Sunday, May 24, 2015

PUYB Virtual Book Club Chats with Laura Liddell Nolen, author of 'The Ark'

Laura Liddell Nolen grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she spent lots of time playing make-believe with her two younger brothers. They supplemented their own stories with a steady diet of space- and superhero-themed movies, books, and television. The daughter of a comic book collector, she learned how to handle old comics at an early age, a skill she’s inordinately proud of to this day.

Laura began work on her first novel, The Ark, in 2012, following the birth of her daughter Ava, a tiny rebel and a sweetheart on whom the novel’s main character is loosely based. Completion of The Ark was made possible in part due to an SCBWI Work-in-Progress Award.

Laura loves coffee, dogs, and making lists. She has a degree in French and a license to practice law, but both are frozen in carbonite at present. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young children, and their dog Miley, who is a very good girl.

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About the Book:
There’s a meteor headed for Earth, and there is only one way to survive.
It’s the final days of earth, and sixteen-year-old Char is right where she belongs: in prison. With her
criminal record, she doesn’t qualify for a place on an Ark, one of the five massive bioships designed to protect earth’s survivors during the meteor strike that looks set to destroy the planet. Only a select few will be saved – like her mom, dad, and brother – all of whom have long since turned their backs on Char.
If she ever wants to redeem herself, Char must use all the tricks of the trade to swindle her way into outer space, where she hopes to reunite with her family, regardless of whether they actually ever want to see her again, or not . . .

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Thanks for joining us at the book club, Laura.  Can we begin by having you tell us how you got into writing scifi for young adults?

Laura: I’ve always loved YA. My memories of school all involve staying up late to finish whatever book I was into at the moment. I was especially drawn to stories where the main character is isolated and has to learn to survive and find self-sufficiency in a bizarre situation, like Jackaroo, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, and The Perilous Gard. In The Ark, Char is in a similar predicament, but she probably considers herself to be more independent than she really is.
Science fiction is my other true love. I’m a lifelong devotee of space-themed tv shows. Battlestar Galactica and Firefly are two of my favorites. Anytime a book or a movie takes a “what if” far into the extreme, I’m hooked. 1984 and Gattaca are great examples of that.
And I love stories that are just fun, where you’re rooting for the protagonist, and you can barely blink because you don’t want to miss a second of the action. For that, I can’t think of a better example than Star Wars. The sarlacc scene might be my favorite onscreen moment of all time.

Your book, The Ark, sounds so perfect for a movie!  If it were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead characters? 

Laura: Thank you! This is a great question because I definitely play the scenes out in my mind as I write them, and I typically use famous people as stand-ins for the characters. It helps in describing the way they look. The danger in doing that, of course, is that Char doesn’t act like them. She acts like herself, and I’m careful to make sure that her personality is dominant over the personalities of the actors I’m picturing and the other characters they’ve played.
I can tell you that I pictured a much rougher, slightly scary Daniel Radcliffe in writing Kip Carston, and if we were at the point where Daniel Radcliffe agreed to be in this movie, the rest of the cast would take care of itself. I pictured Radcliffe exclusively because Kip is a complicated character, and you’d need a terrific actor to pull it off: His anger is never obvious, but there’s something off about the easygoing way he interacts with Char and even Cassa. He’s a huge part of Char’s downfall, but it’s clear that he has feelings for her. Kip believes that his feelings are pure because he loves her for who she is. It never occurs to him that she could have been something better.

Tell us more about Char?

Laura: Lots of my favorite YA heroines get a rough start in life. Katniss is poor, Tally Youngblood is unattractive, others are hopelessly nerdy. You get the idea.
Char’s story didn’t start out like that. She’s had every opportunity in life: wealthy, successful parents, countless do-overs, the whole thing. But she’s just so angry. Her parents place a lot of value in appearances, and their expectations around Char’s looks and behavior chafe her. Like a lot of people, she’s struggling to find her own identity in a world that wants her to know her role and play it nicely.
By the time Char realizes that her decisions have cost her everything, it’s too late. When the book opens, she’s been convicted of a felony after the age cut-off for getting on an Ark. She knows she’s going to die in prison when the meteor hits. Her only remaining hope is that her parents and brother, whom she really does love, will stop by her cell on their way to safety. She wants to apologize, to ask them to remember her. She wants one last moment to be the daughter she never has been.

Can you tell us a little about the supporting characters?

Laura: Sure! Isaiah is a bit of a mystery in this book, so I can’t talk about him too much. I think he’s proud of being unknowable, in spite of all his wisdom.
Eren, on the other hand, is anything but. He’s a soldier at heart– confident, aware of his responsibilities, and committed to the highest ideals set forth in the Treaty of Phoenix. Guardians like Eren are a combination of the police and the military. Eren rarely questions his duty because he believes that the rest of the force wants the same thing he does: equality, safety, and peace. He’s very nearly right.
He’s also smart. He lacks some of Isaiah’s wisdom, but he makes up for that with an ability to keep an open mind when confronted with evidence that not everything is as hunky-dory as it should be.

They say all books of fiction have pivotal points where the reader just can’t put the book down.  What’s one of the pivotal points in The Ark?

Laura: I’d like to think it happens early on. Probably when Char decides she might not be as tough as she thought she was, and that maybe she doesn’t want to die in the meteor after all. She really does want to be forgiven.

What’s next for you, Laura?  More YA scifis?

Laura: The Ark is the first book in a trilogy, with the next two out in 2016 and 2017, so I’m hard at work on those! My goal right now is to make this the most exciting, satisfying story it can be. After that, I’ve got another project I’m excited to get back to- it’s a surreal, action/adventure fantasy tale, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

What would you like to say to your readers and fans?

Laura: THANK YOU! I am thrilled you gave my story a shot. As of now, I’ve been able to keep up with most of the reviews, and I’ve really appreciated hearing what people think about The Ark. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I’m hitting my stride in the next book, so I hope you’ll stick around.

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