May 29, 2018

Pulse Point: Q & A with author Colleen Nelson

Written by Colleen Nelson with Nancy Chappell-Pollack
Yellow Dog (Great Plains Publications)
192 pp.
Ages 12-15
May 2018

Yesterday I reviewed Colleen Nelson's newest YA novel, Pulse Point, which she wrote with Nancy Chappell-Pollack.  Today Colleen Nelson with input from Nancy Chappell-Pollack answers a few of my questions about the book, their writing process and the future for Pulse Point.

HK:  Pulse Point is totally unlike any YA novel you have written to date both in genre and in its collaborative authorship, and I’d really love to delve into this.  First, how did you come to write the novel with your sister and what did you find most challenging as well as most advantageous about writing Pulse Point as part of a team?

CN:  Pulse Point began as an idea that Nancy had for a screenplay. Her background is in screenwriting and theatre, so we pitched it to a screen writing contest. I wrote the ‘treatment’ which is a type of synopsis used in the television/movie industry. We didn’t win, but the idea was too good to let go. Nancy and I were both invested in the idea, so we decided to work on it together.

One of the challenges writers face is the isolation factor. For hours every day, I sit in a room by myself and tap away on my laptop. Sometimes writing feels like a very slow, uphill slog and what’s worse, I have no idea if what I’m writing is any good! It was motivating to send Nancy a chapter and get her feedback on it. She knew the characters as well as I did and knew the direction of the story. We collaborated on every aspect of the book, even though I did the bulk of the writing.

As for the genre, writing dystopian wasn’t as different from realistic YA as you’d expect. Pulse Point might have a different setting and the characters face unusual challenges, but they still have to be relatable. Just like in realistic fiction, Kaia had to deal with conflicts with friends, family and figuring out who she is. We tried to remember it is the characters, not their dystopian world, driving the story.

HK:  Second, have you always wanted to write speculative fiction or did the idea for Pulse Point originate with your sister Nancy Chappell-Pollack?

CN:  The idea was Nancy’s. It started with a ‘what if’. What if a pulse point, implanted in a finger and meant to control a person’s life, suddenly malfunctions? How would they react to this sudden freedom? Other than continuing on with Kaia’s story, I don’t have any plans to write other speculative fiction.

HK:  Speaking of speculative fiction, do you consider Pulse Point more science fiction or dystopian, and why?

CN:  Nancy and I talked about this and decided that it’s more dystopian than sci-fi. We wanted to create an alternate version of our world where climate change has made it impossible to live outside, or so Kaia thinks. I think in dystopian, a writer can play with politics and economics and world building in a different way than in science fiction. 

HK:  The scientists who created the City under a dome seemed to have good intentions after global warming brought disaster after disaster to their world.  But, like the saying goes about good intentions, their decisions about the nature of the City including who should be allowed in and how relationships are structured, seem to be discriminatory and harmful.  What message did you want readers to get about this new world?

CN:  The scientific minds that created the City were concerned with saving a species. They were intervening with natural selection, or maybe speeding it along, by only selecting people with disease- and ‘defect’-free genetics. We were thinking of a couple of things when we wrote Pulse Point. The first is the Spartan society where weak newborns were left to die because the city-state wanted to raise only the strongest soldiers (and have mothers who would breed the strongest soldiers). The second was the lack of humanity that a purely scientific-based community would develop. In the same way that AI (read Erin Bow’s excellent Scorpion Rules for more on this topic!) uses reason, not empathy, to make decisions, the City relies on efficiency.

While the City’s decisions make sense at a practical level, they are harsh and inhumane. There is so much to discuss about the morality attached to embryonic testing and selection. You might have also noticed that there is no dance, art, religion or literature in the City. All of those things are considered unnecessary and a waste of resources. I’m really glad I don’t live there!

HK:  Because Kaia’s world within the City is very much dictated by genetic rankings in which features like blue eyes and birthmarks are considered defects, there is much discrimination.  Even Kaia expresses this disdain for her newly-discovered brother who is blind.  How difficult was it to have your characters express such negative thoughts and for you to write those ideas?

CN:  Kaia is a product of her environment, so her prejudices are a result of what she has been taught. The flipside is that the people she meets outside of the City do not have those same discriminatory ideas. The conflict that results lets Kaia grow to accept differences and see the value that everyone brings to a community.

HK:  Many young adults will be delighted to know that there is frisson of romance brewing under Pulse Point’s main plot.  But with Lev and Gideon both in the picture, Kaia may have some choices to make. Did you always intend to have a romance as a subplot in Pulse Point or did it develop as your story took shape?

CN:  The truth is, I hate writing romantic scenes. There’s nothing more cringey than a cheesy kissing scene with awkward dialogue. It can kill a story and put a damper on good writing. Nancy was the one who pushed for more romantic tension and the creation of a love triangle between Kaia, Lev and Gideon. Like with most things, Nancy’s instincts were correct and I agreed to write it.

This book went through so many drafts, characters and plots changed drastically with each one. The one thing that never changed was Kaia’s strength and determination as a female lead. We did not want her to be focused on her hunt for a mate, or a potential romance. We wanted this book to be accessible to male and female readers and to make sure the romance furthers the tension, but doesn’t make it seem that all female characters need a male-focused romance.

HK:  Readers will recognize that Kaia’s story is not over at the conclusion of Pulse Point. When you started writing Pulse Point, was it always your intention to have a sequel? What plans are there for publication of a sequel or sequels?

CN:  At first, we envisioned Pulse Point as a trilogy, but our editor suggested we make some significant changes to the ending. Those changes altered our original plan from three books to two. I’d love to write a second book and find out what happens to Kaia and Lev and the Prims. I think there’s more going on in the City than we know about and I hope it doesn’t take us another seven years to find out what it is! 

Thanks to Colleen Nelson and Nancy Chappell-Pollack
for talking about Pulse Point with CanLit for LittleCanadians.  
It's always a pleasure to talk books with writers of wonderful stories 
and to learn about the creative process.


Check out other blog tour stops for more about Pulse Point

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