Whether you’re a huge fan of sci-fi novels or are a little wary of them, you should pick up Cecil Castellucci‘s Tin Star and Stone in the Sky. They’re great. So I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to not only review her most recent novel, but also to celebrate its release.
Please join me in celebrating the release of the paperback version of Tin Star and the hardcover of Stone in the Sky by reading my interview with her now.
YA Book Shelf: Both Tin Star & Stone in the Sky require readers to become invested not only in the characters, but also in the world you’ve created. What advice would you give to aspiring writers to make sure that the world’s they make are believable to readers?
Cecil Castellucci: This is a good question. For me, it was really steeped in WWII and Gold Rush California, and I think using real world history as a base makes it accessible in a subconscious way to readers. World building is really hard, and ultimately, a reader has to want to sink themselves in there and go no matter how strange a place it might be. I would say that new writers should look to history to get inspired about the machinations of fantastical and galactic politics. I think also, it’s important to keep it an imaginary world and not bring too many real world elements in there. I always get pulled out of a story if suddenly an alien or a dragon is drinking hot chocolate. Unless it makes sense within the world!
YABookShelf: You’ve said many times that Tin Star was inspired, in part, by watching Casablanca and the claustrophobia of the characters who are stuck in one place. Stone in the Sky, however, is the opposite of claustrophobic. Was there another movie or movies that inspired the way Tula’s journey changes?
CC: Yes! It’s true. Casablanca and the Vichy during WWII big inspirations. For Stone in the Sky, I was really interested in western expansion and the gold rush. So it was a lot of westerns. True Grit, both versions. Paint Your Wagon. Ride the High Country. The Far Country. I also saw this picture of ships abandoned in the San Francisco bay by people who descended on the city to go search for gold and just left their ships. That image was a big inspiration.
YABookShelf: Trevor, the old mining robot that Caleb fixed in Tin Star, becomes Tula’s companion when she’s traveling alone from one spaceship or planet to another. Have you ever travelled alone with an inanimate object? What does Trevor mean to Tula?
CC: First of all, yes. Trevor. You know, Tula thought that she’d sent him along with Caleb. But in the chaos of the end of book two, Trevor was left behind and the boys went elsewhere. Rather than be shipped to Earth, Tula keeps him. And I think that to her Trevor has always been like a pet or a teddy bear. She found him. She painted a face on him. She cried to him. She let him go only to have him be left behind. I think to her, Trevor is a thing that makes her feel as though she’s not alone when she’s alone. He’s there for her.
When I was in a band, I brought my teddy bear on tour a couple of times. The one that I had from when I was a kid. But now I think it’s just a pair of hoop earrings. I always have to have them. It makes me feel like I can face any city, any where when I’m wearing those earrings.
YABookShelf: To create Tin Star and Stone in the Sky, you developed not only the world and politics of it, but also a variety of alien species. Which species is your favorite? Which particular alien did you like writing the most?
CC: Oh, that is a hard one! I kind of love them all. But I will say that I love Thado, the Dolmav, because I loved the idea of having an underwater-looking creature in space. But I love the Hort, the insect-like alien that Heckleck is. So much so that I wrote a short story about them: http://www.tor.com/stories/2015/01/useless-wings-cecil-castellucci. And the Loor, with their scent and their human-looking eyes. I think I would like to go hang out with them.
YABookShelf: Many fans know that you have a friend who comes up with the titles of your books. How did you decide on names like Tula, Tournour, Reza, Quint, The Prairie Rose, The Noble Star, Terrala, and Yertina Feray?
CC: It’s true! My friend Steve Salardino, the manager of Skylight Books in Los Angeles helps me with my titles. For the names of the places and aliens, I sort of cherry picked sounds I liked and friends names. The Noble Star is named after my friend, author Kate Noble (go buy her romance novels! http://katenoble.com/) The Prairie Rose had a pioneer kind of feel to it. Reza was a tweak on the name of a boy I had a crush on in High School. The Yertina Feray just popped into my head and it sounded right. But basically I warn my friends that they may become an alien or a planet some day.