Monica Leonelle is the author of the new young adult/sci-fi/dystopian novel, Socialpunk, and she’s been enough to join me for a little Q&A session on I Read a Book Once. You can find my review of Socialpunk over here, and you can get the low-down on the Socialpunk blog tour here. But right now, let me extend a warm welcome to lady of the hour. Thanks for joining me, Monica.
ML: Hi! It’s great to be here.
Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. What do you say?
ML: Sounds great!
Q1) First off, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and the Socialpunk trilogy.
ML: Socialpunk is a bit like The Truman Show meets The Terminator, except Mark Zuckerburg is president of the world. I wanted to do a cyberpunk and Socialpunk is classically cyberpunk, down to its roots. I loved the idea of being trapped in a virtual reality, and then acclimating to the real world.
I chose Chicago because I live in Chicago and I love the city! It was an easy choice for me, especially with the underground subways, which play a pivotal role in the book. Also, Chicago is really a city of snow, glass, and metal. The architecture is inspiring. So that just fit the style of the book perfectly, and it had to be in Chicago for me.
Q2) Why young adult? Why dystopia? Those two in combination have become the genre du jour lately. Why do you think they’ve struck such a chord with the public, and why did you choose them for your story?
ML: I was writing Socialpunk before I ever read The Hunger Games, which is (I assume) why dystopian fiction has taken the place of vampire fiction. I’ve always written young adult, so that isn’t a factor. I think YA tends to take off faster because teenagers have lots of free time and get extremely invested in things. There’s a great energy about teenagers.
ML: Yeah, it was. The Socialpunks are a hash that Ima meets after escaping the Dome.
Q4) Your vision of the future involves quite a few typical cyberpunk tropes—cybertechnology, for one, but also corporate greed, the proliferation of advertising, and the hyper-connectivity of the internet age (or what evolves from the internet age). What were your primary influences for these themes?
ML: Mostly cyberpunk movies, also Neuromancer. The last good cyberpunk movies I saw were The Matrix, Terminator, and Minority Report. I combined that aesthetic with the social renaissance happening now. For example, people pay for things by pressing their fingerprint to a device, or in some cases, even someone's wrist. It's basically Square for the future. Peer to peer (P2P) payments are hot right now in the start-up industry, so I feel the book represents an exaggerated version of our present.
Q5) Is the world in Socialpunk, in your mind, a vision of the future or just a vehicle for telling a good story?
ML: I think it has a good a chance as any to becoming our future. That said, I’m not like, a fortune teller or anything. The worlds I’ve created came from my imagination. Lots of people have said that they could see it happening, and maybe some of it will, but I’m definitely not trying to predict the future or anything.
Q6) This next question is a bit minute in terms of the overall work, but it’s something I was wondering about, so I’m going to ask anyway. Midway through the book your protagonist Ima undergoes an abrupt name change. Why did you decide to go this route rather than keeping the name throughout?
ML: Ima just honestly didn’t fit the image I had in my head anymore. She melds into the hash and becomes one of its members. Like in a cult, the leader renames her. She takes strength from the name to push toward her goals, but frankly, the Socialpunks own her now. They made her theirs. That’s what the name represents.
Q7) Very biblical. Ima goes through a lot of other transitions in the book—from meek abused teen to stand-in leader of the socialpunks, and it happens really fast. I can’t help but think, though, that the transition was a bit rushed, like her personality turns on a dime. Was this a calculated move, or did you have to sacrifice a little bit of the development in order to keep the novel an appropriate length?
ML: The novel is a little short and will probably get a longer treatment whenever I get the next chance. I disagree that the transition happened too fast—Ima started out strong but beaten down. She breaks free of the people and situations that were beating her down, and she finds inner strength. People who have experience that will understand, and people who haven’t probably won’t.
For the record, I respect everyone’s opinion and don’t mean to be like, “no, it didn’t happen too fast.” I’m just saying, like with all aspects of any book, some people get it, some people don’t, some people love it, some people hate it. As an author, I’m used to people interpreting my books differently. It has very little affect on me either way.
Q8) And that’s a great segue into my next question. Being a writer, you really have to put yourself out there, and it can be difficult when people say nasty things about your work. How do you deal with criticism?
ML: It honestly doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I’ve been blogging since 2007, so I’m so used to it. I’ve had people online call me the b-word for no reason, on my own website. I mean, it’s a jungle out there! So when people express their opinions about my books, they pretty much can’t say anything that’s going to break my heart.
I know my work is good and I’m content with what I put out there. I respect people’s opinions and 99% of them are super respectful toward me and my work, even when they hate my work. From these people, I can get constructive feedback and improve my books or write better books next time. It’s all a learning process. When you learn to take criticism as a gift, you can gain something.
My advice for any writer who wants to learn this is to create an environment where people can safely give criticism and you can safely receive it. This generally means not responding to reviews on Goodreads or Amazon or anywhere else. Always be thankful that someone is paying attention.
Q9) What’s next in store for Ima/Cinder and the crew? Can you give us a sneak peek into the events of the next in the trilogy. I think it’s called Socialmob, right?
ML: It is called Socialmob! The end of Socialpunk brought Ima back to basically where she started at the beginning of the book. The only difference is herself and what she can bring to the table this time. So the next book will show her getting stronger.
The reader will also be privy to what’s happening in the other world, because there is a second perspective in the second book. Hopefully some of the new fans of Socialpunk will appreciate the opportunity to learn more about this character, who was fairly mysterious in the first book.
Q10) Finally, the life of a writer is full of ups and downs. What keeps you at it?
ML: I honestly have no idea. Writing is a hard life! I think I keep at it because I can’t help myself. I really couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to. I think about whether I would rather lose my legs or my ability to type. And I have to say, I’d probably get my legs sawed off.
Well, that’ll do it. Thanks for taking the time to do an interview, and good luck on the rest of your Socialpunk series. I’m eager to see what you come up with next.
ML: Thank you!