An interview with Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman, authors of Illuminae (+ a giveaway!)

Please welcome Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff to the blog! They kindly talked about they’re new book, Illuminae, and courtesy of the publisher, we’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky US winner!
What made you decide to collaborate on a book? Will you tell us a little about how Illuminae came about?

We were just buddies at first—we used to get together for brunch and talk shop every month or so. One morning, Amie walked in and said she’d had a dream we wrote a book together. She couldn’t remember what it was about, only that it was a book written in emails. But after throwing the idea around for a while, we decided it didn’t sound that crazy and gave it a shot. What was the worst that could happen?

Aside from the book being terrible and us gouging each other’s eyes out, that is.

What made you decide on the unique structure of the book?

Well, we started with that original dream idea—a SciFi book written in email form. After tooling around on it for a while and coming up with the premise—that the book would be a collection of hacked files pulled together at the request of a mysterious corporation—we expanded the format to much broader in scope. Medical reports, security cam footage, IM conversations, even movie posters and comic books. But it was after we decided AIDAN (the Battlecarrier Alexander’s artificial intelligence, which has taken one too many missile hits in the brainmeats) would become a narrator that we really understood how wild we could make these files. Having AIDAN’s madness influence the way the files read and would be read was the real air guitar moment.

Why do you think Kady and Ezra are such compelling characters? Why do you think readers will root for them?

Because they’re just normal kids. So many YA books are about Chosen Ones, or people with Special Powerz, or Orphaned Heirs to the Realm or whatever. And don’t get us wrong, we love reading those! But ILLUMINAE has none of that. K&E are just normal teenagers with normal problems, and all of a sudden they’re thrown into the middle of this interstellar war. No super powers. No prophecies. Just two people seeing that things aren’t right, and deciding to change it. People who know they might not make it to the end of the war, but choose to fight anyway. To us, people like that are the real heroes.

Although, Kady’s snark is almost a super power, now we think of it . . .

What supporting characters did you enjoy writing the most?

For Jay, probably McNulty. He starts out as this jock-humor, teabagging jokes kind of guy, but in the depths of Hangar Bay 4, we really get to see what he’s made of. I actually named him after a character in The Wire, which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. You should watch it. For real.

For Amie, probably Byron Zhang. He’s a hacker who mentors Kady, and there was a lot about him that was different to the sorts of things I’d usually write—he’s older than my regular characters, for a start, and he’s also got a lot more life experience. He has a complicated relationship with Kady, and with those around him on the ship, and though he’d be the first to say he’s not a hero, ultimately he’s tested—as is everyone in this story.

What made you decide to set the book in 2575? What kind of research was done for the book?

This is SciFi, so a lot of the technology we’re playing with is purely speculative. But we talked to an astrophysicist friend about a timeframe humanity would require to not only develop a means to travel interstellar distances, but also spread out to such a degree that an attack like the one that kicks off the book wouldn’t be noticed. 500 years was considered minimum safe distance.

Most of the ideas people have about the way space works comes from Hollywood, and Hollywood tends to drop-kick facts for the sake of theater. So for research, we devoured anything we could find about space. We actually thanked Hank Green and the team at SciShow Space in the back of the book, because their work is incredible (and incredibly funny). Commander Chris Hadfield’s videos from the ISS were also a huge inspiration, although we forgot to thank him in the acknowledgments. 

We had a whole team of consultants read through the text and call us on anywhere we’d done boo boo. We talked to doctors and psychologists, computer hackers (who we can’t name for legal reasons) police officers, military people, astrophysicists, you name it. So even though we were writing this horror romance thriller with insane AIs and explosions in spaaaaaaaace, all the science is 100% legit.

Will you tell us more about your collaboration and your writing process?

Mostly, it starts at the pub. Amie eats chips and Jay smashes bourbon and then we throw around plot ideas and concepts until we find ones that feel right. We plot about 100 pages in advance—you can’t get too far ahead of yourself, since books like ILLUMINAE tend to change quite dramatically as you write them and think up cooler ideas.

Writing duty is usually divided up along character lines. All our IM conversations are done in real time with no script—we just ad lib until we’re happy. We’re constantly editing and discussing the other’s work, so by the end, the lines become very blurred. It’s challenging and time-consuming and an amazing amount of fun. 

What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading SFF?

Good SF to us is always the SF that explores issues we’re facing here and now. Science Fiction is great way to hold a mirror up to modern society, to look at ourselves and the problems we’re facing and making for ourselves in a new light. In ILLUMINAE, we get to ask a few of the big questions. What makes us human? Can evil committed in the name of a greater good really be called evil? What price would you pay to tell the truth?

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

Amie: THE DARK RISING by Susan Cooper

Jay: I AM THE CHEESE by Robert Cormier.

What are you currently reading?

Jay: SIX OF CROWS by Leigh Bardugo.

Amie: THE IMMORTAL HEIGHTS by Sherry Thomas

What comes next?

Touuuuuuuur! We’re doing a few appearances in Australia in October, then headed to the States in November to promote Illuminae. You can find all the tour stops here. You should come out and see us!

Amie wraps up her Starbound trilogy with THEIR FRACTURED LIGHT in December. Jay’s new fantasy series kicks of with NEVERNIGHT in May 2016. And of course, we have the second ILLUMINAE FILES book coming out in October. No rest for the wicked!

Keep up with Jay: Website | Twitter

Keep up with Amie: Website | Twitter

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About Illuminae:
This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra–who are barely even talking to each other–are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.