Hi guys, today I’m pleased to welcome Emily Skrutskie, author of The Abyss Surrounds Us, to the blog to discuss her debut novel! Guys, I think a lot of you are really going to like this one – it’s got pirates, a kick-arse heroine who’s Chinese (yay, diversity!), and sea monsters – all in a sci-fi setting. Fun, right? Read on to find out more about the novel & Emily!
The Abyss Surrounds Us (The Abyss Surrounds Us, #1) Buy It: Indigo.ca | Amazon.com | The Book Depository | iBooks | Google Books | Audible
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. And she's not about to stop.
Please welcome Emily Skrutskie, author of The Abyss Surrounds Us!
Tiff at Mostly YA Lit: Hi Emily! Thanks for stopping by! First of all, can you describe The Abyss Surrounds Us in 10 words or less?
Emily: Sea monsters: GOOD or BAD? The answer may surprise you!
Tiff: Your main character, Cassandra Leung, is a girl with an unusual job – she’s an animal tamer for engineered beasts. Can you tell us how the idea for her or her job came into being?
Emily: The idea for THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US started with the idea for Reckoners, which I synthesized on a bus ride from Bethesda to Ithaca. We were passing some shipyards around Philadelphia, and my Pacific Rim-obsessed brain was staring out at them, picturing monsters trailing the ships and, in a surprise twist, defending them. Then the part of my brain obsessed with animal behavior started figuring out how exactly a monster like that could be controlled, and the idea for Reckoner trainers was born.
Once I had that, I needed a story within the framework of the world, and I started to wonder what would happen if the opposition got their hands on a sea monster of their own. If a trainer got caught in the middle of that situation. If she had to survive among her lifelong enemy. What kind of choices would that lead her to? Out of that line of thinking, Cas Leung was born.
Tiff: As an Asian girl myself, I’m delighted to see more representation of Asians in young adult literature. Talk to me a bit about Cassandra’s ethnicity. How much does that come into play? Did you have to do research into Asian culture or families?
Emily: It’s always been important to me to push back against the general whiteness (and straightness, and cis-ness, and…) of the YA world. But as a white author, that comes with an awareness that I’m writing outside my experience, I need to research widely and carefully, and I’m fully responsible for the things I get wrong.
THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US is science fiction, so Cas’s experience as an Asian American is part of an optimistic vision of the future—she doesn’t face outright racism or microaggressions in the same way a contemporary version of her might, and none of the book’s conflict is based in her identity. But part of my research in fleshing her out was making sure I didn’t stumble into any territory that would read as a microaggression. That sometimes meant confronting my own assumptions and the things I had been taught growing up. For example, Cas started in my head as simply “Chinese American,” but I soon learned that I couldn’t treat that as a monolithic experience that we white Americans tend to perceive it as. To be fully realized, Cas needed specificity—I needed to know that her father’s family is from Hong Kong and her mother’s side comes from Guangdong. I needed to know what kind of food she ate at home and what she would call it. I needed to know that her background would make her conversational in Cantonese, not Mandarin. Making sure her identity was more than skin deep was super important to me, and I hope that I’ve done her justice.
Tiff: I’m also a Cantonese-speaking Chinese girl whose family is from Hong Kong, so I’m very excited to see her in this sci-fi novel! Speaking of which, this is a pirate story as well as sci-fi. Are you a pirate lover? What are your favorite books and movies about pirates? What are your favorite sci-fi stories?
Emily: I’m definitely a pirate lover, and I can always go for fun adventure stories about pirates like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but I’m also on the side of consciously interrogating what leads these people to piracy and the romanticism that surrounds this particular branch of crime. I’m really looking forward to Nicole Castroman’s debut, BLACKHEARTS, which examines the life of Edward Teach before he became the pirate Blackbeard.
With sci-fi, I barely know where to begin! Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey—those were the stories that lead me to start writing sci-fi adventures of my own. WALL-E taught me the fundamentals of storytelling and remains my favorite movie to this day. Recently I’ve been really into Pierce Brown’s Red Rising and Golden Son and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice series—I have a sweet spot for military sci-fi.
Tiff: I love WALL-E, Star Wars, and 2001 – great picks! So you’re a debut author this year – can you tell us a bit about your publishing/writing journey? Do you write full-time now?
Emily: I wrote my first book and tried to get it published when I was fifteen. My debut comes out a little under seven years since I sent my first query letter, so it’s been a long road to get here. THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US is the third book I’ve ever written, and I wrote it on the heels of a book that took me four years to get out of my system. I wrote it during a tough spring semester in college, edited it over the summer, and then had all of my carefully laid plans blown out of the water when I was offered publication before I had even started to query during the fall of my senior year.
I graduated from college in the spring, and ever since I’ve been living at home, job hunting while I write on the side. I wish I could write full time comfortably, but I want a career in the film world too much for that to happen right now!
The Abyss Surrounds Us theme song? Oh Sailor, by Mr. Little Jeans (Tiff: this is a great song, thanks for the intro, Emily!)
Favorite pirate saying? TAKE WHAT YOU CAN. GIVE NOTHING BACK.
Chocolate, vanilla or strawberry ice cream? Strawberry!
Book boy/girlfriend? The AIDAN from Illuminae (Tiff: I just lol’d so hard. Also…now I’m a little scared of you, Emily, if that’s what you want from a book love interest)
Thanks so much for answering my questions, Emily – I’m definitely putting this one on my TBR. It sounds incredibly original and different!
THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US is out on Monday, February 8th. Will you be wading into its brand of piracy and sci-fi? What are your favourite pirate and sci-fi books? Let us know in the comments!