On Wednesday night I was lucky enough to attend the Sydney launch of Jay Kristoff & Amie Kaufman’s new book Obsidio, the final novel in the bestselling Illuminae Files series. Guys, I love this series. I really do. So even though I had to ask to leave work early, basically run half way across the city, and turned up looking like I was the melting wicked witch of the west, it was So. Damn. Worth. It.
I know that a lot of people don’t get to attend these kinds of events, hell, I barely got to attend the event, so I thought I’d transcribe the main part of the Q&A for you guys. I’ve edited some of it for clarity – spoken phrases can sound a bit weird written down sometimes and vice versa. This Q&A was structured by Caz from the booktube channel, Little Book Owl.
Caz: For those of us who aren’t familiar with Illuminae, would you mind giving us a brief rundown?
AK: It’s only 1800 pages long. *laughs* Look, we like to describe Illuminae as Battlestar Galatica meets 10 Things I Hate about you. It’s about a couple who’s just broken up and thinks they’re having a really bad day, and then that’s put into perspective when their planet gets carpet bombed and they end up on a refugee spaceship fleet.
Book two we like to describe as…it’s like Die Hard meets Alien. And again, it features a couple of teens in space who think they’re having a bad day until their entire space station is invaded by a gang of bloodthirsty mercenaries and they are all that stands between the mercenaries and not only their destruction but destruction of the multiverse. No pressure.
Caz: I do not envy those characters.
AK: I mean, this isn’t a story about the best days of their lives, I’ll be honest.
JK: They’re certainly memorable, if not enjoyable.
Caz: What is your co-writing process from conception of the ideas to who writes what, etc. How do you go about writing these books?
JK: We plot about 100 pages in advance. We found out that if we plot any further than that we tend to think of cooler stuff as we’re writing and it tends to be time wasted so Amy and I will get together, usually at a pub-
JK: Always at a pub. Amy doesn’t drink.
AK: No. I eat fries. *laughs* He drinks.
JK: Watches me drink and about…drink five is when the magic starts. There was a moment when we’d got together, kicking around ideas for Gemina. We had the setting and knew who the main characters were but we didn’t have what the twist was going to be. I was heading home on the tram and I texted Amy: This could be the Jack Daniels talking, but what do you think about multiverse?
AK: In fact, the exact text was: Am I drunk or genius? And I texted back: Both. Definitely both.
JK: So we write 100 pages in advance and then we break those pages down into characters, who is going to be the POV and we break up writing scenes according to characters. Amy will write Kady, and I’ll write Ezra and so forth. Then we go away and write our individual bits, send them to one another via e-mail. You guys know the story of the shoe-maker and the elves? The shoemaker puts out leather the night before and wakes up the next morning and there are shoes there. It’s kind of like that. You’d send your bit, forget about it for a couple of days, open up your e-mail, and there’s more book there.
AK: It’s magical. We’re talking every day, we’re on g-chat every day, we’re texting everyday, you know, popping ideas back and forth, checking stuff, and debating what format we should use for each individual section. We were going to do this this way but I’m only half way through what this person was going to do and it’s already three times the size it was supposed to be so we might break this into two bits…Just sort of constantly massaging things.
Caz: You’ve mentioned in the past that you’re kind of the master of spreadsheets…
JK: It’s all Amy.
AK: Hi *waves*
JK: Mistress of spreadsheets.
N: So what kind of things do you include in these spreadsheets? I know you’ve mentioned to the minute timelines of everything.
AK: Yeah, so there’s only two things that go in my many, many spreadsheets and that’s timelines and death.
AK: No, you guys, this is a real tip. If you’re gonna write a book and kill a lot of people, keep count from the start. Anyone who’s read the Illuminae books knows that there’s a lot of technical detail in there so they won’t say a lot of people have died, they’ll say 27% of our people are dead and there’s another 32% casualties. You can’t just throw those numbers around because the people will do the maths-
JK: Some jerk on the internet is going to do the math.
AK: If only it was just one jerk. They will e-mail you and tell you what you get wrong. So you have to have absolutely everything laid out in spreadsheets.
JK: And the only person worse at math than Amy-
* Both point to Jay*
AK: Yeah, is that guy there. For real, not our strong suit. So we have a spreadsheet. For Illuminae, for instance, it shows everyone in the story and after each major event where everyone is. So you’ve got this many people on Kerenza, then this many people go to the Copernicus, the Hypatia, and the Alexander, and then the Copernicus gets blown up, so we have this many people dead and from there you go to… We talked about the idea that some people got forcibly conscripted so we’ll move this many people across to the Alexander and you know, write down a baby got born. Add one. It was the only time we’ve ever added.
JK: There was actually a moment where we did the math in Illuminae when Kady had come across to the ship, there’s like a blip in the stats which a couple of people called us out on the internet. The internet’s that kind of place.
AK: Ah, internet.
JK: And they were telling us that the math was wrong. The percentage of infected people had gone up when it should have gone down or something.
AK: Nah, other way round.
JK: Other way round. It should have gone down.
AK: Cause it was rising. Saying this percentage is infected, then this many infected, and this many infected and then it suddenly went down. And they went, well, people didn’t get unafflicted, did they?
JK: Well they sort of did because…they killed each other.
AK: And I was like, in your face! The math’s right. So many afflicted are dead, Kady represents a larger overall percentage of the population and as the sole unafflicted person, she is now a higher percentage.
JK: And if you don’t believe us, we have the spreadsheet.
AK: Yeah, I have the spreadsheet to prove it! Which is really handy, because when you get to Obsidio and a character says, tell me what you’ve been doing so far, someone else can casually say, we had this many people here and that many people did that. You can’t just go back to Illuminae, you have to have written it down as you went. I’m not a great details person but thank you past Amy. Good job.
Caz: In Obsidio, I spotted a mention of Where the Wild Things Are (To Jay), which is one of your favourite books-
JK: It’s my favourite book of all time.
Caz: Did you sneak in any other references like this, or what other things did you draw upon?
AK: Did we ever. *Laughs* So in Gemina, there’s a line that sounds a lot like a line from Hamilton, and a lot of people said, is that a Hamilton reference? The answer was no, because Hamilton had not yet been publically released when we wrote that book. But when you find the Hamilton references in Obsidio, however, those are all deliberate. He’s never listened to the Hamilton soundtrack so he doesn’t know where they are, and I haven’t told him. He still has no idea.
JK: I mean, we’ve got a Rocky Horror Picture Show quote in Gemina, the line is broken, something about-
JK: That’s Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror Picture Show.
AK: We have Seven of Nine from Star Trek, Princess Bride…
JK: Princess Bride, yeah, ‘As you Wish’, which is kind of a running gag.
AK: We have, a leaf on the wind.
JK: Yeah, a Firefly reference, a whole bunch of bands I listen to… Like, one of the lines we use in Obsidio is on the cover, ‘Live a life worth dying for’. That’s from an incredible song called ‘Momento’ by a band I love called Architects. There’s a Sound Garden reference in there…
AK: We could go on and on…
JK: And unless you’re us, and even if you are, you’d have to be both of us to get them all…You may not know it to look at her, but Amy’s not a fan of Suicide Silence, so she doesn’t get my Suicide Silence references.
AK: Heavy metal…not my thing. Which is really hard cause when we go on tour in the US, we often ask if we can get a car because fitting this *gestures to Jay* on an aeroplane is just not anyone’s idea of a good time. So we ask if we can get a car, and the problem is that he drives and the driver picks the tunes.
JK: That’s not a problem. That’s an education.
AK: I spent a lot of time listening to metal music, imagining my happy place.
JK: She made me listen to Taylor Swift the brief moment she got behind the wheel.
AK: Yeah, it was the best!
JK: She’s like: Yep, you know what, I’ll drive to Texas. It’s 12 hours, but I’ll drive to Texas.
AK: Well if you insist. I have other songs than Shake it off, maybe as many as three or four.
JK: They played it like four times. Repeatedly.
AK: He was in the backseat and couldn’t get to the controls. His screaming and thrashing was entertaining to us so we just kept hitting repeat.
JK: It’s an abuse of power.
Caz: Could you tell us a bit about the inspiration for the concept?
JK: I mean Obsidio’s the new book, so we’ve got to talk about it…
AK: Do we? *smiles*
JK: It’s also probably the one I’m most proud of in terms of the theme we’re exploring. In Illuminae you’ve got the phobos virus that sends people crazy, you’ve got these rage virus zombies running round the ship. So there’s a struggle within the ship as authority figures and people who are trying to do what they think is best clash, but there’s also this external threat of the crazy people. In Gemina there was the same thing, a mercenary band who came on board and there was also the lanima, those creepy, alien, snake things. No spoilers if you haven’t read it.
AK: You know my favourite thing that’s happened this week is Jessica Spotswood – she’s an author and if you haven’t read her stuff, you should – was instastorying as she was reading Gemina to get ready for Obsidio and she sent this picture that was just a big blanket and then her eyes and the book. She was like, I’m reading under a blanket because I’m so afraid of the lanima. I was like, they can find you there Jess. *everyone laughs*
JK: I don’t think that blanket’s going to be enough, but anyway. In the third book there’s no big external threat, no aliens, no rage virus, it’s just people against other people. And people with diametrically opposed viewpoints, people whose mind you’re never going to change. So that to me is the scariest opponent, someone you just cannot convince of the righteousness of your cause. Like if you’re an occupying soldier. From the POV of the soldier, you’re doing your job, you’re defending your country, corporation or whatever.
AK: And this planet you’ve come to is full of criminals. It’s an illegal settlement, let’s be real. These aren’t innocents. Everyone who went there was breaking the law when they went there.
JK: And they chose to do it. But from the POV of someone whose planet you’ve invaded you’re an invader, you’re a conqueror, you’re the enemy. There’s no way those two sides are ever going to see eye to eye.
AK: Everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing and in some cases everyone’s doing the wrong thing. It sounds a little bit like the world we’re living in at the moment, that everyone thinks they’re doing the right thing and imagines the other side of whatever argument they’re in to be simply, completely wrong, I mean, to pull a John Green quote, to imagine the other more complexly, because there’s always more to the other side of the argument. Even if it’s wrong, there’s always a reason that the person has come to that belief…There’s never been a better time to try and have those conversations constructively.
JK: There’s no villain in Obsidio. No moustache twirling bad guy that gets killed in the final boss fight. There’s just people. Everyone is a person who thinks they’re doing the right thing and is seen as a villain by the people around them.
AK: Also a cat, there’s a cat as well. People, cat, and one very strange computer.
Caz: So the format of the series is mixed media. Were there any formats you wish you could have included but didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?
JK: There were some pie charts. I remember we did it early on. It was actually a pretty funny gag. Well, it wasn’t my gag, it was Amy’s gag so I can say it was funny. Initially we were talking about doing pie graphs about…it was the percentage of communication Ezra had sent to Kady vs she had sent to him pre-breakup. And it was like, 99% was Ezra and 1% was Kady…but yeah, that gag didn’t make it in. We didn’t have time. We wanted to kick off with more of a bang and start with the invasion so the pie graph gag never made it in.
AK: Ah, I’d forgotten about that! That was fun, wasn’t it? But sometimes you have to give away bits that are really good and funny that you love but don’t fit.
JK: But no, as far as anything else we wanted to do, our publishing house back in America and here in Australia have been amazing.
AK: Enablers, frankly.
JK: There was an incident early on. Cause we sold the book unfinished, we only wrote the first hundred and thirty pages, we thought it’d be too weird for anyone to buy so we didn’t want to write 600 pages of something that was never going to see the light of day. When the book actually got sold and we were finishing off the writing process, we sent an e-mail to our editor saying, we’re thinking maybe we could put in a schematic of the Alexander, the big battle ship in the book, do you think we could do that?
AK: We thought we were being so cheeky.
JK: Cause you need like a spaceship designer. She wrote back to us saying, there’s three ships in this story, shouldn’t there be three schematics? We were like oh, so it’s gonna be like that.
AK: Yep, so if you ever wondered what the moment was that we were completely let off the leash, became very hard to control and started saying things like, what if we had a number 1 New York Times Bestseller as our illustrator, it all goes back to that one moment where we were like, ohhhhh.
JK: Given a blank cheque.
Caz: This is the end of the Illuminae files but not the last collaboration we’re going to see from you. What can you tell us about the next series?
AK: I can tell you book one’s written.
JK: The series formally known as ‘Andromeda’. It’s not called that anymore.
AK: Cause science.
JK: It was originally going to be set in the Andromeda galaxy and then we had a talk with Brian Cox. A mind blowing talk, and he went about explaining the vastness of the galaxy we live in, the Milky Way. The distances will break your brain if you think about it, so putting it in another galaxy seemed a bridge too far for us. So we’ve set it in the Milky Way. Andromeda doesn’t work anymore, so the name has been scrapped and we can’t tell you what the new one is because…of reasons.
AK: You’ll find out.
JK: The new book, we’re pitching it as The Breakfast Club goes to Starfleet academy. Room for losers and misfits, and reprobates, who are at a kind of Starfleet-eque type academy, thrown into the deep end and have to save the universe.
AK: Yeah, so we were kind of tag lining it, they’re not the heroes we deserve, they’re just the only one we could get.
JK: They happened to be in the room at the time.
AK: That’s taking up most of our time at the moment. We’re editing that as of yesterday…And as I said before, my very first solo baby came out yesterday. I’m really excited and a little bit terrified because I’ve never had anything I didn’t do with a friend before, so that’s here. It’s called Ice Wolves. It’s got wolves, and dragons and shapeshifters and magic and lots of stuff I like. And it’s not in space. We go very high up a mountain but we don’t go into space. You also have a novel coming soon Mr Kristoff?
JK: Yeah, I have a new book coming out in May. It’s called Lifel1k3. I think I’m coming up here for a launch so it’d be great to see you all again…It’s been pitched as Romeo and Juliet meets Mad Max: Fury Road with a little bit of Blade Runner on the side. But I’m talking all the good Blade Runner, not the bad Blade Runner.
AK: I read it in six hours without putting it down, not speaking to anyone around me. I actually ended up buying airport lounge passes to get people with me into the airport lounge and being like, look there, free food, go away.
JK: Be honest, it was your mum.
AK: It was my mum *laughs* I was trying to make myself sound slightly cooler…At least I took her to the lounge before I stopped talking to her. I mean, she raised me to be a reader so you reap what you sew.
There was a questions from the audience section after this but to be frank, I just cannot muster the effort required to transcribe it.
Obsidio releases this coming week and Amie & Jay will be continuing their book tour into the US now that they’ve finished in Australia. If you get the chance, I definitely recommend going to see them. They bounce off one another so well and are pretty hilarious, just like their writing. Plus, signed copies of however many of their books you can carry to the signing. Win!
Obsidio (The Illuminae Files 3#) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff | Goodreads | Amazon
Ice Wolves (Elementals 1#) – Amie Kaufman | Goodreads | Amazon
Lifel1k3 – Jay Kristoff | Goodreads | Amazon
Follow my blog with Bloglovin