An Interview with Bestselling Novelist Summer Lane

Summer Lane

Trust me when I say you are going to want to stop what you’re doing and read this interview.

Summer Lane is the author of nearly a dozen novels and novellas, the latest of which–State of Destruction–officially releases today and is the seventh entry in her #1 Bestselling Collapse Series. Lane took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me recently about the Collapse Series, her experiences with indie publishing, and what we can expect from her next.

You’re the author of the bestselling, post-apocalyptic Collapse series. How did you come up with this idea?

I have always been fascinated and intrigued with post-apocalyptic stories. I think I just love the idea of having to survive off the land, and putting characters into situations where they’re almost stripped of their humanity and forced to make tough choices.

I had the original idea for the Collapse Series when I was fresh out of high school, and I ended up writing the first book a couple of years later. I was inspired by a simple headline on a television: “President Declares a State of Emergency.” It made me think: everybody can identify with fear, and the will to survive, so why not write a book about it?

Between all the action scenes, war motifs, and foreign languages alone, I imagine a lot of research has gone into this. What has your process been like in that regard? Does any of this come from your own experiences or knowledge (i.e.–weapons training, surviving in the outdoors)?

I like my books to be well-researched and believable. If my characters do something badass, then you bet it’s going to be a realistic move. I have done tons of military research and reading, and I grew up in a household that was surrounded by military and law enforcement influences. It made a big impact on me, and besides that, I love adventure stories. I love it when people do cool things and kick major butt.

I am very familiar with the area where the books have been set so far – the Sierra Nevada Mountains and California – and I enjoy visiting the range for some simple target practice as much as the next person. I used little tidbits of personal experience to supplement verified and thoroughly researched information that I put into the books.

State of Destruction–the latest entry–and its predecessor, State of Vengeance, are the darkest entries in the series thus far. Has it been difficult writing these narratives where everything seems so completely hopeless especially given the inherently hopeful nature of heroine Cassidy Hart?

Certainly each installment in the series is more challenging than the previous, but I love being challenged, so it works out for me. I actually enjoy writing about dark, gritty situations and subsequently finding the bright spot in the story. I love asking the tough questions of characters, the battle of the inner conscience, the wrestling of morals when civilization has fallen, and the character development when someone is pushed to the brink of destruction.

Writing about stories like this is my way of dealing with a very real, and very scary world that we live in today. My cast of characters has expanded from two to around thirty, which gives me the opportunity to really examine the collapse of modern society through the eyes of so many different people.

The last couple of books have woven the character of Elle, from your Zero Trilogy, into the story line. Was this something you had planned from the start? And her bomb-sniffing dog, Bravo is getting his own book this spring; can you share any details about that?

I brought Elle into State of Alliance because I wanted a girl and a dog to become a part of Cassidy’s team. I loved her so much, I decided to give her a trilogy of her own before she was even introduced into the Collapse Series. I knew where she was from and where she was going.

As for Bravo, he has easily been the most beloved character among readers by a large margin. I’m writing a series of shorter novels about Bravo’s adventures in the military with his handler, Nathan Ingalls, and his survival in the apocalypse. I thought it would be so incredibly fascinating to look at such a bleak situation through the eyes of a fearless German Shepherd. I’m hard at work on the first installment as we speak, and it will probably release late Spring 2016.

Harry Lydell, Veronica Klaus, the entire Omega organization as a whole, are diabolical. An absolutely formidable–and seemingly insurmountable–foe. But even amidst the relentless action and destructive sequences in this new book, you have begun to sprinkle a bit of humanity into Omega. Can you unpack this decision a bit for us?

I have taught a lot of writing classes, and I always tell my students that there are three major types of character conflict: Man versus Man, Man versus Self, and Man versus Unfeeling Force.

In the case of my series, Omega is a hugely terrifying unfeeling force, but I wanted to add some humanity and personality to the enemy by giving our heroes some specific bad guys to spar with, people like Harry Lydell and Veronica Klaus. I feel that, in writing, evil is so much scarier when it is personified in someone you know personally; it makes it scarier, more realistic.

Veronica is a villain I have wanted to bring into my books for a very, very long time, but I had to wait for the right moment to introduce her into the series. As for Harry, who knows what’s next for him? I have spent so much time poring over Harry’s motives and character that I want to make sure his fate, whether good or bad, is suitable for him.

On a less serious note, be honest: Cassidy is possessed by a litter of cats, right? She’s escaped death so many times in this series that I think the cats are getting jealous of how many lives she’s used up.

All good heroes must be good at evading death, otherwise you’ve got a pretty dull story on your hands. Cassidy Hart has escaped death either because she’s got luck on her side or because someone has saved her butt (that someone being Chris Young or her other comrades). I give Cassidy a strong team to protect her, and by giving humanity to some of the villains, she has opportunities to make quick escapes.

Cassidy is like a lot of real-life heroes. She survives despite the odds. I love that about her. She gives me hope.

 

You’ve mentioned before that this is a New Adult series. What has the response been like? A post-apocalyptic adventure series isn’t something you see a lot of to begin with, let alone in the NA world, so it’s certainly unique. What, if any, challenges has this posed for you?

Yeah, it’s a New Adult/Young Adult crossover. I’ve got readers from 12 years-old to 89. I say New Adult because my characters in Collapse are older – 19-30 years old. Cassidy is the youngest in her early twenties. Chris is older at 29. I wanted older characters because I wanted a mature supporting cast who would help Cassidy grow up quickly and show her the way. I also identify a little more with a Cassidy who is in her twenties, since I am, too.

The response has been enormous. I cannot believe how many people pick up my books on a daily basis. I’m not sure why there aren’t a lot of NA post-apocalyptic stories out there, because I think people really identify with a survival story like that. Everybody can identify with the will to live, and the will to protect the people you love. It’s an examination of society, a war of morals, everything all rolled into one.

If anything, the biggest challenge has been simply keeping up with the demand for getting books published and finished for readers. I write as fast as I can, and get them out there. Readers devour them, and for that I am immeasurably grateful.

You’ve self-published all your books over the past few years. Why self-publishing, and what has the experience been like?

The opportunity presented itself. I came into indie publishing when it was first taking off, and now it’s rolling away like a steam train, picking up momentum. It gave me the chance to put my work out there and see what people thought of it – and guess what? I was lucky enough to score big with a hit series.

I’ve been working in publishing since I was 17, and I’ve seen things fluctuate in the industry incredibly quickly. It’s a tough, tough business. I’ve learned a lot just in the last year – you never stop learning. Indie publishing – in order to make it work – requires total dedication and border-line obsession. * wink * But seriously. It’s a hard job, but I love it, so that makes it all worth it.

This is book seven in the series. How many entries are left?

There will be ten books in the Collapse Series. Collapse chronicles the fall of civilization and the warfare that tears the post-apocalyptic world apart. I will be writing another series following the timeline of Collapse, but with a new storyline. That release has yet to be determined.

You can buy State of Destruction on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online retailers.

To keep up to date on all the happenings with Summer and her work, visit her website.

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An Interview with YA Author, Ryan Dalton, about His Forthcoming Book, The Year of Lightning

Okay, so I’ve been meaning to do some interview features on this blog since I started it on New Year’s, but somehow haven’t gotten around to it. That all changes today with my first guest on Tripping the Write Fantastic: Ryan Dalton. He has written an action-packed YA time travel sci-fi novel called The Year of Lightning–due out on January 12, 2016 via Jolly Fish Press–and is the first entry in the Time Shift Trilogy. Check out the book trailer below, then stick around for some questions and pay close attention to the other links I’m including at the bottom!

How did the idea for The Year of Lightning come about and how long did it take for you to complete this first part of the trilogy?

One scene popped into my head and ultimately inspired this story. I pictured walking by an abandoned house with no doors, no way in or out, and then seeing a face staring at me through the window. It felt so creepy, and once it was in my head I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I kept asking questions about why the person was there, how they got there, what they were doing. As I answered them, the story of The Year of Lightning was born. It’s been described as “Monster House meets Back to the Future.”

With respect to making the science fiction elements of this novel as strong as possible, are you naturally adept at understanding and applying scientific principles and was it easy for you to weave them into the framework of this novel? Or did you have to do a lot of research to come up with plausible scenarios?

I’ve always been a science geek, so I went into the story armed with some of the knowledge I needed. As I got deeper, though, I did have to read more about things like quantum physics and meteorology. Since the book features time travel, there’s a healthy dash of science fantasy, but I wanted to at least extrapolate the fiction from actual science in some way. These are things I would be reading about anyway, so it’s the fun kind of research.

In the acknowledgements you mention having received help with everything from French grammar to military procedure while writing this book. What was this process like for you and how did that help shape the characters and the story?

I was fortunate enough to have friends who are experts in the subjects I needed. These aren’t major parts of the story, but they’re in there enough that I wanted to represent them accurately. Little details matter. If all the real-life factual stuff is on point, readers are usually more comfortable buying into the fantasy.

Readers will notice nods to a number of classic science-fiction characters, books and movies: Emmett Brown High School, a character named John Carter, the main protagonists being named Valentine and Malcolm of Ender’s Game and Serenity/Firefly fame. There are even hints of The Faculty splashed throughout. Did some or all of this happen organically, or were these specific aspects of the story and the world of The Year of Lightning intended as a sort of homage to some of your own favorites from the science fiction world?

A bit of both. The name of the high school is a subtle nod to Back to the Future. I thought it’d be fun to reference a time travel story inside another time travel story. Joss Whedon is a huge writing inspiration to me, so Malcolm is definitely an homage to Firefly. Valentine wasn’t deliberate, actually. I just liked the name and thought it fit, and didn’t remember until later that it’s also a character in Ender’s Game. The John Carter reference has a specific function in the book that I won’t spoil here. I see all this as one of the perks of being an author–getting to share the things I love with fellow readers and geeks, even if it’s just in subtle references. You find little nods like this in movies pretty frequently, so I figured why not do it in my novels? It was great fun coming up with them!

When you look at the finished version now, is there anything about it that surprises you? Are there certain aspects of the story that went in ways you never would have expected, or did you ultimately take some chances along the way that you hadn’t expected to take with this story?

The story has definitely evolved since the beginning. Much of the original concept is there, but over time it grew into something better and more layered. As I wrote the characters, they grew into such dynamic people in my mind. The story became more emotional as I got to know them. As I refined my concept of time travel, that also had a profound effect on what I could and couldn’t do with the story. Overall, it feels like The Year of Lightning started as a fun idea and matured into something that I’m very proud of.

As the author, you’re naturally going to feel a certain amount of closeness to this project. It’s your baby. But is there a particular scene, a character, an aspect of the book that you are most struck by?

My favorite scene happens near the end, so I won’t spoil the specifics here, but an underestimated character does something unexpectedly awesome and I had a blast writing it. As for characters, I love them all in different ways–even the villains–but Fred Marshall is a side character who became so fun to write. On the surface he’s a buffoon, but by the end he shows a surprising amount of depth. Also, I’ve always loved lightning storms, so it was fun to feature them as part of the plot.

Which part of the book was the hardest for you to write?

As much as I love good fight scenes, they are by far the hardest parts to write. Every fight took several times longer to write than other scenes. It’s fun to block and choreograph them, but it takes multiple revisions to make them clear and concise while also conveying the right beats and emotions at the right moments. They’re also emotionally taxing since I really have to live in that moment until the fight is over. They’re a labor of love, though, and I’m exhausted afterward.

Conversely, which part was the funnest, or flowed the best?

I love dialogue and snappy character interactions. Those scenes flowed onto the page so naturally and so quickly, as if the characters were talking to each other and I transcribed the exchanges. Over time, their chemistry continued to grow until it felt like old friends and family really were in the room together.

Do you relate to any of these characters more than the others?

There’s a piece of me in each of them, I suppose. I tried to give them all real struggles and believable talents. More than anything, I wanted their brains to be better weapons than their fists. I’ve always respected stories where the protagonist beats the villain with mind first, fists second. Anyone can throw a punch or shoot a gun, but to match wits with a worthy opponent? Now that’s fun to read. That’s a big part of my preference, and it’s reflected in the main characters.

What does writing mean to you?

With writing, you’re only limited by imagination and skill with a pen (or keyboard). Building worlds and characters, helping them live and grow, then sitting back as they surprise me with something new and awesome–it’s deeply satisfying. Then, there’s no feeling like giving those stories to someone and seeing how it touches them. When someone laughs at a joke, gets protective of a character, comments on something in the story as if it’s real to them, it feels amazing to have reached their heart in some small way.

A big Thank You to Ryan for taking the time to talk with us about The Year of Lightning, Mikayla Rivera and the fine people at Jolly Fish Press for connecting us, and to everyone who read this interview. I hope you enjoyed it!

To learn more about Ryan and his work, visit his website, Goodreads page, or catch him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The Year of Lightning is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.