Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eleven Up: Interview With Beth Revis

It's here! The long-awaited release of Beth Revis' debut novel ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is finally here!

Here's a description of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Penguin/Razorbill) from Goodreads: Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.
Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.
Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming. 

Now don't you want to read more? Beth was kind enough to answer some questions about her writing life and AtU.

I had trouble coming up with questions other than, "So, how'd you get so awesome?" But really, how did you? 
Psh. I'm not awesome at all. Any awesomeness I get, I get from rubbing shoulders with all the other awesome writers out there. 

Although ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is science fiction, people who don't usually read science fiction will enjoy it too. Are you a sci-fi reader yourself? What genres do you like to read?
I am not actually a big sci-fi reader. As in long, epic adult sci-fi. I really don't like it, I think because I care more about characters than setting. I have the same problem with adult fantasy. In adult sci-fi and fantasy, there's a rather large number of pages devoted to setting--in sci fi, you don't just have the spaceship, you also have how the spaceship works, the science behind it, behind everything it can do. And that's GREAT for some readers, including my husband. But my eyes glaze over and I skip to the part where things are being blown up. YA sci fi and fantasy don't dwell on setting; they stick to the plot and characters. So that's what I read.

This is your first published novel, but have you written other manuscripts? 
Have I written other manuscripts? *snerk* A giant wave of laughter ripped across the blogosphere. I wrote for ten years--and I wrote ten novels--before I found a novel that was worth publication. 

What do you think made the difference in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE--the subject matter or a more compelling plot, for example, or the quality of your writing?
My eleventh novel, ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, was different from the other novels in nearly every way. It was sci fi, not fantasy, it was told in first person point of view, not third, and it was written in present tense. I was convinced it wouldn't sell...but of them all, that's the one that made it. I think ten years of practice certainly helped with the quality, too!

You wrote the manuscript fairly quickly, and while you were working as a teacher. When I was a teacher it was enough of an effort to roll out of bed and brush my hair in the morning. Even with holidays and summers off, you accomplished so much in those few months. What was your writing schedule like during that time?
I don't know if it was quick to write, (it wasn't NaNo speed)--I started in the spring semester, finished in mid-summer, and started subbing to agents in the fall. I wrote during breaks--weekends and spring break, and every holiday. I watched very little TV that year. I look back at it now, and I'm still in shock that I wrote it while teaching. I LOVE teaching, but it sucks away your life. It's a job you can't quit at the end of the day. 

Who reads your manuscripts before you submit them? Do you belong to a critique group?
I have rounds of beta readers--I send a rough draft to some for big-picture stuff, then a second draft to the next round. I've found that full manuscript reads are better for me, at the time, than critique groups--although I've been a member of several crit groups in the past and value them greatly.

Are you still teaching, or is writing your full-time job now? What does your typical writing day look like?
Full-time writing! THANK GOD. I mean, I loved loved loved teaching, but it is so hard to do both. Unfortunately, the writing habits of while I was teaching stuck--I write in huge, long bursts, sometimes 10+ hours in one day, and then write nothing for days.

Most of the story takes place aboard the spaceship Godspeed. How did you plan the layout and the structure of the society aboard the ship?
I honestly have no idea. That's terrible, isn't it? But the basic idea and layout of the ship existed from the beginning. Some things got invented on the way, but for the most part, Godspeed was with me from the start.

One difference between ATU and other dystopian novels is the unfamiliarity of the society. Usually the main character is at least somewhat accustomed to the way things are, but Amy is dropped into this society that's unfamiliar to her in every way. Was there some personal experience or something you'd read that influenced that decision to make Amy a stranger in her new home? 
That stemmed in a large part from the fact that when I went to college, it felt very much as if I was dropped, alone, into a new world. That was the first time I realized that my parents couldn't always be there to save me. A lot of those feelings went into Amy. 

Which came first for you--the characters, the idea for the setting, or the plot?
The twist at the end of the story. I built everything--the setting, the characters--around that twist at the end.

AtU is told from alternating points of view--Amy's and Elder's. Did you know from the beginning that's how you'd write it, or was that a decision you came to later?
That was something I knew from the beginning--it was needed to make that plot twist work at the end. ;)

Many of us read that enticing first chapter online, in which Amy was faced with a decision that was literally life-changing. So what would you have done if you were in the same position? Join your parents and hop into the cryo tank to move to a new planet, or run out the door so you could stay home?
I would have gone...I think. I'm not sure. It's not the pain or the years of travel, it's the fear that when you finally get there, it won't be worth it. That's a lot to give up on a chance.

Tell us a little about your journey to publication.
Oh, it's a boring story. I wrote for ten years, and wrote ten unpublished novels, then started AtU. I had ZERO publication credits, ZERO "in"s, ZERO anything...just the manuscript. I found my agent, who I adore, straight from the slush pile, and she sold AtU to Penguin/Razorbill.

After you found your agent and editor, how much revising did AtU need before it was ready for publication?
ACROSS THE UNIVERSE didn't need a crazy amount of revision. You know, other than the 12-page edit letter (single-spaced) and the line and copy edits and... But you know what? Book 2? DANG, that was a lot of revision before I even sent it to my editor!

What are you working on now?
JUST finished the draft of Book 2 that I sent to my editor. I'll start working on edits of Book 2 and start Book 3 soon. 

What book are you reading now?
I'm nearly done with THE NEAR WITCH by Victoria Schwab. It's lovely.

Just so we're all prepared, I think it's wise to end with an apocalypse readiness question. Favorite weapon for fighting off zombies?
My husband! When Z-Day hits, I'm relying on him.

After reading the book I still think about the characters now and then and wonder how Amy and Elder are doing, so I know readers will be thrilled that AtU is a trilogy. See more on the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE official website, and check out the trailer here.

Thanks so much to Beth for taking the time to answer our questions!


  1. Hooray! I might just have to go out in the snowstorm today...

  2. This is too exciting to express in words.

  3. Great interview! I'm waiting for AtU to be delivered. I ordered it a few days ago with a few other debuts. Can't wait to read it!

  4. I cannot wait to read this book! I pre-ordered it, so I know it's sitting on the bookstore shelf, waiting for me.

  5. I've been looking forward to this book for a long time! Can't wait! Thank you for the great interview, Beth and Lynne.

  6. Wow, your 11th novel debuts on 1-11-11. The signs are favorable (sayeth the Magic 8 ball) for a blockbuster. Seriously, tho, AtU is a fantastic book. If you haven't read yet, go forth and get it now!

  7. Thanks for the interview! I am so excited to read this book -- I've been hearing about it for months.

  8. Just ordered this; can't wait to read it. Congratulations Beth!

  9. Yay! I can't wait to read this. Congrats, Beth!!!

  10. Thank you for the interview with Beth.
    Congratulations on your debut release Beth!
    Good interview too.
    All the best,

  11. Thanks for all the comments so far, everyone! If you haven't read Across the Universe, it's for sure worth getting-- even if you do have to venture out in a snowstorm!

    And um...now that I'm looking at the post on a different computer, I realize I totally used an old lady font size.

  12. Thanks for sharing Beth! I'm wondering if you think any of those ten previous novels might have a chance, eventually? And what genre were they in?

    Congratulations on the release of what is sure to be a best seller - I myself can't wait to read it (my 12 yo has read the first chapter five times and has a B&N gift card burning a hole in her pocket for it -- which unfortunately means I have to wait for her to read it first :(

    And -- tangled web alert -- kudos to Lynne who is one of my esteemed critique partners -- on a fantastic site and interview!

    All best,

  13. great interview!
    i just cracked this book open last night and am nearly done. loving it. :)

  14. Congratulations, Beth! I think you have to face the fact of being awesome.

  15. Great interview. 10 years, wow. I just finished the book I was reading which means ... Across the Universe is next on my list!