Picturing Earth & Sky‘s characters

With Earth & Sky‘s release just a few weeks away, I thought I’d introduce you to some of the characters. Or, at least, approximately what I imagine those characters look like.

If you’d rather form your own mental images without interference, this is your cue to stop reading. ;)


Earth & Sky‘s main character, Skylar, looks a lot like That 70s Show-era Laura Prepon:

Although Skylar’s hair is not as red — mostly brown, like here:

Win is on the receiving end of looks like this rather a lot early on in the story:


Win was the character I could first picture clearly — I immediately thought of Luke Pasqualino from the UK Skins (with added bonus, he has the correct accent too):

For the most of the book, he does not get to be quite that relaxed. This would be closer to his more frequent emotional state:


Skylar’s best friend Angela could be portrayed by Devon Seron, and is generally just as cheerful as you see here:


The leader of Win’s rebel group, Jeanant, is a ringer for Sendhil Ramamurthy (in earlier drafts of the book, Skylar had a crush on him, and I’d imagine you can see why):


The Enforcer who pursues Skylar and Win through time and around the world is a pretty close match for Tilda Swinton a la the picture below, although Kurra has pale gray eyes (and would be wearing rather different clothing):


Jeanant’s second in command and the woman directly in charge of Win’s group, Thlo, has a very similar look to Joan Chen (and this would be a rather typical expression):


Win’s antagonizing colleague, Jule, who has a more prominent role in the rest of the trilogy, is represented in my files by Lee Thompson Young, who I was sad to discover has recently passed on:

He can be charming when he wants to be:

There you have it! If you’ve read the book, let me know whether my images fit yours, or whether you have alternate ideas (or ideas for characters not currently pictured). :)

Earth & Sky Toronto Launch Party

I’m pleased to invite you all to the Toronto book launch party for Earth & Sky!

It will be taking place, with full thematic appropriateness, at Story Planet (1165 Bloor St. West, just west of Dufferin), on Sunday November 2nd starting at 1:30pm. There will be books for sale (which I will be happy to sign), interstellar refreshments to munch on, and swag to grab.

RSVP on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/events/957522074263232/

For those not in the Toronto area, never fear, I will also be hosting an online launch party on the release date, Oct 28th. Details forthcoming!

On timelines and word counts

To give you some idea of what my schedule is like for the Earth & Sky trilogy with its every-six-months release dates: I just finished writing the second draft of book three. I’ll be turning the end of the trilogy in to my editors for their feedback before the beginning is even out in stores. Whee!

But I won’t be turning it in right away. See, I have this tendency with drafts to underwrite the first draft (to just get it all down as quickly as possible because urgh I hate rough drafting) and then overwrite a little on the second draft to compensate for all the elements I should have expanded on before. But in this particular case, the word “little” would be somewhat inaccurate. In that I have gone 30K past the first draft’s word count. Which I suspect is a little too much, heh.

I foresee some time at the chopping block in my near future.

Defining the Love Triangle

I’ve found it interesting that in the last few months, I’ve gotten two emails about the not-yet-released Earth & Sky inquiring whether the trilogy will have a love triangle, because the reader doesn’t like them and wants to be prepared. Interesting for a couple reasons:

1. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten asked this question (across the last three and a half years, no one has ever inquired about the Fallen World trilogy on this issue). Which makes me wonder if there’s a growing aversion to love triangles, which obviously become pretty common in YA–especially in trilogies and series, and especially in speculative fiction (paranormal, dystopian, etc.)?

2. It’s made me realize that I’m not entirely sure how to answer the question. Because I’ve become aware that different people define “love triangle” in different ways. I always thought of a love triangle as being where the main character (or, I suppose, any character) is torn between two people who are both interested in him/her, attracted to both and either struggling to decide who s/he wants to be with or struggling with temptation while committed to one. But reading comments from others on books I’ve read, I’ve seen other sorts of romantic situations called “triangles”: when two characters are vying for another’s romantic attention (regardless of that one character’s feelings for either), for example.

So what I’ve been answering, when asked, is that it depends. Certainly the romantic subplots in the Earth & Sky trilogy are less love triangle-like than in the Fallen World trilogy (which I would consider to have only a pretty mild form of triangle as it is). There is no angsting at all about romantic feelings for more than one guy at the same time. But across the trilogy Skylar does become romantically involved with more than one guy at different times. So maybe it could read that way?

Indulge my curiosity, blog readers: What do you consider a love triangle? A character deciding between two romantic options? A character troubled by conflicting romantic feelings? A character who has two different partners? Do only the feelings of the main character count, or do you still see it as a triangle if two people are competing for his/her attentions at the same time even if s/he is only interested in one of them? What about if the main character has feelings for two people, but only one of them reciprocates, so the other isn’t really an option?

I’d love to see the variety of answers this question gets. There obviously is no right one, only different perspectives! :)

How Earth & Sky began

Unlike the Fallen World trilogy, Earth & Sky wasn’t propelled into being by a specific event like a dream. It was more a jumble of inspirations and interests that ended up stitching together into a full concept. But I can trace the path of that stitching reasonably well.

In 2011, in between working on drafts of The Lives We Lost while waiting for The Way We Fall‘s release, I was naturally poking around at new story ideas, because I pretty much always want to be writing. I had an urge to pursue a project that was more intensely science fiction than the Fallen World trilogy. At that point, YA SF was almost entirely post-apocalyptic and dystopian, and while I enjoyed that, I grew up on Star Trek (The Next Generation, primarily) and the Star Wars universe and novels like Dune. I wanted space ships and aliens and adventures beyond Earth! I had a few premises I’d been noodling around with, but nothing that gave me the right spark yet.

At some point in there, I happened across an illustrated story called Hero in a comic book store. Seeing as it was by one of my favorite artists, Yoshitaka Amano, I naturally had to buy it.

The story is haunting and fantastically surreal, like much of Amano’s art, but one particular section stood out to me. After the hero, appropriately named Hero, has had a frightening supernatural experience in a night club, he notices something strange in a smaller way on his walk home and the next morning:

The night sky was clear, no moon, but something about the ambient light had bothered him. The streetlights in this part of town had converted over to sodium arc years ago. He was sure of it. He remembered an article about the announced conversion, remembered his sadness that modern lamps would be phasing out the old ones, casting their eerie glow all over the city, an orange that was somehow harsh instead of warm. Yet here, the ovals of light flooding the sidewalk were soft yellow. The concrete posts and wrought iron cages were the old-fashioned kind you only saw in Central Park and old movies. Okay, he thought, maybe they missed this street and I never noticed. The city missed a street, and for five friggin’ years I never noticed.

The rest of the walk that night was uneventful, until he approached the intersection where he lived. He had noticed something then, but he was too tired (or perhaps suffering just a wee touch of the denial, he thought) to really understand what he saw at the time. A problem he’d been struggling with all last night and this morning.

As he walked in broad daylight toward the same intersection, the detail fell into place, revealing itself with such blazing clarity that he stopped walking and stood gaping upward.

He asks a woman who’s bumped into him to read him the street name, and she informs him that the sign says “Hudson Street”. “Not Houston?” “Hudson.” The problem:

“Thank you,” he said, giving her a little wave, then returning his stare to the sign. It spelled Hudson, plain as day. The trouble was, for the last three years, he had lived near the corner of Houston and Columbus, not Hudson. There was no such street in Soho. Never had been. It had been Houston since the city dedicated Penn Street Station.

And even worse, when he asks others the same question…

No one else realized the street name was wrong. Hero could understand people outside of the neighborhood not knowing or caring what the street was named. But the locals didn’t know the difference.

He checks other intersections, and confirms that the signs say Hudson all over. He also starts to notice other little details, like a newspaper that he is sure used to be called Weekly World News and now bears the title Weekly World View. Unsurprisingly, he begins to wonder whether this is the first symptom of some sort of mental illness–until he encounters one of the supernatural figures from the previous night and things become a little clearer.

That situation hit me emotionally, in a way that I’ve learned means, There’s a story you’d want to explore here. The idea of finding the world changed in tiny ways, and not being able to confirm whether you were crazy or everyone else just hadn’t noticed somehow… So scary, so awful, and so many questions raised. I wondered if I could capture that feeling in something of my own, and what form it would take for me.

For a while I had a contemporary fantasy idea that I thought it might work into, but I couldn’t quite figure out the characters or the plot. Then I came across a mention somewhere online (can’t tell you where; from what I’ve seen, this is not an uncommon idea) about a story about people being put in an alien zoo. The two ideas ended up colliding within that urge to write science fiction. What if aliens weren’t kidnapping Earthlings to observe elsewhere but rather studying all of us here on Earth — by using time manipulating technology to change events in history and experiment with different possible outcomes? What if my main character was someone who (for reasons you’ll discover when you read the book) is sensitive to those shifts in time, and can feel when something in her life has been rewritten? But of course, she wouldn’t know why she has that feeling or what it means, and no one else around her would notice.

So scary, so awful, so many questions raised. :)

From there I simply had to answer those questions, and the story that became Earth & Sky started to write itself.

(Interesting fact: When looking through Hero to find that excerpt, I noticed there’s a reference to someone named Skyler–not a character who appears in the actual story, I don’t think, but still makes me wonder if that name got stuck to that idea in that back of my mind and influenced my choice of Skylar for my protagonist.)

Making a book trailer

It’s been five years (wow, five! It doesn’t feel like that long) since I made my first book trailer, for Give Up the Ghost. So it seems like a good time to make an updated post about how an author might go about making their own trailer, for those of you so inclined. I’ve picked up some new techniques over the years that went into creating the trailer for Earth & Sky (if you want to check out the actual book early, by the way, the book trailer giveaway is still on!):

Concept and script

Obviously it’s a good to have some idea what you’re trying to accomplish before getting into any project, but I think it’s especially important with a trailer, because you’re trying to get maximum impact out of a very short span of time.

The first question I ask myself is, what is the one key feeling from the story that I want people to come away with? For The Way We Fall, it was the sense of catastrophe made personal — that this could happen to you. For Earth & Sky, it was the frightening realization that outside forces could alter the past to set your life on a totally different course, for better or for worse.

Then I have to figure out how to convey that idea as quickly and clearly as possible. (I try to keep the story content of a trailer to about 30 seconds — Earth & Sky‘s is 40 seconds long, but most of the last ten seconds are simply displaying the cover and release info.) I wanted to get across that people from another planet had been studying Earth and manipulating its history, that they weren’t concerned about whether we were hurt by their experiments, and to illustrate the impact this might have on one person’s life. As with everything else I write, I started by jotting down various ideas for content and phrasing, then narrowed that down to the first draft of a script, and revised it after feedback.

For example, in the early version of the script, the first line in the trailer was, “For centuries they’ve been watching us.” A couple of people noted that this could make the visitors sound like benevolent observers rather than uncaring experimenters. Rather than add extra lines trying to clarify this, I changed that line to, “For centuries they’ve been studying us like lab rats.” Only a smidgeon longer, but it manages to capture two of my three main points in one sentence fragment.

To sum up:

1. Pick one key idea or emotion from your story that you want to communicate to the viewer (preferably one that you think will be particularly engaging and/or attention-catching.)
2. Brainstorm ways to express that idea or emotion with as much brevity as possible, adjusting as you get feedback.


One of the biggest jumps I’ve made since working on Ghost‘s trailer is the switch to video. A great book trailer can be made using still photos, but I find video footage makes the trailer feel more active and thus more compelling. The downside is that stock video is more expensive than stock photography, but to me it was worth it to get the look I wanted. To reduce the cost, pick imagery that you can repeat throughout the trailer using different parts of the same clip, instead of using additional clips — as I did with the beginning and end of the Earth & Sky trailer.

Deciding on the imagery was a process that happened simultaneously with the final stages of scripting — mainly because, since I was using stock video footage, I was somewhat limited in what I could convey based on what video was available. Depending on your concept, this might not be as much of an issue. The biggest difficulty with Earth & Sky was that I needed clips featuring the same people doing different but related things to show to possible versions of reality. My original idea for the second of those sequences, for example, was to have the former friends to have become outright bullies, but I couldn’t find a clip showing a teen being bullied with a clip that matched well enough of the same or at least similar looking teens happily hanging out.

While looking for the most fitting clips, don’t be afraid to check a bunch of different sites — there’s some overlap but the major stock photography sites all have some unique footage too — and to experiment with different search terms, to give you the widest range of options to consider. Also remember that most sites allow you to download a free watermarked file that you can play around with before you decide if it fits well enough that you want to pay for it.

There are of course alternatives to using stock footage, though they require a different set of resources or skills. If you have experience with filming or have friends who do, you can record your own footage to fit your story exactly, as in Adrienne Kress’s trailer for The Friday Society. Or, if you’re artistically inclined in other ways, you can animate a trailer like Maggie Stiefvater’s for Shiver. I stick with stock footage mainly because my talents do not lie in those areas. :)

To sum up:

1. If using stock video, confirm you can find clips that match your script or adjust your script to fit.
2. Use sections from the same clip where you can to reduce the cost.
3. Be flexible in where and how you search for clips to find the best possible matches.


Anyone who’s watched much TV or film knows that music can make a huge emotional impact on the viewer. So picking the right music will allow you to more easily capture the idea or emotion you want to convey in your trailer.

Along with the mood of the music, you should keep in mind the pacing and beats you want to hit. Visualize your ideal trailer — do you want the music to escalate at certain points, or at a certain frequency? You’ll want to listen for this when choosing your song. For example, I knew I wanted a rising sense of urgency and a striking end to the music rather the melody simply petering out.

I still use Shockwave-Sound for trailer music. Its in-depth search function makes it easy to narrow down the type of music you want, and you can download full length versions of most tracks with an audio watermark, so you can try them with your visuals before you pick which one to buy.

The other big change from my previous trailers is that I used a voice-over rather than text in Earth & Sky‘s. I wanted the viewer to be able to focus on the images without having to read words over them at the same time. First I practiced without recording, following along with the edited video and music. Then I recorded the lines with a basic USB microphone and my laptop, going into the quietest room in my house to reduce background noise. It took several attempts for me to get the pacing and the intonation right. Experimenting with putting the emphasis on different words helped a lot.

I could have simply used my own vocal track, but my agent suggested it might be even better with a teen voice-over to fit the novel’s protagonist. I mentioned I was looking for a teen who’d be willing to give it a shot on Facebook and had several people express interest in helping out. So if you want to do a voice-over and don’t like the sound of your own voice, go ahead and reach out! Having already done the lines myself was still a great tool for showing how I wanted the script to sound.

To sum up:

1. Figure out what mood and what type of pacing and beats you want to hear in the music before you search for the right track.
2. Download a few possible samples to try them with your visuals and see which one fits best.
3. If doing a voice-over, experiment with pacing and emphasis to help you find the ideal delivery.


I now use Adobe Premiere for my video editing, and I find it’s pretty intuitive. It isn’t software everyone has available to them, I realize (I have Creative Cloud because I also design my own website and print materials like bookmarks). I’ve worked a little in iMovie and it seems comparable; I also edited the original version of The Way We Fall‘s trailer in Premiere Elements, which is the budget option from Adobe. It had all the functions I needed at the time, but I did find that the Mac version crashed regularly (not sure if the Windows version does too, or if this may be corrected now, as that was in 2011), so YMMV.

Whatever software you use, the internet is your friend. Especially Youtube. There are about a gazillion tutorials you can access for free, many of them very detailed and easy to follow. I watched one basics tutorial on setting up a project before I started, and searched for tutorials on more specific techniques, like how to balance vocals with music and how to create a flashing visual effect, as I went.

My strategy with this particular trailer for Earth & Sky was:

1. Get all my video clips in approximate order.
2. Run them while talking through my script to adjust them to approximately the right length.
3. Try out the music samples I’d downloaded and pick the one I wanted to use.
4. Adjust the length and placement of the clips to fit the beats in the music.
5. Record the voice-over and edit it in with the rest of the video.
6. Add transitions and video and audio effects.

You may find a different process works better for you — perhaps you might want to start with the music and place the clips following that, for example — but I do think it’s best to save the smaller details like transitions and effects for the end, because otherwise you can end up doing work that you have to scrap and do over again because you realize you need a clip to be a half second longer or you’re changing a line in the voice over.

Once you have your trailer approximately in order, it’s a good idea to share it with a few trusted people who can give you feedback, as with your script. I adjusted some of the voice-over pacing and changed one of my video clips after hearing what people thought.

To sum up:

1. Use free tutorials to get comfortable with your chosen editing software and pick up needed techniques.
2. Get the most important pieces (video footage, music, vocals) in place before worrying about details like special effects.
3. Get feedback and adjust the trailer as necessary before sharing widely.

And then you have a trailer ready to share with the world!

I hope that’s been helpful. Feel free to share your own trailer-making tips! And I’d love to hear what some of your favorite book trailers are.