When I finished Sky Without Stars I knew I’d have to try to wrangle an interview! Talk about a giant space epic and it’s a re-imagining of Les Mis!
Sky Without Stars
A thief. An officer. A guardian.
Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .
When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.
Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…
Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.
Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.
Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.
All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.
Interview With Jessica
Let’s talk first and last lines, were these always set from the rough draft or from the idea, or did they kind of just fall into place?
It really depends on the book. But I would say, for the most part, the first and last lines don’t change much as I revise. I really think very long and hard about them before I put them down on the page. I always want the first line to really set the tone of the book and reel you in at the same time with a little bit of a hook. I never want my first line to feel meh. My favorite of all my first lines might be from 52 Reasons to Hate My Father:
“My father is going to kill me.”
For Sky Without Stars, my co-author, Joanne Rendell and I knew exactly what we wanted the last line to be long before we got there. But we wouldn’t let ourselves write it until we got to the end. We just kept it in the back of our minds, like a carrot on a stick, luring us toward the last page.
These characters come alive on the page, can you talk a little about the main three characters for those who haven’t read the book? Did you always have a clear idea of their personality?
Sky Without Stars is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, set on a very distant and very divided planet called Laterre, where the wealthy live in luxury and the poor live in the rusting and leaking remains of 500-year old spaceships. But the rumblings of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes: Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime. Marcellus is an officer being groomed to command by his powerful grandfather. And Alouette lives in a hidden away underground Refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. Although from very different worlds, all three have a role to play in the dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet!
Chatine came to us pretty fully formed. We always knew who she was and what she wanted. The other two—Alouette and Marcellus—were trickier. In a really early draft Marcellus was the host of a TV show?!? Sols, that was a long time ago. Now he’s an officer and much more solid of a character. Alouette gave us a lot of trouble. She’s inspired by Cosette from the original Les Misérables, who you might remember is a little dull. She doesn’t have much personality and Marius just falls in love with her instantly for no apparent reason except for the fact that she’s pretty. We definitely didn’t want to emulate that. So we set out to make her more interesting, give her more skills and personality, and make her a lot less boy obsessed!
When was the first time you encountered Les Misérables and what were your initial thoughts? How has your relationship to the book changed since writing SKY?
GAH! I’ve never been asked this question but I LOVE it! My first encounter with Les Mis was when I was about twelve and I was taking voice lessons and my voice teacher gave me “On My Own” to sing. I’d never heard of the musical it was from but I instantly fell in love with it. I sang it ALL THE TIME, for months! And then, when the traveling cast of Les Mis finally came to town I begged my parents to take me. I sat mesmerized for the full 3 hours and left the theater feeling transformed. I’ve since seen the musical about a dozen times and I’ve read the book and seen every movie adaptation ever made! Since writing SKY WITHOUT STARS, I think my relationship to the story has changed only in that I have a deeper knowledge of the plot and characters and a deeper appreciation of Victor Hugo’s work as a whole, but my obsession with it is exactly the same. I still squeal in public when a Les Mis song comes on over the speakers, and you can still find me singing “On My Own” around the house!
Space is an endeavor in and of itself, how did this idea come about and what kind of research did you have to do for it to happen?
Back in 2014, I was on tour with a group of authors and during the tour, two of them taught a retellings class to a bunch of writers. They handed us each a worksheet. On one side they told us to write down any and every classic story we’ve ever loved. Among many, I wrote “Les Misérables”.Then on the other side, they told us to write down a list of interesting settings. Among many, I wrote, “space.” (See picture below.) I literally drew a line between the two and a shiver ran through me. Les Mis, set in space? Could it be done? Not by me, was the immediate answer that came back. I wasn’t versed enough in the classics, I didn’t know the story well enough. I wasn’t a good enough writer to tackle what felt like such an epic and daunting undertaking.
Then, two years later, I was having dinner with Joanne (one of my BFFs!) and the topic randomly came around to the French Revolution (as it does!) and naturally from there, Les Misérables. Joanne, who happens to have a PhD in literature, said that Les Misérables was one of her favorite novels. A second later, without warning, out of my mouth flew the words, “Do you want to write a retelling of it with me set in space!?” And a second after that without warning, out of her mouth flew the words, “I would love to!”
We started brainstorming immediately that night. And about 6 months later we had a two-book deal from Simon and Schuster! It’s been a super exciting and wild ride! I can’t believe the book is finally here!
How was the process of co-writing? Different than your expectations? You both have a few books up your sleeve, so how did the co-writing idea come along?
A writer once said to Joanne (my co-author) that they loved writing fiction because it was like getting to play dolls as a grown up! To this day, Jo and I still talk about how delighted we are that we get to play “Sky Without Stars” dolls together every day. The key to co-authoring is finding a co-author you’re going to be compatible with. You might both be the most incredible writers in the world, but if you don’t have the right chemistry, a similar work ethic, and the ability to listen and “let go,” then you probably won’t make a good team. Jo and I are lucky. We’re both good at being flexible and letting go of “our darlings.” One rule we established early on, and that we’ve successfully stuck by, is the following: “If the other person is not happy with a word or sentence or scene, you must tweak and change, not insist it can’t be changed.” I believe the ability to compromise and work to your respective strengths is the key to successful co-authoring. Plus, a shared love of “playing dolls”!
What should we do with ourselves until book two? Any recommendations for shows, books, movies?
Book 2 is finally done! It was a beast to write and we still have some revisions to do, but we’re VERY excited about it and can’t wait for everyone to find out what happens next. It’s called BETWEEN BURNING WORLDS and, as the title suggests, it’s quite explosive! Haha! One little hint I can tell you is that we get to visit one of the other planets of the System Divine in this book! But I won’t tell you which one. 😊
In the meantime, I can recommend reading LAST OF HER NAME by Jessica Khoury which is a FANTASTIC space adventure that I couldn’t put down! And for TV, I’ve heard the Expanse is really good, although I haven’t started it yet. It’s on my to-watch list!
Jessica Brody is the author of more than 15 books for teens, tweens, and adults including Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, A Week of Mondays, Boys of Summer, 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, and the three books in the sci-fi Unremembered trilogy. She’s also the author of the Descendants: School of Secrets series, based on the hit Disney Channel original movie, Descendants. Her books have been translated and published in over 23 countries and Unremembered and 52 Reasons to Hate My Father are currently in development as major motion pictures. She lives with her husband and four dogs and splits her time between California and Colorado.