“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their…well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free rein so they can go wild and write about anything they want: their new book, series or career as a whole.
Today we are thrilled to be part of the official Skylark blog tour, and to have Meagan Spooner over as guest author talking Inspirations & Influences. Meagan’s debut novel, Skylark is a post-apocalyptic dystopia that blends fantasy and speculative fiction – i.e. a book that sounds fantastic and right up our alley. (Stick around as later today, Thea reviews the book!)
Give it up for Meagan, everyone!
On Becoming Strong
Trying to talk about my inspirations for Skylark is like trying to talk about every star in the sky all at once. I really believe in the idea that what we produce creatively is a product of everything we’ve ever seen or read or heard. Mostly because with almost everything that happens in my book, I can find the seeds of it in some other book, painting, song, movie, conversation, historical event. But when I start thinking about some of the most important parts of my story (to me, anyway) I can definitely see a pattern taking shape in my influences.
I love tough heroines. And I don’t think I’m alone in that. Katniss, Alanna, Katsa—we all love kickass girls. But for me, more meaningful than a heroine’s strength is how she comes by it. As much as I love heroines like Katniss and Katsa (and trust me, I adore them) I think there’s also something to be said for heroines who have to find their strength. Girls who aren’t born with steel and fire in them, but are shaped and forged by circumstance and events and the choices they make. I like characters who discover that they can be strong in ways they didn’t expect. In ways we, as readers, didn’t expect either.
I myself never felt like the strongest of people. I was always awkward and clumsy, afraid of social situations, and always, always shy. So for me, as a teenager, there was a special magic in books where the heroine discovers her strength over the course of the story, unfolding to greater heights and stepping up to meet impossible situations. If they could do it, surely I could too, someday. And I think it’s important for teens, whether they’re guys or girls, to realize they have strengths they didn’t know about, because that’s what gets you through life, no matter how unpredictable it may be.
There is definitely a myriad of places I found inspiration for Skylark, and so many works that influenced me. But as Skylark is just such a story, of a girl discovering strength she didn’t know she had, I hold a special place in my heart (and in the depths of my brain) for the inspirational characters who made me fall in love with that kind of tale.
Lyra, from The Golden Compass
Lyra has got to be one of the best YA heroines ever. Granted, I absolutely adore The Golden Compass and would happily fight anyone who says it’s not awesome, so take my praises with a grain of salt, I suppose. But what I love so much about her role in The Golden Compass has more to do with her failings than with her strengths. She’s incredibly naïve and selfish to boot, when the book starts—fiercely loyal to her friends, but aside from that, she firmly believes the entire world revolves around her. It’s not until she ventures beyond her life at Jordan College that she starts to realize how much bigger everything is than her. She takes that one strength—loyalty—and builds on it, earning loyalty in return, until she has an entire army of people willing to do anything for her. Roger, Farder Coram, Ma Costa, Lee Scoresby, Iorek Byrnison, Serafina Pekkala—even, to a certain extent, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter. And still, despite it all, she retains that naivete up until the final moments of the book. And I’m not going to spoil it for those who haven’t read it, but it’s Lyra’s strength on the last pages—in the wake of what happens, the devastating events that prove how blind she’s been to what’s really going on, she picks up and walks on. Alone, without her army. But stronger for having had it.
A reviewer a while back compared Lark to Lyra, and I had this terrified moment of “Oh god, someone tell them to take that review down!” The last thing I wanted was anyone comparing Lark to one of the best heroines in YA literature, because I knew how that comparison was going to go. But really, given how much of an influence Lyra was on me during the writing of Skylark, I’m not surprised someone picked up on it. Lark’s initial actions are entirely selfish—she abandons her city for the sake of her own freedom and safety. It’s what she does afterward that makes her strong.
Jonas, from The Giver
Yeah, Jonas isn’t a girl. So what? Boys can discover untapped strengths too. For those of you who haven’t read The Giver (which would be a crime, it’s an amazing book), Jonas lives in a world that long ago opted for “Sameness.” They see no color, hear no music, speak no poetry. There are no hills, no wind, no weather at all. In exchange, they don’t feel pain, anger, humiliation, despair—and they also don’t feel love. Jonas is content in this life, because it’s all he’s ever known. But he wasn’t built for Sameness. Through his interactions with the Giver, who retains all memory of the world before Sameness, Jonas learns that there is more to the world. But to find art and beauty and love, he must also experience pain and suffering—it’s a terrible choice to have to make, but Jonas sets out beyond the world he knows anyway. His strength staggers me every time I reread the book. He has no idea if there is a world out there—he goes on faith. He believes there’s something better beyond the edge of Sameness.
And for those of you who’ve read Skylark already, then if you don’t see the influence here… well, you should go read The Giver and then you’ll see.
Buffy, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Okay, right now you’re giving me a Look. “Buffy is strong already,” you’re saying. “She’s the Chosen One. She’s stronger than everybody!” Yeah, it’s true Buffy’s super strong. But physical strength means so little without strength of character, cheesy though that sounds. And Buffy had to find that as she grew up across the seven seasons of the show. At first she didn’t even want to be the Slayer. Then she was fine with it, so long as it didn’t require any major emotional sacrifices—when someone she loved was taken from her as a result, she quit again and ran away. And yet again, when fate/life/whatever you want to call it threw yet another series of terrible things at her, she completely disengaged and just went through the motions (so to speak) of being the world’s savior. You can map out the whole series by the choices Buffy makes, good or bad, strong or weak. Her weaknesses are what make her journey fascinating, and real, and hopeful. Because despite her mistakes, you can watch her get stronger as she makes them. You can watch her grow up.
Because isn’t that what good YA fiction does? Shows people growing up, becoming strong, becoming real? Good YA fiction should be hopeful in that way. It should say “Don’t worry, you’re not done yet. You’re still changing. You’re still becoming you. You’re going to make mistakes and some of them will be awful but they won’t define you, not forever, because you’re still taking shape and being forged. Your mistakes will make you better, make you tougher. They’ll make you strong. You’re still just in the process of becoming who you’re going to be.”
I think that’s a hopeful message, whether you’re a teen or not. We’re all still becoming.
About the Author:
Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.
She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.
In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.
She is the author of SKYLARK, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013.
Thank you, Meagan! And now for…
We have a signed first edition hardcover of Skylark up for grabs, courtesy of the author! The contest is open to addresses in the US & Canada only, will run until Sunday July 29 at 12:01am EST. In order to enter, use the form below (you have multiple chances to enter, should you choose!). Good luck!
BONUS: For anyone that wants another chance to win, or for international residents that can’t enter this contest, Meagan is running a huge Skylark giveaway on her blog! Hurry over soon and enter, since the giveaway ends on 7/27.
And remember to stick around as later today Thea reviews Skylark!