I'm so excited to be able to do Q&A with you, as I've been on the 'Launch Crew' for your book 'The Disasters' for MONTHS! Finally, it's hitting shelves TODAY, so there are some questions that must be asked. I already know you're a Ravenclaw (me too), and born under the sign of Cancer, so you're a Crab (me too, so let's ask some more important stuff).
1 First of all, the blurb on your book has to be one of the best I've ever read, 'The Breakfast Club meets Guardians of The Galaxy', not just because those are two movies that I absolutely love, but because I'm total movie buff myself (with a film degree and background) and I have an inkling that movies have inspired 'The Disasters' big time.
What are your 5 top movies (*you can't include Star Wars here!)?
I’m honestly more of a TV person than a movie person, so I’ll include TV and movies here. There’s are in no particular order because narrowing down to five is already cruel enough without ranking them!
- Babylon 5
- Avatar: The Last Airbender
- Stargate SG-1
- The Fifth Element (problematic fave)
- The Great British Baking Show (“one of these things is not like the otherssss…”)
- Brooklyn 99 (YEAH I PUT SIX. I’M A REBEL)
2 Without spoiling too much about 'The Disasters' you have made the distinct choice of keeping humans very human, despite it being 2194, and there being advancements so that people may live on other planets. In contrast to a lot of other science-fiction about the future of the human race, why did decide to keep us that way?
A combination of complicated reasons. In this world, the A-drive technology
that lets humans travel quickly between the stars was sort of a lightning
strike discovery in 2050ish, which isn’t really that far away. As soon as that
happened, you know there’d be a big political upheaval and a second space
race, which I obliquely reference in the book. That kind of stuff always sets
us back as humans, even as it brings us forward in technology.
With humanity establishing new homes out among the stars, something that
would require a lot of hands-in-the-dirt work, I think our base humanity
would stay largely intact, at least in the early days. I didn’t want to portray a
future where we’ve totally disappeared into the cloud just as we’ve opened
up this whole vast galaxy to explore. I imagine this book set during a very
outward-facing time in humanity’s history, stretching out, focusing
technological development on those goals, rather than necessarily turning it
inward on the human body and mind. Not that these things can’t happen
concurrently, but it wasn’t really the kind of story I wanted to tell.
Ultimately, though, there are some core things about humanity that I hope
will always exist. A need to laugh, to love, to build connections, to explore.
Those are the fundamentals of being human, to me, and I hope we never
3 I was drawn to 'The Disasters' not just because of the amazing purple cover (props to your cover designer, Jenna Stempel-Lobell) but because I'm drawn to storylines where I have to root for the underdog. This is a common theme in YA but this really is a story about a bunch of rejects.
What was it that drew you to writing a story about this bunch of hapless teens-turned-heroes?
Lovelovelove the cover, and so grateful for the design team at HarperTeen! The basic seed of the idea of this book was “a hotshot pilot fails out of a space academy on his first day,” so that underdog sense was baked in from the very earliest glimmers. From there, I think the concept naturally developed into a way for me to explore a lot of my own angry thoughts about how people get labeled as rejects or failures or whatever just for making one mistake, or being different, or responding to the way society has shaped them. Our cultural idea of who gets to be a hero is so narrow. I’ve also spent most of my life obsessed with success and validation, which is totally unhealthy, and I think I’ll have a lot more to say on it in future books.
4 There are some interesting relationships in 'The Disasters' including a pair of brothers who have spent a good deal of their teen years apart, with one of them, the main character Nax, believing his brother hates him. It's refreshing to read a book with male teens who end up having to actually talk to each other and be emotionally vulnerable; do you feel like there's a gap in YA lit when it comes to this?
I didn’t actually set out to fill any sort of gap with it, but yes, I do think all aspects of our society are lacking in good emotional models for teens who are socialized as male. I hope we can continue to expand the range of emotions we allow all characters to experience: angry, emotionally-constipated girls (hello, my next book), sensitive and vulnerable boys, non-binary characters period—we need it all!
5 Many people know you are a YA librarian (shout out to librarians everywhere!): What would you say is the number one key to encouraging a reluctant reader of any age?
Please, for the love of cupcakes, LET THEM READ WHAT THEY WANT. I want to scream every time a parent takes a book out of a kid’s hand because “it’s a graphic novel and that’s not real reading” or “that book is for girls” or “Twilight/The Hunger Games/etc. is garbage” or whatever else. The same thing applies to adults—can we not shame each other for loving romance, or cozy mysteries, or the latest James Patterson, or whatever else. Let people love whatever books speak to them and celebrate that love.
6 I know you grew up on the Space Coast of Florida, but you now call the mountains of Virginia home. Do you feel as though your childhood environment encouraged your love of all things space? How so?
Definitely. I feel like I would have come around to space eventually anyway, because it was really stuff like Star Wars and Issac Asimov’s nonfiction that dragged me into the deep end, and there are tons of people who grew up in my town who couldn’t care less about space. But being able to watch space shuttles and rockets launch from my backyard absolutely had an impact. Same with my parents always taking me to work and talking about the boring-but-necessary logistics side of the aerospace industry. It was part of the soundtrack of my early life and I’m grateful for it.
7 Okay, here comes the big question, since I know the whole Star Wars universe has been a big influence in your life AND it has inspired your writing. What is your favorite Star Wars movie, AND who is your favorite character?
ARG YOU ARE CRUEL INDEED. From the original trilogy, I think Empire Strikes Back is objectively the best movie, but A New Hope is the one I like to re-watch the most. It’s where it all started! Of the new stuff, I like The Force Awakens best. I love seeing the Star Wars Universe diversified and with a female lead. I can’t even imagine what the impact would have been on my childhood, having those movies. I had a seriously emotional moment at Disney recently, walking around the Star Wars area and seeing little kids of all genders dressed up and wearing SW shirts. MY HEART!
Favorite character… so hard. SO HARD. HOW DARE YOU.
Old trilogy: Han Solo
New trilogy: Poe Dameron
Extended Universe: Wedge Antilles & Tycho Celchu
(Honestly, the Force is my least favorite part of the SWU. Give me alllllll the pilots!)
8 Any hints about your second book you'd like to share?
I just turned in the final draft, huzzah! On to copyedits we go! It’ll be out in early 2020, maybe January. I can’t say much about it yet, but I can’t wait to reveal the title. It’s a sci-fi/fantasy mashup with similar pacing and humor to THE DISASTERS, but more emotionally intense, in my opinion. It’s very Final Fantasy 7 meets Six of Crows. Angry girl MC, nonbinary love interest, sass, and #friendshipgoals!
Good luck with the book, and thanks for answering my questions! It has been a lot of fun being on the 'Launch Crew'.
I'll be happily telling everyone to read your book; I already plan to buy a few copies for people!