ONE FOUR KIDS: INTERVIEW WITH KRISTEN LIPPERT-MARTIN, AUTHOR OF TABULA RASA

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I’m here to introduce you to Kristen Lippert Martin, whose debut novel, Tabula Rasa, came out just a few short weeks ago, on September 23.

tabula rasa cover

Sixteen-year-old Sarah has a rare chance at a new life. Or so the doctors tell her. She’s been undergoing a cutting-edge procedure that will render her a tabula rasa—a blank slate. Memory by memory her troubled past is being taken away.
But when her final surgery is interrupted and a team of elite soldiers invades the isolated hospital under cover of a massive blizzard, her fresh start could be her end.

Navigating familiar halls that have become a dangerous maze with the help of a teen computer hacker who’s trying to bring the hospital down for his own reasons, Sarah starts to piece together who she is and why someone would want her erased. And she won’t be silenced again.

A high-stakes thriller featuring a non-stop race for survival and a smart heroine who will risk everything, Tabula Rasa is, in short, unforgettable.

Buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indiebound

First of all, congratulations on your debut! How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Oh, boy, this book was borne of many things – some intentional, some not. I had been on sub with another book for about a year when I started Tabula Rasa. I remember at the time being so frustrated and thinking, “I’m just going to write something completely different from what I’ve written before.” It was almost an act of defiance. What that “something completely different” turned out to be was an action-thriller.

Also, at the same time, I’d noticed that most of what I write about seems to be characters who are trying to seek redemption. They’re largely driven by shame and guilt. That got me thinking about kids in juvie and the idea of changing someone’s future by changing his past. I wondered, “Would you be innocent again if you couldn’t remember what you’d done?” And it just went from there.

I love books that flirt with the line between reality and science fiction. How much research did you do into the medical elements of the novel to make the science-fiction elements feel realistic?

Honestly? Basically none. When I came up with the memory modification process, I didn’t want it to be something antiseptic like simply taking a pill. I wanted it to be a bit more invasive. So what would that be? Brain surgery, of course! Long ago, I’d seen this show about how they keep patients awake during brain surgery so they’ll know if what they’re doing is having the intended effect or possibly causing damage. And so that’s where that came from. The rest of it came from thinking about the logical requirements of that brain surgery. Stuff like, OK, if she’s going to have repeated surgeries, she’d probably need to be bald, etc. So I guess I took a sci-fi element and just drew my own conclusions based on that premise.

The book dropped us into this strange new world that we got to learn about just as Sarah/Angel did, and crazy things started happening right away. How did you decide where the story should start?

I usually have the problem of starting stories in the wrong place. Almost always I have to lop off my first two or three chapters and move the story forward in time, but with this, it was a rare occasion where I knew the surgical theatre scene was the place to start. I did end up cutting about five to ten pages after that—I shortened the sequence where she escapes from her hospital room—but amazingly enough, that opening scene stayed pretty much the way I wrote it in the first draft.

Another impressive thing about the book was the pacing. The situation started out intense, and then we moved pretty quickly into hard-core action. How did you go about balancing action and character development?

It probably helps that there really isn’t much of her character to develop initially. Sarah doesn’t know who she is and so she exists entirely in the here-and-now. As I thought about what it would be like to be in that situation, I kept thinking about that old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” At first, Sarah believes that she doesn’t even care if she lives or dies but when put to the test, she proves to herself that she really wants to live. And that she has formidable skills to keep herself alive.

From there, I decided that I had to put her fears up front. You really get to know a lot about a person if you know what she’s afraid of. Her worries about what she’s done and whether she’s a bad person say a lot about her. Do bad people fear that they’re really villains? Probably not. I hoped that her preoccupation—that question of “Am I a monster?”—would sustain the reader’s interest until the answers finally came.

Action scenes can also be really hard to write. What did you do to figure out the logistics of some of the more complex scenes, such as the (not-quite-a-spoiler-alert) exploding fish tank (which was amazing, by the way)?

I’d never written action scenes until this book, and I was like, “Hey! I think I may have found my calling!” Romance? That’s hard for me to write, but action sequences came like second nature.

That fish tank scene, for example. Man every time I go to an aquarium I wonder, “Wow, what if this glass were to blow out?” Mostly, I was just trying to push Sarah to her physical limit as much as possible. Like, it’s not enough for her to have to be outside in a roaring blizzard, she’s got to be soaking wet too! You know how people say, “Things could always be worse”? I felt like it was my job to think of exactly how and in what ways that worse could be.

And finally, as this community is fearless, we’d like to know something you’re afraid of and something you’re not afraid of.

Fear: I’m really not too keen on heights, even if there’s some huge fence or gate that would prevent me from falling. I really want no part of looking out over scenic vistas of any kind.

Non-fear: Public speaking. Eh, it used to bother me but now? *shrugs* I tell myself, “My dog will still love me even if I totally bomb.” That always helps. 😉

tabula rasa head shotKristen Lippert-Martin has an MFA from Columbia University. She’s worked at Time magazine, the world-renowned Brookings Institution, and even did a stint as a stand-up comic before turning to writing full-time. She was awarded the SCBWI’s Work-in-Progress grant in 2010. She likes to write stories about people who are secretly awesome and just need to find the right circumstances—often difficult—to discover themselves.

She lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband and four children. Tabula Rasa is her first novel.  Visit her online at www.kristenlippertmartin.com and follow her on Twitter @KLipMart.

After living on both coasts, Michelle Falkoff has most recently traded Iowa winters for Chicago winters, which may not have been the most effective life strategy, though so far she’s been really happy in Chicago. Sticking to the word limits in Twitter is killing her, but she’s trying: @michellefalkoffAdd PLAYLIST FOR THE DEAD on Goodreads, or preorder on BN or Amazon.
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