Today, YA Sci-Fi author Joshua David Bellin stopped by to talk about his upcoming release.
The earliest piece of my writing that survives is a three-line story I composed in kindergarten about an ant, a giraffe, and a whale. The earliest piece I wrote that I thought of as a novel was a story titled “The Slowest Runner,” which I began when I was eight. It lasted about a page before I ran out of steam (I guess I was the slowest runner!). It wasn’t until high school that I completed my first novel, an epic fantasy titled To Alter the Past. A family friend who was in publishing looked at it, and I had the typical high hopes that my career was about to take off, but he told me (in a very polite and encouraging way) that I needed to work longer on my craft. As it turns out, “longer” meant about thirty years!
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
Complete and total pantser. Sometimes I wish I could be more of a planner, but I always find that I need to start writing before I know what I want to say.
For my debut novel Survival Colony Nine, a YA sci-fi adventure, the only thing I had in mind when I started writing was a setting (a future, desert world), a main character (fourteen-year-old Querry Genn) with a serious problem (traumatic memory loss), a relationship (with his father), and a bunch of really cool monsters (the Skaldi, creatures that consume and mimic human hosts). But I had to do the actual writing before I knew why the world was the way it was, how Querry lost his memory, where the Skaldi came from, and how the whole thing was going to resolve itself. That meant a lot of false starts, loose ends, and major revisions before I was done. But it also meant a lot of wonderful discoveries I never could have foreseen when I began.
3. Can you give us an idea of your writing process?
I try to write every day. That’s not always easy with a full-time job and a family, but usually I can get to it after the kids are asleep (I’m not a morning person). I re-read the chapter I’m working on before adding more, because I need that time to get back into the writing and to remind myself of what I was talking about. I make lots of changes as I write, so I’m kind of a slow drafter. And I’m absolutely adamant about the importance of editors. Though I don’t question anyone’s decision to self-publish, for me there was never any doubt I’d go the traditional route. I needed my agent (Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency) and editor (Karen Wojtyla of Margaret K. McElderry Books) to help me fashion the rough material of my most finished version into a truly publishable novel.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
When I was younger, I read mostly fantasy and sci-fi: Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula Le Guin. As I got older I started reading the classics, and the ones that stuck with me were not only the works of sci-fi or fantasy–Frankenstein, The Time Machine, Cat’s Cradle–but the ones that seemed to have a “fantastic” spin even if they were realist works: Moby-Dick, The World According to Garp, Portnoy’s Complaint. These days, most of what I read is YA, but I still look for works of raw imaginative power and verbal virtuosity, and I find them in writers like Suzanne Collins, James Dashner, Chris Howard, Scott Blagden, Paolo Bacigalupi, Markus Zusak, Leah Bobet, and many others.
5. What are your plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of?
Survival Colony Nine comes out on September 23, 2014 (and it’s already listed on Goodreads, so you can add it to your “to-read” shelf right now!). I’ve completed the draft of a follow-up, currently titled Scavenger of Souls, and my agent is looking it over. I’m also about midway through a deep space sci-fi romance tentatively titled Freefall, so we’ll see where that goes. After that, I have about fifteen bare-bones ideas in mind, and it’ll just be a matter of choosing which one to tackle first!
6. Any tips for new writers?
My best tip is to get outside yourself. The advice “write what you know” can be terribly limiting if you take it too literally. A writing teacher once told me you should “write what you want to know,” and I think that’s a much better way to put it. One of my most successful short stories was told from the point of view of a young woman whose grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. I don’t have direct experience with that perspective, but I very much wanted to know what it might be like. And of course, I have no direct experience with surviving global catastrophe and facing identity-stealing monsters either. But that scenario intrigued me, and I was incredibly curious to find out how people would live under such extreme circumstances. The best, really the only, way to find out was to write about it.
7. Any tips for old writers?
Any tip I give to “old” writers will mostly be a tip to myself–but here goes! My main tip is to write for love. Debuting rather late in the game, I think I appreciate what a rare privilege it is to be able to complete, much less publish, a novel. It may seem from Twitter and Amazon and Facebook as if everyone out there is doing it, but in reality, only a tiny percentage of people have the time, resources, and just plain luck to enjoy this privilege. So I think it’s kind of greedy to insist that you have to be climbing the bestseller lists too! If it happens, I won’t turn it down. But if it doesn’t, I hope I’ll always treasure this thing I’ve been given the opportunity to do.
Connect with Joshua:
Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7393959.Joshua_David_Bellin
Survival Colony Nine: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18457362-survival-colony-nine