S.J. Kincaid

Author of: The Diabolic

Author SJ Kincaid with her book The Diabolic


S.J. Kincaid originally wanted to be an astronaut, but a dearth of mathematical skills turned her interest to science fiction instead. Her debut novel, Insignia, was shortlisted for the Waterstones prize. Its sequels, Vortex and Catalyst, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. She’s chronically restless and has lived in California, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon, Chicago, and Scotland with no signs of staying in one place anytime soon. Her debut, Insignia, came out in July of 2012, followed by its sequels Vortex and Catalyst. The Diabolic was released in the fall 2016, with its sequel The Empress released in fall 2017.

To learn more about S.J., connect with her online:
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+ What is something that readers can expect from The Diabolic series that they wouldn't gather after reading the summaries?

SJ: A lot of people go into the story thinking it’s a bit of a superhero tale or the story of a cyborg in space. Although my previous trilogy, INSIGNIA, did have cyborgs, Nemesis is very much a person. It’s actually a girl with superhuman strength, thrown into a world of diabolical aristocrats where she must hone the weapons of wit instead. Think the Roman Empire at its decadent phase… In outer space.

+ How did The Diabolic transition from being a stand alone novel to now a trilogy? Were there any aspects of The Diabolic that you wished you could go back and adjust once you began writing The Empress?

SJ: The big reason for the change was the idea for THE EMPRESS came to me and it was totally irresistible. I began dabbling with it well before I was certain it would get picked up, and I was thrilled when it did, because I could now justify this writing I’d been doing anyway. The only sad part was, I really missed my villain from book one. I would have loved to have more of Tyrus’s evil grandmother, if I’d just known! But I don’t want to cheapen the end of characters in the books by bringing them back to life. You can get away with that once, maybe (possible spoilers), but any more than that, and it goes the way of this CW show that began to drive me crazy because everyone ended up dying multiple times and coming back to life. Finally you just don’t really believe it or care anymore.

+ Both of your YA series (Insignia, and now The Diabolic) are comprised of sci-fi books heavily focused on space. What about space inspires you the most when writing? Did you always know that you wanted to write about space?

SJ: I grew up on Star Trek, then on other television science fiction shows. (Mostly I read historical Tudor-era fiction and fantasy, though). Increasingly with age, I’ve come to realize how much my ideals and view of the world were shaped by the ideas I absorbed from those shows, especially Star Trek. As soon as I started writing science fiction myself, it just felt natural, and it’s great to play some small part in sharing my own wonder about space with younger readers by simply making it the setting of the adventures of my characters. From black holes to hypervelocity stars, space contains endless possibilities to spark the imagination, so I never run out of fuel.

+ What was/is the most challenging part of bringing your main character Nemesis to life?

SJ: It’s more of a challenge that happens over time with a trilogy: growing her character without sacrificing her strength. This is someone at the start who utterly lacks empathy and really grows into her own perspective freed from that prism of thought imposed upon her by others since her life began. It is incredibly fun to write the badass girl taking names, and readers respond to that, but I can’t keep her stagnant. The character has to exhibit more than just her strength and determination over me, and she grows more complicated as her perspective and her experiences broaden, much as we all do. That makes writing her much more difficult! Her first response early on is this: threat to Sidonia? “If yes, kill. If no, consider killing...” Needless to say, she is trickier to write with time. She’s almost like a person who’s been trapped in a psychological prison most of her life, who’s absorbed the idea of who she is because of what she was told she should be. When she’s free from that perspective, her growth is staggeringly swift compared to how I’d write another seventeen-year-old girl character (who has had seventeen years of growing into a certain perspective all her own already). That speed of change requires my conceptualization of her to keep up, and I also have to pay attention to never diminishing what it is about her that makes her relatable to a reader. There’s a tricky balance when it comes to keeping a plausible lens through which she sees this universe, yet altering it drastically, but it makes her a fun challenge to write.

+ Were there any scenes that you loved that eventually got cut out of The Diabolic?

SJ: Actually, with book two, THE EMPRESS, I really loved one scene where a very important character who died in book one was laid to rest. It just didn’t fit, but at least I got to expound upon why the scene had to go in a very detailed blog post! There are always upsides to cutting scenes, and for the most part, I don’t regret getting rid of anything that might bog the story down. Characters I like will reappear in another incarnation sometime in the future, either in this series or in something else.

+ At what point in your writing journey did you make the decision to let go of any other careers and become a full time writer?

SJ: I’d love to say it was to focus on my art like a really awesome writer should, but the fact is, this is probably the only job I’ve performed with any competence. My attention to detail is so ghastly, I can’t account for it, and I was never very competent at other ventures. I think I spend too much time thinking about writing to really focus in other aspects of life. At the moment, this is my thing and I get away with it, and I’m incredibly lucky for that. The other lucky ones are the patients who almost had Nurse Shelley—if INSIGNIA had not sold the week before I graduated nursing school. They are the luckiest of all.

+ Your sister is also a professional writer; What was it like growing up in a household with two creative writers? Did you both know from a young age that you wanted to go into writing?

SJ: Yes, she writes as Meredith Duran, and she actually inspired me to begin writing as a hobby when I was about five. She was the older sister and I honestly imitated everything she did and followed her around all the time. She decided very young to be an author, so I immediately had a new hobby. I was lucky that it stuck! It really stayed with me. I’ve started and stopped many other things, but this has been my constant. We have such different strengths as writers. I think plotting is my strength, in that I can envision rather complicated storylines over time, and she just amazes me with her prose and characterization. I was very secretive and hid my writing from everyone when I was much younger, so this has been something for us to bond over as adults, which is wonderful.

+ What are you working on now? Can you give us any sneak peaks into the third installment of The Diabolic?

SJ: I am working on the third installment at this moment, and hope to get into something a little more light-hearted and fun after I’m done with this. I love a great deal about writing Nemesis but she does not permit me to write very much humor! As for D-3” I had one plan for book three that was simply not working for me in practice the way it had in theory. Let’s just say, action aside, there’s a difficulty to writing two characters from only one point of view who are both very distant from each other, yet impacting each other’s lives. My attempt at writing the plot I envisioned was not satisfactory to me, so I had a very lucky flash of insight and have addressed one of those critical elements to fix the cause of it, and now I feel quite good. But I am drafting.

+ What is the last book that you've read that you would rate 5/5 stars?

SJ: I recently re-read THE SECRET HISTORY and it blew me away all over again. I shamefully do not read as much as I used to! A post-Diabolic plan: really cut down cell phone/internet use to regain my attention span. It’s really suffered in the last couple years. In its excellence, THE SECRET HISTORY overcame that recent deficiency, but it’s also because it’s like nothing I write or would ever try to write, so I guess there’s something fun and interesting in that, too.

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