Welcome, LitStackers, to our very first Emerging Author segment. This feature is designed to introduce you to the incoming “class” of debut writers who, through their use of language and unique plots, have written great stories the rest of will be lucky to read.
First up is Phoebe North, a multitalented young woman who is many things: fangirl, critical, intelligent reviewer, writer with a passion for helping others hone their craft and, in 2013, debut novelist of the YA SciFi novel, Starglass. I sat down with North, a former critique partner and friend of mine, to discuss her influences, her writing and what aspects in her life led her down the writer’s road to publication.
Starglass is forthcoming in the U.S. from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers in summer 2013.
For five hundred years, passengers on the generation ship Asherah have lived a regimented lifestyle meant to ensure they reach their destination across the stars. Jobs are selected by the High Council; unmarried citizens find themselves matched; every couple has two children–one boy, and one girl–created for them in a lab. This is how their population has remained steady, and rebellion has been suppressed. But this rigid life doesn’t work for everyone on the ship. It certainly doesn’t work for sixteen-year-old Terra. She lost her mother to cancer years ago. Now she’s working a job she hates, while her father pushes her toward marrying a boy she knows will never love her back. Terra’s done her best to swallow her lumps and be good, like the generations that have come before her. But when she stumbles across a murder in the ship’s long-abandoned engine rooms, she gets sucked in to a plot to murder the ship’s captain.
The rebels know that Terra has nothing left to lose, but they don’t know that she’s starting to fall for the boy she’s meant to kill. Soon Terra learns that ‘doing your duty’ isn’t as simple as it seems.”
YA (young adult) has been, for some time, a very popular genre for both readers and writers. What drew you into YA and do you think you will ever write for adults?
First, I wanted to thank you for inviting me here to LitStack! I’m so psyched to be doing my very first interview with you, Tee, someone who was right by my side at the birth of Starglass.
I’ve always been a huge YA fan. I went through a period of reading adult “subversive” lit at the end of high school (Chuck Palahniuk, Dave Eggers, that sort of thing), but then I took a college course on YA literature, which helped me to rediscover my love for works like A Wrinkle in Time and the His Dark Materials series. Later, I went to graduate school for poetry—but loaded up on as many children’s literature classes as I could. Luckily, my professors seemed happy to entertain my rambling about feminism in Babysitter’s Club novels.
I love YA because teenagers have a very intense, vivid emotionality. YA novels are intrinsically the novels of first experiences and the ensuing emotional fallout. I find that fascinating, and nearly endlessly entertaining. On occasion, I’ve conceptualized stories featuring adult characters—but those are very much the exception, rather than the rule. My default is the YA plot and the YA protagonist. Someday, I might write a novel for adults, but it doesn’t feel particularly likely.
From my personal experience with you, I know you to be very prolific. Do you have a writing schedule and how to you make certain you stick to it? How does pre-publishing affect that schedule?
Am I prolific? I average about 1000 words a day, but there are so many writers out there who can get a novel out in a matter of weeks. I suppose it’s all relative!
I don’t have a schedule, other than “write all the words!” Some days are better than others, of course, but I’ve never found motivation to be particularly problematic. When I’m deep in a novel, I know that constant forward momentum is the only way to finish. And so every day, I try to add a little bit to my word count.
Pre-publishing hasn’t had a huge impact on my productivity—yet. I’ll be getting my edits in a few weeks, though, so I imagine that this will change soon.
I know you’ve been involved in fandoms in the past. How has that involvement shaped your writing?
I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for my fandom activities in middle and high school. I was part of Pern fandom as well as a member of a writing club based on Nickelodeon’s Space Cases (of all things). The writers I met there helped me to take my writing seriously while we all geeked out. I’m not fandom-active today, but I truly value the friendships and connections I made when I was.
From reading this post, I gathered that you felt there were many variables that led you to Starglass. If any of those variables had been different, do you think you still would have written this book? How different do you think it would be?
I think it’s very much true that you’re the only writer who can write your books. I don’t think Starglass would be the same at all if I hadn’t lost my father young, if I weren’t Jewish, if I hadn’t taken that ill-fated James Joyce class where I wrote my first generation ship story.
You’ve been fearless in the book reviews you’ve done. Were you ever afraid of offending other writers with your more critical reviews? Would you rather reviewers write honest, critical reviews about your work?
My husband always tells me that I’m foolishly honest. He’s right, but that doesn’t mean that I set out hoping to make enemies. Deep down, I hope that other writers understand and appreciate why I review—but I know that can’t always be the case. Still, even knowing that I someday might face career repercussions (people are always telling me that those will come, though they haven’t yet), I also know that I wouldn’t want to be successful at the expense of honesty. I only ever want to be successful as me—and “me” is someone who is critical and vocal and analytical and opinionated.
And yes, of course I’d rather reviewers be honest about my work.
Has there been one stabilizing force that has kept you motivated to publish? Has that changed over the years?
I’ve always been a preposterously stubborn and driven person—I’m naturally very highly motivated. Having my husband’s support, both financially and emotionally, has helped, as have a host of other things (my kitty cat! Good music!), but I suspect much of that motivation was intrinsic and highly personal.
Our childhoods define us, make us who we are. Because you experienced loss in your childhood, do you think that is what drew you into writing? Was writing (or perhaps reading) a therapeutic way to work through that loss?
No, I don’t think so. Though my father died when I was eight, I was writing and finding solace in books well before that. I think it might be easy to ascribe a therapeutic narrative to one’s writing life, but I come from a family of artists, writers, and readers. I’d just as soon attribute my creative nature to that as I would the early loss of my father.
Tell the readers about Starglass. Specifically, what was it about a generation ship and a murder plot that made you want to tell that story?
Starglass is the story of Terra, a young girl who gets pulled into an on-board rebellion on the generation ship where she grew up. I’ve always thought that you couldn’t go wrong with “teenage girl with a choice” as a basic plot, and, when boiled down to its essence, that’s really what Starglass is about—when faced with the choice to make reparations for a loved one’s death, could you? The generation ship setting came first. The original premise is based on a science fiction rewrite of James Joyce’s Evangeline. But I needed a strong, driving plot. I’d always wanted to do something similar to Star Wars. I think space rebellions have very much entered the public consciousness via Lucas, which is why I reached for the rebellion plot here.
How has your circle of friends and/or peers influenced your writing, if at all?
I’m lucky to have many wonderful writing friends, from high school, college and graduate school, and I’m still in touch with many of them. It’s great to just be able to share that side of yourself with people you love. I couldn’t have done it without their support. This is especially true for my husband, Jordan. He was a writer when we first met, and understands “story” better than anyone I know. He’s great for hashing out plot problems.
Finally, a two-part question: Rose or River Song, and what do you think about Matt Smith bowing out of Who?
Oh, River Song, easily. I love that she’s an older woman who is also an iconic character—the type of icon you usually only find in male characters.
Is Matt Smith leaving? It seems like there are rumors to that effect every few months, but I’ve learned not to trust everything you read on the Internet. I’d love for there to be a modern Doctor with a Tom-Baker-sized tenure, a character that we truly see grow and change over the course of the years. But, barring that, I hope that his story is just given a satisfying conclusion. I’m still nursing my wounds over how Lost ended. I’d hate for Who to break my heart all over again.
Get to know Phoebe a bit better by following her blog post on www.phoebenorth.com.