Meet Kevin Emerson, author of The Lost Code. Just released today, the book is a fast-paced adventure that blends sci-fi with a whole bunch of other genres. From my review:
The Lost Code resembles a YA version of the Percy Jackson series, but darker, and with Atlantis instead of the Greek myths. If I had to assign a genre, I’d aim for climate apocalypse/dystopia/YA fantasy/action-adventure summer camp tale, with a dash of the TV show Lost and a smidgeon of The Hunger Games.
And now, the interview:
Where did you get the idea to mix climate change dystopia with fantasy?
It was weirdly organic. Looking back, I don’t even quite get how it happened. A lot of seemingly unrelated stuff kind of fused together in my brain, and I feel like it was mostly subconscious at first.
That said, there were some concrete things: I read this book called The Atlantis Blueprint which got me thinking about what Atlantis may actually have been. Around that same time, a few years ago now, I wrote this scene where my main character, Owen, is drowning at summer camp, and mysteriously survives. It had Lilly, and the Siren, and the dome. It just kind of came out and I was like, ‘WTF is this?’ I knew I wanted it to connect to Atlantis, but I didn’t know how. Also, I’d wanted to write about summer camp for awhile, because that was a powerful experience for me in my own YA years.
The key to making it all fit was something from my Atlantis research: many ancient cultures have a very similar flood myth, and a similar idea of wise people arriving out of darkness with knowledge to share. There’s a possibility that the Atlantis culture predated the big Biblical flood event. Then, I read about how that flood event may have been connected to climate change. That was the big connection. I thought: we are facing a flood of our own, and the Atlanteans faced one.
The word ‘dystopia’ never actually crossed my mind, until my editor brought it up, though by definition it is accurate. I was just reading a lot of climate change articles and my science-major brain was thinking about where those possibilities could lead, and the results could be pretty bad!
Why Atlantis? And did the Atlantis theme require any kind of historical research?
The idea that excited me was the Atlantis may have predated cultures like Egypt, Sumeria or the Mesoamericans, that they may have been the “first” advanced culture that influenced those. And then, we might be in danger of being the last culture. I read quite a few books of Atlantis theory. Most of these books try to connect the similarities that exist between ancient cultures that were far apart geographically. There are a lot of interesting theories out there, and I combed through them looking for a narrative line. I also read a lot about climate change, and that also related to Atlantis. About the time that Atlantis may have been (and sunk), there was also a significant climate spike called the Holocene Thermal Maxiumum. This, in turn, was right around the time of the biblical flood. So I saw this nexus of possibility there. What if Atlaneans were around for the flood? What if the flood ended their reign? And even more, what if they caused the climate change that led that to happen?
Speaking of research, what did you look at for the climate change projections? Was that hard or did you enjoy the research?
I loved reading the climate change books. The books I read most thoroughly were The Flooded Earth, Weather of the Future, Storms of My Grandchildren, The World in 2050. I also got a lot of information from articles in the New York Times. I have a file of links to three years worth of science articles that I’d found.
Do you write by hand? on an ancient typewriter? in dead silence at home or in noisy cafes?
I write on the computer, 50/50 between a busy coffee shop here in Seattle and my house. I am one of the ‘hopefully-not-creepy’ regulars at the shop, and it’s nice to have the friendly baristas to banter with. There are other writers there, too. There are also students, who tend to study in herds and drive me a little bonkers, but I try my best not to be the curmudgeon in the corner seat. When I write at home, I do a lot of reading aloud, which is great, but I also get distracted by chores or by my own craziness.
There’s an interesting theme of bullying throughout the book. It’s a very timely subject, something that’s been in the news a lot lately. Do you think you were influenced, either consciously or not, by current events?
Bullying has always been on my mind from classroom teaching. My first book, Carlos Is Gonna Get It, in 2008, was centered around bullying. Group dynamics are so powerful and influential on kids. I see this constantly in the classroom, and I am even starting to see it in my daughter’s life (she’s 6).
It was personal, too. There really was a kid at my overnight camp my first year named, not Leech but close, who was the veteran camper and ringleader, and I was one of the kids on the near-bottom rung who didn’t have it the worst but not the best either. It was a hard two weeks, and I really did fail a swim test (not by drowning), and I tried to talk with a girl but my self doubt failed me. Unlike Owen, things didn’t improve over a period of a week. It took me a few summers to really become a stronger member of the camp / cabin dynamics.
I imagine you’re hard at work on books 2 and 3 of the trilogy, but do you already have other book ideas in mind once the trilogy is done?
I have a few things I’ve been dreaming of doing, but most of it is tucked away until this Atlanteans business is finished. I am turning in revisions on Book 2 this month. It’s a really weird and savage book. I’m still kind of surprised / mystified by it. I went places I wasn’t expecting.
I have an unrelated book coming out in January 2013, for middle grade readers (younger) called The Fellowship for Alien Detection. I’ve been working on it for nearly ten years! Many rewrites, but it’s pretty cool now. There’s a boy who talks to a crystal in that, too! Yikes! The danger of working on too many things when your brain is under the same creative influences.
If you could visit any time and place in (real) history, where would you go?
Antarctica: I tried to suggest that to my wife for a honeymoon. Mars: sign me up! And East Africa before the colonials arrived.
Name three authors you’d love to meet for a long fireside chat.
Two of them would require the Ouija board: Kurt Vonnegut (all I read in college) and David Foster Wallace (all I read just after college). The third would be Stephen King (all I read in high school).
Most wanted superpower?
That’s a tough one. Probably flight, it’s the most practical and it would save a ton of cash. Plus, it would be fun to go to REI and find the perfect gear for those temperatures. Second would be the ability to ignore coffee shop conversations and negative reviews. Like the mental version of how a duck’s feathers repel water.
Name one real life superpower you already possess.
I really make a fine omelette.