Interview Series: Sandra Bats
Today we chat to the dystopian young adult fiction writer Sandra Bats, from Frankfurt, Germany. She recently published her first book “Persephone’s Curse”, a character-driven, upper YA dystopian novel that asks complex questions about healing and forgiving others in a world devastated by a horrid virus. You can find the book on here on Amazon.
Where do you live and how does it influence your writing?
I live in Frankfurt, Germany. People told me that they had not noticed that I’m an ESL (English as a Second Language) writer when they read my novel. I think being bilingual not only gives me a different perspective on how language works, but it also gives me a better eye and empathy for the nuances between various cultures.
In my opinion, having empathy is a crucial thing for a writer. Only empathy enables me to imagine what my MC is feeling while living in a dystopian world, even though I myself have for obvious reasons never been in their shoes.
What inspires you to write?
For one I’ve always loved books. The second thing that inspires my imagination is asking questions. I especially like asking “what if” questions. You can spin them out into all possible directions if you don’t accept that there are limits to them. You might just get a story out of it! After all, asking “what if” questions is basically how all novels are conceived.
My novel started by asking: What if overpopulation becomes so bad a government tries to interfere? What if babies are no longer joyous, but a death sentence? What if you are forced to do horrible things to protect those you love?
When did you first start writing and what was it about?
I started writing when I was eleven years old and on a family vacation. I had seen a documentary about dangerous animals and I was convinced I had seen a venomous funnel-web spider on my way to the pool and I was deadly afraid. My parents couldn’t convince me that I wouldn’t be bitten to death, so they gave me the choice to join them in the pool or just stay in our room — which was the option I went with
Remember, this was back in the day – smartphones were not a thing, yet. Instead I had a small notebook, and I started scribbling down a story about Antonia Black who with the help of her friends, takes down a group of poachers on her ranch in Colorado. That story had everything a story needed for an eleven-year-old girl – horses, friendship, cute boys and even a first love.
I have never stopped writing since. I had understood that my love for books wasn’t just limited to reading them – I could make up my own stories!
What is your favorite genre and why?
Reading-wise I read almost everything I can get my hands on, though often I find myself reaching towards Fantasy, Urban Fantasy or YA. I also like to read the occasional NA romance novel. But as long as a book is well-written and has an interesting plot I’ll read it no matter what genre.
Writing-wise I tend to linger somewhere in that dreaded Young Adult – New Adult crossover area. I believe trying to fit a story too much into one specific genre just for the sake of it fitting in can dull the story itself. It’s one of the freedoms I appreciate about self-publishing. Characters at that point in their lives still have so much to discover that it offers such a vast field of possible storylines. I really enjoy this.
Who inspires you and why?
I can’t say I have one specific person who inspires me. If anything, I’m inspired by human interaction and by emotional reactions. If I had to single out a certain group of people that inspire me, it would be people who believe in the wonders of the world. The ones that still look around and see magic. The dreamers who don’t back off no matter how often they get knocked down or get berated for chasing their dreams. The hopeful ones that try again and again until they succeed.
How many hours a day do you spend writing and what helps you to get into the writing mood?
I’m definitely more of a pantser – though recently I have established somewhat of a writing routine because otherwise I’d just be swamped by marketing one book, editing the sequel and writing a third one.
Besides all the marketing, paperwork and tedious stuff, I actively try to write at least 2.000 words a week on my urban fantasy work in progress. I do a minimum of 6 hours of rewrites a week for my sequel. Yet, it varies widely! I can easily write up to 10.000 words on a good day – it has happened. But there are also days where will stare at a blank page in agony.
To get in the mood for writing I often read the last scene I wrote to strike a note. I also have a Spotify playlist for each of my works in progress that I listen to only when working on that specific novel to get the right mindset.
And what’s the best moment you’ve had in your writing career so far?
Besides actually hitting the publish button for my book, which felt pretty amazing I really enjoy the tiny achievements such as getting helpful reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Indie authors live off reviews so whenever I get one I am thrilled. It does not have to be a very long one, just a few words about how the reader liked the book.
I also really enjoyed exploring one of my MC’s backstories for an exclusive short story that is available on my website (www.sandrabats.com). It made me feel like I was getting to know this character again from a fully new perspective.
Tell us about your book. How long did it take to write? What inspired you to write it?
“Persephone’s Curse” is the first novel in a character-driven, upper-YA dystopian series. It tells the story of Elin and Jayden, who live in a world where a virus kills mothers at childbirth. The government itself is desperate to find a cure and kidnaps young women to experiment on. When Elin escapes such a lab she finds herself living on the streets which isn’t much safer. She meets Jayden who offers help, seemingly without wanting anything in return. But he himself has a past tied to the labs. Can Elin learn to trust him or will their pasts drive them apart?
Persephone’s Curse was the first novel I finished. In the beginning, I didn’t plan on really publishing it, therefore I did not constantly write on it. Once it was finished it took some time for me to figure out whether I wanted to try traditional publishing (turns out I don’t have the patience for that) or self-publish. Then I had to revise and edit, until the story became the streamlined version that I could self-publish. Truly though, the very first time I conceived an idea for the novel was back in 2011.
What are you working on next?
At the moment I am working on the sequel to “Persephone’s Curse” and I plan to publish towards the end of this year. It will pick up where Persephone’s Curse ended and further follow the story of Elin and Jayden. The third novel in the trilogy already exists as well, though only in a very rough draft.
Meanwhile I am also writing a completely unrelated novel, an urban fantasy that is set in New York City and follows a group of friends as they uncover a conspiracy within their own community of Elementals, a race of people able to control certain elements.
Where would you like to see yourself in three years’ time?
In three years’ time, I’d love to have published the whole Persephone’s Curse trilogy and also have published my urban fantasy novel. I hope I won’t have run out of stories to write and that I’ve build my readership enough to be a successful author. And I have faith that somewhere, anywhere in the world, there will be one person who waits for one of my books to come out the way I have waited for the next Harry Potter novel as a child.
Can you give any advice for an aspiring writing?
Prepare for people to think you’re crazy. They will think you are foolish and a dreamer. It is not easy to follow a dream when others often do not understand why you are doing it. But it will be worth it when you hold your first novel in your hands. Be proud when they call you a dreamer. You’re now part of a very interesting group of people ;-)
And on a more practical note: Come up with good answers to the questions and comments that will be thrown at you. Take people asking about your plan B in case your novel fails. My answer was: Then, I’ll write another novel. After all, nobody asks a medicine student what their plan B is in case they fail their exams. Why should you ask a writer that?