Nick James is the Seattle-area author of a forthcoming sci-fi series tentatively titled SKYSHIP ACADEMY. Hi, Nick, and thanks for talking to The Spectacle! Let’s dive in:
The first book in the series will be released by Flux in Fall 2011.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the story?
It takes place in a post-war America transformed into one big desert after a string of chemical bombings. Some folks have retreated into the sky, living on city-size crafts called skyships. Others have sought refuge in the Government’s Chosen Cities, protected from the elements by enormous domes. Both sides fight over mysterious green orbs that began falling from the heavens shortly after the bombings. They call them Pearls — and just one can power a skyship or Chosen City for months.
The story follows two teens on opposing sides of the struggle. Hapless slacker Jesse Fisher trains at Skyship Academy, preparing to steal Pearls away from the corrupt Surface government. Meanwhile, Cassius Stevenson works for an elite team of government operatives charged with powering the Chosen Cities. When the two clash — developing mysterious, frightening abilities — they’re pulled into a battle that threatens to unlock the true mystery of Pearls and trigger a new war.
Q: What drew you to this genre?
I was drawn to sci-fi and fantasy at a very young age. I grew up on comic books and went especially nuts over the big, multi-issue story arcs in my favorite series. Epics, I’d call them. I like reading about worlds that require some imagination, people that are relatable on a human level but get swept up in amazing, crazy adventures. I think children’s and YA writing is often the best example of this kind of storytelling. Kids aren’t afraid to express their imaginations and demand books that cater to that.
Q: What inspired this particular story?
I wanted to write a book that combined elements of some of my favorite contemporary adventure series (ARTEMIS FOWL, ALEX RIDER, MAXIMUM RIDE) with the kind of voice and characters from my favorite coming-of-age novels (THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER). So the initial spark was more of a mood and tone than a specific story. As the plotting fell into place, I drew on influences from my childhood, like the dialogue-rich storytelling found in comics and graphic novels. I ended up writing the series I would have picked up and loved as a kid, while making sure it was smart enough to appeal to my (slightly) more grown-up tastes now.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge so far in the writing or your path to publication?
I think any story that requires a lot of world-building is inherently challenging. You want to make the characters’ world feel plausible and real without overstuffing it and making it burdensome for the reader. A lot of my revision dealt with this. It was fun exploring this futuristic world and bringing it to life.
I feel that my path to publication has been relatively pothole-free. As with any author, it’s a lot of work, but I’ve enjoyed every step so far.
Q: What’s the craziest thing you believe in? Or how else is your imagination expressed in your life?
I really believe that life would be so much more interesting if it were a musical. I’m patiently waiting for the day when everyone suddenly bursts into song while going about their daily routines.
A few years ago, my fellow camp counselors and I decided to put this theory to the test and declared an all-singing day. The kids just sort of glazed over like we’d suddenly gone insane. The all-singing day lasted for about an hour. I guess that kind of shoots the whole thing down.
Q: Or maybe you’ll have to write that musical world! What did you read most as a kid?
I started out with comics, for sure. I was a really good student but always a little bit of a reluctant reader, as many boys are. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I started reading novels outside of school.
But I was always a writer. From my own fledgling comic book series, to an entire shelf’s worth of chapter books, I was my own little publishing empire.
Q: If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world not of your own making, which would it be? Why?
As clichéd as it sounds, I’d have to say Harry Potter’s wizard world. I’m not sure there’s a single person who’d turn down the opportunity to enroll at Hogwarts. It’s such a well-realized world. In fact, I even took a teaching internship at a school in England, half-hoping that they’d present me with a wand or something. Alas, no magic, but it was an amazing experience all the same.
Or maybe Philip Pullman’s England in the HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. It would be fun to have my own daemon!
Q: What are you working on now?
The second book in the SKYSHIP ACADEMY series, which will be out in 2012. On top of that I’ve always got other projects in the works, some finished, some just beginning.