Sophia Elaine Hanson hasn’t yet graduated college, but she has topped Amazon’s list of Young Adult Steampunk bestsellers. In case you didn’t know, the category is a mix of science fiction and fantasy, with elements of technology woven in. Basically, if you’ve read The Hunger Games and Divergent and are craving another dystopian world, you’ll want to read Hanson’s Vinyl trilogy.
The final book in the series, Siren, is set to be released in May. It’s set in Revinia, a world where the government ensures loyalty via The Music, a type of mind control that dulls emotions and passions. In an Instagram post, Hanson tells her 4,600-plus followers to expect “steampunk cities, ride or die squads, queer ships, and plot twists.”
Aside from the two previous books in the series, Vinyl and Radio, Hanson has also released a collection of poetry, and her second one is due out in April. We spoke with the 21-year-old NYU junior about her writing process, the merits of indie publishing, and more.
Tell me a little about growing up in Iowa.
I grew up an only child, I was born in Wisconsin but raised in Iowa in a city along the Mississippi. My early childhood was pretty idyllic. And like a lot of writers I was a huge reader. I was definitely that weird kid reading in the garden during recess.
From your website, it seems like you’ve been writing since you were born.
Yeah, it was pretty much constant. I was eight when I wrote my first “book” and it was just a sprawling, incomprehensible story and none of it made any sense, but I filled up a spiral notebook and that was my first stab at real writing. For a while, people didn’t take it seriously. But when I actually started to write legit books and be interested in publishing, my family started to be like, “Oh, this is a thing.”
When did you first get the idea for Vinyl? Did you always know it was going to be a trilogy?
The idea came to me when I was 16, so the world has been with me for a long time. I wrote a lot of short stories initially and it was a short story that showed a snapshot of a version of the world that would come to be in the Vinyl trilogy. Usually after I finished a short story, I felt this sense of satisfaction, but this time, it felt unfinished even though it had ended. By the time I was three chapters in, I didn’t know if I was going to finish it or publish it, but I knew that it was meant to be a trilogy.
How long did that process take of getting the first book done?
The first book took me the longest, which makes sense and is usually the case because you don’t have a deadline. And you also don’t know what you’re doing. So I think, all told, it probably took me two years to do 15 drafts of a 100,000-word manuscript. And then Radio, the sequel, took like one and a half. And Siren, the last book, will come out 13 months after Radio, so I’m getting faster. The normal pace for authors is about nine months, but I’m also indie, so in the end I’m only beholden to myself and my own deadlines.
But how do you have time to continue writing as a full time student?
Well, I do a lot of writing on the breaks. So my winter vacation is just full of writing. I mean ideally I’d be writing eight hours a day, usually it’s more like three to four. As far as how I find time day to day while I’m at school, I wish I had a good answer for you. I’m not part of any clubs and the writing hinders my ability to join clubs or intramural sports. To an extent I think it is something of a sacrifice. But it’s not like I’m a complete shut-away! I do have friends, I do date, I do boxing, I started boxing recently.
I’ve also started boxing recently, isn’t it amazing?
It’s so fun. That’s so funny. I did taekwondo growing up and I loved it, and I missed sparring, and this isn’t really sparring but like, hitting things is very therapeutic in general. Actually I would say lately that has been my main source of stress relief.
So, why did you choose to go to NYU?
Growing up I did the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, you can do them from middle school to the end of high school. They have regionals and nationals and if you win something at nationals then you get to go to New York City and go to Carnegie Hall where they have a special ceremony where they make you feel really shiny and special and all that millennial crap. But I remember the first time I stepped out into the city from the train station and it was just that Hollywood moment and I knew that I’d have to go to a school that was in the city or near it. Once I was old enough to start thinking about college, NYU very quickly became my top choice.
How did you go from writing YA fiction to writing poetry?
When I was 19 I had my first serious relationship. And he ended it very suddenly and I had my first real heartbreak and was totally devastated. I think everyone has different ways to cope when they’re hurting, and interestingly mine had never been poetry but it just kind of poured out of me. I actually wrote Hummingbird in about a month. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it to take off at all, nor had I ever planned to publish it, but it really quickly became my bestselling work. Then, I ended up writing my upcoming collection of poetry, Soul like Thunder, which is about my next relationship. Most of it was a love letter to my partner at the time, but the relationship went down in a fiery explosion literally days after I finished the manuscript. For a few weeks I thought about just retracting it, but the way I’ve started to see it is like a time capsule, all of those things were true at the time. I decided to put it out. It’s not out yet but it will be in the next couple of months.
Did you ever think about going back and adding to it and finishing it at the end of the relationship?
I did, and again, I’ll loop back to it being a time capsule. But I am most likely going to be writing a follow-up. It’s not gonna be trashing him like, “Oh, by the way, you suck,” but it’s going to be about being honest about the problems in the relationship about why it ended.
Yes. Not very seriously, though, because my current work in progress is called Nightstrider. And also school. And in some ways I feel like you kind of have to let things marinate.
How long ago did that relationship end?
Not long ago, like a month and a half ago.
Shout out to you for getting out there and dating again so quickly.
Yeah…I’m not sure it’s healthy. I’m dating but I’m not necessarily looking for a relationship. If one stumbled into my lap and it was amazing then, like, yeah, let’s do it. But I don’t think I’m mentally ready for that, which makes sense two months later.
The third book of the Vinyl trilogy is being released soon. What can your readers expect?
It’s very different and that’s part of what scares me. I think it is going to go in a direction that people will not expect. There’s definitely some genre-bending going on, for better or for worse I definitely have bent the lines between fantasy and science fiction. I’m so, so scared. I’m so scared that readers aren’t gonna like it.
Are you sad that the trilogy is coming to an end?
Yes, I am. But to be fair it’s not quite the end. It’s the end of the Trilogy, but there’s definitely going to be a follow-up novella called Coda. It’s gonna be a collection of short stories that follow the same characters. And actually I had a couple agents who were sniffing around at it. So that would be really cool if I could break the traditional publishing barrier. There’s only so much you can do as an indie author. It’s not all about sales, but I like reaching people. If I don’t break that barrier right now, that’s fine, I have lots of time. I got in the game really early.