Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Conversation with Kristi Helvig, Author of BURN OUT

Kristi Helvig, author of BURN OUT
Hi Kristi! I'm so excited to have another of my awesome YA Vals on the blog for a chat. Your novel, Burn Out, is debuting in April, and I have to tell you - I've been waiting anxiously for my chance at our group ARC. I love future set novels that have an environmental twist. What was the prompt for you to to turn the sun into a "red giant?"

Goodreads for all the Buy This Linky Links!

Hi there--what a fun idea for a way to structure interviews! Okay, here goes about: My hubby and I watch a bunch of science documentaries on NatGeo, the Science channel, etc. One of the documentaries was about our solar system and how the sun will eventually burn out. I remember thinking "What if something happened and the sun burned out early?" That night I had a very vivid dream about Tora and James (my main character's of the novel) and this catastrophic world they lived in. I woke with her voice in my head, demanding that I tell their story. I started writing that day and finished the first draft in six weeks. 

"What if" questions have to be the best story starters - seriously. Okay, so watching science programs on TV does not a scientist make - was there a ton of research involved to make the science legit for the book? And is it a hard science sci-fi or a sociological sci-fi or a blend of both?

Ha—that's so true, though I wish it weren't because aside from being an armchair scientist, I would make a great armchair Iron Chef and House Hunter. Anyway, I did a crazy amount of research for this book. I started with Google and quickly discovered that every idea I had for how the sun could burn out early wasn't feasible—e.g. if every nuclear bomb was sent into the sun, it wouldn't even make a difference. I was totally stuck at that point and contacted a highly regarded astrophysics program at a university. They directed me to one of their top astrophysicists who suggested the only way he could think of that our sun could burn out early—thankfully, it's not probable, but it's possible, and that's what I needed. He made other suggestions as well that really helped with the science aspects of the book. As far as the genre of sci-fi, I don't consider it hard sci-fi as it's more sociologically based. However, after I finished writing the book, I discovered that one of the futuristic technologies I mentioned in the story is already being researched and could happen much sooner than I anticipated. I'm working on the sequel now and have a whole new host of science issues to resolve, so I'm really grateful for smart, science-minded people who help me! I'd really like my own personal Sheldon (from BBT). 

I'm with you on the armchair house hunting! Especially the international ones. So I peeked on Goodreads and Burn Out is getting super favorable reviews. It's been compared to the Hunger Games, with a sarcastic heroine and a comparison to Firefly as well! How does it feel to know that people are reading and loving Tora, your main character? 

I'm thrilled because I had so much fun writing her character. After I had that initial dream about Tora and the premise of the book, I couldn't get her out of my head. I love her personality and toughness, yet she also has a vulnerable side that others don't often get to see. I've had several readers call Tora the "female Han Solo" which is just one of the coolest compliments you can get. 

I love the dream part of your story. The muse is generous sometimes! You've been, are?, a clinical psychologist. I think this would be so helpful in figuring out character arcs and motivations. I know I spend a lot of time on back story with my characters. What kind of pre-planning, if any do you do when a story idea settles into your brain?

Yes, I'm a clinical psychologist and am currently doing part-time private practice work, so I definitely get to see a variety of personalities. I used to manage a locked residential unit of teenage girls who had either been committed through youth corrections or social services, and met many smart, tough girls who had lived through some really difficult circumstances. I loved working with them and helping them try to overcome some of the obstacles life had put in their way, and I'm sure that has been part of my calling to write YA.

As far as pre-planning goes, that is something that has changed over time. The first book I wrote (before BURN OUT) was completely pantsed. I just wrote until I knew what would happen next. Needless to say, revising that one took forever. With BURN OUT, after 'the dream,' I jotted down five sentences that were major things I knew happened in the book and then started writing the book. So there was a tiny bit of planning (about 10 minutes worth) before I started writing, but again, my muse was extremely generous because the dream was quite detailed. It took six weeks to get that first draft down and didn't require nearly as much revising as that first book. I also read SAVE THE CAT during that time, a screenwriting book that is one of my favorite books on writing, and it really helped me to think things through as I wrote. I'm working on the sequel to BURN OUT now and took a little longer to pre-plan as I have to make sure all the threads from the first book carry through in the second one. I wrote a few pages of plot threads that needed to be addressed, but I already know my characters so well which makes that part easier. Basically, I'm gradually becoming more and more of a plotter rather than a pantster with each book. 

I love Save The Cat - I tend to use it at the planning stage as well to hammer out key turning points. I've heard many different authors who've gotten to the published stage talk about this shift from pantser to plotter. I'm still somewhere in between.

Well, our conversation is coming to a close, but there's one last question I want you to answer - well actually three :0). Tell us the next three books in your TBR pile, what liquid is in your cup, and what's playing on repeat. And thanks so much for stopping by! Hopefully by the time this posts, I'll have gotten my hands on our roving ARC of Burn Out!

My next three TBR's: A friend just gave me WOOL by Hugh Howey this weekend, I have THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray sitting on my desk, and I just went to Marie Lu's signing and bought the entire LEGEND trilogy (oh, and I'm waiting on the next ARC from our YA Valentines group). That's more than three-lol.

As far as the liquid in my cup, my hubby just walked over and refreshed my coffee as I was typing this. I know I should drink more water but it just doesn't taste like coffee. ;)

I love Counting Stars by One Republic. I also admit to having an 80's station set on Pandora because it's impossible to be in a bad mood while listening to Bon Jovi or Flock of Seagulls. Thanks so much for having me, and I can't wait to read NO PLACE TO FALL! 

Thanks again, Kristi!

Be sure and stop in next week when I'll be chatting with Danielle Rollins about THE MERCILESS.


  1. Well, this one is going on my to-read list right away! My "what-if" questions for my YA sci-fi came from a TED talk, and I love diving into research on a topic that fascinates me. I taught for a number of years in a locked unit like the one that you're describing, so I'm intrigued to see how that experience might have influenced BURN OUT, as well. Great interview!

  2. Well, this is definitely going on my to-read list! (My "what-if" moment for my YA sci-fi was sparked by a TED Talk.) I taught for several years in a locked unit like the one you mention, so I'm curious to see how that experience has crept into BURN OUT. Great interview!

    1. I'm addicted to TED talks and my 9-yo showed me another one yesterday that he just saw in school...they are so inspiring! Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy BURN OUT!

  3. Great interview, ladies! Here's to living the *dream*, Kristi!

    Having read the first few chapter of both your books way back when, I'm super eager to read the final products!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne--and why don't you have your lovely picture up on your profile? Can't wait to see Charisma on the shelves! :)

  4. Great interview! I loved that you called and spoke with an astrophysicist :) (And, just for the record, Sheldon from BBT is wrong ALL the time--makes me nuts!! Does that reveal a little too much of my nerdy inner scientist? Probably...) Can't wait to read Burn Out!

    1. Thanks, Meradeth--and I heart people with nerdy inner scientists!

  5. JRo--thanks SO much for having me on the blog today! It was a blast! :)

  6. The premise for Burn Out sounds great! And as much as I like my 'grey days' (sometimes the sun can just be so obnoxiously bright, lol) I definitely don't want the sun to go away. Eep!


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