Today I’m chatting with Susan Kaye Quinn, author of the Mindjack series and Debt Collector Series. I’ve read the first several episodes of the Debt Collector and am currently midway through the Mindjack books and completely hooked. Read on to find out more about Quinn’s writing style and get a peek at some of her upcoming books.
How does your background as a rocket scientist play into your writing? Does it influence either your writing style or your stories?
My engineering background and experiences influence my stories, just like the rest of my life does: I pull snippets from places I’ve visited, things I’ve seen, even tastes and smells. The technology is all invented, but it draws on my technical understanding of our increasingly technical world. I don’t think it influences my writing style – at least I hope not! Dry writing seems de rigueur for academia, at least when I was publishing in it.
Your Young Adult Science Fiction book Open Minds is set in a world where everyone reads minds except the main character, who discovers she is a special breed that can do more than read them, but actually influence them. In book 2, Closed Hearts, we discover there is yet another variety of individuals: keepers. Where did you get the idea for this world full of mental powers and how did you develop the levels within these cool mental abilities?
My original concept for Open Minds only had the mindreading… and the one girl who couldn’t. The fact that there were even mindjackers in the story didn’t come out until part way through the first draft! That story definitely evolved organically in the beginning, with me discovering how Kira’s world worked along with her. By the time I decided to publish Open Minds and write the rest of the trilogy, though, I had a firm idea of where the story was going. Kira thinks she’s unique (in a bad way) in the first book – even when she finds she’s not the only mindjacker, she’s unique among them with her abilities. It was important to show that she was less unique than she thought in the second book – and to help her find her place within that spectrum of the growing mindjacker community. The brain is an amazingly complex thing that we only barely understand, no matter how much MRI imaging and brain-modeling we do – and it provides an endlessly fascinating playground to play in. Mindjacking is an “evolution”– a second unlocking, if you will – of the original story’s premise about unleashing the mind-reading ability within our brains. The different kinds of mindjacking are evolutions of different parts of the brain – handlers manipulate the instinctual parts, scribes tear apart the connections and reassemble them, and keepers have the ability to block everyone else, their brain barriers an impenetrable fortress of the mind. (Playing with this stuff is just fun. 🙂 )
You had great success with your Mindjack series, selling over 10,000 books in a year. What’s your secret? Why do you think the books have been so popular and do you have any tricks for other new authors out there?
My secret is that I sacrifice goats to the Amazonian Gods. (Joking. No goats were harmed in the production of these books.) I did reach 10k sales of Open Minds in the first year, and now with the trilogy out, and 18 months after the release of Open Minds, the books are still going strong (I recently passed the 30k mark for total sales in the series). I wish there was a magic secret I could bottle and give to my friends, but there’s really only one answer to why any book is popular: people want to read it. The formula for that is some combination of cover, blurb, concept, and what I like to call “stickiness” – that thing where, after you read a book, you like it so much that you press it into the hands of all your friends and say, “read this!” Open Minds has that, plus it’s in the YA paranormal/SF genre, which sells reasonably well. Oftentimes genre is a huge part of success – if you write something that’s currently selling like ice water in July, you’re going to have greater success than snow cones in December.
After the Mindjack series got big within the Young Adult crowd, you published your Debt Collector series, which contains mature themes and targets an adult audience. What made you decide to change? Will you go back to YA or stick with adult fiction?
The concept for Debt Collector grabbed me by the throat and insisted I write it. Because I’m indie publishing, I can experiment with things like darker themes and odd-ball formats like serials. A lot of the readers of my YA series are actually adults, so I figured there might be some overlap in audience. I don’t actually think of it as a “change” so much as an “exploration” – in many ways Debt Collector is like Mindjack for Adults. A lot of the same gripping moral choices and mind-power abilities (only in this case sanctioned by the government in chilling ways), but with a lot more sex and death. LOL! As for future works, I already have a lighter steampunk romance in the works (Third Daughter) and have plans to start another YA SF series (Singularity) this Fall. And I have a middle grade book I want to revise and send out (Faery Swap). Some people say you should stick with one “brand” and not deviate (or use pennames). Others say you should experiment around, until you see what sells and what doesn’t. I’m doing both – mostly because I’m letting my creative curiosity guide me. That’s part of the freedom of indie publishing, and I’m embracing it.
What is your technique/strategy for writing a first draft? Do you believe in prewriting, and if so, what does it consist of?
I’ve been known to completely pants my way through a novel, and I’ve been known to write 19k word “outlines.” In some ways, the story guides the process as much as the process guides the story. For Debt Collector, I’ve got a partial outline, but I’m pantsing as I go. Which is somewhat brave (read: crazy), given that I’m publishing on a schedule. But that’s part of the high-wire experiment that serial writing is (for me, at least).
What does your editing process look like?
I write; I revise; I send to critique partners; I revise and rewrite. That gets me (usually) close to the final story. After that it’s a few more rounds of polish and proofing and then the reader gets to see it.
What are your favorite novels?
Levianthan series by Scott Westerfeld. White Cat series by Holly Black. Wool by Hugh Howey.
Coffee fuels writing—true or false and why?
False. It’s tea consumed in coffee shops, because writers are nothing if not sneaky little liars. 😉
I’ve heard hints and rumors of Steampunk in your future. What can you tell us about this mystery project?
That would be Third Daughter, my east-indian influenced steampunk fantasy romance. I’ve been trying to mash another genre in there somewhere… that book was great fun to write, and is a true romance, which is different from my other books (where romance was a subplot). I pitch it as steampunk goes to Bollywood, and here’s the (still rough) blurb:
The Third Daughter of the Queen wants her birthday to arrive so she’ll be free to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon may force her to accept a barbarian prince’s proposal for a peace-brokering marriage. Desperate to marry the charming courtesan she loves, Aniri agrees to the prince’s marriage proposal as a subterfuge in order to spy on him, find the weapon, and hopefully avoid both war and an arranged marriage to a man she does not love.
One of the toughest, and most rewarding, parts about writing east-indian steampunk has been mashing together those two lush, gorgeous aesthetics! My Third Daughter Pinterest page gives you a feel for what that looks like.
I need to finish up Season One of Debt Collector (two more episodes to write!), and then I’ll be back to revising Third Daughter. My hope is to have it out by August.
Young Adult Science Fiction (Mindjack, Singularity). Future-Noir (Debt Collector). Steampunk (Third Daughter). Dimension-Traveling Faeries (Faery Swap).
Sounds like a grab bag from the library!
But all my books combine speculative fiction elements with wrenching moral choices, even the romance and the middle grade novels. So, while the age range may vary, and the stories may come out anything from thrillers to adventure to romance, the common thread (I hope) is a story that entertains the reader while making them think. And one that readers of all ages and flavors (I hope) will enjoy.
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