Sometimes a book takes you out of your comfort zone and surprises you. That was the case with Emily Skrutskie’s debut novel The Abyss Surrounds Us. Sure, it had been on my radar thanks to the science fiction and fantasy book blogs I follow, but I read less YA science fiction than YA fantasy. Yet when I dove into Skrutskie’s futuristic world of pirates, genetically engineered sea monsters, and the people who train the beasts, I came away from each chapter thinking, “That. Was. SO. COOL!” (You can read my review of The Abyss Surrounds Us here.)
Today I’m excited to have Emily here to talk about The Abyss Surrounds Us. How did she come up with her awesome Reckoners? Why was her route to publication different than other authors who are traditionally published? And, would Emily want to be a Reckoner trainer like her protagonist Cas? Let’s find out!
Q&A with Emily Skrutskie
Congratulations on the release of The Abyss Surrounds Us! It’s been out for a month, so how do you feel now that it’s out in the world?
I’m overjoyed, honestly. The reaction to the book has been so overwhelmingly positive, and every day new readers are reaching out to me to tell me how much they loved TASU. I can’t wait to share the sequel with you guys and start this process over again. So if I’m really being honest, I feel impatient! Bring on TASU 2!
For anyone who hasn’t read or heard of The Abyss Surrounds Us yet, could you tell us a little bit about it (without spoilers, of course *winks*)?
TASU is the story of a seventeen-year-old girl named Cas Leung who trains genetically engineered sea monsters to defend ships from pirates. But when pirates kidnap her and force her to raise a monster of their own, she’s forced to survive among her lifelong enemy.
Abyss is such a cook story! Pirates and genetically engineered sea monsters – I’ve never read anything quite like it before! What inspired you to write it? And where did you get the idea of sea monsters with DNA from other creatures like snapping turtles, snakes, and lizards?
It’s my dream story, really. I love the ocean, science fiction, and sea life, and all of these things synthesized together on a bus ride through Philadelphia when I looked out at some shipyards and imagined monsters alongside the ships.
The genetic engineering that synthesizes different animals to create Reckoners came from a need to be at least a little realistic. Just sizing up an existing creature wouldn’t work. For example, the terrapoids are closest to snapping turtles, but snapping turtles need freshwater to survive, so they have a little marine iguana woven into their makeup to adapt them to the oceans.
Cas is an awesome protagonist – and there’s a lot more to her than being a bad-ass Reckoner trainer. What do you admire most about her?
My favorite thing about Cas is this “Leeroy Jenkins”-type gut impulse she has. If Cas sees a job that needs to be done, she immediately charges in to do it, usually without much regard for herself. It’s not necessarily an admirable trait, but it’s one that makes me very, very proud of her.
Back to Reckoner training for a moment. If this were a job in the real world, I imagine it must be thrilling yet incredibly dangerous. So, would YOU want to be a Reckoner trainer? Why or why not? (And if it’s a yes, what would your Reckoner look like?)
I would absolutely want to be a Reckoner trainer! When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cetologist and study whales when I grew up. I got my SCUBA certification when I was 12 because I dreamed of swimming with them someday. So, I would love to be a cetoid Reckoner trainer!
Let’s talk about your path to becoming a published author. When and how did you decide to take writing seriously?
I started writing novels with the intention of getting published when I was 15, but it’s difficult to point to that as “when I started taking writing seriously” because I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Before then, I wrote short stories and built worlds and made movies, and even at the age of 9 I was walking out of Finding Nemo utterly obsessed with the process of assembling a story. But when I was 15, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, turned out a good product, and started seeking an agent’s representation.
The road you took was unorthodox compared to other writers going the traditional publishing route. You received an offer for publication before signing with an agent. How did this work? And, how quickly were you able to get an agent after the fact?
I stumbled into my offer kind of unintentionally. I wanted to submit to Pitch Wars, polish TASU there, and then query agents, but I posted my query on WriteOnCon for feedback and ended up getting a request from Brian Farrey-Latz, my editor at Flux. Less than a month later, I had an offer of publication for two books on the table.
As for how long it took me to get an agent, there are kind of two answers. The first one is one week, which is the amount of time between when I received my offer of publication and when I decided among my four offers of representation, signed my agency contract, and put it in the mail. But the real answer is 20 minutes. Twenty minutes after I got my offer of publication and started sending out queries to every agent who had read my prior work, my phone started ringing with my first offer of rep.
Which authors have had the greatest influence on your writing? And who are some of your current favorites?
I have a holy trinity of people who I consider “#goals”: Maggie Stiefvater, Leigh Bardugo, and Victoria Schwab. Their writing is tight and amazing, they tell incredible stories, and their careers are something I aspire to!
I’ve heard there’s going to be a sequel to The Abyss Surrounds Us. (Yay!) Anything you can hint at while we wait to hear more about it? Also, are you working on other stories at the moment?
I will say that TASU 2 picks up three weeks after TASU ends, which has given Cas some time to settle into the choices she made at the conclusion of the first book. As far as other stuff, I have some pretty cool things in the pipeline! One is a book about girls who become cyborgs, and the other is about a prince and a pilot on the run. Both are IN SPACE.
What one piece of advice do you have for writers who aren’t published yet?
Attitude is everything, and perspective will save your life. Don’t draft and expect it to come out like a polished, published book. Don’t do your early rounds of revision expecting to get everything perfect. Don’t create expectations for yourself based on the people around you and how they’re doing the things you want to do. Keep your mind on the driving and your hands on the wheel. Be kind to yourself and understanding of others.
Thanks so much for your time, Emily! Best of luck with The Abyss Surrounds Us and all of your future projects.
Thank you so much for having me!
Emily Skrutskie’s Final Fast Five
- Last Book She Read and Loved: Morning Star by Pierce Brown
- A Name She’d Give Her Own Pirate Ship: C’mon, it’s GOTTA be the Minnow [the name of the pirate ship in TASU].
- One Reason Why WALL-E Is Such an Awesome Movie: The filmmakers consulted with Roger Deakins, a legendary cinematographer, to make the camera in that movie as realistic as possible.
- Random Object We’d Find at Her Writing Desk / Space: Earmuffs
- Three Things She Can’t Live Without: Blank paper, good pens, and great conversation
About Emily Skrutskie
Emily Skrutskie is 6 feet tall. She was born in Massachusetts, raised in Virginia, and forged in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. She holds a B.A. in Performing and Media Arts from Cornell University, where she studied an outrageous and demanding combination of film, computer science, and game design.
Her short fiction has been published by HarperTeen, and her debut novel, The Abyss Surrounds Us, is now available. She is represented by Thao Le of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency.
Find Emily Skrutskie:
* * *
THE ABYSS SURROUNDS US
For Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.
Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup and teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.
But Cas has fought pirates her entire life. Santa Elena has no idea what she’s in for.