Kat Falls receive her MFA from Northwestern University and now teaches there. She is the author of Dark Life, the first in a great new series set in the near future where climate change has caused the seas to rise, and her characters live in underwater towns, except some of those who were born underwater and know only of this ocean world seem to have developed some unusual abilities.
Alex C. Telander: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Kat Falls: I’ve always run intricate stories in my head for my own amusement, which is a nice way of saying that I’ve always been a daydreamer. My mind automatically shifts into that mode when I’m driving, cleaning and as I fall asleep. In high school, I started writing them down and quickly realized that’s what I wanted to do full-time, write stories, though I wasn’t sure for which medium.
Alex: Who are some of your influences?
Kat: So many. But to name a few… Ira Levin, Ray Bradbury, Nancy Farmer, Jack Finney, Suzanne Collins, and Kenneth Oppel.
Alex: Do you remember the first thing you wrote?
Kat: Yep. I was in third grade and it was a rip-off of Baby Island by Carol Ryrie Brink and Helen Sewell. I jettisoned the lead characters and inserted myself, which is probably how a lot of writers get started.
Alex: What was your first story or book to get published and how did it happen?
Kat: Dark Life is my first published book. Before that, I wrote screenplays. I’d never thought about writing a book for kids, even though I have three children and read aloud to them almost every night—usually middle-grade novels. When I came up with the premise for Dark Life, I’d been searching for an idea for a screenplay, but since the story takes place underwater, I knew it would require an astronomical budget. So, I decided to write it as a middle-grade adventure novel. The lovely irony of it – after Scholastic bought Dark Life in a two-book deal, The Gotham Group and Disney optioned the film rights.
Alex: Where did the idea for Dark Life come from?
Kat: The premise for Dark Life came out of a writing exercise. My oldest son was 11 at the time and I’d set myself the task of combining three things that he loved to read about into one story: the ocean, Old West pioneers, and the X-men. Suddenly, the world of the story took shape in my mind and the plot came together fairly easily after that.
Alex: What sort of research did it require?
Kat: A lot, but then, I’m a research junkie. I read up on everything from marine life and geography to undersea architecture and future technology. While I wrote, I kept one particular reference book close by: Ocean: The World’s Last Wilderness Revealed. The pictures are glorious and it has information on just about everything ocean related: tides and waves, subsea flora and fauna… It was my go-to book. I also printed out pictures of sea creatures that I’d downloaded from the internet and made a large collage of them, which I kept propped up near my desk.
Alex: What do you hope people get out of reading Dark Life?
Kat: One of the recurring themes in Dark Life was inspired by old western movies and that’s the survival of the group depends on their willingness to accept one another and work together.
Also, I’d be thrilled if kids gain a new appreciation for the ocean because, to quote Jacques Cousteau, “People protect what they love.”
Alex: How many books do you plan to have in the Dark Life series?
Kat: I’ve outlined three more, for a total of five.
Alex: Can you tell us a little about what Rip Tide (available August, 2011) will be about?
Kat: When Ty’s parents are kidnapped by a savage group of ocean dwellers known as surfs, he and Gemma make a desperate alliance with the Seablite Gang in order to get them back. I like to think of it as “The Searchers on the ocean.” I know that pitch won’t work for middle-graders. How many of them have even heard of John Wayne? Forget a 1956 western. But hopefully their parents and teachers will get it.
Alex: Do you have any other projects you are working on?
Kat: As a matter of fact I’m working on a new one right now. It’s called The Fetch and is the first book in a YA trilogy, which Scholastic Press acquired for publication beginning in fall 2012. It’s near-future sci-fi as well, though it takes place on terra firma.
Alex: Do you have any advice for writers looking to get published?
Kat: Know your audience. I know that sounds obvious but knowing that I was writing for middle-graders helped me every time I was faced with a creative choice. I’d seen how ruthless my own children could be about books, especially my oldest son. To this day, if a story doesn’t grab him on page one, he’ll toss it aside and never give it another try. So, I wrote Dark Life with kids like him in mind. I kept my prose lean and loaded on the action and imagery to make it feel like a thrill ride.
Alex: Who do you like to read?
Kat: I’ve loved YA for years, but now that I’m writing one, it’s all I’ve been reading. Especially YA speculative fiction, of which there’s a lot. This year, I binged on zombies with Carrie Ryan’s fabulous Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy and World War Z. I love dystopias –The Hunger Games trilogy, of course, and more recently Matched by Allie Condie. Now, I’m halfway through Peeps by Scott Westerfeld and thoroughly enjoying it.
Alex: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Kat: Spare time? Not sure that’s the phrase I’d use, however, if my kids are asleep, my husband is out and I can’t bring myself to look at my To Do list or write or even read, I’ll happily settle in front of the television. I usually have several Tivo’ed shows – mostly of the sci-fi and paranormal variety — and at least one Netflixed film waiting for me.
Alex: If you could live in the world you’ve created in Dark Life, what special ability would you like to have?
Kat: Being able to emit an electric shock could be useful in certain situations…