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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sky Child; an intriguing new YA novel by T.M. Brenner - Review & Interview

Sky Child -T. M. Brenner

If you have read my top ten YA reads for 2014 you would know that Sky Child received honorable mention.  As a fan of supporting other authors trying to  ‘make it’ I often troll crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter searching for writers bold enough to have a go at putting the power of publishing in the hands of supporters.  Not an easy thing for a writer to do by any stretch of the imagination.  Your book is your baby and to toss it out there to the fate of others is a terrifying notion -but that’s exactly what T.M. Brenner did with Sky Child

The book sounded promising and when the project funded, I received a signed copy.  It took me under a week to get through Sky Child. It can certainly be considered dystopian but dystopian on a level that thrusts the readers back to the stone age.  The story follows Sam through a series of circumstances that thrust Sam (unwillingly) into a leadership role among the hunters of The Crag (the system of caves where all the survivors live -the only people on earth for all they know). It is a very human story dealing with survival, politics (among the cave dwellers), love, loss and self-discovery.  Sam has adopted two ‘brothers’ and raises them as if they were his/her own children -a unique spin on the typically independent dystopian protagonist. Not only the attachment and vulnerability that comes along with it but the ambiguousness of the sex of the main character, Sam.  It is an easy, quick read with a satisfying conclusion. If you haven’t heard of T.M. Brenner, you will.  Sky Child is well worth a read.

Check out my interview with T.M. Brenner about his Kickstarter campaign HERE

Here is my interview with T. M. Brenner

What were the circumstances surrounding the evolution of Sky Child from idea to novel?

I've been keenly interested in writing a YA Dystopian for some time, and I wanted to write something that would stand out and have meaning. Maybe open some eyes. So I chose a setting that I hadn't been used much before, which was inside a cave. I wanted to avoid revealing the gender of the main character, to open people's eyes to the fact that what's important about the story is the human experience regardless of gender, orientation, etc.

How was writing Sky Child different than Luminaries?

Luminaries was very research intensive. I also spent more time writing it. From start to finish, Luminaries took me two years to finish. Sky Child took me about nine months. Luminaries still needs some major revisions, and I didn't have as much help with it. I was very fortunate to have about a dozen beta readers for Sky Child, and the quality of the final book is in large part due to their efforts. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. For other authors out there, I highly recommend utilizing as many beta readers as you can.

What books/authors would you consider main influencers when it comes to your writing?

Probably my largest influence is the Ender's Game series of books. I do not agree with many of the author's personal viewpoints, but he has admittedly crafted some of the best stories I've ever read. I will have some similar thematic elements in the Sky Child series, but I am doing my best to make sure that my story is vastly different from the Ender's Game books, even though they are roughly in the same genre.

Who was your favorite character to write?

I really enjoyed writing many characters for different reasons. Helm for his wisdom, Flot for his innocence and Jet for his strength. Ebb for her bravery, and Chaff for his evilness.

Who was your least favorite character to write? (Not necessarily because you disliked the character but because you struggled to write for them -to get in their head, if you know what I mean.)

Sam was by far the most challenging to write. It's very, very difficult, at least for me, to constantly be aware of the fact that I can't reveal Sam's gender. I have a very clear picture in my head of what gender Sam actually is, but to make sure that information doesn't consciously or subconsciously leak out is very difficult. The other thing that made writing Sam so challenging was the limited vocabulary that Sam had access to. Since the Crag only had a dictionary as its source of information, and the people living in the Crag had been removed from civilization for many generations, the language had to be stripped down. I hope readers understand that when they read the book, that there's a reason the language is terse. It's deliberate, and necessary.

How often do you write?

Multiple times a day, generally. I spend time in the morning before work (I also have a day job currently), during lunch breaks, sometimes before bed. Sometimes for longer stretches during the weekends. I thankfully love writing, and it's very easy for me to be motivated to keep at it.

How many revisions did Sky Child go through before you were ready to publish?

I had my first draft that I went over on my own with a fine tooth comb. Unfortunately some of the teeth were bent. Then I handed it off to my editor/fiancee, and she had a few qualms with the story, specifically the ending. So I completely re-worked the ending, and I think it is now the best part of the story. I can point to it as the thing I think most readers will find interesting and enjoy. Once I got her suggestions back and implemented them, I sent it off to a dozen beta readers. Their feedback was invaluable as well. I made their suggested changes then sent it back to my fiancee for final cleanup. Sky Child honestly wouldn't be currently sitting at 5-stars on Amazon right now if it wasn't for the efforts of those amazing people.

Why self publish?

Finding an agent is a lot like dating. You have to find one that is not only right for you, but you have to find one where you're right for them. I've only queried a handful of agents, but I haven't found the right one yet. They were all wonderful agents, but for one reason or another, I haven't made that connection yet. I'm hoping to eventually move into traditional publishing, but for the time being, the important thing is getting my name out there. Self-publishing has been wonderful for that, as I can put just about any story I want to tell out there, and have readers enjoy what I've worked hard to craft. I have complete control, which is wonderful, and no set deadlines.

What other genres interest you from a writing perspective?

Murder mysteries, paranormal, steam punk, detective/noir. Pretty much anything clever that really makes me think.

What do you read?

I don't often get to read, sadly. Part of it is that I enjoy writing so much that I spend my free time writing instead of reading. Recently though I've read the Maze Runner books, Hunger Games series, and the first few books in the Kim Harrison/Rachel Morgan series. Traditionally I read a lot of Dean Koontz, Ender's Game books, some Stephen King, Hemingway, and up until a few years ago I read a lot of comic books.

Craziest thing that’s ever happened to you.

A relative won a sizable jackpot in the lottery. Can't say who it was or how much though. Either that, or meeting Bruce Campbell in person. It was pretty surreal.

Any unusual talents?

I play a mean kazoo. I can do about 100 impressions, 50 of which you can actually tell who they're supposed to be, and about 5 that really genuinely sound like who they're imitating. I can also balance 16 quarters on my elbow, and in one swift motion drop them and catch them in mid-air with my hand. Other than that, I pretty much just have usual talents.

Tell me about your family.

I'm really fortunate to have the family that I do. Wonderful, caring and generous people. I owe a lot to them, and their love and support.

Did you go to school to become a writer?

Writing fiction was about as different from what I studied as you can get. I have a degree in Computer Science, believe it or not. I started out as a double-major, art being the second one, but I figured it'd be difficult making a living at it. I'm also sort of glad that I wasn't an English major, because I think I might have burnt out on the writing experience if all I did was focus on writing. The other thing was I didn't really discover how much I loved writing until I'd been out of college for five or six years.

What do you do to pay the bills?

I'm a software developer for a really great company that produces safety software. It matters a lot to me that the software I work on helps protect people and save lives. I'm fortunate that I've been able to work there as long as I have.

Favorite fictional character?

That's a tough one. I'd say Stephen Colbert's fake persona on the Colbert Report, Ender from Ender's game, Darth Vader, or Red from the Shawshank Redemption movie. I know that's an insane mashup of very different characters, but they all resonate with me for different reasons.

Mac or PC?

Definitely PC. I respect Macs for the things they're good at, but I prefer PC.

Are you a fan of The Walking Dead?

I enjoyed the first episode, but didn't end up getting into it. I enjoy zomedies, like Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies a bit more than hardcore zombie stories.

Will JJ Abrams salvage the floundering Star Wars franchise or send it into a death spiral?

I think he's got a very good shot at making them memorable. He did a brilliant job with Star Trek, and I guess the biggest thing he'll need to accomplish is to make Star Wars stand out from Star Trek, so that they feel like two different universes. He definitely has a signature style, which I think will work wonderfully with Star Wars. He has one of the most difficult jobs on the planet, as there are so many people that loved the original trilogy and will settle for nothing less than brilliance. If he doesn't succeed, he could alienate a lot of his fans.

John Snow or Jamie Lanister?

Snow. The whole sister thing puts me off my kibble.

With the uprise of self-publishing Where is the role of ‘traditional’ publishing headed? Will literary agents be around in ten years?

I think that you'll see a balance eventually happen. Traditional publishing helps filter out a lot of the difficult-to-market stories, stories that might not have mass appeal, and provides the casual reader with a smaller set of stories to choose from. There's quite a few casual readers out there. For the people that devour books like they were Crispy Cremes, it's wonderful that they can read self-published stories that can be just as good as their traditionally published counterparts, but may not have the mass appeal that the industry views as marketable. So I feel that both traditional and self-publishing will continue existing, and hopefully thriving.

Is self publishing good or bad for the industry? Why?

I think it's changing the industry, for better or worse. I think it's allowed a number of very talented authors to get their books out there, who otherwise wouldn't have a voice. I think that's important; that people can share their stories with the world. Competition is almost always a positive, as it forces us to work harder to achieve our goals.

What, if anything, are you writing at the moment?

I'm hard at work on the sequel to Sky Child, which I'm tentatively titling 'Sky Machine'. It's a bit of a departure from the first one, and I'm interested to see people's reaction to finding out what's really going on in the world that Sam lives in. I'm trying to let readers make assumptions, and then hopefully show them that what they believed may not be right.

Where can we find you online?

I have a blog at www.tmbrenner.com and a list of all the people that have helped out with Sky Child. I call them my 'Sky Children', and I hope to add many more people to the list.

Where can we purchase Sky Child?

Through Amazon as a Kindle eBook HERE

Through Barnes & Noble as a Nook eBook HERE

And as a Paperback through Amazon HERE

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