Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Across the Universe: Interview with author Beth Revis

Today's interview is with Beth Revis, debut author of Across the Universe, a YA dystopian being released January 11, 2011.

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone--one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship--tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn't do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now Amy must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there's only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

I am pretty pumped about this book, but in the efforts of going straight to Beth, I'm not going to say it all right now--hoping to do a follow up post. Suffice to say, I've been doing the hot potato dance for Beth's book to come out. Here's what Beth has to say about her debut experience.

Welcome Beth! Tell us a little about yourself as a writer – do you outline, or wing it? Do you write daily, or in snatches?

I write in huge bursts--I might not write anything for a week, then I'll knock out 10k or so. It comes from when I was writing while I was a teacher--I couldn't write during the workdays, but I could during the weekends, so I used my time when I could. As for plotting or pantsing--I'm mostly a pantser, but I usually have an idea at least of the ending, and I may sketch out an outline of things that happen a few chapters ahead of where I am now, just so I get the pacing right. But mostly, I'm in panic-mode as I write and scream "What on earth happens next?!"

When – and why – did you begin writing?

I've always wanted to be a writer--I remember telling people that's what I wanted to be in elementary school. But I also always knew that I would need a back-up plan to that in order to pay the bills. I wrote my first novel in college. I'd been intending to write a short story for an anthology, but it became a 60k word monster before I could finish it. I'm still crap at short stories.

What was your process writing Across The Universe? What did you have trouble with, and what inspired you?

I knew the end--actually, the last three or so chapters--pretty fully before I started writing. There's a twisty end, and I knew the twist before I knew the setting, the plot, or the characters. So I basically built the entire world around the twist. I had the most trouble with setting--that's something I always have to work at. I think I'm more conscious of it now, but much of my setting was done in edits. Considering it's a sci fi where the spaceship setting is pretty crucial, I find this a little funny.

I love worldbuilding, and it's obvious you did a lot of this in your debut. Based on your experience, what would you encourage other writers to do as they go about developing their own worlds?

Think in terms of all the senses. When I start to describe something, I think not only of what it looks like, but what it smells like, tastes like, feels like. Broaden your description in that way. Also, shoot for making interesting comparisons. Think about what your character would think of. One of my main MCs, Amy, misses her home, so she compares everything she sees, feels, and smells, to the things she had at home.

What did it take to get Across The Universe on bookshelves?

10 years of writing practice, 10 unpublished novels, over 300 rejected queries on other projects, 50 queries on this project, 7 ruthless beta readers, 1 brilliant agent, 1 publisher who said "yes."

Tell us something about your book that we wouldn’t know just by reading the blurb.

The first chapter was originally chapter four, and was completely re-written three times before it got into the shape it's in today.

Today’s writing culture has a pretty big obsession with rules. What’s your stand on this? Are there any particular rules you write by?

Nope. I think rules are stupid. I mean--you should *know* the rules. But don't be afraid to break them. Rules--things like "don't use adverbs," and "show don't tell"--they're for beginning writers. So, learn them and practice them in the beginning. Then move on and find YOUR voice. Adverbs didn't hurt JK Rowling, and showing didn't hurt Stephanie Meyer.

If knew you a teenager who aspired to be a novelist, what would you say to them?

Don't get stuck on one novel. So many people I know write one novel, then revise and rewrite it to death when it doesn't sell. I say, write it, query it, move on. I try not to dedicate more than a year of my life to a novel--why dedicate more time to a book that won't sell? Sometime's it's the writing--you need practice, so write another novel. Sometimes it's the story--not every story is good enough for publication. Sometimes it's the market. Whatever. Just know that some books won't ever be good enough, move on, and write something new.

That's good advice for any writer, I think. Certain manuscripts are hard to let go but afterwards you realize how necessary it was. So Beth, let me ask you this: how have you grown as a writer, and how do you hope to see yourself grow in the future?

I think I pay more attention to the language. Before, I worked only on story--the plot, the characters. Now I focus more on language. What makes the words beautiful on the page? Carrie Ryan taught me that--THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH is beautifully written, even if it's a zombie book for teens. I never thought before that the quality of the language mattered, not for genre YA. But it does; it what makes good genre YA stand out.

What’s next for Beth Revis?

Finishing Book 2!

Thanks for sharing, Beth, and best of luck on the trilogy! (Oh yes. Because Across the Universe is book 1 in a trilogy. Go Beth.)

Beth Revis writes science fiction and fantasy novels for teens. Her debut novel, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, will be published by Razorbill/Penguin in Spring 2011. Beth is represented by Merrilee Heifetz at Writers House. Beth wrote her first books as a student in classrooms, when the professors did not hold her interest and she jotted down stories instead of taking notes.

Beth also runs a blog on writing (http://bethrevis.blogspot.com)
and is a participant of a group blog by debut dystopian authors (http://leaguewriters.blogspot.com).

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