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Articles Tagged “science fiction”
Oct 30, 2018 Interviews

This interview was done at New York Comic Con 2018.

We caught up with Sylvain Neuvel to discuss the Themis Trilogy, alien languages, and a bit of cosplay.

 

 

 

 

Keith Rice:  All right, so Only Human came out in May and it closes out the Themis Files trilogy.  How does it feel to be done?

Sylvain Neuvel:  Weird.  It’s very weird.  Finishing that book was an emotional moment.  There was  a lot of crying involved in the last chapters, just knowing that I might never see these characters again. And it’s kind of stupid, because they were there, they will always be there.  They’re in the books, they exist.  But it was strange, and also Sleeping Giants was my first novel, so I’ve spent my entire writing career in that universe.  Getting out of it is a scary thing, though it’s also exciting.

KR:  Did you envision the story as trilogy when you started or did that come about – –

SN:  Well, originally, I thought it might be more of an open series, but It’s a rarer thing in publishing nowadays to have just a like a real open-ended series like, say, James Bond.

KR:  Sure.

SN:  And so, well, quickly I figured out it would be a trilogy and I kind of knew how I wanted it to end, so I went for it.

KR:  Given that do you plan to go back into the world of Themis Files at any point? Is that something you’ve thought about?

SN:  I would love to someday.  There are other things I want to do.  I’m working on something now and so it’s nice to take a break and just let the story do its thing.  I’m not there [on revisiting Themis Files].  But if people want it, if there’s a demand for it, I’d love to come back to it someday.

KR:  How would you describe the Themis Files to readers that haven’t had a chance to pick it up yet?

SN:  It’s a strange one to describe.  It’s science fiction but it’s also very grounded, it happens here, and the format is, I think, as important to the experience as the story itself.  It’s told in the form of interviews, between a mysterious interviewer and the main characters of the book.  So, it’s pretty much three books of nothing but dialogue. It’s a very different reading experience than what most people would be used to.  In terms of story it’s like everything I do, it is grounded in science fiction. Book one is a search for giant metal body parts buried underground by an unknown civilization thousands of years ago.  And it has a lot to do with first contact, but it’s also an exploration of what it means to be human.  Human nature in general, or what makes you you and not me, and identity, and other themes that are very human.  So, even though there is alien life involved, it’s very much about us and not them.

KR:  Your take on aliens was one of the more fascinating aspects for me.  They aren’t that different from us.

SN:  No.

KR:  What led you to that?

SN:  Well, there’s advantages in making aliens closer to us, there’s a reason why, you know, every alien on a TV show, you know has at least two arms and legs, because we can hire an actor to do it.  This particular case I wanted them to be among us.  So, they had to be hiding in plain sight, it’s kind of difficult if you’re a giant amoeba or big blob of goo.

KR:  And I know you’re a linguist as well.  Do you have any plans to dive into a language for any of your books?

SN:  Well, Only Human does have some alien language bits in there.

KR:  True, but I meant on a larger, or I guess more Tolkien-esque scale?

SN:  Actually, I did write grammar and a lexicon.

KR:  Oh?

SN:  Well, I know that I’m a freak and I couldn’t just improvise those like ten lines [laughs].  So, I pretty much wrote the whole language just so I could put those two lines in the book.  Someday I’d like to share that lexicon and grammar with the world. For example, they could read the dedication at the end of the trilogy, which is in the language.

KR:  I know you’re a big cosplay fan and we are at NYCC.

SN:  Yeah.

KR:  What’s your favorite or your best costume?  One that you’ve put together?

SN:  That I made? I will say my Grandizer robot costume.  It was super fun.

KR:  I imagine the proportions were a bit tricky on that one.

SN:  Yeah, I mean, I made a Vader costume that I spent about a year on, but with Vader you have a costuming group, you can go with references online, you can know which actual parts of what were used to make it.  It gets tons of references, so you know things basically down to the millimeter. With Grandizer you’re looking at an anime made in the 70’s.  If you look at the show, in one scene, you’ll have say, seven spikes on his fist, and in another scene you’ll have nine and in another there’ll be three.  Because the guys drawing it, they’re just going super-fast. Plus there were a lot of technical challenges.  He has a tiny head, so, I managed to get the proportions better.  I realized that with a head so little my costume shoulders are about at my chin level, and I see through the mouth of the robot so the head can be higher, and it makes it more proportional, plus I have to build it from scratch.  There’s no references, no nothing. So, it was a lot molding, and sculpting, and fiberglass.  It was a lot of fun to make.

KR:  Sounds like it.

SN:  Yeah.

KR: I’m going to put you on the spot just a little bit.  If you had to recommend three novels , three books, for fans of the Themis Files what would they be?

SN:  Well if you’re in it for the giant robots, Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Teiryas just came out and it’s actually pretty fantastic.  It’s book two of a series, but it’s more of a standalone novel. If you’re in it for the science, because there’s a lot of it in the Themis Files, I really like the The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka. It’s based on a simple sci-fi premise, but I really wish I’d come up with it.  I was jealous of the idea.  It’s a great, great book.  Similarly, Quantum Night by Robert Sawyer is another book with tons of science. Sawyer sort of researches everything.  He has a bibliography at the end if you want further reading on brainwaves and all sorts of interesting things.   The Gone World, by Tom Sweterlitsch, it’s a great book. It’s really a great book.  I was kind of wary at first because it involves time travel and it’s not usually my favorite, but it’s so well done, I think everyone should read it.

 

Check out Sylvain Neuvel’s Only Human!

Keith Rice is a West Virginia native and a freelance writer residing in Philadelphia with his lovely, if oft exasperated wife and three cats. Keith fosters an enthusiastic appreciation for beer and scotch, collects comics, and most importantly is an avid reader and movie lover. Oh, he’s a pretty big fan of sci-fi and fantasy as well. Drop him a line @Keith_Rice1.

Aug 21, 2018 Blog

This article was written by Swapna Krishna and originally appeared on Unbound Worlds.

Oral histories have become increasingly popular ways to tell the story of important moments in pop culture. They take away the barrier between writer and storyteller; it makes you feel closer to the narrative because all you’re seeing are people’s own words, arranged in a way that tells a coherent story.

However, despite the fact that an oral history may seem like an easy endeavor, it’s anything but. That aforementioned arrangement is key to being able to follow the narrative and understand opposing points of view. Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross have become experts at the enormous work that goes into these books; they edited a two-part oral history of “Star Trek,” The Fifty-Year Mission, an oral history of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” with Slayers and Vampires, and now they’ve moved onto the sci-fi classic “Battlestar Galactica” with So Say We All, out August 21st from Tor Books. Unbound Worlds spoke with Mark Altman on how exactly they put these enormous books together and where they might head from here.

Unbound Worlds: What first made you interested in conducting and compiling oral histories?

Mark A. Altman: It all began with the 50th anniversary of “Star Trek.” We felt we in a unique position to tell the history of “Star Trek” in a way that no one else could. Even then, it took some convincing from Ed to bring me around. It wasn’t till after reading the wonderful oral histories of “Saturday Night Live” and MTV that I realized this was a great format to chronicle the history of Trek that had never been done and also be true to the Rashomon-like history of the franchise. To Ed’s credit, I’m delighted I did do the book with him and I keep trying to get out, but he keeps pulling me back in.

UW: What’s the research and interview process like? What about the process of putting it all together into one coherent story?

MAA: Years of intensive research and hundreds of hours of interviews are where we start. But you’re absolutely right, perhaps the biggest challenge is taking literally hundreds of thousands of pages of transcripts and turning them into a coherent narrative. We always say it’s like attending the greatest dinner party in the world with 200–300 people and then getting them to tell these amazing stories they’ve never shared before and prodding them to tell you more, even the things they don’t want to or might have forgotten about.

UW: Is it ever hard to decide what makes it in versus what to cut?

MAA: Yes, because these books could be thousands of pages instead of hundreds if we used all the great stories we had. Thankfully, Macmillan indulged us on the Trek book and let us bifurcate it into two volumes to do justice to the entire 50 years, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the reception we received. Otherwise, that would have been hard to distill down and we would have lost some amazing stories and anecdotes. Buffy and Galactica have been easier to keep at less than 1000 pages, but it’s still a challenge given the bountiful material we’ve had access to in terms of the candor and passion of the people we’ve spoken to.

UW: You work with a co-author, Edward Gross. How is the work divided between the two of you? How do you collaborate?

MAA: It depends on the subject. In the case of the first Trek volume, we really built on each others’ work and interviews. For the second volume, we divided up the series but then flipped everything. There was no way I was doing “Voyager,” I was very insistent on that fact. For Buffy & Angel, Ed primarily took “Angel” and I did “Buffy” but there was definitely a cross-over in interviews and we revise each others sections.

BSG was definitely the most clearly defined. I did 1978 and 1980 primarily and he did Ron Moore’s series, which isn’t to say we didn’t both contribute to each section, but he did the heavy lifting on his section and vice versa. And when I was finished I was really unhappy with the 1980 section. I didn’t feel I had really added anything new to the story and I knew no one was ever likely to write about the subject of this dreadful series again, so I started from scratch intending to really do a deep dive, did a ton more interviews, and it’s one of my favorite chapters in any of the books now.

UW: You’ve done oral histories for “Star Trek,” “Buffy”/”Angel,” and now “Battlestar Galactica.” Was there one that was your favorite? Not because of the property, but because of process or uncovered secrets?

MAA: I agreed to do all these books, first and foremost because I’m a fan of all these shows. These books are primarily a hobby for me, my day job is as a writer/producer for film and television series which is quite time consuming so if I’m going to give up my hiatus, weekends, and nights for a book, it has to be something I’m passionate about. “Star Trek” was no-brainer, but “Buffy” was super fun because it not only gave me a chance to write about a show I loved as well as my family, but also talk to several people I worked with in my other capacity like Felicia Day and Sean Astin, who were guest stars on an episode of “The Librarians” I wrote and, of course, Christian Kane.

But then “Galactica” was also a big deal for me because I grew up on the 1978 series and always felt it was the Rodney Dangerfield of sci-fi series. Despite its many flaws, it was a really significant and impressive series that had a lot to do with influencing the future of television, even if people don’t recognize that. And, of course, Ron Moore’s series is just a major milestone in genre storytelling and one of the greatest TV series ever produced so to have the kind of access we had thanks to Ron and tell the real story behind this show was really remarkable and we were honored to do so.

UW: “Battlestar Galactica” had a long-lasting impact on science fiction as a genre. What does it mean to you personally, and how do you interpret its legacy?

MAA: It was the sci-fi “Sopranos.” Ron and David Eick created a series that will stand the test of time and really was part of the dawn of peak and binge-able television. It’s very significant and a really remarkable accomplishment. The original series deserves more respect but is often derided because it was perceived as a “Star Wars” rip-off. But it actually, if sometimes clumsily, dealt with some very heady themes and had some of the most remarkable production design and visual effects in any genre film or TV series ever.

It was also a show about a literal family unlike “Trek,” which was a figurative one, which made it unique as well and there are some remarkable episodes and an ingenious premise that made “BSG 2004 possible. It was one of the few sci-fi series to deal with theology and spirituality as well. What we also chronicle is the unique place Universal Television was at the end of the ‘70s in the waning days of the studio system when talent was under contract and half the show creators were either drunk or on drugs, and work was done by a small coterie of largely white men who all knew each other and would all get hired on each others shows. I found that period absolutely fascinating and it’s amazing to see how dramatically TV has changed.

UW: You’ve traced quite a bit of Ron D. Moore’s career through “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager,” and now “Battlestar Galactica.” What was it like to work with him, and what do you think these books say about his career?

MAA: Ron is a remarkable talent. That’s no secret. But what people might not know is what a great guy he is. A total mensch. I first met Ron back in the heyday of “TNG” when I used to interview him for the late, great Cinefantastique magazine. He has remained steadfast and loyal even when I was less than effusive with my praise for his films like “Generations” (which I savaged) and yet he remained very supportive of my own career. I think he’s incredibly savvy and smart and has a passion that is unparalleled among genre creators. He has been incredibly supportive of Ed and I. With the “Trek” books, he spent literally tens of hours on the phone with Ed speaking to him with complete candor and thoughtfulness.

When it came time to do So Say We All, he literally reached out to the entire cast and crew on our behalf and told them to speak to us honestly about the show and it really opened the floodgates so that we were able to talk to everyone involved in the new series from Eddie on down to the grips — okay maybe not the grips, but mostly everyone.

UW: This is the last book in your oral history trilogy. Why is that, and if you could open the door to exploring more shows and properties, what might they be?

MAA: Well, that’s not quite true. When I wrote [the introduction to So Say We All], I thought it would be. That I said everything I had to say. And while it’s likely to be our last oral history of a genre TV show—although never say never again—we’re already committed to another oral history of a major film series for Tor that we’re writing now and have a few other projects that we’re discussing so like I say; I keep trying to get out, but they keep pulling me back in.

A big part of this is how much I enjoy my working relationship with Ed Gross as well as my fantastic editorial team at Tor, but also how much I love these TV series and films we’re writing about. There’s a great line in the mediocre Michael Crichton film “Looker,” when Albert Finney is asked to do plastic surgery on a really beautiful girl and he wants to turn down the assignment and he’s advised by a colleague, “You better do it or someone less competent will.” That’s kind of how I feel about these oral histories too.


Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

May 9, 2017 News

Artemis, a near-future thriller by Andy Weir, author of the # 1 New York Times bestseller and international blockbuster The Martian, will be published November 14, 2017.

Said Andy Weir, “I’m really excited about Artemis. I got to do the science-dork stuff I love, but this time with a much more complex and character-driven plot. It’s a big stretch for me, but I think it came out well. Hopefully the readers will agree.”

An adrenaline-charged crime caper that features smart, detailed world-building based on real science and the charm that makes Weir’s writing so irresistible, Artemis introduces a protagonist every bit as memorable asThe Martian’s Mark Watney: Jasmine Bashara, aka Jazz. Jazz is just another too-smart, directionless twenty-something, chafing at the constraints of her small town and dreaming of a better life.  Except the small town happens to be named Artemis—and it’s the first and only city on the moon.

Life on Artemis is tough if you’re not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire, and Jazz is decidedly not a member of either category.  She’s got debts to pay, her job as a porter barely covers the rent, and her budding career as a smuggler isn’t exactly setting her up as a kingpin, much to her disappointment. So when the chance at a life-changing score drops in her lap, Jazz can’t say no, even though she’s sure there’s more to the setup than meets the eye. And indeed, pulling off the perfect crime is just the first of Jazz’s problems as she finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself.

Andy Weir Photo: © John Weir
Andy Weir Photo: © John Weir

As first reported by Tracking-Board.com, movie rights to Artemis have been acquired in a preempt by 20th Century Fox and New Regency, with Simon Kinberg and Aditya Sood, two of the producers of The Martian, attached to produce for Genre Films. Starring Matt Damon and directed by Ridley Scott, The Martian was nominated for seven Oscars and won both the Best Picture and Best Actor awards at the Golden Globes. The movie has grossed more than $630 million worldwide.

Hailed as a new science-fiction classic,The Martian book has sold more than three million copies in North America, spending over a year and a half on the New York Times bestseller list since its February 2014 publication by Crown. To date, the book has been published in forty languages worldwide.

Learn more about the book here;

Nov 18, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  Take a look at the first post in this series here

Gemina is now on shelves! We’re wrapping up this series with an interview with the authors! Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff stopped by the studio to talk about their book tour and much more. Listen here: 

“Getting out and meeting readers is honestly the best part of the job” – Jay Kristoff

Fans have been raving about Gemina, and book instagrammers have a lot to say!

From Hikari of Folded Pages Distillery:

Gemina: 10/5 Stars. Explosive, Brutal, Hilarious, Unforgiving, Fist Pumping, Jaw Dropping. These are the words I’m using for Gemina. I started Gemina on Thursday and stayed up last night until 3 a.m. finishing it because I COULD NOT STOP.”

From Vilma of Vilma’s Book Blog:

“I think the whole world knows how much I loved #Illuminae and so far I’m loving Hanna and Nik’s story too! Anddddd the book features illustrations by @marieluthewriter! How awesome is that?!!!”

From Ursula of ursula_uriarte:

“I present you guys my favorite book of the year!!! If you haven’t read this series please do yourself a favor and get on it! If you do it simultaneously on audio is even better!”

Thanks for following along with Gemina’s Life of a Book series!

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

Check out more Young Adult books here

Get the book here: 

Oct 28, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees. Take a look at the first post in this series here

You can preorder the book here. For a Q&A with the authors, click here… and for you superfans, join First In Line here to see the full uncensored version. Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Gemina is a beautifully and complicatedly designed book. We spoke to Ray Shappell, Senior Designer at Random House Books for Young Readers and Stephanie Moss, Art Director at Penguin Random House, to find out more. 

Did you interact with the authors when planning your design?

Stephanie Moss: The interior design process is very collaborative and we work closely with the authors. When the manuscript is submitted to editorial, the authors also share art, design notes and reference material for the different types of pages throughout the book. Our first task is to then flesh out those ideas into the designs for the pages that appear most frequently. Afterward, we’ll focus on the more unique pages throughout the book. These pages often involve partnering with talented illustrators, like Marie Lu, Meinart and Stuart Wade, to create Hanna’s diary pages and the ship schematics and logos. Each set of designs is then shared with the editor and authors where we’ll discuss possible changes and finesse each idea until it best captures the vision for the book. After the main pages are approved, we’ll begin bringing all the different components together and lay out the entire book. This is also the time when we fine tune some of the one-off page designs.

Ray’s Gemina supplies

Ray Shappell: Yes, indeed. The Illuminae Files are ultimately their brainchild, so our goal in designing the series was to enhance their unique storytelling with a one-of-a-kind package. This series is more technically complicated than any other, and requires a huge collaboration with everyone involved. Once editorial and design approve a cover, we share it with the authors and value their opinions through each step of the process. 

Creating the cover for Gemina was actually a breeze, compared to the process for Illuminae, because I already had an established series design. When I start a new series, I always think about how the current design would work for a second and third book. (Or more if we’re lucky.) So when we finally nailed down the concept for book 1 in The Illuminae Files—a brightly colored explosion interacting with the redacted documents from the story through acetate and a printed case—I also had a rough proposal for Gemina and the third book in the series. When Jay and Amie were in the offices celebrating Illuminae’s launch last November, I shared the proposed visuals for Gemina and they loved it!!! Coincidentally, the color of the blue explosion fits perfectly with the description of a black hole in Gemina. And the proposed image for book three is…XXXXXXXXX (redacted).

The Illuminae FilesWhat is your favorite part of your job?

Ray Shappell: My favorite part of the job is creative problem solving. After reading the manuscript, I have so many concepts and design ideas. I love sketching them all out—picking out typefaces, colors, textures, illustrations, hand lettering, or hiring an illustrator, photographer, or CG artists—all to match the tone of the story. But since I’m not the only one involved, there will be multiple moments throughout the cover design process that require finding a new solution that addresses the needs and concerns of everyone involved, while maintaining creative integrity of the original concept and designThis is extremely fun and rewarding when you are able to make a final piece of artwork that becomes the book jacket. The Illuminae Files is a great example of this working at it’s best – the end product is a much better version of the original concept. 

Ray Shappell lettering

Stephanie Moss: The best part of my job is collaborating with a lot of talented people. Particularly with Gemina, it was exciting to pull together everyone’s ideas then work with artists and a wonderful designer, Heather Kelly, and see those ideas get interpreted in really neat ways.

What would surprise a layman to know about your work?

Ray Shappell: I love keeping physical authenticity of design over digital effects when possible. So in the case of Gemina, I actually set the files up clean on the computer first. However, once copy is approved, I then print out the covers and take a bunch of Sharpie markers, highlighters and tracing paper over to a light box. I cross out everything, scribble over the redacted areas, and make it messy. Then I scan it back into the computer and continue to line up all if the sharpie marks over the type on a different layer. I think it looks more realistic than if I used a digital marker. 

Ray Shappell at work

What did you most want this one to convey?

Ray Shappell: I think that a successful jacket does a few things: 

  1. It intrigues you and draws you in, making you pick it up and want to learn more about the story. 
  2. It has great design (visual balance of graphic elements, typography, artwork, color, etc.) 
  3. It stands out from the competition in a new and fresh way 
  4. It informs you about the content from a very quick glance.  

For The Illuminae series, our goal was to portray as much of the interior as we could on the cover, since it’s such a creative and unique story telling experience. Using the acetate to reveal and redact text from the case underneath was our solution for showing pieces of the story—with layers of actual text and phrases—in a new and exciting manner. I hope you enjoy the secret messages that are printed in the negative of the opaque white ink! 

How has your approach to designing covers changed over time?

Ray Shappell: I’m hoping to push what’s possible in our YA market. I know how to make covers that will be liked and approved easily. But I prefer the challenge to create covers that push the limits of what we have seen before. Yes, they may require extra convincing and more energy, but the end result is a cover that really stands out from the rest.

I also have been incorporating more technology into my designs. I’ve created animated gif covers for Illuminae and Gemina, but I just finished working with a CG studio to create a fully animated cover for an upcoming series. Along with an augmented reality app, it brings the print book to life! It’s AMAZING and should be out shortly!!  

Ray Shappell

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

 

Oct 12, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees. Take a look at the first post in this series here

Ever wonder how an audiobook gets made? Especially one as complicated and visual as Gemina? Read on for interviews with Audiobook Producer Janet Stark, Project Director Erin Spencer, and Audio Engineer Patrick Billard. 

You can preorder the book here. For a Q&A with the authors, click here… and for you superfans, join First In Line here to see the full uncensored version. Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Listen to an excerpt of the audio book now!


What is your job title, and what does that mean for your daily work?

Janet Stark: It’s funny, many people I meet in daily life don’t understand what an audiobook producer does. Senior Producer is on my business card. We producers are a bit like casting directors working in collaboration with authors. Hiring actors, scheduling recording studios, basically managing a group of contributors (directors, sound editors, sound design people), all the way to QC notes and delivering the final audio. The production process always begins with reaching out to the author or authors to get a sense of ideas or expectations for the audio, and take it from there.

Janet Stark

Patrick Billard: I’m the Audio Engineer here at Penguin Random House studios in Los Angeles. Our facility is made up of 10 recording studios designed for the purpose of recording audio books. I setup recording sessions and make sure our actors have good recording levels that match our specs, I assist the directors with any issues they may be having during the recording process, I maintain the studios to make sure they are clean and in working order and I book actors to come back to the studios after recording is finish to do pick-up sessions to fix any outstanding issues that remain after the books have been edited and proofed. 

Patrick Billard

How did Gemina sessions compare to the usual audiobook session setups?

Patrick Billard: The Gemina session was quite different from our typical session here at PRH Studios where most books have one to two readers at most. Gemina was a large project with many actors so our setup was tweaked to have 3 microphones ready to record in our largest booth. Working with Ok Hee Kolwitz, Assistant Director of Technology and Post Production, we spent a couple days setting up the studio to accommodate the 3 mic setup, which required pulling backup gear from our storage closets and arranging the mics, chairs and music stands for optimal audio quality and sight lines for the actors. Erin Spencer, the director for Gemina, was amazing and did so much prep work to make the session run smoothly. We had to work on the fly as actors were going in and out of the studio to do their lines and we had to keep the levels consistent so we always had a good match

How long did it take to cast this book? 

Janet Stark: The best way to describe Gemina: a casting marathon. Amie & Jay provided character descriptions for the primary characters. Secondary voices, maybe ten more, were cast as the book was taken apart page by page. Erin Spencer was project director, and she and I spent long meetings with the pages to nail down the session strategy. Separating out individual page sets for each role, using Gemina’s chat style format of multiple characters per page, we more or less dissected the book to make the most of each actor’s time. Then came the many minor voices with only a few lines each. People in the studio’s vicinity were being asked to get behind the mic for a line or two, resulting in a long list of uncredited voices. Being in the moment during sessions, ready for the unexpected, was basic to this production.

Erin Spencer

What was your favorite part of this project?

Janet Stark: Recording the pop song snippets! Amie & Jay put the lyrics in the text, then the music actually found me as I listened to a blast of new selections. The melody sung by Erin, well, I can’t imagine a session more fun than that.

Patrick Billard: Engineering the pop song part of the session was fun for me since my background is as a recording engineer at music studios in Manhattan for the past 10 years before moving to Los Angeles and starting to work here at PRH studios. Janet Stark, the producer for Gemina, also has a background in music studio engineering so we worked together during the session. I used my extensive experience tracking vocals for pop songs to coach Erin to get good takes and to help hone the parts as the song was being tweaked during the recording process, which is quite typical for most vocal tracking sessions for pop songs. We all had a lot of fun recording the pop song.

MacLeod Andrews
Steve West

How long does an audiobook of this complex take to produce? Is that similar to a standard audiobook production?

Janet Stark: Comparing the complexity of Gemina to a standard audiobook, I’d have to say it was more like producing a film on audio. So many voices, evolving characters, sound effects, it all adds up to an experience I hope people enjoy.

Were you comfortable contributing voices here & there? Had you done something like that before?

Patrick Billard: Yes, Erin and Janet recruited most of the staff here at PRH to do wild lines and it was a lot of fun. For me it was a good experience being on the other side of the glass, as it makes me realize what it’s like to be a voice actor and that it’s not nearly as easy as it may look or sound. It also made me appreciate Erin’s skill as a director- she really knew what she was going for with my lines and did her part coaching me through the process. My particular lines were rather loud and vulgar which made me step out of my comfort zone which was exciting.

Lincoln Hoppe, voice of “AIDAN”

Project Director Erin Spencer’s take on the process: 

Erin Spencer: Working on Gemina was a truly unique experience and unlike any other audiobook that I have directed.  To begin, I read the entire book to get an overall sense of storyline and character arc.  From there, it’s a matter of going over each page individually to see what is happening in each ‘scene’, which characters are speaking and how the art work and graphics can be adapted into an audio format.

We needed upwards of 20 actors for Gemina – with only a handful recurring from Illuminae, so it was up to Janet Stark and me to find the right actors for the roles we had available. Casting is very important and it’s a lot of fun to have so many actors on one title!

Erin Spencer

Studio time is really the most fun but equally the most stressful time for me, the project director.  We had up to three actors in the recording studio at one time because Gemina was recorded as if we were doing scenes in a movie.  The actors are able to engage and play off of one another, which really brings a sense of realism and keeps the tone very organic. As the director, I ran a very tight schedule each day. I may have had 15 actors coming in to read in a single day and the organization and scheduling had to be precise.  My mantra on those days is TRUST!  Trust that I did all the prep work needed to ensure we have every page covered, that all the actors are prepared with their pages, and that I have done everything I can do to make the process smooth and that the end product will be amazing!  We don’t read this book like you would do with other books – in order, page by page.  It’s read completely out of order based on which actors I have scheduled together that day.  So, I have to trust that it’s all there.  And honestly, when it’s all over, it’s simultaneously a relief and a little grief at the same time!

After Illuminae came out, I received the CDs so I could listen to it on my commute to the studio.  I literally cried when I heard it.  Cried out of sheer pride for all the actors who worked so hard, for the editor who did such a phenomenal job and in my mind has one of the toughest jobs of all, cried for the post-production team, and especially for Janet Stark who pulled it all together.  I can’t wait to cry over Gemina, too.

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

 

Oct 7, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  Take a look at the first post in this series here

Today, we’re going further afield – independent booksellers from bookstores across the country want to share why they’re so excited about Gemina.

You can preorder the book here. For a Q&A with the authors, click here… and for you superfans, join First In Line here to see the full uncensored version. 

Suzanne Droppert, owner and Madison Duckworth, bookseller

“Not only is this an amazing series, the books themselves are works of art. Jay & Amie weave crazy, intertwining stories that all take place in deep space. Gemina keeps you on your toes from start to finish and makes you question everything you thought you knew. One of my favorite series!” –Madison Duckworth, Liberty Bay Books

“Love this space opera series, from the page layouts to the drama between people- Hannah and Malikov, BeiTech team members with Ella…”  Suzanne Droppert, Liberty Bay Books

Tara Soulen and Allison Senecal

Illuminae was one of my favorite reads of 2015, so when I managed to get my hands on an advanced copy of Gemina I was simultaneously thrilled and nervous. Nervous because my expectations were high, and I didn’t know if the particular magic that was Illuminae could be recaptured. Guess what? This book did not meet my soaringly high expectations, it exceeded them. Somehow Kaufman and Kristoff have managed to not only recapture the breakneck speed and engrossing storytelling they introduced in Illuminae, but they have also managed to introduce two new main characters so captivating I didn’t mind leaving the old ones behind. If anything I think I like Nik & Hanna even more than Kady & Ezra. Told in the same format as the previous book, through chat logs, found footage, and mixed media, this book is nearly impossible to put down.

It had me turning pages well past my bedtime, and stretching every second of my lunch break. Imagine, if you will, Die Hard set on a space station with creepy aliens slithering around, and an unlikely duo of teenagers in the starring roles. That’s Gemina. And I loved every minute of it. My one point of angst now is waiting for the third book, as this only made me hungry for more. I can’t wait until Gemina hits the shelves in October so I can buy a finished copy for myself and see all the fantastic art I know will be included. A huge thank you to Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff for lugging an advanced copy through the airport to gift to my store, and to Random House for providing the ARC in the first place. You have a lifelong fan.” –Tara Soulen, Book Shop of Fort Collins

“Somehow even better than Illuminae! Wow. Way more action, plus flesh-eating aliens instead of a zombie virus this time. I loved Hanna even more than Kady, and got attached to some members of the murderous BeiTech squad??? Can’t wait to see Hanna’s drawings in the finished book. More emotional whiplash than Illuminae too. HOW??? Amazing.” –Allison Senecal, Old Firehouse Books

Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

Sep 26, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  Take a look at the first post in this series here

Today, we’re featuring an interview with Publicity Manager, Aisha Cloud. She joins us to talk about her career change, book tours, and being a cheerleader for Gemina. Read below for her inside scoop. 

What is your job title?

Publicity Manager

What does that mean for you on a day to day?

As a publicist, my main job is to create buzz and awareness for our books by securing media coverage across print, tv, radio and online outlets and to support our authors/illustrators throughout the process. Media coverage could be in the form of a review, interview, op-ed piece, and/or giveaway, and I work closely with reviewers/reporters and then back with the authors/illustrators to produce any necessary content or prepare for interviews. I also set up events with bookstores and other venues and these include signings, presentations and school visits. We also pitch authors and illustrators for public events like festivals and comic cons (cons depend more on the genre of the book). These are just some of the different platforms we use to get the word out there about our books. My role also encompasses social media, as that’s a really important way to drive awareness today.

How is working with this book/series different from any other title?

The layout of the book is truly breathtaking, unique and seriously out-of-this-world. I enjoyed not only reading the book and experiencing the story unravel and how it is told in a different format, but also seeing people’s reactions to reading it on social media. Next up for me is listening to the audio book of Illuminae. It has received a bunch of praise and I would love to experience the book in that way too.

What’s the most surprising thing about this job?

Our connection to everyone and everything. When I describe what I do, it’s sounds simple…manageable, but publicists are the go-to people not only for authors and illustrators, but within the company, we serve as a central hub for information that is needed by sales, marketing and editorial. Besides the author, we are a spokesperson and cheerleader for the books and we want everyone (I mean, everyone!) to know the next big book to read as it might very well change your life…or make your long plane ride more enjoyable! 

Describe Gemina in one sentence.

I called Illuminae a game-changer. But Gemina is more than a game-changer, it’s revolutionary. Expect the unexpected and enjoy the ride!

Do you have a favorite part of the book? Favorite element or visual aspect?

My favorite part is yet to come…we’ve got surprises galore and I can’t wait for fans to learn about them!

Readers can pre-order Gemina here, and  also see the rest of Marie Lu ‘s unbelievably beautiful and complex illustration of the Heimdall space station!

Heimdall Station drawn by Marie Lu

How did you get into publicity?

I use to work in advertising, I was completely miserable (used to imagine getting hit by a bus to get away from it all…horrible, I know) and it hit me (the idea, not a bus) one day that working at an advertising agency wasn’t the right job for me. So I thought to myself, what do I like to do? I like to read books and talk about it afterwards with fellow book lovers. So I quit my job and took the NYU Summer Publishing Program. There I learned that reading and talking, aka promoting and publicizing a book, was basically the underlying core of a publicist. After I completed the course, I got my first job as a publicity assistant at Doubleday and knew it was the right career for me!

Do you have a favorite moment or memory of the authors?

I was lucky enough to tour with the authors during the first leg of the Illuminae tour which started in Seattle. During our down time, we were able to explore the city and visit the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and walk the Underground tour in their buried city. It was so cool to be a tourist with the authors. It was my first time visiting the city and meeting the authors and it’s now a memory I will never forget! Also, Amie and Jay say that if they make fun of you, that for Australians means that they like you…so they love me a lot!

What are you looking forward to on this upcoming book tour?

I can’t wait to see people’s reaction when they meet the authors at their events and open the book for the first time. It’s obviously not my book, I didn’t write it, but being a part of this huge project is a reward in itself, especially being able to see the delight and excitement of fans when they finally have the book in their hands.

Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

Sep 15, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  Take a look at the first post in this series here

Today, we’re featuring an interview with Senior Account Manager, Kimberly Langus. She joins us to talk about sales, bookstores, and accounts. Read below for her inside scoop. 

How would you describe your job to a layperson?

The easy answer is that I sell books to Barnes & Noble, but it’s a little more complicated than that!  It’s about positioning Random House Children’s Books in the market and making sure that each book has the best merchandising possible.  And then once a book is selling, it’s all about trying to maximize those sales.  I work with Marketing, Publicity and Social Media to use every tool and opportunity available to drive consumers to buy our books. 

When you describe Gemina to the book buyers, what is your hook? What’s memorable and unique about the book – why would they want to sell it to readers?

Well, Gemina wasn’t too hard to pitch to the buyer because the first book, Illuminae, had done so well.  It was more of a challenge to position Illuminae when I sold it in last year.  On the one hand, it was really unique and Barnes & Noble is always looking for unique formats and different ways of storytelling. This was definitely that. There was nothing else like it in the teen marketplace in my experience. It had all these elements that they were looking for, but on the other hand, it’s the sci-fi genre and that’s a really tough genre in teen. 

Really? That’s shocking! Why?

Yes, it is shocking. There are very few teen sci-fi books that have had wide commercial success in recent years. Fantasy, action, adventure, survival stories- all of those are popular for teens, but for some reason sci-fi has been slower to resonate. So the account was taking a flyer with Random House in supporting Illuminae in such a big way, and it definitely paid off. So, when I went in to sell Gemina it was a much easier sales pitch.

Why do you think it performed so well?

It’s a combination of factors. First, there’s the amazing story and unique format. It had a really striking package. It also had great positioning and merchandising in the stores. And you have this  amazing author team who were really involved in social media and also really successful on their tour. Then there’s word of mouth combined with a great Marketing and Publicity campaign.  So you can’t pinpoint any one thing that made the book a success. 

Speaking of amazing social media and exciting special features, readers can pre-order Gemina here, and  also see the rest of Marie Lu ‘s unbelievably beautiful and complex illustration of the Heimdall space station!

Heimdall Station drawn by Marie Lu

And when did you first hear about the book?

I know it sounds crazy, but I actually remember the editor’s pitch of Illuminae. I’m going to paraphrase, but basically she said, “I’m not a fan of sci-fi but this book is so much more than that”. I do like sci-fi and had just  read The Martian so I was already in the sci-fi mode.  It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to pick up Illuminae after hearing Melanie’s pitch. I think one important thing to note is that when an editor is so passionate about a book and gives such a great pitch it really does affect how the sales team feels about that book and sells it to their accounts.  I remember the editor’s pitch for The Book Thief and I heard that presentation over 10 years ago.   I remember the pitch for The Maze Runner. I remember these presentations because the editors were so passionate about the books that it seeps into how I feel about them too. 

What do you like about Gemina in particular?

Well I think what’s amazing about Gemina is that it could have been a repeat of Illuminae because it’s the same kind of storytelling conceit; It’s told in texts, redacted transcripts and memos. The danger is that it might not feel as fresh as the first book.  Also it’s a sequel and uses completely different characters, which is also a little dangerous  because readers get invested in the protagonists of the first book and they’re expecting those same characters to be in the second book.  When they’re not there, it’s almost like starting the series again from the beginning.  But somehow the authors were able to pull it off and Gemina  is even better than Illuminae. I think they actually improved upon what they had done the first time. You get just as invested in these new characters. It’s so fast-paced; you just can’t stop turning the pages. I’m so in awe of their writing and imagination and storytelling and how they collaborate together.    

How do you work with editorial, marketing, and publicity?

I work with all those groups in the regular course of business-  talking to publicity about author events and working with marketing on sales materials and galley mailings. What I find most exciting about working with those groups is when you can create unique merchandising or marketing for the accounts. That gives me an opportunity to really be creative and to try to shape the B&N experience of the book that’s different from the Amazon experience, or the Target experience, or the Indie experience.  Here’s one example:  I had worked with B&N on B-Fest which was their nationwide  teen book festival this past June.  One of the items we created was a Penguin Random House ‘Insider’s Guide to B-Fest.  And it featured a lot of great content, including a piece from Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. 

I was actually in the B&N in Yonkers on the first night of B-Fest and there was this group of teens that were looking in their guides and they turned to the Illuminae /Gemina  spread and one of the girls cries out , “Oh my God, Illuminae! You guys have to read this!” That is probably the best part of my job, it was like everything coming full circle. To set up Illuminae last year, to help position Gemina this year, to bring exclusive content to Barnes & Noble, and to get readers excited about it. It was everything that you could hope for as a Sales Manager.

That’s great to hear! Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like your readers to know that what I love most about my job is being  surrounded by people who love books and who love to talk about books. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. Also it’s wonderful to be a part of bringing books to customers. To know that a book reached their hands because of something I contributed is really exciting and rewarding.   

Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

Sep 9, 2016 Behind the Scenes

We’re going deep inside the making of a book, with interviews from Penguin Random House employees in editorial, marketing, sales, and more.  If you’ve ever wondered about all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into making your favorite books, this is the series for you.  Take a look at the first post in this series here

Today, we’re featuring an interview with the editor of Gemina, Melanie Cecka-Nolan. Read below for her inside scoop. 

This book is part of a very non-traditional trilogy. How would you describe Gemina to someone who has never heard of it before?

I would say Gemina is science fiction for people who don’t think they like science fiction, and I say that because I don’t think of myself as someone who likes science fiction. This is the series that really turned around my thinking about the genre. When The Illuminae Files was first pitched to me, the agents positioned it as Battle Star Galatica meets 10 Things I Hate About You. That did a really good job of setting up the story for me– action-based and stuck on a spaceship but with the intensity, the humor, the love and romance of a relationship story. When I read the manuscript for the first book, I felt like I’d ingested a drug. I was just bouncing off the walls. And I remember thinking, if I can have this kind of reaction to it as a non-sci-fi person, everybody would.

For those who don’t know, an editor will have a relationship with an agent and the agent pitches manuscripts to the editor that they think they’ll like. So why do you think that this agent sent you this book?

Knopf is known for being very literary, but also for taking chances with its books and authors. I think agents are always looking for someone who is going to respond with the right combination of vision and instantaneous love—especially with unusual projects.  So although The Illuminae Files may not have been my typical kind of book, I think the agents saw Knopf as the right publisher.

What’s a book or a series that you’ve worked on that you think is more of your type or style?

I tend to be drawn to books that are girl-centric. I have a little boy at home who has opened my eyes to a much broader range of reading, but I’m always a thirteen, fourteen-year-old girl at heart. Mouse Scouts is one of my favorites; it’s about a troop of little girl scouts who happen to be mice, that’s kind of me in a nutshell. There are some editors who excel at really gritty things, edgy teen fiction, male-centric narratives—and that’s not really my core strength. But the Illuminae Files was so immediately accessible and the female characters were so well-drawn and felt like friends – it broke though and worked, even for a “girl” editor.

What was your favorite part about Gemina or something that surprised or interested you about this second book?

Well it’s a trilogy, and I knew the second book was going to introduce a new set of characters and situations as well as advance the larger story. I think what has surprised me is the way the authors continue to one-up themselves. There’s are a couple of big plot twists in Illuminae and there are three or four twists in Gemina. As a reader I didn’t see them coming, and even as an editor who went into the story with a sense of how events were going to play out, I still didn’t see those things coming. That’s  a huge treat– to go into a book with a certain set of expectations and having them completely blown apart because what comes in is so much more entertaining.  InIlluminae the protagonists are sort of like the hometown sweethearts: They are great kids, very engaging, very personable. InGemina the “heroes” aren’t set up the same way. The female lead isn’t particularly likable. She’s spoiled, she’s very pampered, she very me-centric. The male lead is kind of the lovable anti-hero. He’s a gang member, he’s covered in tattoos that allude to a violent history, he deals drugs, so on the surface he’s not necessarily someone you see emerging as the hero. But you’re so swept up in who they are and how they change and grow over the course of the story that it completely changes your perception.

People tend to think “editor” when they think of publishing, but many may not know the details of your job. So: when you get a manuscript what happens next? How do you start making a book?

It starts with a lot of dry administrative things; we sign the book up, we go to a contract, and then I start by working backward from when we anticipate that we want the book to come out. We work with our internal production and design groups to mastermind a schedule.

Because this is such a complex book visually, the design aspects require a lot more time than a typical book might, with its tidy lines of text on a page. For Illuminae and Gemina, literally every page is a different design. The authors were also heavily involved in the design inspiration for the book, so we had to factor them into the blueprint when we were setting up the schedules.

Once we had a schedule down, it was easier to address the more straightforward editorial things with the authors. We communicate primarily through email because they’re in Australia, which is a fourteen-hour time difference. I went through the book with big-picture things in mind, like what could be improved and what did we have questions about.

Once we feel like we’ve really gotten a story in the best possible shape, it goes over to the copy editor who knows how to do everything I don’t know how to do in terms of grammar and consistency. It’s really cleaning the text for things we might not have caught in the editorial process. Copyediting a book of this size takes about four to six weeks. The manuscript then goes back to the authors so they can address any queries that the copy editor has found. They generally have about a month with it and then we send it to our design group. And from there, the book needs a minimum of ten months to come together before finally going to the printer, with numerous passes and reviews by everybody in between.

These are two original concepts we tried for the jacket:

Given the non-traditional reading experience and the fact that the whole conceit of the book is based on  documentation, we wanted to find a way to present all of those documents visually. These ideas got dismissed very early on, but they ended up inspiring the case cover design, where designer Ray Shapell was able to let loose with the whole idea of redaction, leaking classified lines, and showing hand-written communications from the characters. Although abandoning the original jacket designs felt like a setback initially, the process brought us directly to final packaging.

These cover concepts look a lot more like traditional sci-fi to me.

They do. At the time the first book, Illuminae, was coming together, we hadn’t really seen sci-fi break though on a young adult level, so we were trying to arrive at a cover look that wouldn’t scare off readers who aren’t traditional fans of the genre.  But I think these books have really broken the mold.

I think a lot of people wouldn’t realize an editor not only deals with the content of the book, but that you have a say in the cover design and you’re a big part of those discussions. Is there anything else that would surprise someone outside of publishing about your job?

I don’t sit at my desk and edit. 99% of my editorial work takes place at my kitchen table or my couch on the weekends. Most of my editorial life in the office is spent at meetings or answering emails, and I need to disengage from the office in order to really get into a creative mind space.

Photo Credit: Christopher Tovo

Why do you think fans are responding so strongly to this series, outside of its non-traditional layout?

I think anybody who has met the authors in person feels like they’ve met characters from the book. Their personalities inform every single character in the story; they’re funny, they’re intense, their rapport together just makes you want to sit back and watch them talk to each other. Their writing process involved sending each other blind chapters, and they wrote some passages by text messaging each other rather than sitting side by side, nursing every line in a common voice. So their individual writing personas feel intact and their living, breathing process gets contained in the book.  I think that’s something readers can sense when they read it – It’s just a very personal reading experience, and they make it super accessible. I remember saying to someone, “it may be 600 pages long, but you could easily give it to a reluctant reader,” because there are all these different visuals to break up the reading experience, and the humor and voices and the pace just sweep you along.

Is there anything else people might like to know about the book?

A slightly non-standard occurrence happened this summer when we sent the authors some pre-press pages to sign—4,000 pages, to be exact. UPS got the address wrong, and Jay was running around trying to locate the boxes. One thing you have to know about Jay is that he’s a big guy and he does a really amazing job of pulling off a badass author persona, but the truth is he’s a total sweetheart. So when he emailed to say that he had found the boxes and stole them off of someone’s porch, I just had to laugh. That’s the kind of stuff that happens working with these two: petty theft might be involved. There’s always something slightly unusual that comes together.

Read more about Gemina and Illuminae below, and be sure to check back soon for more behind-the-scenes interviews!

Follow along: #Gemina, #Illuminae, #IluminaeFiles

Follow the authors on Twitter (@AmieKaufman, @misterkristoff) and Instagram (@amiekaufmanauthor, @misterkristoff)

Visit the website here: illuminaefiles.com

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