In­spired by the peo­ple in her life

Young adult fic­tion author Mary We­ber shares how she cre­ates the char­ac­ters that in­habit her best­selling books.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture - By D.L. PHILIPS star2@thes­tar.com.my

RENOWNED physi­cist and cos­mol­o­gist Stephen Hawk­ing once warned that if the hu­man race ever ac­tu­ally en­coun­tered in­tel­li­gent ex­trater­res­trial be­ings, the life forms could be “ra­pa­cious ma­raud­ers roam­ing the cos­mos in search of re­sources to plun­der, and plan­ets to con­quer and colonise”. Amer­i­can author Mary We­ber tack­les this very sub­ject in her lat­est young adult (YA) fic­tion novel The Evap­o­ra­tion Of Sofi Snow.

Speak­ing to Star2 via Skype from her home in Cal­i­for­nia, We­ber says she isn’t so sure that aliens from outer space will be as de­struc­tive as movies and TV shows usu­ally make them out to be. Then again, they might not nec­es­sar­ily be en­tirely ad­van­ta­geous, either.

“I hope to God they’re help­ful,” she says. “But if they’re any­thing like hu­man­ity, that’s like ask­ing if hu­mans are help­ful or harm­ful. De­pends on the day, de­pends on the hu­man, de­pends on the weather.”

In her new book, We­ber names her vis­it­ing ETs the “Delonese” and they cer­tainly seem kind to us. They’ve ended World War IV on Earth, ar­rested global warm­ing, and pro­vided huge ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy. It’s enough to make a cynic sus­pi­cious ....

On this brave new planet, cor­po­ra­tions have risen to take the place of na­tion states. I ask We­ber for her thoughts on gov­ern­ment ver­sus busi­ness, a ma­jor point of de­bate in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“I was writ­ing Sofi Snow when we were com­ing into our po­lit­i­cal sea­son (cam­paign­ing for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tions), which was very, um, just very in­tense over here,” she says. “I be­lieve in gov­ern­ment, and I be­lieve in gov­ern­ment en­sur­ing the well­be­ing of their peo­ple. At the same time I be­lieve very much that busi­nesses help the gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally to thrive, and vice versa.

“We all have a very ba­sic obli­ga­tion. At the core of ev­ery­thing is a re­spon­si­bil­ity to care for each other, to walk in kind­ness, and to be for the bet­ter­ment of the com­mu­nity, be­cause we’re not alone on this planet.

“Our whole planet and our gov­ern­ments could use a good dose of par­ent­ing skills. I think that prob­lems arise when we put power, money, busi­ness, and gov­ern­ment above com­mu­nity and peo­ple.”

That cer­tainly seems to be the case in Sofi Snow, where the cor­po­ra­tions-as-na­tion-states hold com­pe­ti­tions be­tween teams of teens spon­sored by dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, and where tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are only avail­able to peo­ple who can pay for them. (See re­view be­low.)

We­ber’s pro­tag­o­nists in Sofi Snow are two highly re­source­ful teens, Sofi and Miguel, who are deal­ing with the Delonese and some pretty shady cor­po­ra­tions. De­scrib­ing how th­ese char­ac­ters came about, We­ber, who works with teens, says she moulds them on real peo­ple.

“Miguel is based on one of my very dear friends, Robert Perez. He’s very noble but very fun. Miguel’s strug­gles, his past and the way he thinks of him­self are based on a cou­ple of teen guys I’ve worked with over the years.

“Sofi is based on a mix­ture of teen girls that I know and that I’ve worked with, too. So, I think (Sofi’s mother) Inola might be slightly based on me!” We­ber says with a laugh.

“That’s ter­ri­ble, but in the sec­ond book (Re­claim­ing Shilo Snow), which I just got fin­ished edit­ing, not only do we have Sofi’s and Miguel’s points of view, we also have Inola’s point of view. As I wrote that story, I dis­cov­ered more of my­self in Inola than maybe I was com­fort­able with.”

While in­fus­ing Inola with her own per­son­al­ity might have been largely un­in­ten­tional, there is one char­ac­ter that We­ber very de­lib­er­ately based on an im­por­tant fig­ure in her life.

“There are al­ways as­pects of my per­son­al­ity in my books, and my hu­mour as well as just sit­u­a­tions in life. But the most ob­vi­ous one that I don’t ac­tu­ally talk about very much is in Storm Siren,” says We­ber, re­fer­ring to her 2014 de­but YA novel in the Storm Siren tril­ogy.

“I tend to write from start to fin­ish. I don’t rough draft. It’s a weird writ­ing process. I per­fect the book as I go. So when I’m done with the book, it’s a fin­ished prod­uct. With Storm Siren, I was about halfway through and I got a phone call from my agent. His name was Lee Hough. He was my agent at the time and he called to let me know that he ... how do I say this, I’m gonna cry.

“He was call­ing to let me know that he was re­sign­ing from his po­si­tion as my agent be­cause his brain can­cer had re­turned, and his doc­tor had given him two months to live.

“He had walked very closely be­side me through the process. He was like a dad. It was just on mul­ti­ple lev­els very dev­as­tat­ing.

“I took two weeks and I didn’t write at all. I couldn’t. I just grieved and cried.

“At the end of those two weeks, I sat down and I skipped ahead, and I think it was chap­ter 23, I’d have to look at it. But I skipped ahead and wrote the scene that in­volves (the char­ac­ter) Colin’s death. I wrote those two chap­ters back to back and I just cried the whole way through all that.

“There’s a rea­son Colin is bald, be­cause my agent was bald. There are shap­ing el­e­ments in that whole story that are com­pletely pointed to my agent. To this day those are the only two chap­ters that I’ve ever writ­ten that have never even needed an edit,” We­ber says.

Get­ting back to Sofi Snow, we ask about the un­usual con­tent of the ac­knowl­edge­ments page, and We­ber laughs: “What peo­ple don’t re­alise is that ev­ery sin­gle line in my ac­knowl­edge­ments page has part of a line from a song,” she con­fesses, ex­plain­ing that she lis­tened to a lot of mu­sic while writ­ing the book.

“I lis­tened to a lot of Birdy, Halsey, Imag­ine Dragons – of course. A lot of old school stuff, too, like The Killers. Ob­vi­ously Def Lep­pard – al­ways Def Leop­ard. Some Tom Petty. The Cure – al­ways The Cure.”

We­ber, who turns 40 later this year, lives in Cal­i­for­nia with her hus­band and three chil­dren; as we come to the end of our in­ter­view ses­sion, she’s in her car, es­cap­ing a horde of teenagers cur­rently in­vad­ing her house. Nat­u­rally, our last ques­tion to her has to be about how she plans to sur­vive World War III.

“Oh my gosh! I fig­ure if we have a zom­bie out­break you know, we have a choice. We could be zom­bies, that might be bet­ter. Or, I don’t know ... a bunker? A com­mune? I think I’ll go with com­mune,” says the so­cia­ble We­ber, not sur­pris­ingly.

We­ber in­fuses her books and char­ac­ters with as­pects of her per­son­al­ity and hu­mour. — Sarah Kath­leen Pho­tog­ra­phy/mary­we­ber.com

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