Interview: Laura Liddell Nolen

Laura Liddell Nolen‘s YA science fiction novel The Ark came out earlier this year from Harper Voyager. I interviewed her as part of the #VirtualVoyager festivities.

Cover of The Ark

JA: Where did the idea for The Ark come from? Why did you decide to write about the Earth being destroyed?

LN: I wanted the story to be reminiscent of an old-school space adventure, through the eyes of a young girl struggling for survival. I wanted her to be resourceful but not particularly wise yet, and to have a strong desire for redemption without fully understanding what that might involve. So an end-of-the-world scenario seemed like a good fit.

Laura Liddell Nolen

Laura Liddell Nolen

JA: What books (or movies etc.) influenced The Ark?

LN: Battlestar Galactica, absolutely, but I took pains to create a spaceship that doesn’t resemble the Galactica in any way. I love the idea of the remnants of humanity struggling to rebuild the species, but the plot similarities end there. I’m a massive fan of Orson Scott Card, and his books are a huge inspiration to me as a sci-fi author.

My book is nothing like Harry Potter, of course, but I have always loved that series, and in a way, it helped me understand the importance of storytelling and, by extension, made me want to be a writer.

JA: What is your writing process like? How long did it take The Ark to go from initial idea to publication?

LN: I am still working to develop an effective writing process. Right now, I’m always scrambling to find the time! I have found books about writing to be highly inspirational on that piont, but there is a real learning curve to this art. I started on The Ark in December of 2011, and sent it to HarperVoyager in October of 2012. The final version wasn’t complete until 2014, and it was published this spring. So I have a long way to go as far as efficiency!

JA: Char was an enjoyable main character–driven, resourceful, and always on the move. How did you go about writing a resourceful criminal like her?

LN: Thank you! My goal was to make the obstacles bigger and bigger, and I tried to put myself in Char’s place to figure out ways over, around, or through them. I’ve never personally broken into or out of anything, so there was a lot of research and speculation involved!

JA: One of the most interesting things about the book for me was seeing the people who didn’t have seats on the Ark and were just waiting for the end. How did you get into the mindset of people living through the end of the world? What would you do with your last few days if the Ark was leaving without you?

LN: Thank you! That was one of my favorite parts to write. I think I’d be one of the ones sitting in a circle in the grass, or maybe I’d try to host a big party. I definitely couldn’t be alone, but some characters, like Meaghan, stayed home in spite of having a functioning car, and I think it was because she’d found peace in knowing that her son would live. I like to think I’d find peace if I knew my family would survive.

JA: Something we don’t get to see in your novel is what life is like for an ordinary inhabitant of the Ark, who isn’t having your protagonist’s adventures. What do you imagine the Ark to be like from the point of view of an ordinary person?

LN: Great question. The middle part of the Ark experiences gravity about like Earth’s, and that’s where most of the inhabitants are. They were chosen as passengers based on their skills, training, and education, but some of those skills won’t be useful until they begin terraforming Eirenea. Very few passengers actually won a lottery to get on board. The ones whose skills are relevant (engineers, doctors, etc.) would carry on with that work. Everyone else would have jobs that support the day-to-day functionality of society, like cooking, cleaning, and running the commissary. The Commander and his team didn’t put a lot of thought into recreation, sadly!

JA: The Ark itself: how did you go about designing this massive space ship?

LN: It all started with gravity. I didn’t want microgravity to be the norm on board the arks. There are several theories about how to simulate gravity in space, and the “spinning doughnut” had the most appeal because the people out on the rim will suffer from far more gravity than those nearer the center. It represents all the other burdens they carry, but by the same token, it’s going to make them stronger than everyone else, too.

Eventually, I hit on the idea that the Arks are a hybrid of a space station and a spaceship. They’re too big to blast off from the earth, so they were constructed in space, like a space station. But they have more propulsion capabilities than a station like the ISS, for example, because they aren’t meant to stay in orbit. They’re travelling to a planetoid in the Kuiper Belt, which is a considerable distance from earth. In that respect, they’re like spaceships.

Each Ark had to hold a hundred thousand people for several years. Certainly, there are enough resources on earth right now to feed a tiny fraction of our population for a very long time, but you need somewhere to put all that food. Plus, you need terraforming equipment, farm animals, and any other– ahem– remnants of human civilization you want to preserve. So I knew the cargo hold had to be big. That was the last part of the puzzle. It worked out because of course the rim is going to have more space than the inner part of the “doughnut.”

JA: The paperback of The Ark comes out on 24 September. Do you have any celebrations or promotions planned for your paperback release day?

LN: Young Adult Books Central has been kind enough to host a giveaway for me! I believe it will start at the beginning of October. I’m excited! Also, I’ll be on a few panels at Dragon Con this year, so I’m hoping to count that as an early celebration. I really can’t wait.

JA: What’s in store next for Char and the Ark? Can you give us any teasers about the sequel?

LN: Sure! Thank you for asking. Char’s big goal will be to unite her family, but she’s also interested in keeping them alive, so she’ll want to avert any big, ship-destroying wars on the horizon. I can’t promise she’ll get everything she wants, though. *sinister grin*


The Ark is available now from all good ebook retailers, and is currently on sale for 99p (UK) / $1.99 (US).


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2 Responses to Interview: Laura Liddell Nolen

  1. Really enjoyed this interview and I want very much to read the book! Great job, John and Laura!

  2. Pingback: #VirtualVoyager round-up | John Ayliff

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