M.K. England is a queer, Young Adult author and librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida. Interviewing M.K. was a blast. Her passion for science and space was immediately apparent and inspiring. She talks about how her love for the sci-fi genre as a child met her queer identity, and how she wanted to see more representation in the genre.
What drove you to write your first book?
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 potential for failure that came with writing, 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. Throughout my early 20s, I filled notebooks and 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 DANG IT 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.
When I was a kid, it was sci-fi/fantasy books that made me feel powerful, like I could really do something great and make a difference. Adventure books made me the ambitious, over-enthusiastic person I am today. All the heroes were always straight, white, neurotypical cisgender boys, though, and I both hated that and hated myself for not being that. I just wanted to be the hero, damn it. So, THE DISASTERS has exactly zero characters that fit those formerly standard criteria. Each of the five main characters has some piece of my identity that I always wanted to see reflected, mixed with bits and pieces of the teens I’ve been working with at the library for years.
They’re pitching it as GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY meets THE BREAKFAST CLUB. It’s about a guy named Nax who screwed up a lot in the past, but manages to get it together and achieve his dream of making it to Ellis Station Academy… only to wash out on the first day, along with three other rejects. The station is attacked before they get shipped home, though, which kicks off a whirlwind adventure full of stolen spaceships, wrecks, heists, and seat-of-the-pants plans to stop an interplanetary terrorist organization. It’s a super fast-paced sci-fi adventure with a lot of family themes, both found and blood family, at its heart.
Fantasy is hot right now, but we are seeing an uptick in science fiction. What inspired you to write sci-fi?
Fantasy never really goes out of style, but sci-fi has always struggled, and I’ve never understood that! I’m thrilled with the amount of excellent YA sci-fi we’re seeing right now, but I’m so worried it’s going to be viewed as a trend instead of a genre with lasting potential. I’m not sure why someone can wave their hand and say “it’s magic!” and everyone’s cool with that, but if you push a button and say “it’s technology!” it’s more confusing somehow. Sore subject, sorry! I truly love both sci-fi and fantasy, but sci-fi has always been etched into my heart. Probably some combination of being a huge Star Wars fan since birth and growing up on the Space Coast of Florida watching space shuttles go up from my backyard. Really though, there’s just something about the sheer vastness and wonder of outer space, of traveling between worlds and being out among the stars. It’s adventure dialed up to 11.
I don’t know about anyone else, but the mention of the Breakfast Club immediately evokes thoughts of powerful music. Is it possible to give us a sneak peek into your writing playlist?
I’m actually one of those people that needs silence most of the time when I write! Sometimes I’ll put on ambient music with no words if I need to drown out my own anxious thoughts or otherwise set the mood. I do make playlists after the fact, though, and I have ones in progress for both THE DISASTERS and my Fall 2019 book. My playlists are all over the place, and I definitely don’t claim to be at all in the know when it comes to pop music, but a few feature tracks on the playlist include Immigrants (We Get the Job Done) from the Hamilton Mixtape, Thunder by Imagine Dragons, Englistan by Riz MC, and Gotta Get Away by The Offspring.
I see that you like to play Tabletop RPGs. Which system do you play? Do you feel it has effected your writing?
I’ve played lots of systems over the years! Several editions of Dungeons & Dragons, several editions of Star Wars, some Pathfinder, Serenity, a few others here and there. My current ongoing game is a Star Wars Legacy Era campaign. I love building characters for RPGs, developing backstories and personalities for them, and it’s a fun creative outlet. I’ll sometimes make character sheets for my book characters if I’m stuck while developing them, especially using the Assets & Complications balancing from the Cortex system. And if I’m stuck in a “what happens next” kind of way, sometimes I’ll look at it from an RPG character POV like, what skills can I apply here? What could I examine for more information?
What part about writing most energizes you? What most exhausts you?
Talking ideas out with critique partners gets me really fired up. It’s like I can feel all the little things clicking together in my brain one after another, and when I get to that point, I know I’m ready to dive in and start working.
Most exhausting seems to be whatever I’m working on at the moment, ha! Nah, I think if I had to pick something, it’s when I have to do what I call zipper-style revising, where I have to put two sections together into one by weaving little bits of each together like the teeth on a zipper coming together. IT’S THE WORST. Why does it take eight times longer than literally any other writing-related task?
When writing technology for your stories, how scientifically accurate do you try to be? Do you think an accurate explanation of science in books distracts the reader from the story itself?
I think the technology should always be in service to the story, and I really strive to weave technological explanations seamlessly into the narration. I’m a YA librarian by day, and I recently asked my teens why they (and by extension, the YA world in general) seem to prefer fantasy so much over sci-fi. They said sci-fi was more complicated and harder to understand, which I get in some of the hard sci-fi subgenres, but in a lot of sci-fi the technology is basically magic where you push a button instead of wave a wand. Why is that different? I don’t understaaaaand. I do try to stay as accurate as possible to avoid throwing more tech-savvy readers out of the story, and because it can be a fun opportunity to get a reader interested in tech. Besides, the research is fun, and it really enriches the worldbuilding!
While we’re on the subject of science, do you have any resources that you absolutely love? Books about space or websites devoted to the search for life outside earth?
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Physics of the Future: How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100 by Michio Kaku
What part of you do you feel leaked into your books?
Haaaa, a lot. The wonder I feel for space and my passion for space exploration, definitely. My long-standing anxiety issues. My love of computers and technology, as well as my love of rural areas and farming. In general, this whole book is what I would have adored as a teen: LGBTQ+ characters getting to be the heroes with fancy piloting in space.
What was the publication process like for you?
Long. Glacial. Eternal. We verbally agreed to the deal for THE DISASTERS back in maybe May 2016? And it’ll be out on December 18, 2018. Over 2.5 years since the deal, and almost four years to the day since I finished the first draft. I’m a very go-go-go kind of person, always wanting to move on and tackle the next thing, so the waiting between steps has been hard for me. Too much time to think and work myself up into a panic otherwise! I’ve been so lucky in a lot of ways, though, and it’s been fun getting to know the process and the industry.
Best money ever spent as a writer?
Two books: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, and Story Genius by Lisa Cron. The former taught me how to really revise a novel, and the latter completely revolutionized how I plan and plot. Highly recommend both!
I know it says not to do this on your bio, but why shouldn’t I bring up Sherlock Holmes?
You’re playing with fire, my friend. I have a lot of theories and feelings, mostly to do with heteronormativity, “legitimate” fandom and pastiche vs. fanfiction and internet/convention-style fandom (getting angry just thinking about the condescension alkjsdfhlkaj), and general passion for the characters of Holmes and Watson. It’s just… it’s better not to get into it all.
If you could tell your teen self one thing, what would it be?
Your power is not defined by men and what they think of you. It’s not defined by how wanted you are. Stay single for a while. Live alone. Figure out who you are by yourself. I know you’re desperate for validation, but you’re looking for it in all the wrong places.
Also, date more girls, because wow you have a lot of problematic stuff in your head to clean out. You’re welcome.
Okay, I guess that was two things.
Your favorite, under appreciated novel?
Okay, I’m not sure this is truly underappreciated because it made quite a few Best of 2017 lists, but I think it’s flying under the radar in YA circles because it’s adult fantasy, though it’s a fantastic crossover title for older teens. City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty begins in 18th century Cairo and takes you on a deep dive through the magic and intrigue of djinn mythology with a cunning young orphan woman, a Muslim prince you just want to wrap in a blanket and pat on the head, and a broody djinn with a rough past. There’s court politics, hidden family ties, religious struggles, power and privilege, major twists and turns—I am SO antsy for the second book to come out!
OMG, I just grabbed the e-book version of City of Brass!
I HOPE YOU LOVE IT.
M.K. England’s debut novel, THE DISASTERS, releases on December 18th, 2018. Pre-orders helps prolong the life of an author’s career, so if you’re interested stake your claim now!
If you’re excited about what else M.K. might have to offer, you can always join her mailing list. You’ll be the first to know about any events, freebies, and upcoming books. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram.