My Next Big Thing? I Hope So.


The photo above is entitled Blanik Glider, by Frank Kehren. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

So, Erin tagged me with a meme earlier today. She said she wanted me to write about this. Here’s her introduction:

I was tagged by Elizabeth Wein, author (most recently) of the utterly awesome Code Name Verity, which I reviewed here. I’d like to hear from my hubby James Bow, because I want everyone to know about Icarus Down. I am also tagging RJ Anderson, Zoe Marriott, and Kate Milford.

RJ wrote Ultraviolet, about a girl named Allison who ends up in a mental hospital after confessing to the murder of the most popular girl in town — specifically, disintegrating Ms. Popular with the power of her mind. But that couldn’t be real — could it? But if it isn’t, what really happened to the missing girl? What’s really happening to Allison? Is she crazy, or is there more to it? (Spoiler: there’s more to it.)

Zoe Marriott wrote Shadows on the Moon, which I reviewed here. The high-concept line is “a Japanese Cinderella,” but that doesn’t do it justice. This “Cinderella” sets out deliberately to seduce the prince — and she has good reason to want that kind of power.

Kate Milford wrote the spooky and baroque The Boneshaker, a depression-era “devil comes down to Kansas” story with automata, travelling circuses, snake oil salesmen, and an abandoned town that is Not What It Seems. James read it to me and it’s a gorgeous read-aloud. He reviewed it here.

These are authors that I’ll read anything from — and I’m looking forward to hearing what they’ve got cooking.

  1. What is the working title of your next book?

    The title of my book is Icarus Down. I hope I get to keep it. There is a Slovenian progressive rock group with the same name, but hopefully that will not be an impediment.

  2. Where did the idea come from for the book?

    Unlike Erin, I have a rather mixed record of remembering just where the inspiration for certain stories came from. I suspect it may be because a lot of it comes in conversation with Erin. We often bounce ideas around at each other and say, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool, if?”. But I do have a date and time for the initial inspiration for Icarus Down. Around the end of December 2008, I woke up from a dream, went to my computer and wrote down the following:

    Last night I dreamed about a boy who built himself a kite to fly around the world. It wasn’t a pleasant journey because the people around the world were in distress, fighting each other. But somehow his journey helped enough people to make a difference.

    The boy lived on an isolated village at the top of a huge cliff. His fellow children made fun of him and his wish to fly, until he shocks them all by jumping off the cliff and flying. (Note, even the bullies don’t consider throwing him off the cliff. They just want him to go back to the village to be humiliated. They get a little scared when he proposes to jump)

    I don’t usually dream up stories in my head. I remember some of my dreams, but they don’t in themselves give me enough material to work on. However, this dream clearly has me putting together several sources of inspiration and making them click. I remember Diana Wynne Jones’ The Merlin Conspiracy, where the main character visits this strange, distopian world located within a deep chasm, hiding from a too-bright sun. There was a strict caste system in this society and, the lower on the totem pole you were, the higher you ended up living in this chasm. The truly untouchables (which, naturally, produced some goods that the society could not live without), lived at the very top of the stairs, in full view of the sun, and they bore horrible tumours as a result.

    I was also inspired by Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (truly, that one book has had more influence on my writing than any other) that described the city of Octavia, which is described thus: “If you choose to believe me, good. Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.”

    Clearly, I had a lot of cities on the edges of things, suspended over chasms, on my brain, and they clicked into the City of Iapyx, on the colony world of Icarus Down. And I had a vision of Simon Daud, an unassuming young man, forced by circumstance to fly. All of these compelling ideas came together into a world I had to explore, and Icarus Down is the result.

  3. What genre does your book fall under?

    Young adult science fiction.

  4. What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

    That’s hard to say. I do tend to view some of my stories as movies. I have created “soundtrack albums” on iTunes and I have “cast” actors in some of the roles, but the problem with YA is that by its nature you’ve got to call up young actors, and the actors you have on hand are invariably too old.

    There are three main characters in Icarus Down. The main character is Simon Daud, 17, a young man horribly burned in an accident at the start of the book (or is it an accident?). He’s more charismatic than he thinks, and he often looks sad.

    The second main character is Rachel Caan, 17, a recently graduated nurse on Iapyx (they live an accelerated life in these harsh cities) who is essentially the widow to Simon’s brother, and the woman Simon loves. She’s charged with helping him recover from his burns after his accident. She has honey-brown hair.

    And then there is a mysterious character that Simon names Eliza (16), a wild woman of the fog forest. She has olive-dark skin and black hair.

    I have no clue who could portray these people, though I was impressed by Jennifer Lawrence’s performance during The Hunger Games. She’s usually blonde, but was a brunette during the movie. She could take either role, and I suspect some people would cheer to see her cast as Eliza. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

  5. What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

    One sentence? How about, “Sixty-three years after the crash of the Icarus, one young man is forced to discover the truth behind the disaster, and face the monsters ticking in the fog forest.”

    If I’m given more time, I will go with the brief synopsis posted in my Works In Progress page:

    Three generations after the crash of the Icarus, Iapyx is barely hanging on: one of thirteen cities suspended half-way down deep chasms. The sun on the diamond lands above will kill a man in less than five minutes. The ticktock monsters in the fog forest below are a little slower - but quite a bit smarter. Electromagnetic sleet has disabled the computers, the radios, even the lightbulbs. It’s the steam and clockwork age reborn: a careful society, rationed and stratified.

    Which suits Simon Daud just fine.

    Simon likes the rules, and knows his place - in the shadow of his older brother, Isaac. All he wants is to earn his wings as an ornithopter pilot and get to work in the flight bays. But, on his final test flight, something goes wrong. Isaac is killed. Simon is burned: his body will never be the same.

    Neither will his world. Not everything in Iapyx is quite as it seems. Are there monsters in the forest below? If not, what is hiding in the fog? It seems Isaac was close to finding out.

    The truth waits on the forest floor. Can Simon survive long enough to find it?

  6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

    My book is being represented by Emily Gref of Lowenstein Associates, and she and I have been working very hard to get it into submittable shape. She is utterly brilliant, and once tweeted that she could pitch The Very Hungry Caterpiller as a dark drama thus: “One caterpillar stands alone. He is so. Hungry.”

    I am really, really glad that she’s on my side.

  7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

    Oh, thanks for reminding me: I suspect I’ll owe my wife shoes.

    See, the initial inspiration for Icarus Down came near the end of 2008. By March 2009, I’d put some scenes together (since changed), and I was feeling out the characters, the setting and the plot. At the same time, Erin was getting serious writing the manuscript that would become Sorrows Knot. So, to motivate each other, we decided to have a race we called “Zombies versus Ornithopters”. Whoever finished their manuscript first would get a prize. I’d get an iPhone if I won, and Erin would get shoes. She was comfortably ahead when she started, but by Christmas, I was overtaking her. I was able to call a first draft on June 1, 2010. So, from inspiration to first draft took me eighteen months. Not bad. About as fast as The Dream King’s Daughter, but not as fast as The Unwritten Girl, which went from inspiration to first draft in three months.

    I bought myself an iPhone soon thereafter.

    BUT! Erin’s been plodding along with Sorrow’s Knot, and it was part of the two-book deal that A.A. Levine Books committed to when they bought Plain Kate. She is currently working on the final revisions, and the hope is that we’ll be in print in the fall of 2013.

    That’s the way the industry works: hurry up and wait. Commitment to publish a book is followed by publication in about… two years? Which puts me to Fall 2014, if I’m very lucky.

    So, if we’re looking at the race in terms of who went from inspiration to publication, Erin will probably win handily.

    So, I’ll be buying her shoes.

  8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

    I was directly inspired by the world-building of Diana Wynne Jones — specifically her Merlin Conspiracy, but that book is fantasy and mine is science fiction. In sum, they’re probably very different. I’m told that Icarus Down has a steampunk chic, so if you like steampunk, you’re welcome aboard.

  9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?

    I think that question was answered in #2, above.

  10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

    How about a short sample, straight from the beginning?

    My name is Simon Daud, and I was never the special one.

    My brother Isaac, now: he was a golden boy. He was older than me - two and a half years - and one of those people to whom everything comes easily. He walked into the room and people smiled. He turned in his perfect schoolwork and his teachers smiled. He turned his bright eyes toward a girl, and she smiled. He went to the flight academy a year early, became the youngest full-fledged pilot in our colony’s short history, and the Mayor himself smiled, and gave him a medal. In short, the universe smiled on Isaac. Right up to the day that he died.

    (more here)

As for tagging other writers, I know few writers that Erin doesn’t know, and she’s already tagged four really good ones. So I’ll decline, and invite you to follow Erin’s post and the authors she tagged on this meme

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