I read and adored The Monstrumologist, so when given a chance to interview Rick Yancey about his newest book, The 5th Wave, I was geeked. For the record? The book is awesome. You want it. It is, I think, one of my favorite depictions of an alien invasion ever — it’s brutal stuff. Anyway, here’s Rick to answer the Terribleminds Ten.
TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?
I was ripped from my mother’s arms when I was 72 hours old and spent the next eighteen years under the care of two very kind people who are now dead through no real fault of their own. They raised me to be polite, caring and fully cognizant of the fact that I was special but no better than anyone else. They also tried to steer me away from the arts, which they believed to be a soul-crushing, wretched existence (they were wrong) and not something most people would consider real work (they were right). When the time came, I took a real job, got married, raised a family, and began writing books in earnest. I soon realized the more I said, the more I had to say, and saying it in the context of books that people might actually be interested in reading encouraged me to keep saying it. One day I decided to tell a story about a middle-aged guy who stumbles into an Arthurian adventure and ended up writing a novel for young-adults by accident. Since that day, I’ve written seven more books for youth, including The Monstrumologist and The 5th Wave, which is about an alien apocalypse that . . .
Oh, wait, I just looked at the next question.
GIVE US THE 140-CHARACTER STORY PITCH:
A teenaged girl searches for her little brother after an alien apocalypse. People die. Things explode. Oh, and somebody finds true love. Maybe.
WHERE DOES THIS STORY COME FROM?
I asked my wife one day, “What’s your biggest fear?” And she answered straight away: “An alien abducting me.” And I said, “I’m not sure that’s even in my top fifty.” And she said, “Think about it. Not only would there be the sheer terror of an alien abducting you, but afterwards no one would believe you.” Then I read this interview with the physicist Stephen Hawking, who pointed out that an alien visitation probably wouldn’t work out so well for us, the indigenous species. It’s not like we’d be equals. By the very nature of the event, we’d be more like cockroaches to them than fellow travelers.
HOW IS THIS A STORY ONLY YOU COULD’VE WRITTEN?
Oh no, I write quickly because I’m painfully aware I’m not the only one who could write it, and I have to beat that hypothetical person to the punch. It’s all a race. There’s only so many really cool ideas floating around out there. There’s a quote from Emerson about this that I remember reading back in college, but that was a long time ago and I’m too lazy to look it up.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT WRITING THE 5TH WAVE?
Maintaining psychological distance from the overwhelmingly unthinkable things that were happening to my characters. If I slipped and started to dwell too long on what it would mean to have everything you cherish, rely on, and believe in ripped away in an instant . . . paralysis, existential dread, and a sense of hopelessness – which is exactly what my characters do experience.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN WRITING THE 5TH WAVE?
That no matter how far you take something – alien invasions, young love, the definition of humanity – there’s always a spot you could take it farther. And you have to learn when you’ve taken it far enough and when you need to go still farther. I also learned that 2:00 a.m. writing can be so much better than 2:00 p.m. writing, because you’re too tired to judge yourself.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT THE 5TH WAVE?
Cassie! She’s vulnerable and funny and fierce. She’s silly, too, and sentimental as hell and she’s very, very afraid and lost and somehow she clings to hope and life. You know, like all of us do. For lack of a better word, she’s pure. Pure in her fear, pure in her sorrow, pure in her hate, pure in her love. She also kicks ass. What’s not to love?
WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY NEXT TIME?
Have a little more faith in myself. The 5th Wave is a book that takes this shit seriously – not how we’d like an alien invasion to be, but how it would really be. I wasted too much time thinking like a human.
GIVE US YOUR FAVORITE PARAGRAPH FROM THE STORY:
Just one? Okay. Here’s one of the first paragraphs I wrote and never had to change it (much). It’s Cassie talking:
I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU AS A STORYTELLER?
The final installment of my Monstrumologist series will be published this fall. It’s called The Final Descent. I have a short-story called “When First We Were Gods” that will appear in Rags & Bones, an anthology edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt.
Most exciting of all, I’m currently working on Book 2 of The 5th Wave!