Authors Discuss “Social Superpowers” and New Novel ZEROES

When it comes to superhero powers, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and being more powerful than a locomotive is soooo 20th century.

Best-selling authors Scott WesterfeldMargo Lanagan and Deborah Biancatti visited Old Town Library in Fort Collins, Colorado last night to promote Zeroes, the first book in their team-written trilogy about six teenagers with unusual “social superpowers.”

The characters’ superpowers become stronger in a crowd – the ability to see from other people’s eyes (Flicker); use an omnisciently manipulative voice (Scam); feed off people’s energy (Mob); become forgettable (Anon); disable any electronics such as phones, computers, lighting (Crash); and use charisma to influence others (Bellwether).

Collaboration – inspired by Biancatti’s experience in a television writing course and Westerfeld’s chats with TV writers at ComicCon in San Diego – was the key ingredient in bringing this creative and original story to life. The trio developed the project in a series of meetings over beer at their local pub in Sydney, Australia, and they kept it a secret for an entire year to avoid “catastrophic public failure,” Westerfeld joked.

When the pub meetings no longer proved productive, they regrouped at a friend’s beach house for three days to create their own writers’ room, similar to how Hollywood TV writers create episodes of everyone’s favorite shows. A dozen writers brainstorm the entire season’s plot, then write one episode each.

Writer’s block became a non-issue with co-authors, Westerfeld said, because he knew he could pose a plot problem or other challenge to Lanagan and Biancatti, and they could figure it out if he couldn’t.

“The pressure is off. I know that I don’t necessarily have to solve it. It’s not all on me. There’s a feeling of being supported,” he said. “We’re braver together.”

Three different authors with three different writing styles. How did they piece Zeroes together? The authors chose two characters each to develop, discussed backstories, and then went on their own to write chapters featuring the point-of-view of specific characters.

Lanagan writes as soon as she wakes up. “I like to fall out of bed, before coffee, before the day crystallizes,” she said. “I’ll write one or two hours, and it’s the best run all day.”

Biancatti starts later. “At 2 p.m. my brain goes up a level,” she said. “I try to work on something meaningful before then to prepare.” When her boyfriend returns home at 7 p.m., her writing day is complete.

Westerfeld starts his day at sunrise with coffee and an hour-and-a-half walk. “That’s when I’m at my best, exercised.” He later reads his work to his wife, Justine Larbalestier, who is also a writer.

Touring with Biancatti and Lanagan to promote Zeroes has taught Westerfeld an important lesson. Social interaction is powerfully invigorating. They feed off the energy of their audiences. “So if we sucked tonight, it’s your fault,” he joked with the audience members, who were enthusiastic throughout the presentation and asked thoughtful questions. And the opposite is true. If the audience is psyched, so are the authors. “It’s kind of cool.”

“Reading, like writing a novel, is such a solitary thing,” Westerfeld said. “You’re coming out on a Monday night to talk with and be around others who love reading, and I applaud you for that.”

Katherine Valdez would love the power to eat as much ice cream as she wants without gaining a single pound. Follow her @KatValdezWriter on Instagram and Twitter, and


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