WHAT IS THE FIRST SCIENCE FICTION BOOK YOU REMEMBER READING?
I remember reading The Boy Who Reversed Himself by William Sleator in 1989 during a cross-country road trip. We were driving from Oregon to Illinois and at the beginning of every driving day my mom gave me a new present to unwrap for that leg of the trip. While sitting in the parking lot of a hotel overrun with silverfish bugs in Keystone, South Dakota, I received Sleator’s book and devoured it by the time we arrived in Cedar Rapids.
Fourth dimensions, scary monsters, and something to do with ketchup as the best thing ever? I grew up in science-fiction loving house, but this is the first time I remember thinking of all the possibilities the genre offered—and it was a genuine way to escape the monotony of a drive through the Plains States.
ANY MOVIE, ANY BOOK…WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE ANTAGONIST?
This is such a fascinating question and I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…I can’t limit it to one. So, here are my favorite antagonists, plural:
- Amon Goeth from Schindler’s List: Watching him on screen portrayed by Ralph Fiennes was the first time I had a visceral reaction to a person in a movie. He gave me a stomachache and I had to close my eyes; I was terrified of him, and even more sickened by the fact that he wasn’t an invention—this was a real man, a true monster.
- Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter: I’m big on justice and the INJUSTICE of her reign at Hogwarts sent me into a rage. I needed her to be a real person somewhere in the world, so I could travel there and punch here in the face.
- Honorable mentions: Johnny from Karate Kid; John Doe from Se7en; Mr. Burns from The Simpsons; Scar from the Lion King; Hans Grubar from Die Hard; Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life; Annie Wilkes from Misery.
IS THERE AN AUTHOR THAT YOU WOULD REALLY LIKE TO MEET?
I desperately want to have a lunch with Stephen King and Joe Hill. Actually, can it just be the whole family? I want to be invited to their Thanksgiving. Omg, can that happen? Can someone make that happen?
WHERE WERE YOU BORN AND WHERE DO YOU CALL HOME? WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIVE?
I was born in Portland, Oregon, and that is also where I currently call home. I’ve always had dreams of taking my writing life and heading off to a small, noisy apartment in NYC, but that feels like I’m cheating on my first love. (But I am taking my whole family there this summer…to write…in a noisy apartment on the Upper West Side. Then I get to come home to Oregon. So, it’s the best of both worlds.)
The reality is Portland is a creative town with such amazing talent and a thriving arts community. I’m immensely proud of my city.
DO YOU EVER WRITE IN YOUR PJ’S?
There are people who don’t write in their PJS? Shameful.
WHAT TALENT WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO HAVE?
I’d always like to be a better writer—I read such talented stories and I’m insanely jealous of their wordsmithing abilities. But beyond that: I was fired by my piano teacher when I was eight or nine. She actually fired me and sat me on the porch to wait for my mom. So, I wish I could play the piano.
WHAT ARE YOUR PET PEEVES?
People who talk during movies; loud eaters; people who are rude to workers in service industries; bad tippers.
IF YOU HAD A SUPER POWER, WHAT WOULD IT BE? AND IF YOU HAD TO GIVE IT UP TO SAVE NEW JERSY, HOW WOULD YOU EXPLAIN TO NEW JERSEY THEY WERE GOING TO DIE?
I want the super power from that TV show “Out of this World”: to stop time by touching my fingers. Just…pause! Unpause. Pause. Unpause. And, I would definitely avoid saying anything to anyone, and just slowly back away pretending like I didn’t understand. “What? New Jersey? Can’t hear you…”
WHY DIDN’T HURLEY LOSE ANY WEIGHT WHILE ON THE ISLAND?
Can we just pretend that this is the only thing that doesn’t make sense about that show? Because I was a LOST devotee (I had a Dharma Initiative party and replaced all the labels on the food with Dharma labels) and it’s too soon to talk about. Too soon.
ABOUT THE BOOK
HOW IMPORTANT ARE NAMES TO YOU IN THIS BOOK. DID YOU CHOOSE THEM BASED ON SOUND OR MEANING?
My names are important because I name characters after my students as classroom management rewards. Is that strange? Like, “Hey. Stop talking during this quiz or I’m finding/replacing your character from this book. Don’t make me erase you.” Works like a charm.
WHERE DID YOUR TOMORROW SPRING FROM? IN OTHER WORDS, HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE CRAZY WORLD?
There is a reservoir in Portland that is just open to the elements…recently a man peed in there and they had to drain the whole thing. (ADDENDUM: Last week’s Portland Must Boil Water fiasco because they found e-coli in the water? Same reservoir.) And it’s where a big chunk of Portland’s water comes from…so, this idea stemmed from a single thought, “How easy would it be…if a group was vast enough…to wipe out civilization by targeting water and air with bioterrorism?” From there, I had to invent and discuss the why. Why would someone want to do that? And then I thought of Noah and how the story there is that God wiped out the world to start over because people were awful. So, give someone a God complex, who wants to decide who is worthy to survive, and have him kill off the world? That is how Virulent took shape.
JUST HOW FAR IN THE FUTURE IS YOUR TOMORROW?
Tomorrow. Like…literally tomorrow. Today. Now. My book develops into a dystopian over the story arc. It starts as a post-apocalyptic tale that shows how our world could fall. I wanted it to feel realistic and scary.
DID YOU DO ANY SPECIFIC OR UNUSUAL RESEARCH FOR THIS BOOK?
Over the course of the trilogy, I have had to do some crazy research (firearms, bombs, bioterrorism). I’m on NSA lists. They don’t know what to make of me based on my Internet searches.
QUOTE A CHARACTER, ANY CHARACTER.
"Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads."
Oh! You mean one of my characters?
Ms. Johnston says, “Hasn’t anyone told you? It’s the assholes who inherit the earth.”
WHO SHOULD NOT READ YOUR BOOK?
People who have rosy outlooks on human behavior in time of crisis. Seriously? You think everyone is going to band together and become instant do-gooders? I love people, but I don’t have a shred of faith in human nature when SHTF.
ARE ANY OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS FROM THE LGBT (LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, AND TRANSGENDER) COMMUNITY.
Absolutely. Actually, I got a one-star review because a reviewer didn’t want her pre-teen daughter reading about a woman who had a wife. [Insert eye-roll here] I like to wear that review like a badge of honor. So…we could add that into the “people who shouldn’t read my book” answer, too. If reading about humans bothers you…don’t read this book.
GIVE YOUR BOOK THE BECHDEL TEST
1. IT HAS TO HAVE AT LEAST TWO (NAMED) WOMEN IN IT
2. WHO TALK TO EACH OTHER
3. ABOUT SOMETHING BESIDES A MAN
My books (especially the trilogy as a whole) passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. But I personally think the test should be harder to pass…let’s raise the bar!
WHAT SORT OF BODY COUNT ARE WE TALKING HERE?
Oh, wow. Yeah. Um. Seven billion people…
Thanks everyone!! Check out the boxed set and the other author Q&As.