Monday, December 9, 2019

Interview with Alexandra L. Yates, author of Humans, Volume 1: The Mark

Today it gives the Speculative Fiction Showcase great pleasure to interview Alexandra L. Yates, author of Humans, Volume 1: The Mark

Your first career was working in finance and travelling the world. What started you on the journey that led you to where you are now and the writing of Humans, Volume 1?

I’ve already had two careers, most recently working in an activist NGO trying to protect the environment. The ability to switch careers taught me that, so long as we work hard to learn new things and are willing to adapt, it is possible to change and do whatever we want. Writing is my third career and came from an intersection of interests: I love reading and always dreamt to write, I wanted to spend more time at home with my children, and I wanted to produce something that could be positive for young people.

Let’s talk about your first book, Humans, Volume 1: The Mark. Your web-site describes it as “post-apocalyptic science fiction adventure”. What inspired you to write in this genre, and what audience would you like to read it?

I remember watching the popular movie WALL-E with my children years ago and thinking “Wow! This is a movie for children but with such a powerful message!” Science fiction allows you to be completely free in your creative process, and I guess I like this complete freedom.
The main target audience is clearly teenagers and young adults. But a lot of us still retain a youthful and idealistic outlook even as we get older!

The novel is set in 2125 and follows the adventures of eight young adults. But their future is based on a cataclysmic event in 2025, the Ecological Wars. So their past is our (near) future. What led you to imagine the story in those terms?

Working in a campaigning NGO, I spent quite some time thinking about the future and potential solutions that would lead to a peaceful and green future. What happens in my book in 2025 is exactly what should not happen, of course; but as a fiction writer, I let my imagination run wild thinking about what the world could look like in 100+ years if the worst-case scenario happened.

How did you deal with the idea of having eight main characters? Do you follow them all or focus on one or two?

I wanted to create diverse characters so each young adult reader could identify themselves in the book, and I follow each of them. Their personas develop throughout the series, and I wanted them to surprise me. I have tried to create multi-layered characters and, for me, their flaws are actually what makes them most interesting.

The introduction to the book describes the main characters as “destined to become leaders of the Red World Government”. This left me wondering whether the Red World is another planet, or a transformed earth. Can you say anything about this or would that involve spoilers?

That definitively would be a spoiler! You’ll just have to wait until further along in the story.

Is it safe to say that matters of climate change and ecological catastrophe in the here and now are an important driving force behind the novel?

In ‘This Changes Everything’, Naomi Klein explains that what we are experiencing now with climate change should be a civilizational wakeup call and a catalyst for transformation. We are at a moment of acute danger for the future of our human species and I want to be part of the climate action that helps pull us back from the brink. Writing this book is a way of being part of this movement.

What led you to write a science fiction story in particular, and why did that genre attract you?

As a teenager, I had so much pleasure (and sleepless nights!) from reading science fiction. I wanted to reproduce this feeling, not just for me, but for others as well.

On your web-site, you have a playlist or soundtrack for your book. Can you tell us a little about the soundtracks you chose, and why? Do any of the characters have their own leitmotif?

Music helps stimulate my imagination. Each part of the book was written while I listened to a specific song. When writing, I choose a song that corresponds to the mood that I’m trying to create, and listen again and again and again, sometimes for a whole month, and as soon as I listen to the song, I move into a kind of meditative state and I am back in the book. The theme song of Volume 1 is Something Just like This by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay. For Volume 2, it is Scared to be Lonely by Martin Garrix and Dua Lipa.

Will there be a sequel to Humans: The Mark and when can we expect it?

I am planning 4 books. Volume 2: Those Who Have the Mark will be out this month. I am actually very happy with the second one. I feared, at the start of it, that I would not be able to get the same inspiration as for the first one but somehow it worked !

Is there any science fiction writing that you enjoy, and what about current films in the genre?

As a teenager, I adored reading the Dune series from Frank Herbert and all the books of a French science fiction writer named René Barjavel. For current films, I of course like the Hunger Games and Divergent series. But for the past three years, since I started this project, I have been deliberately avoiding reading or watching science fiction, so as not to contaminate my imaginative process.

You write in French in the first instance. How do you deal with translation?

I am French but have worked nearly all my career in English, and this is also the language I mainly use with my husband. I have always continued to read fiction in French (while I read non-fiction in English), as this is my way to unwind at the end of a day. As a consequence, it was natural to write in French. But I wanted to publish in a language that my non-French speaking friends could actually read, so I decided to translate it into English as well. I finish the book in French first (fully edited) then I spend 4 weeks translating it. It is very tedious but it’s the only way to make sure the English version completely matches the French one. Then I go through several round of editing with some native English-speaking friends to fix the grammar and the style. That takes me another 6 weeks. Then, I am finally comfortable with publishing it.

You mention the importance of making women the lead characters in your writing. Why is this important to you, and is this a growing trend amongst women writers?

I have heard so many times from my daughter, my son and their friends that all the heroes in books are always boys, and even when female characters are strong, it is always the male who saves the day. I believe that literature needs more women as lead characters. This will change the perceptions of our little girls and boys, which, in turn, is critical if we want to realise true gender balance in our society.

It is odd how much pushback there seems to be about having women as ordinary characters. Odd partly because in some writing they have always been there. Why does it induce such violent reactions now?

We live in a period of great change where the role of women has evolved significantly in a very short period of time. I live in a country, Switzerland, where, in one Canton, women were only given the vote in 1971, a few years before I was born. A hundred years before that, women had no say at all in how society was run. Such rapid change over a few generations (in the context of the history of humanity), whatever change it would be, would induce violent reactions for those who have less resilience and are afraid of change and how it will affect them.

What are you reading now, and are there any films or TV series that you love?

I am reading the first book of Arnaldur Indriðason, Sons of Dust, who is an amazing Icelandic writer of crime fiction. I just finished the first season of Designated Survivor. I love it when I can’t go to bed because I have to finish a book or watch the next episode of a series. I am trying, in my books, to get the reader hooked and desperate to learn the secret, hence why I try to introduce mystery into the novels.

What are you planning next on the literary front? And do you have real concerns for 2025 and beyond?

Volume 2: Those Who Have the Mark will be out this month, and I am already writing the third. I hope to publish the third book next year, and the fourth one in 2021. I have to rush and finish the series before 2025! More seriously, I have tremendous concerns for the world we are damaging for our children, but I believe in them. The next generation sees the world differently, they are resilient and creative, and they will hopefully find the solutions where we have failed so far.

About Alexandra L. Yates:

Alexandra L. Yates started her career in finance working for a number of major international companies in France, Germany and the UK. After the birth of her two children, she was inspired to join an international NGO in Amsterdam and help make the world a better place for them to live. Now, she is embracing a new challenge through writing, and her debut novel is dedicated to all those fighting to save the planet. She currently resides in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland with her husband and children.

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