Mason Cooley said, “Reading gives us some place to go when we have to stay where we are.”
A Center Stage Moment shines a spotlight on writers who give us great places to visit with the characters we love and want to call friends.
Today, I have the pleasure of introducing to you—Vera Brook!
Hi. I’m Vera Brook and I’m a neuroscientist turned fiction writer.
I write fantasy and science fiction. Or speculative fiction, as it’s sometimes called. In other words, the type of stories where I can change something about the world and get away with it.
After studying several fields – including literature, philosophy, genetics, and neuroscience – I’ve decided that I AM INTERESTED IN EVERYTHING.
Which sounds great. But it’s actually a bit of a problem if you’re trying to be a serious, focused, responsible adult with serious, focused responsibilities.
I’m okay with it, though. In fact, my list of interests keeps growing. (Physics. Cover design. 3D printing. GOOD BOOKS OLD AND NEW!)
Plus, if you’re a writer, everything is research for your next novel. And that works for me.
Have you always wanted to be a writer? I think I always wanted to write, and I did, on and off, ever since I was a kid. I’m a reader first, and my love of writing came from that. But trying to be a professional writer is a relatively new thing for me. The indie publishing world just sucked me in. There is so much going on right now, and so many exciting possibilities for writers that just weren’t available 10 or 20 years ago.
Why did you choose to write your genre? My main genres are science fiction and fantasy, or speculative fiction, as it’s sometimes called. And the age group is primarily young adults, but not only. I was drawn to them because these are the genres I read most often and enjoy the most, so it was a natural fit.
I think what I love the most about young adult fiction is the sense of possibility that permeates it, and at the same time, how intense and hugely important all the experiences are. It’s exciting and a little scary!
There are also so many great young adult books coming out lately. My reading list keeps growing and growing. Also, now that I’m a writer myself, I’m part of the writing community and I actively try to network with other writers working in similar genres. Which means that I meet and get to know a lot of the writers whose books I’m reading—and that’s very cool & inspiring!
Finally, I’m a very eclectic reader, and will read any good story, no matter what the genres, and fiction or non-fiction. And I also like experimenting and trying new things. So it’s totally possible that I will try writing in other genres as well.
What are you currently working on? Oh, where do I start? I always work on way too many projects at once. Probably in part because it’s easier to come up with ideas, and even outlines, then to actually finish a darn draft. [I get it!]
Here are the major projects:
- Book 2 in Sand Runner series, about 1/3 finished. I’m also outlining and taking notes on Book 3 in that series, which will be the conclusion of the trilogy.
- Another dystopian YA series, which I call Grit for now. Book 1 is finished but I plan to revise it one more time and then it goes to my editor. I may also try to finish at least Book 2 in that series before I release it, so the readers don’t have to wait quite as long.
- I’m also writing two middle grade series, one more science fiction, the other in the vein of magical realism.
- And some short stories. I’m hoping to use them as perks to find new readers and encourage them to sign up for my email list. The first one, called Rex, should be ready very soon!
I have more projects in different stages, but I’m trying to finish these first. There are only so many hours in the day!
What motivated the plot of your latest book? Briefly, SAND RUNNER is YA science fiction, pretty edgy and fast-paced, I would say. And it follows a 16-year-old Kaiden Reed who gets recruited for the No Limits Race, a brutal, televised running competition in which runners have to upgrade their bodies and become cyborgs. But the story is really about Kai figuring out what he believes in and wants in life, and who to trust. And no matter what he decides, there will be a price to pay… [Sounds interesting!]
In terms of inspiration, I’d say there were two main sources of inspiration for SAND RUNNER. One was science and technology—specifically bionics, prosthetics, and 3D printing. I’m fascinated by how fast science and technology are developing, and also how profoundly new discoveries and inventions can transform our lives. And there are so many questions and dilemmas that they pose, and that can be used to create the plot of the story. So that’s one source of inspiration for that series.
But the other source is fiction. Other science fiction and dystopian YA novels and series. Most of all, THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. I’m a huge fan, and I’ve read the whole series multiple times and I’m still amazed by it every time I read it. I love and admire everything about it: the concept, the characters, the world-building, the impossible moral choices that Katniss and the other characters have to make, and, of course, the writing.
What is the strangest subject or topic you’ve ever written? For SAND RUNNER, the first novel I published, I researched prosthetic limbs and bionic technology (where the prostheses are integrated with the person’s nervous system). Some other topics I’m researching now, for book 2 in this series, are: 3D printing, automated factories, and locust (fascinating!).
I have to say that I love research, since I was trained as a scientist. So as a fiction writer, I have to really watch out and not let research for my books turn into procrastination. You know, when instead of writing this difficult next chapter, I’m reading 5 articles on 3D printed organs? The trick is to understand enough to make the story believable and exciting. But too much technical detail is dangerous in a novel and almost never necessary.
What was the hardest story for you to write? Every story is hard to write. I love the process, but writing doesn’t come easily to me. I’m a pretty slow writer when it comes to writing the actual draft (although I can generate pages and pages of notes and outlines, no problem). I hope writing will get easier when I have more books and more experience. [I think it will.]
What process do you use to plan your novels? I have lots of story ideas all the time, and I’m sure most writers do, too. When I have an idea, I write it down, in as much detail as I can and have time for (because if I don’t write it down, life interferes, and I forget it). I keep notebooks just for that purpose, often several at a time. I also use them to outline, or to sketch scenes when I get stuck typing on the computer. Just switching from one medium to another sometimes helps.
Then the second part of writing a story or a novel is actually sitting down to write a draft. I call my first draft “draft zero.” That way, it’s not even the first draft, so there is no pressure. It’s always messy, and I write it out of order, and as freely as I want. It’s really a series of notes and sketches. And then I go in, and connect the dots—figure out characters’ motivation and goals, the conflicts, the stakes, and also cause-and-effect links. [Interesting.]
Then comes draft 1, draft 2, and as many as it takes until I’m happy with it. My drafts are pretty clean, in part because I write so slow, so usually 2-3 drafts and I’m ready to send the manuscript to my editor. I’m an indie author, so I pay my editor myself, because I want to make sure that my books meet professional standards of fiction writing before I put them up on Amazon, Kobo, and other places, for readers to buy and read. I also swap critiques with other writers, and that feedback is super-useful as well.
Do any of your characters reflect facets of your personality? Wow. I don’t know. Probably? I definitely try to put myself in their shoes when I write them. And I don’t think I could write a character that I couldn’t relate to on some deep level. Plus, I believe that our personalities are shaped by our life experiences and the circumstances we are thrown into—as well as our goals, beliefs, and aspirations. And we are often not the best judges of it.
Have you ever experienced writer’s block? If so, how did you overcome it? I keep notebooks, and when I get stuck in my draft, I put the computer away and switch to longhand. I take notes, I outline. But really, just switching from typing to writing by hand sometimes helps. Also—taking a break to read or listen to a story, or going for a walk.
One thing that I don’t usually do is talk about my future projects. If I talk about them too much, or get into too much detail, I run out of steam to write them. So I steer clear of the topic.
If you were to choose another genre to write in, what would it be? Thrillers. Although my books already have thriller elements in them.
Which authors inspire you? Too many to name!
What novel would you read multiple times? THE HUNGER GAMES, definitely. But there are many. I often go back to my favorites. That’s one reason why my reading list gets longer and longer, and I don’t make much progress.
If you could meet anyone in the world, alive or deceased, who would it be and why? (Person could be a fictional character) I would love to have coffee with Suzanne Collins, the author of THE HUNGER GAMES, and talk about writing fiction for young adults with her.
What is your favorite quote? I don’t know! There are so many great quotes. I like this one…
I think it’s true in life and in writing. You can emulate people and writers you admire, and learn from them. But don’t try to become them. It won’t work. And why would you want to, anyway? It’s more interesting to be yourself.
What is your favorite animal, real or imaginary? Well, I have a cat. Her name is Misty. So just in case she’s reading my mind right now (I swear, she does sometimes!), I’m going to say: cats.
What is your favorite color? Blue
When you’re not writing… Ha! Great question. It is a full-time career, if you look at how much time I devote to it each week and each day. But I have another career as well. I’m a neuroscientist by training, and I taught for a few years, and now I do institutional research at a university. And I actually enjoy both jobs. Writing is a very useful skill, no matter what career you’re in!
You can find Vera online at…
Thanks for hanging out with me today.
Join me next week when Melanie Jayne will be dropping by!