Actually, I can't be 100% sure of that. After all, all of our correspondence has been electronic, and she is a digital librarian. Also, she spoke in a series of ones and zeros that I translated in order to complete this interview, so....draw your own conclusions.
What inspired THE FORSAKEN? How did you come up with the premise?
I had a nightmare one night that I was being chased by quasi-demonic people in black robes, carrying knives. I was on a strange nightmare sort of island (kind of like the island in LOST. And it makes sense I'd be dreaming about LOST because I was totally obsessed with that show). Anyway, around the same time, my friend's little sister was worrying about taking the SAT. So that got me thinking about standardized tests, and tests in general, and how weird it is that so much emphasis gets placed on tests in high school and college. So my island nightmare and the SAT idea merged in my imagination. I began to daydream about a personality test in the future, that if you failed, you got banished to a harsh prison island where you had to fight to survive and try to escape. The whole book grew from that concept.
J.J. Abrams should take note. Lisa, make sure you get royalties and credit! Tell me about your protagonist, Alenna Shawcross.
For Alenna Shawcross, I wanted a protagonist who was not very well-equipped to deal with getting sent to the prison island. A "good girl" basically, who is inexplicably diagnosed with a hidden tendency for brutal violence and subversion. So when she wakes up on the prison island, she has no special skills and she's not by nature a total bad@$$ or anything. She has to learn how to fight, how to forge alliances, and how to stick up for herself. She learns to become who she really is -- a rebel and a warrior. The island frees her to explore her true nature.
If you lived in that world and had to take the personality tests, do you think you would pass or fail?
Oh, I'm sure I'd fail. Even when I seemed to fit in, I always felt like an outsider on some level (like a lot of people growing up, I think).
What would the tests reveal about you?
The test would probably reveal all my worst traits. Should I list them here? Why not! I'm definitely rebellious by nature, but in a low-key lazy kind of way. I wish I had more energy to be a flat-out megawatt rebel! I would love to be some kind of maniacal kick-@$$ character, but of course it's hard to be like that in real life. At least for me.
And if it were a genuine personality test, the test would probably also reveal that I am incredibly impatient. I drive my friends and my husband crazy with that trait. I also tend to say the wrong thing at the worst time. I literally can't stop myself sometimes. The words just come out of my mouth, and then I'm like, "Oh no! What did I just say? I'm so sorry!" but it's too late. *laughs* Oh yeah, and I'm incredibly addicted to caffeine (in a "this is really dangerous!" kind of way). Of course, maybe the test would reveal some good things about me too! I hope it would! But I'm pretty suspicious of any test that claims to figure out a person's personality. Everyone is so unique. No test can ever pin them down. And of course in THE FORSAKEN, the government's test is totally corrupt, so that makes it even worse!
THE FORSAKEN is not only your debut novel, but the first in a trilogy. Was this always planned to be a three-book story?
I always imagined it as trilogy, and luckily it was sold that way too. The first book is about Alenna coming into her own as a person and a fighter. The second (titled THE UPRISING, and due out next year) is about Alenna in exile, traveling the globe, and joining up with some new rebels and tribes to assault Prison Island Alpha to rescue her friends. It's darker and more epic than Book 1. And David Aberley (who is a fairly mysterious character in THE FORSAKEN) plays a much bigger role. The third book (which doesn't have an official title yet -- but I'm already writing it) is about Alenna secretly heading back into the continental UNA as a spy, and fighting to tear down the fascistic government from within... but there are a few big surprises waiting for her along the way. Not everyone can be trusted, not everyone will survive, and every single one of Alenna's loyalties and beliefs will be tested.
Dystopic stories are currently all the rage, and they never really fall out of favor with hardcore fans of the genre. What are your favorite tales of dystopia (or utopia)?
I love the classic dystopians like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 (which was actually written in the building where I work, Powell Library at UCLA). And I also love The Hunger Games and I really enjoyed Divergent. There are lots of great dystopians out there right now. Oh yeah, and if Lord of the Flies counts as a dystopian, I love that book too. I used to hate it in high school because there are no female characters, but now I think it's great. It's so dark and brutal.
Do you see yourself continuing to write in this vein, or do you write other genres as well?
As well as working on Book 3 of THE FORSAKEN trilogy, I've also started writing a thriller. It's set in Detroit, and it's kind of like MAD MEN meets INCEPTION meets ROMEO & JULIET. I realize that probably sounds really horrible and makes no sense whatsoever, but I think it's going to be a really cool book. Who knows, though! I probably won't know if the book is any good until I finish writing the first draft. My goal is to get it done by the end of the year.
You're surrounded by words and books all the time, as a writer and as a librarian at UCLA. To be specific, you are a digital librarian. What does your job entail, and how did you get it? And are you SURE you're not a hologram?
I wonder if I can get my job title altered to "Holographic Librarian" to sound more unique? Maybe I could even get a pay raise! Anyway, yes, being a digital librarian is pretty cool. It means I deal a lot with computer stuff and metadata, and overseeing websites and scanning old books into computers and analyzing them. It's basically been the only full-time job I've had since college (other than a bit of teaching here and there). I worked at UNC library in Chapel Hill when I was a student there, and for a couple years after graduation on and off. Then a few years ago, my husband and I decided to move to Los Angeles because there was a job opening at UCLA library, and one of my husband's YA novels was being adapted by MTV at the time (Bad Girls by Alex McAulay, in case you're curious! And the adaptation never happened.) Working at UCLA is great. Lots of cool people like myself, who love books and movies. However, Los Angeles is terrifyingly expensive. My husband and I were sort of shocked when we first moved here! We are (slowly) trying to adapt.
Do you recall when you first thought, "I am a writer!"?
I've always loved writing since I can remember. As a little girl, I used to carry an old dictionary around as a toy (according to my parents). So I think it's in my DNA to love books and writing. And since high school I wanted to write novels.
When did you know you wanted to pursue it professionally?
I don't think it really sunk in that I'm a professional writer until I first saw a display of THE FORSAKEN at the local Barnes & Noble. It still feels very surreal! But in a good way.
In the last line of your current author bio, you reveal that you are currently learning to surf. How's that going? Which of your family members is most likely part mermaid/merman, and who is most likely to stay on land?
Sadly, I am the least mermaid-esque member of the family. My husband can surf pretty well (but he actually had some lessons when he was a kid, so he started with an advantage). My daughter can't really surf (she just turned 3) but she does like to paddle around in the water and she has a miniature foam surf board that she loves to carry around, even in the house. For me, I love swimming, but the ocean where we live is cold (and sadly, pretty gross and polluted at times) so I'm not as keen to go surfing as my husband is. But maybe there's hope for me. I'm going to keep trying.
Name your ten favorite books of all time.
Okay, this list probably changes every day, but right off the top of my head, here they are!
1. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
2. Beloved by Toni Morrison
3. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
5. Remainder by Tom McCarthy
6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
7. The Beach by Alex Garland
8. The Drowned World by JG Ballard
9. The Collector by John Fowles
10. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Visit Lisa's website.