Meet Samantha Mina, a young adult dystopian sci-fi/fantasy book series author and “American Fiction Awards” finalist. I randomly crossed paths with Samantha last week when I stopped into Barnes & Noble in Fairfax, Va. She was there for her book signing, and we started talking. After learning her personal story, I knew right away that I wanted to interview her for Gal on the Go. I’m proud to add Samantha as my first literary interview, who I hope will inspire you!
Q: At what age did you first get the writing bug? What incident or point made you decide that you wanted to be a published author for a living?
A: Since early childhood, I always loved to write. At age seven, I remember spending Christmas day scribbling down stories about the characters whose action figures my brother and I received that morning. My brother didn’t understand why I preferred to write about my dolls and toys rather than picking up and playing with them!
I started drafting the six-part Spectrum series when I was 16 years old. Before I began this series, I was an avid fanfiction writer. I produced mass quantities of Harry Potter and other such fanfiction—and, I mean, hundreds of pages per story. At that time, I also followed the daily blog of my favorite author, Orson Scott Card. One day, Card posted an entry titled, “When to Write Fanfiction.” To my great astonishment, he answered, “The time is never.” He said, if you consider yourself a real writer or ever want to be published, you need to create your own original material. Fanfiction can be fun and good writing practice, but you’re never going to propel your authorial career with it. That week, I sat down and started drafting Spectrum, which I’d amusingly titled back then Fire vs. Ice.
The genre of the series is young adult dystopian science fiction and fantasy. When I wrote the first drafts of each installment in the series, dystopian fiction was not all the rage it is now. I think The Giver was the only dystopian novel I’d even heard of at the time! But, in recent years, with the release of novels and movies like Hunger Games and Divergent, it has become a booming genre with a broad readership.
My long-term goal is to be a full-time author, but right now, it is my second job, alongside managing a cybersecurity software engineering firm in the DC area.
Q: Who is your author idol, and why?
A: Prior to reading my first Orson Scott Card novel at age 16, I’d never touched science-fiction or fantasy, only literary fiction. (By now, I’d read almost everything Card has ever written). In 11th grade, a friend of mine shoved a copy of Ender’s Game in my hands and demanded that I read it! To my surprise, I got hooked by the first sentence. What captivates me about Card’s work is not the world-building or sci-fi glamor, but the quality of the characterization. I strive to put the same degree of intensity, complexity and depth into my own characterization, thereby drawing in a larger audience. I’ve been told by many that my work appeals to far more than the typical “sci-fi reader.” For example, a 60-plus-year-old lady who usually only reads Amish romance recently told me that she binged all my books. She said she just couldn’t stop! Previously, she never touched Star Wars or Harry Potter or anything of the like. Hearing that made my day.
Q: For other aspiring writers, what is your overview writing process?
A: When I began writing the series, I didn’t have an outline or a specific plot in mind; I didn’t necessarily know where the story was going or even where it would be set. All I had in mind at the time was the image of a character whom I’d been sketching in my notebooks at school all week: a red-haired, red-robed, green-eyed teenage girl named Scarlet July. So, I sat down and started writing about her—who she is, developing her quirks, and her voice. After that, it was as if the book wrote itself: a world and story seemed to form around Scarlet naturally.
For volumes 2 through 6 in the series, I drafted detailed outlines before diving into the prose. However, writing book 1, where the primary world-building is completed, was almost like a feverish trance that happened to me. It was as if I was along for the ride like a reader, excited to see where the story would go!
Q: What is the biggest challenge of being an author?
A: Writing the actual books is fun and easy. The more difficult part is working with teams of individuals to get the books published—everything from editing to formatting to commissioning cover art and marketing. Writing the books is truly only half the battle. No matter how great a story you write, it won’t get read without thorough promotion, such as social media marketing and book-touring.
Generating ads, managing social media platforms, and touring the country for signing events and conventions is almost a full-time job in itself. Between running a cybersecurity company during the day, writing/editing at night, and traveling for my book-tour on weekends, I don’t get much sleep or rest.
Q: What is the greatest perk of being an author?
A: I’ll start by telling you what it isn’t. It isn’t about being recognized by random fans in public. It isn’t about the attention, photo-ops, or awards. It isn’t about the nationwide travel or the money—I still need my day job. It’s about reader reaction. I tear up sometimes when I hear how my stories have touched various people around the world, especially young tweens and teens. Written in the first person, alternating between the perspectives of a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy from radically different cultures, what drives my plots is the characters’ struggles and growth as they fight to find their place and purpose in the wars plaguing their world. If you’ve ever been a confused, displaced teenager, you will relate to the protagonists. If you’ve ever been impacted by racism or classism, you will relate to the protagonists. If you’ve ever been affected by war or military life, you will relate to the protagonists. You may even find yourself relating to some of the antagonists, as you read their accounts and come to see that they are the heroes of their own stories, often believing that they are fighting for good.
In 2018, I exhibited at the big “Gen Con: Authors’ Avenue” convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. I encountered a teen named Sarah on my first day there. She read the entirety of volume 1 overnight then came back the following morning with her whole family to purchase volume 2, exclaiming how much she enjoyed my creation. Her excitement was infectious. Readers like Sarah have no idea what an impact they make on authors like me. She’s one of the highlights of my entire book tour, right up there with meeting New York Times bestseller Terry Brooks and Tor Publishing Founder Tom Doherty. Experiences like that are the reasons why I write.
Q: What is your dream for your book series?
A: It would be amazing if my novels ever became movies or TV shows. With all the action and adventure, I think they would lend themselves well to the silver screen. My work has been in consideration for video productions before. A couple of months ago, Spectrum made it in the top 10 out of 40 books considered for an HBO movie or series. I wasn’t selected, but I hope the door gets reopened in the future!
Q: Out of your six stories so far, do you have a favorite? If yes, why is it your favorite?
A: With tons of intense, juicy protagonist interaction and twice the word-count of previous installments for it to play out, I believe that book 3, Crystallized, is the most engaging volume in the series thus far.
Q: Given the genre you write and our current COVID-19 environment, do you have any new storyline ideas? If yes, do you care to share?
A: The coronavirus pandemic has not inspired any new novel ideas yet. But, after the Spectrum series is all published, I plan on releasing a medical thriller. Living Ghost is based on my journey with an incredibly rare gastro-vascular disorder called Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome that caused me to stare death in the face before even reaching my second decade of life.
Here’s a sneak peek at the back-cover synopsis: “When eighteen-year-old college freshman Blanca Rokitansky becomes seriously ill, she and her best friend at Nation’s Capital University, aspiring radiologist Russell Brown, are abruptly thrown into a medical mystery enshrouded in controversy. Fighting for acknowledgment of and treatment for Blanca’s rare syndrome from a skeptical medical community, Blanca stares death in the face while Russell—a pre-med Presidential Scholar and volunteer orderly at the University Hospital—confronts the possibility of losing his scholarship and credibility before his career in medicine can really begin. The two embark on a long and dangerous journey filled with controversy, confrontation, invasive procedures, mystery and malpractice. For Blanca, finding a diagnosis is just the beginning.”
Q: Given the current ban on travel and COVID-19, do you see yourself doing something else to stay connected with your readers/fans like a virtual book tour through streaming sessions?
A: Absolutely! Facebook, in particular, has been incredible for engaging my readers, from announcing new releases to running sales to answering questions from other aspiring authors. I started my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/SpectrumNovelSeries, about two years ago and have already gleaned 30,000 followers—through a lot of hard work and dedication. I post several times a week, interacting with readers virtually while my book tour is temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
Q: When is your next story being released? What is the plotline?
A: Currently, all six books in my series have been written and rewritten over a dozen times each. However, only the first four volumes have gone through the publication process thus far. The fourth Volume, Covalence, just released on March 1, 2020, with book five, Iridescence, expected by March 1, 2021.
The Spectrum series follows an eclectic cast of young adults fighting to survive and find their place and purpose in the wars plaguing the dystopian, future world of Second Earth. From fantastical world-building, to combat sequences, to geopolitics, to the exploration of a soldier’s psyche, to racial and social commentary, to the turmoil and confusion that comes with the teenage years, to forbidden romance, the sextet is a fast-paced, character-driven, sci-fi/fantasy adventure for the Divergent and Hunger Games generation.
Beneath the fantastical world-building and sci-fi sparkle, this series is mainly about young adults consecrating their lives for their countries while still trying to figure out who they are themselves. Whether on this Earth in the present day, or 3,000 years later in a fictional society, the honor, bravery, love, and fear that compose the heart of a soldier is timeless and transcendent, so is the hope, optimism, confusion, and ambition that characterizes the average teenager or young adult.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share that I didn’t cover?
A: You don’t have to be an avid reader or a sci-fi/fantasy buff to dive into the Spectrum series, due to the style and pacing of the prose. I’ve been told by many “non-readers” that Spectrum is the first book they’ve been motivated to finish in years! So, I invite you into the world of Second Earth, following an eclectic cast of young adults who learn the hard way that freedom isn’t free.
- Spectrum – “American Fiction Awards” finalist
SIDE STORY: Samantha has led an unusual life journey. She almost died at age 20 from a rare and misunderstood illness called SMA Syndrome that induces spontaneous starvation upon its sufferers. She was featured in a documentary on the Discovery Channel called ‘Mystery Diagnosis. To view the three-part feature about Samantha, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAX-sZKgU-E