“Back when the book sold, I assumed that as I approached [the]release date, I’d start to wrap my head around the fact that the story will be out in the world. It still hasn’t happened yet!”
But what was once surreal imagining to the 2015 debut YA author is now a very real book, as City of Savages hit shelves on Tuesday. City of Savages, about sisters Sky and Phee in a futuristic prisoner-of-war camp who must decipher past clues in order to protect the future, came to Kelly while trapped in a job that “demanded long hours, had tight deadlines and lots of pressure.” She began daydreaming, and from those daydreams, City of Savages took shape.
“I started thinking about midtown Manhattan as a type of prison, subway rides that really were life-and-death, a version of the city that actually was cutthroat and savage, instead of just sometimes feeling that way.”
From there, many of the characters came to her easily and well-formed, as did the first half of the novel.
“[I plotted the first half] pretty intensely. Then I put my outline aside for the last half, and let the story unfold on its own.”
Because of the book’s unique timeline, Kelly was able to pull from the New York City she knows and loves while writing.
“The novel takes place about two decades into the future, so ironically the ‘past’ in the book is our present,” explained Kelly. “That said, I wanted to make sure that the attacks on New York that are chronicled in [Sky and Phee’s mother] journey felt real. I was living in NYC during the time of the power outages in 2003, and the entire city was coated in darkness. People were trapped on elevators, in subways, and phone service eventually stopped. It was a very strange, unprecedented time. … I pulled up a lot of articles from around those dates as inspiration when I was writing the journal. “
Kelly was also drew from real-life experiences she’s shared with her own sister to make the relationship between Sky and Phee feel more authentic and fluid.
“[How they go] from wanting to strangle your sister, to being unable to imagine life without her, to being wildly jealous in a breath? And how the relationship has its own language almost, of inside jokes and shorthand dialogue. That’s how my sisters and I have always operated, and Sky and Phee are very much modeled off of us.”
Sisterhood isn’t the only relationship to have its own language. The relationship between editor and author is filled with nuances. Throughout the publishing process, the most nerve-wracking moments for Kelly were the periods of time between when she sent in revised drafts of her manuscript to her editor and when she got her next editor letter and feedback.
“The nature of publishing a book really is so wild: you take a manuscript that has potential, and then you scrub it and rework it and re-imagine it into something else that feels like the original story, and yet is something wholly different too. And with any reworking or reimagining there are risks you take that may or may not work out, and waiting to hear whether those risks paid off always had me anxious.”
But a major lesson Kelly learned?
“Waiting is part of every aspect of the publishing process!”