It’s always great to find new male YA authors, particularly those who create strong, thinking heroines. If you’re a fan of science fiction thrillers, False Memory will definitely take you on an exciting ride full unexpected twists and turns.
Author Dan Krokos chats with us today about his impressive debut, as well as the sometimes-bumpy road that new authors have to face in today’s world of social media.
About False Memory
TMG: Hi Dan, congratulations on your novel. I really enjoyed the fact that the book is such a smart thriller, touching on everything from gene therapy to brain wave manipulation. What was the genesis of this story? How long did it take you to write it?
DK: I had the first kernel of the story back when I was writing my third manuscript. It was an urban fantasy about a new kind of magic that gave people the ability to control fear. After I’d gone through a long streak of rejections for my adult books, I decided to challenge myself and write something completely different. I’d been reading YA around that time, and thought the faster pace and focused plots would really suit my style. I decided to bring everything I loved about thrillers into a YA. After I figured out a way to keep the fear idea in a non-magical setting, it was full steam ahead.
I wrote the first draft in 12 days because I was so afraid it would be terrible. It was. I spent a few months after that working on it, and then about a month on edits after it was sold.
TMG: Wow, that’s a very fast turnaround! The concept is so unusual, though, that hearing that doesn’t come as a surprise. Miranda North is such a cool character.What made you want to tackle a book from a female perspective?
DK: Before False Memory, I wrote a lot of adult books with male protagonists. I’d always wanted to write a female POV, but was too afraid to try. And to be honest, I don’t really like reading books by a male author with a female POV. I think that’s my preconceptions though, because I know it’s been done well.
I’d been getting a lot of rejections for my adult crime thriller stuff, saying it wouldn’t appeal to enough female readers. Around that time, I’d been reading a lot of YA, so False Memory and Miranda came about when I decided to try and really challenge myself. I was getting content with writing the same kinds of books, and that scared me a little. What if I could only do one thing?
The timing was perfect, because around then I couldn’t stop thinking about this character named Miranda North, who didn’t know who she was. I wanted to find out. I’m definitely glad I tried, because I think I grew as a writer, and I’m not as afraid to try things outside my comfort zone.
TMG: It’s always interesting when male authors are able to present believable female perspectives, in a way that balances a girl’s strength and her vulnerability. How were you able to do that so successfully?
DK: I will say it was easier with Miranda having no memory at the start. I got to discover her as she discovered herself. I knew if I went at it thinking, “Okay, she’s a girl, what would a girl do?” I would fail miserably. I thought of her as just a person.
As far as the female voice goes, I was extremely lucky to have seven or eight women read over the manuscript to find parts that didn’t ring true. There were definitely a lot of instances where they’d say, “A teen girl wouldn’t say/react like this, this sounds like how a twenty-four year old guy would react.”
TMG: Well, your beta readers deserve a nice champagne toast. Thinking of her “as just a person” is also the reason why her character avoids many of the superficial elements that writers sometimes employ to show, “Hey, this is a teenage girl!”
Miranda’s action scenes are exceptionally well-done, with a lot of physicality and specific descriptions of fight sequences that feel very authentic. Do you have a background in martial arts, sword play, etc.? Or are you just a fantastic observer?
DK: Thank you! I took martial arts when I was a teen. I quit to play more video games, which is one of the biggest regrets in my life, but I also remember what I learned. I took a mix of styles, both Chinese and Japanese, which included moves that were based off swordplay. It will surprise no one to say that I live for action scenes, and I definitely pull from that experience.
I also learned a lot from fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore. He has some of the best sword fighting scenes of all time.
TMG: Are there any plans to adapt the book for film? The story is very visual, and it’s very easy to clearly picture what many of the scenes would look like. What actors could you see playing Miranda, Peter, and Noah? Purely speculative questions, of course!
Can I just go with dream cast that will never happen? For Miranda, I like Chloë Moretz. I think she’s super talented and gritty. He’s a little too old, but Kit Harington would make a great Peter I think. I like his quiet strength and, um, his hair. Maybe Shiloh Fernandez for Noah? For Olive, I’ve always thought of Zhang Ziyi, but I think she’s in her thirties now.
TMG: That’s how I know you come by your martial arts/Chinese background honestly–you still call her Zhang Ziyi, instead of the Americanized version she now uses with her surname appearing second.
TMG: And here we turn to a more serious topic. As some readers may be aware, there was an incident earlier this year involving some remarks you made on a reviewer’s space of another book written by a friend of yours. You publicly apologized to the reviewer pretty quickly, and it’s my understanding that your position on author/reader interactions has changed quite a bit. Would you care to elaborate? I strongly believe that a reviewer’s space should be respected, whether it’s between readers or between authors and readers.
DK: I absolutely agree, otherwise how is it their space? Some authors clearly believe they have a say in what readers think of their books. It’s like saying, “Here, I made this thing for you. Here is how you’re allowed to feel about it.” I talk about author intrusions and what I think causes it below.
TMG: Social media has definitely changed the way we interact, in both positive ways and in ways that are hard to navigate. (A couple of interesting articles are here and here.) My feeling is that mutual respect and courtesy should pretty much define all exchanges, however. What is your biggest regret coming out of that situation? It could not have been pleasant for you either.
DK: My biggest regret is that I added to an already hostile environment. Though I’m sorry I upset so many people, I’m grateful they held me accountable. It really forced me to look at my behavior and ask, “Where is this coming from?” If I hadn’t, I doubt I would’ve learned anything about myself, or what is expected of me as an author.
A lot of it is common sense, of course, but it definitely required a mental shift away from Random Guy on the Internet to Public Figure. But yeah, it was a rough couple months.
The YA reviewing community has taken a lot of big hits this year and it’s been awful to see the kind of toxic environment that has been developing over the past few months. From a reader’s perspective, it’s hard to regain your enthusiasm if you’ve been targeted for doing nothing more than stating your opinion. What’s your reaction to outlets like the STGRB site? Do you have thoughts on how we can get past all this?
I’ve seen a lot of people refer to STGRB as trolls. I know trolls. I grew up in video game forums where all people would do was troll each other and then fight in game, and everyone had a good time. Arguing on the internet was fun, and nobody got hurt, or cared.
This goes beyond trolling. I don’t need to explain how, because anyone who is paying attention is appalled.
As far as how we can get past everything, I’m not sure if there’s an easy solution, or a quick one. I’ve spent many months trying to figure out why these things have been happening, and I think it comes down to the illusion of control.
Who controls a book page on GR? Does it belong to the author, or the readers? The correct answer is obviously the reader. Yet many authors don’t feel this way. When I log in, my author dashboard shows me current stats on all my books. They’re right there, in a little cluster. It makes it easy to say “Those are MY books.”
I bring this up because GR is going to be rolling out a premium author program eventually. According to them, we’ll be able to change the top review that appears if we pay some undetermined amount of money. I would say this adds to the illusion of control, which adds to the attitude some authors have had recently:
I belong here. GR wants me here. I can say whatever I want.
I will admit I still feel the urge to control, even with what I know and feel now. There’s a review on False Memory that is just a cartoon piece of poop. That’s it, just poop. I’m laughing right now just thinking about it. But I still wish I could take it down. The other day my little sister called me and said, “Danny, there is a piece of poop on your book page. I thought you should know.” Is this anyone’s problem? No, it’s not even a problem, and I shouldn’t be looking in the first place. I’m bringing it up because I think honesty is the only way things are going to change.
Anyway. I think it’s a bad idea to encourage any author activity on the site. Let me explain why:
Imagine if someone gives a glowing review to a new novel. They just really loved the book. The author shows up and comments with smiley faces and thank yous and everyone feels really great. Then their next book comes out.
And it’s terrible. What does the reviewer do?
The author has already kicked the door down and said “I’m here, what’s up guys, does anyone want to dance? Dance with me. You liked my other book and now we’re friends.” Like an uninvited party guest. Now the reviewer feels uncomfortable with their review. That should never happen. It should never be influenced by the author, because the review loses integrity, and then what’s the point?
Those articles talk about this exact problem, and I really think it’s due to the increasing closeness between reviewer and author. Do I think reviewers and authors can be friends, though? Of course. When the reviewer makes that choice.
But let’s not kid ourselves. GR is not going to take away freedoms from authors, and maybe it’s not their job to say, “Clearly authors can be controlling maniacs, so let’s take away their author dashboards.”
TMG: You touch on a couple of things that have been hot-button topics recently. Before GoodReads even released author and reviewer guidelines a couple of weeks ago, I had a strong suspicion that the way in which author dashboards appeared might have something to do with some of the negative interactions we’ve seen.
Many reviewers also dislike any kind of author interaction on their reviews, even positive ones. I personally enjoy talking to all readers about books, authors included (as long as the conversation is courteous), but I understand why it can feel intrusive, as if someone’s constantly looking over your shoulder. When it comes to negative comments in particular, there’s an imbalance of power there that can feel very intimidating when reviewers are trying to express their opinions in what they perceive to be a safe environment.
DK: So what can we do to recapture that feeling of a safe environment? Words aren’t helping. Every time something happens, a discussion pops up, and nothing changes.
I wish I had a solution. I think things might get worse before they get better. I think more people need to speak out—not just a tweet here or a blog post there. News sites have picked up on this, and things have only gotten worse. GR booting troublemakers is a start, but what do you do about STGRB and everything else outside their domain?
I think about that idea of control a lot. How can we create a new standard, where this isn’t even something that’s discussed—it’s just understood? I don’t know, but let’s talk about it.
Things are definitely changing. STGRB is just another symptom of the environment. But just like there will always be crazy authors, there will always be people talking about books. I have hope that one day authors and reviewers won’t have to fear each other, though. I mean, look at this. We’re talking and exchanging ideas.
And here is where I will end my five-page research paper. Sorry about the length.
TMG: I truly appreciate your sharing your thoughts. It means a great deal when an author is willing to go out on a limb to publicly acknowledge what happened, since silence (or worse) often speaks volumes. I’m hoping that just opening the lines of communication here will be a step towards creating a more positive atmosphere. I agree that there aren’t any easy answers, but I do think talking about these issues and keeping an open mind to other perspectives is key to finding some sort of happy co-existence.
One last but very important question, however! What’s up next for Miranda? You wrote a very satisfying conclusion to this book, but it’s clear there are deeper conspiracies that need to be uncovered.
DK: Definitely. I wanted book one to feel very contained, but to end on a note that shows there is a lot more to Miranda’s world. I recently finished copy edits, and I have to say I’m more excited about book two than one. It’s scarier, and larger, and I think I accomplished my goal of not making it feel like some weak branch between books one and three. I’m excited for ARCs to get out there sometime in October.
TMG: Well, we’re excited to see where Miranda’s journey takes her next. Thanks for talking with us, Dan.
What Do You Think?
Readers, are you excited about this book? What are your thoughts on reader/author interactions after reading Dan’s perspective? We appreciate your honest reactions, but do request that you keep the discussion respectful in tone.