Bonds of Brass is Emily Skrutskie’s adult novel debut, out April 7 (that’s today!) from Del Rey. In this interstellar adventure, a young pilot risks everything to save his best friend—the man he trusts most and might even love—only to learn that his friend is secretly the heir to a brutal galactic empire.
In the fall of 2015, I’m pretty sure I scared the shit out of my agent.
“I want to write a YA space vampire novel,” I told her. “I’ve already written an outline and the first three chapters—let me know what you think!”
Vampires are making a bit of a comeback in the YA sphere now, but in the halcyon days of five years ago, there was still a Twilight-flavored stigma that followed them around like a powerful garlic amulet. Combine that with the fact that to this day, YA sci-fi is considered one of the most difficult genres to sell, and you can see why my agent’s hackles immediately went up. After all, we were about to go on submission with Hullmetal Girls, a YA science fiction book with no romantic arc, which we knew we were going to have to fight to see in print. She didn’t say point-blank, “No, you can’t write YA space vampires,” but she also didn’t… not say that.
It’s my agent’s job to look out for my career prospects, and there clearly needed to be a course correction here to make sure my futuristic stories had a future. She advised me to see if I had any other ideas. Maybe noodle around with some fan fiction to get the juices flowing. In February of 2016, I sat down in front of a blank page with no direction, just the raw determination to figure out something new.
I’ve always been a bit of a cannibal when it comes to story ideas. When I was a kid, I was making my own Star Wars ripoffs in my backyard with cardboard, construction paper, and MS Paint visual effects. The first novel I ever wrote, back when I was fifteen, was rooted in the Timothy Zahn series Dragon and Thief, which had been extremely formative to me in middle school. And of course Hullmetal Girls and The Abyss Surrounds Us owe everything they are to Pacific Rim, which inspired me to write about mentally-networked mecha and giant monsters in the seas of the future. My whole life has been an education in listening to my inner fan and using that enthusiasm to process what I wanted to put back out into the world.
So I thought about all the things I was a fan of, and all the things they sparked in me. The list was long. The Force Awakens was still in theaters, and I was knee-deep in the joy of having new Star Wars to play with. On top of that, Pierce Brown’s Morning Star had just come out and left me with a powerful urge to write a space opera with tricks up its sleeves. With no expectations, my brain started dumping everything I was interested in writing about on a page in an all caps stream of consciousness paragraph.
This is, word for word, hand to god, exactly what my fan brain produced that day:
“BOY FRIENDSHIP NOVEL. GALACTIC EMPIRE. ONE OF THEM’S AN UNDERCOVER PRINCE. FIGHTER PILOTS. ROAD TO EL DORADO. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. THE BROTHERS BLOOM. SOMETHING GOES WRONG AND THEY’RE BOTH ON THE RUN FROM THE PRINCE’S ENEMIES. TOP GUN. OBI-WAN AND ANAKIN. AAAAAAA”
Right around the time I started hitting that “A” key over and over again was when I realized I had something that might possibly eclipse the space vampires. By tapping into exactly what I liked, what I wanted to see more of, and what my favorite things were missing (a strategy the team behind Project Luminous seems to also be applying in their planning for Star Wars: The High Republic—which I am so excited for!!!), I was able to sculpt the foundations of a story in a matter of minutes.
I dove forward in the document and sent it to my agent once I had the basics of a pitch going. I can only imagine the sweet, sweet relief she felt when she realized it wasn’t another “YA space vampires” situation. She emailed me back with gushing enthusiasm, asking when I could get to work.
I’ve gotten to work. I’ve let that inner fan voice guide me for four years, shaping the joy and enthusiasm at the heart of Bonds of Brass. And now I’m so, so excited to share it with you.
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