The Roanoke Girls Blog Tour. Editorial Interview.

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel is one of the most emotional and thought provoking reads of 2017 so far for me, today as part of the blog tour I’m talking to the editor who helped bring it all to fruition – Emily Kitchin. Thanks so much Emily!

So we are talking about The Roanoke Girls today – beautifully written and hard hitting emotionally, tell us a bit about what you thought when you first read it in the early stages.

The Roanoke Girls drew me in immediately. One of the first things we find out is that Lane (the main character)’s mother has died: ‘The second time I saw Roanoke was a month after my mother committed suicide… Her death showed a kind of dedication, a purpose, I’d never seen from her in life.’ The starkness of that, and the fact that Lane seems quite indifferent to her death, intrigued me straight away, and I knew that this was going to be one of those books I wouldn’t be able to put down. As well as Amy’s beautiful, suspenseful writing, the dark mystery of the Roanoke girls, and the curse which has befallen the family over generations (either the girls run away, or they die), made for incredibly compelling and disturbing reading. I couldn’t tear myself away from the pages – and I knew that this was a book I had to publish!

Now we can’t really talk about the central premise to this without spoilers so maybe we can talk around it a bit – The Roanoke Girls is really less psychological thriller and more pure character study, the Roanoke Girls seemingly having huge privilege but there are huge costs as well – how well do you think this author has captured that, made it real.

This is a great question! One of the things I love most about The Roanoke Girls is the way that Amy creates this image of the Roanoke women as these beautiful, privileged creatures, who all share the same long, dark hair and ice-blue eyes, who are all envied and lusted after by the men and women of the small Kansas town where the book is set – but that image is underpinned by darkness. On the surface, the girls seem to have it all – but underneath they’re all damaged in different ways, all suffering. The contrast between their beauty and the disturbed, twisted legacy of the Roanoke family is utterly chilling, and it’s what gives the book its power.

Looking at the final version in comparison to the original work, can you talk a little about the editing process, which I know I find fascinating having been delving into that a little myself lately – as an Editor, what is your first job when reading a manuscript you are going to work on?

In this case, The Roanoke Girls was edited by Amy’s US editor – the brilliant Hilary Teeman at Crown in the US. Hilary had already edited the book before we acquired the rights. In general, if I’m editing an author’s work, I read the manuscript once without making any notes – I’m reading it and responding to it as a regular reader would. Then I go back through it and evaluate it critically, making notes which will eventually become an editorial letter, which often goes alongside a line edit of the manuscript using tracked changes.

It is a very collaborative process – how important is the relationship between author and editor, and how did you and Amy bond?

The relationship between author and editor is the most important one there is. It’s often said that for an author, trusting an editor with their book is a bit like trusting them with their child… and I think there’s some truth in that. The author has worked on this project for ages, and it’s something they’re incredibly close to – and they have to trust their editor to totally ‘get’ their vision, and be proactive and passionate and strategic in publishing it. I’ve been lucky to work with Amy on two novels already – her brilliant young adult duology, The Book of Ivy – so we already had a good working relationship, which I’m pleased to say has stepped up a notch with our publication of The Roanoke Girls. My team and I are also sure to be very communicative with Amy, her agent and Crown’s team, too, so hopefully Amy feels supported and in the loop at all times, and process on both sides of the Atlantic feels very collaborative and joined-up.

How would you describe The Roanoke Girls to someone who is considering reading it?

I would describe it as a darkly disturbing, suspenseful mystery about the deeply twisted secrets families keep – beautifully written, incredibly atmospheric, and not for the faint-hearted! This is a book which will imprint itself on your soul and stay with you long after you turn the last page. And I’d say that if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn, The Virgin Suicides or Flowers in the Attic, it’s a book which you’ll love.

Thank you!

About the Book:

Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

Read My Review

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The Last Act Of Hattie Hoffman. Blog Tour interview with Mindy Mejia.

Today I am VERY happy to welcome Mindy Mejia to the blog talking about her brilliant novel The Last Act of Hattie Hoffman.

 

Tell us a little about what started Hattie’s story in your head – was it her as a character that began the journey or was it a hint of an idea?

I grew up in a small town surrounded by a lot of farmland. There was one decrepit barn that stood at the edge of a pond. Every year the barn seemed to sink a little further into the water and that was the initial image I had for this story, of Hattie’s body in that barn.

In the novel she is very divisive, on one hand very innocent but on the other can be manipulative – if you had to describe her personality in one short paragraph what would you say?

Hattie is a natural actress, a people pleaser, but she doesn’t inhabit her roles altruistically. She does it because she’s persuasive enough to get away with it, which feeds into a bit of her natural teenage narcissism. The truth is that she’s sometimes a victim of her own manipulations. She believes what she’s selling, and that’s makes her very compelling.

The events that unfold in the novel are very emotive and have some intriguing themes running through them – not least the differing relationships Hattie has with those around her. How much do you think that our interactions with those close to us change our perceptions, and how much do you think is just ingrained in ourselves. OOH look that was quite a deep question don’t worry the next one will be easier…

Okay, (big breath), let’s paddle into the deep end of the pool. One of the major themes of this book is identity, and I think it’s commonly perceived as a static thing—that our personalities and behaviors come from some fixed noun that we think of as our ‘self’—when actually we are much more like verbs. We are bundles of dynamic, changing energy and of course we change as we respond to those around us. Hattie is more changeable than most of us, but we are all affected by our relationships. As humans we have to keep growing and evolving. The idea of a static personality means your brain is done breathing. (Swimming frantically back to the shallow end.)

What do you hope that people will take away from Hattie? Ok that wasn’t THAT much easier, the next one will be I promise!

Marginally easier. High expectations for the next question now. We all look for an escape when we pick up a novel, and I think the best fiction has the power to set us back in our worlds with new eyes and a greater sense of empathy, because we’ve just walked in someone else’s shoes. For a small town, there’s a fairly big cast of characters in HATTIE and I hope readers will empathize with at least one of them. Maybe even one they didn’t expect to.

Do you read avidly yourself? If so are there one or two novels you’ve read recently that you would like to recommend? See that one was easier, yes?

Finally! Yes, I would read all day if I could. I finished GOOD AS GONE by Amy Gentry recently and that was an addictive, utterly absorbing read. Her use of the dual POV in diverging timelines is mesmerizing.

Finally, just for a bit of fun, tell us 3 things about you that are unlikely to come up generally when you are promoting the book.

1. I enjoy reading the reasoning in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

2. I can purchase train tickets in Japanese.

3. Olives are disgusting. That’s not something about me. It’s just something everyone else needs to realize.

Thanks so much!

Thanks for having me on your blog!

Read my Review HERE

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Latest Reads: Summary Justice by John Fairfax

Publication Date: Available Now from Little Brown.

Source: Netgalley

The last time Tess de Vere saw William Benson she was a law student on work experience. He was a twenty-one year old, led from the dock of the Old Bailey to begin a life sentence for murder. He’d said he was innocent. She’d believed him.

Sixteen years later Tess overhears a couple of hacks mocking a newcomer to the London Bar, a no-hoper with a murder conviction, running his own show from an old fishmonger’s in Spitalfields. That night she walks back into Benson’s life. The price of his rehabilitation – and access to the Bar – is an admission of guilt to the killing of Paul Harbeton, whose family have vowed revenge. He’s an outcast. The government wants to shut him down and no solicitor will instruct him. But he’s subsidised by a mystery benefactor and a desperate woman has turned to him for help: Sarah Collingstone, mother of a child with special needs, accused of slaying her wealthy lover. It’s a hopeless case and the murder trial, Benson’s first, starts in four days. The evidence is overwhelming but like Benson long ago, she swears she’s innocent.

Thoroughly enjoyed this legal thriller from John Fairfax (AKA William Broderick) it was full of bang on addictive quality, clever plotting and intriguing fascinating characters.

Our main two, Will and Tess have an emotional start to their interaction when Will is convicted of murder. Years later, having served his time and taken on the law as a career (not that easy with a murder conviction) Tess comes across him again – and again decides to help him. The levels of both characters are explored slowly but surely within the plot for this and that was one of my favourite things about it. I was drawn to these two for very different reasons.

Then there was the trial elements which were highly engaging and very twisty – as was the whole story surrounding Sarah Collingstone, in the dock accused of murdering her employer. John Fairfax throws a lot of curve balls at his protagonists, keeping the plot unpredictable and fast flowing, whilst also managing to keep a firm eye on developing the background plot of whether or not William Benson is in fact a murderer himself.

Key to this being so much fun to read were the little legal explanations of why things can or can’t happen (I can’t speak to the authenticity in reality of course but the authors background would suggest he knows what he is doing and it certainly FELT authentic) that kept your understanding of the legal maneuvers easy but without taking you out of the story or feeling lectured (believe me that is a huge plus) you felt like you were there on the ground so to speak, excellent stuff.

As a start to the series it was spot on – you learn so much about Will, about Tess, about those around them but there is a lot still to know – I’m genuinely looking forward to another instalment and hopefully finding out more. Both the main characters are brilliantly drawn, both have fascinating paths to where we find them here, both have a lot more to say.

As a legal mystery Summary Justice works very well indeed. As a character drama it is perhaps even better, put the two together and you have a genuinely absorbing and captivating read that I will happily recommend.

Lets have more!

You can purchase Summary Justice HERE

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All Our Wrong Today’s – Elan Mastai. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Michael Joseph

Source: Review Copy

So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have.

That means nothing to you, obviously, because you live here, in the crappy world we do have.

But it never should’ve turned out like this. And it’s all my fault – well, me and to a lesser extent my father.

And, yeah, I guess a little bit Penelope.

In both worlds, she’s the love of my life. But only a single version of her can exist.

I have one impossible chance to fix history’s greatest mistake and save this broken world.

Except it means saving one Penelope and losing the other forever – and I have absolutely no idea which to choose . . .

Beautifully done. Think Sliding Doors with added geekery and a wonderfully written deftly developed plot using a clear and funny character voice.

Poor Tom. He’s a bit useless really. So you probably don’t want him messing around with timelines and technology but he has an impressively intelligent and famous Father and is constantly wandering about in his shadow and disappointing him. Then Tom falls in love. What happens next is funny, engaging, full of little life insights and a whole lot of joy to read.

The humour is quirky and ironic, the time travel aspects are full of scientific what if scenario’s (except here of course the what if’s are actually happening) this is a love story on a sugar high (but not at all saccharine) Elan Mastai has an unconventional slightly wacky writing style that immerses you into Tom’s world and has you rooting for him all the way.

The short snappy chapters make this an ideal book for bedtime (or anytime that you just want to have a fast moment of indulgence reading) and also keep the story flowing out in somewhat linear style. The world Tom occupies is a strange utopia, an impressively imagined one, then of course being Tom he goes and messes around with things. Almost casually, often on a whim, sometimes through sheer emotional frustration. As a character he has many levels and I loved reading his story.

Overall All Our Wrong Today’s is a beauty of a read. Different, peculiar, often bizarre but ever bewitching, the kind of utterly captivating read you need to take you away from the mundane routine of life. I loved it.

Highly Recommended.

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Stasi Wolf – Interview with David Young

Today I’m VERY happy to be having a chat to David Young all about his follow up novel to Stasi Child, the pretty brilliant Stasi Wolf.

RIGHT so (hey I’m actually going to write a review to go along with these, just mere weeks after reading it – I must be unwell) but let’s get right to the heart of things. The main premise for Stasi Wolf is emotionally hard hitting and could be said to make for traumatic reading, but as last time is utterly gripping. Tell me a bit about what made you go with that central theme. Without spoilers. It is a challenge.

There were three things that fed into it. Two real-life murder cases, and also a feeling that I wanted to explore the after effects of WW2 on East Germany, particularly on women as my main detective protagonist is female. The idea of babies going missing from a hospital was inspired by a real-life case of multiple infanticide at a Leipzig hospital where the Stasi took over the investigation to keep it secret, and avoid alarming the public. Little was known about this until last month when it featured in a German TV documentary, so I was slightly ahead of the game (for once!).

Karin goes through the mill in this instalment – is a very different person at the end of it, her story arc was one of the best parts of Stasi Wolf for me – how do you see her progress and what might be next for her?

I think she becomes a different character quite quickly in this book. She’s forced to impose herself — at the start she doesn’t have Tilsner as her crutch. She learns a lot more about her family background too — some of it quite shocking. I suspect her story arc may not be as dramatic in Book 3. She is still part of the system. Her every move will be a compromise. But there are more shocks in store as the series develops. Some characters will reappear from Stasi Child through the series — some of whom you might have thought you’d said goodbye to.

The historical aspects as ever are brilliantly done – how much research and hair clutching goes into making it so authentic?

I do carry out extensive research, and I enjoy it. But my books aren’t fictionalisation of real stories, unlike some historical fiction. I use real stories as springboards and then extrapolate them. Hopefully the overall framework has an air of authenticity — that’s what I strive for. Some East Germans who’ve read the books agree, some don’t! But then people’s own memories of the GDR vary hugely depending on their own experiences. At the end of the day, my stories are fiction, so I don’t pull my hair out over it. I hope anyone reading my books would be inspired to seek out the real history, but no-one should accept a novel as historical fact without questioning it.

What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Thinking up the story and then writing the first draft. It’s very exciting creating this new world. I hate the editing process — although I recognise its necessity and value. I long for the time when an editor comes back without any suggested changes. It’ll never happen!

Finally, can you tell us anything about what is next for you?

I’ve just signed a new three book deal, although one of those is the third book from the first deal, renegotiated at a higher rate thanks to the success of Stasi Child. I’m about to start a redraft of Book 3, which takes Müller to the far east of the GDR, on the Polish border. And I’m researching and then writing Book 4, which again springs from horrific events in WW2.

Thanks lovely David – I’ll have that blog post from you soon right? 😉

You haven’t asked me for one! As soon as you do, it will be there by return of post (if you believe that, you’ll believe anything!)

About the Book:

East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image.

Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . .

Stasi Wolf is just brilliant – and rather emotional to be honest – first of all our favourite (well mine anyway) Karin gets all sorts of life hiccups thrown at her here and during all that she is on the trail of some missing children – but in her world things are never straight forward with the Stasi looking over her shoulder at every turn.

The writing in these is pitch perfect – engaging, historically authentic and I think it is the subtle nuances of the scene setting that make these so addictive – in Stasi Wolf perhaps even more than in Stasi Child because you’ve already absorbed some of the history and have an inkling at what our characters are going to face. David Young paces things brilliantly, throws some real curveballs your way, all the while tugging at the heartstrings with a heart breaker of a tale and an incredibly emotive ending.

If you want tough, clever historical crime novels these are the books for you.

Highly Recommended.

Find out more here

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25708878

East Berlin, 1975

When Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body at the foot of the wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other: the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.

Müller is a member of the national police, but the case has Stasi written all over it. Karin is tasked with uncovering the identity of the girl, but her Stasi handlers assure her that the perpetrators are from the West ­- and strongly discourage her asking questions.

The evidence doesn’t add up, and Muller soon realises the crime scene has been staged. But this is not a regime that tolerates a curious mind, and Muller doesn’t realise that the trail she’s following will lead her dangerously close to home . . .

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The Sixth Window – Quickfire Q and A with Rachel Abbott.

Today to celebrate the release of her latest novel, The Sixth Window, I have a bit of an interview with the lovely Rachel Abbott.

If I had to go back in time and choose another career…

I’d be a psychiatrist. Writing psychological thrillers has made me think a lot about how people’s minds work, and to be able to understand that even better would be wonderful.

My guilty pleasure…

Chocolate gingers. I can eat a whole packet in one sitting!

The book (by another author) that I wish I had written…

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. A whole book without knowing the protagonist’s name! And somehow thinking that a murderer had done a good thing!

The one piece of advice I would give my teenage self…

Never go on a stupid diet when you absolutely don’t need to.

If I had to choose between appearing on Strictly Come Dancing or X Factor…

It would have to be X Factor – I love to sing and I’m a rubbish dancer. I’d be stretching the Overs group on X Factor somewhat, though!

My favourite city in the world…

Venice. An easy answer. I love everything about it.

If I could only have one meal for the rest of my life it would be….

Curry. A real, authentic, Indian curry – probably a chicken one with the special lemons they have there. Hot, but not burn your throat hot.

Favourite book to read again and again and again….

Gone with the Wind – the characters are all so amazing and so vivid. It may not technically be up there with the greats, but I love it.

What would be your specialist subject be on Mastermind?

Food and drink, I suspect. I love to cook (and eat) – hence the remark about diets above!

Who would play you in a movie of your life?

I would love it to be Julie Walters. I think she’s capable of laughing at herself as much as making other people laugh. It would be great to say Helen Mirren, but sadly I’m not that glamourous.

Favourite current TV show?

I’m cheating a bit here, because it’s not on right now – but Masterchef Australia. Not any of the other Masterchefs – just this one. You can probably see a bit of a theme here! I look forward to it each year – far more so than most TV dramas (although I can’t wait for more Happy Valley).

My most memorable meal…

There are SO many to choose from. Probably a meal at a restaurant called Uliassi in Senigallia, Italy. The chef is unbelievably talented, and on a terrace overlooking the beach we were served the Menu Degustazione – about eleven tiny courses of sublime food.

The best thing about being a writer…

Being able to invent characters, each of whom I understand completely (probably more than most people I know) and allowing them to do their best, or their worst.

About the book: 

THE TRUTH HURTS – BUT LIES ARE DEADLY

After eighteen months of grieving for her husband Bernie, killed in a horrific hit and run accident, Natalie Gray has found love with her husband’s best friend – Ed Cooper – and has moved herself and fifteen-year-old daughter, Scarlett, into his home. But Natalie begins to suspect Ed has a dark side – and even darker intentions.

Desperate to get her daughter to a place of safety, she and Scarlett move to a new home that holds secrets of its own. But has removing Scarlett from one potential threat placed her in far greater danger?

DCI Tom Douglas is also chasing the truth, as his investigation into the suicide of a teenage girl draws him ever closer to Natalie and Scarlett. But will he be too late to protect them from the peril they face, or from the truths that will tear their lives apart.

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Cursed Thomas Enger. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: May 2017 from Orenda Books.

Source: Review Copy

When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, where she has been grieving for her recently dead father, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. With the loss of his son to deal with, as well as threats to his own life and to that of his ex-wife, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history.

Oh I DEVOURED this one. I’ll let you into a little secret, I’m terribly disorganised and only realised  at the beginning of this week that I was supposed to be doing this today. Good job its a damned fine bit of storytelling as I read it in 3 hours straight on Monday evening. Sssh don’t tell anyone…

What you CAN tell them is that for any fan of Nordic Noir Thomas Enger is a must read. Beautifully atmospheric, really quite addictive and although this is my first taste of this series it certainly won’t be the last – also, you don’t need to worry about not having read the previous novels. The lovely Mr Enger tells you all you need to know without generally spoiling anything.

Things I loved:

The opening – it just  drops you right into things, no holds barred this is not a book that waits to present itself.

Once it HAS Thomas Enger then takes you on a taut, immersive, highly compelling journey towards a brilliantly placed and clever conclusion.

Nora and Henning: Their shared grief over the loss of their son and their still deep feeling relationship is palpable. Clever clever characterisation with many layers that shone through despite me coming into it at book 4.

The sense of place. Terrific terrific and huge kudos to the translator as well as the author. Beautiful writing all the way.

Journalists as main protagonists rather than police officers. Opened up so much, made for a different feeling mystery element, allowed for some intelligent plotting that kept Cursed as addictive as chocolate – the very very best kind of book calories. A good evenings intake.

Big fan. Big big fan. That would be me.

Highly Recommended.

 

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The Chalk Pit – Elly Griffiths. Blog Tour Review.

Publication Date: Available Now from Quercus

Source: Review Copy

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they are recent – the boiling not the medieval curiosity she thought – DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard of a vast network of old chalk-mining tunnels under King’s Lynn, home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

I’m a HUGE fan of the Ruth Galloway novels so it was a treat to be sure to receive a copy of The Chalk Pit for review and it did not disappoint. Also, caused me to randomly shiver at inopportune moments.

This novel has many layers as ever, a homeless community that may have taken refuge underground, the “Chalk Pit” of the title, some go missing and Ruth Galloway finds that the bones she has been asked to assess may not be so ancient after all. Cue the usual brilliant forensic insight that peppers the whole series, combined with those intriguing and utterly compelling mystery elements, some familiar and unfamiliar characters and basically you are good to go.

I read this in two sittings, they never stay on the currently reading pile for long, so fascinating especially the science which is written in very accessible terms and the character dynamics as built up over the course of the novels always make you really keen for the next in the series. One of my favourites to be sure and long may it continue.

As a main protagonist, Ruth Galloway is endlessly engaging, anchoring each story and keeping you right in the action. No change here – she is what keeps me coming back for more.

Excellent writing, excellent plotting, some utterly riveting detail and always a banging good story means this whole series comes highly recommended by me.

 

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Fear The Silence with D. Nolan Clark and Forsaken Skies.

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Today I am very happy to welcome D Nolan Clark to the site, talking about his writing process and creating aliens. Love this!

THE WRITER’S PROCESS: DESIGNING ALIEN SPECIES

by D. Nolan Clark

The writer who wants to invent an alien species faces a number of obstacles that require creative solutions. Aliens are by definition unlike anything found on Earth, and the writer needs to get that across. You can only get so far with blue cat aliens or Martians who look just like us except for a latex prosthetic on their foreheads. Aliens that satisfy readers and viewers, aliens that mean something, need to surprise or shock us with their differences from what we know. It can be a daunting task to create an alien species from scratch, but like all world-building it can also be fun and it can even open up your story, give it new dimensions you would never otherwise have considered.

I’d like to share my process for creating aliens. Obviously every writer has their own technique and this is hardly a definitive guide, but at the very least I hope it’ll spark some creativity.

My alien designs go through five main steps, each as important as the last. I tend to go through them in this order:

1) Concept: What role will the aliens play in your story? Are they violent aggressors or wise teachers? Are they a metaphor for people on Earth, or are they intended to evoke the strange and exotic? The concept of your aliens will shape the story in many ways. It may even become the crux of your tale. Do your aliens have three sexes, or seven, or none at all? Humans interacting with an asexual species could be the start of lots of interesting tales, and let a writer examine human sexuality from an outsider’s perspective—as an example. Your aliens don’t have to drive your story, but you still need to know why they’re there and how they’ll relate to your human characters.

2) Evolution: Assuming your aliens came from a planet of their own, what did that planet look like? How hot was it, how strong was the gravity? Every element you can imagine of the alien homeworld will have a massive effect on what your aliens look like now. If they evolved on a water world, they’re likely to have fins and maybe gills. If they come from a dry place they might have scales or nictitating membranes. Studying Earthly animals can be a great font of inspiration here, but make sure you don’t just lean on biology as we know it. Aliens that just look like bipedal buffalos aren’t nearly as interesting as creatures that evolved on a dark world and therefore have no eyes, but find their way around by echolocation. Knowing what senses your aliens possess will greatly shape how they perceive us. Details of their physiology will utterly define how we see them. How big are they? If they come from a high-gravity planet, they’re likely to be low to the ground and very strong by our standards, while aliens from a low-gravity environment will be frail and delicate when they come to Earth. Are they horrifyingly ugly, by human standards, or ethereally beautiful—or both?

3) Culture: Your aliens will have a rich history, a story of their own—a story that could include mistakes and brilliant successes, charismatic leaders and popular movements. History, art, the games they play—these are the things that define how your aliens live now. This is absolutely crucial to know. What aliens look like is almost less important than how their society works. This is also one of the great pitfalls of science fiction. It’s an old cliché that all aliens from a given planet dress alike, have the same form of government, enjoy a single form of art, etc. It’s a cliché because it works, to a degree—homogeneous aliens are a kind of shorthand, a way for a writer to get big ideas across without muddying the waters, but in the end they feel more like a force of nature than like people. Consider creating multiple religious sects, or simply having one of your aliens stand out because they’re famous among their people for being a terrible dresser, or for their unpopular political opinions. You can spend way too much time on designing alien art movements and changing tastes in music—stuff that may not make it into the final story at all, or that makes your aliens so chaotic that they might as well belong to multiple species (which could be an interesting story in itself, of course). But a little cultural differentiation can really make individual aliens pop. Think how few things all humans agree on—other species are likely to be the same, right? If they’re not, that’s a Concept in itself.

4) Psychology: Beyond what your aliens believe, how do they think? How is their thinking different from that of humans? Most humans value individual experience and freedom. Maybe your aliens have a hive mind. Conversely, humans are social animals, who like to live in close proximity to each other. Maybe your aliens evolved from solitary predators, and they live reclusive lives where they only get together to mate or to wage war. If you want to get really trippy with it, maybe your aliens experience time differently than we do, and can spend an entire week making breakfast, or they don’t recognize individual consciousness at all, and are so confused when they meet humans that they act like we’re invisible. Make it weird—but make sure it’s not so weird that your readers feel lost. Be able to think like your aliens, and to express their ideas as clearly as you express the thoughts and emotions of your human characters.

5) Technology: The previous four steps will likely determine the kind of machines and technologies your aliens use. Alternatively, this could be part of your high concept. How do your aliens relate to humans in terms of their overall development? Are their spaceships faster than ours, or invulnerable to attack, or are they incredibly slow, designed for creatures who think a hundred year journey is a quick joyride? Are your aliens still working on discovering fire, so that first contact with humans is likely to blow their minds? Or have they been tooling around the galaxy so long, and met so many other species, that they’ve seen our like before and aren’t terribly impressed? Technology is not the only factor that defines species, but it is the primary sphere where two species are likely to first interact. Imagine aliens showing up on the White House lawn tomorrow with force fields and the ability to teleport. Even if they claim to come in peace, we’re likely to be terrified of their destructive potential. We could also want very much to trade with them, to get fusion power or the cure for cancer—but what would we have to offer in exchange? On the other hand—maybe we’re at exactly the same level. Maybe our first starship meets their first starship halfway between here and Tau Ceti—what happens next? Do we compete for habitable worlds, or do we join forces to explore the unknown?

As you can probably see, if you want to create aliens you’ve got your work cut out for you. None of these steps is easy, and none of them should be done too quickly. Think of as many cool ideas as you can, right off the top of your head—but then give them time to marinate, to let the puzzle pieces interconnect, a process which can create whole new ideas. If you take some time and let yourself meditate on these factors, you may be astounded at how many story ideas just magically appear. A fascinating, well thought-out alien species is one of the great joys of science fiction. It doesn’t happen overnight, but when it’s done right, it can be the start of something amazing.

About the Book:

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From the dark, cold void came an unknown force. Their target a remote planet, the home for a group of people distancing themselves from mankind and pursuing a path of piety and peace. If they have any chance at survival a disparate group of pilots must come together to fight back any way they can. But the best these aces can do might not be good enough.

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