Sara Creasy’s debut novel, Song of Scarabaeus came out in 2010 and was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award. Her second novel, Children of Scarabaeus is coming out March 29, 2011 from Eos’s new incarnation, Harper Voyager. You can read the first chapter on her website.
1) I wish I could have grown up in a tumbling-down Victorian house with secret rooms! Can you tell us more about the house’s secrets?
My dad convinced us all that the previous owner had murdered his wife and buried her in the cellar. Half the cellar was, indeed, bricked off, and there were a few bricks missing, leaving a creepy hole… My dad used the cellar to store wine and for his woodwork, rather innocuous stuff, but I always hated going down there.
2) You’ve lived in several countries. What prompted those moves, and how did it affect your writing?
My dad moved us all from the UK to Australia when I was a teenager. He wanted to move somewhere warm, he says. A few years ago I married an American and moved to Arizona because my husband had a good job and dogs, while I was freelancing and had no pets, so I was more mobile. Then last year after our baby was born and the dogs had since died and my husband’s job became unstable, we made the move back to Australia. If all these moves have affected my writing, I’m not sure how. I’ve lived “all over the world” but these are three English-speaking countries with cultures about as similar as you can get! Selling all my stuff and leaving friends and family has been hard to do, although these days, with cheap phone calls and emailing and instant messaging, it’s easier to not feel cut off.
3) How much and what kind of writing did you do before being published?
I wrote stories for my own amusement, nothing novel-length. My sister and I used to write horrible soap opera scripts (inspired by American daytime soaps) where the characters kept freaking out because their “cawfee” machines were broken, and equally horrible family sagas about promiscuous girls having dozens of children with different men. Yes, you read that right. Anyway, not exactly masterpieces. At college I read a lot of science fiction and later I read the slush pile for Aurealis, an Australian SF magazine. During that time, even though I was absorbing a lot of valuable information about writing, I didn’t think I had the skill or staying power to write my own stuff. I did write some short stories but tended not to finish them very often.
4) What was your path to publication? Was it an adventure?
It was really very typical, exactly what editors and agents would tell you to do, I think. I workshopped my manuscript, rewrote it, and edited it for over 5 years. I submitted it to appropriate agents following their guidelines to a T. I had three requests for the full and landed agent Kristin Nelson. She had me rewrite the book again before sending it to six top SF editors. We got four quick rejections for various reasons. Then the Christmas holidays intervened. I was thinking we’d have to go to the “b” list of editors. Suddenly, we got two offers and had the luxury of choosing.
5) Many writers say they go through a stage when they hate what they’ve written. Did you ever feel that way about Song of Scarabaeus? If so, how did you get through it?
I never hated that book – I confess I still like reading bits of it now and then, even though I should be thoroughly sick of it. It was the first book I wrote so I feel quite attached to it. Of course, in all the rewriting I had to dump a lot of the stuff I was so attached to. At some point in the process I had to stop thinking of it as my firstborn and start thinking of it as a commodity I was trying to sell.
6) What was your editing process for this novel? How many people were involved?
I worked for years as an editor so I was constantly editing the manuscript while I wrote it. This is a Very Bad Idea, by the way. It meant my first draft took years to get out. The main rewriting happened, as I said, when my agent got hold of it. And then again the “edit letter” from Diana Gill at HarperCollins Eos (now Harper Voyager). During the publication process there was the usual copyedit, which picks up grammar and repetition problems as well as minor plot problems.
7) Were any changes suggested to you during this process that you were reluctant to make?
Not really – I think I got great feedback. The ending, in particular, is stronger. There was a push to beef up the romance angle, and I did that just a little, but I was always aware that with a sequel in the works, I didn’t want things to move too fast in the first book. Also, I didn’t write the book as science fiction romance. I didn’t know such a genre existed. I wasn’t aware of trying to fit the relationship between Edie and Finn into a “romance” mold.
8) Did you always intend for the stories of Scarabaeus to be a series? Dare we hope for several more?
I doubt there will be several more! I have too many other ideas I need to get through first. I did intend for there to be two or three books. Right now, I’m stopping at two.
9) In what ways do you use social media with regards to your writing?
If you mean promotion, I have been a bit reluctant to get into all that because I don’t really know quite what to do with it, to be honest. When I’m in a writerly mood I don’t want to be dashing off to Twitter to talk about a cool new character I just created, or stopping to write a blog post on a completely different subject. With Children of Scarabaeus coming out this month, I am doing some guest blogs and interviews that I hope will reach a wider audience. When it comes to research, I use the internet all the time of course!
10) What is your favorite electronic or digital tool to use for writing?
No secrets there – I use Microsoft Word like just about everyone else. My document is set up so that the chapter header and a short description of the chapter are styled for the table of contents generator, which then forms a sort of quick-look summary as well as keeping track of how long each chapter is. I use a desktop PC but would love to shift to a laptop, if only I could get used to the keyboards on those things. I also have an Alphasmart, which is a simple portable electronic keyboard. I can get a lot of writing done on that because there’s no internet to distract me. Also, I can only read 6 lines at a time and that, combined with there being no mouse, makes it really hard to edit as I go. So I just write and write.
11) What is your favorite non-electronic writing aide?
12) What is the most persistent distraction from writing?
A 9-month-old baby! It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find blocks of time longer than about 30 minutes in which to write. I can write outlines and do research in short periods of time like that, but I need a few uninterrupted hours to produce actual manuscript draft.
13) What is your ideal writing environment? For example, do you prefer silence or background noise?
I prefer silence. I’m the most productive at four in the morning when everything is dark and still (and particularly if I have a deadline). However, working that late is no longer feasible. I also like it when my husband is sitting here beside me doing his own writing. We feel guilty if we slack off. Guilt is a good motivator.
14) What stage in writing had you reached when your baby was born? Were you able to do any writing at all during those early months?
She was born halfway into my contractually allotted 60 days when I was rewriting Children of Scarabaeus for my editor. It was absolutely dreadful. Well, it was wonderful of course, because I had a beautiful new baby, but it was also impossible. I didn’t want to be doing anything but spend time with her, and instead I had all this work to do. I was completely exhausted and didn’t have a creative thought in my head. In the end I got a one-month extension, and I then missed that deadline by two weeks. I had already been late turning in the manuscript because I couldn’t write for three months the previous year thanks to morning sickness. All in all, not a confluence of events I’d want to repeat. I’m sure I learned… something from the entire experience. I’m just not sure what.
15) In your novels, space ships use jump points for interstellar travel. With all the many theories that scientists and writers have for crossing the vast distances of space, what made you choose this one?
The two main ideas for fast interstellar travel are fancy engines, such as “warp drive”, or wormholes. What I like about wormholes (my fictional wormholes, anyway) is that they aren’t generated by the ship itself. They are where they are and can’t be manipulated. It’s the difference between taking an off-road vehicle to your destination and driving a car, forced to stick to the paved roads. I find that cutting a character’s options leads to a more dramatic plot, because the character has to be more inventive to achieve her goal. Wormholes have some cool effects. They bring two distant places close together, or make two nearby places far apart. And they distort time for the person inside the wormhole. I’m using these concepts in my current work-in-progress.
16) The Scarabaeus books have a strong biological element. What is your background in science?
I have a Bachelor of Science degree, although I’ve never directly used it. I majored in Zoology and Cell Anatomy. The latter is a technical subject where you learn how to observe cells, and what the various organelles within cells do. The former concerns the physiology and behavior of animals – the small scale and the large scale. I always preferred the large scale stuff, how animals live, how they fit into their ecosystems. My books explore what happens when both the micro and the macro biology of an ecosystem goes horribly wrong.
17) My favorite word from Song of Scarabaeus is “Linguish”. What are some of your favorite words that others have coined in the genre?
Well, I don’t know if this counts but I always liked “shiny” from the Firefly TV show. I have a special affinity for that word because I happened to say it when I first met my husband, which he (being a Firefly fan, though I didn’t know it then) thought was too good to be true.
18) This interview will be posted on my blog when it is only one week old! What advice do you have for my fledgling blog?
It takes a while to build up a readership, so be patient. Tag your posts so they can be picked up by bots (sort of like retweeting). Answer comments from readers so they feel involved and will come back for more. And, I suppose, make useful and interesting posts. By the way, I’m not sure I do any of that stuff on my blog, so you probably shouldn’t be taking advice from me.
19) For any readers who have finished writing their first complete science fiction novel, and are thinking about publishing, what would you say is the next critical step?
Workshop the manuscript. Join critters.org (an online workshop for SF, F & H writers), where others will read your manuscript and you get to read theirs. Reading the work of others is a great way to learn what to do and what not to do when it comes to storytelling. Also learn about the business of publishing so you know how to be professional and so you don’t get ripped off.
20) When the day comes that you are presented with a prestigious award, who are you most likely to forget to thank?
If that ever happens I’m sure I’ll be dumbstruck and forget to thank anyone at all. That’s why you’re supposed to write the speech ahead of time, right? Which, believe me, feels reeeeally awkward to do.
Check out another great interview with Sara on the “My Bookish Ways” blog!
And here’s a review of Children of Scarabaeus on Alternative Worlds.
And another review on Dangerous Romance.
Listed in “15 Sci-Fi Romances Your Boyfriend Will Love” on The Galaxy Express.
Vote for Song of Scarabaeus on DABWAHA! (Polling has now closed for this link)
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Great interview! And great questions. I love reading Sara’s interviews because she doesn’t hold back getting a little personal and opening up to her readers.
Sara’s always been a great person to communicate with, and I love her writing.
Good interview AmyBeth,
and thanks for the shoutout, that was so nice!