When crafting a story, writers often look to their own shelves for inspiration. There, they find examples of themes, characters, and plots executed to perfection, which serve as inspiration for their own writing. To celebrate the release of The Empress, the second installment in the Diabolic series, S.J. Kincaid is sharing five books that helped her to shape her dystopian world.
Reader, beware: Some spoilers for the Diabolic series ahead.
I think anyone who enjoys writing stories is lucky to live in this day and age when reading material is so widely available. My love of genres has shifted over time. Throughout my life, I’ve gone through phases where I’ve been obsessed with historical fiction, chick lit, biographies of dictators, high fantasy, and young adult fiction, but every so often, I’ve strayed outside those genres when something spectacular has snared my interest. All of these works I’ve read have informed me as a writer, and if I were to truly sit down and list out all the books that have made an impression on me, I don’t think I’d be able to fit them into this article. I’ve touched upon a couple that are always my cornerstones when writing the Diabolic series in particular, for reasons below, but also a couple more that merit mention that I really haven’t talked about—books that, like many, deserve more raves and love than I’ve seen, so I’m going to give them some.
I really can’t think of many books like Academy 7, a romantic sci-fi adventure about two overachieving kids at the most exclusive school in the universe. This young adult book from 2009 showed me science fiction could be viable in the YA market. I grew up a huge Trekkie, but was a bit self-conscious about it. When I was trying to break into this genre, it was reassuring to realize that writing science fiction was an option and that it could make a compelling YA read that people would actually love.
I always rave about this novel, and I’ll do so once more. Legacy was my introduction to historical fiction and court intrigue, and it still is my reference whenever I think of how well a historical story has been told via fiction. Susan Kay wrote a fascinating novel about Elizabeth Tudor the woman, while compellingly depicting the true events in the life of Queen Elizabeth I. This book was the reason I knew I couldn’t end The Diabolic with Tyrus ascending to the throne with Nemesis. As I learned from Legacy, the danger really begins when you get the power you’ve sought. That’s when stakes are higher than ever.
Rae Carson’s trilogy is another one where the queen comes into her power in book one, and then she doesn’t immediately get her happily ever after (though the story is very satisfying nonetheless). Instead, Elisa faces enemies from without and within her court, and grapples with her epic destiny. There’s a very fascinating take on religion in this world where there is a direct sign of a deity’s mark on certain bearers, Elisa among them.
How can I express the bearing this amazing nonfiction account of Paris under the reign of Maximilien Robespierre had on The Diabolic? My series is focused upon this great clash of ideologies, and the French Revolution was an incredible example of a new ideology displacing an old one and everything going so very wrong. This book illustrates in a fascinating manner the complexities of how the best intentions can go astray, and then get infinitely darker and more dangerous. It’s a book I reread every so often and one that informs my thinking every time I consider the fact that I’m writing about these power players in a galactic government.
This one may seem totally random, but this book taught me the importance of transporting a reader into a world with an almost entirely different thought process. The students in this story are studying Greek and one of them in particular, Henry, has so adopted this ancient Greek manner of thinking he is almost rendered alien to the present world he inhabits. Considering The Diabolic is set thousands of years in the future, just as the ancient Greeks were two-thousand years in the past to these characters, this book sort of reminds me of the way those values and ideas one takes for granted can completely shift. The framework through which one views the world is basically alien from one age to another. With the Diabolic series, there are certain aspects such as the views of the divine, narcotics, and technology, that are just totally unlike this modern day and age. And I know it’s important to keep in mind that this divide should be there between the characters and contemporary people reading the book in order to accurately craft the atmosphere and mentality of these future people.
S.J. Kincaid originally wanted to be an astronaut, but a dearth of mathematical skills turned her interest to science fiction instead. Her debut novel, Insignia, was shortlisted for the Waterstones prize. Its sequels, Vortex and Catalyst, have received starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews and Booklist. She’s chronically restless and has lived in California, Alabama, New Hampshire, Oregon, Chicago, and Scotland with no signs of staying in one place anytime soon.