Series: Seeds Trilogy #1
Genres: Dystopia, Young Adult
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Remy Alexander was born into the elite meritocracy of the Okarian Sector. From an early age, she and her friends were programmed for intellectual and physical superiority through specialized dietary regimes administered by the Okarian Agricultural Consortium. But when her older sister Tai was murdered in a brutal classroom massacre, her parents began to suspect foul play. They fled the Sector, taking their surviving daughter underground to join the nascent Resistance movement. But now, three years later, Remy’s former schoolgirl crush, Valerian Orleán, is put in charge of hunting and destroying the Resistance. As Remy and her friends race to unravel the mystery behind her sister’s murder, Vale is haunted by the memory of his friendship with Remy and is determined to find out why she disappeared. As the Resistance begins to fight back against the Sector, and Vale and Remy search for the answers to their own questions, the two are set on a collision course that could bring everyone together—or tear everything apart.
Interview with Elena Makansi
Can you talk a little about what the book is about?
The Sowing follows Remy Alexander, a member of the Resistance, and Valerian Orlean, the son of the two most powerful figures in all of Okaria, a post-apocalyptic city that has rebuilt itself as a scientific meritocracy, as they fight for their own truths and eventually cross paths in an explosive climax. Remy seeks to avenge the death of her older sister Tai, who was killed in a classroom massacre three years prior, while Vale attempts to uphold his values under his new position as Director of the Seed Bank Protection Project, a rather shady operation that seeks to destroy the Resistance. More essentially, The Sowing is about corruption and resistance to power (including technological power!), about self- and community-determination, and about the search for truth in a world where nothing is black and white.
Where did you get the idea for the book?
Kristy, the mother of the K. Makansi team, had a dream back when I (Elena) was in high school. The dream eventually morphed into a critical turning-point scene involving both Remy and Vale, but back then Remy had superpowers and was a time-traveler! On several long walks with our dogs, Kristy and Elena sketched out a potential plot for the story, which was put on the backburner until three years ago, when she had another dream about Remy and Vale. We knew then that the story was begging to be told, and the three of us got to work.
What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?
We hope that every reader will come away with some juicy things to think about that are unique to their own interpretation of the story. That being said, there are definitely some ideas and lessons we want readers to chew on. If I had to say one thing, it would be that nothing is as unambiguous as we want it to be, and if you think you know the truth, you should probably think again. “Good” people and “bad” people are still human, and humans are complicated creatures with intriguing and often surprising motivations. I hope that readers will come away understanding that technology is a form of power, and if power corrupts, then technology cannot be unequivocally a good thing.
How long did it take to write the book?
We wrote the book in about two years total, though the bulk of our writing happened in about eight months between July and February.
Who is your favorite character, or what character was the most fun to write?
My favorite character is probably Eli! He’s so fun to write – he just jumps off the page (which is pretty characteristic of him) and steals the show. Eli is traumatized by events in his past, but doesn’t let these traumas destroy his sense of humor or his sense of adventure. He loves fiercely and deeply, and cares for his friends and family almost unconditionally, without letting anyone take away his own sense of self. He’s a risky but excellent leader, a brilliant dude, and he’s hot to boot! What’s there not to love?
Can you talk about how you wrote it? Did you do any outlining? Did it take you in any unexpected directions?
Our writing process is pretty free-form. We typically plan out the next three-four chapters as they come, and try to keep the overall story arc in mind as we write. Our “outlines” are usually just two-three sentence descriptions of what should happen in each chapter, but we don’t always remain faithful to them. For The Sowing, Kristy and Elena wrote the first drafts of Remy chapters, while Amira took on Vale. But we all contributed to the revisions, re-writes, and line edits. Because of our flexible writing process, many events were totally unplanned.
If you could go back and change anything in the novel, what would it be?
Overall we’re very satisfied with The Sowing and I’m sure we’d all disagree on this question. For me, I would try to focus more on developing Remy’s character. She’s gone through a lot, yet some people see her as whiny and annoying. I want to cry out “But you don’t understand!!” – but that’s not very productive (ha ha!). I think Remy’s existential crisis is often invisible on the pages, and her motivations are perceived as simple when, in our heads, they’re complex and multifaceted.
How did you come up with the cover?
We worked with the talented young designer Kevin Weitzel after seeing his fan-art design work for the Divergent series. We commissioned him to help us design a cover, and in the end the process was a collaboration between Kevin, Elena, and Kristy, with significant input from Amira. Kevin was the genius behind the concept of our cover, and Elena and Kristy went in with Photoshop and Illustrator to help polish and finalize the design.
The green-grunge background evokes a sense of natural wilderness worked in with a dystopian, post-apocalyptic aesthetic. The charred black circle in the center works to enhance this dystopian feeling. The main symbol on the cover represents a lotus, which is important for reasons I cannot reveal!
When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
We are (quite literally!) a family of writers. Since then I have been writing fiction and reading everything I could get my hands on. I attended the Iowa Young Writer’s Workshop during one summer of high school, and that experience inspired a great love of poetry and literary prose, though I still tend to pick up genre fiction over the “high” arts of literary musings.
What was the first story that you ever wrote?
I wrote my first complete short story when I was about nine years old about a coffee bean, (creatively) named Neab, who enlists the help of his freezer friends to go on an epic quest to find his father, who was kidnapped out of the freezer. The friends include Yerlec, a celery stalk, Torrac, a carrot, and Elppa, an apple. Don’t ask me why they were in the freezer and not the fridge, because I do not know. [Spoiler!] In a brutal turn of events, the group of freezer friends eventually find Neab’s father brewed into coffee at Star Bucks, but only after meeting a giant human, a three eyed witch, and crossing a perilous river.
What are your favorite books and authors?
Oo-ee! A reader’s favorite and least-favorite question! I can’t say I have many specific authors that I regularly read but I will do my best to give a top-ten of books – but in no particular order:
The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern / William Goldman
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (shout out to Amira – this is her fiction Bible)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Daughter of Smoke and Bone (series) by Laini Taylor
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Luminarium by Alex Shakar
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy
As for favorite authors … this list is more a collection of authors whose books I’ve regularly enjoyed: Markus Zusak, Jane Austen, John Green, Maureen Johnson, Neal Gaiman, Toni Morrison, Emma Bull, Barbara Kingsolver, Sherman Alexie, Kurt Vonnegut, Pablo Neruda (poet), Mary Oliver (poet), and Bill Bryson (humor/memoir).
What are you working on next?
We are hard at work on The Reaping, the second book in the Seeds Trilogy. In this book, Remy and Vale’s relationship is explored and tested, we learn more about the mysterious Outsiders, we get to know the adults in the world of Okaria some more, and the very existence of the Resistance is put in question! We are so excited about The Reaping, and are seeking beta readers right now. Our target release date is late summer 2014.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
First: a novel becomes good (or, if you’re lucky, great/magnificent/a work of genius) during the revision process. Don’t dismay if your first draft is a pile of crap. Work with it. Mine those gems, hone them, polish them, file them away when you find bigger, better gems. Writing is hard work, and most of it occurs after you’ve finished the first draft.
Second, a boring, often-used, and completely true piece of advice: read & write, read & write, and read & write some more. If you want to be a writer you have to practice your craft. E-mails count too. Essays and papers and blog posts and letters and journal entries also count. Flex those fingers and get writing! And reading – well, if you enjoy writing you better enjoy reading. So take a few hours and get lost!
Finally: the publishing world is rapidly changing. Don’t get stuck thinking you need to publish with one of the big five. There are many avenues for publishing, and self-publishing isn’t so stigmatized as it used to be. Take advantage, before the powers that be conspire to take control yet again. The key to your success is threefold: quality, marketing, and luck. Make a good product, market it wisely, and cross your fingers!
How do you juggle writing with family time?
Well, for us, oftentimes writing time IS family time! So long as we’re in the same place, we’ll pile up on the couch with our dog Layla, plenty of blankets, some snacks, and dig in. If we’re at dinner, we’ll talk about our book. If we’re on a walk, we’ll talk about our book. If we’re on the phone, we’ll talk about our book. Do you see a pattern?!
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