We first meet Veronica Rossi as we step towards the third hovering ring of the Intergalactic Space Circus. She had asked Stephanie and I to meet her there. Steph and I assumed we would all be watching the Beast Master tame the great Meh-khlo. We should have known better. Veronica Rossi was the Beast Master taming the great Meh-khlo, which makes a lot of sense to those who know her. It wasn’t her occupation, obviously, just a guest performance for the night.
She waves Stephanie and I over, so we tentatively approached the edge of the electrified forcefield. The Meh-khlo roars and Rossi flicks her glowing, neon whip in his direction. “Sorry, Kat Kennedy and Stephanie Sinclair, half the circus got sick on bad Taco Bell, so they asked me to step in.”
“Oh,” I reply, severely disappointed.
“Sure… we understand. Maybe we could reschedule?” Stephanie asks glumly as the Meh-khlo leaps through hovering fire rings on Rossi’s command.
She assures us earnestly that Meh-khlo taming, Transport Trapezing and Precision Laser Shooting won’t get in the way of our interview. We’re doubtful, but the adrenaline from getting to meet Rossi is burning in our veins and hope springs eternal, so we agree. The crowd bursts into applause as the beast runs through the obstacle course.
“So… Rossi… I mean, Veronica… I mean, Ms. Rossi…”
“V!” she corrects as she ducks a swiping green paw. “Call me V! Veronica is too long and formal.”
“Okay, V,” I reply with a nervous giggle as I pull out my notepad. “Under The Never Sky is a young adult sci-fi novel geared towards teenage girls – a demographic that is not heavily associated with that genre. Were you surprised that it was so well received?” I’m trying to be heard over the crowd, but my fears were for nothing.
“Very surprised!” Rossi says, flipping herself into a handstand. At her whistle, the Meh-khlo beast jumps onto her feet and balances itself as she holds him up. “I definitely saw it more as genre fiction. When I wrote UTNS, I set out to write a coming-of-age story, not a YA story, if that makes any sense. I wasn’t really trying to fit it into a category, as much as I was trying to tell a story about that particular transformation in two character’s lives. I do think we’re seeing much more sci-fi in YA, though, with plenty more on the horizon.” She grunts a little, as she speaks, with the exertion of trying to hold the heavy beast up and balance at the same time.
Stephanie looks at me, her eyebrow coolly raised, and whispers, “Is this a good idea?”
“Aren’t all my ideas good?”
“What about the time you got us drunk, broke into an embassy and tried to sacrifice the Slovakian Diplomat to the blog gods?”
“I thought we weren’t mentioning that again?” I snap.
The crowd cheers in applause, breaking up our spat. The Meh-khlo beast leaps off Rossi’s feet and onto the ground. It stands up on its hindpaws and takes a deep bow with Rossi. Turns out he isn’t a savage animal after all. His name’s Leeroy and he owns half the circus. Great guy. Mean Mario Cart player. The crowd love it.
Without warning the entire ring shakes as it transforms into a bottomless, gaping space Teleporting Trapeze. Rings for the teleporters are dispersed at staggering distances. Somewhere amidst the blackness are handholds, invisible to the naked eye and easily missed by even an expert. Stephanie and I are panicking as we watch V prepare to impress the crowd.
“Aria, a girl who has spent her entire life in the Pod and walking amongst the safe and dreamlike Realms, suddenly finds herself out in the Death Shop with very few survival skills. She’s fairly helpless and reliant on Perry for her survival, but she doesn’t stay that way for long. Considering your audience, what example were you hoping they’d take away from Aria’s character growth?” I ask, because then at least I won’t scream.
Rossi whips off her coat in a flurry of movement, and stretches. Her lips press together in a thin line and her eyes peer off distantly for a moment before she replies. “It’s funny, Kat, but I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about “my audience” and what they’d take away, as much as what I believe are important qualities in life. We are all thrown into new and frightening situations at any age. A new school, new job, new town. Having a child, getting a divorce, losing a loved one. We have to adapt all the time. The only way to do that is to just keep trudging forward and that’s what Aria does. That’s what I hoped to convey.”
Then she winks at me, steps out onto the edge of the raised platform that Stephanie and I are huddling away from, where the cheering crowd waits and throws herself into oblivion. She didn’t even have the decency to look nervous. Half way down her free fall she disappears in a teleporter ring and reappears across the room. She’s still moving at the same momentum she had when falling, only now she’s being tossed horizontally across an open space. Before any normal human would have time to react, she holds out a hand and catches an invisible handhold that changes her projection and sends her careening wildly in an arc towards an impossibly distant teleporter. Somehow she reaches it.
“Shit…” Stephanie and I murmur as we watch.
“Your question next,” I say hollowly, my voice slow and filled with wonder as I watch Rossi expertly fall and alternately be flung across the vast blackness in front of me. One wrong move and she’d disappear into the dark abyss below. She doesn’t even blink.
“Uhuh,” Stephanie replies vacantly. She wakes up a little after a moment and turns to me in concern. “Maybe we shouldn’t distract her right now.”
Rossi briefly appears out of nowhere, gives us the thumbs up, signalling us to continue, before falling into another beam and being randomly transported into the distance.
“Sorry!” Stephanie calls after her. “I’m used to working with Kat. It’s not a good idea to distract her.”
“Hey! It’s a medical condition and I’m taking medication!”
“Alcohol is not a medication!” Stephanie snaps back. I go to reply but she gives me that look that says that it’s not worth my life to continue arguing. She has her notes with her because she’s organized and efficient like that. I silently pretend that I’m not plotting her eventual downfall.
“One interesting aspect of the novel is Perry and Aria’s character growth as the story wears on,” Stephanie yells across the open space, even though Rossi is impossibly far away. “At first, due to deeply engrained socio-prejudices, they see each other in negative lights. However, as they get to know each other on the journey, they begin to realize they are not so different. When you were writing Under The Never Sky did you originally set out to explore racial/cultural tensions?”
We wait with baited breath, feeling like we’re in a hazy dream. After a death-defying free fall, Rossi grabs the handle of a dangling rope, tosses herself into the path of a transporter and with a final flourishing flash of light, she appears beside us slightly out of breath.
She takes a moment to bow to the audience who are on their feet, hoofs, tentacles and hover chairs – all going crazy with excitement.
“I did want to look at that,” she says in answer to Stephanie’s question, completely nonplussed, “but more as an outgrowth of contrasting privilege, and the lack of it. The real thrust of my exploration was focused on technology and where it might take us.”
Stephanie and I are slack-jawed and too awed to respond so we wait as the ring changes again. The ground reappears and the area is transformed into an amazing shooting range. There’s a problem. Rossi needs to fire Kaplan lasers at a human target. She’s standing in for the Amazing Three-Eyed Shooter of Amaljab-heeeeeeeeeeek and her assistant Bob. Rossi looks worried. She promised the Ring Master she’d help save his show, but she needs someone to stand in the middle of the ring and let her shoot exploding peas off their heads with a special laser that requires her to personally compute three different mathematical formulas, simultaneously, to fire.
“Who’s question is next?” I ask quickly. Please be Stephanie’s. Please be Stephanie’s. Please be Stephanie’s.
“Yours,” Stephanie replies. “But you can’t go out there! Do you realize how dangerous this is?”
I grimace. I have this nightmare where I’m shot to death by a laser gun and die a painful death. Silly, I know, but we really needed this interview and, after all, it’s Veronica Rossi. That fact alone spurs me on to face my ridiculous fear.
“I’ll do it!” I say stepping forward. “I’ll take the beans into the ring!”
Rossi flashes me a smile of gratitude and, before I know it, I’m standing in the middle of a crazy, screaming crowd. I’m more pants-shittingly terrified than I’ve ever been in my entire life. The blood in my veins is like ice and it’s chugging along, putting my heart through its paces. I’m sweating, but I’m cold and the light is flashing in my eyes – blinding me. Is it blinding V too? I wonder. I’ve learned not to ask silly questions like that now.
Rossi has her laser gun out and she gives me a nod which means she wants me to keep going with this crazy interview while I stand in the middle of a cheering crowd. “You made a stylistic decision to not go into technical detail about the Aether and focus on the narrative instead. Did you worry that audiences wouldn’t get it?” My voice is shaky and weak, yet somehow she hears it.
She must know I’m scared because, from behind her back, she fires the first laser which zig zags impressively across the air between us in an instant and knocks the bean off my head before I have time to react or even blink. Bullets go straight but this laser beam goes where ever Rossi wants it to. The jolt shocks me, but there’s an insane thrill as the crowd goes wild.
“Oh, sure. And I know some haven’t.” She shoots another bean off and my hair whips from the dislodgment. “I’ll explain the Aether more in Book Two, but my intent was always to keep the book focused on story and character, as you said. I get very bored with long world-building passages that explain social structure, religion, politics, science. (Unless it’s Tolkein. Or George RR Martin.)” She fires shots randomly, sometimes flipping the gun into the air and catching it. Socialstructure, religion, politics and science are all punctuated with their own bangs, but I’m too engrossed in listening to her to move or panic. “I do a lot of that work before I write, but it’s not what I like to put on the page. And, as I’m sure you know, there’s no way to please everyone. Some people will fault me for it, and that’s ok. I have to write it the way I want to see it. Anything else would feel phony. Yes. Phony. Apparently I’m suddenly channeling Holden Caulfield.”
Stephanie is giving me thumbs up in the distance as sweat pours down my face and pools in my neck and cleavage. Finally it’s over and I’m bowing stiffly before a roaring crowd. V is making grandiose flourishes to a raging, roaring audience. Stephanie and I stare bug-eyed at her as she leads us out of the ring and backstage.
She looks at me sympathetically, but smiles and thanks me for saving the circus that night. I thank her for not killing me. She laughs and accidentally squeezes off a shot between her snorts. Someone screams in the distance so we decide it’s a good time to have a coffee break.
“Better ask your next question quick,” Stephanie whispers as we follow along in V’s wake. “It’s almost happy hour.”
“Now look who’s the alcoholic,” I whisper back as we pass through the crazy, tumultuous back stage where the only circus performers not incapacitated by Taco Bell are preparing to finish the show. They greet V enthusiastically, shaking her hand like a hero and a star. Bright colours swirl around us and I finally catch up enough to ask, “There are a couple of moments in the book which could be considered controversial for a Young Adult novel. Were you concerned about keeping them in?”
V winks at me and replies, “Do you mean the comments Roar makes during the dinner scene, Kat? I can’t keep that guy’s mouth shut!” She smiles cheekily and I feel a stupid fangirl grin break out across my face.
“I wrote what felt true, then obsessed over whether it should stay or go, and found that my agent and editor agreed with me. So the story stayed the way I’d drafted it. It stayed the way my gut told me it should be.”
V shows us the way to her spacecraft and kindly offers to drop us off on Earth. We’re running out of time so Stephanie buckles her seat belt and fires off her next question. “Under The Never Sky is told in the third person narrative through both Perry and Aria’s point-of-view. Could you share with us why you decided to go this route?”
I’m still fiddling with mine, which looks less like a seatbelt and more like an M.C. Escher painting: equal parts illogical and impossible. Eventually V saves me from embarrassment and clicks me in. Apparently it’s not that hard.
Stephanie is looking at me, silently questioning if I’m really that ridiculously stupid. I’m afraid to answer.
Luckily, Rossi saves me from having to do so by starting up the engines and replying, “Well, I wrote it in first person present, then I changed it to third, then back to first, then to third… I have it written in every way save for second person! I really love third person and we don’t see it that much in YA… At least that’s my observation. But I like it because it feels, to me, a little timeless and a little nostalgic and it just ended up being the best way for this story. That said, I can’t wait to write my next manuscript in first!”
Then she asks if Stephanie wants to co-pilot the impossibly advanced space ship. Bitch doesn’t even break a sweat and flies like a champion. Though if you ask me, her landing could have used a little work. I guess miss perfect isn’t perfect at everything after all. I get to gloat excessively after I’ve finished screaming like a pansy.
“Sorry about your space ship,” Stephanie says as we look upon the smouldering wreck. We have ten bucks between us which V assures us is a generous offer of compensation but completely unnecessary. Stephanie pulls out one of her cards and writes, “I.O.U 1 Spaceship.” I’m sure Veronica Rossi knows we’re good for it.
We’re heading towards a diner. We figure the least we could do is buy Rossi a cup of coffee and a cake or pie. Then we intend on hitting the town and drinking ourselves into a ridiculous stupor of invincibility. “Since the primary setting takes place outside of the pods in the Death Shop, we don’t get the opportunity to really see Aria’s half of the world. Can we look forward to seeing more of the realms in the subsequent novels?” Stephanie asks.
“Absolutely. I’m working on those scenes right now. Any particular Realm you’d like to see? I’ll create one for you!” Rossi replies, knowing this will cheer us up from the shame of our destruction of her personal property. V is a champ like that.
I jump up and down like a hyped-up kid at Disneyland for the first time, which is an appropriate analogy since I’d just finished throwing up in a ditch. “Dinoriders world! People who ride dinosaurs that have laserbeams attached to their head! It would be so awesome! Imagine the battles!”
“No! Do a Star Wars Realm with orange lightsabers!”
“Booo! Dinoriders!” I complain.
“Do you want your Gin and Tonic?” Stephanie threatens.
“Stephanie’s idea is fantastic,” I admit to V most sincerely. The desert where we’ve landed it blazingly hot, but luckily there’s a diner close by. We probably should apologize to the residents of Roswell. It seems unfair to psyche them out like we did. As if they haven’t had enough of spaceships crashing.
“Under The Never Sky has been optioned for a movie. How exciting! Are there any scenes or aspects that are a “must see” for you?” Stephanie asks.
“All of them, duh,” I reply and Stephanie jabs me and mumbles about how bitchy I get when I start to sober up.
V diplomatically ignores our bickering. “I’d really love to see the rooftop scene, where Aria sings to Perry, if only because I’d love to know if it would translate on the big screen the way I see it in my mind.”
We arrive at the diner and Stephanie and I are bummed. We know the night is almost over and we’ll have to say goodbye. When will we ever get to do something this cool again?
“And finally, cake or pie?” Stephanie jokes as she motions to the diner’s counter. What we really want is to kidnap her and take her out drinking with us, but we know that’s not possible. She’s busy and important and awesome and our interview is over. We’re literally out of questions.
But then she says, “Wine. Oh! Wait! Ummm. Cake.” She winks at us and suggests the name of a bar nearby from her unparalleled knowledge of drinking locations. We are the luckiest bloggers in the world. With cake in hand, we take off for one seriously crazy, incredible night.
But that’s another story, for another time.
We would like to most humbly thank Veronica Rossi for taking time out to have an awesome interview with us! We really are sorry about the space ship. *These events may or may not be fictional.