Kass Morgan is the author of the epic sci-fi series, The 100, which inspired The CW TV series by the same name. She spoke to us following the release of her second novel, Day 21.
Kass, your journey to publication is a great one. As you were writing The 100, the CW network had their eyes out for science fiction, and your novel turned out to be exactly what they were looking for. So when The 100 was published, the show’s development was well under way, which is incredible! But I’d imagine that also increases the pressure on your shoulders for its sequel, The 100: Day 21?
Pressure? Ha! I’m immune to pressure. Now, just excuse me one moment while I go breathe into the paper bag I’ve taken to carrying with me at all times. In all seriousness, though, while the TV show definitely opens the books to more scrutiny, I feel incredibly lucky to be in this position. Readers are coming to the books already invested in my characters, which is quite a privilege as a writer. And then, of course, there’s the surreal perk of watching top-notch actors bring my characters to life on screen! Who would’ve thought Wednesdays would become my favorite day of the week? (Though, I wish someone would tell my mom that I really don’t know what’s going to happen on the show. She calls me every Thursday morning to ask for next week’s spoilers then gets angry when I can’t tell her anything.) I read Robert Kirkman’s long-running comic series The Walking Dead, and watch its television adaptation too. I love seeing the variations between the two: the episodic nature of television necessitates changes. How do you separate your writing of the novels to the direction the show has taken, or will take? I wrote the second book, DAY 21, before the show had even been picked up for a second season, so there was no pressure, and no possibility, of aligning our stories. I really like it that way. Books and TV are very different media, and excel at delivering differing types of stories. I think it’s fun that the characters go on completely different adventures on the show than they do in the books. It keeps the books from seeming redundant if you happen to watch the show first. I also love watching my characters deal with different challenges. It’s like sending your kids off to college. You can’t control what they do once they get there, but it still makes you proud to see them grow and succeed. The 100’s basic premise involves one hundred juvenile delinquents who are sent to recolonize Earth years after nuclear disaster. Where did this idea come from? My editor came up with the basic conceit, and then gave me free rein to make it my own. I think I took it a little darker than she’d expected, as I’ve always been fascinated by Lord of the Flies, but she was totally supportive. I’m also a big fan of the Homecoming series by Orson Scott Card, which has a similar premise, although there are no juvenile delinquents . . . and a sad dearth of sexy skinny-dipping scenes, something I definitely remedied in The 100 and Day 21. (You’re welcome, Mr. Card) The series has a large cast of characters. How do you differentiate their personalities and get into their heads when writing chapters from their perspectives? Great question! Since each character has such vastly different experiences and motivations, it was easy to keep them separate in my head. However, with such short chapters, I did have to change gears quite often, so I came up with a shortcut—different playlists! I love writing to music, so I created a playlist for each character, which proved surprisingly helpful for transitioning from one to another. While writing Bellamy’s chapters, I listened to music that I associate with attitude and rebellion—punk, hip hop etc. Wells has a real traditional bent, so I switched to classical music for him. For Glass, my poor, doomed hopeless romantic, I listened to a lot of Death Cab For Cutie, particularly that song “I’ll Follow You into the Dark.” And when morose music wasn’t quite enough to tap into Glass’s angst, I took extreme measures . . . I read old break-up emails! There’s nothing like dredging up a heartbroken missive you sent at 19 to remind you that, sometimes, heartache really does feel on par with the end of civilization. Moving onto your reading habits, are you still able to immerse yourself in books despite being engaged with writing your own? Oh my goodness, yes! I can’t ever stop reading. When I’m dealing with deadline stress, I re-read old favorites like the Anne of Green Gables books, The House of Mirth, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and The Secret History. I also read a lot of contemporary fiction and non-fiction. My top reads from this summer are The Patrick Melrose books by Edward St Aubyn, The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, and a biography of Evelyn Waugh. Tell us about your favorite book of the year, so far. That would be The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman. His trilogy is absolutely masterful; I can’t think of a living American writer who combines such exquisite world-building, razor-sharp characterization, and whip-smart humor. I was on a panel with him last year and was almost too intimidated to speak.
Kass Morgan was speaking to Simon McDonald.