Tuesday, January 31, 2012

APOCALYPSE NOW: an interview with Kristen Simmons, author of ARTICLE 5

Today we’re excited to talk to Kristen Simmons, author of the gripping dystopian YA novel ARTICLE 5, which is available as of TODAY from Tor Books. Congratulations, Kristen!

About ARTICLE 5:

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC have been abandoned. The Bill of Rights has been revoked and replaced with the Moral Statutes. There are no more police – instead, there are soldiers.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard to forget that people weren’t always arrested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. She has learned to keep a low profile, but then her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And what’s worse, one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Welcome to the Lucky 13s, Kristen. So you’re a Cormac McCarthy fan. Me, too. Did THE ROAD figure into your design for this book?

Cormac McCarthy is such an inspiration. In THE ROAD, it’s not fully explained what happened or how the world became that way, it just is, and the characters are forced to deal with it. It got me thinking, what would we do if we remembered what it was like before the world fell apart? If teenagers remembered going to school and hanging out late on Friday night at Burger King, but now must abide by a curfew and go to a soup kitchen to get their meals? And what if, like many people, they never took advantage of how good things were until they were taken away? Often, we complain about how terrible things are, but if the apocalypse actually happened this year, many of us will be looking back on this time and saying, oh my gosh, I can’t believe I didn’t appreciate that mortgage payment and that car payment and those hospital bills, those luxuries that I actually did have.

You have worked as a therapist specializing in trauma. Ember and Chase have endured war, deprivation, and loss. Did your therapeutic work help you gain insight into these characters, who miscommunicate and mistrust so profoundly?

It did. Perhaps the most important thing I learned as a therapist is how resilient we all are. How much we can take and still fight back. Witnessing someone recover after they’ve lost everything is awe-inspiring, and that is what I hoped to capture with my characters. People who have had trauma in their past, especially when they have the kinds of symptoms that come up for Chase, tend to try to bury it. Chase has something he can’t reveal to Ember, but even the things that aren’t a secret are painful for him to talk about, so he avoids communication as much as possible. He’s constantly battling his memories, but they’re right under the surface, breaking through in his temper and sometimes in his dreams. This is hard for both of them because they remember a time when being with each other was the easiest thing in the world. It’s not any more. It’s work to connect even on simple issues. But if they can learn to trust each other, they’ll heal, and grow even closer than they were before.

Can you tell us about how the book came to be published?

My journey has been a long one. I finished my first novel – at least the first one that I thought might actually be publishable – about ten years ago. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) bought me this book called Writer’s Market, which contains a sample query letter (one of many things along this journey that I had never heard of). OK, I thought, not so hard. I modeled my own letter after the sample and I sent it out to some agents. Imagine my surprise when they all promptly responded with rejections! It was my first taste of the publishing world and I was crushed. But! Time heals all wounds. A year later I was at it again. I finished another book and sent out more query letters. This time I didn’t tell a soul; I was fairly embarrassed at the way the last attempt had gone. I was glad I didn’t. The result was the same: more rejections.

I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I didn’t know this was kind of a common experience. I’d never heard of critique partners, or beta readers, or organizations for writers. I wish I’d come out of my shell and done a bit more exploring. Either way, the itch came again and I turned back to writing. But four manuscripts later, all I had to show for progress toward my goal was a box stuffed with rejection letters.

Then I wrote ARTICLE 5 and I thought, last chance, I’ll give this one more try (which of course I’d told myself before). I finished the manuscript, I wrote my query letter, and … amazingly! … got a few bites. One of them was my fabulous agent, who changed everything, and led me to where I am today!

And it’s a trilogy! Was that your intention all along?

I didn’t know if ARTICLE 5 would be two books, a series, or a trilogy, but I knew it wasn’t the end of Ember’s story.

Wow! What an incredible accomplishment. So what are you doing to celebrate?

I have a launch party on the 2nd of February at Inkwood Books, an indie bookstore in Tampa, Florida. My agent is coming, which is very exciting!

And we’re ultra stoked on your behalf! A final question: do you have any superstitions?

Normally, I’m not superstitious, but right now I am because the book is coming out! So any black cats I see – get away from me! If there’s a ladder in my garage, I tell my husband to close it. I won’t let umbrellas come in the house. I’m super paranoid about those kinds of things right now, but three months ago I wouldn’t have cared!

Thank you, Kristen. We look forward to Books Two and Three!

Kristen Simmons has a master’s degree in social work and is an advocate for mental health. She lives with her husband and their precious greyhound in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Find out more about her and her books at kristensimmonsbooks.com or www.facebook.com/author.kristensimmons.

This interview was conducted by Lucky 13s member Julia Mary Gibson as part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Apocalypsies – YA, MG, and children’s book authors 
debuting in 2012.

ARTICLE 5 is out today! Get it from your favorite indie bookstore, or online at Amazon, B&N, Inkwood Books, Macmillan.com.

4 comments:

  1. Congrats Kristen on your debut. I'm so excited for you. And I really enjoyed your book.

    Thanks for sharing your journey to publication. I think we can all relate to querying when we shouldn't have. So glad you stuck with it.

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  2. What a great post! And I'm not just talking about the formatting, LOL. I love hearing about other people's journey to publication. The book sounds wonderful. Looking forward to reading it!

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  3. ARTICLE 5 sounds amazing - I can't wait to read it. And thank you for sharing your publication journey. I'm so glad it worked out in the end.

    And also, YAY for another greyhound minion! Er… I mean owner. *coughs*

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