EXCLUSIVE: Rick Yancey Tells Us About Writing the Most-Anticipated YA Novel of the Year
One of the most-anticipated YA books slated for this year is THE 5TH WAVE, an alien apocalypse survival story by beloved author Rick Yancey. The book combines multiple narratives to create a sweeping portrait of a shattered world, where nothing and nobody is at it seems.
In one narrative, Cassie, a teenage survivor of the multi-level invasion that’s wiped out most of the earth’s population, tries to make her way to the refugee camp where her little brother is (hopefully!) still alive; in another, a boy nicknamed “Zombie” undergoes grueling training in preparation for humanity’s last stand. And yes, it is very exciting.
People are already comparing the book, the first in an intended series, with epic end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it works like Stephen King’s THE STAND or THE PASSAGE series by Justin Cronin (and the debut of a Hollywood-worthy book trailer last week has only added to the buzz.) With a month to go before the book’s release on May 7th, we got Yancey to share his insights on the world of YA, the scariness of multi-book projects, and the relative romantic desirability of various famous aliens.
You’re an incredibly prolific writer, with a memoir and several adult novels under your belt in addition to your various, more recent YA series. Did you set out to make a move into writing for teens, or did it happen organically? Do you have plans for more YA books after this series?
Prolific? Naw. R.L. Stine and Stephen King are prolific. Next to those guys, I’m a slouch. I think of my series for teens (ALFRED KROPP, THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, THE 5TH WAVE) as three very long books broken into convenient reading segments, so that cuts down on my total count.
My foray into young adult lit was by no means planned. I wrote the first Alfred Kropp book as an adult novel, which everyone loved but no one would publish—until I changed my protagonist from a thirty-something P.I. into a 15-year-old kid. After that, it was off to the races and I am so GLAD. There’s nothing like writing for that age group, so I consider what happened the happiest of accidents.
I always have ideas (usually half-baked) floating around in my head while I’m working on a series—but I’m the kind of writer (and person) who has to focus on one thing at a time or suffer creative schizophrenia. It’s been a while since I’ve written a novel aimed at the adult market, but I never sit down and say to myself, “Okay, now I’m going to write something for us old folks.” I get gripped by an idea and I go where the idea takes me.
When we first meet Cassie, the heroine of THE 5TH WAVE, she’s about to be on the move and making the difficult choice of which books to keep in her traveling library. In the event of an alien apocalypse, which two titles would you want with you at all times?
I would take an old volume of poetry I still have from my college intro to American poetry course. In dark times, nothing beats verse. Second choice is harder. Maybe HOW TO SURVIVE AN ALIEN APOCALYPSE FOR DUMMIES?
Your Monstrumologist series nearly met a premature end back in 2011, but was saved by an extraordinary response from fans. (And there was much rejoicing.) Did you feel any trepidation about embarking on another multi-book project?
One lesson I learned from THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST was never to get too attached to your own characters. That’s harder in practice than in theory. At the end of the third book—which coincided with the end of my contract—I was an emotional wreck. I mourned Will Henry and Warthrop. The other thing was their story wasn’t finished. For a writer, that’s heart-wrenching. I guess the fans felt the same way and rose to Will and Warthrop’s defense, for which I am humbled and very grateful.
I always feel trepidation at the beginning of every project. I worry about so many things. Time to get it right, the skill to do it justice, the will to finish. I also worry about more mundane things, like what if my computer crashes and I’ve forgotten to backup the manuscript?
Speaking of THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST: was it hard to make the switch, as a writer, between the gothic, cobblestone-and-candlelight home of Will Henry and the contemporary wasteland of post-apocalyptic Ohio? How did you immerse yourself in the world of THE 5TH WAVE?
And speaking of the people who love THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, what’s the craziest thing a fan of your work has done? Have you seen any tattoos inspired by the series?
THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST is so unique that I had no problem rocketing into the present day. It occurred to me recently that every book I’ve written is in the first-person; I’m like an actor slipping into a different role. It’s my policy not to immerse myself into a WORLD, but into a character’s head and describe that world through his or her eyes.
I did see somewhere a fan was planning to get all tatted up with monstrumologist art. I don’t know if she ever carried it through, but I remember being somewhat appalled.
Okay, back to the topic of aliens: what sparked the idea for THE 5TH WAVE? Was there a particular character/moment/setting from which the book emerged?
I’ve loved science and speculative fiction since I was a kid, so I guess it was inevitable I was going to try my hand at it. THE 5th WAVE evolved out of many separate strands. There was a discussion years ago between my wife and I about the most terrifying thing each of us could imagine. For her, it was an alien abduction, for two reasons: First, it was a frigging alien abduction. Second, she knew afterwards NO ONE WOULD BELIEVE HER. It was the isolation that terrified her. The idea of being ALONE in the face of such a mind-blowing encounter led to an image of a survivor, alone, vulnerable, at the end of hope and maybe of life. Thus Cassie was born, trapped beneath an abandoned car.
THE 5TH WAVE is a unique mashup of survivalist drama (a la “The Walking Dead” or “The Stand”) and alien invasion story. Do you have favorite books/movies/shows from these genres, or one in particular that inspired you to write your own?
I read THE STAND years ago and remember liking it very much. I’m a huge movie fan, too. THE MATRIX blew me away. The ALIEN franchise is a favorite (well, I don’t count PROMETHEUS). I can’t think of a particular book or movie that goaded me into THE 5TH Wave, though.
Let’s play Wed/Bed/Dead, alien edition. (Please pick one to marry, one to kill, and one to have… er, interplanetary relations with.) Today’s featured aliens are E.T., a Prawn from “District 9,” and one of those guys with the big foreheads from “This Island Earth.” Ready? Go!
I don’t think I could marry an extraterrestrial. I’m in love with a terrestrial. Who could kill E.T.? That would be like offing a bunny rabbit.
Having researched and written THE 5TH WAVE, what advice would you offer the rest of us in the event of an alien invasion?
I’m like Cassie in the opening of the book: the aliens we imagine have been, on the whole, ridiculous, from what they might look like to why they might come here. Stephen Hawking and other scientists have pointed out—correctly, I think—that a) yes, they probably are out there and b) we better hope they never find us. If they do find us, my advice is Evan’s from the book: “Find something worth dying for.”
Any hints about what we can expect from the rest of the 5TH WAVE series?
Book Two: Some very bad stuff is going to happen as the Others roll out their answer to Cassie’s defiance.
Book Three: More bad stuff, some good stuff, and an affirmation . . . maybe not triumph, but an affirmation.
Are you planning to read The 5th Wave?