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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, teen author Citra Tenore talks about what inspires her and the story of her new book release, The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Citra Tenore about what made her want to write a book, her creative process, and the inspiration behind her new science fiction novel, The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Citra Tenore, which is pronounced like “cheetra tenorae”, and I’m an American fiction author from Massachusetts. I wrote my first book, a children’s story, when I was eleven and after months of editing, I managed to publish it when I was twelve. Releasing my first book was so exciting that I decided to further pursue the dream of writing, which lead me to spend my entire teen years working on my newest release, a science fiction series called The Dead Planets’ Requiem. The series’ first volume was published in April of this year.
When did you first want to write a book?
I first wanted to write a book when I no longer wanted to be an actress. Growing up, I loved the drama world, took acting classes, and was confident that I wanted a career in that creative field. However, by taking drama classes, I realized that a good script is arguably the most important element of any project.
In trying to be an actress, I ended up developing major respect for the figures in the entertainment industry who don’t necessarily get the same attention from the average viewer as much as the more visible figures do. I was so young that I didn’t understand how important writers were, but once that became clear to me, I was fascinated by that sector of the arts.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Between storyboarding, writing, and editing, the process of concept to publication took me about six months. Summer with a Twist was my first book, and it was based on a family trip I took in the break before I started middle school. Drawing from real life made it considerably easier than my newest book, but it was still my first book, so it was a challenge nonetheless.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
For The Dead Planets’ Requiem Vol. I, the whole process took me six years. I wonder if I’ll ever work on another book as long as I did with this one, but to be fair I started it when I was thirteen. It would have been unrealistic for me to publish a gritty science fiction novel without allowing myself some time to mature, and I knew I had to embrace the wait. If I wanted to accurately write the book I had imagined, I needed some growing up to do.
Focusing on your latest release, what made you want to write The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1?
My newest book is somewhat of a mix of a young-adult drama, a family drama, and a science fiction story all in one, so to understand why I wanted to write it, you would need a bit of insight into my childhood. My parents were very permissive with the films I could watch when I was growing up, and that can really leave an impact on a child.
By the time I was ten, I was in love with some of the gory greats of all time in cinema. I did, however, also really enjoy entertainment geared towards children. The dichotomy was always funny to people. I’d be ten years old and watching a Pixar movie one day and then something like Scarface on the next. And then, because I was born in 2002, by the time I was a pre-teen I was part of that generation when dystopia and science fiction themes were heavily present in young-adult books.
Factor all that in, by the time I was thirteen, it only made sense for someone like me, who essentially loved any kind of fiction, to want to write a multi-genre book.
What were your biggest challenges writing The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1?
My age. I’m not going to act like I was some mature thirteen-year-old just because I published a book at twelve. It doesn’t matter how imaginative you are at that age, you’re still fresh out of the single digits and know next to nothing about the world. As eager as I was to jot down a storyboard and crank on with the writing, it just wasn’t realistic. I knew the planning and writing was going to take a long time for a story of that scale to reach its end because what I was striving towards needed me to be mature enough to even do it.
Teaching myself patience and forcing myself to recognize that I probably wouldn’t publish it until many years later was a bit heartbreaking, but now that’s it’s out I can say that it made me realize how much I loved working on it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have spent six years of my life, my entire teens, on the project.
Who or what inspired you when creating your protagonist?
Everyone loves a good hero, but some people enjoy an antihero. I definitely fall into that category. I wouldn’t say my main character, Quentin Hanson, is a villain by any means. He’s a teenager growing up in a very sheltered, privileged bubble out in the middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts and finds himself thrown into a situation he never asked for. The teen years are an awkward phase of a person’s life. Being tossed around like a pawn is painful. Combine the two, I think his questionable actions are justifiable.
Who or what inspired you when creating your antagonist?
There are actually no antagonists in The Dead Planets’ Requiem, but instead multiple sides who are technically right and technically wrong. Without spoiling anything, it does take place near in the future, and while a silent, geopolitical war is brewing, there are no all out assaults on each other.
Personally, I’ve never appreciated nationalism in fiction. People’s prides are so well defined in real life that I love to see when stories play around with politics and make morality gray. It also makes a heavy, overarching quandary for an already morally ambiguous main character, and I think that mystery of trying to figure out who you relate to as the reader can be really fun for audiences.
What is the inciting incident of The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1?
About 200 pages in, readers learn that there’s a faraway and threatening cosmic anomaly that is slowly but surely nearing us. The shock of what it is spurs different groups to mobilize with different ways of being prepared for the possibility of that doomsday-esque event eventually happening.
What is the main conflict of The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1?
When you have various military powers who have histories of not liking each other suddenly feeling the need to form various alliances, it’s only natural that things get messy, more so when no one is actually right or wrong. And because Quentin is already such a victim of circumstance, having to deal with this is just the cherry on top of all his problems because he doesn’t know who to turn to or who he agrees with, but he knows he doesn’t want to be alone.
Did you plot The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1 in advance, or fly by the seat of your pants and write freely?
Ideas and plot points come to me randomly and I love to write out of order, but never in a million years could I get anything done without an outline. Oddly enough, the majority of the authors I’ve met can get their stories done without even a page of notes, but then again they’ve been in the business much longer than me. It’s possible it’s something I might outgrow, but for now it’s a prominent part of my life.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Dead Planets’ Requiem Volume 1 need?
I recognize that I’m uniquely lucky when it comes to editing. My father is a technology contractor writer, so even though he can’t quite get in tune with editing creatively, I can absolutely rely on him for professionalism, grammar, spellchecking, and all those lovely things that fiction writers hate to think about. That being said, he doesn’t need to be a creative writer to point out when something blatantly doesn’t make sense. Because we’re so close, he has no qualms about looking me dead in the eye and saying he doesn’t understand something I’m trying to say. Having him as my editor has been oddly unifying. It really makes for good bonding time, and when you’re writing a 700-page book like this one, lots of bonding happens.
The scenes that needed the most editing were the action sequences. That’s when I go completely haywire and outright neglect grammar rules and spell-checking. When it comes to scene smoothness, my strongest suit would have to be those slower, more conversational parts. Oddly enough, those are where I watch out for my mistakes the most.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a story?
I chuckle at the idea of me giving advice to anyone since I’m only nineteen. If I had to, I guess I would say that truly taking the time to develop yourself as much as you develop your story is incredibly important. Readers want to know who’s narrating their book. As cliché as it is, you have to understand your own voice before anyone else can. The arts are brutal. Whether you’re a dancer, a musician, a painter, or a writer, there are always going to be people who are much better than you. But not all audiences necessarily want the best. They want to be entertained. It’s not about how perfectly you do it, but about finding those flairs and quirks in your tone that can really immerse people and make the experience memorable.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I’m currently working on the sequel to The Dead Planets’ Requiem Vol. I, which should definitely take a much shorter time to complete compared to the first one.
Regarding other stories, nothing is set in stone but I do have bits and pieces of a potential speculative-fantasy-blend that I’ve been considering for about a year now. That would be a joy to work on one day!
And, finally, are you proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I am humbly proud, yes. I’m happy with what I’ve done and grateful that I was born into a time where technology democratizes all kinds of sources so that anyone can pursue their creative dreams. The fear of any artist is whether or not their dream is realistic for the long-term, but the feeling of fulfillment never goes away. There’s no happiness like holding your own book. It spurs on this quasi parental instinct in me, where I’m proud, content, and protective about it all at once. I don’t know anything about parenthood, but it feels like the only analogy that really fits.
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My books are available almost anywhere online and internationally, and my website is citratenore.com. Happy reading!
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