Inspired by the people in her life
Young adult fiction author Mary Weber shares how she creates the characters that inhabit her bestselling books.
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