Just in time for the holidays, S.J. Kincaid shares her author origin story, and tells us what makes her New York Times bestselling book The Diabolic so special.
Give us your elevator pitch for ‘The Diabolic’!
The Diabolic is House of Cards meets Terminator in space for teens.
Where did the initial spark of your story stem from?
The initial idea stemmed from my love of an old BBC miniseries called I, Claudius centered around the crazy, early Roman Emperors. I really wanted to write a YA take on it, and since I’m a sci-fi girl, it had to be set in a galactic empire far in the future. However, I kept picturing the main character as a boy born into this murderous royal family, and after the Insignia trilogy, I wanted to write a girl.
Luckily, I also had a single page of another story I’d started. I had no idea what to do with it, but the page featured Nemesis meeting Sidonia for the first time, and I was so interested in this Nemesis character… In her violence, in her amorality… Then one day, I realized Nemesis should be the central figure of my YA I, Claudius in space, and that boy a secondary character. The story all sprang from there.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer.
As a kid, I loved writing, but I believed it was unrealistic to consider it as a career because I knew it was hard to break into, and I was sure I could never finish a story anyway. Out of college though, my friend and I co-wrote a manuscript together, and that opened my eyes to this career as a plausible reality. From there, my journey was replete with one failure after another, with six manuscripts that did not sell before I wrote one (Insignia) that finally did. When that contract finished, I wrote three more that went nowhere, before I had a fourth (The Diabolic) that sold. I’m glad for the failures, because they made me appreciate it all the more when I finally succeeded, but they definitely demanded I grow a thick skin.
What is one thing you wish you’d known when you first sat down to write your novel?
I wish I’d realized my terrifying, amoral protagonist would appeal to someone other than me! I really thought Nemesis was too cruel to be relatable, and sometimes questioned whether I was wasting my time writing The Diabolic. Luckily, I didn’t let my doubts get to me and stop writing.
Does research play a role in your creative process?
Sometimes. Although I grew up watching sci-fi, I don’t have any advanced scientific background so especially when it comes to things like space travel, and theoretical physics, I have to consult people or research. Also, it works in the reverse: sometimes reading about a phenomenon in space inspires ideas for my stories.
What kinds of stories do you feel most drawn to?
I love stories that set up totally new worlds, especially variations of our own world that twist things in totally unexpected ways.
‘The Diabolic’ is your newest book, but you’ve also written the Insignia series. How does your approach have to differ when writing a standalone versus a series?
Writing a standalone was a great change of pace, because I could basically do anything in this story without worrying about ‘saving fuel’, so to speak, for later in the series. That means every character, every setting, was fair game for use or destruction. There’s a lot of pressure with a series that doesn’t exist when you have a standalone, with a world you can blow up as you please. However, it is a bit sad saying goodbye after a single book, whereas with Insignia, I stayed with the characters for years.***
***Editor’s Note: Over the weekend, two additional The Diabolic novels were announced! So while The Diabolic can still be read as a stand-alone, we now have more of Nemesis’ story to look forward to. Books two and three will come out in Fall 2017 and 2018, respectively.
What are some of your favorite YA reads and/or authors that you’d like to share with us?
My recent favorite is a January release called Exo by Fonda Lee that touches upon such a fascinating situation: Earth 150 years after a vastly technologically superior alien species has colonized it. The main character, Donovan, is likable and interesting, and the story is just so thoughtful, so intelligent, and it surprised me at every turn.
Finally: what makes you passionate about Nemesis’ story?
Nemesis herself. Writing her was a sort of forbidden pleasure, because I’d internalized the idea that a YA protagonist had to be somewhat relatable in the sense that people would identify with their flaws. For example, insecurities, physical deficiencies, and the like are all things people can see in a protagonist and relate to themselves, thus drawing them into the point of view of the protagonist. When I sat down to write Nemesis, I envisioned this cruel, callous, superhumanly strong character whose main deficiency was her lack of empathy. I earnestly believed while writing her that I was devoting time to a character, and thus a story, that couldn’t possibly sell, so writing her had this forbidden thrill of sorts—like I was doing something I knew was not a good use of time. I am glad I was wrong!
About ‘The Diabolic’
Nemesis is a Diabolic. Created to protect a galactic Senator’s daughter, Sidonia, the girl who has grown up by her side and who is as much a sister as a master. There’s no one Nemesis wouldn’t kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.
She must become her.
Now one of the galaxy’s most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corruption and Nemesis has to hide her true abilities or risk everything. As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns that there is something stronger than her deadly force: the one thing she’s been told she doesn’t have – humanity. And, amidst all the danger, action and intrigue, her humanity might be the only thing that can save her, Sidonia, and the entire Empire…
You can order The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent bookstore.