#LoveOzYA Q&A with Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner about BEYOND THE END OF THE WORLD
Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner are two bestselling authors of science fiction and fantasy for young adults. Together, they have co-authored seven books, including The Starbound Trilogy and the Unearthed duology.
Amie and Meagan recently chatted to #LoveOzYA's Bianca Breen about their recent release, BEYOND THE END OF THE WORLD, the thrilling conclusion to The Other Side of the Sky. With so many books under their belts, Amie and Meg are naturally filled with creative wisdom and were kind enough to share some of their tips with Bianca.
You can check out a clip of the interview with Amie and Meg on our YouTube channel.
On writing the things that challenge you:
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SKY came with a unique set of challenges. Of course, it was a lockdown book, disrupting Amie and Meg’s usual processes of co-authoring a novel, but there were also the challenges they set themselves: the blend of science fiction and fantasy, and whether they could create a romance between two characters who aren’t allowed to touch.
Amie explains that ‘the seeds of this came right after These Broken Stars and we both had a strong sense that we just weren’t ready to do it yet. We weren’t even sure what it was that was going to be too hard.’
But why would you want to write things you find hard?
Meg says, ‘Like with any skill you’re trying to develop, you have to practice and step outside your comfort zone; if you don’t do that, you’re never going to get better. With some things it’s okay, but I’m passionate about writing so improving those skills brings me a lot of joy. Also, if you know you’re not good at something and you just avoid it forever, you’re not going to be able to tell the stories you want to tell. You’re limiting yourself. I used to avoid writing action scenes, but when it came to Hunted I wrote a bunch of the scenes where she’s fighting the beast first just so I could practice that and get better.’
‘That’s a good way to go about it,’ says Amie. ‘You wouldn’t say “I’m not a runner but I’d like to be, so I’m going to sign up for the Melbourne Marathon this year.” You would get shoes, sign up for a five-kilometre fun run in a few months. Meg wasn’t like “I’m going to write a kung-fu book in which every single scene is action.” Instead, she pulled out the scenes that were action and worked on them at her own pace. You have to set goals that step you through the process.’
Amie and Meg’s relationship was built on stories.
Meg says, ‘Our friendship has always been telling each other stories – that was how we became friends in the first place. Whenever we’re together we end up telling each other stories whether we’re trying to or not. It’s the stories we tell each other when we’re not really trying that end up being the most interesting and compelling.’
When Amie and Meg started writing together, they both had their individual writing strengths. ‘The longer we work together, the more the peaks and valleys in those areas had flattened out.’ Meg went on to say that ‘writing is confidence. If you’re going to write poetic description or comedy or anything else you have to be confident you’re going to pull it off or else it ends up being weak.’
Amie chimed in with, ‘But if I want something to be deeply poetic and lyrical and beautiful I will still hand it to Meg because I know that’s what she does and what she will always do better than me. We do write to our strengths in that respect – Nimh comes from a world that is full of poetry and magic, so we let Meg off the leash and go for her poetic best. North comes from a world that’s more functional and “down to earth”, so I played into that as my voice and wrote him sounding more modern than I’ve ever made a character sound. I leaned into my lack of poetry and went the other way.’
‘This is the first time the voices were really so far apart in terms of tone because of the science fiction versus fantasy split,’ Meg says. ‘I could really sit in the fantasy world and Amie could really sit in the science fiction world.’
Even though Beyond the End of the World is their seventh published novel together, Amie and Meg can still surprise each other. Meg says, ‘We take a lot of enjoyment and excitement and surprise and delight and wonder from each other’s writing. If that ever stopped, we probably wouldn’t be writing together anymore. If you’re not finding that joy, then why do it?’
‘I write for Meg,’ Amie says. ‘And because it’s so specific, it turns out lots of people like it.’
‘That’s a lesson we learned from Lilac and Tarver,’ Meg explains. ‘Amie invented Tarver as a character she thought I would think was hot. That’s literally why Tarver exists. The goal is, when you open that document, you want the person reading to be delighted. It’s not like “oh we need to get to the end of the book”, it’s “I want to write a chapter that delights Amie”.’
On finding world building inspiration during the pandemic:
The Amazon sparked the idea of Below’s forest-sea. The Grand Canyon provided the inspiration for Gaia in Unearthed. Tokyo gave its aesthetics to Alciel. A comment about the weather over the Grand Canyon being different on the other side of the sky sparked… well, you know. But how do you fill the creative well when you can’t travel? Amie says you don’t have to travel to do this. ‘Being the nerd I am, I did whole podcast episodes on ways to do world building without travelling. You can do documentaries, Google Maps, watch a movie that has the feeling of [your world].’ Amie and Meg would share Netflix documentaries of locations they envisioned for certain settings!
From aliens to foreign lifeforms to leaders of rebel groups, Amie and Meg have written their fair share of villains.
‘In general, we tend to like villains to be human in very real and accessible ways. Our (probably) most hated villain is Roderick LaRoux in These Broken Stars, but even he turns out to be human and you start to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing – because he loves his daughter. Isn’t that one of the most noble sentiments there is? It just gets twisted and these things run off the rails sometimes.’
‘By the end of Their Fractured Light, he’s a complicated man,’ Amie says. ‘A lot of the things readers assumed about him aren’t true or are seen in a different light.’
Meg goes on to say, ‘We always like to play with perspective when it comes to the villains. We always like to show a very limited perspective at first and you only see them as a cardboard cut-out villain in the eyes of the protagonists. One of the things we universally love doing in our books is torturing our protagonists by showing them just how human or sympathetic the people working against them are. It’s almost a challenge for our protagonists – can you still stick by your principles even if you’re starting to see the big bad character is actually not what you thought?’
‘That’s what ultimately runs through all of our books,’ Amie says, ‘even when we start out thinking oh this time we’re not writing about this thing, which has happened a few times, it always ends up being about people from two different worlds. Often literally from two different worlds, but more from two different points of view or understandings of the world, or two different backgrounds.’
So how did the villain of The Other Side of the Sky duology come about?
‘We set up Inshara to be the dark shadow of Nimh,’ Meg explains. ‘She thought she was chosen as well from a very young age. She has also grown up with this burden of prophecy, fate and destiny on her shoulders, but without the privileges and guidance that Nimh had. The privilege aspect is a huge part of it. She grew up with no one and nothing, people spitting on her in the streets until her mother took her away from all of that. We really wanted to highlight how they’re not that different. They’re close to the same age and even have a similar goal: to save the world. They just have very different ideas about how that’s going to happen. It’s showing how a leader can go bad – not because she’s evil or because she wants to hurt people or wants power and money, she just doesn’t have the same tools that Nimh has.’
We can’t get enough of the books that come out of the Amie and Meg team, so we’re thrilled to know they’re working on another one!
‘We can’t say much about it,’ Amie says, ‘but the back half of this year is when we’re going to be drafting the new one together. Every Friday morning we get together and have a brainstorm and work on the characters and things like that. It’s the best way to end my weeks. It’s going to be funnier than anything we’ve written.’
‘We’ve sort of started this pattern where we write a complicated, serious series, and then we follow it up with something that’s fun and that we can have a good time with. [The next one] is going to be fun and light-hearted and romantic.’