Sarah Fine’s latest novel, Beneath the Shine, mixes timeless themes of political unrest with cautionary tales about relying too much on technology. It’s a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel, a book set in the 1700s, which resonates somewhat eerily with our current political climate. Sarah recently stopped by our lockers to chat about the book, her YA self, and give us some hints about her next project. (Read my review of Beneath the Shine here.)
THE ACTUAL BOOK-RELATED QUESTIONS
Beneath the Shine takes place in a fictional future, but certain themes resonate with our current political and social climate. Why is it important to include such themes in YA books?
I didn’t intend for Beneath the Shine to parallel with our current political situation here in the US—the novel is based on The Scarlet Pimpernel, a book set during the time of the Reign of Terror at the end of the French Revolution in 1793. That said, I think what we’ve seen in this country is so many people, including our youth, getting more energized and informed about important issues, and deciding where they stand on each. Solid democracy is really only possible when the electorate is informed and involved, and that doesn’t start only when individuals turn 18; it begins long before that, as young people realize how big and complicated the world is and engage in the process of finding their place in it. If we ignored politics in YA books, we’re pretending that it isn’t a real issue teens grapple with.
The book also deals with some pretty advanced technology. What kind of research did you have to do to make it all accurate (or as accurate as future tech can be)?
I read a lot of articles about predictions for future technology, the trends in technology and science, and artificial intelligence. I wanted things to be plausible, just like I wanted the political situation in the book, in which the big gap that causes resentment and revolution is between those who create and profit from technology and those who have been displaced (in terms of jobs especially) by it, to be believable and relevant. Despite what some in power have said, this is a real thing that is happening now, and is likely to continue in some form as technology becomes even more sophisticated.
Beneath the Shine is action-packed. Is there any particular inspiration (i.e., movies or books) that you draw from when writing action scenes?
I love writing action scenes! I don’t know about inspiration from movies or books, but when I write action scenes, they fly from my fingers faster than any other kind of scene. I put on assorted musical tracks from Call of Duty (just about any of them, but the Black Ops soundtracks are probably my favorite) and imagine the whole scene playing out in front of me. When I’m finished, I barely know what happened, only that I have a few pages of all-out craziness in front of me.
You’ve written a duology inspired by The Phantom of the Opera (which I LOVE, btw) and this book draws inspiration from The Scarlet Pimpernel. What about these works interested you? And, in general, what interests you about retellings?
Both are favorites from my childhood, and I’ve enjoyed the chance to put a strange and new twist on each while writing an homage to the originals. I think retellings are marvelous fun because you can present or read something wonderfully familiar that, at the same time, offers completely fresh details, perspectives, and possibilities. I’m currently reading Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, where he makes the argument that this familiar-yet-new concept is a major component of why we’re drawn to certain pieces of art, music, or any other kind of media. That makes a lot of sense to me.
You have a background in psychology. Does this ever factor into your writing?
I’m sure it does. I mean, I spent eight years training to become a clinical psychologist, and that much focus on any area changes the way one thinks about things. Sometimes my background is more directly relevant to what I’m writing, though—for example, in the companion to Beneath the Shine (it’s called Uncanny and comes out October 3rd—I think of it as a YA Girl on the Train meets Westworld), and it’s intensely psychological. The main character, Cora, has a history of trauma, attachment issues, and a pretty complicated neurodevelopmental profile … which is to say she’s dealing with a lot of stuff as she tries to sort out what happened the night her step sister died. I definitely applied my understanding of how all those issues intertwine as I wrote the book.
THE YA QUESTIONS
If your real life adolescence was a YA book ...
What would you, the main character, be like?
Extremely introverted nerd-type with a fantastical and at times feral interior life.
Who is your secret crush?
The bespectacled boy with the strange and wonderful imagination who I drove to school every day … in absolute silence.
What is your number #1 source of angst?
Only one?!? LOL
At what point would the reader pump his/her fist in victory?
Standing ovation after really going for it in a character role in the school play (after being savaged by the drama teacher during dress rehearsal) and inadvertently stealing the show. (This did happen: It was Essie in You Can’t Take It With You, a woman who dreams of being a ballerina but is a truly awful dancer.)
And who would play you in the film adaptation?
I’m never good at these questions. Maybe Ellen Page?
The real Sarah
THE SLUMBER PARTY QUESTIONS
What is your #1 favorite food?
Tell me about your area of expertise.
Clinical formulation, and teaching other people how to do it. Cursing prolifically. Coming up with nutty book ideas in completely different genres than the ones on which I should be focusing. And also, apparently, alliteration.
What is your best karaoke song?
“Head Like a Hole” by Nine Inch Nails.
Tell me something scandalous!
I’ve never actually sung karaoke.
What is your favorite adult beverage?
Trillium Deciduous Imperial Brown Ale.
What book have you read the most number of times?
Till We Have Faces by CS Lewis.
Who is your “freebie”?
YA authors are so cool. Who would you give a BFF charm to?
Lydia Kang, who has the most whimsically macabre imagination, and on top of that is one of the sweetest and most adorable human beings on this planet.
Out of all of the characters you’ve written, which one do you most wish you could be?
That’s tough, because the more powerful I make my characters, the more intensely they suffer. I might choose Ana from Guards of the Shadowlands. She’s a badass with a great love who she literally goes to hell for, but she’s a little less raw and impulsive than Lela, the heroine of the series.
If you were invited to the FYA slumber party (and obvs, you ARE), what pajamas would you wear, and what is the most crucial snack food and/or movie you’d bring?
My hippo onesie, a cheese plate, and for our viewing pleasure, The Scarlet Pimpernel (the version with Ian McKellen, Jane Seymour, and Anthony Andrews), because I am constantly inflicting it on innocent friends and loved ones.
AND NOW, MASH
Sarah made three picks for each category, and I added a fourth. The magic number (chosen by a random number generator) was 5.
M A S H
Peter K (Sarah’s actual partner)
Percy from Beneath the Shine
Canyonlands National Park
# OF KIDS
Two (The number Sarah actually has)
President of the United States
Baker (of doughnuts specifically)
Paid in blocks of sheep’s milk cheese
Paid in minions
Paid in warm socks
Paid in the latest and greatest technological devices
A small town in Indiana
A bearded dragon
A moray eel
A self-driving car
My own two feet (I like to walk whenever possible)
Thanks for stopping by, Sarah!
Beneath the Shine is available now.