Interview: Meagan Spooner

Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.

Meagan Spooner is the author of Skylark, the first in a young adult fantasy trilogy available from Carolrhoda Lab in August 2012. She is also the co-author of These Broken Stars, the first in a young adult science fiction trilogy forthcoming from Disney Hyperion (Fall 2013). She is a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. More information about Meg can be found at http://www.meaganspooner.com.


Congratulations on the publication of Skylark! Can you tell us what inspired this YA fantasy?

I was actually listening to NPR at the time, but with only half my attention–they were discussing the energy crisis, and alternative sources of energy. I pretty much always have some part of my mind on fantasy and science fiction, so while they were talking about solar and wind farms, I thought “magic.” The rest of the word fell into place after that initial thought–a world where technology runs on magic, and what would happen in that world if humankind abused that power the way we’re abusing energy sources in ours. If you want to hear the whole story of where I got the idea, I talk about it a bit in this podcast interview from Book Expo America, as well as in this “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog.

You talk about extensive world travel and many moves during your upbringing on your website. How has this affected your writing?

Well, I actually lived in the same house my entire life until adulthood–my parents live there still. But after college I lived in Australia for about two (non-consecutive) years, and I have traveled a lot, thanks to a travel-loving family. Travel, for me, is necessary for creativity. Changing the routine, experiencing new things… even if they don’t factor directly into the story. Skylark, for example, is set practically in the backyard of my childhood home (DC, Northern Virgina, etc.). But I get my best ideas on the move, whether it’s flying to Africa or driving to the grocery store.

In reference to the above question, how do you maintain a good writing schedule? Any advice for those struggling to find the time to write?

You’re not going to like it! Really, there’s only one way, as far as I’m concerned. You have to train yourself to write every day. Try setting a daily minimum word count that you MUST hit every day. Make it small, so it’s not overwhelming, and so it’s easy to do. Mine was 500 words every day. Even on a bad day, I could do 500 words in under an hour. Usually it’s more like 15-20 minutes. The point is that it gets you in your chair, it gets you writing, and it gets your brain focusing on your story. Once you get there, you end up doing a lot more than 500 words. You just have to trick yourself into thinking that all you need to do is write a page or so. The first few weeks can be hard, but I guarantee that once a month has gone by, it’ll be habit.

Even though these days I don’t write (at least, not on a draft) every day, because of other author biz commitments, I’ve still got that training and so when it IS time to write, I can sort of “click over” into that mindset relatively easily.

You also have a book coming from Disney Hyperion in 2013 that you co-authored, entitled These Broken Stars. Can you tell us about working with Disney Hyperion?

So far it’s been great! Though really, this far out from publication, your only experience is with the editors. Marketing and even cover design and so forth won’t kick in for a while, so we’ve only got our editor and her assistant (while our editor was on maternity leave) to look at. But we’ve loved working with them, and we’re really excited to see how it goes from here on out.

What made you decide to co-author a book instead of going it alone? What writing process did you and your co-author use?

It wasn’t ever really a decision. Amie and I have been writing together for six years, but we’d just never considered doing it publicly or professionally. For us, it was playing. We’d come up with pairs of characters and intriguing situations, and just have fun with it. It wasn’t until I signed with my agent for Skylark that we realized that our current “project” would probably make a pretty good novel. We’d been playing with these characters for about a year, so we knew them like the backs of our hands. It was never that one of us got an idea and sought the other out to work with… it was both of ours, from the very beginning.

As far as process is concerned, the novel is told through alternating perspectives, so we each took one POV. That’s putting it a bit simplistically though, because we always “play” through the characters first, each writing our “own” character’s dialogue. So even though, for example, I may have written a given chapter, the dialogue in it would have been written by both of us, in turn. So really, the chapters are inextricably both of ours.

Authors must struggle through the submission process. What is your philosophy on rejections? Do you still receive them now?

Rejection was actually much more of a roadblock before I ever submitted anything. I was scared of querying because I was worried rejections might dampen my enthusiasm for writing. And because I love writing so much, that prospect was pretty terrifying. What I ended up doing was making a plan. I had about a hundred agents researched, and at least 50 individual, personalized query letters written before I ever sent out the first one. The plan was that the very same day I got a rejection from one, I’d send out the next letter on my list. The tendency is to fall into despair and lose momentum. So I’d send out the next letter and give myself 24 hours to feel sad, and then pick myself back up again. (You can read more on my querying journey here, if you’re interested!)

And as far as rejection these days is concerned, I don’t face rejection in the sense of submitting things that editors turn down. With two series going, I haven’t done any submitting of manuscripts since then. But what I do face is negative reviews! So far I have the good fortune of having mostly positive reviews, but that doesn’t lessen the heartbreak when you get negative ones. And these days, particularly in the YA field, there are a lot of bloggers and online reviewers who take great delight in being particularly nasty. So in many ways that form of rejection can be pretty harsh, because it’s not the professional form rejection you get from agents and editors. It’s rejection someone labored over!

How did you hear about the Odyssey Writing Workshop?

I met my good friend Sarah J. Maas, whose book Throne of Glass also just came out, back in a college creative writing class, where we both bemoaned the sad and sorry state of the creative writing department there. I know I’m not alone in my experience–a lot of “genre fiction is pointless, you must be literary!” I knew that I didn’t want to do an MFA and waste more time being told that fantasy has no substance, but I didn’t have the faintest idea of how to get published. So Sarah told me about Odyssey, and I put off applying for years… until one day I woke up in the middle of the night (literally) and KNEW I had to do something to get moving with writing.

Why did you decide to attend, and what surprised you most about what you learned there?

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I actually applied to Odyssey with the mindset, “I already know how to write, I just need to know how to get published.” So I decided to attend in order to learn more about selling stories and the publishing biz. I think that lasted about half a day. That first week, that “Odyssey shock” pretty much floored me! There was just SO much to absorb, and I discovered that talking craft is absolutely the most fun thing to do after writing itself. I realized I had a LOT to learn from both Jeanne and my classmates. And in hindsight it’s hands down the best thing I ever did for my writing career.

How much time do you spend on drafting new work, as opposed to taking care of ‘business’?

Oh, this is the sad news. I’d say these days it’s probably 90% business and 10% actually writing. I admit I was pretty shocked at how much time the business stuff takes up. I kind of always thought authors had to be exaggerating about that. But there’s all the stuff that goes with working from home/being a small business owner as well as promoting your books, and if you work through social media to promote as well, that takes up a LOT of time even if you aren’t trying to follow other people. But this just makes it all the more important to make sure that you set aside time to write every day, when you’ve got a draft to write, because it’s all too easy to justify NOT doing it. Because you’re still working, and often working very hard all day long. You’re just not getting the actual CRAFT done.

What’s next on the writing schedule for you? Are you starting any new projects?

Well, Skylark and These Broken Stars are both books one of three book deals, so I’ve got five more books on top of Skylark contracted. That’s pretty much consuming my immediate future. That said, I have a third of a novel written, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, that I began work on while I was querying Skylark (so that I’d have a new project in case it didn’t get representation). I haven’t been able to spend much time with it since, but it’s a story I love with every fiber of my being, so it’s coming out in little drips and dribbles. The soonest that would come out, though, would be 2015!


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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