For the YA world, 2015 has been incredible year for science fiction. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae is still climbing the New York Times bestsellers list and gaining critical acclaim among YA fans; Janet Edwards’ Earth Girl series came to its conclusion; Lauren James’ time-twisting The Next Together hit shelves in the U.K.; and Adam Silvera’s memory-erasing More Happy than Not became a New York Times bestseller. Joining the ranks of incredible YA science fiction is Tessa Elwood’s debut Inherit the Stars, a sci-fi that blends the glitz and glamor of ‘Jupiter Ascending’ with the succinct writing style of Anne McCaffrey.
In Inherit the Stars, three ruling houses rule three interplanetary systems, but the house of Fane is losing – food, energy, alliances. When Asa’s older sister Wren, the heir to house of Fane, becomes injured and falls into a coma, Asa takes her place in an arranged marriage with Eagle, the heir to the house of Westlet. But with Asa’s traitor mother making an appearance, Wren not waking from her coma, and the press refusing to leave Asa and Eagle alone, things aren’t easy – and secrets from the past may stop them from saving their people in the present.
Inherit the Stars started with Asa and Eagle’s wedding, where Elwood felt compelled to write after hearing the song ‘Down to the River to Pray.’
“Rose petals, a silent girl who cried behind her veil where no one could see. She didn’t want to do this, but she would anyway. And she wouldn’t take her resentment/frustration out on the boy—which was the interesting part.”
Elwood began thinking about a politically arranged marriage where, instead of focusing on how they didn’t want to marry, the participants focused on doing what they must instead of what they want.
“And where they followed through on that, did the best they could,” said Elwood. “Always a sucker for stories of duty and honor. It’s just interesting.”
Two things make Inherit the Stars stand out among the collection of YA sci-fi: the writing style, minimalist, the details of the world filtered through Asa’s point-of-view; and the division of the story, done not in chapters but in snippets and sense.
“Asa defines her world by the people in it. I don’t know if I’d trust her to point out the offender in a line-up, but let her hear and talk to them and she’ll nail the guilty party. Since Asa tells her story, the world filters through her.”
This comes out in the details of the worldbuilding: few things are explicitly stated, and when readers discover the details of the world, it’s in Asa’s comparisons of what she already knows. She compares Eagle’s tablet and how the Westlet houses design their technology to how her own is created. The holes of the world are explicit, letting readers sketch in the details as they see fit.
“[E]specially working in design, I’ve found that despite the intricacy of a description, no two people will see it the same way. Someone will say ‘subtle brown’ and mean ‘bold red.’ Visual disconnects are best avoided with an actual images—and even that’s not a sure thing.”
That isn’t to say there aren’t specifics: the building of the Houses and the chaos happening in galaxy are documented in detail, which Elwood categorized through files and notes – most typed, for ease of searching.
“I’ll hit certain scenes in revision and make lists of current info in play, and facets still in the offing. Scrivener is great for this, tagging and naming scenes for quick reference. Especially with dates. For example, in a current project, there’s a ‘d2: early: interrogation’ scene. Day, time of day, and event.”
While Elwood may keep notes like many traditional YA authors – Scrivener is one of the most popular programs for writers – Inherit the Stars isn’t divided into traditional chapters like most YA books. Instead, scenes – ranging from as little as a page to a traditional length chapter – are simply broken up within larger sections. It harks back to old speculative fiction traditions of old, with authors like Anne McCaffrey breaking down her scenes by quotes.
Elwood quoted the late Terry Pratchett from his interview with Indiebound: “Life doesn’t happen in chapters — at least, not regular ones. Nor do movies. Homer didn’t write in chapters. I can see what their purpose is in children’s books (“I’ll read to the end of the chapter, and then you must go to sleep”) but I’m blessed if I know what function they serve in books for adults.”
“The man knows his stuff,” said Elwood, who admitted to still processing that there would never be another Pratchett book. “Stories have rhythms and chapters are one way to keep time. As to why they’ve become the predominant form of measurement? Well, blessed if I know.”