Adelaide is very busy over the next few weeks, with Fringe, Adelaide Festival and most importantly (to fans of literature), Writers’ Week. As part of the hype I had the chance to have a chat with well-known YA science fiction writer Amie Kaufman. Known for novels such as The Illuminae Files, Aurora Rising and Starbound Trilogy, Amie took some time out of her busy day of writing to talk about her upcoming Space Nerd feature at Writers’ Week, cool space facts, and what it takes to be an author as busy as she is.
Amie is engaging the moment she begins talking about space. On asking what she wants to explore in her feature, she explains that she believes that everyone has a fascination with space, and that it can be hard to put your finger on why.
“I’m hoping we will talk about the bigger stuff like why it is so fascinating and why we keep going back to stories that are told there, but I would also like to talk about some of the nerdier stuff because there are some ridiculous space facts that sound like they are being made up, but are completely real!”
On the topic of space facts, I raised the idea that mushrooms had been discovered in the reactors of Chernobyl that were being turned into pills that help astronauts absorb radiation and Amie dutifully explained that one of the key problems with space was not knowing how much radiation and what the impact on humans could be. It turns out that space truth is stranger than fiction – apparently a problem with space fiction is that often the truth is deemed too crazy, even for a fiction novelist.
“There is a planet out there, made of diamond. If I tried to make that up, they [the editors] would say ‘try to make it a little more subtle’”.
She explains that one of the scenes in Aurora Rising, it made more sense to use real fish because it was weirder than anything that she could have made up.
The one thing Amie continues to arrive back at is research. Research is important because you not only want your writing to be honest, but because there is so much people don’t already know – there is so much inspiration to be found the more you read and look into space. She was caught early on by science fiction, finding books in libraries and op-shops despite her parents not reading the genre. The mystery of space speaks to her, though it is the way that earth-bound problems are posed in that genre that catches her most, “allowing us to ask questions that we find difficult to answer here, because we are too involved in the problem.”
“Project it into the future, and take a situation like ‘The Green People don’t like The Blue People’ – but you’re neither of those people – it’s much easier to judge certain behaviour and think about how it should be handled.”
Amie muses that even if there is no answer to these situations in the writing, posing the question in the first place is enough to get people thinking about these larger, existential questions and thinking about the future that they want to create in real life.
While discussing her penchant for co-authoring novels with various other authors, it is apparent that she sees writing less as a job and more of a way of life.
“If you picked the wrong ones [authors] it would go terribly, but what helps is that the three co-authors I have are three of my dearest friends – which I think makes all the difference.”
Co-creating can go one of two ways, apparently: one creator’s voice is heard over the other and they make the final decisions; or both voices weave together – which requires a lot of respect and is the chosen method for Amie. The latter also requires a lot of compromise.
“You really have to love each other’s writing, championing each other’s work.”
In terms of how she writes, she writes what she knows and applies personal experience to her characterisation in order to reflect the complexities of life.
“There was a character in The Illuminae Files that lost a parent, and between writing and editing I lost my father. I was talking to Jay [Kristoff – co-author] about how much I missed him, when he turned to me and said I needed to put that in there – it was really important.”
Seeing yourself reflected in books can help make difficult experiences bearable, realising you’re not alone in not just those big moments, but those smaller moments of embarrassment. Amie points out that YA is a bit of a misnomer for the genre, as it’s read by pretty much everyone at all ages, and it’s the genre for discovering yourself – the relativity with the characters is what makes it so rewarding to read.
Catch Amie speaking at Writers’ Week in the the Torrens Tent at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden on Sunday 1 March at 10am. Make sure you bring your best space facts.