Today, I welcome debut author M.K. England to talk about their writing process, how writing without an outline is terrifying (hard same, here!), the usefulness of story seeds and specificity, and representation in their debut YA science fiction novel, THE DISASTERS, out now from Harper Teen!
Welcome, M.K. and happy reading!
M.K. England is an author and YA librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida and now calls the mountains of Virginia home.
When they’re not writing or librarianing, MK can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding their video game addiction, or talking way too much about space and science literacy.
They love Star Wars with a desperate, heedless passion. It’s best if you never speak of Sherlock Holmes in their presence. You’ll regret it. THE DISASTERS is their debut novel. Follow them at www.mkengland.com.
Find M.K. online:
What is your writing origin story?
I’ve always loved reading and have dreamed of being an author since I was a kid. Sadly, I was painfully self-conscious for most of my life and couldn’t handle the terror of seeing my own words on the page, much less actually sharing my writing. I had to be perfect at something the first time I attempted it or I was an utter failure. I loved creative writing assignments in English class because then I HAD to write, but I never went beyond that. Throughout my early 20s, I collected scraps of paper with ideas, but never got up the courage to write any of it. Mid-20s, I finally started writing… the same book three times over three different years. I finally said FINISH SOMETHING DANGIT and forced myself to finish my first book NaNoWriMo-style in February of 2014. It was an awful book, but I learned a lot. Most importantly, I learned I COULD actually finish a book. Later that same year I wrote THE DISASTERS. I signed with my agent and sold the book in early 2016.
What inspires your writing and how do you keep that inspiration alive?
I’ve always wanted to write because of the way stories make me feel. When I read adventures or romance, it fills me with a sort of enthusiasm and ambition for life. This was especially true for me as a kid and teen. Stories build me up! That’s the kind of experience I want to create for my readers, and the kind of experience I still seek out in a lot of the reading I do. I feed that inspiration with creative works that fit the bill in all mediums: video games, TV shows, books, podcasts, movies, tabletop games, pen and paper RPGs, and so on. I want to keep that feeling alive in me!
What does representation mean to you and how does it feature in your writing?
Representation means everyone gets to have the feeling I described above. Everyone should be able to see themselves as the one with the power to dig into life and shape the world. Representation is really important to the world of THE DISASTERS because it’s set in Earth’s future. The people in the book are a reflection of all the people who were in my life at the time of its writing, especially my nieces and library teens (I’m a YA librarian). When I look forward two hundred years, of course it’s them who are saving the galaxy. What would it say if the fictional future weren’t full of beautiful diversity?
What are some of your favorite tropes (or ways to subvert them)?
I wrote a lot of my favorite tropes into THE DISASTERS: found families, misfits, spaceship crews. On the romance side of things, I lovelovelove fake dating, friends to lovers, and anything that involves a queer couple coming out with a giant middle finger to the homophobes. In terms of subverting, I’m always a fan of anything that plays with gender and orientation.
What is your writing process?
I’m a big outliner. I find the prospect of diving into a story without a plan totally terrifying, and I’ve tried it before—it doesn’t work for me. My stories start out as little idea seeds that sit around for months or years until they bump into the right catalyst. Usually sometime around then a little bit of dialogue from the main character will pop into my head that gives me their voice, and once I have that I know I’m ready to start outlining. I’m a total external thinker, so I have to talk out the plot exhaustively with critique partners or family.
What is your best piece of writing advice?
If you haven’t finished something, FINISH SOMETHING. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, just race for the end to prove to yourself you can do it. Sometimes that’s the biggest lesson you need to learn. It was for me. Other than that, specificity is key when it comes to writing great characters. They aren’t just archetypes moving through a conflict, they’re also people who take exactly three drops of milk in their tea, who always step on ONLY the black tiles at the mall, and who totally overuse the word “badass” to the point that their friends want to strangle them. What are the weird things you know and love/hate about your friends and loved ones, and how can you get to that level of specificity with your characters?
What is the hardest lesson you learned while writing?
I have to be meaner to my characters. I really soak up the mood of whatever I’m reading or writing, so I can occasionally pull my punches when I should be leaning in harder. Gotta twist the knife!
What do you hope readers will take away from your work?
Whoever you are, you have power, you have a voice, and you can be okay.
What is a great queer book you have read recently?
Okay, I know I’m a YA person, but I gotta recommend this great series of adult mysteries featuring the detective Roxane Weary. She’s a bi woman, a badass private investigator, and my personal favorite, she isn’t good with emotion and has lots of issues and demons to battle. There have been two books so far (The Last Place You Look and What You Want to See), and there’s a third coming in July 2019. Just… AHHHH! Read read read! (content warning for sexual assault in the first book)
What are you currently working on? What’s next for you?
Right now I’m working on copyedits for my second book, which will be out in early 2020. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy mashup, a futuristic world with magic, full of queer characters and mental health stuff. My main character is a total hufflepuff who thinks she’s a slytherin and can’t process an emotion to save her life. Can’t wait for y’all to meet her! I’m also getting ready to submit the sample chapters for what I hoooope will be my third book, which is another wild space adventure, but heavier on the queer romance. Fingers crossed!
The Breakfast Club meets Guardians of the Galaxy in this YA sci-fi adventure by debut author M. K. England.
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy.
Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run, Nax and his fellow failures plan to pull off a dangerous heist to spread the truth. Because they may not be “Academy material,” and they may not even get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
Full of high-stakes action, subversive humor, and underdogs becoming heroes, this YA sci-fi adventure is perfect for fans of Illuminae, Heart of Iron, or the cult classic TV show Firefly and is also a page-turning thrill ride that anyone—not just space nerds—can enjoy.