After reading a great book, it’s tempting to think of it solely as a finished product, a whole story delivered straight from a writer’s keyboard to a reader’s eyes. But every book starts as a paper outline, a stack of notecards, or scribblings on a chalkboard.
The next volumes from authors Brendan Reichs and Victoria Aveyard are currently somewhere between those states. Genesis, the second installment in Reichs’ Project Nemesis series, is out March 6 from Penguin Random House, while War Storm, the final book in Aveyard’s popular Red Queen series, is due May 15. So while fans await those releases, EW brought Reichs and Aveyard together to discuss their projects, their processes, and everything else that entails a day in the writer’s life.
Check out that conversation below, along with dates and information for Reichs’ upcoming Genesis book tour.
In Conversation: Brendan Reichs and Victoria Aveyard
BRENDAN REICHS: Good morning Victoria! I hit send on this email knowing it will land in your inbox well before you’re up, but hey, that’s the advantage of living on the East Coast. I get to see everything first. Or, at least, I get to greet the day first. Sometimes. Actually, I sleep late almost every morning, since my “day job” of writing fiction rarely requires a wake-up call. I sometimes think I’m wired for West Coast time but live in the wrong zone. So maybe you’re already up and about, writing up a storm. A WAR STORM! Get it? That was clever of me. Nevertheless, I shall sit by my keyboard and drink coffee, surf the internet, and scream grunge song requests at Alexa. As one does. Tick tick tick.
VICTORIA AVEYARD: Despite staying out past my bedtime to watch the Celtics crush the Clippers, I am up bright and early per usual (due in no small part to a Labrador Retriever jumping on me around 7am). Despite waking up “early” for a person who works from home, that absolutely does not mean I start my writing day at an early or acceptable time. I start slow, checking my phone to read about the world’s latest tire fire, then have a coffee, chat with my roommates before they leave for work, and watch the Today show until Megyn Kelly comes onscreen and I’m forced to flee. Then I usual walk the dog for an hour or so, before settling in to work around 10/10:30am. Oh, and I’ve taken up bullet journaling, so that gets sprinkled into my morning as well.
Right now, I’m at the tail end of line edits on the War Storm manuscript, which means I can smell the finish line on the final Red Queen book. So I spend most days careening between panic and triumph. The current draft is a whale, and not in a good way, so my goal now is making sure I can trim the fat and get the story into semi-decent shape. It’s an odd feeling, being this close to the end. I’m ecstatic to be able to dive into a new idea and play in a different sandbox, but it’s definitely scary to think about starting all over again on another series, with new characters and a new world to build. Any advice on this? I know you’ve got loads of experience with finishing up a series (and I am JEALOUS). Help a young padawan out.
REICHS: I hear you on the puppy thing. I brought one home a few weeks ago without telling my wife ahead of time, and she was NOT PLEASED. She’s come around on little Flip, though. Except when he wants to go out at 6 every morning. That’s all me, and I have no defense. At least he’s the best puppy on the planet. That helps. I don’t really stick to a strict writing schedule either, though I have adopted the “Sarah Dessen” plan, which is based around four-hour blocks. I try to plan one for each day I need to work, and I do all my writing or revising within that period, no exceptions. The rest of the day can be about emails, social media, websites, newsletters, interviews, whatever, but the writing block has to stay about writing. That’s pretty much as long as I can sustain high-level concentration anyway.
I’m still down in the trenches on Project Nemesis. Genesis picks right up where Nemesis left off, with Min and Noah at odds over the Program and what it seems to require of them. Actually, “at odds” is a pretty tame way of saying, “actively at war with each other.” This book is darker than the first, but also funny, I hope, and ultimately hopeful, if that’s possible. I try to get to the heart of what being alive really means. Personally, I think Genesis is the best book I’ve written in my career, so I hope people give it a chance. I wrote the whole thing will getting an MFA in creative writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts, so it feels like a graduation gift to myself. But I definitely feel you on the new series thing. When I moved from Virals to Nemesis, it felt like I’d forgotten everything I knew about writing. I think you just have to zero in a character you find interesting and think about what their story should be. Work inside out, and BOOM, you’re flying again. But I also have a SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: there will be a third Project Nemesis book after this one! The story will go on for one more chapter, so I’ll be in your finishing-a-series shoes soon.
AVEYARD: Oh man, darker?? Dude, Nemesis was pretty dark. And twisty as hell. That was one twist ending I seriously did not see coming, and twist endings are sort of my thing. I can’t really comprehend writing a novel while maintaining a life, let alone getting another degree, so hats off to you and your VCFA endeavors. You deserve many, many gifts for pulling that off. And I don’t care if your agent kills you, I want info on this book 3! TELL ME TELL ME TELL ME. I’m interested into how it came into being. Was it planned beforehand, or did the story require more space as it unfolded? The latter happened to me with Red Queen, which was originally planned as a trilogy, but mutated into a pudgy little quartet.
I spent the day editing and attempting to organize my office, hence my late reply, because now I’m drowning in dust and the outrageous amount of ARCs I have lying around that need organizing. And by organizing, I mean shoving them on a shelf. It’s been kind of therapeutic though. When I’m at the end of a draft, and into the deadline-driven editing stages, my office (and mental well-being) sort of falls apart, so now that I’m through the woods, I have no excuse to not clean. It can be a pain, but it sort of feels like opening a brand new Word document or laying down a fresh sheet of paper. Clearing out my space to make way for the new project. I’m really excited to wipe down my dry-erase board and take down my War Storm notecards, and eventually start filling the space with my shiny new idea.
Speaking of notecards: it’s a story-structuring habit I picked up in film school. As a naturally stubborn jerk, I resisted the process for a long time until I finally realized it was pretty necessary to keeping a story straight. I’m very visual, but I hate outlining, so jotting down act breakdowns and pinning them up is my happy medium. Even though outlines give me hives, it really does help to have a cheat sheet to glance at. You feel very intelligent in hindsight. Do you have any outlining preferences or habits you use when drafting?
REICHS: Kids asleep. Finally. I AM excited about the third book. Like you said, the idea that formed in Nemesis, and became fully developed in Genesis, just needs more room to breathe. I think anyone who read Nemesis will be very satisfied with the answers Genesis provides to that story’s burning questions — I’m not a torturer! — but there are new questions I want to explore. I’m very happy Penguin wants me to keep going and dig deeper down into the rabbit hole of the world I created. Project Nemesis has a lot more wrinkles to unwind for sure.
As for my office, I keep it spotless, because cleaning is procrastinating in my world. The only thing messy in here is my double-sided, 6-by-6-foot whiteboard, where I break the entire story of my work in progress. It’s color-coded, with scribbles, stickers, post-its, note cards, printed-and-taped summaries, and through lines for both plot and character arcs. It looks like John Nash’s garage in A Beautiful Mind, but I assure you I’m not crazy. (At least, I don’t think so. You do exist, right? These emails and responses are with a real person?) I like to see the whole story at once, so I can make sure my structure holds up and the shocks are coming in the right times and places. I honestly don’t know any other way to write a thriller.
I’m more interested in how you structure a giant epic fantasy like the Red Queen series. I have one in progress, and YIKES is it a big task. So many places, names, affiliations, and storylines. How do you keep it all straight? How do you decide which direction to send your characters? How do you remember what you can and can’t do in your world? I get the shakes just thinking about it. The only thing I feel like I already know how to do is kill everyone.
AVEYARD: I honestly don’t know how anyone does our job with children. The dog is needy enough.
So excited to hear we’re going to get more Project Nemesis twists and more ANSWERS, BRENDAN. Of course Penguin would be all for it! If only so they (and the rest of us) can get some closure on Min, Noah, and the apocalyptic Scooby Gang. Genesis comes out this March, so I do not envy your schedule right now. Working on the third installment plus gearing up for tour? Yikes. Unless you’re like me, and you punk out when the publicity/marketing/tour side of the job kicks in. I can NEVER get myself to write when that time of the year rolls around. It’s a pretty effective hard stop on any creative work for a few weeks at the very least. The last Red Queen book will be my fourth time around the publishing block, and I still can’t believe that there’s an entirely different piece of our careers that I never fathomed before I was physically in it. Not to mention the skill set isn’t exactly something we writers are good at. Speaking engagements, panels, school visits, radio tours? Let me just say I’m not a writer because I’m good at talking to other people.
Please come clean my office. Please. My roommates are begging you. They call my office the UPS store because of all the boxes.
As for fantasy structuring, writing Red Queen has been a mixed bag. On the one hand, the only reason I even finished a single draft is because I stopped myself from world building too much. It’s my favorite part, but you can get incredibly bogged down and burn out before you even start properly. I do keep lists and Excel sheets, as well as scraps all through Scrivener to keep them straight. I also get a lovely style sheet that my editorial team maintains so that say, I don’t mix up eye colors from Book 1 to Book 4. But still, I obviously wish I did more back-of-house work and planned out my series in meticulous fashion. There are definitely some corners I painted myself into. With the Red Queen series, one of the great challenges has been figuring out the way around characters with such immense super powers. You have to be very aware, not just of limitations, but exactly how much these people can do. I had a character who could teleport, and fight scenes with him around proved to be very interesting. You’ve got to make things difficult for your characters, and some characters simply made the world too easy as they were. Of course, there’s a lot of fun in figuring out ways around your own mistakes. Eventually.
REICHS: Caught this one during lunch, and I could have simply feasted on all the smart that’s contained within it. Which is good, because I forget to eat real food so often it’s not even funny. At least twice a week I realize around 9 p.m. that I forgot to eat all day. The glamorous writing life. But this has been incredibly fun, and I’ve learned some new tricks. I want War Storm right now. Right this second. Don’t make me wait until May! Anyway, now I will bow to the rules of decorum—a Red Queen always gets the last word. So long! I’ve got a ravaged world that needs further destroying.
AVEYARD: Thanks for looping me into this conversation, even if you won’t give me ANY INFORMATION ABOUT PROJECT NEMESIS 3! Honestly, Brendan, what are you good for? Cheers and see you on the circuit!!
‘Genesis’ Book Tour
March 5 — Charlotte, NC
Park Road Books with special guests Renee Ahdieh and Carrie Ryan
March 6 — Raleigh, NC
Quail Ridge Books with special guest Maggie Stiefvater
March 7 — Asheville, NC
Malaprop’s with special guest Stephanie Perkins
March 12 — New York City, NY
Books of Wonder with special guest Danielle Paige
March 13 — Salt Lake City, UT
The King’s English with special guest Ally Condie
March 14 — San Diego, CA
Mysterious Galaxy with special guest Kiersten White
For more info on Reichs’ book tour, go here.