September 23, 2012

Down and Dirty: Cornell Alum’s Gritty New Novel

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This summer, Cornell alumnus Lisa Stasse released her debut novel The Forsaken. Based in a post-apocalyptic America, her novel is the story of Alenna Shawcross, a 17-year-old orphan who is (spoiler alert!) about to be punished for a crime she hasn’t committed … yet. As punishment Alenna is sent to Prison Island Alpha, known by the people on it as “The Wheel.” Faced with living on the criminal inhabited island, Alenna is forced to learn to adapt and survive. A new addition to the young adult fiction-science fiction family, The Forsaken follows in the footsteps of trendy of science fiction novels like The Hunger Games while still working to draw inspiration from genre classics like Lord of the Flies and Brave New World.

Lisa was a Government and English Literature double major at Cornell. She is currently a digital librarian at UCLA by day and a young adult author by night. This summer we got the chance to sit down with Lisa and talk about her new book.

Sun: How did you come up with the idea for The Forsaken?

Lisa: I had this terrible nightmare, and my heart stopped. I woke up and I breathed a sigh of relief and thought to myself that was really cool. I was on an island and it was some kind of prison colony. I didn’t really know why I was there or what was going on. I saw debris. I thought: that’s so cool; I wonder what I could do with that idea.

Sun: What was your inspiration for your main character, Alenna?

Lisa: One of my favorite root stories is Heart of Darkness, I really liked the show Lost, I like the idea of putting characters in the modern world into a wilderness setting. Some of the more modern stuff too like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner and Divergent, all of them deal with aspects of that. Young people in hostile environments.

Sun: Do you think The Forsaken will reach the popularity of books like The Hunger Games?

Lisa: I’m hoping to be in the ranks of The Hunger Games, but at the same time I would like to think of The Forsaken as being a little grittier. I think of it as more of an alternate reality. Not projected on a fixed time. The book is down and gritty, I thought about what I would do if I were put in that situation and I know if I wanted to survive I want to get down in the dirt myself.  In some ways it is like The Hunger Games, but at the same time I think The Forsaken has its own qualities.

Sun: Why did you choose to write about teenage characters?

Lisa: I was always interested in teens, in that sense of self-definition that happens at that age. I really wanted to work with a character that I thought something like this could affect her entire life. Alenna saw lack of opportunity and bleak conditions around her and this only gets exacerbated at prison island Alpha.

Sun: It seems like an area people are getting really excited about.

Lisa: Yeah, I really like young adult fiction. For the past 10 years, young adult fiction has been one of the most vibrant areas of literature. People are really passionate about it. A lot of energy and new types of stories are coming out of that genre right now that aren’t coming out of adult fiction. There’s sort of an energy and nexus in the young adult world right now.

Sun: In your book, is there a character that you relate to most?

Lisa: It’s hard to write any character without seeing part of yourself in that character. What I like most about Alenna is that she really rises to the challenge. She didn’t realize she had so much strength until she was put in that situation.

Sun: The title of the second book of the trilogy is The Uprising, without giving too much away, what can we expect from the next installment in the trilogy?

Lisa: There will be a few new characters, and some old characters will rejoin the cast and work together to define their future and create a new life for themselves. I can say that each book in the trilogy will be on larger scale than the one before. Sometimes when I’m writing the characters surprise me.

Sun: If you could have your readers take one thing away from the book, what would it be?

Lisa: The main thing I would say is you can do more than you think you can do. You always have more options than you realize, so take action and take risks.

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Original Author: Arielle Cruz