Updated: Feb 19, 2019
February debuts are here!!! Aaaahhhh!
A Soldier and a Liar
by Caitlin Lochner
Lai Cathwell is good at keeping secrets. As a Nyte, a supernaturally gifted teenager who is feared and shunned by the ungifted, this skill is essential to survival. Orchestrating her own imprisonment to escape military duty has only honed her ability to deceive others. But when rebels start attacking the city, Lai is dragged back into the fight with a new team of Nytes.
Thrown together with Jay, a self-conscious perfectionist consumed by the desire to be accepted; Al, a short-tempered fighter lying for the sake of revenge; and Erik, an amnesiac hell-bent on finding his memories and his place in the world, Lai realizes she's facing an entirely different kind of challenge--one that might just be impossible. But if this team can't learn to work together, the entire sector will be plunged into war.
February 19th, 2019
Introduce yourself and your debut novel!
Heya! My name is Caitlin, and my debut novel, A Soldier and a Liar, is a dystopia with a little bit of sci-fi. It’s about a team of four teenage soldiers with supernatural powers having to band together to try and stop a civil war from breaking out between the gifted and ungifted (while trying not to kill each other while they’re at it). It’s a lot of action and even more messy, complicated character relationships, so if that sounds like something you’re into, I hope you’ll check it out!
What’s the most surprising part about your debut journey so far?
Does it count if I say “I honestly had no idea that the year leading up to my debut would be so busy and hard??” because that is my most accurate answer. I never realized how much work came after you already sold the book, or how many great author groups there’d be to join and wonderful people to meet and interviews to write and giveaways to run and events to set up and/or speak at (and on, and on, and on). It’s definitely been a lot, and all of it took me off guard! But it’s been a ton of fun, too, and I’ve met some wonderful people on this journey.
Give a shout-out to a fellow debut!
I’d love to give a shout-out to Samantha Hastings! Her book The Last Word is set in the 1800s and is about a young woman’s quest to discover the ending to her favorite serialized novel when the author suddenly dies—it’s out in July, and you should absolutely check it out! Not only is she a great person and writer, but she’s been incredibly supportive of not just me, but ALL the Novel 19 debuts. I wish her nothing but the best of luck on this crazy journey we’re both on.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Hooo boy. I actually don’t remember precisely when I started writing it, but I want to say it was probably the summer or fall of 2011? I’ve long since lost count of how many drafts it went through and how many total rewrites I did before I sold it in March of 2017. And then I went through even more drafts. Four, to be exact. And I rewrote the ending. Every. Single. Time. That was the hardest part to nail, for sure, but I’m really happy with the final product.
What's a cool thing about your book that isn't in the blurb?
I like to think I have a pretty diverse cast. Jay is Asian and Al is black, plus there a lot of fun side characters of varying races and sexualities. I’m asexual, so it was really important to me that one of my main characters is, too—so one of the four is biromantic ace (although it’s not explicitly stated in this novel since it wasn’t yet relevant). I was a little hesitant when I had to revise my originally-told-in-four-points-of-view novel so that the straight white girl became the main narrator of the story. There are already so many narratives like this in the YA field and I was worried it might dim the other voices in my story. But I really wanted everyone reading to be able to find someone they could see themselves in—especially in the context of an action/adventure story where someone’s sexuality or race isn’t an issue in that world.
Describe your main character in three words.
Oh, this one’s easy. Lai is calculating, determined, and closed-off (that’s totally one word, right? …Right?).
What advice would you give to a new writer?
Don’t give up. Don’t abandon a story you’re truly passionate about, don’t stop writing, don’t let your doubts get the better of you. It took me probably almost six years from when I started writing A Soldier and a Liar to when I actually sold it—and another two years after that until it came out. It takes time, but it’s so, so worth it. Your dream will never come true if you give up.
How do you develop your plot and characters?
So it uuused to be that I was a total pantser. I’d start with a basic premise and an idea of a character that I thought would be fun to write, and then I’d just write and see what happened. But that requires a TON of revision afterward, and isn’t really a sustainable method when you’re 1) on deadlines, 2) trying to save yourself mountains of time on editing later, and 3) trying to contain a whole, cohesive story in your book. It’s so much easier to have the foundation set beforehand so that when you start building the story on top of it, the scaffolding doesn’t sink straight into the ground and fall apart at the slightest touch.
After I sold A Soldier and a Liar, I started developing a much different method of plotting and figuring out character arcs. I started writing what was pretty much a chronological summary of events, starting over and/or adjusting as needed if it felt like things were moving in the wrong direction. Rinse and repeat. A lot. I’d try to get a good idea of my central characters, what they wanted, what their obstacles were, and what it was they really needed by the end of the story. Then, once I knew this, I could go back in and adjust the summary to make sure each of the characters met their different arc points. Once I had the full summary, I’d write a chapter-by-chapter outline with all the necessary points I needed to hit within that chapter. Sometimes I would add details or lines of dialogue that either inspired me or that I didn’t want to forget. And then I would begin the writing process.
Things didn’t always stay exactly the same as in the outline, and that’s fine. Writing needs room to grow and breathe. So when things would change, or when I would need to make revision notes to myself for the next draft (“make this conversation more plot-relevant” or such), I’d make notes in my outline so I had all my future edits all in one place.
What book or author has most influences your own writing?
Since it’s too difficult to choose just one, I’m going to cheat and give a bunch of answers here. I grew up devouring the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and I think the adventures and fun characters in those books really became a huge aspect of what I enjoy in both reading and writing. The Percy Jackson series and Tamora Pierce’s series (notably the Song of the Lioness quartet and the Trickster’s Choice duology) absolutely continued this. As I started writing more and looking at stories more on the sentence level, I was really drawn to Maggie Stiefvater’s books. Reading the Raven Cycle especially, I got such a sense of magic from her writing and her beautiful prose. It feels like truth somehow. There are so many others, but I think these were the main ones that really influenced my writing and helped me discover what it is I really love in stories.
Link to a favorite song!
YES! It’s my eternal hope that people will ask me what song I think best describes A Soldier and a Liar (and even though that wasn’t quite the question, this is still one of my favorite songs anyway), and the answer is “Brother,” by Kodaline. I listened to this song on repeat for some uncountable number of hours while I was editing this book, and I think it just really fits the tone, feeling, and characters. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UtVTqzdyKc)
Caitlin's novel is out on 2/19/2019! Check it out!