The Interview So Jam-Packed, It Has Two Parts
10 days into the new year, many of us already have a 5 star book for 2012.
Hallowed is the moving sequel to last year’s Unearthly, and like many other early readers, I was completely swept away by the intensely emotional second chapter to Clara’s story.
Author Cynthia Hand chats with us below about the new book, which releases one week from today on January 17th! There was a lot of near-hysterical excitement over this post, so I hope it’ll leave you wriggling in your seat the way it did me. Don’t worry, this interview is mostly spoiler-free, so it’s safe even if you haven’t read the book yet. And don’t forget to join us tomorrow for the second part of this interview, too.
Q & A with Cynthia Hand
Firstly: are you trying to kill us with this emotional roller coaster?
Lol, not trying to kill you, I swear, although my editor and I joked that our goal for this book was to make people sob their eyes out. I bawled like a baby when I was writing one of the scenes in this book, I was writing in the Pepperdine University library, and I was like 6 months pregnant at the time, too, so people thought something must be seriously wrong with me.
I had loads of fun writing more with Tucker, just watching the way he and Clara were together as a more settled couple. And I enjoyed getting to know Christian better, too.
Well, you succeeded; we sobbed our eyes out. **Slightly spoilery, so don’t read this question if you haven’t read Hallowed yet.** One of the most touching elements of Hallowed is this theme of loss that seems to run through it. Did you draw upon your own experiences for this? There are moments in this book that feel extremely personal.
Yes. (Did I mention the crying I did at the Pepperdine library?) This book was intensely personal for me. I really wanted to capture how it felt to lose someone you love, the whole process of it, the event of the death itself, the preparation, the food, the clothes, the ceremony of it all, the finality, the grief. It’s not something I’ve seen done in a lot of fiction, particularly YA.
Clara grows up in a big way in this book, particularly in taking control of her future. When you outlined your series, did you also plot her emotional arc and personal growth? Do they parallel the events in the story in some way?
Not really. I like to set my characters in certain situations and then try to follow them. There’s a magical element of surprise in writing that way, which I love. I’ve got to watch Clara grow up only a few steps before my reader does.
Jeffrey is still something of a mystery. Will we learn more about his purpose anytime soon?
What can you tell us about Samjeeza? There seem to be signs that he’s more complex than we’d originally imagined.
I have an entire novel plotted around Maggie’s life. I dearly hope that I will get to write it someday, and Samjeeza is a major part of that book. I find him to be an incredibly complex and fun character to write.
What kind of research did you do into angelology? It’s very clear you have a quite a breadth of knowledge in this area.
I did a lot of research, read tons of books and articles, and watched some crazy specials on the history channel. There’s some fascinating angel mythology out there, not only for the Christian religions, but Jewish and Islamic angel myths, as well. I wanted to be an expert on the subject (I’m still pretty far away from being an expert, truthfully) but I also wanted the leeway to create my own mythology, so I grabbed bits and pieces I liked out my research and made up the rest.
You can see touchstones of all kinds of influences in the books, though, if you look hard enough. There’s a lot of C.S. Lewis there, in the way heaven and hell are portrayed, in the ideas of predestination and free will and time. I was always influenced by the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle, who takes a very different view of things than Lewis. There’s also some Dante and Milton and a whole lot of angel characters lifted from The Book of Enoch, (Samjeeza, for instance) which is kind of the go-to book about angels. I find the B of E fascinating, but I didn’t want to lean too heavily on it or work with the assumption that it was true, because that would be pretty limiting. That’s my general rule about research: do a lot of it, and then don’t be afraid to toss it out and make up something new. I try not to take myself too seriously, research-wise.
A number of readers are curious how free will and predestination come into play in your books. Could you clarify what the different kinds of angels can and cannot do? Are they subject to a pre-destined fate?
I don’t think it would be fair for Clara to get black-and-white answers if we, as humans, don’t get any. But I love to talk about it. All the stuff in Unearthly came from my own questions: do I have a destiny? If I do have a destiny, is it possible to screw it up? If I screw it up, do I get a new destiny, or, because it’s destiny, after all, do the powers that be already know I was going to screw up so I am still with the original destiny? Are our lives planned out for us, or do we have choices? Predestiny or free will?
I could not get these two concepts to work together in my head. My goal with the Unearthly series is not to solve this dilemma or attempt to answer those questions, because that would be pretty, um, arrogant. But I really wanted to explore the questions.
That said, I worked it out in my angel-universe like this (and please note that this is fiction, and there are holes, of course, and it is not even attempting to touch theology): Angels, in my world, do not truly have free will. They were designed to obey God, and when they disobey, it causes them a lot of mental, emotional, and even physical pain. This is a real inconvenience for the Black Wings, and why they feel this debilitating sorrow all the time. They can’t do what they want to do, a lot of the time, because it causes them too much pain.
Humans, on the other hand, have free will. Angel-bloods, in any concentration, Dimidius, Quartarius, Triplare, whatever, have free will because they are part human. They can willfully choose to disobey God. It might cause them some pain too, but nothing to the degree that a full-blooded angel would feel it.
That’s why angel-bloods are attractive recruits to Black Wings. They can use angel-bloods to do things that the Black Wings would themselves find too painful to carry out. And part of why the Black Wings are so staunch in their resistance. They are, in their own way, demanding free will. They will make their own choices, no matter how much it hurts.
Now. How then, if Clara has free will, can she also have a purpose, a destiny that she seems to be meant to carry out? Good question, I say. Excellent question. Clara asks herself that question all the time. I ask myself that question, too. I am waiting for a letter from the sky explaining it all. Hee hee. But one idea that I am fascinated by is C.S. Lewis’ concept of time. Mr. Lewis had trouble with this idea too, see, free will v. destiny, and he made it make sense in the following way: God does not operate in linear time. He does not experience event A followed by event B followed by event C. He experiences A, B, and C all at once. Therefore, he sees us making the choices we make simultaneously with the outcome of those choices.
Did your brain explode yet? You can find his argument in Mere Christianity. It blows my mind. I wanted to play with it, but I also try to keep my books friendly to people of all religions and non-religious folk, so I don’t drag the theological elements into the plot of the book. I leave them ambiguous, which is true to how they are in real life too, right?
Our brains had already exploded when we finished Hallowed, thank you. In your world, are visions absolute? That is, are they visions of one possible future, or will the vision come true no matter what occurs?
Lol, see above. One thing I will say is that when Clara has a vision, it tends to come to pass in one way or another. With some slight variation, at times.
We’re dying to know, although you may not be able to tell us: are the choices that Clara has made in Hallowed going to stay their course in the next book?
If you’re asking me whether she’s going to be with Christian or Tucker, I shall stick my tongue out at you.
Fair enough. *sigh* (We had to try.) You’ve hinted that there is the possibility that Clara’s story won’t end in the next book, and that we may see a fourth. True?
Funny how the news can change so much in the space of a few months. I did have a fourth book planned. I worked on the third book all spring and summer with the idea that there would be a fourth book. But recently my editor has convinced me that the series should end in the third book, that I didn’t have quite enough there for a fourth book. I was bummed about this for a while, but it’s good news in a lot of ways. It means the third book will be the final book, L, but it also means that it will be a super-crazy-all-the-crap-hits-the-fan type of book. It’s going to be a whopper of a book, is what I’m saying. And as of right now, it starts out at the very end of the summer, right before Clara goes to Stanford. But that could change. . .
Are you working on anything future projects that you might be able to share with us?
Right now I am working on Book 3, and after that I have a few back burner projects, but none that I can tell you about just yet!
She’ll share what she and Clara have in common, her most memorable fan interaction, and her hopes for the new television series based on Unearthly.
Our sincere thanks to Cynthia for being such a great sport and patiently putting up with our many questions. You can find her online on her blog, GoodReads, and Twitter.
Go ahead and stalk her. We do.