This round of Reducing the Reading pile is a first for me because I’m going to be solely focusing on the upcoming release of Elected, the first book in a trilogy sure to be a hit in the young adult (YA) dystopian genre. This is the first publication for the author, Rori Shay, and I was fortunate to get an early preview because Rori also happens to be a good friend of mine. Prior to her book launch today, Earth Day, she was very generous and allowed me to interview her on her exciting new novel, the road to becoming a published author, and what’s in store for the remaining two books in the series. Of course, the serious talk could only start after we were done playing in the kitchen, making anise-flavored caramel treats for her book launch party. (The book references hemlock, which has an anise-like taste, hence the flavored candy.)
Synopsis: It’s the year 2185, and in two weeks, Aloy will turn eighteen and take her father’s place as president of the country. But to do so, she must masquerade as a boy to avoid violating the Eco-Accords, four treaties designed to bring the world back from the brink of environmental extinction. Aloy hopes to govern like her father, but she is inheriting a different country. The long concealed Technology Faction is stepping out of the shadows, and as turmoil grows within her country, cryptic threats also arrive from beyond their borders.
As she struggles to lead, Aloy maintains her cover by marrying a woman, meanwhile battling feelings for the boy who knows her secret – the boy who is somehow connected to her country’s recent upheaval. When assassination attempts add to the turmoil, Aloy doesn’t know whom to trust. She understood leadership required sacrifice. She just didn’t realize the sacrifice might be her life.
Elected was released nationwide on April 22, 2014, with the second book following soon thereafter in November. Get your copy at the Amazon e-book store!
Learn, Live, and Explore (LLE): Hi Rori!
Rori Shay (RS): Hi!
LLE: OK, I’m going to jump right in! When did you first discover your passion for writing?
RS: Oh that’s easy! I was in first grade, and on a car ride I wrote a short story about a rainbow. My teacher had me read it out loud in front of the class, and I’ve been writing short stories ever since. When my husband went to school for his MBA, I needed something to do quietly, next to him and by myself, if I ever wanted to spend time with him while he was studying all the time. So, I started writing my first two novels, which didn’t end up getting published. (Note: Elected is Rori’s third novel)
LLE: How have you managed a full-time career, a family, and the demands of a writing schedule?
RS: My husband would say, “Me!” I actually wrote the first two books of the Elected series while I was on maternity leave with my two kids. So that was a big chunk of time. Then I was part-time for a little while, so I would spend one day a week writing. Now, I devote a lot of time after the kids got to bed. We don’t watch as much TV as we used to, or if I’m watching TV I’m doing something for the book at the same time. I just try to capture any spare minute I can, even if it’s waiting for a meeting to start and having my notebook nearby to jot down notes on the outline or using time on the metro ride to and from work.
LLE: As you said before, this is not your first book you’ve written. What was the road to becoming a published novelist like?
RS: That is such a complicated story. First, I wrote a couple books that never got picked up, and I know a lot of published authors say that they have a drawer full of books before their actual book got picked up. When Elected was written, I started querying agents, but I was really unprofessional. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I sent out query letters that weren’t very good. And I had only read through the first draft, which had mistakes all through it. Then, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, got more “professionalized” and learned how to query better. After I queried 82 agents, the 82nd finally said “yes.” She found me a publisher, but one month ago that publisher went under. It was only through networking and social media that I found a new publisher, who also is connected to one of the authors quoted on my cover.
LLE: Your first novels – the Girl Classified series – were more in the “chick lit/funny” category. What was your inspiration to move into the popular young adult/dystopian genre?
RS: It was what I was liking to read at that time, and I felt like it carried more of a message. I was tired of the funny stuff, where she found the boy in the end. I wanted to have the romance, but I wanted it to have a message too. I wanted to talk about tolerance, global warming, and environmental preservation. The idea for Elected, I just woke up one day with it and wrote it all down.
LLE: Did you find it to be more enjoyable writing a novel that takes place in the future because it opens up the opportunities for your imagination to create a whole new world rather than staying in the confines of modern day?
RS: Yes, I wanted to show exactly what happens when global warming occurs and how people react to it. I didn’t want to just have an apocalypse without understanding how it happened, like with Hunger Games and Divergent. I wanted to tell you exactly what transpired, and how politicians would behave.
LLE: Did you know that Elected was going to be the first book in a trilogy?
LLE: How is the approach to a trilogy different than writing a stand alone novel?
RS: I think it has to have hooks on the end of each book that make you want to keep reading further. With every novel, your character has to be somebody that people care about; but if they are going to follow you for an entire trilogy, they’ve got to be really invested in that main character.
LLE: Did you find it more difficult or easier to write in this longer format?
RS: It’s so funny because I only used to write short stories, and I never thought I had the longevity to write a novel. Now, I find it’s easier to write longer trilogies.
LLE: Talking about Elected specifically, I really enjoyed how you developed your characters and their environment in the first part of the book. It was sophisticated writing, set the stage well, and you gifted yourself with the flexibility to delve into the complexities of the plot. Of course, I’m also predisposed to loving any setting that includes familiar places from our mutual home of the Washington D.C. Metro region.
RS: Did you watch the video on my kickstarter campaign? All five of the pre-apocalypse D.C. attractions featured in the book are in that video – the horse statue, the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, the Ellipse, and the Washington Monument.
LLS: Oh neat, I’m going to have to go watch it! So without giving away too much, you made some very bold choices for your lead character, Aloy. First, why did you make the decision that the Elected position could only be held by a male?
RS: I wanted to create the controversy. While there were a lot of female leaders by the year 2100, I wanted them to realize that after an apocalypse, what’s the most important thing to do when you have a “zero” population. It is growing the population, so they made rules that repopulating was going to take priority and everything revolves around that, even who the Elected should be. While that may seem prejudiced, you watch over time in the book how some of those rules need to be broken, how they get broken, and which ones stay.
LLE: What are your expectations for reader reactions to the complex relationships between Aloy, Vienne, and Griffin?
RS: I wanted to do a love triangle, but I didn’t want it to be traditional with a girl and two guys, like many of the YA books. I wanted it to be a girl and a guy both going after a girl, and to talk about gender roles.
LLE: Do you think Vienne really loves Aloy, or has she been trained to think she loves her?
RS: Oh absolutely loves her!
LLE: Are you prepared to field comparisons with other hit series: Divergent and The Hunger Games?
RS: I would love to field those comparisons! I would be honored and humbled!
LLE: Last, but not least, is the fun question. Who is going to play the young trio in the movie?
RS: I want Nicholas Hoult for Griffin, but with dark, dark hair and longer than he normally has it in movies. For Aloy, I like the woman who plays Daenerys on “Game of Thrones” – Emilia Clarke. Then for Vienne, I’ve changed my mind a lot of times. She has to be really beautiful with long, almost whitish hair.
Here are my thoughts on actors: Maisie Williams or Sophie Turner from “Game of Thrones” for Aloy; Elle Fanning or Ariana Grande for Vienne; and, Torrance Coombs from the CW Network’s “Reign” for Griffin. I showed Rori the photo of Torrance Coombs, and may have sold her on the idea.
Also check out the Elected Kickstarter campaign for a great way to support Rori and her desire to get the book published in the traditional hardback format, in addition to paperback and e-book. There are several ways to donate, and maybe get a little book related souvenir in return!