By Jeremy Burns
Lissa Price burst onto the scene in 2012 with her debut YA thriller, STARTERS, an international bestseller published in thirty countries that garnered several awards and spots on a slew of “Best of 2012” lists. How does a powerful new name in fiction follow up a debut of that magnitude? With ENDERS, the sequel to STARTERS, which hits shelves next month. Amidst the maelstrom of preparing for one of the most anticipated YA releases of the year, Lissa sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of her world and her upcoming book.
Tell us about your new thriller, ENDERS.
ENDERS is the sequel to STARTERS, a YA thriller set in a future L.A. where desperate teens rent out their bodies to seniors, so they can be young again temporarily. But one senior plans to do more than party; she plans to murder someone.
In ENDERS, Callie has shut down Prime Destinations but the Old Man can still access her chip and control her. In fact, all the ex-body donors are in danger of being turned into human bombs. So Callie is about to give herself up to the Old Man when she’s kidnapped by a guy who claims to be the only person who can help her defeat the Old Man.
But can she trust him in this world where no one is who they seem?
Your first book, STARTERS, was an internationally best-selling sensation, a phenomenal feat for a debut novel. What was it like writing the follow-up to that?
Thanks so much. As you can imagine, there was intense pressure. Also, I had no idea how demanding promotion would be for STARTERS. After my initial tour, I continued to travel about once a month to conferences and appearances. Then I did a European tour. And I had daily social media commitments, but I was also writing the sequel. I’d never written a manuscript under those conditions. Another weight I felt on my shoulders had to do with reader expectations. I write YA and about half of my readers are teens. I communicate with many of them via Twitter and email and I knew they would be disappointed if book two didn’t have the twists and surprises that book one did. So I made that a goal.
What was your initial inspiration for ENDERS? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
So STARTERS was sold as a duology. At that time, ENDERS was just a paragraph. Later, I offered to create an outline to show my publisher to be sure they knew where I was going with it. I always had the big twist in there, but originally it appeared closer to the ending. I had to stay true to my characters, and realized I needed more time for Callie to process the information, so I moved that earlier.
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
You know, I read many articles on the brain and on body microchips, but in the end, I threw it all out. I decided I was making a story that thrilled readers, not a scientific paper. I didn’t want to bore them, so I tried to make it as clean as possible.
Spoilers aside, how will fans returning to the series after STARTERS see their favorite characters grow or evolve in ENDERS?
I hear a lot from fans who want more of Michael. They will see more of him, but really this story is about how a new character named Hyden comes into Callie’s life and makes her question everyone and everything around her. I hope the reader will be again seeing it all as if they are in her skin—never sure if she can trust him—and yet drawn to him. Many of the characters return. Eugenia must live with Callie, but the housekeeper resents her, blaming her for Helena’s death. Tyler plays a smaller role but he continues to be threatened, as does Blake. Other characters will return, but the one to watch out for is of course the Old Man.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in ENDERS do you most identify?
I pour a lot of my feelings in all the characters, but I identify the most with Callie. I think that’s why the readers tell me they feel they’re really inside her, experiencing it all through her eyes.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
The Old Man, no question. He’s the kind of villain who keeps evolving and surprising you.
When sitting down to write a new book, how much of an outline or plan do you usually create before launching into the first draft?
I make several boards filled with notes and then I outline the main beats. I go back and fill in the outline. I play it out in my mind over and over. But as I write that first draft, I allow myself to follow the story organically. I don’t want to impose myself on the story; I want the story to reveal itself to me.
Though you now live in LA, you’ve previously resided in Japan and India. How have your international experiences influenced your writing?
The notion of the main character as someone who feels disenfranchised comes partly from my time living in other countries. I also spent two years traveling around the globe at one point. A big part of who I am is that I’m half Asian. So I spent a lot of time feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere. I think on some level, many people feel the same way, but for different reasons. So this infuses all of my writing.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
This is tough because other than Shakespeare, I find it difficult to pick a “favorite” author. I like so many. I love FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green as a YA novel. His dialogue is so witty. WATCHERS by Dean Koontz (who blurbed STARTERS) is another big favorite.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
South Africa. I am mad about wildlife, and I want to see it saved.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
The fact that you can think up something crazy in your head and then be able to share it with people all over the world.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you?
Once I was charged by a line of angry elephants in the bush in South Africa.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
I could go on for days. I’ve given various craft workshops and there’s so much I want to share. The basics of course, you must read in the genre you want to write in. Ideally you also read other genres, but I understand there’s only so much time. Try not to compare yourself, just write. Join a writing group and learn how to listen to criticism.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
I’m working on a new project, another YA futuristic thriller, that I’m really excited about. I’ll be touring on the east coast in February, and Canada around the end of May. See the details on my events calendar. For the latest news, follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
I want to say how grateful I am to ITW. I was at the very first Thrillerfest in Arizona where I met my California writing group. I listened to a panel of debut authors (it was only 7 or 8 then) and promised myself I would be up there someday. I can credit Thrillerfest for finding four of my agents (three of whom I still have). I’ve made some lifelong author friends thanks to Thrillerfest, and I’ve been privileged to meet the amazing authors who are the founders of ITW. They’ve been so welcoming and generous to a new author.
If you’re a fan of STARTERS and have been chomping at the bit to find out how the adventure ends, your wait is nearly at an end. If you haven’t yet checked out the YA phenomenon that is Lissa Price and her hit series, there’s never been a better time. ENDERS hits shelves January 7.
To learn more about Lissa, please visit her website.