Gettin’ Lucky: an interview with Phoebe North, author of STARGLASS

Today, Phoebe North’s debut Starglass goes out into the world, and we’re celebrating the occasion! Take a look at the awesome cover and blurb:

STARGLASS coverTerra has never known anything but life aboard the Asherah, a city-within-a-spaceship that left Earth five hundred years ago in search of refuge. At sixteen, working a job that doesn’t interest her, and living with a grieving father who only notices her when he’s yelling, Terra is sure that there has to be more to life than what she’s got.

But when she inadvertently witnesses the captain’s guard murdering an innocent man, Terra is suddenly thrust into the dark world beneath her ship’s idyllic surface. As she’s drawn into a secret rebellion determined to restore power to the people, Terra discovers that her choices may determine life or death for the people she cares most about. With mere months to go before landing on the long-promised planet, Terra has to make the decision of a lifetime–one that will determine the fate of her people.

I had a chance to read the book for this interview, and it is wonderfully thoughtful, simultaneously embracing and defying SF tropes, and I highly, highly suggest you check it out. Need more convincing? Take a look at this interview!

I think it’s safe to say you’re a massive SF fan. With that in mind, were there any specific SF tropes you set out to play with in Starglass?

I have always absolutely loved generation ships–the whole concept of a city in a bottle fascinates me, and I loved having the opportunity to explore the underpinnings, from population control to renewable resources, that would make such a society work. I honestly didn’t set out to write a novel that played on modern YA dystopian tropes, but once I realized how constrained the citizens of the Asherah would have to be in order to keep the population controlled and compliant, I couldn’t help but play with that a bit. But always with the intention of subverting these tropes, from the notion of job assignment (Terra comes to love her job!) to that of sexuality.

While I’ve seen various fantasy worlds based on specific real-world cultures, I haven’t seen that as often in SF, which mean the secular Jewish society on the Asherah in Starglass was a delightful change of scenery! How did you approach the world-building on the ship?

In its earliest incarnation, the Asherah was not a Jewish ship. In fact, the story has its source in a grad school assignment based on James Joyce’s “Eveline”–the ship was originally quasi-Irish! When I began to retrofit that story into a novel, I initially used generic sci-fi worldbuilding, but I wasn’t happy with the outcome. The Jewish aspect came out of Terra’s last name, Fineberg, which was originally a placeholder (it’s my mother’s maiden name). On deeper inspection, I realized that a generation ship is nothing if not a society in diaspora, and I realized that I could give the novel deeper metaphorical resonance by exploring notions of the promised land, of exile, and of wandering. Not to mention the tensions between Judaism as a cultural heritage and a religious one.

Otherwise, I did a lot of research about things like constant acceleration drives, cold weather cultivation, artificial wombs, and population control. Of course, I consider Starglass *soft* science fiction. Certain aspects of the worldbuilding–say, artificial gravity–are just plain impossible. But I hope that readers will understand that it’s a lot easier to tell a story like this when your characters’ feet are kept to the ground!

The Asherah’s passengers become eligible for marriage at 16, and are expected to wed and raise two children–no exceptions. Those who refuse to choose a partner will eventually be forced into a marriage. This scenario may seem familiar to readers of YA dystopian lit; however, Starglass is the first novel I’ve read that features queer characters in this scenario (including someone introduced in your book trailer!). Was this a situation you set out to explore from the start?

Thank you for noticing that Frances Cohen, who narrates the interchapters in Starglass, is a queer woman! It was important to me to not only include gay characters in the novel’s present, but in its past, as well.

I’m bisexual, and from middle school onward, my most significant friendships were with other QUILTBAG teens. I cannot imagine writing a book without queer characters as part of the general landscape, because that’s the world I know. It’s what’s most authentic and honest to me.

And I have to say I was surprised when I began to encounter arranged marriages in YA dystopian novels but without acknowledgement of the people for whom such a society would be most oppressive–those whose affections are not heteronormative. So yes, in a way, I wanted to address what I saw as a surprising silence on the issue among YA authors. And while, as Paolo Bacigalupi said, the lives of queer teens are often dystopian enough (despite the repeal of DOMA–yay!–suicide rates of queer teenagers remain distressingly high, and bullying and harassment rates are equally appalling), I see this as more reason than ever to explore themes of inclusion and to honestly discuss sexuality in books for teenagers.

Of course, I’m not alone, and there are authors like Malinda Lo, Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Steven dos Santos who are also writing queer themes in their YA speculative fiction. Thank goodness!

Which aspect of the book would you say you’re proudest of?

I’m so proud of Terra’s voice. By the end of Starglass, she was a real, vital *person* to me–sometimes a bit difficult to spend so much time with, for sure, but I can say without a doubt that after writing Starbreak, the conclusion to the duology, I’ll miss her quite a bit.

And which did you struggle with most?

Some of the more difficult aspects of Terra’s personality proved troublesome for me. She’s not an easy character–she’s mired in self-loathing and doubt, and can be occasionally petty, hateful, and even a shade homophobic. Her reactions make sense given her upbringing and age, and she grows wonderfully over the course of the two novels. I’d be happy to call Terra at the end of Starbreak a friend, but I’d be a bit wary of her if we met at the outset of Starglass!

What’s been the most unexpected aspect of your publishing experience so far?

I have been floored by the wonderfully perceptive reaction of early readers and reviewers. Not everyone is going to like your book, but every once in awhile, someone absolutely makes me feel as if I wrote my book just for them. It’s a wonderful feeling, and one that reminds me of all the reasons why I wanted to be a writer.

Finally, as this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a child.

I absolutely adored The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle, and the Animorphs books by KA Applegate.

Thanks so much for these excellent answers–and happy Starglass day! I wish this book all the best.

Phoebe NorthPhoebe North received an MFA in poetry at the University of Florida. She lives with her husband and cat in New York State. Visit her at PhoebeNorth.com.

Add Starglass on Goodreads, or buy it via:
IndieBound
Amazon US & Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s
Books-A-Million
The Book Depository


Corinne Duyvis lives in Amsterdam, where she writes speculative YA novels and gets her geek on whenever possible. She also sleeps an inordinate amount. Her debut YA fantasy novel OTHERBOUND is forthcoming in 2014 from Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books. (Corinne is very excited, and hopes this development won’t impede her sleeping schedule too much.)
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