Interview: Graduate and Guest Lecturer Meagan Spooner

MeaganSpoonerMeagan Spooner, 2009 Odyssey graduate and bestselling author, will be a guest lecturer at the 2016 Odyssey Writing Workshops. Meagan 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 the bestselling young adult fantasy Skylark Trilogy (Skylark, Shadowlark and Lark Ascending). She is also, with Amie Kaufman, the co-author of the young adult science fiction Starbound Trilogy (These Broken Stars, This Shattered World and Their Fractured Light, from Disney Hyperion). These Broken Stars won Australia’s Aurealis Award, and the storyline has been optioned for television.

More information about Meg can be found at http://www.meaganspooner.com.


We last interviewed you back in 2012, just as you were launching not one, but two trilogies—Skylark, written by you, and Starbound (which includes the Aurealis Award-winning These Broken Stars), co-written with Amie Kaufman. You’ve been very busy! Catch us up on the last three years.

It’s been crazy. Most of the time I feel like it’s been a decade since that first book, but then I look back and realize it’s only been three years and I end up feeling dizzy. Since 2012 I’ve sold two more series, which are forthcoming from Disney Hyperion and HarperCollins. The first is another series co-written with Amie, with the short pitch of “Indiana Jones meets Lara Croft in space,” called Unearthed. The second is an entirely new series of standalone fairy tale re-tellings, starting with Hunted,which is “Beauty and the Beast” re-telling blended with elements of Russian folklore. Fairy tales are a particular passion of mine, so getting to work in that sub-genre is a dream come true!

Congratulations to you and Amie for selling TV rights for These Broken Stars!  What can you tell us about this exciting process?

Very little, unfortunately! Partly because a lot of what goes on in these broken starsHollywood isn’t made public until things are definite (as in, picked up by a network!) but mostly because we don’t even really understand it all. It’s all producers and showrunners and backers and pitch meetings, and we do our best to keep our focus where it belongs: on the books! I can say, though, that Amie and I have been unbelievably fortunate in who we’re working with. We’ve met with and spoken quite a bit with Eric Balfour, one of the stars of SyFy’s Haven, and the original driving force behind the TBS [These Broken Stars] TV show. He’s a smart, story-savvy guy who’s just incredibly passionate about the series, and dedicated to making sure it’s done right. He updates Amie and I all the time, and consults us on the creative decisions, a luxury most authors don’t get when they surrender screen rights to their books! We’re very excited to see where it goes, because we know whatever they end up doing, it’s going to be fantastic.

What about the book do you think attracted the producers to this story?

I think what appeals most to the team behind the TV show is that while the story unfolds on an epic scale, spanning multiple planets and complex intertwined histories for the conflicts, the important moments in the books are very intimate. The fates of those involved (and ultimately the fate of mankind, in the final book) come down to the decisions of the six main characters, all of whom undergo significant transformations throughout the series. It’s great to have books that feel cinematic and grand, but I think it’s the smaller moments, the difficult choices and sacrifices and triumphs, that make a story worth experiencing, whatever the medium.

You recently completed your Skylark trilogy. Did you know how the trilogy would end when you began writing the first book? Are you more of a planner, or more of a pantser?

Not only did I not know how the trilogy would end when I began writing Skylark, I didn’t even know it would be a trilogy. I queried agents with the magic phrase, “standalone novel with series potential” but I was barely able to imagine getting an agent, much less a book deal, so it didn’t even occur to me to figure out how I’d actually make it a series. At that time, trilogies were all the rage in YA SFF, and while my agent warned me that interested publishers might want Skylark to be a trilogy, I have to admit I still didn’t really believe that would happen. It was a Friday afternoon when I was told: “Congratulations, these publishers want to buy your book! You’re going to need to have full synopses for books two and three by Monday.” That was a very, very hectic weekend. But I’m totally a pantser. For me, the joy of writing is similar to the joy of reading… I write to find out what’s going to happen next!

How does solo-writing a trilogy compare to co-writing a trilogy?  What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you started writing the Skylark trilogy?

skylarkFor me, solo writing and collaborative writing are very different. I love them both, and ideally, would love to keep doing both for as long as I can still sell books. The best part about having a co-author is that you’ve got a built-in sounding board who is every bit as intimately acquainted with the story as you are, and someone right there making sure you write your parts and send them back. As for Skylark, I wouldn’t really change anything about how I wrote it, but I do wish I could travel back in time to the months leading up to its release and tell myself to CALM DOWN. I’m not someone who likes to feel helpless or powerless, and in traditional publishing, you lose all control over absolutely everything once you hand your manuscript in. I wasted so much time and energy worrying about and trying to affect promotion and sales and all these things I couldn’t influence in the slightest–but learning to deal with that is just part of the process. Every first-time author freaks the hell out, and every first-time author eventually learns to take a breath, step back from the book once you hand it to your publisher, and focus instead on your next project.

Is there anything you learned at Odyssey that prepared you for all the things you’re doing now?

Way, WAY too many things to count. Outside of all of the craft and style knowledge (which is invaluable) I think one of the most important things I learned at Odyssey was that I could write on command. I always used to believe I had to wait for the “muse” to inspire me, that I needed exactly the right circumstances and plenty of time and quiet to come up with good writing. At Odyssey you don’t have that luxury–in the latter weeks, you’re writing all your stories in the few hours you’ve got between critique workshops and passing out at night. And if you want to make writing a career, for the most part you don’t get to wait until you feel like writing. It’s a job, and you have to go to work. With my schedule, at any given time I’m working on between 3 and 5 different books with different publishers/editors at different stages of the process (drafting, revision on my own, revision with editors, line edits/copy edits/style edits, proofreading, promotion). If I was still waiting for my muse, I don’t think I’d have ever finished that first book, much less the books that followed. Skylark was the first novel I ever finished writing, and it’s no coincidence that it was written in the year following my time at Odyssey.

Lark Ascending was published last October, This Shattered World was published last December, and Their Fractured Light is slated for publication this December.  How does it feel to be on the verge of wrapping up these trilogies?

So many mixed feelings! On the one hand, by the time a book comes out, you’re usually one or two books ahead of it in terms of what you’re working on. So from my perspective, I wrapped up both those trilogies at least a year ago, and my head’s in different projects now. But the other side of the coin is that for readers, this is the culmination of all the time and emotional capital they’ve invested in your series, and that has to be one of the best parts about being an author. By the time you hit that third book, you’re very aware that you’re writing for an audience–and though I might be biased, I think the YA audience is the best kind. They’re incredibly involved and enthusiastic, and not shy about expressing their feelings. So by the time you hit book three, you’re working so hard not to let those readers down. So the countdown to release day is a nerve-wracking and often bittersweet time, because you know this is it.

Was it easy to bounce between series, or was one trilogy primarily written before the other?

The books were written simultaneously, each staggered about six months after the other, so I’d be revising one while drafting another while planning a third, etc. But switching between them was never all that difficult. There are stylistic differences, and because both series are very much told from inside the main characters’ heads, it’s impossible to conflate the voices–it’d be like confusing two friends you’ve known for years. It was harder to switch between writing “modes” than the books themselves–to go from drafting to revising to drafting to copy edits to promotion all in the same week still makes my head spin.

How has your writing process changed, if at all, in the years since attending Odyssey? What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

My process has gotten much more structured. I used to wait until I really FELT like writing before sitting down to write. Now, I sit down and write until I feel like writing. I have a daily schedule that I stick to like it’s my religion, and Odyssey was the start of learning how to do that, with its daily structured schedules. I think my biggest weakness is probably excessive loquacity (just look at how long my interview answers are). But I’m learning, slowly but surely. I learn a little more with each book I write. When you attend Odyssey, you get hit in the face abruptly with the realization that there’s so much more to story-telling than you ever realized–I think the people who wind up becoming successful writers are the ones that end up feeling energized or even delighted by that realization (you know, after the initial shock and despair and I’ve-made-a-huge-mistake wear off). The more you learn about telling stories, the more you realize how much you still don’t know. That’s why writing never, ever gets old.

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