Following her successful sci-fi, virtual reality–focused “Insignia” series, S.J. Kincaid set out to write a stand-alone novel about the complex machinations of an interstellar court. In the middle of all the intrigue is humanoid Nemesis, a Diabolic who will do anything to protect her charge, daughter of a disgraced political figure. SLJ caught up with Kincaid to chat about the I, Claudius–inspired tale The Diabolic (S. & S.; Nov. 2016).
Your previous series, “Insignia,” was squarely sci-fi, and this title also lives solidly in that genre. Have you always been a fan of sci-fi?
One of my early memories was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when it premiered. I vividly recall wondering what had happened to the old crew, and who were these new people? For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved science fiction. My early manuscripts began in the paranormal realm, but when I migrated over to science fiction, it felt like coming home. So it was fitting the book that finally got me published was my first total foray into that genre.
It’s great to have a strong female lead (even if she is a humanoid). And, of course, the evilest of all the villains is also a female. Was this intentional, or did it just work out that way?
I really wanted to write a female lead, since I’d just concluded three consecutive books from the point of view of a teenage boy. Tom Raines of Insignia was such a strong character in my mind that I couldn’t imagine following him with another guy character anytime soon, so I had to center The Diabolic on a girl. Nemesis is playing a role in this story, posing as a girl much weaker and more vulnerable than these snakelike courtiers about her—while underneath the surface, she is the deadliest of them all. I think placing a girl in this role, given a lot of the traditional views of femininity, was ultimately more appropriate. As for a female villain, I’ve always enjoyed heroes and villains of the same gender squaring off against each other. I think there are certain layers of enmity you can really only capture in such situations. Of course, it helps that this story was inspired by my love of I, Claudius, and I really wanted a Livia type of villain to play with.
Diabolic is such a cinematic read that it screams to be seen on the big screen. Is there any talk of that happening?
There has definitely been interest, but the right moment has not yet come. Stay tuned!
The world-building was particularly strong here, especially considering this is not a superlong book. How did you organize the history and political/sociological structures as you were creating this world? Did you outline it first and then see what made it into the final book? Or did you diagram it using some sort of visual mapping?
Several elements came into play. I used to have a rabid obsession with Tudor England and all the diabolical politicians who lived in those times, and I actually majored in history, mostly because I loved old courtier politics. It also helped that I had the Roman Empire as inspiration when I was envisioning this futuristic society. I think there are certain timeless elements to the organization of any great grouping of humans, whether you are placing those people thousands of years ago, thousands of years in the future, or even in a fantasy land like Westeros. I built the world based on all of these factors, but I also refined it as I moved along after I received feedback from my editor and other early readers.
This work is inspired by I, Claudius, right? How does that work its way into this story?
Nemesis is not the only character in the story who has to put on a guise of being someone she is not. I, Claudius centered upon a man born into this murderous royal family who played the fool to survive them and fly under the radar at a time when his relatives were being killed off left and right. There is a parallel with another character in this story; I needed a diabolical, fiendish Livia character to be the evil mastermind behind it all. I’d say the twisted familial and power dynamics of the characters Nemesis interacts with really were born from my love of I, Claudius.
Your last books were a series. Did you intentionally set out write a stand-alone tale with this novel?
Oh, yes! I really wanted the change of pace. With a series, you have to expend enough in a story to engage a reader yet conserve enough and hold enough back so you have material for the second and third books. With The Diabolic, one of the most refreshing aspects of writing the story was the free hand I had to destroy most anything or most anyone, without fear of hollowing out future possibilities down the road. It was very fun and refreshing.
What are you working on next?
I always have other ideas. Insignia was a mixture of darkness, like The Diabolic, and then utter silliness. I missed the silliness when writing The Diabolic, since Nemesis as a character has no understanding of humor, and in a joke, she would always, always be the straight man. So I hope to write something a bit lighter after this.
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