Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: Justin was born in Galveston, TX and raised in the Houston area. In middle school, he fell in love with two life-long pursuits: space and writing. He knew he wanted to work at NASA and write science fiction/fantasy on the side, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what he ended up doing.
He graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and an M.S. in Systems Engineering. He now works for Barrios Technology as a project engineer for the next NASA space station, the Gateway, after previously working on commercial avionics, International Space Station (ISS) flight and manifest planning, and ISS research planning. He lives in the Houston area with his wife, daughters, and various small mammals.
Check out his website starmarked.mailchimpsites.com for more information on him, bonus material in the Star Marked universe, and upcoming releases. Sign up for his mailing list to receive news and free short stories!
Thanks so much, J., for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
Justin Doyle: I was writing as early as elementary school, but it really took off in middle school, thanks especially to T.A. Barron’s The Lost Years of Merlin series (I even got to meet him!) I knew then that I wanted to work at NASA and write on the side, which is where I’ve ended up! Does an author ever really think they’re good at it? I even saw an interview where George RR Martin thought he was writing garbage! I’ve always thought I was okay and I’ve strived to get better by taking online courses.
JSC: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
JSD: I like to write stories that hop the wall between science fiction and fantasy and back, and I like to keep it fast-paced. That last part is especially difficult when I also like to build deep worlds with long histories! But it’s important when writing for the Young Adult audience to keep it moving.
JSC: What was your first published work? Tell me a little about it.
JSD: My debut novel, Embargo on Hope, is a young adult sci-fi/fantasy adventure following 16-year old Darynn as he overcomes the traitorous deeds of his previously heroic father. With the help of his clairvoyant friend, Fyra, and alien mentor Kaylaa, he learns that he has great powers and that his society has secrets that have been buried deep for hundreds of years. The novel resolves the primary conflict by the end, but is actually the first in what will be a trilogy, with the second book being Assassination of Hope (more on that in a minute!)
JSC: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
JSD: I’m definitely a pantser, but I’ve found when writing a series, that gets harder and harder and more planning is required to make sure there is a consistent plot driving forward and character arcs. If I’m writing something new, I at least like to have a conflict in mind, something that drives the plot and the story, even if I don’t know where it’s going (but I’ve been known to break that rule too!).
There is a big downside – I think it requires more editing because I have to tighten up some things after I’ve written something a way I didn’t expect. But it’s more fun for me this way – even I don’t know where the story is going!
JSC: How did you choose the topic for Assassination of Hope?
JSD: After the conclusion of Embargo on Hope, (which initially sprung from the idea of a South Africa-like embargo except around an entire planet and became something entirely different), I knew I had to achieve two things with the sequel: further dive into the gods’ Great Secret, and learn more about Kaylaa’s past: her world, what drives her, how she became the way she was. All of that started off in one direction, and subsequent rewrites took it another way, to where I even introduced a third world that wasn’t initially planned (but vital to the story!)
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing the book?
JSD: Writing a sequel is hard once the first book is published. Before the first book is published, if there’s something you want to go back and tweak, have at it! But once it’s published, now it’s set, and you have to work around it, even if you think you have a better idea. Another thing that’s hard: you wrapped up a character arc and conflicts in book 1, but now you have to come back and further develop those characters, develop an overarching conflict, and motivate them through smaller conflicts that are self-contained in the book.
JSC: Who did your cover, and what was the design process like?
JSD: Natalia Junqueria did my cover, and it was a really easy process! I knew I wanted the same style as the first book, Embargo on Hope, along with the same letting and such, and I knew I wanted to juxtapose a volcano with a tundra. And there has to be a spaceship; something like 75% of all science fiction novels either have a planet or a spaceship on it. From there, Natalia was able to do the rest, and after only two revisions we mainly had it, with just small tweaks from there.
JSC: What pets are currently on your keyboard, and what are their names?
JSD: I live with two giant dogs, Padfoot and Luna, who manage to only get slobber on the keyboard, and an occasional paw, but not their whole selves. They can be distracting when they get rowdy and literally move the furniture by bumping into it.
JSC: What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
JSD: By day, I work as a systems and project engineer, and the job that most impacted my writing was when I worked as a cargo engineer for the International Space Station. I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to work and live in space and a little bit of how that goes, which influences my space scenes. In the future I think I’ll use that experience even more to my advantage and write more scenes (or entire books!) that take place in space.
JSC: What fictional speculative fiction character would you like to spend an evening with, and why?
JSD: Gandalf! First off, that would mean I was in Middle Earth, hopefully with mountains in the background. But even better, he has several thousand years of stories to tell…one evening would not be enough. (Plus, he would surely top it off with a magical fireworks show, and maybe I could get roped into an adventure.)
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
JSD: 2023 is going to be a busy publishing year for me (I hope!) The conclusion to the Star Marked series, called Betrayal of Hope, should be out in the summer. I’m also working on a prequel novella, taking place from a side character’s point of view (Pavlar), that I’m planning on releasing and making perma-free on Kindle! Finally I just submitted a short story, an unrelated portal fantasy, for an anthology and I have a middle grade science fiction out on query that I’m hoping to get traditionally published in the near future.
And now for Justin’s latest book: Assassination of Hope:
The destruction of the embargo has made Darynn Mark a lot of enemies: an interstellar bounty hunter, the Grand Cardinal, families of the fallen. On top of that, Darynn struggles with his new responsibility to discover the truth behind Vastire’s gods, while battling his growing internal desire to destroy.
Darynn and Fyra must travel to the frozen planet Yiptae to find the final pieces of the gods’ puzzle. But Yiptae has problems of its own, from a violent revolution to the assassination of a key political figure for immigrant rights. In the middle of it all is Kaylaa, whose mysterious past leads to new opportunities, conflicts, and enemies.
Darynn, Fyra, and Kaylaa must work with new allies to solve the secret to the past while navigating the revolution and solving the murder. If they don’t, they will end up dead, and the truths of two worlds will be buried forever.
Secrets ignite revolutions…
“Images of a smoking, charred palace played on the screen. “An attack at the Wyn’Iveleen Ball in Gryphodon killed sixty seven Virin-leen today and wounded dozens of others. A bomb exploded inside the building, collapsing the roof and part of the mountain onto the unsuspecting guests. Among the dead are,” and then it rattled off some names that Fyra probably recognized.
The crowd was overcome by gasps, whispering, and choked sobs. Tears even escaped from Fyra’s eyes, which caused my stomach to turn. How could she mourn the Virin-leen, who abandoned the Olan-Har during the embargo? Every major house had enough money to provide for Hargonla for a year, at least. But they didn’t.
“This just in! The bomb almost certainly had to be of magic origin. The Shards on the scene told us they have identified…” The speaker paused. “Darynn Mark as a person of interest.”
Terrified faces fell on me, accompanied by pointed, trembling fingers. They huddled closer together, hoping for strength in numbers like a school of fish.
My knees buckled as I staggered backward, the weight of their stares pushing me away. It felt like a boxer had punched me in the throat as I struggled for breath.”