You can’t have a carnival without an arcade center. We have games that range all across the board testing your computer skills, your ethics, and your all around ability to always come out with a win. But there is a catch if you choose to enter; you see these games aren’t just for fun. They are the way we determine the outcome of wars between countries. We will place a special neural processor inside your brain that will allow you to enter the games. You will be in charge of drones that you will take to battle and fight players all over the world. While this does stop innocent bloodshed, it doesn’t mean that loosing doesn’t have very dire consequences. So what do you think? Do you have what it takes to win?
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DFT: To start things off can you give us a short synopsis of the Insignia series and where you got the idea to write it?
S.J.: The INSIGNIA series follows Tom Raines, a fourteen-year-old video gaming prodigy who is recruited to join the Intrasolar Forces waging World War III over territory in space. He makes friends, and makes some incredibly powerful enemies. In a future where large corporations control everything, and money is revered above all, Tom begins to challenge those others don’t dare touch.
There were several things that inspired INSIGNIA. The idea itself came from an article I read hypothesizing that future warfare will be waged between advanced nations by drones controlled remotely .That put this image in my head of two combatants with whole armies at their remote control, waging epic battles against each other. I wondered who these two enemies were and what their relationship was to each other—and that’s where Tom and Medusa came from.
The other inspiration was the Supreme Court Citizens United ruling which basically determined that money equals free speech. I wondered what sort of world Chief Justice John Roberts had helped create, and that put this idea of a corporate owned surveillance state in my head. Those two things together helped inspire the series.
DFT: Tom is a very talented young man, but he is also only 15 years old and at times he acts like it. Throughout the series you get to watch Tom mature so much, but I loved that he never quite loses his fun side. What is Tom’s best quality? What is his worst quality?
S.J.: Tom’s best quality is in certain ways his worst qualities. He has a lot of strength and stubbornness. If you’re his friend, he’s totally devoted to you and will go through most anything for you. He doesn’t waver in his friendship or affection, and he’ll go through fire for you. On the hand, this rigidness is also a huge weakness. He’s bullheaded and very inflexible in more than just one area, even when it comes at cost to himself. I really enjoyed writing this aspect of the character because much of the storyline comes from this quality of his. He is relentlessly stubborn for better or worse.
DFT: Personally my favorite character in the series is Medusa. She is extremely gifted when it comes to strategy and is pretty much unbeatable in the games. But she is also a young girl with a lot of insecurities. When creating her character what was the one thing about her you really wanted to shine? Did you always plan for her to be a love interest for Tom?
S.J.: I considered making Tom’s character a girl early on because I wanted to sell INSIGNIA and figured it would have a better chance of selling with a girl MC. However, the two things that dissuaded me were 1) Elliot Ramirez would probably become a love interest, and 2) Medusa would be a guy. That number two completely turned me off the idea. I feel like we see these physically disfigured, brilliant men more often than we see women with those qualities. I just really loved the idea of her character, this incredibly awesome opponent who is in most every way superior to the main character, who also fills a role that’s more atypical of girls (being physically unattractive to the main character yet being so awesome that it doesn’t matter in the least—forcing the MC to transcend his more superficial inclinations).
DFT: Vik and Tom are partners in crime. Whenever one is getting into trouble you know that the other isn’t far behind. I loved the camaraderie between these two, they always kept things interesting. What was your favorite Vik and Tom moment in the series?
S.J.: My favorite Tom and Vik moment has to be during the war games in book one when they keep trying to hatch unsuccessful plot after plot together, and of course, form the most inept duo of supervillains, the Doctors of Doom. That’s pretty much a very perfect scene for their relationship to me, because it exhibits why they’re such good buddies. They just have so much fun together when they’re both being stupid, being playful, failing mutually, or whatever else.
DFT: Wyatt is the smart one in the group. She has a nerdy shy side but you don’t want to get on her bad side because she really knows how to make your life miserable if she wants to. I felt that she was one of the characters that grew the most throughout the series and I really liked that. What was your favorite thing about Wyatt? Is she inspired from anyone you know personally?
S.J.: I love Wyatt because of the character’s humor, voluntary and involuntary. She’s not inspired by anyone in real life, but she is inspired by one person in particular: the main character of the first manuscript I ever wrote to completion. It centered around a brilliant, maladjusted girl who kept involuntarily pissing people off. Wyatt’s actually a nicer, gentler version of that character.
DFT: If Tom, Vik, Wyatt, and Medusa were to attend a carnival together what do you think each of them would want to try from the food booths?
S.J.: Tom is a carnivore with rather basic tastes. He’d grab a burger or something similarly greasy and meaty. Vik doesn’t eat beef because of his upbringing, so maybe a chicken or lamb kebab. Wyatt was raised in a refined Connecticut well-to-do family, so she’d pick something exotic Tom had never heard of, and if it wasn’t there, she’d scorn the very unhealthy selection. Medusa’s real name is the Chinese name of one of my best friends, so just like my best friend, she would go for nachos.
DFT: All of your characters have a neural processor implanted in their brains which gives them the ability to do all sorts of interesting and extraordinary things that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. If given the chance would you want a neural processor implanted in your brain? What would be the one thing you would want to try if you did get it put in?
S.J.: Honestly, I probably would. It would probably IRL bring some terrible side effect like brain cancer once day, but it would be worth it to be able to speak every single language in the world like a native. Also, I’d be able to get good enough at math and science to have a shot at being an astronaut, which I would sign up for in a second.
DFT: I know that during the editing process there are many scenes that don’t make it into the final books. Throughout the series was there a specific scene that you really loved that you wish could have made it into the books?
S.J.: There was one scene where all the characters made fun of Tom’s table manners. The idea is, Tom was raised from casino to casino and not very well, so I subtly inserted the fact that he has absolutely no table etiquette. It was made more explicit in one scene and it was a funny scene, but alas, I didn’t get to incorporate it in any final versions. There was another scene when this character, Clint, mocked Wyatt and we got to see all the boys then turn on Clint in a subtle, yet aggravating way, especially Yuri who is normally very mild but was very cleverly malicious here. It was a very funny scene, too, but alas, I cut it from book two (along with Clint) and then again from book three (but not Clint). I love the fun scenes between the kids but the plot comes first. You can’t shoehorn in something just for a laugh if it doesn’t fit.
DFT: Catalyst is sadly the ending to this wonderful series, but I am really excited to see what you come out with next. Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
S.J.: Currently, I have a YA I may or may not pursue, and a middle grade sci-fi that may or may not get picked up. We shall see.
Quick Fire Questions (Which do you prefer?):
DFT: Cats, dogs, or fish?
S.J.: Dogs! Cats give me allergies, and fish are boring.
DFT: Happily ever after, open ended, or gut wrenching but satisfying endings?
S.J.: Gut wrenching but satisfying. Hell, just give me satisfying anything and I can take any of the three.
DFT: Intelligent girls, fearless boys, or ruthless villains?
S.J.: Ruthless villains!
DFT: Coffee, tea, or hot chocolate?
S.J.: Hot chocolate! Though these days I stick with coffee.
DFT: Soul mates, star crossed lovers, or unrequited love?
S.J.: Unrequited love.
DFT: Living in Alabama, California, or New York?
S.J.: California. It’s beautiful, even if it’s crowded and expensive. Alabama’s a bit too hot for me, and New York a bit too overwhelming.
S.J. Kincaid was born in Alabama, grew up in California, and attended high school in New Hampshire, but it was while living beside a haunted graveyard in Scotland, that she realized that she wanted to be a writer. Her debut, Insignia, came out in July of 2012. The second book in the series, Vortex came out in July of 2013. The final book in the INSIGNIA trilogy will come out in Fall of 2014.
Want to read more from S.J. Kincaid?
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(US & Canada)
Available October 28, 2014 from HarperTeen
About this Book:
The explosive conclusion to the series reviewers have likened to Ender’s Game and “Hogwarts-in-Space”
This exhilarating, explosive, and heartrending conclusion to the Insignia trilogy brings Tom and his intelligent, passionate, and brave young friends stunning tests and dangerous confrontations and through to an impossible future they could never have predicted.
Tom Raines and his friends are eager to return to the Pentagonal Spire to continue training for the elite Intrasolar Forces, but they soon discover troubling changes: strict new regulations and the revelation that the Spire is under new military control. What begins as an irritating adjustment soon reveals a dangerous shift in reality. Those now in control are aligned with corporate sponsors and their ruthless agendas. And when the military academy begins welcoming new cadets with suspicious neural processors, the first step in a plan with horrifying worldwide ramifications, Tom is desperate to stop it, even if that means keeping secrets from his closest allies.
Then a mysterious figure, the other ghost in the machine, begins fighting against the corporations, but with methods even Tom finds shocking. And when the enemy comes for Tom, how much can Tom endure in the battle to save himself? He must decide if he can still fight when the odds of success seem to be sliding from his grip.
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