Polly Holyoke’s debut novel, THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, Disney Hyperion, releases tomorrow, May 21, 2013! Congratulations, Polly! I had a chance to read an advance copy of Polly’s book and I greatly admire the skill and thought that she put into creating this futuristic world and all the details she used to make it seem so realistic. (I’m hoping for a movie so that I can see these amazing details come to life on the big screen!) Of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT, Kirkus Reviews recently said: Holyoke keeps her prose well-pitched to her audience…She creates an interesting and diverse set of characters, including the dolphins. (Oh, the dolphins! Read below for more on the dolphins, and then read the book to see how Polly engagingly includes these wonderful creatures in her story.) It is my honor to now interview Polly Holyoke, a fellow member of The Class of 2k13.
Interview With THE NEPTUNE PROJECT Author Polly Holyoke:
I find the premise of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT – “genetic altering to successfully live in the ocean” – fascinating. Can you talk about how the idea came to you and how it evolved as you developed your story?
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of people living in the sea, and I’ve been equally fascinated by our rapid and rather terrifying progress in gene manipulation. I’m not sure everyone realizes that we are already to the point we can clone our pets and design our children to be smarter and stronger. It just seemed logical to me that someday we may try to give humans the ability to breathe sea water. After all, 7/10ths of our planet is covered by oceans!
One of my favorite aspects of your book is the authenticity and richness of details in your story. Can you share how you were able to achieve that high level of realism in THE NEPTUNE PROJECT?
It helped that I’ve done quite a bit of scuba diving over the years. They say write what you know. I’ve certainly never lived in the sea, but I have spent enough time under the waves to be able to describe some of the basics—like light, visibility and currents. The terrain of ocean floor, especially near the Channel Islands, can be quite rugged and beautiful. I also spent hours and hours reading books on oceanography and articles by avid divers. I was delighted when a young beta reader recently said to me, “I had no idea all that cool stuff was down there!”
I also love the dolphins in your story – how they have names, distinct personalities, and how they are partnered with the human children, some almost acting as family. How did the dolphins become a part of THE NEPTUNE PROJECT?
I knew from the start that dolphins would play crucial roles in this book. I’ve always been intrigued by stories of dolphins helping sailors in distress. So many of these stories exist, it’s hard to believe there isn’t some kernel of truth there. But I wanted to make sure my dolphins, for all their incredible ability to communicate with humans, behaved like real dolphins. So I talked with the staff at dolphin centers and read tons of research on wild dolphins. On a recent trip to Hawaii I went snorkeling with wild spinner dolphins, and I truly could have given a much more thorough and interesting talk on dolphins than our guide did!
I was so happy when my dolphins became vivid characters in their own right. Just like well-developed human characters in a story, occasionally Sokya and Densil would say and do things that surprised me!
Although set in the future, the catalyst for THE NEPTUNE PROJECT raises intriguing questions about how we are treating our world now. How did you decide to weave environmental concerns into your science fiction story?
I tried not to preach, and I’m grateful that my editor helped me when my prose veered in that direction. Instead I hope we matter-of-factly present my heroine trying to cope in a world devastated by environmental and human disasters. Whatever your beliefs on the causes of climate change, certain things are absolute fact. The world IS getting hotter, and the oceans ARE rising. If we can’t find ways to reverse these trends, the costs in terms of human misery and suffering are going to be staggering.
The ocean is a tough environment and there are several scenes where your main characters are in danger. Sometimes it’s a little scary, and sometimes the characters even have to face death. I admire how you found a way to deliver these scenes so that they are not too edgy for a middle grade reader. Can you describe how you were able to find that balance in those more anxious scenes?
I tried not to be too graphic, and so much happens in this first book that my characters just don’t have much time to mourn the friends they’ve lost. I think in real life, kids would have thought about those deaths more. At the same time, my characters grew up in a bleak and dangerous world, and they are already more accustomed to death and loss than kids are today. I often think about “the good old days” just a century ago. Kids back then would have lost many brothers, sisters and friends to childhood illness and accidents. Our children grow up knowing remarkably few peers who have died.
What was both frustrating and kind of funny for me as a writer was trying to come up with visceral ways to depict the fear my characters feel in their dangerous new environment. My heroine Nere is scared A LOT, but her mouth can’t go dry and her palms can’t sweat because she doesn’t sweat any more. I had to fall back on the typical fear reactions of a tightened stomach and pumping heart again and again, so poor Nere has indigestion and heart palpitations on and off for 350 pages!
What advice or tips would you give to authors who might be interested in writing science fiction or fantasy?
World building is all in the details. If you throw in too many or invent too many exotic new terms, you risk overwhelming the reader. Remember kids are the same, and they react the same, no matter how strange or different their surroundings. One carefully chosen detail can convey so much. I’m proud of a scene in The Neptune Project in which one of my characters misses fresh-baked bread. I hope that detail helps to convey just how much her life has changed and the personal cost she is paying for being a part of the Neptune Project.
Can you talk about what you’re working on now or what’s next for you?
I’ve already written a second Neptune book, and I hope that Disney Hyperion and Puffin UK will want me to finish the trilogy. I’m also working on a MG fantasy/time travel story I LOVE about an enchanted carousel.
Here are links to Polly online: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Amazon