Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Interview with author Jodi Meadows on "Science-Fantasy"

What is Science-Fantasy?
Interview with YA author Jodi Meadows

Lately, I've heard the term "Science-Fantasy" a lot in connection with YA literature. Why is the idea of blending science fiction and fantasy within a novel so fascinating? Because science-fantasy uniquely mixes two very different genres of literature, and in so doing, gives birth to amazing stories that draw a new landscape for literature. To find out more about science-fantasy, I interviewed the lovely and uber talented Jodi Meadows, literary aficionado and YA author of the science-fantasy NEWSOUL trilogy...

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your literary road to becoming the author you are today?

Jodi: Certainly! Of course I was a child prodigy with more talent than you could fit in an oil tanker. I graduated university with highest honors when I was only six years old! By seven, I'd finished my first 500,000-word manuscript and had it considered by several well-known publishing houses, but none of them believed I'd written it. Sadly, I would have to wait twenty more years before anyone believed I was capable of writing fiction. Okay, that's all a lie. I didn't even like books until I was in third grade. I stayed home sick one day, but still had to finish the book we were reading for class. I wish I could remember the title -- I'd love to find it again -- but the only thing I can remember about it was there were children trapped in a "haunted" cave. The ghostly wailing turned out to be wind keening over a hidden opening. I was so disappointed when I realized it wasn't a real haunting. But the seed had been planted. I found a few other books I liked...then more and more until I -- gasp! -- enjoyed reading. In seventh grade, my teacher shared WAIT TILL HELEN COMES by Mary Downing Hahn. It was so creepy and, best of all, the ghosts were real. That book, and a few others I discovered as I grew up, made me abandon the idea of becoming an astronaut (I hear you have to be good at math for that, anyway), and decide I really wanted to be a writer.

Q: You queried your debut novel as a science-fantasy. That's a term I'm hearing more and more of lately. How would you describe/characterize science-fantasy? How is it different from the individual genres of science fiction and fantasy?

Jodi: To be honest, this isn't a subgenre I'd considered until a couple of years ago when I wrote a manuscript with dragons, aliens, prophecy, and robotic faeries. That was the first time anyone said "science-fantasy" to me, and I'm still working out what it means. I suppose it would be too easy to say it's a blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. Or science fiction stories where the fantasy is also real. Besides, a lot of science fiction and fantasy elements are the same thing; the difference is in how you explain it. Teleportation can be magic, or it can be alien technology that disassembles you at the molecular level, then puts you back together on the other side. Shapeshifting can be magic, or it can be nanotechnology that rearranges all your bits. (As for what happens to the extra mass when you go from human to rabbit? Still a raging debate!) There are exceptions to every subgenre definition, and plenty of people to get huffy when they think someone is defining something incorrectly. I prefer not to get into arguments about it, so I let them believe what they want to believe. My personal definition would be science fiction + fantasy = true literary love. I like to have a wide definition, rather than try getting into specifics. As long as there are elements of both, if someone wants to call it science-fantasy, that's just fine with me.

Q: In your opinion, what are some great examples of science-fantasy novels out in the bookstores now (regardless if they are shelved as sci-fi or fantasy)? What shining characteristics in those specific novels really made them science-fantasy in your eyes?

Jodi: Oh goodness. I'm not going to be good at this one. I actually had to recruit outside help for this question. Embarrassingly, I haven't read most of these, so I can't comment on specifics, but these are the novels mentioned when I asked a well-read team of writers. ALL THE WINDWRACKED STARS, by Elizabeth Bear The Pern series, by Anne McCaffrey WHO FEARS DEATH, by Nnedi Okorafor THE IRON DRAGON'S DAUGHTER and DRAGONS OF BABEL, by Michael Swanwick The Darkover series, by Marion Zimmer Bradley LORD VALENTINE'S CASTLE, by Robert Silverberg THE GUNSLINGER, by Stephen King Obviously, these are all going on my to-read shelf immediately. And while it's not a novel -- though there are novel tie-ins -- I think STAR WARS is pretty science-fantasy. Spaceships, aliens...and the Force. If the Force isn't magic, I don't know what is.

Q: Where would you like to see the literary parameters of science-fantasy go from here?

Jodi: I just want to see more of it, period. It's fun. There's so much you can do with it, and I'd love to see where other authors' imaginations take them when they realize it's okay to have pegasi surfing the internet.

Q: I know what book I'm going to be standing in line for. Yours! Congratulations on your recent publishing deal for THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY! That is so exciting! Can you tell us more about the books?

Jodi: Thanks! I'm beyond thrilled, and I still can't get over how many people are looking forward to reading it! The pitch we used for Publishers Marketplace is this: About the only girl who is new in a world where everyone is perpetually reincarnated, and her quest to discover why she was born, and what happened to the person she replaced. While that's certainly accurate, we were trying to fit a ton of worldbuilding into just a few words. We didn't have room to mention the science-fantasy: mysteriously glowing temples, altered memories, computerized sylph traps, and gasses that cause the two aspects of centaurs to come apart. Erin is born into this society of extremely old people. Everyone else has been reincarnated dozens of times. Since they remember all their past lives, they have the advantage of learning from mistakes, even the ones that kill them. (What is that BUFFY quote? "Those who fail History [class] are doomed to repeat it in summer school.") For THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY, I imagined people who could take multiple lifetimes to study the genetics of roses, and a world where capital punishment was pointless. Most of all, I imagined what it would like to be new in this society.

Q: From the author's perspective, how is writing YA science-fantasy different from writing other YA books (i.e. urban fantasy, high fantasy)? Any unique and/or difficult/challenging aspects?

Jodi: I didn't set out to write a science-fantasy. As with all my projects, stories, worlds, and characters come fully formed. In ON WRITING, Stephen King compared writing to archaeology. Paraphrasing badly, the story is all one piece, and you must unearth it without destroying it in the process. You learn more about it as you go, but just because you can't see it yet doesn't mean it's not there. This really resonated with me. So ERIN INCARNATE just was a science-fantasy. Writing it was like writing any other story for me, except that characters discussed how they invented laser pistols to deal with dragons. While I tried to let the worldbuilding be background to characters, I did run into problems early on. People reading the first chapter immediately assumed it was a standard secondworld fantasy. They saw centaurs and sylph. When Erin pulled out a flashlight -- chaos! In that respect, it was quite a challenge to ease people into the idea that both centaurs and flashlights could exist in the same world, let alone the same paragraph.

Q: Any non-top-secret writing-in-projects (WIPs) in science-fantasy you want to share with us? (Of course you're more than welcome to share your top-secret ones too!).

Jodi: *grin* You're shameless! But yes, as I mentioned in an earlier answer, I do have another science-fantasy called THE LOYAL SWORD, which I wrote a few years ago and I'm now considering turning it in to a YA. There are dragons and giants, spooky magic forests, and aliens whose secret base is guarded by robotic faeries. It's part of a longer series where the science fiction aspects get bigger and more apparent. I'd love to finish writing it one day.

Q: Randomly, random...the random tidbits interviewees share always goes far beyond anything I could dream up as an interviewer. So, what utterly random thoughts do you want to share to finish up this interview?

Jodi: Things on my desk: a knitting pattern book, half a knit tank top, a scarf in progress, socks in progress, bottle of water, two jars of spindles, box of graham crackers, three kinds of ferret treats, paper towels, fake flowers (the other kind just die), a spindle project in progress, CATCHING FIRE (Suzanne Collins), a small stuffed bear with a top hat and cape and mask, my Red Sox hat, and a coffee mug that says "Reincarnate", which a friend gave to me in honor of ERIN INCARNATE.

Thank you so much, Jodi! To gain more mana'o from Jodi, you can visit her blog, in which, she graces readers and authors with query writing help, her thoughts on books (even ones not yet published...something she likes to remind me of in Goodreads *grin*), and lots of other fun stuff.


  1. These are such informative answers (I'm writing down the titles that Ms. Meadows recommended right now). I can't wait to tell my kids about "science-fantasy" -- sounds like something right up their alley. I also peeked over at your interviewee's site and her novel sounds wonderful! So different. I do have a question for Jodi that I was wondering if you could relay to her:
    In the "Loyal Sword" book, she has aliens, robot fairies, and dragons...does this world exist in the future or present? The dragons and robot fairies are just boggling my's a whole new level apart from Steam Punk and post-apocalyptic (I can see why you are so excited about Science-Fantasy). Similarly, is the world building set in an alternate world or our own? This is all so fascinating! How does she organize all of this in her mind? Again, my mind boggles!
    Great interview, girl!
    ~ Natty

  2. Hi Natty,

    The world of The Loyal Sword is an entirely different planet with its own history and problems.

    Since I moved to Mac computers, I use a program called Scrivener, which lets me have separate pages for research. If you check out my blog, which Nina linked above, I recently wrote and linked posts I've made about how I organize my worldbuilding.

    Hope that helps! Thanks for reading!

  3. I stayed home sick one day, but still had to finish the book we were reading for class. I wish I could remember the title -- I'd love to find it again -- but the only thing I can remember about it was there were children trapped in a "haunted" cave. The ghostly wailing turned out to be wind keening over a hidden opening.

    There's a Berenstain Bears book with that same plot. :D

    I really enjoyed reading THE LOYAL SWORD. I'd love to see it in the bookstores someday, reimagined or not. :)

  4. Hahaha! I don't think it was Berenstain Bears, though. I think they were actual humans. (Though maybe not.)

    In some nearby caverns, there's a place that does the whistling occasionally, too. The original crew sent to explore and widen the caves heard the keening one day and thought it was a woman calling for help. They kept looking for her, but never saw anything. Eventually they decided it was a ghost, and fled the caverns.

  5. Jodi,
    You had me sold with the gasses splitting the centaurs and the idea of robotic fairies! What other "mixed creatures" do you write about in your books?

  6. Sweets, okay this is becoming a regular thing. Why do you have to be so durn interesting every week? You've found my weakness. I'm a sci-fi geek. Have been my whole life. I haven't been a huge fantasy fan BUT, Jodi Meadows may be the one to change my mind. I can see my students loving her books.

    Jodi, what is your target age demographic for your books? I teach middle school. Any plans for any middle grade science-fantasy? Can you recommend any for my students?

  7. Grace:

    I include all kinds of fantastic creatures in my story. The weirder the better! Sometimes I put my own twist on them (like sylph in ERIN, or robotic faeries in LS). Nothing is off-limits though. :)

  8. Jon:

    ERIN is aimed at upper teens, though I do know most kids like to read about characters older than them. The main characters of ERIN are 18 and there's some sexy and violent content (not at the same time!), so with younger students, I'd probably recommend based on what you think individuals can handle.

    No plans for an MG right now, mostly because I like to make characters kiss a lot, but anything is possible!

    I wish I could give you suggestions about another MG science-fantasy, but I also like to *read* about characters kissing, so I don't read much MG myself. I know a few MG writers; I'll ask them and send them over if they have any ideas.

  9. Whoa, miss a little miss a lot!

    Isn't Jodi just wonderful?!

  10. Hi Nat,

    Thanks! This was a fun interview to do. Jodi is the queen of awesome. I think your girls would totally love 'em and they're just the right age too!

    I know! Jodi can world-build like it's no one's business. I can't keep up with her imagination!

    She talks about Scrivener...she makes it sound so awesome that I'm almost thinking of switching over from a PC (I know, shocking, right?).


  11. Rabia,

    I loved the Berenstein Bears!

    You got to read THE LOYAL SWORD? So, so jealous!


  12. Grace,
    Wasn't the centaurs description just so unexpected and different? Jodi is so *cool!* What is so delightfully interesting about her is that though her characters are "the weirder the better" as she puts it, she is the most down-to-earth and grounded person. Perhaps because her roots are so firmly planted, that's why her imagination feels secure enough to fly so flippin' far! Hee. (=

  13. Hey Jon,

    I LIVE for dragging you over to my blog weekly. Hahahaha! Wow, never been called "durn interesting", you southern boys really know how to compliment.

    Jodi has a really good sense of story fit for audience. Based on what you told me of your eighth graders, some of them might really like it. Jodi has read a ton of the same books you've told me sit on your students' desks and I think it's tamer than some of those (sexy vs. sex). So, maybe. Like Jodi said, it would be on an individual basis.

    Ooh, good question. I'm going to go investigate MG science-fantasy now too!

  14. Hello Ms. Meadows,

    Okay, since Nina says you are taking questions, here goes.

    I'm starting to foray into writing [um, surprise, Nina...] and I'm writing a mixed genre novel. I've been reading that those aren't high on agent lists. Is that changing? Also, I've read about bookstore shelving considerations. Where will your book be housed (do you have to pick? because I heard you can't do both)?

    I looked at your website--loved the titles of your books! Did you just know or did you go through a lot of titles? Do agents/publishers really ask you to change titles or is that just a myth I'm hearing?

    Nina is totally right! You ARE great! Thanks for answering all of our questions.



  15. This was an interesting interview. Honestly, I would've never thought of shapeshifting being non-fantasy or teleportation being non-scifi. Very cool. Looking forward to reading your book.

  16. What a great interview! Thanks for spilling the beans.

  17. Hi Sydney!

    It depends what kind of genres you're mixing. Science fiction and fantasy are already really similar. If ERIN INCARNATE was for adults, it'd go in the science fiction/fantasy section. Since it's for young adults, it will go in the YA section. Same thing with LS if I decide to rewrite it.

    There are a lot of fantasy and mysteries, too! (Jim Butcher's DRESDEN FILES and Kat Richardson's GREYWALKER series come to mind.) The trick is knowing where your story would fit in.

    Both those series are shelved in the fantasy section. The fantasy aspects are so important they wouldn't be the same books without. You could not tell GREYWALKER without Harper being able to see into the Grey.

    If your book was more mystery with a little bit of paranormal thrown in to spice things up, it might go in the mystery section and you'd query mainly mystery agents and say something like, "My novel, TITLE, is a mystery of X words with paranormal elements."

    So mostly it depends on how you write the book, and that *you* have some idea where it would be shelved. No, you don't really get to decide in the end, but it's a good idea to know your audience. Are they mainly fantasy fans who like mystery? Or are they mystery fans who don't mind a little bit of fantasy?

    And romance has been combined with pretty much everything for a long time now. Paranormal romance. Mysteries with strong romance lines.

    Things you would not want to mix: YA and erotica!

    I went through a lot of title considerations. I discarded things like SOULLESS (good thing, because there's already a historical fantasy with that title), and anything else with soul seemed too romancy or vampirey. I had thought about ERIN INCARNATE after someone on Twitter mentioned the word "incarnate", but I thought it might be too silly. Then another friend suggested that very title. I decided it must be a sign!

    The others took a while to happen. I was set on something beginning with "in-". After I gave up on that, ETERNAL came pretty quickly. I fought long and hard for ASUNDER, but it ended up fitting nicely. :)

    Agents and publishers *do* ask people to change titles. I know lots of people it's happened to. I don't think I will be asked to change mine. The first time I talked to my editor, she said she loved the titles. Marketing may ask still, but it's late enough now that I doubt it.

    Hope that answers everything!

  18. Thanks, Jenn and Anne! Glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Hi Jodi,
    Thanks so much for personally replying to my question. I'm honored! Even though I'm not an author, I got curious about that program you use (if it can lure Nina away from the PC...) and it sounds incredible. I still think you have to have a special kind of brain to make up the sort of things you and your fellow authors create. Props to you! Best of luck with the NEWSOUL trilogy!

  20. Hi Jodi,
    A knitter who writes science-fantasy. LOVE that! Put Arizona on your book tour when you get famous!
    P.S. Totally digging your title

  21. Thanks for the answers, ladies.

    Yeah, my kids like the kissing also (these aren't the middle grade books we grew up with) so they'll probably get a kick out of your novels. (;

    I appreciate you two looking for MG titles to recommend.

  22. Jodi, okay you've inspired me (or haunted me...still deciding which, hee).

    I just had a dream of a novel with cyber fantastical virtual creatures from second life coming to life--sort of like fantasy meets reality in a world in between (the dimension of second life, the barrier to which is beginning to blur). Then, techno-fabulous angels swooped in. It was crazy! If that becomes my newest novel idea, I'll be giving you inspiration credit! (=

    I have a question for you! Do you have a "team" of beta readers (i.e. certain readers for certain things like grammar, sci-fantasy plotting, etc.)?

    <3 <3 <3

  23. Hahaha! You're so doomed.

    I do have a few people who read everything I write, but I always ask first; I don't want to impose on anyone. So... sort of. But I'm honestly not sure who's going to read it until I either ask or get volunteers.

    I also like everyone to just mention whatever they see. I don't want to count on one person to catch all my typos (quite a job), and one person to comment on my worldbuilding...

  24. Awesome interview Nina!

    Hi Jodi, I don't have technical questions, just nosy ones. :)

    -Favorite authors?
    -Favorite books in sci-fi/fantasy? What about romance?
    -Dream vacation?

    Have a great book launch! Can't wait to pick it up!

  25. Hey Kate!

    -Favorite authors?

    Very favorite is Robin McKinley. After her... I'm not sure. There are a lot of books I like, but lots of them are new, too, so I don't know if they deserve favorite author status until I've decided their books will never disappoint me. :)

    -Favorite books in sci-fi/fantasy? What about romance?

    Lately, PEGASUS (forthcoming November 2010), by the aforementioned Robin. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this and it was soooo good. (Also, you should buy it and look at the dedication page. Yes. The Jodi there is me. *g*)

    But I've also really enjoyed GONE by MIchael Grant, THE IRON KING by Julie Kagawa, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. Those are just off the top of my head. I have more I enjoyed, but I can't see my bookshelf clearly from where I'm sitting. I do log all the books I've read. They're on my LJ under the booklist2010 tag.

    As far as romance, I don't read a lot of straight romance from the romance section, but most books I love have kissing scenes and smooshy angst. IF I STAY by Gayle Forman. THE RAGING QUIET by Sheryl Jordan. To name a couple.

    -Dream vacation?

    To Nina's land of dolphins, of course!

    There are a lot of places I'd like to go, actually. Most anywhere, probably. As long as I had someone with me and there was someone who spoke both English and the native language of that country. Because I only know English.

    Right now I'd settle for Yellowstone, though.

  26. Great interview! And awesome additional info in the comments too!

  27. Fantastic interview! I love that you're putting the spotlight on science-fantasy. I just heard about the term also. It is exactly what I write so I'm ecstatic. Thanks for paving the way, Jodi!

  28. Thanks Kate! And, thanks for asking Jodi those questions (I'm super niele too!). (=

    Jodi -- I've never read Sheryl Jordan...must go look her up. You are welcome to my land of dolphins any day! You and the hubs can also come with us to Japan (since I pass one of the travel guidelines you outlined). Hee.

    Jayson -- Hi and welcome! I assume you're not the one "Jayson" I know because that guy barely knows "how to turn on the internet" (heehee--his words, not mine). Thanks for commenting.

    Anonymous -- so mysterious! (= I'm excited for you that you are writing in such a creative and end-is-nowhere-in-sight genre. Writers like you and Jodi inspire me to reach new heights in my own genre. Happy writing!

  29. *Heavy sigh*

    I've loved having this interview (and the amazing energy that seems to follow Jodi) front and center in my blog but alas, the week is up. So, it is with a big sigh but many fond memories that I upload this week's blog. Remember, you can always find Jodi on her site and blog (see above for links). Don't be surprised if you also find her on the NYT Bestsellers List. *grin* Couldn't happen to a better friend, writer, and all-around cool chick.

    Thank you again, Jodi (aka your awesomeness) for gracing us with your answers. Happy writing and to Erin, happy adventures throughout THE NEWSOUL TRILOGY!

    <3 <3 <3


  30. Thank you, Nina! This was a lot of fun!