Monday, 23 January 2012

Interview: Kristen Simmons (Article 5)

Good day, chaps! Hasn't January flown by? We're creeping ever closer to the apocalypse. Joking. I hope.

Anyway, I've got another debut YA author interview for you today. This time I've got Kristen Simmons with me, author of the hotly anticipated Article 5, the first in a new trilogy which I for one and seriously excited about. Article 5 is due out in just over a week on the 31/01/2012, published by Tor Teen.

Hi, Kristen! In case any readers haven’t heard about the book yet, can you tell me a little bit about Article 5?

Hi Carly! Thanks for inviting me over to your blog!

I’d love to tell you all about ARTICLE 5, but since I have a hard time keeping things concise when asked about it, I’ll share the cover copy. It’s a little more to-the-point than I tend to be!

New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC have been abandoned.

The Bill of Rights has been revoked, and replaced with the Moral Statutes.

There are no more police—instead, there are soldiers. There are no more fines for bad behav-ior—instead, there are arrests, trials and maybe worse. People who get arrested don’t usually come back.

Seventeen-year-old Ember Miller is old enough to remember that things weren’t always this way. Living with her rebellious single mother, it’s hard to forget that people weren’t always ar-rested for reading the wrong books or staying out after dark. That life in the United States used to be different.

In the three years since the war ended, Ember has perfected the art of keeping a low profile. She knows how to get the things she needs—like food stamps and hand-me-down clothes—and how to pass the random home inspections by the Federal Bureau of Reformation. Her life is as close to peaceful as circumstances allow. That is, until her mother is arrested for noncompliance with Article 5 of the Moral Statutes. And what’s worse, one of the arresting officers is none other than Chase Jennings…the only boy Ember has ever loved.

Talk me through an average day when you’re working on a novel. Do you have a set number of words you have to write per day or do you set yourself different targets?

This is something that has changed drastically over the years. When I wrote A5, I was working full-time and teaching exercise classes in the evening, which meant that I typically wrote on lunch breaks, late at night, or on the weekends. Now that I’m taking some time off to finish the series, I have much more flexibility – but that means I need to be even more disciplined!

I never set a target word count for the day. Mostly because I hate counting words (ha ha), as my agent can attest to. Like I said, I have a hard time keeping things concise. Instead, I’ll set a specific scene goal; for example, my characters have to get from Point A to Point B, or get into a fight, or escape the authorities.

Almost always, when I sit down to write, I need some time to get my head back “in the game,” so to speak. To do this, I’ll reread everything that I wrote the previously day, that way I’m both editing as I go along, and getting back into the spirit of the story. Usually by the time I’ve read through the previous day’s pages, I’m no longer hearing the washing machine buzz, or the phone ring. I’m focused and ready to work.

In young adult fiction in particular, it’s important that readers bond with the characters - what do you think is the most important thing to get right when you're creating a character?

Wow, good question. I’d say the most important thing to get right is a character’s flaws. I know that sounds awful – I don’t mean to be a Negative Nancy – but I think flaws are the essential elements which make us human. For me, it’s easy to write characters who always do the right thing in any given situation (be the right thing “good” or “evil”), but it’s not always easy to identify the underlying issues they struggle with: a short fuse, an abusive parent, feeling fat, a fear of being alone, bad breath. It’s important to express a character’s vulnerabilities, because under our candy-coated shells, we’re all vulnerable about something, and oftentimes it’s those vulnerabilities which truly connect us, not just common interests or common enemies. A character’s weaknesses are always what define my relationship with them as a reader.

What sort of research did you have to do for Article 5? How did you go about doing this?

Ha. My husband always jokes that I’m one Google search short of being arrested.

For ARTICLE 5, I knew I wanted to write about a society that had abolished the separation between church and state, and replaced the American Bill of Rights (a document protecting citizens from the government by giving them the right to religious freedom, speech, free press, etc.) with a set of Moral Statutes. I also knew I wanted to include a military regime, and an opposing resistance, all of which I had only a superficial knowledge.

I did do a lot of research on the internet. I had to read up on the American Revolution, and to explore the founding documents that granted citizens personal freedom in order to understand the magnitude of overhauling a country’s core belief system. And...I did a lot of online searches on guns, weapons, and political conspiracy theories. Sooo glad I never got in trouble for that.

A few close friends, and a few absolutely fantastic high school guys, helped me realize just how easy it is to make something blow up (in theory. IN THEORY!), and how to ride a motorcycle. And, maybe best of all, I went on a fantastic ridealong with the police one night, and learned all about weapons, policy-stuff, and what it feels like to sit in the passenger seat while someone drives 120 mph down surface streets, weaving in and out of cars, with the sirens blaring and the lights blazing. Researching a book is awesome.

The YA book market is a competitive place, what do you think sets Article 5 apart from the pack?

I think the primary element which sets A5 apart from the other dystopian thrillers is its place in time. Ember's world is not run by machines or Skynet, there are no hover crafts or futuristic weapons. Her world is much like our own, with similar technologies, communication methods, and social issues. However, within this similar reality exists a very different political structure - a moral regime, governed by a set of faith-based rules which have replaced the Bill of Rights. A5 looks at what might happen to life as we know it should the separation between church and state be dissolved and the punishments for noncompliance be taken too far. And Ember, like all of us, is forced to adapt to that environment while remembering what it was like before everything changed.

There are a couple other things, but I don’t want to give away the ending!

Some writers relate take great inspiration from music while they’re writing. Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what artists/bands do you like to listen to while you write?

Music has a very important role in my life – it’s my daily medicine – but I can’t actually write and listen at the same time. Mostly just because of overstimulation; I’m afraid my brain will explode if crowded with too many things. But, that being said, I used music a lot to set the scene for A5, and to put me in the right frame of mind to write. Here are the songs I listened to over and over:

ARTICLE 5 Playlist:
Track Artist
1. Grounds for Divorce Elbow
2. Kingdom of Rust Doves
3. Magick Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
4. Call Me When You’re Sober Evanescence
5. Decode Paramore
6. Imaginary Evanescence
7. Runnin’ Wild Airbourne
8. Permanent David Cook
9. For Reasons Unknown The Killers
10. My Immortal Evanescence
11. I Don’t Believe You Pink
12. Hurt Christina Aguilera

Are you a plotter or a pantser? Have you always been this way?

I was originally a pantser (which is probably why the first draft of A5 was so long and consequently had so many revisions), but over time I’m becoming more and more of a plotter. I’m finding it harder than I thought to close a series. You have to tie up loose ends and stuff.

Can you tell me a bit about your journey with Article 5? When did you first come up with the idea and what were the timescales involved between the first draft and the novel being accepted for publication?

I wrote the first draft of ARTICLE 5 in about eight weeks, in the fall of 2008. I went out in search of an agent in the beginning of 2009 and connected Joanna MacKenzie, with Browne and Miller Literary Agents in April of 2009. You may remember earlier that I mentioned I can be a little verbose...well...the first draft of A5 that I sent to Joanna was approximately 154,000 words (which is an awful lot for YA). Anyway, she expressed the appropriate concerns, but thought the story had some potential, so we hacked into it (aka, did revisions) for a while. Almost a year actually. After she offered representation, we went out on submission, and that’s when I met editor-extraordinaire, Melissa Frain, at Tor Teen (we’re now in the summer of 2010). Revisions commenced, and as you know ARTICLE 5 will be released on January 31st, 2012. Yes, this has been a long process, but I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been pretty amazing.

How important do you think social media (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/blogging) is in today’s market for a writer?

Oh gosh. This is a hard question for me to answer. I didn’t have a blog, let alone a Facebook page (personal or professional), before I signed a contract with the publisher. Social media is a definite learning curve for me. That being said, it gets easier the more you do it. I definitely like stalking my author friends on their blogs, and connecting to other writers and readers through Facebook.

What would you say is your worst bad habit when it comes to writing?

Eating. Plain and simple. I have a hard time sitting at my computer without mindlessly stuffing my face.

Is naming characters important to you? What processes do you go through to come up with names for your characters?

It is important to me actually. Chase was chosen because both he and Ember are on the run, are chased, while at the same time pursuing something else. Ember is pursu-ing her mother. Chase is pursuing their safety. Both are chasing each other, although due to circumstances are finding each other just out of reach. This puts them in a state of constant motion, making it hard to settle, which is why they cling to that which doesn’t change – their memories of each other.

My heroine required something slightly unusual to reflect her tenacity in a world of compliance and regulations, but not so flamboyant that she would stand out. The "E" softened the name Amber, allowing her to slip into the mainstream crowd pre-Chase, but not become dismissible. Embers are also, of course, the last smoldering ashes of the fire, and that’s sort of the point of her. She blends in while the world is rages and is stripped away, yet still burns, still perseveres.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing Article 5? Do you think you have accomplished what you set out to do?

Honestly, I just wanted to write the kind of story I like to read. Something fast-paced and romantic, with enough controversy to make me think about things. I feel like I accomplished that.

Do you think your teenage years have influenced you as a writer? If so, how?

Oh yes. I love writing books for young adults because I think that age is the most crucial time of our lives. It’s when we start to really consider why we act the way we act, and think they way we think, and believe what we believe. (Because of others? Because of our parents?) This is the age where we start to develop our own opinions, when every experience is fresh and new and therefore so acute and intense, when everything is funny and traumatic and embarrassing and beautiful.

There is a lot of argument within the young adult market as to what is appropriate for teens to read. Where do you stand on this matter? Do you think teens should be protected from reading about taboo subjects or do you think they should have the freedom to choose their own reads?

Another good question! This IS a hot topic, but an important one, nonetheless. I believe that YA authors should write about whatever feels right and natural to them. If that means sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, that’s what it means. I don’t think authors should censor their creative process. As far as what teens should have access to, I think that’s up to the teen and the family.

Here’s what I know from personal experience: if you tell a teen not to do something, they will inevitably seek it out. Teens are going to experiment with all kinds of stuff because that’s what being a teen is all about; that’s how someone figures out who they are and how they fit into the world. But the more information teens have to make safe, informed decisions, the better. And sometimes characters can provide empathy, and normalize a person’s feelings, in a way no one else can.

What books do you think we should be looking out for in 2012?

Absolutely anything from the Apocalypsies. I’ve gotten to know some of these writers and ohmygosh, they’re amazing. I’m especially looking forward to PUSHING THE LIMITS, by Katie McGarry, STORMDANCER by Jay Kristoff, and RENEGADE by Jess Souders. There are also a lot of sequels from series I read due out in 2012. The Apocalypse better not actually happen!!

Aside from writing, how do you like to spend your free time?

I spend my free time exercising (to keep my head on straight), reading (of course), or having fun with my husband and our greyhound. We love going to the movies and finding tasty little restaurants (Husband and I – not greyhound, husband and I).

Thank you so much for your time, Kristen. Before you go, could you tell me about any projects you have in the pipeline we can look out for?

Of course! ARTICLE 5 is a trilogy, so you can expect book 2 and book 3 to come out in February 2013 and February 2014. Also, because the publishing industry is not particularly snappy, I had some time in the gaps to work on other projects. I’m currently working on shaping up two other manuscripts, one about a girl forced into human trafficking, and the other about sweatshops and children’s rights. Maybe they’ll make it to print...maybe not...but I hope so!

Thanks so much for taking the time to ask about A5, Carly. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to chat with you and your readers!

High-Five for A5!


Ha, I love high-five for A5! I hope that catches on :). For more information about Kristen and Article 5 you can check out the following links:


  1. Great interview! Would bloody love an excuse to go on a ride along with the police. Maybe one day...

  2. Article 5 completely shocked me and blew me away. Ember and Chase are two of my favorite characters ever. I am so very happy to read a fab review for this highly anticipated sequel. Thanks for making my evening better!

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