Welcome to the second installment in the author Q & A series! If you love learning more about the brains behind the books, you’re in the right place. Today’s interview is with Amy Ewing, the author of The Cerulean, which was featured in the February 2019 ‘Celestial’ themed box.
Thanks so much for answering a few questions, Amy!
The Cerulean was featured in the February 2019 ‘Celestial’ themed Unicorn Crate. Do you have a favorite constellation, moon phase, or star?
I would have to go with Cassiopeia! I always loved the idea of a woman reclining in the sky. Even though Cassiopeia herself was basically a terrible person. But I always felt drawn to her constellation.
The Cerulean explores several universal themes (gender and sexuality, love and romance, finding where one belongs and what home and family really mean, trust vs deception), yet it is unlike any other book in the YA space right now. Can you describe what sparked the idea for The Cerulean?
I was on a panel for the Teen Author Festival that happens in New York City every March—it was a creative panel called YA Explains It All. We had to write a 2-3 page story answering a question from a list, silly things like Who let the dogs out? Or Why did the chicken cross the road? I chose Why is the sky blue? The story was about a city in space populated by women with blue blood and once a year they had to sacrifice a group of their children to color the earth’s sky blue with their blood. Once I finished, you could hear a pin drop in the room—all the other stories were these fun, cute YA contemporaries and I was like, Hey! Murdered children! But then after the panel, a bunch of people came up to me saying they loved the piece and wondered if it was part of a book so I thought oh, maybe this could be a book. Of course, the first thing I did was change the murder part. I can’t kill my main character off in the opening! So that’s how Sera’s story began and then Leo and Agnes came out of having to explore what happened after Sera fell to the planet.
What was the process like in writing this book? And how did publishing your first book change your process of writing this one, if at all?
This book was exceptionally difficult to write, probably the hardest I’ve had to write so far. The structure of it changed vastly over the revision process and there was one particular revision in which I literally felt myself going insane. I had wanted to challenge myself by writing multiple narrators but wow, I was not quite prepared for just how much of a challenge it would be! I’m exceedingly proud of the result though, and of course I always want to be challenging myself in my writing. As far as how my process has changed, I think the most important thing I’ve learned over the years of publishing is how to embrace failure. First drafts are always, always terrible. I don’t worry about that part anymore. I know that what I’m doing is just getting the story out and that the story will change because that’s what’s supposed to happen. So I spend less time and energy judging myself and my words and trust that once I send it to my editor, we’ll be able to revise and revise until the book gets to where it needs to be.
Was there a particularly difficult scene to write?
Not one scene in particular, but writing Sera’s chapters on the planet were challenging because she’s locked up the whole time! I had to really work to make her active when she was so confined physically. Boris and Errol helped with that (I absolutely loved writing them, especially Errol, he’s so weird). So it was finding ways to give new information and make it compelling all while staying in one location.
The City Above the Sky is quite a unique place, environmentally, culturally etc. Did you draw inspiration from any real places or people?
I did not—I never really draw on reality, to be honest. There are no characters that represent people I know. I always feel like I’ve just happened upon these people living their lives and I get to write about them for a little while. As far as setting, Old Port City is based on New York in the Victorian era, but even that’s loosely, so I have an aesthetic to be working with. The City Above the Sky is just pure strange imagination. But I loved living in it. I could see it so clearly in my mind. As much as I’m a city mouse, I love writing lush rural landscapes and places that really connect with nature. My parents are huge environmentalists so that’s probably where that comes from.
What does family mean to you and how do you define it?
I think family consists of people who love and believe in you no matter what, who support you and who will tell you the truth even if you might not want to hear it. And sometimes these people are related by blood and sometimes they are chosen. My urban family, the friends that I’ve made while living in New York, is just as important to me as my mother and father and brother, and all my amazing extended family. To me, it’s about being able to be one hundred percent your authentic self and having people accept you for who you are without question or hesitation. Family doesn’t have to look like one thing, nor should it. It is unique to every individual. It was important for me to express that in this book, especially as someone who very likely will not have a traditional nuclear family of my own. Having friends who fostered or adopted, having friends who have chosen not to have children at all, I’ve seen so many different interpretations of family and the most important thing they have in common is love.
I must ask; do you believe alien life exists?
I mean, it has to right? I can’t believe that in this whole wide universe, we are the only living things out there. That would be such a waste of space.
Sera is chosen as the sacrifice among the Cerulean, required to break the magical tether to the planet below. What do you think is this human fascination we have with “the chosen one” story?
I think we’d all wonder what would happen if we were somehow denoted as “special.” What that would mean to us or how it might change us. Especially since the chosen one is usually someone who doesn’t want it (Harry Potter or Frodo for example). It’s sort of a what would I do? scenario. I think that’s always going to be appealing. And particularly in books, where you want the stakes to be as high as possible.
Were there any deleted scenes you could describe to us?
There was a scene that I wrote with Leo in this nightclub that I absolutely loved the setting of but that gave zero value to the overall story. I had been reading about these heaven and hell nightclubs in Paris in the 1890s and they sounded so cool! But then my editor was like, um what is the point of this scene? So it had to go. But! I managed to put the club into the second book—or at least something similar to it. Not everything that gets cut disappears forever : )
Who are a few favorite authors that have influenced you as a writer?
I’m a massive fantasy nerd and Tolkien was hugely influential to me in my late teens. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings so many times and each time I find something new to love about it. His world building is just breathtaking. And I loved C.S. Lewis growing up too. Though my favorite author is Roald Dahl. He was the first author I ever reread—my grandmother used to bring me his books and I would devour them over and over. I loved the whimsical nature of his prose and the way he combined humor with darkness. I think I owe a lot of the dark side of my writing to him.
What are you reading right now?
Haha, speaking of rereading, I’m rereading a book a friend of mine from graduate school, Mary G. Thompson, published a couple of years ago. It’s called AMY CHELSEA STACIE DEE and it’s about two cousins who are kidnapped when they are ten and twelve and then only one of them returns to their home town six years later. It’s such a compelling read and I highly recommend it!
Do you have a favorite TV show or movie?
There are so many I love it’s hard to pick one! I’m a massive fan of LOST and wish there were more shows like it on TV now. I love British period dramas like Downton Abbey and I’m also obsessed with true crime—I’ve just started getting into Cold Justice and it’s amazing. And Game of Thrones, of course.
If you were to be stranded on an alien planet, and granted that you would have an unlimited supply of string cheese, what book would you want to have with you?
Okay first of all, I love that you have given me unlimited string cheese! So this is basically heaven already : ) If I had to choose a book it would probably be LOTR or a Game of Thrones book because they are so huge and I’m always finding new things in them. I would want something that would take a lot of time to read!
Amy Ewing earned her MFA in Writing for Children at the New School and received her BFA at New York University. The Jewel started off as a thesis project but became her debut novel, the first in a New York Times bestselling trilogy. The other books are The White Rose and The Black Key. She lives in New York City. Visit Amy online at http://www.amyewingbooks.com or on Twitter @AmyEwingBooks.