Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Interview with Joanne Rendell for Sky Without Stars

Sky Without Stars (System Divine #1)

by Jessica Brody & Joanne Rendell
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: March 26th 2019
Genre: Retellings, Young Adult, Science Fiction
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A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

Can you briefly describe Sky Without Stars and their main characters?

Sky Without Stars is a reimagining of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables! Our book is set on a very distant and very divided planet called Laterre, where the wealthy live in luxury and the poor live in the rusting and leaking remains of 500-year old spaceships. But the rumblings of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes. Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime. Marcellus is an officer being groomed to command by his powerful grandfather. And Alouette lives in a hidden away underground Refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. Although from very different worlds, all three have a role to play in the dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet!

Who would you say is your favourite character from the story and why?

Oh my, that’s like having to say which child or parent is your favorite! I love them all in completely different ways. But I did really enjoy writing Alouette, mostly because of the challenge of writing about someone whose only experience of the world so far has been through the books and the knowledge given to her by the women she lives with in a hidden away Refuge. She reminds me of a butterfly just budding from her chrysalis! She has so much to learn, yet her “chrysalis” has given her great gifts that she won’t fully understand until she flies up into the world above!

How did the story occur to you? Did you find inspiration anywhere?

Jessica, my co-writer, initially came up with the idea of writing a retelling of Les Mis set in space. But she’d sat on the idea for a while, unsure whether she was ready or able to embark on such a project. Then one night, when she and I were having dinner, our conversation came around randomly to the French Revolution and naturally from there to Les Misérables. I told Jess that the novel was one of my top favorite books ever and I’d read the 1300-page epic three times! (I have a PhD in literature and I’m a super-fan of all the epic literary classics!) A second later, without warning, out of Jess’s mouth flew the words, “Do you want to write a retelling of it with me set in space!?” And a second later, without warning, out of my mouth flew the words, “I’d love to!” 

If you could choose one song to describe your book, which one would it be?

Well, of course, it really has to be a Les Mis song, doesn’t it?! Especially because Jess and I spent a lot of time singing loudly – and probably very badly – our favorite Les Mis songs as we geared up for brainstorming or writing. For me, the one song that embodies our book is “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

At the beginning of Sky Without Stars, the poor people of Laterre are suffering, rain-soaked, and hungry, while the rich live in luxury and excess in their climate-controlled dome. But within them, and within our main characters, there is a spark of hope. Hope for change and hope that “There is a life about to start/When tomorrow comes”! 

What’s the best and the worst thing about writing a book with someone else? What are the challenges you guys found while writing Sky Without Stars?

Years ago, a fiction writer said to me she loved what she did because it was like getting to play dolls as a grown up! With a co-writer, it’s like getting to play dolls with a friend too – a friend who knows all the names and character backstories and who is just as excited coming up with new plot ideas as you are! However, Jess and I live on opposite sides of the U.S and it makes brainstorming in person (or playing dolls in person!) tricky and the three-hour time difference between our coasts can be a challenge. Luckily, though, the tech wonders of Skype, screen-sharing, and instant-messaging through Slack have made the whole co-writing venture possible. 

If your book was about to become a movie/TV show, who would you see playing as the characters in Sky Without Stars?

I hate to put an idea of a character’s looks in our readers’ heads, because when I read a book I like to imagine characters for myself. But if, for some reason, I was made head of casting for the movie of our book, this might be who I’d cast:

Amandla Stenberg as Alouette:

Mackenzie Foy as Chatine:

Henry Zaga as Marcellus: 

Since it is still cold outside, what hot drink do you think will go with your book to have a perfect book date? 

Jess and I drank a lot of tea while writing this book, so I can’t help associating it with a good strong cup of Tetley tea! But Laterre is a French-inspired planet, so the book would probably go best with “un café” (an espresso) or “café au lait” (coffee with milk)! Take your pick and enjoy! 

Can you recommend your readers any other books in case they are left hungry for more once they finish Sky Without Stars? 

If you love retellings and haven’t read Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles yet, that’s definitely the place to start. Meyer’s epic series retells the fairy tales with a sci-fi twist. Also, Jessica Khoury’s new book Last of her Name is a fabulous retelling of the Anastasia story in space. Being the literary classic super-fan, I also have to give a shout out to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables! It’s a monster of a book, I know, but it is just such a fabulous story with incredible characters – it’s no wonder it’s been adapted into a mega-successful musical and numerous movie versions. 

What’s next for you? 

Jess and I are hard at work finishing up the sequel to Sky Without Stars (book two in the System Divine series). We’ve been having a lot of fun “playing dolls” with our beloved characters from book one, but also creating brand new characters that we hope our readers will love as much as we do!

Jessica Brody is the author of more than 15 books for teens, tweens, and adults including Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, A Week of Mondays, Boys of Summer, 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, and the three books in the sci-fi Unremembered trilogy. She’s also the author of the Descendants: School of Secrets series, based on the hit Disney Channel original movie, Descendants. Her books have been translated and published in over 23 countries and Unremembered and 52 Reasons to Hate My Father are currently in development as major motion pictures. She lives with her husband and four dogs and splits her time between California and Colorado. 

Visit her online at Follow her on Twitter or Instagram @JessicaBrody

Joanne Rendell is the author of three novels and holds a PhD in English literature. She teaches fiction writing to teens and kids and is a board member for the youth Shakespeare company, New Genesis Productions. With her husband and son, Joanne divides her time between New York City, and New Paltz, New York. Visit Joanne at

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