For starters, here's the synopsis of this awesome sc-fi debut, which launches September 23, 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster) and has already generated a boatload of buzz:
Querry Genn is in trouble.
He can’t remember anything before the last six months. And Querry needs to remember. Otherwise he’s dead weight to the other members of Survival Colony 9, one of the groups formed after a brutal war ravaged the earth. And now the Skaldi have come to scavenge what is left of humanity. No one knows what the Skaldi are, or why they’re here, just that they can impersonate humans, taking their form before shedding the corpse like a skin.
Desperate to prove himself after the accident that stole his memory, Querry is both protected and tormented by the colony’s authoritarian commander, his father. The only person he can talk to is the beautiful Korah, but even with her, he can’t shake the feeling that something is desperately wrong. And that his missing memories are at the very center of it...
Intrigued? I was too, so I had a chat with Josh about the book. He was also kind enough to offer us some cool swag (bookmarks, postcards, SC9 t-shirt), so be sure to enter the giveaway at the end!
Me: I love the whole concept of the Skaldi, described as "monsters with the ability to infect and mimic human hosts." That type of body-snatcher scenario has always freaked me out--John Carpenter's The Thing is one of my all-time favorite scary movies. That dog…OMG. So what hid under your bed when you were a kid?
JDB: I’m so happy that you started this interview with a monster question! Because as you know, I’m a huge monster fan!
Anyway, I grew up loving classic movie monsters: King Kong, Godzilla, Creature from the Black Lagoon. The very first book I wrote, when I was about five, was an illustrated guide to monsters. To give you a taste of my budding talents, here’s the first page:
Me: Which leads us to your other (non-fiction) book, Framing Monsters. Do you think researching a critical analysis of monsters and pop culture made you more insightful or self-aware in how you chose to depict the villainous Skaldi in Survival Colony 9?
JDB: I definitely think having a background in film and pop culture helped in the sense that I was able to visualize not only the Skaldi but the desert setting of my novel, the human characters’ physical appearance, and so on; I am and have always been a very visual (or even cinematic) thinker.
But though Framing Monsters is an academic book, it grew out of my lifelong love of fantasy and science fiction—so it would probably be truer to say that my academic pursuits have been shaped by my immersion in pop culture instead of the other way around. Which probably explains why Framing Monsters was far more popular among monster-movie fans than among academic readers. I mean, I got a fan letter from a guy in Kansas. Kansas—home of The Wizard of Oz! How cool is that?
Me: It's funny, in my book, one of the key settings is Weather Substation 99. Why do we like nines so much? Are they not just one of the coolest numbers? (I adore your cover, by the way, takes full advantage of the awesomeness that is nine).
JDB: Thanks for the cover love—I adore the cover image and have since the moment my editor sent it to me! With the number 9 (I’m hearing the Beatles somewhere in the background here), it’s kind of funny, because that wasn’t my first choice. I toyed with “15,” but in the end I liked the rhythm of having two three-syllable words and then a single-syllable word at the end. And I thought “9” sounded much more ominous than “2” or “4” (or even “8”). Maybe it’s because it’s the last whole number before we slide into double digits? But say “Survival Colony” with any other one-syllable number, and you’ll hear what I mean—there’s just no comparison!
Me: I'm fascinated that you're a pantser because I think it's a lovely way to work and am completely incapable of it myself. What's a typical writing session like? Do you really not outline at all?
JDB: I genuinely do not outline at all. Whenever I try, I end up departing so far from the outline I might as well not have bothered. Instead, I just plunge in and start (or, if I’m in the middle of something, continue) writing. I might have a name or two when I start—I had the name of my narrator, Querry Genn, and the name of the Skaldi when I started Survival Colony 9, plus a clear image of the setting—but when I’m drafting, I trust my unconscious mind to lead me into far better places than the part of my mind that plans and prepares and organizes.
The principle behind this approach is fairly well established among composition teachers (which happens to be my day job): writing is not merely the result of thinking but a form of thinking. You don’t think then write it down; you think as you write or through the act of writing. So in my case, I find I’m likeliest to make great discoveries during the sheer creative act—and when I don’t worry about adhering to an outline, I’m likeliest to liberate those creative energies.
That being said, when I revise (as opposed to drafting), I do re-engage my critical faculties and think things through as logically as I can. That’s particularly essential for a pantser, since the same freedom that generates great ideas tends to produce messy drafts. But I’d rather spend time and labor on a creative mess than stifle my creativity by trying to be too orderly and coherent up front.
Me: Once you've built a world and characters you love, it's hard to let it go. Can you tell us anything about a sequel?
JDB: I consider the story told in Survival Colony 9 to be complete, in the sense that it resolves what it needed to resolve. But at the same time, I do love Querry Genn and the world he inhabits, and no story is ever entirely complete. So I’ve written a sequel, titled Scavenger of Souls. My editor’s looking at it now, and I don’t want to give anything away. I’ll only say this: it’s very different from Survival Colony 9. Same world, same narrator, but very different antagonists and challenges and stakes. That’s what I think a sequel should do: expand, enrich, or complicate the imagined world. J. K. Rowling did this brilliantly in each successive Harry Potter sequel. I’m not her (not least because I’m constitutionally incapable of writing a manuscript longer than 300 pages), but I’ve learned a thing or two from her, as well as from Suzanne Collins, James Dashner, J. R. R. Tolkien, Leigh Bardugo, and many other sequel specialists.
Me: You are enviably Zen about the whole getting published thing: grateful to be getting your work out there, but not too worried about the riches and fame angle. How do you manage this? Personally, I meditate, which means spending ten minutes a day watching my mind run in circles like a hamster on crack. Any secrets to your equanimity?
JDB: Well, first of all, if you talked to my wife and kids about this, they might have a somewhat different view of my supposed Zen powers! But so long as I’ve got others fooled, I might as well milk it for all it’s worth.
But seriously, here’s the secret to my attitude: age. (Or experience, if you want to pretty it up.) I’m going to be fifty next year, which is twice as old as many debut authors, especially in the field of YA. I’m genuinely thankful that, more than halfway through my life, a dream I’ve harbored since I was five years old is finally coming true. If fame and fortune follow, I won’t turn them away. But let’s not muddy our dreams. My dream was to publish a novel. It wasn’t to get rich by publishing a novel.
If there’s any lesson here, I guess it’s this: having the time, the opportunity, and the resources to become a published writer should be privilege enough. Most people don’t share this privilege. If you’re trying to support yourself as a novelist, I understand the pressure to make big sales, and I wish you well (though I would remind you that you’re probably not obligated to make a living this way). If, on the other hand, you’re in a position to sit at home typing imaginary scenarios on the computer—and then someone actually wants to publish what you’ve written—I honestly believe it’s just the tiniest bit selfish to demand riches and theme park rides on top of that.
Biography: Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.
Josh loves to read (mostly YA fantasy and science fiction), watch movies (again, mostly fantasy and sci-fi), and spend time in Nature (mostly catching frogs and toads). He is the self-proclaimed world’s worst singer, but plays a pretty mean air guitar.
Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.