Author Interview: J. Barton Mitchell on Midnight City, inspirations, and teases for The Conquered Earth series + giveaway!

J. Barton Mitchell
Writer of: Midnight City
Published: 10.30.12 by St. Martin's Griffin
Bio: He is a screenwriter, comic book writer, and author. He studied creative writing at the University of Houston before going on to receive a B.S. in Film Studies from the University of Texas. After selling screenplays to Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox, he created and wrote the comic book series Poe, published by Boom! Studios in 2009. Mitchell lives and writes in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. [x]
Photo Credit: Clark Campbell
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | Book Dep
Connect: Twitter | Goodreads | FB | Web Read our 5 star review here

For our very first author interview @ The Sisters' Tale, we are proud to bring you the sheer eloquence of J. Barton Mitchell, the brilliant writer of Midnight City (The Conquered Earth #1)! He graciously answered my outrageously long list of questions and I am so excited to share his comments with everyone!

Also, since I love this book so much, I will be giving away a brand new hardcover copy of Midnight City! This giveaway is open to anywhere Book Depository ships! However, if the winner is from the USA, I will be using Amazon. The rafflecopter is at the end of this interview.

Please be advised that the Burning Questions section contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Midnight City and beyond. Read at your own risk!


Why did you become a writer? What advice do you have for people that want to become one? 
I feel like I've always been a writer. I started when I was very young. So young that I couldn't really write complete sentences. So my solution was to take books down from my parents' bookshelf and copy a few pages of them into a note book of mine. I would then present them to my mother as an original work (I was kind of devious back then), but she was on to my game. She'd smile and nod regardless. I was just always drawn to writing, for some reason, and my mom encouraged it. I can't really remember a time when I wasn't writing. Which I guess is also my answer to your second question. If you want to be a have to write. A lot. You have to be willing to invest years of your life in something, and fail at it over and over. It's the only way to grow and develop your style. And it's tough to do. Really, it's kind of insane, continually doing something over and over and failing. Most normal people would stop after awhile. But, it's something every writer goes through, and it's something you'll have to go through too. Read anyone's memoir about writing, and you'll see a similar path. Just write. Constantly. And when you're done with something, move on, don't tinker on the same thing. You have to be a writing samurai. And it takes passion to fuel that journey. If you're not passionate about it, you'll never make it through that tunnel to the daylight.

What was your inspiration for The Conquered Earth series? Why was Midnight City set in the Midwest? 
The inspiration for the series came from a variety of sources, primarily my love of different genres. Alien invasion, post-apocalyptic, science fiction, epic fantasy, Lovecraft style horror, Anime/Manga, comic books. As I started writing and developing it, I ended up kind of throwing in elements from all of that stuff, and I think one of my favorite parts about the world is that it bends and stretches to encompass all of it and yet somehow doesn't feel like it's out of place. At least I hope so.

I set the series in the Midwest initially, because I wanted it to have more of a pastoral feel to it, rather than the urban post-apocalyptia you see again and again, though we'll definitely get into those settings as well.

Is The Conquered Earth series going to be a trilogy? Do you have titles for the other books? 
My answer to that is that it will be at least a trilogy. But, I think the world really does have an unlimited number of stories to be told in it, and could go on much longer. I hope I get the opportunity to continue to write CONQUERED EARTH novels, but it will obviously depend on how well the books are received. I do have titles for the other books. Book Two is THE SEVERED TOWER. Book Three is THE OBSIDIAN CITADEL. I have ideas for where the series goes after those books.

What was on your playlist as you were writing Midnight City
That's a great question. I write and create everything to music, up until the last two drafts or so, then I stop listening. I can too easily let the music provide the emotion for a scene that my writing should be, so I'm careful towards the end of the process. I wrote pretty much the entire thing to Daft Punk's score to TRON: LEGACY. A lot of it is too electronic to work for the story, but a good amount of that score is orchestral, and it's great. The Overture to me captures the tone of CONQUERED EARTH perfectly. It has kind of a Coplandesque "Fanfare for the Common Man" thing going on, which speaks to the pastoral nature of the story's first half, but also somehow hints at the kind of epic adventure the series strives to attain. 

If your series is developed for television or a feature film, who is in your dream cast? Director?
Casting is tough for this, because they're so young. I think you'd probably end up using a good amount of unknowns. Zoey in particular is tough to cast. Dakota Fannings don't come around all that often. If anyone's interested, I have a series of "stylebooks" I update from time to time, with images and inspiration for the world and its characters, on Pinterest. The character boards have images of various actors, or even just pictures of clothing or equipment they might wear. Check it out here:

What are your favorite science fiction films and television series? 
Star Wars, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Buckaroo Bonzai, Firefly, Ghost in the Machine, Battlestar Galactica, 2001, Farscape, The Thing, Doctor Who, The Road Warrior, Star Trek II, Star Trek The Next Generation, The X-Files, The Matrix, Akira, Robotech, Gattaca, Children of Men, The Abyss, Omega Man, I could keep going...


1. The book takes place in the Midwestern United States. What's going on in the rest of the world? 
All kinds of things. Like I said above, I think the world really lends itself to an infinite amount of story possibilities. The Strange Lands is unique to North America, so you won't find artifacts or Freebooters on the other continents, but that doesn't mean there aren't other strange sights out there. The Assembly is a civilization that runs in a clan system, which are all the different colors that you see on the walkers (and those colors and their combinations have specific meanings). There are eleven alien clans, and each, technologically, is unique from all the others (these differences also have a reason). They've essentially divided the Earth up into zones that each controls, with the blue and whites running North America. So, there are all kinds of different walkers out there, unique to various parts of the world. The clans are united in their agenda, but they are all essentially competing to accomplish it first. Zoey factors directly into that agenda, which is why she is so important to all of them.

2. Where are the Strange Lands geographically? Will a map of this "world" ever be made available? 
If you looked at the Strange Lands on a top down map, they're a circle with a radius of about 250 miles. The epicenter is Bizmarck (yes, there's a reason for that), so they encompass all of North Dakota, about half of South Dakota, and stretch into Canada a bit. Midnight City itself is in South Dakota, along the Missouri river, near the border of the Strange Lands first ring.

The map question is a good one. It's something I've enquired with St. Martin's about, so we'll see. If they aren't willing to provide one in Book Two, I might make a less pretty one myself and put it on my website. I actually have a big, laminated map of North America on my office wall, with all the cities and zones and landmarks drawn in, and lines showing the various paths that the characters take throughout the first three books. Helps to keep it all straight in my head, which isn't an easy thing.

3. Have you ever watched Warehouse 13? Were you influenced by their supernaturally charged "artifacts"?
I've never watched Warehouse 13, but I've heard of it. The closest thing the Strange Lands has as inspiration is the novel ROADSIDE PICNIC, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, though my ideas are a little more mainstream in approach. The artifacts themselves are my own creation, but I'm sure other writers have done similar things.

4. How long did it take to figure out the economy of Midnight City? Was it a difficult process? 
The Point system and the Scorewall really came pretty easily, in just trying to imagine what kind of society kids would build if left to their own devices. There are other "cities" in the CONQUERED EARTH world (six main ones in North America), and they all have their own unique elements in that vein. For me, Midnight City is kind of an exaggerated commentary on the social systems you find in High School and Middle School, where your standing there is based on all kinds of seemingly random, chaotic criteria, a lot of which is difficult to articulate even for the kids involved.

5. Will we see Dresden and the Wind Shear again? 

6. Will the group encounter other Landships? 
Most definitely.

7. Furthermore, what was the inspiration for Landships? They seem like something you'd see in Peter Pan.
You nailed it. Peter Pan (and LORD OF THE FLIES) are both big influences on CONQUERED EARTH, again, going back to the idea of what kind of world would children build if they had free reign. That was always my favorite part of Barrie's story, it feels like a world built inside a child's imagination. If you had artifacts, the ability to do fantastical things, and imagination, Landships start to seem feasible. They're absurd in most ways, of course, but, for me, my favorite part of reading highly fantastical stories is when they take those elements seriously and try to do them with realism, even if they are, for the most part, impossible.

8. What did Mira see when she visited the Oracle as a child?
Something about her relationship with her father. Something about a choice she made in the Strange Lands (a choice that's important in Book Two). Something about a choice she makes at the end of Book Two. 

9. Will we ever find out what happens inside The Presidiums? 

10. Holt had no choice but to use the chance generator. Mira warned of its seductive power. At the end of the book, Holt had a hard time letting it go and Mira noticed a dark look in his eyes. Is Holt destined to go down a dark path? Is this dark path tied to the girl in Zoey's vision? 
I don't know about destined, but the Chance Generator does have a continued effect on him. A lot of things are tied into that artifact in Book Two, and so is much of Holt's path, directly or indirectly. Several people are affected by the abacus in Book Two, and not all of them make the same decisions when it comes to it.

The girl in Zoey's vision... Yeah. How much to say here? She's a very important part of the next two books, and one of my favorite characters. And yes, she is tied to a darker part of Holt. Though not necessarily in relation to the Chance Generator.

11. I loved the group dynamic of Holt, Mira, Zoey, and Max! It was so refreshing to read a story without a triangle. Still, young adult fiction thrives on its various love triangles. Why did you resist? And what challenges will this new family unit face together? 
Thank you, I appreciate that. I feel like love triangles can be an important part of any romantically themed story, if they're done right. But sometimes they can just be downright frustrating. I think often it's because the writer has a very clear idea of which two characters should be "together", and is uncomfortable with making that decision too difficult. But, if you have a triangle where two people in it, clearly, should be together, and the other option is, clearly, the wrong choice, it's just tiring to go through. That being said, I enjoy love triangles done right, and I think they can be an effective way to maintain romantic tension (which is crucial -- the most interesting part of a romance is the journey of the characters falling in love, not the actual being in love part). CONQUERED EARTH isn't immune from a love triangle, I'm just saving it for later. Though, it's really more of a love square...

12. Ben was a character that was frequently mentioned throughout the novel. Will we finally get to meet him and hear his side of the story? 
Ben is a big part of Book Two, and probably somewhat different than what you're expecting.

13. Will any new characters have a POV in the next books? Will Zoey have more chapters from her POV? 
Only the three leads get true POVs in the series. Though I do cheat occasionally and do ambiguous POVs here and there, like the quick moment with the green and orange Hunters before the Drowning Plains chapters. MIDNIGHT CITY is slanted more to Holt's POVs. That's because I've always seen Book One as Holt's story, Book Two as Mira's story, and Book Three as Zoey's. Zoey definitely gets more POVs in Book Two, and many more in Book Three.

14. Were there any other clues in Midnight City that hint to what will happen in future novels? 
Zoey's visions with the Oracle were obviously clues. Holt's reluctance to put away the Chance Generator is another. There are some clues here and there as to what the Assembly actually are and what they're up to, but you'll get much more information on that in the next book. There's an interesting line by the Librarian to Zoey that hints at something specific about her. Obviously, Holt's references to the Menagerie are building to something, and that group in particular is a bigger part of two and a very large part of three.  

Thanks again to J. Barton Mitchell for the rocking interview!

So what do you think? Please leave your comments below! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Congratz on your first author interview! :D Thanks for the awesome giveway! xD

    Daphne @ Reading Until Dawn

  2. Great interview girls. :D Thanks for the giveway.

  3. The interview was interesting, especially his opinions on love triangles, which I often find to be poorly executed. The book looks really good!

  4. I love the book cover! And it seems to be a dystopian novel, and I love the genre! Thanks for the chance!

  5. Great interview. This was the first time I've heard of this book. Sounds really interesting!

  6. Midnight City sounds like an awesome book Love the Cover and Great Interview!

  7. Midnight City sounds sooooo good. Im dying to win it! The cover is so pretty! thanks for the giveaway!

    beccaboo97200 (at) att (dot) net

  8. Interesting interview and thank you for the giveaway (:

  9. I read it through NetGalley and loved it! <3

    Kazhy -

  10. kimberly holgate
    kaholgate at ymail dot com


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Once upon a time, there were two sisters -Susan and Shauna - who were moved and mesmerized by stories through any medium, since they were teeny tiny. This passion stayed with them throughout adulthood, and after becoming even more enthralled with Young Adult fiction in recent times (and some Adult & MG!) they decided they just had to open up their own book blog and share their enthusiasm with the world, or well, to anyone who would listen.

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