Monday, June 29, 2015

A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp Blog Tour







Q. How did you come up with the idea for this book? 
A. Well, I knew I wanted to write a sci-fi series for this age group that was fun and adventuresome, while also being grounded in what life is like when you are approaching and in your teens. So one day I sat on my front porch with a clipboard and pen and began brainstorming about what I wanted my characters to be like. I was toying with thoughts about “cultural difference” — the fact that so many of us are blends of races, ethnicities, and cultures — when the idea of being “half alien” came to me as an ultimate form of “difference” for a sci-fi story. Within an hour, the Reade family and their “special talents” were on the page — including the Globots and some Farbookonian characters we’ll meet in later books. I also knew a primary role of the parents would be delivering their incredible robots to humankind. And while I had lots of ideas about where I wanted the series as a whole to go, I felt that Anne and Atticus needed an introduction to Earth human society before any of it could happen. That’s how A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp came to be.

Q. Do you know how you want to end the book series? 
A. Actually, I do. It’s something I’ve known from the beginning, oddly enough. I don’t want to say too much about it though. Not only would it be a huge spoiler, but since it’s so far away, I want to make sure I can that the books take me there naturally.

Q. Who was the easier character to write? 
A. So far the easiest main character to write has been Atticus. I think that’s because he’s younger than Anne and a few characteristics define him very well — his anxiety and his love of animals. But by far the easiest secondary character to write was Mosa. She pretty much jumped onto the page saying, “Hey! I want to play! Write me in!” The dynamic between her and her sister Fatia came very naturally too.

Q. Who was the hardest character to write? 
 A. The hardest character for me to write was Anne. At first I thought she was the easiest, because she is most like me — and a lot like my daughter too. But in the end that actually made her harder to get right. When you are close to something, you really don’t see it as clearly, you know? I thought who she was would be obvious to readers, but because I was so close to her, I frequently left out what readers needed to know to “get” her. I was too glib with her. She’s a little offbeat, which I like, but to represent her more fairly, I had to go back rethink literally everything she said and did.

Q. While writing book one did you ever get writers block? If so, how did you over come it? 
A. No — not what I would call true writer’s block. I have a lengthy response about writer’s block on GoodReads so I won’t repeat that here. I’ll just say that, even under the best of circumstances, you can’t rely on the human brain like you can a machine. When I’m writing, things happen in my life, I cycle through moods, seasons raise and lower my spirits, my confidence wavers, and sleep — don’t get me started on sleep! I need lots of it to function at my highest level. So some days are just naturally better than others. Fortunately, writing a book demands several different kinds of brain work. If writing doesn’t flow for me one day, I might outline instead. Or edit. Or diagram a plot question that’s troubling me. Or update the documents I use to track my characters and plot threads. Or just write badly! Bad days are inevitable. When they happen, I try to remember that good days are too — and that when they come back around, I can fix whatever I mess up on my bad days. ☺

Q. What advice would you say to other people who wants to write books? 
A. If you want to write a book, the most important thing you can do is start putting words down on paper. You don’t have to start with the story. Map a character. Develop your setting. Explore your “what if.” When you feel the urge to write something, go ahead. You might try writing from the point of view of a character, for instance, as that call help you get to know a character better. What you write may or may not be something you end up using. It doesn’t matter. You can toss it, change it, re-do it. And ultimately, knowing what you don’t want your book to sound like is as useful as knowing what you do want it to sound like. There’s no right or wrong way to write a novel. What’s important is to learn what works for you by trying different things and looking at the results you get. Keep at it. Every concrete step you take will bring you closer to your goal than you were the day before.

Q. Is there a lesson to be learned in this book? 
A. Wow, hard question! Not something specific, like a moral, if that’s what you mean. As someone who grew up learning a lot about life and people by reading books, I would say there’s something to be learned just about everywhere. The chance to witness human interaction and see characters face challenges almost always provides food for thought. But what you learn depends on what you need to know, in my opinion, and I did not set out to teach anyone anything particular. That aside, a global takeaway from A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp might be that there are a whole lot of ways to be “different,” or being different isn’t always such a bad thing.

Q. If could co-write with an author would you? And if so who would be your dream co-writer? 
A. Another good question! To be honest, I am not sure. At times, I think it would definitely be a treat to have someone to talk to who is as invested in my plot and characters as I am, so we could wrangle over plot questions — and brainstorm solutions — together. But what are the chances of that? The more realistic answer is that I’m expressing my own vision with my writing, and unless I could find a collaborator who is weird in the same ways I am — or weird in a way that complements my weirdness — it would probably be hard to make our visions mesh.

Q. Do you have any writing habits? 
 A. Does talking to yourself count? Other than my conversations with myself, I write in silence punctuated by barking dogs.

Q. When you start a new book are you map out the book or just write? 
A. For me, the more I know about where I’m going, the better I write. If I don’t know where I’m heading, I wander hopelessly, or spend too much time on details and events that interest me but don’t move the plot. To maintain control, I use many practical tools — outlining, charting, diagramming, deep questioning. But I don’t necessarily map out the whole book in one blow. I know the ending before I start, then it’s more like map, write, map, write, map, write. And so I inch along. 






Character Interview With Maylin Sòng (Anne’s Bunkmate in A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp)
Q. Welcome, Maylin! Thanks for agreeing to talk to us. Should we get started? What is your favorite thing about yourself?
A.
Oh. Well, that’s kind of an embarrassing question. So-o-o ... hmm. Okay, I guess I’m — wait, really? I mean, I hate to use up my pass on the first question but ... Yeah. Pass.

Q. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
A.
Much easier! I would be more — patient? When I have something on my mind, I can’t think about anything else. Even if there’s nothing I can do about it. Like right now, for instance. Anne’s father gave me Anne’s email address, but I have to wait until they get moved into their new house and someone sets up her computer and hopefully a phone. Right now we can’t video or talk or even write because Dark Ages! How did people even live before technology?! It’s only been one day — and I probably only have to wait a day or two more — but I can’t take my mind off it. It’s a problem. I need to talk to her. When she finally logs on, she’s going to see about 50 emails from SO-not-patient me!

Q. You talk about your mom in A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp, and we meet her at the end of camp. Who else is in your family?
A.
*shrugs* My dad’s not really in the picture, you know? It’s okay that you asked, but I don’t really want to talk about him. And I totally hate it when someone gets all “oh I’m so sad for you” over that, so please, don’t be sad for me! I’m not sad so I don’t really know who you’d be sad for. I live with my mom and Aunt Mingmei (my mom’s younger sister) and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Q. No judgment! Sounds cozy! So what’s your favorite thing to do together as a family?
A.
Yay! Another easy one: Watching movies together at home. All three of us love it. If competitive analyzing and talking was a thing, my mom and Aunt Mingmei would be the world champions. When I was little, they sat on either side of me and talked to me through every movie we watched to make sure I got stuff! I loved it then, but when I got older it got annoying because I wanted to get stuff on my own. So get this: Now they take notes so they don’t forget what they want to talk about! After the movie’s over, I just sit back at let them go at it. I can barely listen as fast as they can talk! The thing is, they’re super interesting. And I totally love it when I say something they didn’t think of. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, they go quiet for about 10 whole seconds, then take off again, only on the reboot they include what I said! Okay, so it’s nerd joy ...

Q. In A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp, Anne and Atticus go to camp for the first time. But you’ve spent other summers at the same camp. How was this summer different?
A.
Wow, how wasn’t it different? Did you ever do that thing with two magnets where they snap together? That’s how Anne and I became friends. It was instant. I never had a friend like that before. But really, everyone was different — and not just because we were a year older. I think because Anne and Atticus were new and questioned everything, we all started asking ourselves the same things. Like yeah, why is so-and-so always so mean? And why do I hang out with this person and not that one? You know? It’s like we all suddenly realized we had choices — then these invisible gears rotated, shuffling people I already knew into this perfect group of friends! Who knew that was even possible?! Amazing. And that doesn’t even touch on the bad stuff (which Marie said I shouldn’t talk about by the way). So the short answer? Before and after. My life will be forever divided into what it was like before this summer and whatever comes after it.

Q. It’s pretty clear from A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp that you really like science fiction. A.
You can say it. It’s okay: I’m a little obsessed. No, wait — you can’t be “a little” obsessed – obsessed means “a lot,” right? So okay, I’m just obsessed. I don’t skip meals or not do my homework because of it or anything, but I’m definitely into it. Wait – what was the question?

Q. I haven’t asked it yet! If you could be in any science fiction movie ever made, what would it be.
A.
Wow. Okay. Right back to before and after. Up until this summer, I would have said Star Wars. I wouldn’t want to be a character though. I’d want to be a techie behind the scenes — the one in charge of the robots. I kind of have — had — a thing for C3PO and R2D2. Dream job: Keeping the robots in line. But that’s all changed. You do get that my very own life became science fiction this summer, right? For as long as I can see into the future, I think reality’s going to be enough for me — it might even be more than I can handle.

Q. What would be the perfect gift for you?
A.
*big smile*

Q. I sense that you are thinking about your perfect gift ...
A.
*bigger smile*

Q. Okay, you’re right. This is a no-brainer. A robot?
A.
* huge smile while nodding vigorously*

Q. All right, Maylin. Thank you so much for talking to us today. In A Brief Stay at Earth Human Camp, you promised Anne and Atticus you’d send them a sci-fi watch-list after camp, and I understand you’re going to share it with us, too. Is there anything you want to say about it?
A.
Oh, yes! Thanks. Well, first of all, this list could easily have been 100 titles long. It was SO hard to keep it to 20! To make it work, I tried to define science fiction as our relationship to science, space, or the future. This eliminated paranormal and horror, which is an arguable distinction, but definitely helped me stick to the limit. Also, I tried to choose an early representative of what you might call each subgenre, then didn’t repeat other examples in that category. For example, I included Gozilla, but left out Mothra and King Kong. The way I see it, if you love Gozilla, you’ll be motivated to seek the others out. As another example, I included The Thing From Another World, but left out The Blob. (Heehee, notice I just secretly added some titles to the list?) There are definitely some places where this gets blurry. That probably just reflects my personal taste. The only other thing I would say is that, in terms of how sci-fi has evolved so far, you can’t leave out sci-fi books! But that’s a topic for another day. ☺





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