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Q&A with author J.A. Souders: a closer look at Elysium, Evelyn


St. Petersburg Collegiate High/SPC

J.A. Souders lives in Maitland with her husband and their two children, where she finds inspiration for her characters by listening for them to tell their own story. One of these characters was Evelyn, the protagonist of Renegade, a book which is as alluring as Evelyn's world of Elysium appears to be. However, don't be fooled; if you judge this book by its cover you'll be in for a shock. The perfect world that Elysium is painted to be is actually a dystopia. Souders will be speaking at the Times Festival of Reading on Saturday. She spoke recently via email to tb-two*.

Give us an idea of your writing process.

When I get an idea for a story, I usually just hear the voice of the main character. For instance, Evelyn. For her I heard the very first line of the book and she was very insistent that I write her story. I write down as much as I can, usually about a chapter or so, so I can get a feel for the character's voice. Then I write a one- to three-page synopsis covering all the major plot points of the story and that will end up being a rough guideline for me while I'm writing. After that synopsis I put together a chapter-by-chapter outline, but since my characters like to "talk" to me a lot, the plot or scenes or even the characters themselves generally change over the course of the novel, so I'll only do (an) outline for about three or so chapters ahead of where I'm writing.

I write while my children are at school and generally with a playlist of songs that fit the mood of the scene I'm writing. The first draft of my books are generally pretty sparse — mainly just dialogue and a few things of exposition — therefore it doesn't take me too long to write it, between four to six weeks. After I get the first draft done, I let the book sit while I do a lot of my research.

Talk about the research.

For Renegade I spent a good amount of time studying how an underwater city would work, what materials they'd have or not have. I also spent a lot of time researching weaponry and actually using the weapons that Evelyn used to see if it was possible for her to do the things she does with them. Of course, some of the technology and weaponry is futuristic, but I still had to find the science that would make these things possible. After several weeks of research, I go back over the manuscript . . . fixing areas that my research showed needed fixing. After that, I send it off to my (critique) partners, correct the things they see wrong with it, should I agree with the changes, then it's off to my agent who also sends me her thoughts on it. This all generally takes about two to three months. While I'm waiting for their feedback, I'm drafting another story. Then after all those revisions, it's off to my editor who does her thing.

Where did your inspiration come from for Elysium?

The inspiration for Evelyn's "perfect" world actually came from a few different places, but the thing that really sparked her story and her world was me sitting on the couch taking a break after finishing another story and watching a documentary on people's perceptions of perfection and how people have used their ideas of it to inflict a lot of harm on other people. The major examples were Hitler and his Aryan society (which obviously plays a huge roll in Elysium's culture) and negative body images that happen with women — and men — due to Hollywood's version of the "perfect" body type. At the same time, my son was in the room playing the video game BioShock. Somehow the two things meshed and Evelyn started telling me her story.

Gavin and Evelyn have different points of view about killing. Did you draw these parallels from current situations?

Yes and no, but mostly no. Evie, growing up in a world where assassins are a way of life and a necessity for the protection of her people, would think nothing of those assassins killing someone who broke Mother's law, leaving her with the idea that peace and prosperity require a certain sacrifice to the value of human life and the freedoms we and Gavin take for granted. Gavin grew up in a culture that has a higher value on human life and freedoms, at the risk of not being as safe and secure, or without the guarantee of food or shelter at all times that we and Evelyn take for granted. I'd be lying if I said that (world situations) didn't influence the scene at least a little. Today's world is a constant battlefield for each person, and each person is going to view the battle slightly differently.

For instance, using homeland security as an example, there's a decision specifically after 9/11 that had to be made by the people of America: We had to weigh the value of freedom over safety. We chose safety.

What can readers expect from Revelations, the sequel to Renegade?

It's much creepier, with new and exciting characters and awesome and terrifying creatures. Also there's quite the possibility of an addition of another villain and more opportunities for Evelyn's character to really show her true self. While some questions from Renegade will be answered, there will be even more questions to be asked.