Today, Margaret Fortune joined me for a chat about her new book, Nova, and we’ve got a copy of Nova to give away to one lucky US winner, so be sure to enter to win at the bottom of the post!
Nova tells the story of Lia Johansen, a genetically engineered human bomb with one purpose: to strike a blow in an ongoing intergalactic war by slipping onto a strategic space station and exploding. When her clock freezes in the middle of the countdown, she suddenly finds herself with a life she never expected to live. Things are only made more complicated by the fact that she has no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no name besides that stolen from a dead POW.
Nova blends elements of a fast-paced thriller with a slow-building mystery. As the story progresses, Lia must find a way to discover both her mission and her identity…but what she eventually finds is that nothing is what it seems. The plot takes many twists and turns which will keep readers on their toes until the end. While this is being published as an adult sci-fi novel by DAW, it’s actually more of a YA crossover. So I think it will not only appeal to sci-fi readers, but also teens and even non-genre readers.
Nova started with a random thought along the lines of, “I want to write a story set on a space station!” As I was brainstorming, the line, “My name is Lia, and I’m a genetically engineered human bomb” popped into my head. The rest of the story unfolded from there.
What makes Lia a compelling protagonist? Why do you think readers will root for her?
As a human bomb created to die, Lia has to contemplate what it means to live, to love, and to be human. It’s her struggle to understand and uncover her own humanity, even as her encroaching mortality hangs over her head, that makes for a compelling character. As her fledgling humanity continues to emerge over the course of the story, readers will find a young woman of intelligence, compassion, and courage. In short, a heroine worth rooting for.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
I didn’t heavily research any one thing in particular for the book. Rather, I researched various small things as they occurred to me in the writing process. Some of the random topics I looked up at some point include: pictures of space stations, diagrams of the human eye, the effects of a lightning strike on the human body, and definitions of various words.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
While I enjoyed writing as a child, I didn’t really aspire to be a writer. In fact, I didn’t take a single writing class in college, and eventually graduated with a BA in psychology. After I graduated, I found myself with a lot of free time as I looked for a job. To fill the time, I began writing. Short stories at first, then I moved on to my first novel and I was hooked. It wasn’t until a few years later, though, when I finished my first novel and realized it was actually good, that I decided to try becoming an author. It took a long time—around a decade–but I kept at it, and here I am!
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
My first story was written in first grade. It was called “The Numbers’ Birthday Party” and it made a huge stir at my elementary school. They dittoed copies for everyone in my class, and I had to sit up front and read it to everyone while they followed along. They printed something in the school newsletter about it, and I had to read it to the vice principal. It was crazy!
Why science fiction? What do you love most about reading, and writing, in the genre?
Science fiction is awesome! Spaceships, time machines, transporters, aliens… What’s not to love about sci-fi? Science fiction is about possibilities, about pondering where we might go and who we might become, whether looking at it from a technological angle, a psychological angle, or any other angle one may choose. That’s what makes it so great to read and write.
What I really like about writing science fiction, and speculative fiction in general, is the pure freedom it allows
you in setting, concept, and plot. As long as you can dream it up, SF will allow you to put it on the page, even if it doesn’t adhere to the rules of life as we currently know it. This freedom means that you can set up and explore a unique dilemma or contingency that wouldn’t be possible if restricted solely to reality. In the case of Nova: a girl who’s literally a bomb.
What authors have inspired you the most?
As a child, it was children’s sci-fi novels from the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, by authors like Louise Lawrence, H.M. Hoover, and Monica Hughes, that first sparked my love of sci-fi literature. I originally read Ray Bradbury’s “All Summer in a Day” in Junior Great Books as a child, and it’s still my favorite short story. It’s amazing how things you read as a child stay with you through the years, their images and ideas still burned into your mind even decades later. I’ve certainly read many awesome novels as an adult, where I admired this person’s voice, or that author’s use of language, or another writer’s characterization, but somehow it’s always the stuff I read as a child that pops into my head when people ask me. It just goes to show how important children’s literature is when it comes to inspiring the imagination.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Strange as this may sound, I’d like to experience my own book for the first time, as a reader taking the final version off the shelf with no knowledge of what’s to come. You never get to experience this as a writer with your own work. You put months, even years into creating the best book you possibly can; you know all its secrets, its twists, its best lines. The sheer thrill of discovery is lost to you. I’d love to be able to read Nova, not as the writer who wrote it, but as a reader finding it for the first time.
What are you currently reading?
I just finished Otherland IV: Sea of Silver Light by Tad Williams, and I’m about to start An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir.
What’s next for you?
Nova is just the first in a 5-book series, so I’m going to be focused on writing and perfecting the remaining books in the series for some time to come. I also write middle grade science fiction, so I hope to eventually branch into the MG market as well at some point. Otherwise, my plan is simple: to write the best books I possibly can, take every opportunity I can get, and just hang on and enjoy the ride!
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The clock activates so suddenly in my mind, my head involuntarily jerks a bit to the side. The fog vanishes, dissipated in an instant as though it never was. Memories come slotting into place, their edges sharp enough to leave furrows, and suddenly I know. I know exactly who I am.
My name is Lia Johansen, and I was named for a prisoner of war. She lived in the Tiersten Internment Colony for two years, and when they negotiated the return of the prisoners, I was given her memories and sent back in her place.
And I am a genetically engineered human bomb.
Lia Johansen was created for only one purpose: to slip onto the strategically placed New Sol Space Station and explode. But her mission goes to hell when her clock malfunctions, freezing her countdown with just two minutes to go. With no Plan B, no memories of her past, and no identity besides a name stolen from a dead POW, Lia has no idea what to do next. Her life gets even more complicated when she meets Michael Sorenson, the real Lia’s childhood best friend.
Drawn to Michael and his family against her better judgment, Lia starts learning what it means to live and love, and to be human. It is only when her countdown clock begins sporadically losing time that she realizes even duds can still blow up. If she wants any chance at a future, she must find a way to unlock the secrets of her past and stop her clock. But as Lia digs into her origins, she begins to suspect there’s far more to her mission and to this war, than meets the eye. With the fate of not just a space station but an entire empire hanging in the balance, Lia races to find the truth before her time—literally—runs out.