2012’s August is for Authors concludes with Karen Sandler, author of the recently released YA futuristic, dystopia Tankborn. Karen Sandler is the author of seventeen novels for adults. Before becoming a full-time writer, she worked as a software engineer, including work on the Space Shuttle program. Tankborn is her first novel for young adults and Awakening (coming soon) is the second in the Tankborn series, which will conclude with Revolution Spring 2014. Check out Karen’s thoughts on YA, diversity in sci-fi fantasy, and key advice for writers, and then check back tomorrow for a short story from the Tankborn universe.
Though you have had a long writing career, you only recently begin writing YA; what drew you to the genre?
I’d been writing adult romances for quite a while and while I enjoyed the genre, I was thinking about what new arenas I could explore. During this time, I had volunteered to judge the RITA, Romance Writers of America’s annual competition for published romances. Amongst my packet of books were two YA romances. They were my favorite reads of the 8 or 9 books I’d been asked to judge. I had fond memories of YA books I’d read in my teens (although they weren’t called “young adult”) and wanted to try my hand at writing for that market.
Was there something about YA that made it uniquely suited for the story that you tell in Tankborn?
Actually, as I’ve mentioned in other interviews, Tankborn started as a movie script called Icer. Even before I’d thought about writing a YA book, I’d tossed around the idea of adapting the movie script into a book. I started thinking about how could I rewrite Icer’s storyline to make it work as a young adult novel. Obviously, the characters would need to be younger (they were in their 20s in the screenplay). In the script, just as in the novel, the story centered around genetically engineered slaves. I kept that idea, but I pretty much jettisoned much of the rest of the plot and started fresh.
I don’t know that YA was uniquely suited for the story as much as writing the story using teen characters completely changed its focus. I had to come up with an entirely different spine for the story, and the hero, rather than being of the same slave caste as the heroine as in the script, is instead an unreachable (for my heroine Kayla) high-status trueborn. It being YA is part of what shaped the story.
This series includes a pretty diverse cast of characters, and so many authors are fearful of taking on diversity for a variety of reasons. Did you find it challenging to inhabit the voice of the characters whose backgrounds were different from yours? Why or why not.
I think it’s always challenging to find a voice for fictional characters. Sometimes, it’s hard to really know them and to be sure that the dialogue I’m putting in their mouth or the thoughts I’m putting in their heads fits who they are. I was particularly concerned about representing the Indian-based characters, using that culture accurately, being respectful of the culture, and having it evolve in a natural way in the several hundred years into the future that Tankborn takes place. I was fortunate enough that Lee and Low hired a cultural expert to read the manuscript and give me feedback on my choice of language (mainly Sanskrit) and my use of the Indian culture.
Having set the book in the future rather than present made it easier for me to write a story with diverse characters. I could make Tankborn’s future any way I wanted it to be. I chose to make it ethnically diverse.
The Tankborn series takes place on another planet, Loka. Where did the concept for the world come from? What does your world-building process look like?
Creating Loka and its flora, fauna, geography, society, government, and politics was a gradual layering process. In the script, Icer, the story takes place on a future Earth. I chose to relocate the Tankborn story to another planet mainly because I didn’t want to be restricted by Earth’s geography. Creating a fictional planet and all the aspects I mentioned above gave me far more freedom.
At first, the world-building happened organically as I wrote. That’s how the sewer toad and rat-snake came to be. They just popped up in a scene. It was later during a discussion with my older son (who also writes) that I decided that most of Loka’s creatures would be arachnid (spider) based. It was during the first big re-write after Tankborn had sold to Lee and Low/Tu Books that I had to start fleshing out the governmental structure and some of the history. I had only had the sketchiest of notions about how that all worked in the first few drafts. By the time I finished Tankborn, I had pages and pages of notes and tables and maps. That’s been invaluable reference material as I’ve been working on Awakening, the second book of the Tankborn trilogy.
4. Any advice for authors and would-be authors?
Keep writing. It sounds ridiculously simple, but you can’t be a writer by talking about writing. Make sure you’re passionate about what you write. If you don’t believe in yourself and your story, neither will an editor or agent. Do consider how marketable your work is, but don’t try to chase trends.
The Tankborn website: