Eric Smith Geeks Out On Video Games, YA Romance, and Steampunk

Welcome to our weekly Geek Speaks..Fiction series where authors talk about the geekdoms that inspired them.

You could call Eric Smith a renaissance man — for his interests run the gamut from corgi fashion, photography, music and teaching — but really, Eric’s more of a millennium man, for his dedication to supporting others at the Philly Geek Awards, as a literary agent, and in the on-point nature of his literary achievements. Eric’s here to talk about what he geeked on while writing Inked, his first novel* (and Eric recently announced there will be a sequel!).

Hi there GeekMom! Thanks for having me.

So Inked is the first book in my little fantasy series for Bloomsbury’s digital imprint, Bloomsbury Spark. The second novel, currently titled Inked: Rise of the Unprinted (likely to change!) will be out in May of 2016. You can add that one on the ol’ Goodreads, to keep in the loop about it.

The short pitch? Inked takes place in a fantasy realm where teenagers are given magical tattoos that tell the world what they will do for the rest of their lives. And as a young teen named Caenum and his friends unravel the secrets behind the practice, the ruling powers of their realm come after them.

There’s a lot of magic and mayhem, complicated friendships and awkward romance… all the stuff we experienced as kids, just maybe minus the magic powers stuff.

What was I geeking out over while writing Inked? A lot of things.

eric smith headshotVideo Games: Inked draws a lot of inspiration from the world of gaming. I was always fascinated by the idea of the government doing messed up things with magic, and the trickle-down effect it has on the everyday person. This is something you see in just about every Final Fantasy game ever. A big part of Inked is that same concept. The government gives out these magic tattoos… but how? Where does the magic even come from?

Also, the worlds that appear in gaming always awed me, particularly open world fantasy games like The Elder Scrolls or Dragon Age. In fact, there is a Skyrim reference in Inked. If you’ve played the game, you will absolutely 100% catch it. It’s bad. I’m kind of ashamed. Some people found it and groaned over it. Their groans gave me strength.

inked-final
Through December, Inked is a $1.99 Amazon Deal! (Image courtesy Bloomsbury Press.)

Other Fantasy Novels: While writing, I was reading. Because hey, if you want to be a decent writer, you need to be a voracious reader. The novels of Susan Dennard (Something Strange & Deadly), Anna Banks (Of Poseidon), and Zoraida Cordova (The Vicious Deep) had a huge influence on me while I was working on Inked. Not just because of Dennard’s lush fantasy worlds or Banks and Cordova’s imaginative contemporary settings, but the crackling wit and charm that bled off those pages.

Tattoos: I spent a lot of time mulling over the descriptions of the tattoos in the book. They move, they change with the season, they react with the person who bears them. There’s a lot to that magical ink. So I spent countless hours sifting through images of peoples’ ink on Google and Tumblr, trying to draw some inspiration from what I saw out there.

In Inked, Dreya has floral tattoos, with thorns that pop out when she’s angry, flowers that close up when she’s upset, etc. I looked at a lot of tattoos of roses and ivy to try and get that right. At the time, my tattoos were anything but extravagant, just a set of quotations marks on my wrists. These days, I have Jules Vernes’ Nautilus on my arm.

Contemporary YA Romance: So here’s the thing, I’m not so great at writing romance. I try really hard, but I dunno. I know it’s one of my weakest points. So, while working on Inked 2, I spent way more time reading contemporary YA. I read a lot of it last year. Some of my favorites were books by Lauren Morrill, Kiera Cass, and countless others, including some of Bloomsbury Sparks’ own folks, like Ashley Poston, Jenny Kaczorowski, and Christine Duval.

I’m hoping it shows in the sequel? I guess we’ll see. It’s something I got called out on a bit, and I really hope I improved. And hey, as a bonus, I now read a LOT more contemporary YA. It makes me happy, and brings the tears quite often.

Fallout & Everything Steampunk: If you’ve ever seen me read anything from Inked, you’ll know all about my love of steampunk. The original manuscript was full of steampunk-type stuff, in addition to all the magic and what-not. My awesome editor Meredith Rich cut the steampunk out of the book, keeping it strictly magic and fantasy. I was playing a lot of Fallout, shopping a lot on Etsy, and just loving all things brass and gauges.

Meredith though, she’s amazing. She showed me how much better the story could be if I focused. I’m a lucky writer. But still, I was geeking out over steampunk stuff the entire time I wrote book one. And I still geek out over it, even if it isn’t in the book. The latest book in Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series just hit. Have you read that? PERFECTION.

-#-

Eric Smith is an author, blogger, and literary agent living and geeking out in Philadelphia. By day, he can be found working as an associate literary agent with P.S. Literary, focusing mostly on Young Adult books, fantasy, and science fiction. When he isn’t working on other peoples’ books, he sometimes works on his.

His debut YA novel, INKED, came out with Bloomsbury Spark in January 2015. The sequel is set to come out May 2016. His first humor book, The Geek’s Guide to Dating, came out with Quirk Books in December 2013, and has sold into seven languages.

He can also be found blogging for BookRiot, Barnes & Noble’s Teen blog, and Paste Magazine. The co-founder of Geekadelphia and the Philadelphia Geek Awards, he lives in Philly with his wife, puppy, chinchilla, and bunny. You can follow him on Twitter at @ericsmithrocks.

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Fran Wilde writes science fiction and fantasy. Her first novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015) is called 'Soaring' by Publishers' Weekly and Barnes & Noble SFF blog, while NPR Books says it was "one of the most original fantasy novels I've read this year." Her next novel, Cloudbound releases in September. Fran's short stories appear at Asimov's, Nature, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Tor.com. She writes for publications including The Washington Post, SFSignal, Tor.com, Clarkesworld, iO9.com, and GeekMom.com/GeekDad.com. She can also program digital minions, tie most of the sailor's knot board, and re-load a fountain pen without spattering herself with ink (usually). She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and their tween-minecraft fanatic / book addict / budding Scratch programmer.