Dystopian Nonfiction

I recently finished the book Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by MT Anderson. It's a moving account of how music can stir our passions and give us the will to survive. Leningrad during World War II was harsher than many dystopian settings we're given in fiction, and it all really happened: barbaric leaders, purges, cannibals and streets full of dead people.

Shortly after finishing, I was talking to Author SJ Kinkaid and she told me about a non-ficition dystopian she is reading:

I've only started Dear Leader: My Escape from North Korea  but it struck me while reading that we in the YA community have been writing dystopias, and people like Jang Jin-sung have been living them... And the real dystopias are so much more chilling than any imaginary world could be. This is one of many books I've read about North Korea lately, but this is the first from the perspective of an insider to the regime. This man truly, earnestly believed himself to be living in a utopia, with a living God presiding over it, and he comes face to face with Kim Jong Il and is shocked to realize his leader is capable of getting blisters on his feet. There's a moment when Kim Jong Il sheds a few tears hearing a moving song, and all the men about him find themselves swept into uncontrollable weeping just at the sight of that... It's difficult to imagine the sheer psychological terror gripping such a society. It's a horrific but fascinating read.

Sometimes, when it comes to dystopians, truth can be harsher than fiction.

SJ Kinkaid is the author of the Insignia series and the forthcoming The Diabolic. Follow her on twitter @SJKinkaidBooks

Illuminae Publishes!

One of our own, ex-Leaguer Amie Kaufman along with Stormdancer author Jay Kristoff have a new SSF book out now and it's already on the New York Times list!  It's pretty special with a mix of graphics, messages, lots of surprises, but I'll let you read about it by clicking on the cover.

The cover is different from any cover I've ever seen.  It's made out of something super hi-tech and very shiny.  You have to see it to fully appreciate it.  I can't wait to read this book!  

Guest Post: Madcap Writing Retreats: Retreat to Advance

Madcap Writing Retreats: Retreat to Advance
by Natalie C. Parker

Nothing has changed my career so much as writing retreats.

In the winter of 2011, I was invited to attend a large retreat in Branson, MO at which there would be 25 established YA authors. I was unagented at the time and though I found the idea of joining such a gathering an intimidating one, I also found it was impossible to pass up.

The experience was a game-changer. Not only did I meet a group of authors who were as encouraging as they were successful, but I sat in a room in which those same authors opened laptops and worked quietly together. There were headphones and tea and snack breaks and chat breaks and there were word documents that looked much like my own, growing one word at a time.

I left the Branson Retreat with a new network of contacts who would guide my career in different ways, determined to repeat the experience as quickly as possible. Only this time I wanted to be the one issuing invites. One year later, that’s exactly what I did: I made my first retreat of 11 authors on the side of a mountain, in a house that also had a turret.

Since that time, I’ve hosted 1 or 2 retreats every year, always with the goal of bringing authors together to create the kind of community we just can’t get in 140 character bites. I’ve hosted authors in turreted mansions in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in French Quarter apartments, in the Texas Hill Country, in historic Savannah townhomes, and in the sleepy Smoky Mountains. And here are the top three lessons I’ve learned from organizing retreats for writers:

  1. Internet. There must be Internet. It does not matter if you write to your group ahead of time and say the words “there is no Internet in this mountain chateau IS THAT OKAY?” It does not matter if they uniform answer is, “Yes, Natalie, we are not so addicted to the Modern Age that going without Wi-Fi for 3 days will kill us.” I promise you, none of that matters because when you get to the house someone will build an antenna out of aluminum foil and desperate tears and stand on the roof searching for a signal.
  2. Bathrooms. Never underestimate the importance of every bedroom having its own bathroom. End of explanation.
  3. Scenery. You may begin the adventure with plans of leaving the house, but trust me, this will not happen. To appease any group of authors, I advise picture windows and something that suggests power and mystery. Mountains are an obvious choice, but lakes work very well as do abandoned sugar plantations, rolling hills, and oceans. This way, even if you get snowed in after throwing out all the perishable food so that all that remains are Oreos and a handle of gin, no one will every complain about the view!

I love retreats. They’re fun and exciting and sometimes lead to creating things like  Sh*t Writers SayBut I started this by saying that retreats have altered the course of my career in significant ways and that is absolutely true.

After Branson in 2011, I had half a dozen authors willing to weigh in on my query and help me cull my agent list.

After the Wi-Fi-less chateau in 2012, there were authors ready to blurb my first book.

After the Hill Country in 2013, I received crucial advice on how to develop a retreat business.

But more than that, I’ve seen anthologies born over the course of a retreat, I’ve seen mentor and critique relationships gain footing, and I’ve seen the direction of manuscripts shift dramatically and to great effect. And I know there’s even more I haven’t seen.

Like so many writers, my writing time is bound and hedged in on all sides. My writing time is also my “down” time, my “free” time, my “in between this and that” time.” It’s a challenge to find hours that flow from one into another with nothing binding them except the promise of words. Madcap is one way I can offer time and opportunity to myself and to others, and I’m truly excited to be able to do that.

Madcap is for writers at any stage in their career – aspiring, agented, and published. My goal is to continue what was done for me at that first Branson retreat and create the kinds of opportunities it’s nearly impossible to create for yourself. Welcome to Madcap Retreats, join us for an adventure.

MADCAP RETREATS: Web | Twitter | Tumblr

And now we come to the giveaway portion of this post!

I’ve asked a few amazing bloggers to help me spread the word of Madcap far and wide via a Blog Hop. Each participating blog will be giving away 2 e-copies of my debut novel Beware the Wild. And each of those winners will be entered to win one of two grand prizes! They are:

  • A $300 discount on the upcoming workshop – The Anatomy of Publishing: Story & Marketing, August 27 – 30. The workshop will be lead by Courtney C. Stevens and will feature a few fancy guest authors who will workshop pages and queries one-on-one! (More info can be found here).
  • A short stack of ARCs including: JUBILEE MANOR by Bethany Hagen, DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, and THE ANATOMY OF CURIOSITY by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, & Brenna Yovanoff.

The contest is open to US/Canada ONLY. You may enter via each blogger if that pleases you. Contest closes at midnight on Sunday, June 7th. Winners will be announced by noon on Monday, June 8th.

Additionally! If you’d like to stay up to date on all retreat and workshop offerings by Madcap, you can subscribe to the mailing list by visiting this page. The first 50 subscribers will be offered a free download of either:

  • “Lady Berserk: A Novella of Dragons, Trickster Gods, and Reality TV,” by Tessa Gratton; or
  • “From Words to Brain: A Guided Tour Through the Neuroscience of Reading,” by Livia Blackburne

TO ENTER: Just leave a comment to this blog post telling us where or with whom your dream retreat would be! For an additional entry tweet your dream retreat to @NatalieCParker and @LeagueWriters

Sample tweet: I would love to go to Scotland on a writer's retreat with JK Rowling! @nataliecparker @leaguewriters

Full list of participating blogs:

Conventions Worth Going To: RT Booklovers Convention

As an author, aspiring author, or a reader, there's so many conventions out there that it can be hard to decide which ones to go to.  I have two small children, so I decided a few years ago that I would choose one non-local convention a year to attend, and after asking around, I picked RT.

Lydia Kang and me at the YA authors social at RT.

The RT Booklovers Convention is more or less a hybrid genre convention, in that it's ostensibly a romance con, but it has a massive Young Adult contingent, from the YA Alley at the Giant Book Fair, to multiple panels on writing craft, business, publishing, and fun meet-the-author style events.

The Long Game in Publishing panel with (from left to right) Julie Murphy, Sophie Jordan, Molly Jaffa, Rachel Caine, Tessa Gratton, and Whitney Ross.

But RT is a hybrid convention in more ways that one.  While a lot of conventions for writers are typically writer/industry only, like RWA or BEA, RT is a writer and reader convention.  Which means you have a chance to interact with your readers more than you ever would anywhere else, which to me, makes it the convention worth going to.  You get to network, promote and geek out all at the same place.  And did I mention all the books?  THERE'S A LOT OF BOOKS INVOLVED.

I mean, like a LOT.
So, if you're shopping around for conventions, I highly, highly recommend RT.  (And next year it's in Vegas.  So you know.  VEGAS.)

What's Your Favorite Sci Fi Trope? Tell us and win!

When I first wrote Across the Universe, I think I was a little surprised that I'd actually written a, you know, sci fi. I didn't like my husband's SF novels--they were hard SF, full of technical details. It just never occurred to me that there was so much more to sci fi than space engines--despite the fact that much of my favorite works were sci fi.

This is one of my favorite tropes--the classic time travel tale. I think I first fell in love with the twisty tale 12 Monkeys and then again with Doctor Who, but time travel itself is just fascinating. What would you do--go into the future, or correct the past? The only thing sure to happen in a time travel tale is that whatever you do, the outcome won't be what you're expecting. Even with the power of time, there's no guarantee you'll solve anything...

This is one of the key tropes of almost any sci fi novel, but certainly some sci fi tales are centered on this concept--most notably Star Trek, boldy going where no many has gone before. I think the reason I love these exploration tales is that, no matter what the explorers discover, it always teaches something about ourselves. The best sci fi, in fact, isn't so much about the strange, but about the discovery of self. In examining the possibilities of the wide universe, we discover who we actually are on a much more personal level.

Whether it's aliens or just a surprise twist on our own lives, no one covers this trope as well as The Twilight Zone. In science fiction, anything can happen. The major premise of the genre hinges on this concept. Exposing the surprise, unexpected twists reminds us that no matter how certain we are of the world, we can never be too certain. The best episodes of The Twilight Zone show how what we take for granted--everyday life, people we can trust--is never something to expect to last.

As opposed to hard SF, space opera often doesn't define every aspect of the world (or the schematics of the space engine), focusing instead on the characters and their struggles. A great space opera is both incredibly vast and incredibly narrow. It shows the vastness of the world, giving us access to new planets and spaceships, new cultures and aliens (even Jar-Jar Binks). At the same time, the space opera tends to be very close-up on a handful of characters, the ones whose story is being featured. Star Wars is about far more than Luke and Han and Leia and Vader, but at the end of the day, the story exists within them, and arguably could be told in another way, as long as the characters remain the same. On the flip side, hard SF titles are inextricably tied to their SF world, to the point where the world--and specifically the science of the world--becomes another character of the story.


We are not alone! There are aliens and worlds beyond what we could ever imagine. A planet made of chocolate? Possible! A fish that lives in your ear and translate words for you (except Belgium, because, ugh, vulgar)? Done and done! The universe contains anything you could ever possibly conceive of--and even more than that. It literally contains everything, including the meaning to life, the universe, and everything. Some stories revel in the vast possibilities (perhaps none moreso than Douglas Adams), while some warn us that included in "everything" are some very, very, very bad things we don't want to mess with (*cough*ALIENS AND PREDATORS*cough*). Either way, the point is that beyond the black of space is an infinite world of possibilities, just waiting to be discovered...or to thrust themselves upon us and invade Earth...


On the flip side, we have the stories where we are alone. Firefly is a great example of that--although there are other planets (almost all of them terraformed), there's very little in the way of aliens--no sentient creatures, for sure. And when the characters look out into the stars, they see "the black"--the utter aloneness of being human. After all, Arthur C. Clarke put it best when he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Ahhhhh, I love tech. I don't understand it, but I totally welcome my new and upcoming robot overlords. Technology is often the magic of sci fi. Whether it shows a world that went too far (such as Minority Report) or a world enhanced and made better by tech (omg, please give me a teleporter NOW), it's fascinating to see what sci fi writers develop, technologically. Some books from the past have a delightful mix of old and new--in Connie Willis's Doomsday Book, the character have access to time travel machines...but not to cell phones. It's sort of hilarious to see them running to payphones when their time machines muck up. But it's fascinating, too, to see what technology people predict will change, what will stay the same, and what is so new and mind-blowing that even the best minds thinking of the future couldn't predict.

As you can see, there's a lot to love in sci fi--so if you haven't checked it out yet, make sure you do! And if you've stuck with one trope, try out a new one--if not in a novel, perhaps in a short story. On Tuesday, January 13, I'll be releasing a collection of sci fi short stories that cover a ton of different tropes. There's time travel and teleporters, unexpected twists and unexplored tech. Each story is unique and separate from the others, and the only thing that ties them all together is that they take place in the future. The Future Collection is my first short story collection, and features three never-before-seen short stories!

And you can enter to win a copy here--as well as a signed copy of my latest book, The Body Electric, and an Across the Universe brand water bottle.

You can enter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Have A Sci-Fi Christmas With The League Giveaway!

Christmas... sometimes it's hard to remember to be happy about it when we're worried about covering all the shopping, making food (and trying not to overeat), wrapping gifts, and doing all the things you're supposed to do, while not necessarily doing things you want to do.

So screw that - let's read.

What's in the magnificent giveaway from the League?

This stuff:

SKYLARK by Meagan Spooner
THESE BROKEN STARS by Meagan Spooner & Amie Kaufman
NOT A DROP TO DRINK by Mindy McGinnis
IN A HANDFUL OF DUST by Mindy McGinnis
CONTROL by Lydia Kang
STARTERS by Lissa Price
ENDERS by Lissa Price
LANDRY PARK by Bethany Hagen
POSSESSION by Elana Johnson
SKY JUMPERS by Peggy Eddleman
FORBIDDEN FLATS by Peggy Eddleman
DEFECTOR by Susanne Winnacker
BETWEEN THE SHADOW & THE SOUL by Susanne Winnacker
THE MEMORY OF AFTER by Lenore Applehans
CHASING BEFORE by Lenore Applehans

That's 17 books just for you (or maybe to plug a Christmas gift hole that you forgot). So think of yourself (or belatedly of someone else) and enter to win in the Rafflecopter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Amy K. Nichols Visits the League

I'm happy to introduce Amy K. Nichols with her debut, the YA --NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE, publishing Dec 9! - Lissa

Hello, My Name is Amy and I’m a Science Fiction Author

I’m a science fiction author.

How in the world did this happen?!

When I think back to the younger version of me, the one who was a mediocre science student at best, it kind of boggles my mind that I’ve ended up where I have.

The last science class I remember enjoying was seventh grade. My teacher was a really cool hippie-lady. She taught us the dangers of smoking (yuck), we dissected frogs (cool), and she told us how hot dogs were made (I haven’t eaten one since).

Something happened after seventh grade, though. While I always found dissection fascinating, overall I lost my interest in science. I think somewhere along the way I learned (or decided) that I wasn’t good at it. There may have also been a tinge of “science isn’t a girl thing” in there as well. I don’t know if all that originated from me or my teachers, but there was a disconnect between me and the science I was learning.

What I never lost, though, was my love of science fiction.

Growing up, my brother and I spent Saturday mornings watching Science Fiction Theater, The World Beyond, and the best science fiction B movies ever made. Zanti. Them. Godzilla vs. Mothra. I swear I’ve seen every Twilight Zone episode made. My favorite, though, was The Time Machine. That movie rocked my world. My ten year old brain gobbled it all up and began spinning daydreamed stories of my own.

It wasn’t only movies and television shows, though. I loved science fiction books, too. I grew up a voracious reader (still am, actually). Time travel stories, or anything involving portals to other worlds were my favorite.

Despite this, when I set out to write and publish, I never imagined my first book—or really any of my books—would be science fiction. That genre felt out of my league. Reserved for authors who majored in chemistry or scored high on the “thinking” category of the Myers Briggs Test. (For the record, I was an English major, and my Myers Briggs T score is super low.)

When I decided to pursue writing, though, I wrote the stories that came to me. All them had an element of odd. Ghost stories. Creepy stories. Monsters. Supernatural beings. And then, there was this story that showed up one day. A story about a boy who woke up in a classroom and didn’t know where he was or how he got there. He recognized the girl next to him, though. Recognized her from his world.

I kept writing that story, following it to its conclusion, and before long I’d written my first science fiction novel.

After a few years of revisions, I signed with an agent, and that agent sold the novel to Katherine Harrison at Knopf.

Early on Katherine and I agreed that we wanted the science in NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE to be solid. We didn’t want readers to easily dismiss it. We wanted it to hold up under scrutiny. This was a pretty tall order for someone like me, someone so mediocre at science.

Or was it?

Around 2007 I started hearing about this ginormous apparatus deep beneath the Swiss Alps that would answer all the questions of the universe…or create a black hole and swallow up the earth. Black hole? That certainly caught my attention. I started reading up on black holes, time travel, multiverses. I watched shows on the Discovery Channel, and clips on YouTube trying to wrap my brain around quantum physics and string theory. I developed a love for science again. All of that fascinating information sank into my subconscious, just waiting for a spark. Waiting for NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE. Then, boom. My imagination went into overdrive, igniting like it’s own kind of particle collider.

When I set out to research how a boy could possibly jump between parallel universes, that seemingly daunting task turned out to be a lot of fun. Work, sure. It required hours of reading books and scientific articles, looking for just the right theory to fit my story. But like a puzzle, all of the pieces came together to form a bridge from real-life science to the science in my fiction.

I can’t go into a lot of detail about what that science is, or how it works, without giving away major spoilers about the book. But I can share with you what reviewers have said about it. School Library Journal said, “Nichols adeptly simplifies the complex concepts of string theory and parallel universes without condescending to readers.” VOYA said “in particular, science buffs will enjoy the speculative theories put forward.”

I’m a science fiction writer. This mediocre science student turned science enthusiast. And I couldn’t be happier.

Amy K. Nichols lives on the edge of the Phoenix desert with her husband and children. In the evenings, she enjoys sitting outside, counting bats and naming stars. Sometimes she names the bats. NOW THAT YOU’RE HERE is her first novel. Visit her online at amyknichols.com.