeed. *evil grin*