Andrew DeYoung is a writer and editor who has dreamed of being an author ever since his ninth-grade English teacher made him write down his biggest life goal for a class assignment. He studied literature in college and graduate school, writing a thesis on the history of Victorian detective fiction before making the jump from academia to publishing. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he edits children’s books and lives with his wife, daughter, and a feline companion named June Carter Cat. Andrew’s taste in science fiction leans more Star Trek than Star Wars—though only barely. The Exo Project is his debut novel.
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Talking with Andrew DeYoung
Sci-Fi & Scary: When did you first get the idea for The Exo Project? How long did it take you to move from initial conception to final draft?
Andrew DeYoung: My best ideas often come from images or situations that fascinate me. The kernel of The Exo Project was a scene that just popped into my head one day: a girl sneaking away from her village to watch the sunset, then having a vision of visitors coming to her planet. From there, I just started asking questions. Who was the girl? What was her world like? Who were the visitors? Why were they coming to the planet? I quickly discovered that the visitors were humans from Earth, the girl was an alien who lived in a matriarchal society…and the novel began forming from there.
I began writing in the winter of 2013, finished a first draft about 9 months later, then worked through several drafts with my beta readers and agent. My book deal came in the summer of 2015, and the book finally came out in April 2017. Writing a book is a long process!
Sci-Fi & Scary: Did you do studies on any particular matriarchal societies to base the Vagri off of?
Andrew DeYoung: I did. I researched actual matriarchal societies, and also studied the history of patriarchy in human society to figure out how societies emerge with one gender in a position of dominance. I found that in most early human cultures, men used physical dominance and violence to control the economy, military, and government. For the Vagri, I wanted to imagine an alternative to patriarchy, so I asked myself: would it be possible to build a society around something other than violence and domination? What I came up with was telepathy and supernatural perceptiveness. In the culture of the Vagri, the women are revered, not for their ability to physically dominate others, but for their ability to listen and understand things that the men can’t. This has led not just to a society where women are in charge, but also where violence and domination aren’t admirable qualities. Instead, the Vagri value wisdom, perceptiveness, and the ability to listen.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Continuing with the research question, how many hours of research, total, do you estimate you spent during writing The Exo Project?
Andrew DeYoung: Wow, that’s a tough question. I’d say at least 100 hours. I did research on patriarchal and matriarchal societies, as mentioned—but I also looked into nanotechnology, space travel, quantum mechanics, exoplanets, and other scientific topics to make sure that the science of the book was at least plausible.
Sci-Fi & Scary: In your book, one of your character has a line of thought about how a man changes once he picks up a weapon. Because then he believes he can achieve what he wants via force. Is this something you personally believe, or just a dialogue in the story?
Andrew DeYoung: I really do believe that this is true. The tools we use transform the way we see the world around us, because we then become aware of the way our tools can transform the world. We learn that we can change the world in a new way. I think anyone who’s ever tried out a new piece of technology or bought a new tool to fix up their house can understand this!
Weapons are a kind of tool. They’re tools designed for violence.And I firmly believe that when you wield a weapon, you start to think about how you can use that weapon to impact the world around you—in other words, committing violence. This is partly why I am a big supporter of gun control, and of reducing the number of guns we have in our society. I firmly believe that having too many guns around makes society more dangerous.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Nanites play a pivotal role early on in your story. It seems like science fiction writers love to use nanites as the new AI – almost. By that I mean, created to help us, but end up harming us in some way. What is it about those particular machines create such a love/hate relationship? And do you think that nanites used in controlling a global problem will ever make the leap from science fiction to science fact?
Andrew DeYoung: I think nanites are compelling for a science fiction writer for a few reasons. One is that they’re actually scientific, they’re a real area of technology that people are exploring. But at the same time, the things that people speculate could one day be done with nanites are so outlandish that they seem almost magical, or supernatural. So it’s a way you can introduce totally wild possibilities in your story but also still have it be plausible. A third element I think that makes them compelling is that they’re invisible, microscopic. They’re potentially very powerful, but at the same time you can’t see what they do. That’s interesting to me.
I’m really not sure if nanites will ever make the leap from fiction to fact. I have the same wonderment about AI—there are very smart people who say that both types of technology will someday be a reality. But it’s possible that there are insurmountable obstacles. Science fiction writers have been predicting flying cars for decades, but we still don’t have them yet!
Sci-Fi & Scary: I thought it was interesting in The Exo Project that a strong attraction forms within hours of the two main characters meeting each other. It has a fairytale-esque feel to it in that respect (especially considering earlier parts of the story I won’t name for fear of spoiling). Had you planned for to establish that quickly or did the story kind of ‘write itself’ as some of them say?
Andrew DeYoung: Well, first of all I think it’s interesting that you see a fairytale quality here—because I do think of the story as a fairytale or fable in some respects! I wanted the book to function as a real science fiction story while also having this other-worldly quality to it.
When it comes to Matthew and Kiva’s attraction, I knew that eventually they would become involved, but I wasn’t quite sure how it would play out. It felt plausible to me to have their attraction be fairly quick. In my experience, attraction to another person can be almost instant, while affection and love are often slower to develop. It also helped that both of these characters felt destined to meet in some respects—that’s in those other story elements you hint at, which I won’t spoil either!
Sci-Fi & Scary: It seems like a lot of science fiction is written about us finding a new place to live after we’ve destroyed the earth (or at least it’s habitability). Do you think this indicates a disbelief that we will manage to find a way to fix our screw-ups, or is it just because it’s an easy way to move the characters to the stars so they can explore new worlds?
Andrew DeYoung: I really really really hope that we as a species figure out a way to live sustainably on this planet. Some days I’m optimistic, other days I’m pessimistic.
As for why it always shows up in books, I think that a lot of people do have a fear that we just won’t be able to fix our environmental mistakes, and that someday we will be forced to find a new home on another planet. But also, finding a new planet after we’ve destroyed this one is an inherently appealing premise because it has instant stakes and urgency—we have to find a new planet or we’ll all die, and time is running out! Compare this to the Star Trek universe (which I love!), in which the motivation to explore space is more philosophical and less suspenseful: “to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”
Sci-Fi & Scary: What three books or movies do you think have had the biggest impact on you creatively? Why?
Andrew DeYoung: There are so many! But I can name three that had a big impact on me creatively for The Exo Project specifically.
First would be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. That book has a really interesting approach to the sci-fi genre, in which Mars almost becomes a symbolic, subconscious landscape. I wanted a bit of that approach for this book, where the landscape feels totally otherworldly and the alien planet provokes a lot of interesting emotions and symbolic resonances for the readers.
But the second is Star Trek The Next Generation. (Is TV allowed?) My favorite Trek! I love the way Captain Picard and his crew solved mysteries in space every week. For The Exo Project, I wanted to combine the approach of The Martian Chronicles and Star Trek TNG, to end up with a planet that was weird and other-worldly (Bradbury), but the story also worked on a nitty-gritty level with believable characters and conflicts and sci-fi elements (TNG).
Number three, I’ll pick an underappreciated sci-fi novel called Girl in Landscape, by Jonathan Lethem. It’s a book about a girl who travels with her family to a new planet, and it becomes a sort of meditation on growing up, how adolescence can feel like being on another planet. I thought about that book a lot while I worked on The Exo Project, which I think of as a meditation on being a lonely teen, which can feel like being lost in space, and first love, which can feel like finding life on a distant planet.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Do you think you’ve found your comfort zone with The Exo Project? (Ie: Do you think young adult science fiction is the realm in which you’ll stay?)
Andrew DeYoung: Sort of! I’m attracted generally to emotional, thematically rich stories that have some element of the fantastical in them. That means sci-fi but also fantasy, horror, stories of the supernatural, and also stories that are just a bit weird.
Sci-Fi & Scary: Anything you can tell us about your current project?
Andrew DeYoung: Yes! It’s a bit of a departure in that it’s set in the present day, but it still has a fantasical/supernatural element. It’s about a time-traveling ghost who’s visiting memories from his own past in order to find out who murdered him and prevent his own death. I’m having a lot of fun with it! Hopefully it will come out sometime in 2019.
Title: The Exo Project
Release Date: April 4th, 2017
Blurb: This fast-paced, sharply written multiple-perspective YA science-fiction debut opens on a future Earth ravaged by solar radiation. Desperate for money to save his sick mother, seventeen-year-old Matthew agrees to participate in the Exo Project, a government plan to save the human race by flying across the galaxy in search of a habitable planet for resettlement. He thinks he’s been given a death sentence: 100 years in cryostasis, followed by a quick death on some barren world. But then he lands on Gle’ah, discovering the strange, beautiful creatures who live there, including Kiva, the captivating teenage girl who leads her planet’s matriarchal society. Kiva views Matthew as a threat and for good reason—if he tells Earth that he’s found a suitable planet, it will mean the end of her people’s way of life. But then Kiva and Matthew discover an emotional connection they never expected—and as they begin to delve into the secrets of Matthew’s mission and the dark truth behind the seeming paradise of Gle’ah, the choices they make will have consequences for both of their worlds.