by Artemis Greenleaf
Thanks for interviewing me this week.
Congratulations, K.C., on your upcoming release, Inside the Palisade. Your latest novel is a YA sci-fi dystopia about a teen named Omega who has been raised in an all-female community, and one day happens on a boy who is absolutely, positively not supposed to be there. Would you tell us a little bit about Omega? What is her life like inside the Palisade?
Omega actually leads a pretty bland life until she meets Ghent (the hidden boy) and starts to learn the truth about her cloistered society. She lives alone with her mother and works in a clothes factory. She has always suspected she’s a little different from everyone else, partly because of her weird eyes in a society where everyone else is genetically engineered to be perfect, and partly because she’s always thought there must be more to life than what she’s seen so far. She discovers that she’s right, but it’s a dangerous journey.
The best journeys always are! Your protagonist is named Omega. The Omega symbol (Ω) was used in Vietnam War draft protests. In computer science, it refers to a missing (null) or inapplicable value. Is there a symbolic connection to her name?
Partly. I decided to use Greek letters for all the women’s names as a way of “ordering” the society. Women are given Greek letters as first names which they often shorten or change to nicknames. I picked Omega for my protagonist because I wanted to be able to shorten it to “Meg” as an homage to my youngest daughter who was just born when I started the book.
What is the reasoning behind banning men from the community, and how was it accomplished?
This is a dystopian society where war and violence has ravaged the world outside the palisade. Over the years, a mythology has developed among the women that the men were to blame for all the violence (which, of course, isn’t true, but it comes to be accepted). Men weren’t initially banned, but gradually died out and weren’t replaced as women figured out how to genetically engineer babies to be girls.
What inspired this story?
In my other life I work in a very male dominated profession and I often leave meetings thinking things like “it would be so much better if women were in charge.” Of course, I don’t really believe this, but it was a thought experiment as to what *might* happen if women actually were in charge. I’m not the first author to experiment with this idea, but many YA sci-fi books have large male character presences even if the protagonist is a woman. I thought it might be fun to turn the idea on its head and see what happens.
My 7th grader is attending an all-girls school this year. What advice would Omega give her?
I went to an all girls school for a while myself and I didn’t like it much. Girls on their own can be very catty and bitchy, although they can also be wonderful and I made some great friends at that school. My advice to anyone starting any school or new social situation is to just be yourself. If you’re honest about who you are and what you want, you’ll never be disappointed in yourself. And if other folks can’t accept that, they’re probably not the best friends for you anyway.
You’ve created a rich sci-fi world inside the Palisade, where women depend on technology for the survival of their community. What impact has this technology had on their evolution as a species?
In many ways these women have over-relied on technology while resources and personnel have dwindled. If they’d had less technology and had to work on new ways to move forward as a society, they might have done better in the long run.
You’ve gotten some rave reviews on Amazon. Is this book the first in a series, or will you leave readers guessing about what happens to Omega?
I didn’t necessarily plan it as the first in a series but I always knew it had “series potential” in the sense that there’s a lot more that is likely to happen to the young protagonists after the story closes. I’ve actually toyed with an idea for a sequel based on another character’s perspective. In many ways, Omega has fulfilled her character arc in this book, but there’s a lot of room for growth for a number of the supporting cast featured in this book.
I know that you write across several genres, but focusing on sci-fi, who are the top five authors who have inspired you the most?
I love so many authors that it’s hard to narrow it down to five. Of the more classic sci-fi writers, I love Ray Bradbury and enjoy Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. Of the more contemporary writers, I love Karen Lord, A.M. Dellamonica, and Nalo Hopkinson. There’s also a short story writer (Ray Vukcevich) who is kind of like the Salvador Dali of sci-fi short stories.
There are so many genres because people enjoy different kinds of stories. What kind of reader will love this book
I really think the audience for this book is people who like a fast-paced action story and tend to enjoy “what if” scenarios. There’s a touch of adventure and romance, but it’s mainly a thought experiment about what an all-gal society would look like with past pacing, lots of twists and turns and (hopefully) unexpected reveals.
Finally, would you share an excerpt from the book with us?
Here’s a little snippet from the middle of the book when Omega and Ghent are arguing about why the women use Greek letters for names and what the options used to be…
“Why the name Ghent? Where did it come from?”
He shakes his head, causing his matted hair to flutter around his ears. “My mothers never liked the Greek letters.”
“And I guess it would be weird for a boy”—I stumble over the unfamiliar word—“to be called Alpha or Beta or something.”
“You don’t think it’s weird for girls to have those names?” He seems upset. I turn away, not knowing what I said wrong.
There’s a rustle of blankets and in a moment he’s on his knees in front of me. The intensity of his gaze makes me feel weak. “Don’t
you see? It’s another way the society controls you. Forces you to conform.” He reaches for me, but I jerk away.
He massages his neck as if in pain. Then he looks over at the bookcase. “Hold on,” he says as he rushes to it and traces his
fingers along the cardboard edges that jut out along the shelves. Obviously searching for something. With a rush of breath, he
pulls out an object. An antique book with a tattered cover. He flips it open. I can’t hide my curiosity. I’ve never seen a paper
book before. I move over to him and kneel by his side. He’s not handling the object with the care I would expect. Instead, he flips
through the pages with his thumb. The paper makes a crackling sound. I lean across until I can see the words, printed in real ink.
“Here it is. Listen to this.” He looks up at me before turning his attention to the object in his lap.
He’s going to read to me. A thrill of anticipation shoots through me. In a melodic voice, he begins, and it’s as if a
thousand butterflies have been released in my stomach.
“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing
longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. I gave Pirrip as my family’s name, on the
authority of his tombstone and my sister – Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith.”
My eyes close as the ancient words fill me, rolling from the deman’s tongue like silk. I’ve never heard anything this strange
before, at least not from a book.
“Do you like it?” he asks.
My eyes fly open when I realize he’s speaking to me.
“What is it?” I ask.
“It’s called Great Expectations.”
“I don’t understand. What does it mean?”
“This part”—he taps his finger over the paragraph he read— “means that people didn’t always use Greek letters for names.
They were able to choose names for themselves. Even make up nicknames, like Pip did.”
“That’s not such a big deal. We use nicknames now. You call your mothers Del and Epsie,” I say, but the words ring hollow.
Nicknames don’t seem like such a great innovation when we only have twenty-four names to choose from.