Bestselling author Beth Revis grew up in western North Carolina reading C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. In January of 2011, her debut novel, Across the Universe, a sci-fi novel for teens who might not normally like sci-fi, was published by Razorbill Books, an imprint of the Penguin Group. The first in a three-part series, Across the Universe tells the story of a girl born on Earth but cryogenically frozen for a centuries-long voyage through space and the boy whom she meets when she wakes up fifty years earlier than expected.
Currently available in 20 languages around the world, Across the Universe was selected as a YALSO Teen Top Ten novel, received the Seal of Excellence and the Futuristic Novel of the Year Award from Romantic Times, was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal and was featured on several state reading lists. The second book in the trilogy, A Million Suns, was selected as a Kirkus Best Of 2012 novel and a Best Book of 2012 from Wired magazine, and the third book, Shades of Earth, was featured as a Book of the Month by Seventeen magazine and an Indigo Must-Read Novel.
A former teacher, Revis resides in rural North Carolina with her husband and her dog. Her next book, The Body Electric, will be released in October of 2014. Learn more about Revis and her work at www.bethrevis.com.
I grew up in a house of books. My parents were both avid readers, and their house is dotted with huge bookshelves that dominate the walls. As a child, I remember sitting in the hallway, pulling out editions of the 1974 encyclopedia, flipping through the pages to discover new animals, new cultures, new worlds. But perhaps even more important than the fact that there were books in my house were what kind of books — most of my father’s books were Westerns, most of my mother’s books were romances. My parents loved genre fiction unabashedly, and while I never really shared their passion for those specific genres, it taught me a very important lesson: find the books you love and surround yourself with them.
How did you first become interested in writing, and more specifically, what initially drew you towards science-fiction writing? What do you find most interesting or exciting about the genre?
I honestly cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated by writing. The very act of creating letters and was amazing to me when I was young — I would beg my older brother to show me how to spell things by writing in the sawdust of the house my parents were building when I was four; once I learned to write, I taught myself cursive and calligraphy. My mother has a photograph of me in front of a story I wrote in first grade. I wrote a “novel” about unicorns (10 pages long, each page a chapter) in fifth grade. Books and their creation was always something that I longed to be a part of — but years of being told “you better find a day job!” and “that’s nice, but make sure you get a college degree in something that makes money” made me believe it wasn’t really a viable option. And honestly? Those advisors were right. It took me ten years and ten novels that aren’t published before I wrote the one novel that actually was — and that novel changed my entire life.
I fell into science fiction. All my previous unpublished novels were fantasy. I thought I didn’t like sci-fi at all. My husband loves those old school hard SF novels — the ones where at least one chapter of the book is dedicated to the spaceship’s engine and how it works. I thought all sci-fi was that way — despite the fact that I really loved space operas like Star Wars and my favorite show of all time is the short-lived Firefly. But when I started Across the Universe, I was about to give up. I’d invested more than a decade in books that hadn’t sold, and it felt… pointless. I had one more idea, though, and that idea required cryogenic freezing and a spaceship. I suddenly found myself making my last ditch effort in publication a sci-fi novel.
What inspired the story of Across the Universe?
It was the ending of the novel. It came to me sort of suddenly, a “what if X happened at the end of a book?” Without spoiling the book, one of my main characters confesses something major to another one in one of the last chapters. That scene — the confession, the twist, the way that one sentence could change everything — that was the scene that came to me first. I wrote the entire book just to get to that one sentence confession.
What was the publishing process like for Across the Universe? Did you have any difficulty convincing an agent or publisher to believe in you and your work?
I have never added up all the rejections I’ve gotten for my works, but I estimate that it’s close to a thousand rejections. I wrote one book a year for ten years, and submitted each book to around a hundred or so agents (and a few editors who were open to submissions). The process can best be described as “soul-crushing.” Every book felt like “the one.” I never submitted something I didn’t believe in, and I believed in every one of those novels 100%. Looking back now, I can see why they were rejected. The first ones were, frankly, not good enough. A few were derivative. And a few were just too weird or different to fit into the market of today.
So by the time I wrote Across the Universe, I had a decade of rejection. I was ready to give up. Across the Universe was the best thing I’d ever written, and I knew it, and if it didn’t sell, I would quit writing. What would be the point?
But it did sell. After ten years of nothing, an agent — my dream agent! — picked it up quickly, reading the book overnight in order to give me an offer before I accepted the offer of another agent. We subbed it shortly after, and the sale was rather quick. It was such a whirlwind after years and years of waiting and silence, and it honestly changed my life. I was able to quit my day job as a teacher and become a full-time writer. Every day since then has been living my dream, and nothing in the world can replace that.
How much attention do you pay to reviews of your books? Good, bad or somewhere in between, do they have any effect on you or your writing?
When Across the Universe first came out, I read one review that said, “I hated this book, it was so slow!” and immediately after that read a review that said, “I loved this book, it was so fast-paced!” After that, reviews didn’t really affect me. Everyone has an opinion. Good or bad, I’m glad to create work that makes people feel something.
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
I just finished The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin. It’s a story told in photographs, articles, and interviews about the audacious life and suspicious death of a wild-child artist who took the world by storm. The characters were so realistic that I honestly had to go back to the cover and re-read the words “a novel” to believe it was a work of fiction and not reality. It was simply amazing.
Another book I loved was The Walled City by Ryan Graudin. It comes out in November, and it’s just a brilliant book. Beautifully written and utterly tragic. It’s about a walled city where depravity reigns — and it’s based on a real historical city similar in conditions. Graudin holds no punches in this story. You know how sometimes in a book, you can tell that something bad is going to happen to a character, but you figure that’s not going to really happen because truly bad things rarely happen to the main characters? That’s not true of The Walled City. The bad things happen, and the characters have to live with it (or not), and it’s just breathtaking.
I wanted to write a story that explored humanity. The Body Electric is a sci-fi thriller — I took a lot of influence from Philip K. Dick and Blade Runner and Total Recall, so there’s lots of action, lots of twists. But in the end, the point of the book, for me, was to really think about what makes someone human. Is it memories? If you take away someone’s memories, are they less human? Is it emotion? If we can simulate emotions in an android, at what point does the robot become human — can it become human? A lot of the foundation of creating the story stems from these questions. It’s not a philosophical book — there are explosions and kissing and fighting and mystery — but those philosophical questions were the driving force for me in writing.
My goals in publishing The Body Electric were more simple: I wanted to thank the readers who helped me achieve my dreams and who helped make the success of Across the Universe possible. I wanted this book to be like my gift to them.
With the release of The Body Electric quickly approaching, what do the coming weeks and months have in store for you?
No rest for the wicked! I decided to do several editions of the book, including a signed, limited edition, each one numbered and stuffed with extra content, including full-color art card prints, a map, and more. I just finished putting those books together, compiling all the extras and signing and numbering each one. We sold out of all 300 copies with my local indie bookstore, Malaprops, so I’m really happy about that!
I’m gearing up for a launch party at Malaprops, organizing a series of contests for the book (including one contest which will offer as a prize a literal library of signed science fiction novels from the past few years — more than 20 books, which I’ve been stockpiling for more than a year now!), writing newsletters, developing social media posts, writing guest posts and interviews, posting sample chapters on Wattpad… so much of being a writer isn’t about writing!
But, of course, being a writer actually is about writing — so in addition to all the promo I’m doing for The Body Electric, I’m already two books into the future. I have one book with my publisher at Penguin/Razorbill and another book I’m rewriting for my agent.
Which Firefly character do you most identify with?
I’m totally a Mal kind of girl. The way he wants to look out for number one but ultimately can’t help but help others is a quality of his I’m kind of proud to have; his stubbornness is a fault I share, too. I try not to be quite as jaded as him, though — if I’m Mal in terms of my ethics, I’m totally Kaylee in terms of the way I act and my attitude.
If you could travel forward or backwards in time, which period of time would you choose to visit, and why?
I wouldn’t mind slipping into Tudor England or Reformation Germany simply because those time periods fascinate me, but I definitely, absolutely only want to be a visitor. I need soap and modern healthcare!
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
There’s a ton of good advice out there, but even the best advice for one writer could be the worst advice for another. One of the most common mantras every writer hears is “write every day.” But that advice kills my creativity. I cannot, absolutely cannot write every day. For some people, it works. For me, it doesn’t. So whatever advice you hear as a writer, know that writing is a hugely unique process for every writer, and just do what works for you.
What are you working on next?
Several things! But I’m pretty superstitious about talking too much about future volumes. I’ll say that one thing is a return to my roots and a fantasy novel. Another is a twisty little book that’s very personal to me. I’ve also been working on several short stories for some great upcoming anthologies I’m excited about.