Author Spotlight: M.K. England talks The Disasters
I'm so excited to be featuring M.K. England on the blog! M.K.'s debut, THE DISASTERS, has been on my to-read wish list for a looooong time and it comes out next week!
In addition to being an author, M.K. is also a YA librarian who grew up on the Space Coast of Florida and now calls the mountains of Virginia home. When she’s not writing or librarianing, M.K. can be found drowning in fandom, rolling dice at the gaming table, climbing on things in the woods, feeding her video game addiction, or talking way too much about space and science literacy.
THE DISASTERS releases on December 18th from HarperTeen and you can check out the synopsis below!
The Breakfast Club meets Guardians of the Galaxy in this YA sci-fi adventure by debut author M. K. England.
Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy.
Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats.
On the run, Nax and his fellow failures plan to pull off a dangerous heist to spread the truth. Because they may not be “Academy material,” and they may not even get along, but they’re the only ones left to step up and fight.
Full of high-stakes action, subversive humor, and underdogs becoming heroes, this YA sci-fi adventure is perfect for fans of Illuminae, Heart of Iron, or the cult classic TV show Firefly and is also a page-turning thrill ride that anyone—not just space nerds—can enjoy.
And now, here's my chat with M.K.!
Hi, M.K.! Welcome and congrats on the release of The Disasters. Can you share a little about the story and what inspired it?
Thank you so much, I’m excited! I think THE DISASTERS has a little something for everyone, even if you aren’t a sci-fi reader or don’t like books set in space. I’ve been told there’s enough humor, loveable characters, and plotty mystery elements to please any reader.
It’s about a hotshot pilot named Nax who fails out of his dream academy on the first day, only to witness that academy’s near destruction right as he and his fellow washouts are about to be shipped home forever. They’re the only survivors, and thus the perfect scapegoats, which kicks off a wild adventure with heists, crashing spaceships, arguing, getting shot, family drama, and a desperate attempt to stave off the biggest threat the galaxy’s ever faced.
All my books start out as a vague little idea seed that appears out of nowhere and sits around in an Idea Dump google doc for months or years until it meets the right catalyst. In this case, the seed was “a hotshot pilot fails out of a space academy on his first day” and the catalyst was seeing Guardians of the Galaxy in the theater in summer 2014. It wasn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it was so much fun, and it solidified for me what I wanted THE DISASTERS to feel like. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo later that year!
Nax Hall and his ‘fellow failures’ are at the heart of The Disasters. What are your tips for creating and juggling an ensemble?
I can’t seem to write anything BUT ensembles, so someone please give me tips for writing small casts!
I come from the world of gaming, so I tend to build my ensembles like I’m building an adventuring party in Dungeons & Dragons or a video game. What roles do I need to have in the group from a functional/technical standpoint? A pilot, a navigator, a gunner, etc. If there are any particular personality traits I need certain characters to have either for plotty reasons, because they were part of the original idea, or because it sounds fun, I’ll assign those next. Then it’s time to play them off each other! How will X and Y annoy each other? How will Y and Z get along when under fire? It’s those points where the characters’ rough edges chafe against each other that makes things interesting.
In each scene I’ll try to mentally hop into each character’s head (never on the page, though!) to make sure I’m seeing and feeling the scene through them, then I’ll switch around and think what that might look like on the outside to the viewpoint character. Did that make sense? Point is, they’re all heroes in the story and all have their own arcs and goals and feels. It’s a lot to juggle, but I LOVE writing ensembles and am a little bit terrified of writing less.
So many reviews remark on the fact that The Disasters is laugh-out-loud funny! What makes humor authentic for you?
I hope everyone finds it funny! It was one of my big goals. I love humor in all my media, and I love to laugh. When writing humor, I have to be able to hear the lines in the character’s voice. Like, if this were spoken aloud on a TV show, would it land well and sound natural in context, or would it be awkward, forced, or inauthentic? I think the best humor arises from a character’s particular worldview and personality reacting to the world around them—and the people around them. Clashing personalities are always fun!
I’m a firm believer in the idea that every story teaches the writer something new, so what did writing The Disasters teach you?
Um… EVERYTHING. So much. I don’t even know where to begin because this was only my second novel, the first one I wrote with writer friends and crit partners around, the first to go through the publication process, and I had SO far to go. I feel like a totally different writer now. I think I learned two big lessons with THE DISASTERS, though: story structure is my friend, and I need to be a jerk to my characters.
Everyone works differently, so I don’t believe in one true story structure, but I really needed to study a bunch of the structure theories that are out there to figure out what was wrong with this book. I rewrote the third quarter (50-75%) three or four times before I got it right. Now I have a system that works really well for me and I manage to head off most major problems before I really start writing.
I also learned that I tend to pull my punches because I love my characters and just want them all to be happy. Warms my heart, but makes for a boring book. I had to put a lot of effort into developing more friction between the characters in the first half of the book because I was already thinking of them as the unified crew of always-got-your-back friends I wanted them to be by the end.
I was much meaner to my characters in my second book. :)
In addition to being an author, you’re also a YA librarian. How has your career impacted and informed your writing?
It’s been a great complement to my writing! I’ve been so lucky to have the support of current and former colleagues throughout this glacial publishing process. Ultimately, though, I’m always reluctant to lean on any connections I have. I never want to make people feel awkward or obligated to support my books. What I have done is use what I’ve learned as a librarian to help time my marketing and outreach.
I didn’t bother sending postcards to advertise the book more than about 8-10 weeks from pub, because many libraries can’t order things until 2 months out. For event scheduling, I know many libraries do programming by the season and book as much as six months in advance, so I know to provide as much notice as possible for potential events. I also try to stay as flexible as possible on pricing, because my own budget for teen programming at my library is about $90/month and I really have to shift things around and crunch numbers to hire out for programs or pay for author visits, and can only do a very few.
What are you reading, watching, or otherwise currently infatuated with?
I finally started watching the Great British Baking Show after being harangued about it forever, and I GET IT NOW. I’m obsessed! It’s exactly what I needed to de-stress after turning in the final draft of my second book and waiting for THE DISASTERS to come out. My December tradition is to read tons of fluffy holiday-themed fanfic in my favorite fandoms, so I’m allowing myself a little time to do that, too. I’m also plowing through N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series and I’m totally blown away. Incredible work.
And finally, what’s the most important lesson you’ve learned so far in your publishing career?
Have no expectations except for your own performance. There is SO little in this business you can control. Not the amount of marketing you receive, not the way readers will react, not the timeline from deal to publication, almost nothing. What you CAN control is whether you put the work in, take care of yourself, make your deadlines, work on the next thing, and improve your craft. Nothing matters more than the book itself, so make sure that gets the vast majority of your focus. Everything else is just icing!
Many thanks go out to M.K. for taking the time to tell us more about her writing journey and how THE DISASTERS came to be. Be to sure to add M.K.'s YA sci-fi adventure to your Goodreads list, or (better yet!) pre-order your copy (WRITE) NOW from retail sites like Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, or request it at your library, or local independent bookstore!
And, as always,