Tuesday, June 12, 2018

0 H. A. Swain, author of SUPERMOON, on wrenching drama out of a story with a wall of color-coded post-it notes

We're delighted to have H. A. Swain join us to chat about her latest novel, SUPERMOON.

Heather, what was your inspiration for writing SUPERMOON?

When I discovered that NASA will send you a text every time the International Space Station flies over your location, I completed nerded out! (You can sign up here.) My kids and I would run outside, jump up and down and wave like maniacs (as if they could see us?) whenever the ISS zoomed by. I became fascinated with the idea of life beyond Earth. I started reading about colonizing the Moon and thinking about what that will mean for the humans who stay on Earth.

What scene was really hard for you to write and why, and is that the one of which you are most proud? Or is there another scene you particularly love?

The scene in which Uma (the Moonling runaway) gets scooped up by security drones and carried away from Talitha (her Earthling friend) was particularly challenging and rewarding. I wanted the reader to connect to the physicality of being lifted into the air and struggling to get free but also understand that getting free would mean plummeting to her death. I researched the logistics of how Uma could be picked up, what the landscape below her would look like, and whether she could free herself without dying. That scene took many, many rewrites, but in the end, I think it’s one of the most exciting and emotionally heart-wrenching scenes in the book.

What book or books would most resonate with readers who love your book--or visa versa?

For readers who want more intergalactic love from a feminist perspective try The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

For a chilling take on a dystopian futuristic Earth and the girl who might be about to save it, check out Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

For what might happen if the Earth and the Moon collide, read the Susan Beth Pfeffer series Life As We Knew It.

How long did you work on SUPERMOON?

I wrote for about 18 months. I had several false starts because it took me a long time to understand what I was trying to say about AlphaZonia—the post-tsunami, privatized version of Los Angeles inhabited by the most privileged Earthlings. I wanted that world to be a commentary on vapid on-line culture and a look at what could happen if corporate power goes unchecked. At the same time, I wanted AlphaZonia to be fantastic and enticing so that it was fun to read about. Once I hit upon the character of RayNay DeShoppingCart (my favorite portmanteau of all time) I understood how I could make that all happen and the book clicked into place.

What did this book teach you about writing or about yourself?

I spent more time plotting this book than I have with other manuscripts. I had an entire wall of color-coded post-it notes with scenes that I would constantly rearrange until I felt I had wrenched the most drama and excitement out of the story as I could.

What do you hope readers will take away from SUPERMOON?

The message of SUPERMOON is the same message as my other two futuristic thrillers, HUNGRY and GIFTED. If we are going to survive as a species on this planet we have to do a better job at taking care of the Earth and of one another. The division between haves and have-nots is too great and we are plundering resources at an alarming rate—all in the name of greed and profit. I’m a fundamentally optimistic person, but I worry about the long-term future if we don’t consider how political, economic, and environmental choices will affect our survival as a species.

How long or hard was your road to publication? How many books did you write before this one, and how many never got published?

I am incredibly grateful to have a relationship with my editor (Liz Szabla) at Feiwel & Friends. SUPERMOON is the third young adult novel we’ve done together (and the tenth book I’ve had published), so in that sense, the publishing road for this book was smooth. However, like most authors, the path to this point has been long, circuitous, full of rejection, and sometimes heart-breaking. I STILL have book ideas rejected * sigh * but that’s just part of publishing. All writers who want to publish will be rejected. The trick is picking yourself up after the heart break of rejection and writing something else.

Was there an AHA! moment along your road to publication where something suddenly sank in and you felt you had the key to writing a novel? What was it?

I have to admit, this question made me laugh out loud! As if I knew?!? Every single time I start working on a new book, I panic and feel certain that I have no idea what I’m doing. Once I’m done with a book, I marvel at it and wonder how on Earth I did it. Then I am 100% convinced that I will never, ever write another book. But somehow, I do. I guess the answer to the question then is this: The key to writing a novel is persevering through the panic of not knowing what you’re doing and writing until you get it done.

What's your writing ritual like? Do you listen to music? Work at home or at a coffee shop or the library, etc?

I am an anytime-anywhere writer. I’m not remotely precious about it. My writing life has always been a balancing act with working and raising children. I didn’t start writing until I was in my late twenties when I was already out of grad school, married, and teaching full time, then soon after that I had two kids, so I’ve never had the experience (er, um luxury) of writing being my sole focus.

When I taught full-time, I would get up at 5am and write for 90 minutes before I had to be at school. Once I had kids, I’d peck out scenes with one hand on my lap top while nursing a baby or I’d grab fifteen minutes to write while my kids napped. I’ve always shoe-horned writing time into my day. Because of that, I’ve trained myself to block out all distraction and get straight to work.

One trick I use—I always finish writing in the middle of a scene that way my brain keeps working while I’m away from my computer and the next time I sit down to work, I have a lot of material to spill.

What advice would you most like to pass along to other writers?

Write because writing makes you happy. I think we tend to get caught up in pedigree and publication. Wonderful writers who create beautiful work feel unqualified to call themselves writers if they don’t have an MFA or a big book deal. Publishing is a business over which you have very little control. Writing and publishing are different things. You are a writer if you write. End of story.

What are you working on now?

I have a project I’m very excited about, but it’s in the early stages and I’m superstitious so I won’t talk about it yet.

ABOUT THE BOOK

SuperMoon
by H. A. Swain
Hardcover
Feiwel & Friends
Released 6/12/2018

Sol is the month between June and July on the thirteen-month Moon calendar. It's the only time teenagers have to themselves between rigorous scientific training and their ultimate lab assignments in their colony on the Moon. Their families emigrated from Earth to build better lives; but life on the Moon is far from perfect, as Uma learns on the eve of Sol.

Uma meets an Earthen girl who becomes a fast friend, and much more. What Uma doesn't know is that the girl is assigned to infect Uma with a plague that a rogue faction of Earthen scientists hope will wipe out Moon soldiers. Will Uma be the cause of a pandemic? Whom can she trust, and moreover, whom does she love?

Purchase SuperMoon at Amazon
Purchase SuperMoon at IndieBound
View SuperMoon on Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heather Swain lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, two children, a dog, and two cats. She is the author of five novels for young adults, two kids craft books, two illustrated children's books, two novels for grown ups, and numerous short stories, personal essays, and non-fiction articles.

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Have you had a chance to read SUPERMOON yet? Are you able to pick yourself up after the heart break of rejection and write something else? Do you write because it makes you happy? Share your thoughts about the interview in the comments!

Happy Reading,

Jocelyn, Halli, Martina, Charlotte, Anisaa, Erin, Susan, Shelly, Kelly, Laura, Emily, and Lori Ann

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