Friday, July 20, 2012

Feature Friday: S.J. Kincaid

For today's interview we have debut author, S.J. Kincaid, who is super sweet and totally dedicated to being a writer!

S. J. Kincaid was born in Alabama, grew up in California, and attended high school in New Hampshire. She also interned for a politician in Washington, DC, and received degrees from universities in Illinois and Ohio, but it was while living beside a haunted graveyard in Edinburgh, Scotland, that she realized she wanted to be a writer. Several years, several manuscripts, and several jobs later, Ms. Kincaid now lives outside Chicago, and Insignia is her debut novel.

Interview:
A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

S.J.:
It took me seven manuscripts and hundreds of rejections to get published. Be prepared to persist in the face of repeated failure. The only sure path to failure is to quit.

A.L.:
What’s your favorite book and why?

S.J.:
LEGACY by Susan Kay, a novel about Elizabeth I from birth to death. There's a bit more romance than I like nowadays, but that book had such an incredible impact on my life.

A.L.:
Who is your favorite character in Insignia and why?

S.J.:
Ooh, this is hard to say. I really do love a lot of them. Right now, I'd say Vik.

A.L.:
What gave you the inspiration for Insignia?

S.J.:
I read an article about likely futuristic technological developments. The article mentioned the likelihood that future warfare was mostly going to be conducted by unmanned drones, and it just put this whole idea in my head of two advanced powers fighting a war remotely, almost like a massive video game, and the idea just grew and grew.

A.L.:
Was it difficult writing a character as cunning, intelligent, and military-oriented as Tom?

S.J.:
Glad you think that! Well, I always wanted Tom to be clever in a very unconventional way-- very quick on the uptake, but entirely without conventional, book learning. There are some instances when the character is very ignorant, others when he's very sharp, and I definitely have to pay attention when I'm writing so I can be sure I'm consistent there. Regarding the military: technically, the kids are civilians, just wards of the military. I mostly did this because I wanted a lot more freedom for setting up their everyday lives. After all, this book is not set so far in the future that I can pull a 'Starfleet' and completely reinvent the military. Therefore, the entire setting of the book is at a place in the 'clasp' of the military, so to speak, and there are some characters who are officers, but it is not an account of anything close to military life.

When it comes to Tom, he begins the story with a very unpredictable, erratic, unstructured life. It made sense to me that he'd be drawn to something on the other extreme, a life far more structured where expectations are clear, etc. Whether he fits inside that rigid structure, well, that's another matter.

A.L.:
Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what inspired you to become one?

S.J.:
I always enjoyed writing, but I never planned on it as a primary career. I just didn't think it was a field where you could support yourself without a day job. So far, I've been quite lucky, and quite surprised.

A.L.:
Since there’s not a ton about yourself on the net, we have to ask: If you won a Golden Ticket to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, in what part of the factory would you just have to stop and take a taste?

S.J.:
Ooh, probably at that chocolate river thing.

A.L.:
Since Insignia is mapped out to be a trilogy, we assume you’re working on the next book in the series, but is there anything else that you’re also working on?

S.J.:
When I'm working on something, it kind of takes over my brain. I have room for about one crushing obsession at a time, so although I get plot bunnies from time to time, I just write them down and put them away for later. This series currently owns my brain.

A.L.:
There has always been a lot of discussion about whether it’s difficult to write from the male character’s POV as a female writer. Can you tell us a little bit about how you approached writing Tom? Or wasn’t it different at all?

S.J.:
Hmm. I wrote girls the first five (unpublished) manuscripts, then I switched to boys for the next two because I just needed a change. I've never really given much thought to this-is-a-girl, this-is-a-boy or what attributes I need to emphasize. It's really the character that makes the narrative. The boy character I wrote in the manuscript before this one was a much sweeter, more sensitive kid, so he definitely had a different narrative voice than Tom, who is definitely not the most sensitive person out there. I do think I'd have a tougher time writing a convincing male POV if I wrote in first-person.

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing Insignia? If so, how did you overcome them?

S.J.:
One of the snags was just the balance of characters and their traits.

When I started INSIGNIA, I was just coming off my sixth manuscript about this sweet, sensitive boy, Sam. Sam had this friend and nemesis named Dalton who was wildly confident in his abilities, very cocky, rather dark and just a lot of fun to write. For manuscript seven, I wanted someone closer to Dalton, not Sam, as the main character.

I started writing INSIGNIA and noticed I was slipping back into Sam-mode, and he was so not the right character for this story, so I went too far in the other direction, making Tom far too cocky. My agent loved the story but found Tom absolutely infuriating.

At this time, I had five main characters, not four. Two of them were girls-- one a maladjusted girl who had a bit of a crush on Tom, the other a hyper-intelligent girl who had a thing with Yuri. In both cases, neither of those girls were fleshed out enough in my mind or in the story, so instead of dealing with Tom right away, I made this decision to remove those two girls and create one major, second-only-to-Tom girl character. I used some of the traits of both those girls, but a lot of new elements because this girl was so much more real to me, and she became Wyatt Enslow. As soon as I had Wyatt in the story, it was like things fell into place. Suddenly, Tom worked. He was still cocksure, etc. but there was a lot more that came out when Wyatt was in the story with him.

So... Yeah. That was probably the main snag, just getting those main characters in place, getting their traits right, that sort of thing.

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

S.J.:
The short story: I wrote seven manuscripts before I got a contract. It definitely broke my heart to let go of some of the old ones, but I feel it happened at the right time. It really was just a matter of persistence and always trying to write a better, bigger story than the previous one.

For the long story, it's all here.

The Giveaway:
For today's giveaway we have a hardcover copy of S.J.'s debut novel, INSIGNIA, to give away to one lucky winner!

InsigniaMore than anything, Tom Raines wants to be important, though his shadowy life is anything but that. For years, Tom’s drifted from casino to casino with his unlucky gambler of a dad, gaming for their survival. Keeping a roof over their heads depends on a careful combination of skill, luck, con artistry, and staying invisible.

Then one day, Tom stops being invisible. Someone’s been watching his virtual-reality prowess, and he’s offered the incredible—a place at the Pentagonal Spire, an elite military academy. There, Tom’s instincts for combat will be put to the test, and if he passes, he’ll become a member of the Intrasolar Forces, helping to lead his country to victory in World War Three. Finally, he’ll be someone important: a superhuman war machine with the tech skills that every virtual-reality warrior dreams of. Life at the Spire holds everything that Tom’s always wanted—friends, the possibility of a girlfriend, and a life where his every action matters—but what will it cost him?

Gripping and provocative, S. J. Kincaid’s futuristic thrill ride of a debut crackles with memorable characters, tremendous wit, and a vision of the future that asks startling, timely questions about the melding of humanity and technology.


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