Today, we are delighted to bring you an exclusive Q&A with Skyship Academy author Nick James — who I first met at KidLitCon in Seattle. I was thrilled when Nick asked if I’d read his book, and I’m even more thrilled now to share our interview with you:
I always like when authors write about the Pacific Northwest, but in this case you had the very unusual task of transforming familiar cities like Portland and Seattle into very different places because of the futuristic, desolate setting of your book. What was it like recreating these places for SKYSHIP ACADEMY?
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, but I wrote the first draft of this book during a year-long stay on the other side of the mountains in Central Washington (in the college town of Ellensburg, which actually appears in the book). As anyone who’s lived in Washington can tell you, the geography and climate changes so much when you cross over the mountains. I was used to living on the rainy coast, so the desert-like geography of Central Washington fascinated me and became the inspiration for the Fringes, which are a huge part of Skyship. I also loved the idea of Seattle being destroyed in the book–the Space Needle torn into a dark spire sticking out from the rubble.
It’s not overtly heavy, but you have created a bit of a unique slang for your characters in SKYSHIP ACADEMY, like using the word “mass” instead of “very.” (Ex. “The paint is mass faded and cracking.”) In a way it reminded me a bit of the terms used in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, though much more subtle. What made you decide to implement these unique colloquialisms? How did you come up with them?
The slang came during the last few revisions. As you said, I didn’t want it to be overtly heavy and take the reader out of the story, but it makes sense that teens would speak differently in the future than we do now. I drew inspiration from M.T. Anderson’s terrific sci-fi book, Feed. He goes a lot further than I do with the slang, but it all reads so naturally. I only wanted to include words that I could actually imagine real kids saying. And I also wanted to make sure that it was in character. For instance, you never hear Cassius using “mass” in the story. He’s far too serious for it. But it fits perfectly with Jesse’s personality.
SKYSHIP ACADEMY is very clearly science fiction, and yet with the Unified Party, the environmental devastation, and such, it definitely has tones of dystopian — which is such a huge trend right now. Why do you think these themes are so popular among readers right now, especially teen readers?
I think they’ve always been popular. Books like The Giver and 1984 are total classics and this genre has a long history in the movies. The thing is, more and more our world is starting to mirror these dystopian societies. I think people are craving stories where characters have to deal with these cultural issues and offer solutions to improve a crumbling world. It’s still escapism, but it relates to readers’ lives in such an immediate way. The best dystopias feel all too real.
I’m always fascinated by world-building, something which is particularly essential to the science fiction genre. Tell us a bit about what went into creating the world of SKYSHIP ACADEMY.
A lot of planning! I have pages of notes in a draft book, detailing much more than what you see in the book. I wanted a world that not only felt cool and new, but a world where each party and faction has a believable and conflict-fueled relationship with the others. When I discovered what these relationships would be, it was easy to create the rest of the world. Timelines were very useful to me as well. As you’ll find out if you read the book, there’s a lot that’s gone on in the past to shape the world of Skyship. I definitely looked at our culture today and extrapolated from that.
And without giving too much away, what can we expect in the second book? Where will we find Jesse, Cassius, and all the rest? And what’s up with Avery?!?!
After the events at the end of the first book, the second opens in a dark place for the main characters. The moral implications of Pearls are creating a difficult, confusing environment for Jesse and Cassius, and both boys are learning that the people they used to trust are no longer their allies. And Avery… well, you’ll have to see! Is that all vague enough for you?
If they made a Nick James candle, what would it smell like?
Buttered, movie-theater popcorn… the best smell in the world. Come to think of it, though, that smell might be kinda nasty in the form of a candle.
Growing up, it was the Transformers/Go-bots combo… then Tiny Toons/Animaniacs a little later.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Both! But I’d give chocolate the edge.
Your personal theme song?
A song by my favorite band in the world, Swedish glam-rockers The Ark. It’s called “One of us is gonna die young”
You’re on a deserted island and have to read one book for the rest of your life. What is it?
I think I’m going to have to go with something really classic that’s also standalone. I’ll pick J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. It definitely meant a lot to me as a kid and still does.
Favorite book as a child?
I really liked the Berenstein Bears books. I had a million of them. My favorite was the one where the kids have a bad dream about all these cool action figures. I remember tracing the action figures and cutting them out so that I could play with them.
I do enjoy singing. Once upon a time I used to write songs as well, though many of those are better left in the past!