Q & A time with Kristen Simmons
Simmons is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Here she shares some of the inspiration behind The Glass Arrow and a sneak peak at the novel.
Q: Please introduce us to Aya and share some general background on THE GLASS ARROW.
A: Aya has been one of my favorite characters to write. Born into a world where women are endangered, where girls are condemned as breeders and misogyny is the norm, she’s learned to adapt and survive by flying under the radar. With her family – a small group of free women – she hides from those who would see her sold into domestic slavery. Aya is tough: she hunts, fishes, defends her family. When she’s captured and brought into captivity at the Garden, a training facility for girls, her life is turned upside down. All she can think about is reconnecting to the people she loves, and reclaiming her freedom, but she has to be smart in order to escape, and that may involve trusting a very unlikely ally.
Q: What inspired you to write THE GLASS ARROW?
A: A few stories on the news, and some social issues that seem to continue rising, but mostly my own experience. The transition into high school was difficult for me, as it is for many people. Before that time, I remember feeling like I could do anything, be anyone. I was valued because I was creative, and interesting, and smart, but once I stepped foot into high school, things changed. It didn’t matter what kind of person I was; all that was important was if I was wearing the right clothes, or had my hair done the right way. If I was pretty. Boys judged us based on a star system – “She’s an eight,” they’d say, or “Her face is a nine, but the rest of her is a four.” And worse, girls began sharing that same judgment, trying to raise these numbers to be cool, and popular. They’d compare themselves against each other, make it a competition. This, as I quickly learned, was what it meant to be a young woman.
That experience transformed into Aya’s existence – her journey from the freedom of the mountains, where she was important for so many reasons, to the Garden, where she is dressed up, and taught to be, above all things, attractive. Where she has to compete against other girls for votes come auction day. On that auction stage, Aya’s given a star rating based on her looks, which is what her potential buyers will use to determine their bidding. It bears a direct correlation to my life as a teenager – to the lives of many teenagers.
When it all comes down to it, I wanted to write a story where worth is determined by so much more than the value other people place on your body.
Q: A lot has happened in the “real world” since the novel first came out in 2015. Does it feel surreal looking back at the book now?
A: Ah, I wish it did! Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of these issues are still very, scarily relevant, not just for young women, but all people. It seems like every time I see the news there is another incident of someone being measured by their looks rather than their internal worth, of women being degraded and disrespected, and of advantage being taken of someone’s body and mind. It frightens me that these issues persist, but I never claim that THE GLASS ARROW was a look into the future. To me, it was always a way of processing the present.
Q: Congratulations for the surge of attention the book is receiving, thanks to things like the Hulu adaptation of THE HANDMAID’S TALE. What do you want readers to take with them after reading THE GLASS ARROW?
A: Thank you very much! I am delighted by the mention, and honored to be included in the same thought as the great HANDMAID’S TALE. If people do find their way to my book as a response, I hope they take away that they are so much more important than the sometimes superficial and careless values other people assign to them. As Aya says in the book, I hope they know that there are not enough stars in the night sky to measure their worth.
Q: Besides other classics like Margaret Atwood’s book, do you have any recommendations for readers wanting to explore more dystopian fiction and speculative fiction works?
A: How about METALTOWN by Kristen Simmons? That’s a great dystopian! Or the ARTICLE 5 series, about a world where the Bill of Rights has been replaced by moral law… Ok, ok, I’m sorry. That was shameless. I always recommend LITTLE BROTHER by Cory Doctorow, THE PASSAGE by Justin Cronin, Marie Lu’s Legend series, and of course, THE ROAD by Cormac McCarthy. Those are all thrilling, and excellent looks both at the present, and the future.
Q: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see your next book?
A: I have two books coming out in 2018, and can’t wait to share both of them. PACIFICA will be released March 6, 2018, and is about a world after the polar ice caps have melted, and a pirate girl and the son of the president find themselves in the middle of a building civil war. It’s a story largely informed my my great grandmother’s internment in World War II. In the fall, I’ll have a new series starting. THE PRICE OF ADMISSION, first in the Valhalla Academy books, is about a girl accepted into an elite boarding school for con artists. I hope readers love them both!
Q: Where can readers find you online?
A: I’m always available through social media – Twitter and Instagram at @kris10writes, and Facebook at Author.KristenSimmons. I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and remember, you’re worth more than all the stars in the night sky.
Kristen Simmons is the author of the ARTICLE 5 series (ARTICLE 5, BREAKING POINT, and THREE), THE GLASS ARROW, METALTOWN, PACIFICA (coming March 2018 from Tor Teen), and THE PRICE OF ADMISSION (coming Fall 2018 from Tor Teen). She has a master’s degree in social work and loves red velvet cupcakes. She lives with her family in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Read on for an exciting excerpt from The Glass Arrow!
“Run, Aya! I feel them! They’re coming!”
I know a moment later what she means. The horses’ hooves are striking the ground, vibrating the gravel beneath my knees. I look to the brush beside us and quickly consider dragging Metea into it, but the horses are too close. If I’m going to save myself I don’t have time.
“Get up!” I am crying now. The salty tears blend with my sweat and burn my eyes.
“Leave me.” “No!”
Even as I say it I’m rising, hooking my arms beneath hers, pulling her back against my chest. But she’s dead weight and I collapse. She rolls limply to one side. I kiss her cheek, and hope she knows that I love her. I will sing Bian’s soul to the next life. I will sing her soul there too, because she surely is doomed to his same fate.
“Run,” she says one last time, and I release her.
I sprint due north, the opposite direction from the cave where I hope Salma has hidden the twins. I run as hard and as fast as I can, fueled by fear and hatred. My feet barely graze the ground for long enough to propel me forward, but still I can feel the earth tremble beneath them. The Trackers are coming closer. The Magnate is right on my heels.
I dodge in my zigzag pattern. I spin around the pine trees and barely feel the gray bark as it nicks my arms and legs. My hide pants rip near the knee when I cut too close to a sharp rock, and I know that it’s taken a hunk of my skin, too. No time to check the damage, no time for pain. I hurdle over a stream-bed and continue to run.
A break in the noise behind me, and I make the mistake that will cost me my freedom.
I look back.
They are close. So much closer than I thought. Two horses have jumped the creek. They are back on the bank now, twenty paces behind me. I catch a glimpse of the tattered clothes of the Trackers, and their lanky, rented geldings, frothing at the bit. The faces of the Virulent are ashy, scarred, and starved. Not just for food, but for income. They see me as a paycheck. I’ve got a credit sign tattooed across my back.
I run again, forcing my cramping muscles to push harder. Suddenly, a crack pierces the air, and something metal— first cold, then shockingly hot—winds around my right calf. I cannot hold back the scream this time as I crash to the ground.
The wire contracts, cutting through the skin and into the flesh and muscle of my leg. The heat turns electric, and soon it is shocking me, sending volts of lightning up through my hips, vibrating my insides. My whole body begins to thrash wildly, and I’m powerless to hold still. The pressure squeezes my lungs and I can’t swallow. I start to pant; it is all I can do to get enough air.
A net shoots out over me. I can see it even through my quaking vision. My seizing arms become instantly tangled.
“Release the wire! Release it!” orders a strident male voice.
A second later, the wire retracts its hold, and I gasp. The blood from my leg pools over the skin and soaks the dirt below. But I know I have no time to rest. I must push forward. To avoid the meat market, to keep my family safe, I must get away.
I begin to crawl, one elbow digging into the dirt, then the next. Fingers clawing into the mossy ground, dragging my useless leg. But my body is a corpse, and I cannot revive it.
Mother Hawk, I pray, please give me wings.
But my prayers are too late.
My voice is only a trembling whisper, but I sing. For Bian and for Metea. I sing as I push onward, the tears streaming from my eyes. I must try to set their souls free while I can.
Out of the corner of my eye I see the boney fetlocks of a chestnut horse. The smooth cartilage of his hooves is cracked. This must be a rental—the animal hasn’t even been shod. An instant later, black boots land on the ground beside my face. Tracker boots. I can hear the bay of the hounds now. The stupid mutts have found me last, even after the horses and the humans.
I keep trying to crawl away. My shirt is soaked by sweat and blood, some mine, some Metea’s. It drips on the ground. I bare my teeth, and swallow back the harsh copper liquid that is oozing into my mouth from a bite on the inside of my cheek. I am yelling, struggling against my failing body, summoning the strength to escape.
“Exciting, isn’t it boys?” I hear a man say. The same one who ordered the release of the wire.
He kneels on the ground and I notice he’s wearing fine linen pants and a collared shirt with a tie. If only I had the power to choke him with it. At least that would be vengeance for one death today. His face is smooth and creaseless, but there’s no fancy surgery to de-age his eyes. He’s at least fifty.
He’s wearing a symbol on his breast pocket. A red bird in flight. A cardinal. Bian has told me this is the symbol for the city of Glasscaster, the capitol. This must be where he plans on taking me. He’s ripping the net away, and for a moment I think he’s freeing me, he’s letting me go. But this is ridiculous. I’m who he wants.
Then, as though I’m an animal, he weaves his uncalloused, unblistered fingers into my black, spiraled hair, and jerks my head back so hard that I arch halfway off the ground. I hiss at the burn jolting across my scalp. He points to one of the Trackers, who’s holding a small black box. Thinking this is a gun, I close my eyes and brace for the shot that will end my life. But no shot comes.
“Open your eyes, and smile,” the Magnate says. With his other hand he is fixing his wave of stylishly silver hair, which has become ruffled in the chase.
I do open my eyes, and I focus through my quaking vision on the black box. I’ve heard Bian talk about these things. Picture boxes. They freeze your image, so that it can be preserved forever. Like a trophy.
I’m going to remember this moment forever, too. And I don’t even need his stupid picture box.