There’s a meteor headed for Earth, and there is only one way to survive.
It’s the final days of earth, and sixteen-year-old Char is right where she belongs: in prison. With her criminal record, she doesn’t qualify for a place on an Ark, one of the five massive bioships designed to protect earth’s survivors during the meteor strike that looks set to destroy the planet. Only a select few will be saved – like her mom, dad, and brother – all of whom have long since turned their backs on Char.
If she ever wants to redeem herself, Char must use all the tricks of the trade to swindle her way into outer space, where she hopes to reunite with her family, regardless of whether they actually ever want to see her again, or not . . .
On the last day of Earth, I couldn’t find my hairbrush. That probably seems like a silly thing to worry about, what with the imminent destruction of, well, everything, but my mom was always after me about my usual ratty ponytail. Normally, I’d ignore her. Or, if I were having a really bad day, I’d tell her what she could do with her hairbrush. But like I said, it was the last day of Earth. And I figured, since it was the last time she’d ever see me, I wanted it to go smoothly. I wanted her to remember me, if not fondly, then at least without anger.
A girl can dream.
I slipped out of my cell as soon as the door swung open. I’d done the same every day for the past month, and my family had yet to show up. Their OPT—Off-Planet Transport—took off in eighteen hours, so they still had time. Barely. I couldn’t blame them if they didn’t come. It wasn’t hard to imagine that they’d rather escape to the stars without so much as a backward glance at me, their big disappointment. Even my father’s influence couldn’t persuade the government to give me a spot on an OPT.
Turns out, when humankind is deciding which of its children to save, the last place it looks is in prison.
But I was pretty sure they’d come. West had said as much in his last transmission. The thought of my younger brother actually halted me mid-step, like one of those punches in the gut where you can’t breathe for a few seconds.
“Looking for something?” The lazy drawl floated out of the nearest cell.
Against my better instincts, I turned to see Cassa lying on her bunk, her arm draped across Kip. My Kip. Or at least, my ex-Kip. Whatever. In twenty-two hours, I wouldn’t have to think about him anymore.
See? Silver lining. And they called me a perpetual pessimist at my last psych workup.
They barely fit next to each other on the flimsy mattress, but that wasn’t the weird part. The guys’ ward was separated by a substantial metal wall. We were kept apart during evening hours, for obvious reasons. Not that anyone cared anymore. The med staff had been the first to go, followed by the cleaning crew, followed by the kitchen crew. To show you where girls like me fell on the government’s list of priorities, there was still a skeleton crew of guards lurking around, despite the fact that I hadn’t had a real meal for going on a week. The guards would be gone soon, too, and then there’d be no one in here but us chickens.
I figured either Kip had a key, or the guards had left already. A key could be useful. My curiosity got the best of me. “How’d he get in here before the first bell?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “I got some tricks you ain’t seen, babe. Why don’t you join us? End of the world and all.”
The guards were gone, then. I felt a small trill of anxiety deep in my chest. If the guards were gone, my family was even less likely to show. But it was never smart to show fear. “The Pinball could be headed straight for this building, and I still wouldn’t be desperate enough to touch you. Oh, wait. Guess you don’t have to take my word for it.”
I turned to leave, but he continued. “Now is that any way to treat your dear ole partners? Be nice or I won’t give you back your stuff.”
“Ugh, you were in my room?” I flexed my shoulder blades, making sure my gun was still tightly secured between them.
“Don’t worry, Char. I didn’t handle the merchandise. Didn’t want to wake you up. Just lifted me a few keepsakes.” He pronounced my name the way I like: Char, as in charred. Something that got burned.
I wasn’t sure what Kip and Cassa were planning, but I knew I wouldn’t like it. They were thieves and liars. I would know. I used to be one of them. That was before the last job, when Cassa had attacked an elderly man in the home we were robbing. She’d kicked him until he stopped fighting back. Kip had called her off after a few licks, but I just stood there, staring. The old man looked at me, like right at me, while we made our getaway, and my stomach twisted into a knot so tight that I tasted bile. That was the moment I knew I wanted out.
But by then, no one believed me. Or, if they did, no one cared. Except for Kip and Cassa, of course. They’d taken the news pretty hard, to put it lightly.
If I lunged for the box, I could probably grab my hairbrush and get out of there. I wouldn’t have time for more than that. Then again, I’d be doing exactly what they expected, and I didn’t have time for delays. My family could be in the commissary any second now.
“Ahem. Seeing as it’s your last day of life, I might let you have one thing back,” said Kip.
“In exchange for what?”
“I’m hurt. All our time together, and you still don’t believe in my inherent generosity. But now that you mention it, I’ve got a hankering for some peanut butter crackers.”
“Sorry, Kip. I’m fresh out of food. Kinda like everyone else.”
“Nice try, Charrr.” He drew my name out, as though tasting it. “I saw them yesterday. Figured you were hiding them under your pillow when I couldn’t find them last night.”
“You figured wrong.”
All I could think about was my brother’s face. And how I had this one last chance to apologize to my parents, for everything. I shrugged and turned to leave.
Why did you decide to become a writer?
Since I was little, I’ve constantly made up stories in my head. I think everyone does that. But the older I got, the louder the stories became. So I decided to write one down.
Who/what are your writing inspirations?
There are way, way too many to list, but here are two: I’m obsessed with Orson Scott Card’s entire Enderverse. I even included a slight reference to the whole “Which way is down?” concept in The Ark– something I’ve seen other authors do as well.
I love, love, love Battlestar Galactica, which I think is obvious from the way The Ark is set up. In BG, they’re leaving a destroyed planet to search for Earth, without really knowing whether Earth was real or just an ancient myth. In The Ark, it’s exactly the opposite- Earth is ending, and they’re leaving for a known planetoid in the Kuiper Belt. I think the similarities end there, though! BG is very focused on what it means to be human, including everything from biology to religion. In The Ark, I’m asking questions about what parts of our humanity are worth trying to save.
What are your favorite genres to read?
I’ve always loved sci fi and fantasy. The line between the two genres seems much brighter now than it was a few decades ago, when authors like Octavia Butler, Madeleine L’Engle, and Anne McCaffrey were publishing. Lately, there’s just been so much quality high fantasy out there. Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie- it’s everywhere. I’m obsessed!
And my favorite category- YA sci fi- has absolutely exploded. I’m so in love with everything I read lately! This audience- young adults- is so in touch with its emotions already. It’s a difficult age, being right on the cusp of adulthood, but it’s fun and exciting because it’s so full of possibility. And the wide range of possibility in speculative fiction is the perfect place to explore that.
Favorite writing food / snack?
Coffee, coffee, and coffee. I used to have a rule that I couldn’t drink my first cup until I started writing, to give myself more motivation. That didn’t last too long, though. These days, I start brewing first thing.
What do you hope readers take away most from your writing?
A sense of adventure and excitement.
Who’s the favorite character of yours that you’ve written and why?
I do love Char, but I’m not sure the feeling would be mutual if she met me. I care about her, though, and despite the situations I put her in, I feel protective of her. I badly want her to find peace.
Just not yet. *cackles mischievously*
What is your writing style? Outliner/Planner or Seat of the Pantser?
Planner, big time. I should start a support group. The thought of writing without multiple outlines gives me the shakes.
If someone wanted to become a writer, what tips would you give to them?
Keep writing. You can do this.
Full disclosure- my husband is like, but what if they really can’t do this? That’s terrible advice!
To which I reply: no, it’s not. There’s a significant part of writing that is impossible without some basic level of confidence. But if you write, then you know that confidence can be nearly impossible to find and hold on to. So my advice is, believe that you can do this, against all odds, even when you write something worthy of a thousand cringes, and keep writing. Otherwise, it’s not possible to be a writer.
Have you ever purchased something from a late-night infomercial? If so, what?
Yes! In about eighth grade, I bought a “Best of the 80’s” cd. It should go without saying that it was worth every penny. Thank you for reminding me of that.
If you could collaborate with any other author (living, dead, or undead) who would that be and why?
George RR Martin, no question. He could teach me how to subvert reader expectations, and I could contribute coffee.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do?
I would apply for a job with an artisanal chocolatier- the kind who creates magical combinations that should never go together, but do, like bacon and lavender. She could teach me how to subvert consumer expectations, and I could contribute coffee.
Coke, Pepsi, or?
I’m trying to drink less aspartame, but it’s, like, really hard, you guys. Diet Dr. Pepper.
What’s one thing people should know and/or don’t know about you?
I’m kind of an open book, so there’s not much. I think a lot of people in my position are like that- I’ve always been a little bit weird, and as a teenager, I tried to hide that, with varying measures of success. Now, in my thirties, I’m more aware that my differences are far less unique than they always felt. And to the extent that I’m still a little weird, I’m happy with that. So I don’t have anything to hide.
Is there a character that has the most “You” in them? Or the opposite of you?
I’m most like Eren and least like Char.
Okay, fine. I’m least like Jorin, or the Commander. But of the “good” guys, Char. I gave her all the “flaws” I’m most afraid of. She doesn’t see the world in black and white. She doesn’t follow rules she can’t make sense of. She’s fiercely independent, but not as independent as she believes herself to be. Her understanding of good and bad are much more complex than mine, a quality I find inspiring in others and terrifying in a daughter. And I gave her friends and enemies who bring out those attributes in her, as well as a mother who really, truly loves her.
In real life, I’m more like Eren. He’s happy to follow the rules. His life has given him no reason to question authority. But if you think about it, in some ways, that’s way more screwed up than Char’s point of view.
Eren thinks he’s a good guy because his decisions are based on a deep-seated belief in right and wrong. In his mind, he always does what’s right; therefore, he must not be a villain. But reality is a lot messier, and sooner or later, Eren will have to confront that.
If we lived in a Fahrenheit 451 culture, which book would you want to memorize?
I mean, at that point, it’d have to be Fahrenheit 451, right?
Has anyone written a fan fiction based on your work?
Not yet. I can’t decide if it would be harder to read or not to read something like that. It would definitely be awesome knowing it’s out there, though.