Interview with Authors of Illuminae!
Amie Kaufman is a renowned author who has experienced much success throughout her writing career: her works have been New York and international bestsellers and has been sold in over 24 countries. She has co-authored two separate series (one of which is still in the works, of course): The Starbound Trilogy with Meagan Spooner and the Illuminae Files with her husband, Jay Kristoff (his interview is below!). She’s been a bookworm since she’s been young, and is passionate about Ireland and its history (oh, and writing of course). She currently lives in Melbourne with her husband and dog (and a full room dedicated to a library!) and works as a full-time writer.
The formatting of Illuminae is so unique; how did you come up with the idea and finalize the design of the book? What challenges did you face with this particular format?
Believe it or not, it came very naturally! We started with the idea of a book written in emails, and it quickly became much, much more than that. There’s a character in the book called AIDAN, a mad computer, and the way it’s feeling impacts the way the design shows up. When there’s no gravity, the words float, things like that. It was when we realized AIDAN was going to impact how the pages look that the whole book really came together. We had the most incredible design team from Random House on our side, and though we kept thinking this time we’d come up with something just too difficult to do, they never once turned us down!
How did your childhood experience as a reader affect your career as a writer?
Very deeply, that’s for sure. I’ve been a bookworm as long as I can remember. When I was sick, my Dad used to take me to buy Babysitters Club books to cheer me up. I was that kid who read under the covers, who went to browse the bookshop while my parents were doing the grocery shopping. My primary school librarian used to hand me wonderful books—including my all-time favourite, The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper—and those stories inspired me to make my own.
You seem to have more experience co-authoring instead of solo authoring. What has made you choose co-authoring over solo authoring and if you think co-authoring improves a book, why?
I love both! I’m actually writing my first solo series right now, though the first book won’t be out for another couple of years. Co-authoring is really special, though. If you find the right person (and I have, both times) then the story moves beyond ‘my idea’ or ‘your idea’ and you bounce things back and forth and brainstorm until it becomes ‘our idea’. You write something from both your experiences and drawing on both your sets of inspiration and skills and ideas, and create something wonderful. It’s so, so much fun, and it’s also awesome having someone there in the trenches with you. If you get stuck, there’s always your partner right there to share ideas!
How has your degree in history affected your writing and stories?
Oh, this is a great question! I studied a lot of different historical periods at university, from ancient Irish history to the renaissance in Florence to the American revolution (I still love that, Hamilton is my jam) and one thing that came through very clearly was that although all these times and places were different… they were all the same. People strive for the same things, hold the same hopes, and I work hard to put that universality into my books. The characters I’m writing might be stranded in the middle of space, but in a strange way, they have a lot in common with people throughout history. I also put my history degree to very practical use. I majored in Irish history, and This Shattered World is set on a planet colonized by the Irish, full of Irish traditions. I studied military history, and in Gemina, the sequel to Illuminae, you meet a girl who loves military history and war games. There’s a lot of me in my books!
Jay Kristoff is another renowned author who has written many successful novels and series in both the YA and adult genres. His stories center on sci-fi and fantasy, and he has much prepared for the future (including both a YA and adult series). He grew up in a tiny isolated town (with piles of books, of course) and then acquired an arts degree. He currently works as a full-time writer in Melbourne with his wife and Jack Russell.
How do you juggle writing so many books and how do you find the experience of writing multiple books better/worse than writing one at a time? Why?
I juggle so many books with the aid of a lot of caffeine and a very understanding wife. Ignoring emails, relying on other people to remember important things for me and never sleeping helps too.
For me, having multiple projects on the boil at the same time is almost essential. I get stuck on one project, I can move onto another while my subconscious continues to work on the thing that's got me stuck. Working in different genres and for different audiences stops me writing in one particular style or getting rooted in one particular way of thinking.
To grow as an artist, be it as a writer or musician or whatever, you have to be constantly challenging yourself. Otherwise, you end up repeating yourself.
As to the why I do it, I guess I'm something of a workaholic? I never really understood the impulse until recently - I've worked a few jobs and I couldn't imagine ever being excited about working for some company, making some rich old man richer. But when you start working for yourself on projects you genuinely love, it becomes a very different equation.
Has growing up in a small town affected your characters, writing, etc.? If so, how?
I think it affected me in the sense that I was/am/will always be an odd person, and in a small city before the rise of the internet, it was actually pretty hard to find people who were into the same music/hobbies I was, which meant the isolation ran that much deeper.
I grew up an outsider, and I think most of my characters are oddities and outsiders in some way. Characters who don't quite fit are the most interesting to me, because I don't quite fit either. Weirdos rule, basically.
How is Gemina going to be different/similar from Illuminae? Can we expect a similar format, similar heart-racing action, and similar fierce characters (or romance…)?
Same format, yep, but with a few new document styles to change things up a bit (one of which is going to blow your minds, but we can't talk about that yet).
Gemina is similar to ILLUMINAE in that it's focusing on a small group of teens in a much larger conflict. The action takes place on a space station and to be honest I think GEMINA moves faster and hits a little harder than ILLUMINAE.
The characters are a mix of old faves and new faces. The new characters are each awesome in their own way. We have Hanna Donnelly, the spoiled military brat daughter of the station commander, who's forced to grow up super fast when her entire world goes to hell. We have Nik Malikov, who's a young member of an interstellar organized crime family with a shady past and a heart of gold beneath his prison tattoos. And last, we have Nik's cousin Ella, who's a foul-mouthed 15 year-old computer prodigy with some physical disabilities an attitude from hell.
I love them all, but I think Ella is one of the coolest characters I've ever written. She's 100% burn.
Do you prefer writing YA or adult? Why? How are the audiences different and how is writing for each genre different?
Honestly, sometime I have difficulty distinguishing between the two. Aside from looking at the name of the publisher/imprint, sometimes there's very little to differentiate YA fiction from Adult fiction. I mean, look at a novel like Stephen King's Carrie. It's set in a high school. It tells the story of 16 year old girl. It's a coming of age tale that speaks to teenagers and their problems and it's told from the perspective of teenagers. If it were published today, would it be YA? If not, why not?
I've written 7 books in the last 5 years and I still don't really know the difference between the two. I've never seen a definition of YA that really fit. I don't treat my teenage readers as simpler, I don't talk down to them or pull punches. The only real difference between book like ILLUMINAE and NEVERNIGHT in terms of content is that NEVERNIGHT is longer and has more sex in it - but sex isn't a taboo subject in YA anymore either. And there's actually more death and destruction in ILLUMINAE than NEVERNIGHT. We kill tens of thousands of people in ILL. Often up close and personal, too.
So, I don't know, is the short answer. I'm still trying to figure it out. I do know that when I write my adult stuff, I still have my teenage readers in mind. Pretty sure you guys are going to love NEVERNIGHT. :)
Why did you choose to study for an Arts degree and how has this education affected your writing career?
I studied design because it was the only thing I really knew how to do. I enjoyed the visual arts, and knew if my dream to become a rock star didn't work out (it didn't), I'd need to somehow feed myself. Eventually I got into advertising because it was a fun job that you could make a decent living off.
The degree didn't really help my writing at all - though it's been very handy in managing the design side of the ILLUMINAE FILES. But working in advertising was a huge help - a lot of my job was writing scripts for TV commercials, and believe me, if you can figure out how tell an effective story in a 30 second TV script, you can figure out how to tell one in a novel.