Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ZEROES by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

I first became a fan of Scott Westerfeld after I read UGLIES, and when I saw an ARC of ZEROES at BEA this year, I couldn't wait to read it, especially when I found out the other points-of-view were written by Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti. ZEROES will debut September 29, and I've already ordered a truckload for the Sacramento Public Library. A version of this post can also be accessed on Sacramento Public Library's website the day the book comes out.**

**Addendum: This has been delayed. I will post a link once this goes live. 

From Goodreads:

Ethan, aka "Scam," has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn't just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn't consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts - like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him - his former group of friends, the self-named "zeros" who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam's latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.


Scott, Margo and Deborah were also kind enough to answer some interview questions:

You've described writing as a social process. How did the three of you come to write together, and how did you divide the character stories among yourselves?

Margo: Scott and Deborah got together first through their shared interest in superpowers and Debs enthusiasm for the idea of the television Writers Room. They wanted to write in that kind of team environment, taking advantage of the conversational, brainstormy, and even cheerfully competitive parts of their brains. Partly I guess they thought it'd make the writing more efficient and partly they wanted to enjoy the spectacle of stories being pushed to their limits by the energy in the room.

But they realized that two people do not a team make, so they asked me along for the ride. And it was only at our second meeting or so that Scott suggested that I should take on two particular charactersand I got so busy thinking about them that I dont remember how the other four were divvied up...

Deb: We came up with all six characters and then Scott said, 'Deb, you take [redacted] and [redacted]'. To which I replied, 'Ace!' (Note that in Australian, ace means 'why, that's excellent, thank-you very much'.) So then we started working out the personalities of our character and negotiating how they would all fit together.

Scott: We outline together, in the same room, arguing how the story will go. But once the outline is solid, we retreat to our separate houses (and separate continents, sometimes!) to write the chapters. Everything gets written out of order this way, so it's all a jumble that has to be put back together. But that means that each chapter gets to be like its own little story as well.


It definitely fits together like complete parts to a whole, and I found it fascinating how the superpowers increased the more the characters were around others. How did this concept develop, and how did it affect the characters and the development of the plot?

Margo: That feature of the powers was there pretty much from the beginning as a way to unify the powers, and make them more varied. Sometimes there just wouldnt be enough of a crowd for Flicker to find a pair of eyes, for example, or to make Anonymous forgettable. And sometimes thered be way too many people around, and teens with poor impulse control would suddenly have massive powers to do stupid things with. It taught the characters about the dangers of their powers, also the potential, and added good scary and anxious-making possibilities to a lot of the scenes.

Deb: The social superpowers aspect originally came from Scott. We were riffing on the idea that people born in the year 2000supposedly the year of the great Y2K computer meltdownwould have very different experiences growing up to what we'd experienced. For a start, there's the internet, and all the social advantages that presents. Advantages, and dangers.

Scott: Collaboration is the human superpower. Humans can't fly on our own, but when tens of thousands of us design aircraft and build airports and create air-traffic control systems, flying becomes easy. So it made sense to us that all these superpowers would come from the crowd.

It's sort of like Twitter: if you're alone on it, Twitter's nothing. With a hundred friends, it makes the Oscars funnier to watch. And with a million people? You've got the Arab Spring.


So true. It also comes out in characters' voices--particularly Ethan's. In writing multiple points of view, how were you able to keep the characters' voices so distinct? Did some voices come more easily than others?

Margo: Collaborating meant that we had three distinct writing voices at our disposal to start with. We definitely wanted the powers to be very distinct from each other, too, and we wanted to show how each power had formed each character as they fought to deal with its consequences. That made it pretty obvious where the voices diverged.

Some voices did come easier than others. For instance, we spent a lot of energy early on getting Anon to stop fussing like a nervous grandpa and start being broodingly romantic instead.

Deb: We're not admitting who wrote which character yet, so it's hard to comment specifically on this. But in my experience the voices came relatively easily initially, simply as a result of *thinking* our ways into each character. How would it *feel* to be Scam, for example? How would it feel to be Flicker or Crash or Anon?

The funny thing was presenting our initial character sketches to each other (word sketches, not illustration sketches) and being surprised by the insights. Like, when I first presented [redacted] to Scott and Margo, they both agreed the character was kinda [redacted], but in a good way. So I ran with it, made that character as [redacted] as I could. My other character was considered to be way more [redacted], which was good news, but turned out to be way harder to write.

Scott: Oh, Deb. You're such a [redacted].

For me, what makes these characters distinct is the powers themselves. Scam's voice speaks for him, Flicker sees through others' eyes, Crash feels technology like its insects in her brain. All of these powers change the way that point of view works and the way that language works. Our objective was to make the way these six characters see the world not only different from each other, but also from any other person the reader has ever met.


Youve definitely succeeded. What are some of your current projects? Will there be future collaborations?

Margo: Were just finishing off Book 2 of Zeroes, and expect to be busy with Book 3 until the end of next year. My solo projects include two fantasy novels and the odd short story.

Well have to see how we weather the entire trilogy before we know whether well collaborate again, though were kicking along okay together right now. Collaboration is pretty addictive; solo writing feels very lonely and laborious by contrast!

Deb: I'm playing with some solo novel ideas in my spare time, getting thoughts and research and very rough words down on the page. I've collaborated a few times on smaller projects and I'd definitely like to collaborate again. It's occasionally exhausting but more often it's inspiring and stimulating and invigorating. I recommend it for writers who want to be stretched.

Scott: On top of Zeroes 2 and 3, I have a graphic novel coming out next year, called Spill Zone. It's about a young artist who sneaks into an alien visitation site to take photographs. This art is both illegal and very personal, as both her parents disappeared during the visitation. Here's more:



For more information on Scott's other books, click here.

For Margo's other books, click here.

For Deborah's other stories and novellas, click here.


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