Novae Caelum on Strong Story Openings, Emotional Conflict, and Queer Characters in Space
Laterpress Genre Fiction Contest Winner Novae Caelum discusses The Stars and Green Magics.
Novae Caelum is a 2022 Genre Fiction Contest winner in the “Ongoing Serial” category, for The Stars and Green Magics, and has an impressive bibliography of work. Novae is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Alliance of Independent Authors, and Codex. Besides writing, Novae is also a freelance illustrator and designer. Learn more about them on their official website.
I had the opportunity to ask Novae some questions about how they approach their craft, and producing serial fiction, and I hope you enjoy the discussion!
How would you describe The Stars and Green Magics to someone who’s never heard of it? Why should they read it?
The Stars and Green Magics is about queer royal shapeshifters in space, with magic! The story follows the heir to an interstellar kingdom, Arianna, who absolutely doesn’t want to marry, and her younger sister, Dressa, who has a crush on Arianna’s betrothed. They’re both shapeshifters, along with others in the royal family, so who will marry the prince and who will rule the kingdom are by no means certain. It’s structured like an epic fantasy, with multi-season mysteries and looming threats on the horizon, and plays out like a soapy New Adult show (though it’s teen and ace friendly). It has all my feels about a universe that’s fully embraced gender and sexual diversity, and the many diverse people who live in it.
What’s your goal with The Stars and Green Magics?
I see this following the general shape of an epic fantasy trilogy. While the serial plotting has stretched the shape out a bit more than it would have been in novel form, I’m planning for around three seasons per rough shape of a trilogy book, though as with everything else, that’s subject to adapting on the fly. At the very least, this will be posting for several years.
I know you’re no stranger to the world of serial fiction, getting your start on Wattpad years before I first encountered your work. What drew you into serialization as a storytelling format? What advice would you give to other authors either serializing already, or considering it?
I started posting on Wattpad in 2015, mainly to give me a solid goal to hit with a chapter each week, as before then, I’d struggled to finish a novel. That goal and the instant reader feedback had me hooked, and I’ve been on and off serializing ever since. I think serializing also helped me to really get a feel for the rhythm of hooks and suspense, because on Wattpad, I could see where readers were reacting, where they were having “oh my god!” moments, and then I’d try and do more of that. There’s nothing quite like watching someone read and comment through your book in realtime.
I think when you’re first serializing, a lot of what’s happening will be finding your flow, whether you do well with a longer chapter once a week, or shorter chapters throughout the week, or writing every day, even. Do you like the long-build sort of suspense, or the short pay-offs, or both? The common advice is that every chapter needs to have a cliffhanger, but I think it’s more like every chapter needs to have a solid hook, either into the next chapter, or into the overall mystery at large, that keeps the reader moving forward. If you’re writing action, action hooks can work well, but if it’s action and emotional, you’re more likely to keep them reading.
Finding the right platform can make a big difference, too. A lot of people are getting their serial start right now on Kindle Vella, but it’s such a different atmosphere and platform than something like Wattpad or Laterpress. Every platform has its own quirks and features and community around it, and some will fit some personalities, work flows, and genres better than others. I tend to have 3-4 platforms I’m posting on at any given time, and they’re all a bit different and have different things to offer.
I’d love it if you could walk us through your writing process, and how you manage your schedule, considering you have three ongoing serials at the moment. (Saving the Embers, The Seritarchus, and The Stars and Green Magics)
My writing process is controlled chaos! I like working on multiple projects, and I think on some level I need that, as concentrating for too many days on one project tends to make me wander off. So I’ll binge-write in sessions–spend 2-3 days writing and editing a bunch of episodes for one serial, load them into where I’m posting, and then take a day’s break or go do some work on another project. Or do non-writing things if I need an overall refresh, and then a day or so later, I jump back in, usually to one of the other projects. I have a calendar for which serials are posting on what days, and then make sure that on those days I load in the latest episode for each serial.
I’m still experimenting with my process, though, and how much I’m able to handle at one time. Three ongoing serials is fun, but also can be overwhelming! I’m finding I can’t read or watch anything brain-intensive when I’m juggling so much story in my head.
How do you approach worldbuilding? There’s a lot going on in Stars and Green Magics. Royal politics. The Green Magickers. The Truthspoken (people adept in social manipulation) and their powers to Change (appearance alteration and healing).
I tend to start writing when I have just enough of an idea and just enough of the world around it that I have to write it to find out what else is there. So I very much start out in the dark–I don’t outline more than a few jotted notes ahead. The world builds itself as my characters and plot builds themselves, and I’ve always found the three things to be inseparable. I can’t build the world all on its own first, because when I’d go to write it, I’d just change it all anyway, as my worlds tend to adapt to my characters and plots and vice versa. So I guess my worlds are just another character in the story. I do try and track all the details once they show up, though, and I love complexity, so the challenge is to have it complex without being overwhelming.
The Stars and Green Magics features three prelude chapters you’ve made available on Laterpress and Patreon that aren’t included in the Vella edition. How far into the serial were you when you wrote these? What made you decide to write them?
I was around seven or eight episodes into the second season before I wrote those new beginning episodes! I wrote them mainly to work around what I’d thought was a rule on Amazon’s end that nothing in my Vella serial could be free anywhere, and I needed three preview episodes, but it turned out that Amazon confirmed that wasn’t true right after I wrote them. I ended up loving the new episodes, though, and I decided to use them anyway. I think they add a different perspective and a different sort of tension than the original beginning. While I’d had an idea of where I was going with the serial at the start, some things changed pretty drastically during writing, and the new episodes let me shade in some extra little nudges toward where the plot is headed. It was a challenge, though, to craft them so the serial could be read cohesively both with and without them. I’ve kept the original beginning on Vella as it’s difficult to add new beginning episodes there. The new beginning is everywhere else and will be in the book version, though.
“My daughter. I’ve reviewed all available candidates and have begun negotiations with the Javieri family for you to marry their daughter, the prince.”
I think this is one of the most impressive opening paragraphs I’ve read in a long time for how efficiently it sets expectations right off the bat. In two sentences, you set up that LGBT relationships and gender diversity are going to be core elements to the tale, along with royal court politics / intrigue.
Many authors struggle with determining where / how to start their stories. What’s your thought process when it comes to beginnings, and what makes for a strong opening scene / chapter?
I used to get very bogged down in making sure my beginnings were absolutely perfect, to the point where I’d have trouble getting past them to writing the rest of the book. I used to think, too, that opening straight into action was the best way to engage a reader–and maybe for some types of books, like thrillers, that’s true. I tend to write epics, though, and I think every genre might have different types of beginnings that work better for it, too. In looking at some of the beginnings of my favorite authors’ books–Lois McMaster Bujold’s books in particular were a revelation to me–I realized that the openings that engaged me most were the ones I just kind of rambled into. Now, I’m trying to start where it feels like a good place to start, usually where I can spend just a little time getting to know the characters before throwing them into their worst moments.
By the end of Episode 10, you’ve established at least three plotlines - one for each of the Truthspoken sisters, and a potential alien threat in the Kidaa. How do you approach plotting, and juggling plotlines? How do you keep track of them? How far in advance of what’s published do you have things worked out?
I love juggling and interweaving a bunch of plotlines, and playing various character motivations off each other. It does definitely take more brain work, though! I’ve found I write overall much slower on The Stars and Green Magics than I do on other serials that have only one or two POV characters and a much more straightforward plot. I have an extensive Wiki in Notion to track everything and make sure I get all the details right (and I still miss a few details).
For this serial, I’m working on adapting the rough draft of an older novel, so I have a semi-roadmap of around the first three seasons of the serial, though much of what was there before has changed by now, and I keep changing major plotlines on the fly. I’m absolutely a pantser–I know the general shape of where I’m headed with the overall story, but I don’t always know how I’m getting there or how it will all end up. So I’d say I tend to run around 10 episodes ahead of having an idea of what I’m writing toward, but also, any of that is subject to change.
Do you have any advice on how to juggle emotional conflict and characterization while keeping things moving in a scene? I think you do a great job conveying the emotions of a scene as well as explaining the nuances of what’s happening, all without bogging down the pace or leaving readers feeling like they’re wading through exposition.
Thank you! This is something I’ve worked really hard on, and I’m glad it’s paying off! A lot of it, for me, is driving the plot through the characters, or making sure the characters are threatened in some emotional way by the outside plot as well. If a scene is reading wooden to me, I go back and layer in all the little nuances, the sort of subtle things that aren’t always on a conscious level. I try to drive my plot through my world, too, so that when I’m dropping world details into my scenes, I’m actually dropping plot or character details as well. Exposition I’ve learned to mostly break up and spread out, taking it down to the bare minimum. If I need to do a larger infodump, I try to make sure it’s within the character’s own emotional angst, so those details are vital to know and the reader is interested vs wanting to skim.
What really helped me in understanding how to juggle wordbuilding, characters, tension, and exposition was writing and workshopping flash fiction. Trying to convey a complex world, character, and story in under 1000 words, where every single word matters, really helps you find where to put those beats, how to rely on what’s not said rather than what is, and how to land a solid character moment.
For readers looking for more queer / genderfluid / LGBT friendly sci-fi and fantasy, are there other resources or authors you would recommend people check out?
I’d highly recommend anything by Ann Leckie, Everina Maxwell, Becky Chambers, Emily Skrutskie, and Rebecca Roanhorse, among many, many other authors of queer SFF. I’d also recommend books by Robot Dinosaur Press, which is a collective of queer and queer-writing SFF authors that I belong to and they put out some amazing stuff!
Your dog is named Major Samantha Carter (which, for the record, I think is awesome), so I have to ask, what is your favorite episode of Stargate? Has that franchise had any influence on your own storytelling?
I’m not sure I have just one favorite! But I love the two part Tok’ra episode–I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of becoming another person for some reason or other, which that episode deals with. I write about those themes a lot in my own work. Other shows that have had an impact on my work are Star Trek: Voyager, Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5, though SG-1 is the only one so far I’ve rewatched at least twice.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Novae! The Stars and Green Magics updates weekly on Fridays, and you can read it here. Enjoy! For even more information on Novae, stop by Novae’s site!