Welcome to YA Books Central's "Indie Superstars" column. This monthly event will spotlight the best and brightest of the indie community.
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This week we’re interviewing Laura Frances, author of "Slave"
Welcome to YABC, Laura!
Melissa A. Craven: Tell us a little bit about the world of Slave?
Laura Frances: First, thank you for this opportunity! Slave was deeply personal in ways that might be surprising to some, so any chance to discuss the details is greatly appreciated and very enjoyable for me.
The world of Slave, more specifically Hannah’s world, is very dark and to be honest…depressing. The book opens in a deep valley filled with factories and blanketed in a dome of smog. The sun is rarely visible, the moon and stars forgotten to many. Workers labor in the factories under threat, and Watchers police them with very few limitations to how they may enforce the rules. Outcasts, those Workers who have reached the limit of their usefulness or have committed a crime against the system, can be seen wasting away along the walls of dank alleys. Everything about this world is grim. It was important to paint hopelessness plainly in the opening scenes. Governing over all of this is a panel of five leaders called the Council.
Melissa: Hannah's world is rather grim and bleak and your writing really captures that landscape of hopelessness. What was your biggest inspiration for creating such a world?
Laura: There are many things that influenced the setting and atmosphere of Slave. As far as the physical world is concerned, some inspiration was drawn from a documentary I watched on severe pollution in a region of China. A young girl was asked if she had ever seen stars, and she said no. As someone who loves to gaze at the sky, this stuck with me.
But the greatest inspiration, and this is where the personal meaning comes into play, was my decades long struggle with social fear and anxiety. As a child and teen, I was very fearful of people and of social interaction. It came out in different ways at different times, but I was always operating at some level of anxiety. High school was especially difficult. Of course, my world was not as bleak as Hannah’s. I had friendship, relationships, and built great memories despite how I was struggling. But for the sake of writing a story that personified the very solitary struggle of social anxiety, I chose to go to the extreme and push Hannah’s world to the edge. The idea is that over the course of the book, Hannah’s personal growth, and the expanding of her world and understanding of the system, will demonstrate a fight toward being free from fear.
Melissa: What does it mean to be an Outcast in Hannah's world?
Laura: To be an Outcast is the worst future a Worker could imagine, especially in winter, which is the season fast approaching when we meet Hannah. Most Outcasts are injured or sick in some way. Perhaps they are mentally ill or simply too old. For some, they broke a rule, and the Watcher who caught them was feeling particularly cruel that day. Whatever the reason, Outcasts live a devastating existence. It’s important to remember that while the setting of Slave is extreme, the Outcasts represent in many ways a very real problem in today’s world. There are homeless suffering just as terribly all over the globe, and many were once strong, able-bodied members of society, participating in hard work and even serving to protect us.
Melissa: In some ways the Watchers seem to be just as trapped as the Workers. What is it like for a Watcher who hates what he does?
Laura: I imagine it to be mental torture. The things Watchers do are sometimes unspeakable. We learn more about the kind of orders they are often given later in the story. And without giving too much away, we learn why they continue to obey, even when they might be questioning the morality of it.
Melissa: Hannah lost her parents at a young age and has been on her own since then. How has that experience shaped the person she is at the onset of her story?
Laura: Hannah was forced to adapt and survive in ways that many of the other Workers were not. Most Workers grew up in families, with one or both parents living. While there might not be much joy, having a parent to suffer with might make each day a little more bearable. But in Hannah’s case, that option was taken from her. She did have her neighbors, an elderly couple who became very close and dear to her. They are one of the reasons Hannah could find the strength to continue on. That, and the hopeful images her father placed in her mind before he died. But regardless of these things, Hannah still fell into deep loneliness in the nighttime hours when she was in her living unit. Once alone each night, she was fighting a mental battle until she would finally fall asleep. When we meet Hannah, she is very much conditioned to live in fear, and I think the loss of her parents made that much worse for her. Though I will say, the tragedy of losing her parents in such a shocking way also served to make Hannah a more compassionate and courageous person later in the story.
Melissa: You've clearly put in a lot of work to construct Hannah's world and her character even before her story begins. Do you have a process for developing your world building?
Laura: In the beginning, there was no process. I simply started writing. I guess I’m what some writers call a pantser, in other words, someone who writes ‘by the seat of their pants’. The hardest part for me was the first chapter. I think I rewrote it at least twenty times. Slave is very much a character-driven story, so that first chapter had to pack a punch and get readers into Hannah’s mindset from the get go. It was a bit risky opening with a scene containing no action and no dialogue, but the idea was that readers step directly into Hannah’s mind, which I felt was important in this story.
After I worked through that chapter, I began taking more notes and writing out character interviews, etc. Like I said before, the story is character-driven, so knowing each character individually was more important to me than anything else. The atmosphere of the world became clearer through the actions and reactions of the characters. I hope that makes sense. You’ll find that actual physical description is minimal, though it is there. I did sketch out a rough map of the valley. I also sketched a scene of Hannah in her living unit. I spent time creating a timeline for some of the more important family trees in the story. But for the most part everything came through the process of just writing. I’d spent so much time thinking about this story ahead of time that it really just poured out.
Melissa: Slave is your debut novel. What has been your biggest learning experience as a first time self publisher?
Laura: Every single part of the process was a learning experience. I knew nothing going into this. I didn’t go to college and study creative writing. I didn’t have a budget for this at all, so I did 90% of the work, including cover design, editing, formatting, and so forth. I did have amazing beta readers who were very helpful in content editing, and a few caught some grammatical errors.
I also learned that there is a vast community of self-published authors and aspiring authors. They are some of the most generous and motivated people I’ve ever encountered. I couldn’t have done this without their help and input.
Melissa: What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?
Laura: They say you shouldn’t try to edit your first draft until it’s completely done. You’re supposed to just write…let the words flow free. But my brain isn’t wired that way. I have trouble moving past a scene until I feel it’s at least close to the final product. I know…completely against everything we’re told as writers. But I honestly have difficultly moving to the next scene until the previous one is polished and tight. Perfectionist? Possibly.
Melissa: Music is my inspiration as a writer. I can’t get focused without it. What is your muse when you’re writing? Do you have a book playlist you can share with us?
Laura: I strive to be a cinematic writer, so I need music to fuel me too. Sometimes I have to turn it off to really get into writing words, but for so much of the day I have my headphones on and scenes are developing as I listen.
Let’s see. My playlist for writing Slave was something like:
She writes such cathartic songs! They pull on your emotions, which is how I try to write.
Okay here’s the real deal:
1. Fleurie - Sirens
2. Sia - Alive
3. Sia - Bird Set Free
4. Christina Perri – The Lonely
5. Coldplay - Midnight
6. Bethel Music - No Longer Slaves
7. M83 - I Need You
8. Amber Run - I Found
9. Story of the Year - Swallow the Knife
10. The Sound of Silence as sung by Allison
11. Fleurie – Breathe
There were more, but this is a pretty solid list of what got me through the story. When I was actually typing, I often switched off the songs and turned on thunderstorm background noise. J
Melissa: What other Indie authors do you recommend?
Laura: Sara Baysinger is writing some intense dystopian stories. She does an amazing job using the beauty of nature in her writing style. But her stories are jarring and unapologetic in a way that forces you to look difficult topics in the eye and see them for what they are. She’s definitely one to watch
Melissa: The cover for Slave is so eye-catching. Tell us about your experience with cover design and how you arrived at this particular design.
Laura: I don’t have much experience in cover design. Like in other areas of self-publishing, I tend to learn as I go. This final design was maybe the six or seventh attempt. The cover for Slave began to take form when I was browsing stock photos. The perspective of the image I chose was what stood out to me. Hannah’s whole life up until the story timeline has been spent looking up and longing to see the blue sky or the sun. So to find a stock photo that perfectly depicted that was awesome. The smoke effect represents the smog, and its blue-green color is meant to represent the cold, heartlessness of the environment/society. And, of course, the flare of light bursting through is hope. The cover is quite simple when compared to many others in the genre, but I felt it fit the story well.
Melissa: What’s up next for you?
Laura: I’m currently writing Book Two! I hope to have it released by early fall, but accurate updates are posted to my Facebook page regularly.
Laura Frances grew up a shy thing, always daydreaming. She is now the author of Slave, with Book Two in the series currently in progress. Residing in Japan with her husband and two children, she teaches English and spends her free time (when she isn't writing) walking the narrow streets and learning the native language.
Frances strives to convince others through the art of storytelling that they can do the things they think they can't. Slave is her debut novel.
There is no sun. There is no moon. There is only gray—the smog belched from coal-fueled factories. The Workers silently shuffle to their assigned posts. The Outcasts watch from the alley walls. On every corner, a Watcher stands stone-faced, a rifle in hand. This is the only life that exists. Beyond the mountains is a dream. But dreams are foolish in a place like this.
Hannah has spent nineteen years dodging Watchers and doing as she is told.
Do not look Watchers in the eye. Don't give them a reason to notice you.
When she wakes to the valley exploding in revolution, Hannah is forced onto a dangerous path, where nothing is what she believed. Suddenly freedom is in her grasp, and the way there requires working with the men she fears most.
Five winners will each receive a copy of Slave (Laura Frances) ~ (US Only)