I’m pleased to host award-winning author Megan E. O’Keefe on Starlight Presents. Meet her characters and discover how her day job — soap making — has influenced her writing.
Your upcoming release, Steal the Sky, has con men, sidekicks, airship, and empires. You even describe it on your website as a “pulpy adventure.” How did you build your story? Did you create the world first or the characters?
For me, a story usually begins when a moment of a character’s life sticks in my head. That scene functions as a seed for the rest of the story, from which I tease out characters and the world building. With Steal the Sky, I had an image of a dusty con man sitting in a chair with a bag over his head, waiting for the police force of the area to come along and question him. I knew he wasn’t worried, he was even a bit bored. I took that image, wrote a draft of the first chapter, and extrapolated from there. To do that, I usually ask myself a series of interconnected questions. For example: What kind of world forged this man? What secrets might he, and those around him, be hiding?
Your main protagonist, Detan Honding, has a sidekick named Tibs. I’m rather fond of sidekicks. Do you have a favorite scene with these two?
Tibs spends a fair amount of time reigning in Detan’s antics, so it’s only fair that when they finally make it to the infamous Salt Baths, Tibs wants to take a break and enjoy the relaxation the spa has to offer. Detan, of course, has other plans, and scampers off to see them through. When they inevitably go sideways, Tibs jumps in without hesitation – backing up Detan and his plan, even though he hasn’t a clue what the end goal is. No matter what they get up to, Detan and Tibs always have one another’s back, and that’s what I love about them.
You’ve also had two short stories published, one of them a Writers of the Future winner. Do you find it easier or harder to write short stories as opposed to novels?
From a time investment standpoint, short stories are certainly easier than novels, but my natural length tends to run long. My Writers of the Future story, for instance, was almost 9k words, when most short story markets consider 7k pushing it in the length department. My ideas tend to be novel length ideas – big character arcs, with a lot of deep world building – so I like having the extra length of a novel to muck around in.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I am primarily a plotter, but not a strict one. My outlines are usually quite sparse, hitting a few key moments that I know I want to include, but allowing for a lot of wiggle room. I like to be able to run off the rails if a more interesting path occurs to me mid-story, and I never hesitate to chuck my outline out the window when that happens.
You describe yourself on your Twitter page as a “Soap Super Hero”. How did soap making inspire you to write Of Blood and Brine where the characters of your world are named after scents?
I’ve been asked before if I did a lot of research before writing Of Blood and Brine, and the answer to that is both “no” and “seven years’ worth.” Perfume blending and soap making have been such an integral part of my life that their influence is ever-present. Over the years, I have noticed that quite a few of my dedicated customers very much associate their identity with the scents they prefer to wear – it becomes just as much a part of them as their names. It was this observation that I drew upon when I began drafting Of Blood and Brine.
Since Steal the Sky is book 1 of The Scorched Continent series, it’s safe to assume we’ll be seeing book 2 shortly. Do you have any other future projects we can look forward to?
Absolutely! Book 2 is written, and book 3 is just about ready to be drafted. I also have a few shiny new projects in the works, but nothing I can talk about just yet.
About Megan E. O’Keefe
Megan E. O’Keefe lives in the Bay Area of California and makes soap for a living. Her debut novel, Steal the Sky, which centers around an airship heist, is due out from Angry Robot Books in January 2016. She is a first place winner in Writers of the Future, and her short fiction has appeared in Shimmer and Podcastle. Steal the Sky is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes & Noble for $2.99.