Not one, but two of our fabulous Epic Reads authors sat down to answer some questions this week—each other’s! In part 2 (check out part 1 here) of the truly epic results, Anna Carey, author of the Eve trilogy, and Cynthia Hand, author of the Unearthly trilogy, talk writing, strong women, and life after the apocalypse.
Cynthia: Onto you though. I’m dying to talk about ONCE, of course, but first off, a question on EVE…
When I first started reading EVE, I read the first page and had to stop to compose the following tweet: “The first page of the new book, EVE, nearly brought me to tears. Bodes well for the rest of the book.” I’m still knocked out by that first page; it was so emotionally spot-on and so vivid and powerful that I was instantly invested in the characters. What inspired you to begin the book with a letter from Eve’s mother? What do you hope we as readers will get from this letter?
Anna: This is always fascinating to me, because there was so much back and forth about that letter. Should I keep it? Should I cut it? Does it feel like a device to open the book and clarify date/time/back story? My editor fought for it to stay and I am eternally grateful, because people have had such a strong response to it.
That image—of a woman writing alone in a house, listening to her daughter’s music box—came very naturally to me. Even though Eve’s mother has died years before the series begins, she’s always felt like one of the most vivid characters in the book. I knew this woman, who was existing somewhere between life and death, and was faced with the reality of leaving a young daughter behind. What would she want Eve to know? How would she feel as those final days passed? I hoped readers would feel her loneliness, her isolation, and the moments of wonder she feels even in those final months.
Cynthia: Speaking of mothers, one great thing about your novels is that so much of both EVE and ONCE have to do with the relationships between women: Eve’s memory/concept of her mother, the friendships she forms at the school, her standing with the teachers, and her uneasy alliance with Arden, who is such a wonderful, unpredictable character. (But you romantics out there–don’t worry, there is a hot guy and a sweet romance–le sigh.) Ultimately she’s faced with a pretty grim reality of what it means to be a woman in this new society, which she rejects and tries to escape, only to wind right back in a city that’s comprised only of women. What do you have against men, Anna? Just kidding–I love that the books have such great female power, and yet are constantly reexamining gender roles. How do you see Eve’s ideas about both men and women evolving throughout the books?
Anna: I know, I’m really building a reputation as a man hater. Unfair, I say! Unfair! Eve understands, perhaps more than anything, the world of women. She was raised by a single mother, then lived in an all girls school, taught only by women. For the most part she knows how to navigate female relationships. Her understanding of men and boys comes entirely from her very skewed education. The girls inside the compound were taught that going beyond the wall would mean certain death, that there are wild dog packs, gangs, and other dangers they couldn’t anticipate. They couldn’t possibly survive. Because men in the wild were seen as a threat to the birthing initiative, the girls were taught to fear them. The moment when Eve goes beyond the compound walls is when her life truly begins. She meets Caleb, who is nothing like the men the Teachers described. Throughout the series, and EVE especially, she is trying to reconcile what she’s been taught with what she’s discovering every day. She gradually learns that there are no rules. She encounters men who she trusts and women she doesn’t. Both genders have saved her, both genders have betrayed her. She breaks free of her life inside the compound walls, as she slowly starts looking at each person as an individual.
That’s always been Eve’s arc through the series. She grows and changes tremendously—that’s one of my favorite things about her character.
Cynthia: I especially loved how Eve’s feelings for Caleb evolved over the course of ONCE. It felt so realistically romantic to me, not a love-at-first-sight kind of insta-love, but a real, growing relationship where both people have to make sacrifices. What was it like to write the continuation of the Caleb/Eve relationship in ONCE? Was it easier or harder to write the romantic scenes in this book?
Anna: That means so much coming from you. I loved Clara’s relationships with Tucker—that build felt so organic. The scene where Eve sees Caleb again was the most natural scene in the book to write. There’s been so much working against them that it was incredibly satisfying to bring these two people back together.
Other scenes were trickier. Call me a prude, but I’ve always felt like a voyeur writing sex scenes. Because the characters are so real to me—as vivid as any of my friends in life—it always feels a bit inappropriate to be in those moments with them, even if I’m the one who’s writing them. I always think…yeeesh…I should not be here, witnessing this. I need to give these characters some time alone.
Cynthia: Last question, I promise: another thing I absolutely adore about your series is your use of the books and music and paintings that Eve stumbles upon, pieces of art that survived the end of our civilization as we know it, from Winnie the Pooh to Vincent Van Gogh. How did you pick the books, songs and art Eve is exposed to? Why was it important for you to show us how art, in its various forms, survived even after civilization as we know it has fallen?
Anna: I wasn’t as interested in creating a completely new world with different rules as I was in imagining our world in the wake of an unfathomable disaster. I wanted the setting to be eerily recognizable to us, and that involved weaving in bits of our culture into the landscape. Since Eve had limited resources within the School, so much of her understanding of the world before comes from the library archives, where there are Beatles records, old Madonna cassettes, battered books and other items recovered from the wild. She’s looked to everything from children’s books to Anna Karenina to glean information about the world before the plague. Most of those books or songs were written into the book very organically, and are there now because at one time or another they meant something to me. Watching Ghost seemed like the perfect movie for Eve in that moment, who is struggling with questions about love, death, and loss. Eve doesn’t have context for when and how these pieces were created, so I love that a book like Winnie the Pooh and To the Lighthouse become equally important—they both help her understand different aspects of the time before.
I’ve always been fascinated with what we, as people, leave behind. If someone unearthed books and movies, songs and paintings, what would they reveal about us? What would truly withstand the test of time? Would future worlds care about what we felt was important or would they derive their own meaning from them? Caleb has Swimming for Dummies in the dugout, and I think it’s interesting that this book is, in some ways, more important to him than any novel could be. The novels Eve has read are extremely important to her understanding of the world. It was fascinating to look at our world—and everything in it—through this post-apocalyptic lens.