I first met the author on Instagram, and I was so honored to be able to read her debut novel before its release date! Listen up, you guys. If the sequels are anything like the first one, you're going to want to hop on this wagon right now.
After a series of deadly wars, America has been thrust into a post-Edison world where survival is contingent on how you defend what little you already have. Ellie lives on a farm with her stepmother, Theresa, and two stepsisters, and spends her time tending to the animals, and playing baseball at a ruined stadium with her best friend, Johnny. When Theresa marries again, she moves the girls into a mansion where Ellie is forced to act mute and helpless. When Ellie is suddenly imprisoned in the mansion, she creates a plan to escape and run away with Johnny. But her plan goes awry. There is more to Theresa and the sudden terrorist attacks on the town than she realizes.
This book is the post-apocalyptic anti-Cinderella you didn't know you needed. Ellie is super level-headed with a fierce heart. She the type of protagonist you can root for. The B characters are just as awesome, and three-dimensional. AND OMG did I love to hate Theresa. This wicked stepmother with an agenda is the worst and made for an A+ antagonist.
I did hope to get more of the post-war Texas; we're mostly set in this one small town. And I wanted a bit more from the antagonists, but I think the next book will satisfy that craving.
I loved the writing. It was breezy and easy to read. I flew through this book. It was like Divergent without all the fearscape weirdo things, and I actually liked Ellie, which is a step up from Tris.
Overall feelings: Loved it, and I cannot wait for book two and three.
Let's start the Q&A!
Where did you get the idea for Republic of Ruin?
- In 2016, I read the New York Times bestselling YA books from that year and was surprised to find that so many of them were Cinderella retellings. I had a few pet-peeves with that. For one, I didn't really understand the fascination with fairytales, so I did some research and found that I actually really loved them and what they represented and how versatile they could be. I realized it could work really well for speculative fiction, where the goal is to combine the familiar with the unfamiliar. I decided I wanted to write a Cinderella retelling, but one very different from the ones I'd read. No magic. Cinderella had to be badass, but she also had to mourn the death of her father and show scars from the abuse at the hands of her stepmother.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
- The hardest part about writing Book One was setting the stage for the next book and making sure the timelines worked out. Without giving spoilers, I'll just say that some minor events end up being bigger deals in Books Two and Three, and I had to make sure all the characters were where they needed to be for it to make sense. I also had to make sure that even though I knew the characters really well, I had to let Ellie tell the story her way. For instance, she adores her friend Johnny, but she sees him as a boy and less of a man, and even though it drove me crazy, I had to let her be the voice.
What is the key theme and/or message in the book?
- The fun thing about this book is that there are multiple themes and they'll stick out to different people at different stages of life. For me, though, loss was a big theme, and finding ways to appropriately mourn and then grow from the loss. Ellie Hudson lost her father, and America lost the war, so everyone is in a state of sorrow to begin with. I've had two tiny nieces pass away, one at five months old and one at a week old, and those losses hit me really hard. I wanted to write a fictional book that deals in emotional truth and one that everyone can relate to and grow from.
What do you love about writing dystopian novels?
- I love the "what if" of dystopian books. We all live in a dystopian world, though it's definitely more obvious after this COVID pandemic. No society has ever been a utopia, so playing with dystopians is really just a matter of exploring other possibilities for how our society could look.
Can you give some insight on what makes your main character tick?
- Ellie is extremely passionate. She's passionate about baseball and all that it represents to her, passionate about her ranch and hard work, and passionate about preserving her father's legacy and love for America as she tries to unite a divided and grief-stricken town. Ellie is also smart and tenacious, but she's not without her flaws. She's tough and resilient, but she also makes herself vulnerable.
Where do you get your ideas?
- I've learned that the best fiction comes from real life and the more I've taken from my life, the better the writing has become. I've been an Army wife for almost ten years now, so the military has become a huge part of my identity and I wanted to bring that into the story. As a cultural anthropologist, I think a lot about culture and how it changes over time and what I would hope we can hold onto from our history. As someone who has experienced heart-wrenching loss, I wanted to give readers a character who understands the complexities and guilt that come with loss, but also show them how to work through it. I lived in Texas for a few years and loved it there, and it made sense to me as a perfect setting for the trilogy. I love character-driven narrative, and I spent a lot of time developing my characters and I'll tell you what—once they get fleshed out, they really do drive the story. Sometimes I have to make course corrections, but they guide me and the story a lot of the time.
How many hours a day do you write?
- It really varies. At the beginning of a project, I don't write a lot. I think and research and read and think some more. I jot down ideas. But once I have a good grasp on the story and characters, I can write anywhere from 3-8 hours a day. I tend to write about 1,000 words an hour when I'm doing well, but there are also weeks when life gets busy, my kids need me, or my husband has work off, and then I don't write at all. But my idea is to write for three hours a day.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
-It made me a lot more cognizant of my errors in editing. I definitely took the editing process lightly before, and as a result, I had some embarrassing times with my editor. She was absolutely fantastic and she taught me how to edit better on my own, to make better use of drafting and revising. Writing and editing are not different creatures, and I needed to take more ownership over that step before passing the manuscript to an editor.
What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?
- Success is defined by progress. I set mini-goals and then longer-term goals. I have goals as small as, "write for ten minutes today," and goals as lofty as "write an entirely new trilogy in 2021.' To me, success is reaching as many of those goals as I can, challenging myself, learning from other writers, and experiencing growth. Success isn't an end goal, and it's not a one-size-fits-all, not even for one person. Success is in growth. Progress.
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