This is another of my WorldCon interviews. This time, I’m speaking with Megan O’Keefe, who I promise is not involved in Fight Club at all. Her début novel comes out tomorrow (January 4th)!
Gama Ray Martinez: I am here with Megan O’Keefe, Writers of the Future winner and one of Angry Robot’s newest authors. Megan, thank you for doing this interview. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Megan O’Keefe: Hi Gama. Thanks for having me here. Well, I’m Megan O’Keefe. I did win Writers of the Future, and my debut novel, Steal the Sky is coming on from Angry Robot in January of 2016. It is about an airship heist, and I’m also a professional soap maker for my day job although I am not a part of Fight Club, or at least I can’t talk about it.
GM: A soap maker? How exactly does one make soap?
MO: Well, I make it all from scratch. I use primary vegetable oils as I am a vegetarian. It might be a little hypocritical if I used lard. I use plum oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and you have to mix it with, well its common name is lye. Its actual name is sodium hydroxide which is what is eventually use to make dye in Fight Club which I do not do. I disavow all knowledge of this. You mix it up in a big vat, and I’ve got molds that I make double logs in that I split and then cut with a big wire cutter into bars.
GM: You mentioned your novel, Steal the Sky coming out in January from Angry Robot. Can you give us a brief summary of that?
MO: It’s a secondary-world fantasy which means it takes place in a world that is completely different from this one. There really is no good analogue. The best way I’ve found to describe the setting is if someone took Victorian England culture and dropped into the Australian outback. The city itself is settled inside of a dormant volcano so it’s like 19th century gondola. In this city, there are two con men running around doing their thing and they set their sights on a very nice airship that just happens to be owned by a very very very mean commodore. They are trying to take it from her. Crazy hijinks ensue.
GM: I believe I saw that that’s the first novel in a trilogy. Is that right?
MO: Yes, that’s correct. We have three books planned at the moment. The rough draft of book 2 is complete. I’m doing revisions right now. We actually just got the cover for book 1 so things are moving forward pretty quickly.
GM: Did you know it was a trilogy when you first started writing the first book?
MO: When I first started writing this book? This was a book I wrote purely to entertain myself in between projects. I wrote it by their seat of my pants. I had no outline which is unusual for me, and I did it in about three weeks. Of course, I had three months of revisions to make it look like a real story, but I had no idea it would be a trilogy at that point. When my agent asked me to write a synopsis of a trilogy that I didn’t know existed yet, I had a lot of fun imagining all the cool things I could do next.
GM: How extensively do you have books two and three planned right now?
MO: Book 2 was outlined in advance. I have an overall series outline that has been looked at by both my agent and my editor at this point. I have a general direction I’m going in. Book two, like I said, the first draft is complete so that is pretty much set in stone. Book three has a loose outline at the moment that will expand into a much more detailed outline before I sit down to write it.
GM: Did you encounter any challenges since you didn’t originally intend this to be a series, did you encounter any challenges like “Oh yeah, I made this passing reference to something in book one and now I have to incorporate it into book two?”
MO: Yes, but for me, those are Easter eggs. I’m like “Oh there’s this thing I mentioned in the first scene of book one and I can totally tie that in.” I’ve written the ending. Book three’s final chapter is done. That’s set in stone, so if I can tie something in across the whole series, that just excites me, so yes, there have been some things like that, but I enjoy that kind of challenge.
GM: As a new writer coming into the industry really after the ebook revolution, you may have a perspective on this that many more established writers don’t have. Why did you decided to go in with a traditional publisher instead of going indie?
MO: That is a very good question. I have my own business. I’ve been running my business for seven years. I wear all the hats in my business. I do the marketing. I do the bookkeeping, I do the making of things. I do all of that, and when I first started out writing, I wanted to go the traditional route to, at the very least, start with because I wanted somebody else to wear the hats for a little while, and kind of ‘show me the ropes’ and give ma little guidance on what to do, and Angry Robot has been amazing. Mike Underwood is kind of my point-person there and he’s great.
GM: Can you talk a little bit about how you got picked up by Angry Robot?
MO: This is a little backwards I think. I met Mike at LoneStarCon 3, and after I’d won Writers of the Future, I posted on Facebook that I had finished the draft for a novel, and he said when it was ready to send it to him, so I did. I sent it to the person who would be my agent at the same time, and he and my agent both got back to me within twenty four hours of each other saying they wanted to talk about the book. I kind of got the agent and editor at the same time.
GM: You mentioned winning Writers of the Future. Your short story, Another Range of Mountains, won first place in the fourth quarter of Volume 30. How did that feel?
MO: That was amazing. Writers of the Future is an insane experience. You hear about it, but you truly do not know what to expect until you get there. Literally, I walked off the plane and they had a camera crew pointed at me. I was like, “I got up at five this morning. Who are you people?” You get there and they basically say “Okay, here are our judges. They’re these amazing multiple New York Times bestselling writers and award winners who are basically going to cram all the knowledge they can into your head in a week. I hope you don’t enjoy sleeping.” It was a crazy experience. It was well worth it. It was a lot of fun.
GM: For our listeners that don’t know, Writers of the Future is a quarterly writing contest that draws entries from all over the world, with past winners including authors such as Eric Flint, David Farland and Patrick Rothfuss. It’s an impressive achievement. You have an upcoming book as well as a story in the Writers of the Future F anthology. Is there anywhere else our listeners can find your work?
MO: Yeah, actually. I have a short story called Of Blood and Grime which is out with Shimmer Magazine. It’s free to read right now. Also that’s just been picked up right before I left for this con by PodCastle, so it’s about to be an audio form too if you would like to have me in your ears as well as your eyes.
GM: Now, according to your website, one of your first publications was a newsletter in which you chronicled the daily adventures of the local cat population. Can you tell us about that?
MO: Ok so this requires a tiny bit of background information so I don’t look a hundred percent insane. When I was a kid, my mother was a journalist. She was an award-winning journalist. She was an amazing news reporter. She’s retired now and still amazing. She was a single mother and she took me to her office oftentimes, and I would be left in the board room to just entertain myself for a little while occasionally. There were a lot of copy machines and a lot of paper and I had an active imagination and I really liked kitties. I used their formatting stuff and figured out how to lay out a little newsletter and I wrote elaborate stores about the wars between the different cat population and I handed them out to the neighbors, but I don’t think they were impressed.
GM: I understand you’ve also been dabbling in game development. Is that right?
MO: Yeah, this is a recent hobby of mine. I’ve always been a little bit into programming and I like to say I grew up in the internet. My first experiences were trying to figure out how to get Mosaic to work and that kind of thing. Back when I was a kid, I was originally interested in this kind of thing, but the only real game engines that existed were proprietary and very difficult to get like the Unreal engine and that kind of thing. So, I’ve discovered recently there are multiple of these. The one I particularly like is a game engine called Unity 3D. It is a professional level game engine, and it is open source. You can use it as much as you want. When I discovered it, I was like “Oh playtime!” Between that and there’s a 3D rendering software that is also open source that is called Blender. Between those two, I’ve been playing with making games and testing out different mechanics. I’m actually doing one right now where the basic premise is that you have to collect points of light from a level and whenever you take a point of light more monsters appear, and the darker it gets on the screen. You have to get all these lights but it gets increasingly difficult as you go.
GM: Ok that sounds interesting. What are you working on right now? Is the just the third novel in the Skyfall or is there something else you have going on?
MO: So the third novel in Steal the Sky, I’m working on my outline for that. Before I sold Steal the Sky, I had two rough drafts for two different novels so I’ll probably revise one of those. One of them is an expansion of Anointer Range of Mountains story that won Writers of the Future so I’ll probably clean up one of those and then I’ll move on to book three
GM: Ok, well that was all I had for you Megan so thank you so much for doing this interview with us.
MO: Thanks for having me Gama.
GM: That is Megan O’Keefe. Be looking for her novel Steal the Sky coming out in January.