On a Precipice: An interview with Eevee Solomon of While You Were Gone
by Amy K. Nichols
During a recent writing workshop with high school students, a boy raised his hand and said, “You talk about your characters like they’re real people.” His comment threw me. In that moment, I realized how nutty I sounded, talking about my characters as if they walked alongside me, as if they actually breathed air.
After a ha-ha-no-really-I’m-not-crazy laugh, I explained that writing and revising a novel can take years. It took me about four years to write my first published novel, Now That You’re Here, and then another year of revisions and edits, getting it ready for publication, after selling it to Knopf. The second book, While You Were Gone, was written on a much shorter timeline, but still year and a few months is a long time to spend with Eevee and Danny, the main characters of the books.
So they are like real people to me. I hear them. See them. Even talk to them sometimes. Hopefully, as a result, they’re like real people to those who read the books as well.
With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to interview Eevee Solomon, the main female protagonist of While You Were Gone.
But first, let me tell you a little about the books.
Now That You’re Here, the first book of the Duplexity series, tells the story of Danny, a boy who finds himself in a parallel universe where his friends are nowhere and his parents are dead. The only person he recognizes is Eevee, but in this world she’s not the mysterious femme fatale he once kissed back home. This Eevee, though—a girl who’d rather land an internship at NASA than a date to the prom—may be his only hope of getting home. Eevee tells herself she’s only helping him in the name of quantum physics, but there’s something undeniably fascinating about this boy from another dimension . . . a boy who makes her question who she is, and who she might be in another place and time.
While You Were Gone flips the first book on its head, telling the story of the other Danny and other Eevee in the parallel universe. Eevee is a promising young artist and the governor’s daughter in a city where censorship is everywhere and security is everything. When a fire devastates her exhibition—years in the making—her dreams of attending an elite art institute are dashed. She’s struggling to find inspiration when she meets Danny, a boy from a different world. Literally. Raised in a foster home, Danny has led a life full of hurt and hardship until a glitch in the universe changes everything. Suddenly Danny is living in a home he’s never seen, with parents who miraculously survived the car crash that should have killed them. It’s like he’s a new Danny. But this alternate self has secrets—ties to an underground anarchist group that have already landed him in hot water. When he starts to develop feelings for Eevee, he’s even more disturbed to learn that he might have started the fire that ruined her work. As Danny sifts through clues from his past and Eevee attempts to piece together her future, they uncover a secret that’s bigger than both of them. . . . And together, they must correct the breach between the worlds before it’s too late.
It’s been a few months since I’ve spent time with Eevee. Maybe she’ll have some interesting to share.
AN: Hi Eevee. How’s it going? When we last spoke, things were a bit crazy there.
ES: They still are. I’m kind of away from it all out here at school, but we hear stories. Not to mention the sirens going off in the city.
AN: You haven’t been back to the Executive Tower downtown to see your parents?
ES: Not yet.
AN: What’s that like, being the Governor’s daughter?
ES: Not as glamorous as it sounds. I mean, I get to do a lot of things other girls my age don’t, but there’s a lot of pressure to look and act a certain way. It’s like always being on stage.
AN: Like being watched all the time?
ES: You have no idea.
AN: Is that the biggest struggle? Always being on display?
ES: That and the fact it’s hard to make and keep friends. Sometimes it’s hard to know who you can and can’t trust.
AN: Do you have a best friend?
ES: I used to, but she and I aren’t friends anymore. Let’s just say politics got in the way. I do have some new friends, though, that I know I can trust. Of them, I’d say I’m closest to Warren. You just never know what you’re gonna get with that guy. He keeps me on my toes.
AN: Do you have a boyfriend?
ES: I do. His name is Danny and he’s… I don’t even know how to describe him. He didn’t grow up around here, so he has this completely different take on, like, what’s been happening and how things should be. He’s the bravest person I’ve ever met. He makes me feel brave.
AN: What’s one thing everyone knows about you?
ES: That I’m an artist.
AN: A good one, too.
ES: Thank you.
AN: What’s one thing no one knows but you wish they did?
ES: That I’m not a spoiled rich girl. And I’m not my dad’s policies.
AN: What is on thing you hope no one ever finds out about you?
ES: If I answer that, everyone will know! Hmmm…here’s all I’ll tell you: I opened a door.
AN: Interesting. Do you have any enemies?
ES: That girl I’m not friends with anymore? I consider her an enemy. Also, Skylar.
AN: Describe the Phoenix you live in in three words.
ES: On. A. Precipice.
AN: Wow. Can you describe it in more than three words?
ES: Yeah. Phoenix is a city split between wanting to be safe and wanting to be free. Until recently, it was safe, but being safe comes with a price. Some people are tired of paying that price.
AN: How does living in that kind of world influence you as an artist?
ES: In a whole bunch of ways I can’t even begin to talk about. If I did, I could get in a lot of trouble.
AN: Do you have a favorite artist?
ES: If I tell you, do you promise not to judge me?
ES: Van Gogh. I know, I know. He’s on the list, but… I just can’t help myself. Don’t tell anyone.
AN: What do you hope for your future?
ES: That it’s full of art. And love.
AN: I hope so, too. Thanks for chatting with us, Eevee.
The Date: A bonus scene from Now That You’re Here
By Amy K. Nichols
While I’m here doing a guest post to promote While You Were Gone, the second book in the Duplexity series due to be published by Knopf on August 4, I decided I wanted to share a bonus scene with you from the first book in the series, Now That You’re Here.
First, though, a little background.
While You Were Gone tells the story of Danny, a boy who jumps to a parallel world where he’s no longer an orphan, where he has a cool best friend, and where he even gets the girl. But the society his parallel self lives in is a police state about to implode. The people there are weighed down by and fed up with constant security and surveillance. Surprisingly, Danny’s jumping holds the key to solving the problem. With the help of super-secretive Warren, they devise a plan to take down the entire system. If their plan fails, though, they run the risk of sending Danny back to his old world for good.
While You Were Gone is the flipside of the first book, Now That You’re Here, which tells the story of the alternate Danny and alternate Eevee. Danny jumps from a police state to a free society, only to discover his parallel self is an orphan living in a foster home. He’s a lonely loser who has no friends, let alone a girl. Still, super-smart Eevee who sits next to him in English agrees to help him figure out how he jumped there. With the help of her best friend Warren, they devise a plan to get him home, but now that he has Eevee, he’s not sure back home is where he wants to be.
If you’ve read Now That You’re Here, you know about the date between Warren and Missy Bivins, which happens off stage. You also know about the date’s wider implications. Today I want to share with you that scene, in all its nerdy splendor. If you haven’t read Now That You’re Here, I hope this scene piques your interest enough to give it a try. It’s a lot of fun. And be sure to check out While You Were Gone, which hits shelves August 4.
Without further ado, I give you…
Caterpillars, Bantha Steak and Secrets
Captain’s Log Stardate 92799.92: I set course to rendezvous with a fascinating life form approximately 1.6 meters tall with astronomical mathematic skills and brown hair typically worn in braids. Melissa Bivins. Missy.
Also in the honors track at Palo Brea, Missy sits next to or near me in several classes. She smells of citrus blossoms and potassium iodide. On a number of occasions I’d considered pointing this out, but didn’t want to state the obvious. It’s my understanding that females tend to be deliberate about matters such as perfume choice. Besides, orange trees are in bloom in Phoenix this time of year. Most residents probably carry a certain amount of pollen, and thus the scent, every day without even knowing. Still, I’d resolved that, should the subject come up over the course of the evening, I’d mention it.
That moment came approximately three minutes after she answered her door.
“Hi Warren,” she said, turning a braid around her right index finger.
I moved my goggles—my best pair, the antique aviators—up onto my forehead and said, “Hi Missy.” Then we looked at each other for another minute and a half, and I said, “You smell like citrus blossoms and potassium iodide.”
My keen observation skills must have impressed her. “Thank you,” she said. “I like your shirt.”
I’d chosen the quasi-steampunk Tesla portrait for a number of reasons, the first and foremost being that Nikola Tesla is one of the greatest scientific minds to ever live. Second, the scrollwork and stylized font make it look classy and I wasn’t sure what Missy had planned and if we were going somewhere nice. Also, my favorite shirt, the cosmic Einstein, was dirty. “Tesla was one of the greatest—”
“Scientific minds ever,” she finished and we both smiled.
I followed her through the house to the backyard where she led me up a ladder into the limbs of an enormous mulberry tree. Of course she’d have a killer fort. Inside, the Milky Way stretched across the ceiling. “Did you paint this?”
“My father helped me. He’s an architect.” She picked up a mulberry flower that had fallen through the open window. “They look like caterpillars. Spilarctia luteum maybe?”
I picked one up, too, and inspected it, my mind spinning. A lepidopterist, too? Missy Bivins was full of surprises. “Or spilosoma lubricipeda.”
She held out her pseudo-caterpillar and I touched it with mine. “Cheers.”
We sat on a blanket set in the middle of the fort and ate the dinner she’d prepared with her mom. Lamta, hubba bread, bantha steak soup. The choicest selections from Jun Seros’ diner in Mos Eisley. “It’s really couscous,” she whispered, pointing at the lamta, but we agreed to pretend.
When the sun went down, the Milky Way above us glowed. We ate sugar-dusted pallie and talked about school and the severe lack of challenging homework. We debated DC versus Marvel and tried to solve unsolvable math problems. Then, in a most surprising turn, Missy reached across the blanket and took my hand. “Tell me a secret.”
My mouth went dry. Of course my first thought was the Faraday cage and EMP device I’d been building with Eevee in my garage at home. I wanted nothing more than to tell her about Danny Ogden. If he really had jumped here from a parallel universe, then we were sitting on a discovery that would blow the scientific realm wide open. The words gathered at the front of my brain like podracers revving at a starting line somewhere in the Outer Rim. But secrets are called secrets for a reason. I couldn’t tell her.
Or could I?
“Lle quena i’lambe tel’ Eldalie?”
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Is that Italian?” she asked, confirming my suspicion that she wasn’t familiar with the languages of Middle Earth.
In perfect elven, the secret poured forth from my lips. Somewhere, Tolkien smiled down on me.
“Amazing,” she said, her face beaming despite having no idea the incredible tale I’d just told.
Bolstered by a mix of relief and confidence, I added, “Oio naa elealla alasse’.” Ever is thy sight a joy.
At the end of the evening, when all the pallie and blue milk had been consumed, she walked me to her front door and kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, and her finger went back to turning the braid.
I moved my goggles down over my eyes. “Lissenen ar’ maska’lalaith tenna’ lye omentuva.” Sweet water and light laughter till next we meet. Then I turned and walked home, filled with a sense that all was right in the world—or worlds, plural—all the while reciting the names of the stars above.
The Songs that Influenced While You Were Gone
By Amy K. Nichols
Music plays a huge role in my writing. With two kids at home, my house is pretty loud; so over the years I got used to wearing headphones and listening to music while writing. Now I listen to it, even when the kids are at school. I found that music can do more than just drown out noise. It can influence story.
My typical process is to choose a song that fits the tone of the scene or chapter I’m working on. Then I listen to that song on repeat while I write. Depending on the length and difficulty of the chapter, this means I can listen to a single song on repeat for…well…hours. Crazy, right? But the cool thing is, after a few times through—usually the length of time it takes me to get comfy in my chair, open the document, read what came before, and get my head into writing mode—the song has sort of faded into the background and has become a kind of white noise. I no longer really hear the words, if it has lyrics, but the mood of the song still informs the mood of what I’m writing. So, if I’m writing an action sequence, I usually pick something with a quicker tempo and lots of intense guitar. If it’s a solemn scene, I choose something quieter, maybe acoustic or instrumental. As long as it fits the tone.
I’m always on the look out for new songs, too. I spend a lot of time in my car (ferrying the kids about) and I play music constantly. I also do a lot of thinking about my characters and their stories while I’m driving. When a song comes on the radio that clicks with a character or what’s going on in a particular scene, I pull out my phone and Shazam the song so I can refer to it later.
The one drawback I’ve found to this process is that it programs my writing brain to respond to certain songs. I’ll be standing in line at the grocery store and one of my writing songs will play, and all of a sudden my brain is full of the images and feelings of the scene or character I’ve associated with that song. If you ever see me standing in the check out line with a far-away look on my face, you’ll know why.
I created a playlist of some of the songs I listened to while writing my first book, Now That You’re Here. So, I decided to do the same with the follow-up book, While You Were Gone. The types of songs are all over the map, everything from Tool to Frou Frou. Each one helped me lock into the mood of a particular scene or character. They’re presented in no particular order. Maybe when you read While You Were Gone, you’ll be able to match up which songs belong where in the stories timelines.
Here’s the playlist. Happy listening, and reading!
[If you want to embed the actual playlist, paste this link into the html code of the blog post: https://open.spotify.com/user/12165619886/playlist/5CCccZlA0KT7IFQO1gZxXI]
About While You Were Gone:
Eevee is a promising young artist and the governor’s daughter in a city where censorship is everywhere and security is everything. When a fire devastates her exhibition—years in the making—her dreams of attending an elite art institute are dashed. She’s struggling to find inspiration when she meets Danny, a boy from a different world. Literally.
Raised in a foster home, Danny has led a life full of hurt and hardship until a glitch in the universe changes everything. Suddenly Danny is living in a home he’s never seen, with parents who miraculously survived the car crash that should have killed them. It’s like he’s a new Danny. But this alternate self has secrets—ties to an underground anarchist group that have already landed him in hot water. When he starts to develop feelings for Eevee, he’s even more disturbed to learn that he might have started the fire that ruined her work.
As Danny sifts through clues from his past and Eevee attempts to piece together her future, they uncover a secret that’s bigger than both of them. . . . And together, they must correct the breach between the worlds before it’s too late.
While You Were Gone is the second book in the Duplexity series, and the sequel to Now That You’re Here.