Info: YA dystopian, PB, 226 pages, 2 hours.
Synopsis: The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment–to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.
But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn’t an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing–not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science–is going to stop him.
Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn’t possibly have bargained for…
Why I Chose This Book: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book. I was interested in this book because it was a YA dystopian that didn’t involve factions or castes, per se, but more of a physical manifestation of worth to society.
First Impressions: I was really impressed by the quality of the cover for a self-published book. Joel will touch on this later in his interview, but normally self-published books have covers that seem thrown together or sloppy, and this one came my way around Halloween, so the cover seemed nice and scary for the season.
What I Liked: I really liked the art at the beginning of each chapter (personal favorite: the Squastrich. What?!) I also really liked the concept of the society as well as the perspectives from differing perspectives. While the narrator mostly stayed in Charley’s head, it moved around and was kind of sassy? I don’t know. But I really liked it! I read this book while on a flight, and though I had just started it after settling into my seat, I was done with it well before we landed. It hooked me in and was a very quick read.
What I Didn’t Like: Sometimes it felt like a plot point moved on too quickly, and I would have liked for it to be more fleshed out. For example, a character is told to defeat this mighty creature that has never been conquered before but does it on the first try and his team suffers minimal injuries. But YA dystopians require a fair amount of suspended disbelief, so I was happy to forgive and move on. Overall, I would have just liked more of the story to be elaborated on, but this is just if I’m being nitpicky.
Rating and Recommendations: If you like The Maze Runner, The Village, or any YA dystopian, definitely consider this book!
Final Thoughts: While I’m unsure if I’ll reread this book, I did leave it in Minnesota with the boyfriend because it seemed like he might enjoy it. If there are sequels, I’ll probably pick them up while they’re on sale. Not a bad way to relax for a couple of hours!
Now for the interview!
1. What inspired you to write Meritropolis?
I really just wanted to explore this question of, “What gives a person worth?” Is it their usefulness to society? Is it because someone loves them? Is it because of how they look? Is it because of their health or ability? As a Christian, I believe that all people have worth, because they are made in the image of God. I wanted to explore some different takes on this question. I think that the post-apocalyptic/dystopian/sci-fi genre was the best vehicle to tackle some of those deep philosophical questions in a fun and interesting way.
2. If you lived in Meritropolis, what would your score be?
That’s a great question! I would hope that it would be high enough to keep me inside of the gates, but I do wonder about things like past injuries. I tore my Achilles tendon a while back playing basketball, and I had to have surgery and was basically immobile for quite some time. That probably would have been enough to cause my Score to plummet and get me “zeroed,” sent out of the gates…
3. Did you worry that Meritropolis would get lost in the YA Dystopian shelves, or were you pretty confident that it would be well-received?
There are a lot of great books that go undiscovered, so I very much realize that writing a good book is only part of the challenge to getting a good reception as an author. Marketing is very much an important part of the job description for any author, particularly self-published authors. Right now I am concentrating on getting my book in front of as many of the awesome book bloggers and book reviewers out there as possible. Meritropolis is fortunate to have received a large number of 5-star reviews on both Amazon and GoodReads, and I am definitely hoping this trend will continue. I also recently started working with Emlyn Chand over at Novel Publicity, and she has been great, so I am excited to see what she can do!
4. Who is your favorite character, and did that change while you were writing?
I am a big believer in John Truby’s approach to building a “character web”, because this deepens the relationships between characters and helps to make each of the characters more complex. Absent building a good character web, it can be all too easy to fall into the not-very-true-to-real-life good-person/bad-person false dichotomy where your protagonist devolves into this I-can-do-no-wrong character and your antagonist is just pure evil. I was very much aiming to show the imperfections and brokenness in each of the characters. My thinking as a Christian influences this to some degree, given that the Bible teaches that we are all essentially the same; we are all sinners—only God is perfect. So, all that to say: I can appreciate different elements of each of the characters in the book.
5. What’s your writing routine? Do you have any snacks or music you have to have on hand?
I almost always listen to music while I write. Usually it’s a playlist of the same song or group of songs over and over again, because it allows me to kind of zone in on what I am doing. Here is a link to the Spotify playlist of music that specifically inspired Meritropolis (each of these songs were among the songs I would listen to on repeat while writing Meritropolis): spoti.fi/1qDgfy9
6. What advice do you have for blossoming writers?
Take the first step! Just do a little at a time. If you decide writing is important to you then make time for it, be consistent, and read a lot. Also, here are some books that I highly recommend for all authors to check out:
Wordsmithy – Douglas Wilson
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
On Writing – Stephen King
The Anatomy of Story – John Truby
The Fire in Fiction – Donald Maas
As far as self-publishing goes, I am not one of those authors who will say that self-publishing is the best choice for every single author, but I am absolutely glad that I went this route. I love that I can fully control and fully own my work, but I would encourage anyone who self-publishes to try and adhere to the following advice:
1. Don’t be a cheapskate – be willing to pay for a professional editor, a professional book cover designer, etc. It boggles my mind that people will spend hours upon hours writing their book and then just take a few minutes to throw some clip art and stock photos together to “design” their book cover. Don’t. Just, don’t.
2. Work with professionals – by this I simply mean to not overly rely on friends, family members, and co-workers, all of whom will likely just tell you what you want to hear. You need someone who is not afraid to point out the problem areas in your book and provide an honest critique. You already know that your mom is going to say she loves your vampire-Scottish-Highlander-billionaire-love-triangle-in-space book that you wrote, so don’t even bother asking her for feedback. Instead, pay someone who does that kind of thing for a living…
3. Sell, sell, sell – If you are a self-published author and you are not actively involved in sales and marketing for your book—which is essentially your mini-business—or you are not paying someone else to be actively involved in the sales and marketing of your book, then you are not maximizing the reach your book can have. As uncouth as it might be to say this, writing is only half of what is required to see success as a self-published author. Yes, you need to write a good book, but you also need to effectively market and sell your book (either by hiring someone, or doing it yourself, or both).
7. Did you always want to be a writer?
I love to create things. My background is in the web startup world. I’m a serial entrepreneur who has founded a number of different companies. Writing a book is something I’ve always wanted to do as an outlet for some of that creative energy.
8. What was the first book you remember reading and did it have an effect on your writing style?
The very first “real” full-length book that I ever read was the Bible. I read through the entire Bible (the King James Version, no less) when I was 5 years old.
9. Who are some of your favorite authors?
For the craft of storytelling, I have learned a lot from John Truby and his book, The Anatomy of Story. I can also see different threads of influence in almost everything I have read over the years that contribute toward making Meritropolis what it is—the strong protagonist of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, the philosophical bent of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, the dystopian setting of Hugh Howey’s WOOL series, and many more. I am constantly in the middle of about 15-20 different books. I read for an hour or two every day, and I try to read a wide variety of genres and authors, both fiction and non-fiction. You can check out what I am currently reading and follow me on GoodReads here!
10. Lastly, if you could tell the readers of Meritropolis one thing, what would it be?
Everyone matters. And, there are animal combinations much scarier than the bion (bull-lion) roaming outside the walls of Meritropolis…
Joel Ohman is the author of Meritropolis–“The Hunger Games meets The Village with a young Jack Reacher as a protagonist”. He lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Angela and their three kids. His writing companion is Caesar, a slightly overweight Bull Mastiff who loves to eat the tops off of strawberries.
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Sound off in the comments: Have you read Meritropolis? Will you be picking up a copy soon? Do you have any replies or questions for Joel?