Describe ILLUMINAE in a couple of sentences.
It’s a sci-fi mystery/thriller/romance told through a series of hacked documents—IMs, emails, surveillance footage, medical reports, and rantings of an insane artificial intelligence. It’s Battlestar Galactica meets 10 Things I Hate About You.
How did the idea for your book originate? What was your inspiration? Was there a particular event, circumstance, or something else that spurred you to write your first book together?
Jay: Amie had an anxiety dream that we wrote a book together (she couldn’t remember what it was about), and in the dream, the book was written in emails. When she told me about it, it sounded like an idea so crazy it might work. I’m from a design background and I’d been playing around with the idea of an alt-format book for a while, and it seemed like a foundation we could use to come up with something really insane different.
Amie: In terms of the content itself, we drew on a huge variety of influences that we both grew up with, from Battlestar Galactica to Firefly to Clarke and Asimov to a pile of our favorite action movies. We were motivated by the chance to introduce these ideas and themes to a new generation of readers, and to continue on in the tradition that inspired us. And while doing all that, we wanted to challenge the conventional idea of what a book should be. Easy, right? . . . right?
Please describe the greatest challenge you faced in writing this book—why it was difficult and how you resolved it.
Jay: There were a lot. It took us two and half years to pull this thing together. The design elements were a huge challenge—with a normal book, you finish your copy edits and you’re done. With ILLUMINAE, there was a whole other level of production, and given I used to be an art director for a living and am something of a control freak (he says, only half joking), I was heavily involved in that side of things, too. I’m sure our design team wanted to burn me in effigy by the end of it (he says, again only half joking). But we had an awesome crew working on this book, and everyone brought their A game, so the love really shows on every page.
Amie: Another challenge was in making sure that the narrative stood up as a strong story without any of the formatting. Although you can’t separate out the story from the way we tell it in ILLUMINAE, we wanted to make sure that the characters had depth, that our plot had all the twists and turns, surprises and swoons and drama that you’d hope for in a book you love. We wanted the story to be good enough that even if it had been written in the conventional way, readers would love it—and then we wanted to meld it with the alternate format we’d chosen. So that meant really looking at every character arc and every inch of the plot, and making it stand up to the standards we’d set.
How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?
Jay: Llllllots. Most of the ideas that people have about space come from Hollywood, and Hollywood tends to get things pants-on-head wrong, or just ignore science for the sake of spectacle. So we had an astrophysicist buddy trawl through the first draft, and she came back with twenty-five pages of notes for us on the way space actually works. We had a white-hat friend go over all of Kady’s computer hackery, making sure it was legit. We consulted doctors and police and psychiatrists (for the book, not for ourselves). So even though this is science fiction, the science is 100% solid.
Amie: And one cool thing about doing all that research is that sometimes your experts come up with ways to make the story even more interesting. You’ll get a doctor coming back and saying, “Hey, so the disease you’re inventing would affect this part of the brain, but did you know that this part of the brain lives right next door to it, so I wonder if . . . ?”
In ILLUMINAE, do you relate to any of the characters? How and why?
Jay: I think General Torrence and AIDAN both resonate with me the most. They’re opposite ends of the same spectrum; the moral and the amoral, both coming to grips with the concept of doing Bad Things for the Greater Good. I really love AIDAN—it gave us the opportunity to ask some really hard questions about morality, humanity, immortality. I think it’s the deepest character I’ve ever written, which is odd considering it’s a machine. I dunno what it says about me that the mass-murdering artificial intelligence affected me the most. Nothing good, probably.
Amie: Man, that says all kinds of concerning things. Though possibly more concerning is that I totally get what you mean. As for me, I put a lot of myself into Kady. A lot of the stuff she says reflects my internal monologue, and I would love her just for the fact that she has sass for every occasion, but there’s a lot more than that. In a lot of ways, she’s a very ordinary person who’s found herself in a terrifying situation—and rather than suddenly becoming superhuman to face it, she just gets on with it, even though she’s scared. She doesn’t always get it right, but she doesn’t stop trying.
What important lesson do you want the reader to take away from this book?
Jay: Our cover designer, Ray, nailed it. He hid an Easter egg–style message on his amazing cover (he didn’t even tell us he was doing it). Go look for it. It says everything I want to say.
Amie: I have nothing to add to that.
What can we look forward to in the next book of this series?
Jay: New faces. Old favorites. Panty-soiling horror. The answers to why help never arrived at the Kerenza colony from Heimdall station. We’re pitching the next book as “Die Hard meets Alien.” Make of that what you will!
Amie: The next book will feature new characters you haven’t met yet, but to answer what’s already an FAQ: those who make it out of ILLUMINAE alive (which isn’t everyone!) will appear again. But you’ll also meet a badass girl with killer fashion sense and a guy who’s so bad he’s good.
Why do you prefer to write YA over adult novels? Would you write an adult book in the future?
Jay: I do a bit of both. I have a solo series called Nevernight starting next year that’s more adult—it still has a teen girl as the protagonist, but there’s probably too much sexytimes for it to be classified as pure YA. But I’ve never really set out with an audience in mind—I just write the story as it unfolds in my head. The YA community is incredible, though. There’s so much energy and passion, love and enthusiasm among YA readers. And there’s a few more female protagonists over here, which, as a card-carrying member of the cult of Furiosa, can only be a good thing. There tends to be a lot of dicks on the dance floor in adult fantasy.
Amie: I’ll never say never, but at the moment I have no plans to write an adult book. I love the YA community, and I love the stories we tell. YA stories explore a lot of questions that continue to interest me—stories about discovery and transformation and self. Also, there’s simply the fact that whenever I sit down to write, kickass teen characters tend to show up!
What is the appeal of writing fantasy/sci-fi books? Would you ever write a book in another genre? If so, what?
Jay: Well, the appeal of writing fantasy and sci-fi should be pretty self-evident—it’s fucking awesome. I mean, how many authors can say they have their own spaceship designer? To me, the greatest novels are the ones that hold up
a dark mirror to our world, and explore it by showcasing another. As for writing another genre, I have an erotic comedy/spy thriller/self-help bible in my trunk, but I can’t get any editor to read it.
Amie: Again, I’ll never say never, but it’s hard to imagine leaving fantasy and sci-fi! As Jay says, stories are a way of looking at our own world in new ways, and sometimes echoing it in other worlds—whether they’re full of magic, or simply far into the future—which helps us see things more clearly than the familiar. I love telling stories on an epic scale, and I also love blowing stuff up, which you get to do a lot more in science fiction . . .
If you could create a sound track for ILLUMINAE, what songs would you pick and why?
Jay: Be warned, my taste in music frightens children:
Bleed — Meshuggah (I listened to the track on constant repeat when writing AIDAN. It just puts me in the headspace of an insane AI. Probably not a great endorsement for the band.)
Lovesong — The Cure (sums up Kady and Ezra for me perfectly. Hey, I’m a child of the ’80s, okay?)
Lateralus — Tool (the song I was listening to when I thought of the book title)
Horizons — Parkway Drive (a song about impermanence—sums up a lot of AIDAN’s thoughts on mortality)
Hospital for Souls — Bring Me the Horizon (I played this for Amie when she was writing Kady’s counseling scenes. Sums up the whole “futility of sitting in a circle talking about your feelings” thing. I’m always one for doing, not talking.)
Amie: Unlike Jay’s, my taste in music does not frighten small children and animals. I’ve learned now to turn the volume down on my laptop before playing anything he sends me. I’m . . . kind of starting to get used to it, though. I’ll add a couple to the list. It’s worth noting that music meant so much to us when we were writing this book that we thanked a bunch of musicians in our acknowledgments.
Madness — Muse, specifically the Live at Rome Olympic Stadium version (This is my ultimate ILLUMINAE song, full of glitches and Kady and Ezra’s arguments and questions about love, and the madness of the title. I listened to it for hours writing this book. Warning: has swearing.)
You Told the Drunks I Knew Karate — Zoey Van Goey (This is a fun, very funny song about being helplessly in love with someone who drags you along in their wake. . . . It makes me think of Ezra with Kady, in the happy times before the book begins.)
Closer — Joshua Radin (The quiet wistfulness of this one gets me every single time.)
Starlight — Muse (This one’s just epic. “Our hopes and expectations . . . black holes and revelations . . .” Perfect for ILLUMINAE.)
If someone took a peek into your writer’s room, what would they see?
Jay: Me. A dog. A beanbag. Empty cans of Red Bull. Ugg boots. Lots and lots of books.
Amie: I love my study! It’s my little nest. My walls are lined with bookshelves floor to ceiling, and I have a big leather chair I sit in to read, or when I just need to change up where I’m at. I’ve got a desk by the window, lots of little clippings and postcards stuck up all over the window frame for inspiration, and I have a TreadDesk as well, which I work at a lot of the time.
What is your work schedule when writing a new book?
Jay: Pretty much this:
Amie: Yup, that looks pretty accurate. I don’t really have a set time of day that I prefer to write. The important thing is to turn off the Internet and just push through for a few hours at a time.
Which books and authors do you feel have influenced your writing?
Jay: William Gibson, Douglas Adams, George Orwell, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Rice, China Miéville, Paolo Bacigalupi, Alan Moore, Chuck Palahniuk, Neil Gaiman, Drew Hayes.
Amie: Meagan Spooner, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Jules Verne, Spider Robinson, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Frederick Forsyth, Guy Gavriel Kay, Isaac Asimov, Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, George R. R. Martin . . . so many more!
What is your favorite book, author, movie, TV show?
Book: Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
Author: Too hard to pick, honestly.
Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
TV Show: The Wire
Book: The Dark Is Rising – Susan Cooper
Author: Ask me to pick a favorite limb, why don’t you?
Movie: The Blues Brothers
TV Show: The West Wing
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
Jay: Time travel. Bye-bye, deadline problems! Plus, you could jump ahead and learn how your next book ended, rather than trying to figure it out yourself.
Amie: I’d like to be able to fly. There’s really no practical use for it, but I have these dreams about flying . . .
What are some of your recent YA reads that you’d recommend?
All the Rage — Courtney Summers. Because it’s brilliant and every high school in the world should make it mandatory reading. Book of the year for me, hands down.
Dreams of Gods & Monsters — Laini Taylor. Laini’s writing is absolutely wonderful, and as far as a series closer, it’s one of the best I’ve ever read.
More Happy than Not — Adam Silvera. Because it’s funny and sad and brave and wow all at once. Moreover, it breaks all the YA molds, and we need more books out there doing that.
Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo. Because it’s everything I ever wanted. A total page-turner with a cast of characters I never want to let go.
Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin. Gripping alternate history that kept me guessing at every turn, and had one of the most visceral settings I’ve ever read.
Willful Machines – Tim Floreen. Because it’s smart and brave and full of questions that matter, wrapped in a story that hurtles along at a cracking pace.
The Hush – Skye Melki-Wegner. If you loved Firefly, this is for you—a YA western with a music-based magic system and a band of criminals I adored.
The Rose Society – Marie Lu. I couldn’t put this down, and I didn’t want to. Marie Lu builds worlds I never imagined before I stepped inside them, and this was dark and dangerous and utterly irresistible.
What has been the greatest influence in encouraging you to write and become a published author?
Jay: My wife. This was a crazy dream of mine, and she’s never once been anything but ultra-supportive. She’s my harshest critic and biggest fan and is 100% made of awesome.
Amie: Can I pick two? I’m picking two. My husband, absolutely—nobody gets it like a writer’s partner does, because nobody is there to see them do all the things they do to make this happen. But in my case, I actually did have two people. Meagan Spooner (my co-author on These Broken Stars) was our flatmate, and she was unstoppable in her belief in my writing and her support. I guess what Jay and I are both saying is that the people around you, who really, really believe in you—they can be the difference.
What are you reading now?
Jay: The Young Elites — Marie Lu
Amie: The Immortal Heights – Sherry Thomas
Any words of wisdom or advice to aspiring writers?
Jay: Believe in yourself. This life is full of people who will tell you that you can’t. That you won’t. That you shouldn’t even try. Don’t spare them a second, or a breath. Leave them to their “can’t” and “won’t” and “shouldn’t.” Being a writer is a hard and often lonely road, but the way to reach the end is to just keep walking. The next step you take could be the brilliant one.
Amie: Just get the writing done. Don’t talk, blog, daydream, or tweet about writing more than you actually write. Focus on getting your words on the page, and make sure you run your own race. Don’t compare, don’t worry about what other people have, what other people are doing. Keep writing, keep believing, and follow your own path. Sounds simple—hard to do!
Illuminae is available to order and lands on shelves on October 20th.
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Library Binding: 978-0-553-49912-4