The following is an interview with Glen Zipper (producer – Undefeated, Showbiz Kids) and Elaine Mongeon (associate producer – Magic Mike XXL, Red Oaks) on the release of their new novel, Devastation Class, from HarperCollins/Blink. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Zipper and Mongeon about the inspiration behind the story, their shared creative process in bringing Devastation Class to life, the impact that they hope the story may have with readers, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your sci-fi novel, Devastation Class! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Elaine Mongeon: The book is set in the distant future, with seven military cadets and seventy civilian students aboard a starship on a mission of science and learning. When most of the adults are off-ship, the ship is attacked by the Kastazi, a vicious enemy alien race thought vanquished. Our protagonists – best friends and cadets JD and Viv – are forced to make an impossible choice that will change their lives forever: obey their superiors and die, or mutiny to save the ship and the lives of everyone aboard. But that’s just the beginning. What at first looks like an obvious re-invasion by a former enemy turns out to be something much darker and shocking, and a mystery eons in the making will have to be unraveled for them to have any hope of surviving.
Glen Zipper: Devastation Class is a multi-POV story, so we get to spend time in the heads of more than one character. Viv and JD are trying to succeed under the weight and long shadows of their war hero parents. There’s Nicholas, a cypher whose intentions and motivations are shrouded in mystery, and who is also struggling with terrifying personal questions about his own identity. And then there’s Liko, an exceedingly intelligent character who wears the “scarlet letter” of being the son of a man most people view as a traitor. While these characters are all quite different from one another in the way that they process the world around them, they all share one commonality — they must battle challenges beyond their control that are not of their making. There’s a diverse assembly of other characters we spend time with, all of whom are on the ship for a very specific reason (spoiler alert: reasons sometimes not even obvious to themselves) and while we don’t get inside all of their heads, all of them are battling the same challenges that are totally out of their control. Many of these characters also perceive one another as a threat, so a big question of the book is whether or not they’ll be able to learn to trust one another to fight the much larger threat that’s stalking them all.
And for all the dog lovers out there – you should know we dedicated the book to our dog Anthony who passed away last December. His qualities — foremost amongst them strength and fierce loyalty — were imbued in some respect into every one of our story’s protagonists.
EM: As far as what inspired us, Glen and I actually used to be a couple, and on our first date we bonded over our mutual love of all things genre, and specifically sci-fi. So much so that the first date turned into an overnight binge-watch of Battlestar Gallactica (the Ron Moore reboot version). Not too long after we started dating, we started talking about collaborating on a writing project together – only at the time it was in the form of a television series. The element we started with was teenagers aboard a starship, and then the concept grew from there. We actually wrote three episodes of the television series and a series bible before we decided to write it as a novel instead.
BD: Given your extensive work in writing for TV and film, what can you tell us about your shared creative process in bringing this story to life through prose as opposed to a more visual medium?
GZ & EM: Well for starters, because writing prose is very different from writing a screenplay, there’s more freedom and there are essentially no rules. We can really explore the characters’ innermost thoughts and feelings on the page – whereas in a script, we’re relaying what the audience will see and hear in action and dialogue and can really only touch upon what the characters are experiencing emotionally. And we’re bound to the writing structure of a script and how many minutes the final film or episode of television is supposed to be, thus limiting the page-length.
With respect to the nuts and bolts, our shared writing process is no different from how we write together for film or television. First we spend a lot of time talking through the ideas and characters, plots and storylines and arcs. Then one of us will take a first pass at a chapter, and the other will take their pass, and we’ll go back and forth until we’re both happy – or happy enough
Bringing a script to life in film or TV is much more complex. There are many moving parts and many creative, logistical, and budgetary decisions to make – and usually one decision impacts another. It literally takes a village. There’s an entire team – directors, writers, producers, cinematographers, the other crew on set, editors, assistant editors, coordinators, post-production supervisors, creative executives at places like HBO and Netflix and many, many more people working in collaboration towards one goal. There’s a seemingly endless roster of talents (and the opinions and perspectives that come with them) that need to be navigated, channeled and organized. And they could at any moment go, “Whoa, wait a minute. This kind of sucks. We need to take a closer look at this.”
With a book, it’s basically just you and your editor. There’s a freedom to that, of course, but also a tremendous amount of risk and anxiety. Without the many layers of people supporting you like in film and TV, at times it feels like you’re walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon without a net.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Devastation Class’ story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
GZ & EM: 2020 has really placed younger generations at a crossroads. Whether it’s protesting for racial and social justice, or in any way espousing a just cause or view that is abhorrent to those in power, young women and men are making choices at their own risk and peril to do what they know is right. But what are they supposed to do when the just causes they are trying to achieve require action that could sacrifice their tomorrows for the greater good of those who will continue to suffer today if they don’t do something?
Devastation Class, through the allegorical lens of a mind-bendy YA space opera/adventure, asks some of these questions. How does someone make an impossible choice to sacrifice all or some of their future? Even if they feel like they have to make that choice, how do they overcome their fears and instincts to “obey” those in power and their rules? And how do they grapple with and navigate the domino effect of all the consequences of their choice – some of which they could never possibly have seen coming?
BD: What makes HarperCollins/Blink the perfect home for Devastation Class?
GZ & EM: We’ve learned from experience that the right editor is what makes a publisher the perfect home, and we’ve had that at Blink.
BD: As this is the first book of a trilogy, are you able to provide readers with a peak into what lies ahead in the cadets’ journey?
GZ & EM: For one, readers are going to get into the heads of additional characters in Books 2 and 3. Those who got early reads of the book really seemed to take a shine to Veen Bossa, an outlaw character of both mysterious origin and motives, and his perspective is already a big part of Book 2. We want to be careful about spoilers, but one thing we can confidently say right now is that even the first few pages will make readers reconsider many of the guesses they made about where the story was going by the end of Book 1. Lastly, a careful reading of Book 1 should reveal quite a few Easter eggs, all of which will be paid off in subsequent installments in the trilogy.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
GZ: It’s pretty much Devastation Class all day, every day right now parallel to my film and TV work. On the TV side, I am excited about Challenger: The Final Flight, the documentary series I developed with Steven Leckart and is directed by Oscar-winner Daniel Junge along with Steven. The news was recently released that it will be debuting on Netflix September 16th. And season two of Dogs on Netflix is also coming soon. A whole new batch of stories of some goodest boys and girls and their human best friends.
EM: Devastation Class is the priority! I’m a little superstitious about talking about other projects that aren’t finished or are in the early stages because I don’t want to jinx them – but what I can say is that I’m actively working on two feature film concepts that are in different stages – both female-driven, one’s sci-fi.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Devastation Class and your other work?
GZ: devastationclass.com and @devastationclassnovel on Instagram. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram for updates.
EM: You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter.
*Author photo (above): Charles W. Murphy