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Dystopian Drama Done Right!

The post-apocalyptic genre truly took off after The Hunger Games arrived on the scene. Since then, everyone’s tried to come up with something unique. Something different.

Something that’s going to take the genre to the next level.

Some story lines have succeeded. Some have fallen flat. But that latter category isn’t necessarily an insult to the authors who tried and failed to navigate the world of futuristic worst-case scenarios.

It’s not an easy genre to write in.

That’s why Joshua Bellin’s Ecosystem is so impressive. And engaging. And downright riveting.

The creativity and attention to detail he gave to his anti-utopic written world breathes and moves and writhes like the big, bad, always hungry entity that lurks around every one of his pages.

Think you could do better? Think you’ve already done just as well? Reach out and tell me about your story idea or published book.

If you’re still in the brainstorming, writing or editing phases, we’ll work your way through together. And if you’re already published, you could be Innovative Editing’s next big feature.

Until then, I hope you’re hungry for some YA dystopian drama. Because it’s definitely hungry for you.

February’s Author of the Month: Joshua Bellin

Featured Title: Ecosystem

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic YA

Age Appropriate: 12+

Bio: Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he’s published numerous works of fantasy and science fiction, including the two-part Querry Genn Saga (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls), the deep-space adventure Freefall, and the short-story collection Ten Tales of Terror and Terra.

The Ecosystem trilogy – Ecosystem; The Devouring Land; and House of Earth, House of Stone – is his latest foray into speculative fiction. In his free time, Josh likes to read, watch movies, and spend time in nature with his kids.

Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.


Jeannette: I already gushed a little bit about Ecosystem up in the intro segment. Now let’s let Innovative Editing readers know why it’s such an impressive display of imagination. Go ahead and tell them what it’s about.

Joshua: Ecosystem is set in a future Earth where the physical environment has evolved into a collective entity known as the Ecosystem. That’s bad news for people, because the Ecosystem doesn’t like humanity very much and has spent the past century trying to destroy human civilization.

It’s only thanks to individuals like the narrator, a 17-year-old girl named Sarah, that human beings have lasted this long. She and her kind possess a psychic connection to the Ecosystem known as the “Sense,” which enables them to travel freely in the wild in search of the food, water, and fuel their society needs to survive.

Sarah’s got problems of her own too though: Her mother was killed by the Ecosystem, and she’s driven by anger as much as by the desire to protect her people. And then there’s that pesky teenage boy, Isaac, who thinks he knows more than her and can’t stop causing her grief when she’s on the hunt…

Jeannette: The post-apocalyptic, or dystopian, realm of the sci-fi/fantasy world is such an intriguing one. At the same time, let’s face it: It’s pretty saturated ever since The Hunger Games brought it to the forefront.

What inspired you to tackle it anyway and write out this future in particular? Which, for the record, is really creative.

Joshua: I’ve always been drawn to stories about people struggling for survival in extreme circumstances. When I was younger, I read things like Dune, the Thomas Covenant novels by Stephen R. Donaldson, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonrider series, and so on.

My own novels have tended to follow suit: There’s the desert-plus-monsters setting of Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls; the hostile alien planet of Freefall; and, in the case of Ecosystem and its sequels, the idea of nature itself turning against humankind.

I thought that was an intriguing twist on the post-apocalyptic genre, and it gave me a chance to explore something that’s also been a passion of mine since I was young – namely the relationship between human beings and the physical world.

Jeannette: I agree it’s intriguing. And you did a great job making all of it incredibly believable, from the characters – which we’ll get to in a second – to the setting details.

How much pre-writing world-building did you have to do to make the Ecosystem and its inhabitants come alive? Or did you make up setting elements and details as you went along?

Joshua: I tend to be less of a plotter than a pantser, because I like to be surprised by my own writing. (I figure if I’m surprised, my readers will be too!) So with Ecosystem, once I had the basic idea in place, I did what I always do: I drew a few maps to help me visualize the world, created some unique species that emerged during the Ecosystem’s rise, and then started writing.

Lots of the other details – how Sarah’s society functions, why some people possess the Sense and others don’t (and how it works exactly) – evolved organically through the process of writing and rewriting. I like to think the book grew something like the Ecosystem itself: by chance and surprise rather than conscious design.

Jeannette: A fellow pantser! I have absolutely nothing against plotters. In all seriousness, to each their own. But it is fun to stumble upon another writer who shares my allergy to creative organization.

Switching the subject though, and at the risk of sounding derogatory – which I genuinely don’t mean to be – male writers often struggle with writing out entirely believable female characters. Yet your protagonist is a young woman who never once prompted me to shake my head in disbelief.

How did you pull that off?

Joshua: I wanted Sarah to be all the things I admire in characters from other people’s novels: strong, competent, and determined; but also conflicted, vulnerable, and capable of making terrible mistakes.

I also wanted her to be something female characters, especially young female characters, are too seldom allowed to be: angry. I think that’s the root of what makes Sarah believable. She runs the gamut emotionally, from assertiveness to self-doubt, compassion to vengefulness.

And in that sense, I think she’s effective as a female character because I never thought I should make a female character any less complex and multilayered than any other character.

Jeannette: That’s a great answer, but I’ve seen plenty of complex female characters who still just didn’t quite work. I don’t know… It’s hard to put my finger on it...

Regardless, you have my sincere character-creating respect. So much so that I’m requesting the two next books in the series for my birthday this month. Did you set out to write a trilogy or did you find that, as you wrote, there was just too much to contain in one book?

Joshua: The Ecosystem series was meant to be a trilogy from the start. The world I imagined was simply too big to fit into a single novel!

The question for me, as it is anytime I envision a story that spans multiple books, is how to make each one reveal more about the imagined world and raise the stakes for the characters. So, after Ecosystem, I needed to have Sarah discover things about her world (both nature and society) that she’d never glimpsed before, and I had to have the powers she develops in the first book become both greater and more imperiled in the second.

Then I had to do it all over again in the third, which I’m wrapping up right now and have slated to appear in April 2019 (on Earth Day, of course).

Jeannette: Drat! April? Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to purchase book 3 on my own.

Speaking of books I’ll have to buy, do you have any other novels or novel series in mind after Ecosystem #3 is out?

Joshua: I’m thinking of switching gears after I wrap up the Ecosystem trilogy and turning to a project I’ve been playing with for a long time: an alt-history novel set in the years before the U.S. Civil War.

It’s in the realm of speculative fiction in the sense that it imagines a very different set of events and outcomes than what really happened, but it’s distinct from my other books in that it’s based on characters and occurrences from actual history.

It’ll be a huge challenge, given not only the research involved but the difficulty (for me) of not getting hung up on every little quirky detail I discover and instead focusing on telling a good story. But I feel as if I should stretch my creative legs a little and try something new.

Please give me a call if, 10 years from now, I’m still beating my head against the wall trying to write it!

Jeannette: Oh yes. The details. I’ve had to cut out three whole consecutive pages of my upcoming historical fiction book because I knew I’d put way too many details in it. It can be quite the struggle.

Changing gears again though, tell me about your publishing experience. Are you traditionally published? Indie? And how have your publishing experiences been so far?

Joshua: I’ve published books through both traditional and indie routes. My first three novels were published by Simon & Schuster, while the Ecosystem series is self-published.

I’ve read a lot of arguments in favor of one or the other form of publishing. But to me, there are pros and cons to both, so I don’t have a strong preference either way.

I self-published the Ecosystem series because it was a very personal story that I wanted to have as much control over as possible, and my agent (bless her) let me do what I pleased. But I’ve got a book on sub right now with traditional publishers, largely because, after self-publishing three novels, I wanted to give myself a break from doing all the work!

Basically, I believe that each writer has to find the form of publishing that feels right at the moment, and enter into it with a clear understanding of what’s going to be fun, what’s going to be demanding, and what’s going to be frustrating about each form.

Jeannette: Considering that newest round of great answers, let’s go for another one… What’s the most effective book-marketing strategy that you’ve found so far?

Joshua: That’s a tough question, because different things work for different people and different books. I know a guy who pours $45,000 per year into marketing his books, and he’s been quite successful doing so. But I don’t have that kind of money to spend up front in the hope that it’ll pan out.

So what I do best – and by “best,” I don’t mean that I have proof that this sells a lot of books, but that it’s what gives me the greatest sense of joy as an author – is to meet face to face with readers, whether in a school or library setting, a convention or book festival, or a reading at a local bookstore.

Truth be told, I’ve accepted the fact that a relatively small percentage of writers make it “big” in financial terms, and that I probably won’t be one of them. But that’s not the primary reason I love to write, and I try to keep the marketing aspect to the side so I can enjoy the creative and interpersonal aspects.

Jeannette: Bravo. But let’s still get the word out about you and your great reads anyway. How can readers find you?

Joshua: Here are three ways to do just that.

Jeannette: And here’s the link to Ecosystem. Seriously, guys, if you like a thrilling dystopian read – or just a thrilling read in general – you need to get your copy today.

Once you pick it up, you won't be able to put it down.

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