Beth Revis has been a great supporter of the Intergalactic Academy from the start. This week, her debut novel, Across the Universe is out in paperback. To mark the occasion, she’s generously answered some questions for us on her influences and education, and on the challenges of writing YA sci-fi. She’s also donating a signed copy of the Across the Universe for one lucky reader–and I’m giving away my ARC copy of A Million Suns! For more information on the giveaway, check out the bottom of this post. Meanwhile, here’s Beth!
You’ve spoken quite a bit about the authors you loved as a child—I’ve seen you mention C. S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. I’m a big L’Engle fan, too. Can you tell me about your encounters with her books? What drew you to her?
I don’t remember the first time I read A WRINKLE IN TIME, but my copy is the cheap, slender version, with the paper peeling from the spine and the pages smudged in the corners from too many turnings. Ironically, the story that stays with me the most when I think of L’Engle isn’t WRINKLE….it’s MANY WATERS, perhaps the most overlooked of the quartet. I remember getting to the end and feeling hollow. It wasn’t exactly a sad ending, but it wasn’t a happy one either, and I didn’t know then how close to life that was. I just remember realizing for the first time that there hardly ever really is a happily ever after.
As for what drew me to her, I think it was probably the fact that her book was impossible, and I loved it for that. When I was growing up, I drowned in Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club books, and while they were entertaining, my favorites were always the impossible books.
You’ve commonly cited Mary Pearson’s THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, Megan Whalen Turner’s THE THIEF, and Jeanne du Prau’s THE CITY OF EMBER as inspirations for ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. What novels influenced your writing of the sequel, A MILLION SUNS?
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE was me writing the book I always wanted to read. A MILLION SUNS was me writing the book I hardly ever see. Elder’s suddenly thrust in this position that he’s honestly too young and experienced for–how could he possibly be the leader of a ship that is gaining autonomy when he’s only 16 years old and his people already feel betrayed by the crimes of his predecessor? How can Amy possibly expect to find any sort of happiness in a world where she’ll always be considered freakish and an outsider?
I won’t ruin anything, but I’ll say this: A MILLION SUNS is not the sort of book where the heroes of the story are going to win just because they are the heroes. I’ve read many books where teens do impossible things and it’s made to feel believable in the context of the story. Elder and Amy don’t do impossible things. I’m not saying the story’s bleak, but I am saying that this is not a light teenager’s tale where everything wraps up nicely and ends up with a bow on top.
You wrote a few “practice” novels before you hit it big with ACROSS THE UNIVERSE—and I read that those were fantasy novels! Was it difficult to make the shift to writing sci-fi? And how did AtU’s genre affect your approach to writing it?
Yes–I wrote ten fantasy novels before finding success with sci fi! It wasn’t difficult for me to make the transition at all–I always wrote fantasy where the magic had rules and consequences; I just shifted it so that it was science instead of magic, and science already has rules and consequences involved.
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE’s premise is somewhat dependent on sci-fi concepts—cryochambers and genetic engineering are just two. Was it difficult to make all the pieces “fit”? How did you research the world of the Godspeed?
I write the story first, the genre second. For my story idea to work, I needed a sci fi setting, which is why I chose to write that genre in the first place. Surprising it, it all fell into place very naturally. I already had a background in astronomy, my favorite science, and I basically only had to do research on why we didn’t have the things that I wanted in my novel. For example, I needed cryogenics. Once I researched enough to learn why we don’t have cryogenics now–because cell walls burst, much like what you see in freezer-burned meat–I simply had to invent a reason to make it work–in my story, the characters are injected with blue goo that strengthens the cell walls.
You call your tumblr blog “jealous of jetpacks” after an awesome Tom Gauld illustration. Have you experienced much tut-tutting from those in “proper literature” because of the genres you write in? How would you address those who criticize either sci-fi or YA in broad strokes?
Lord, yes. The standard assumption by many is that YA authors write YA because they “can’t” write adult novels–that YA is just dumbed down, simplified adult novels. Which of course is completely false. I’ve often and vociferously maintained that YA is much more about a style of genre rather than a recommended reading age. YA novels aren’t dumbed down adult books–they are stories with very specific tropes that also tend to have a fast pace, strong characterization, etc.
The most common criticism I get is that either (a) I’m not smart enough to write adult books, or (b) I’m just trying to catch a trend and earn a quick buck. Considering I have a graduate degree and was one of the youngest Master-level students at my university in my field ever, am qualified to teach literature at a college level, and was published academically on adult literature criticism, I find the first assumption laughable. Considering I worked for ten years writing novels that didn’t sell and never earned a penny for any of it, I find the second assumption even more comical.
But it’s not like I’m getting insulted left and right. By and far, the writing community is a kind, generous one that seeks to help build authors and stories up rather than tear them down. There are only a handful of times in which I had to defend my love of YA to another writer (I’ve never had to do so to a reader), and each of those times, I think it was because the writer expected me to be a little ashamed of writing YA, or perhaps apologetic, and lashed out when I jumped forward to defend the genre I love.
However, my standard response to them is much the same as the one in the Tom Gauld cartoon.
You call yourself a Whovian Browncoat. What makes you love Firefly and Doctor Who so much? And, most importantly, which is your favorite Doctor?
Favorite Doctor? EASY. It is without a doubt Doctor 10, played by David Tennant. His storyline, particularly his last one, with Donna Noble, was just brilliant. Pure brilliance. The ultimate sacrifice both those characters gave was heart-rending.
I love both Firefly and Doctor Who because I love good story-telling, and they embody that in the best possible way. I would say that, after a few novels that helped develop my love of stories at a young age (particularly The Chronicles of Narnia), those two television series have been the most influential in terms of how to craft a story. For example, in the movie Serenity, based on the TV series Firefly, the “bad guy” is actually someone who thinks what he is doing is 100% the right thing to do. He has a noble cause–it’s just very different from the cause of the heroes of the movie. I now always think not just of my good characters’ motivations, but also the motivation of my bad characters to make them more realistic.
Thank you so much, Beth, for the awesome interview! I’m a sucker for Ten and Donna, too (and I can’t be the only one who would love to read your rules-based fantasy novels!).
As I mentioned in the intro, Beth has generously donated a signed copy of Across the Universe to one lucky reader, and because we’ve reached 100 followers on Google Friend Connect, I’m throwing in my ARC copy of A Million Suns (US only, sorry). To enter, follow us either using Google Friend Connect (in our sidebar) or on twitter at IntergalAcademy. Then leave a comment here before 11:59 pm EST on Thursday, December 1st to let us know you’re entering. The winner will be announced on Friday, when we’ll also be posting a review of Beth’s second book, A Million Suns.