Caitlin Lambert’s book What Lies Above will be released on May 22! I had the pleasure of interviewing her about her writing journey and her book. Below you can find the interview. It actually made me cry a little because it shows how much she loves writing and loves her book and characters! 🙂
Can you give us a short summary of What Lies Above?
What Lies Above takes place in a world where traitors of a 40-year-long war are sent to a distant, frozen planet to die. It follows two characters – Eva, whose safe life in her underground city is shattered when she follows a dead man into the crypts, and Eli, who enlists with the enemy to get revenge for his mother, who was condemned to the ice planet to die.
Who is your favorite character?
Oh, this is so hard! I feel like each character has something unique and endearing about them. Eva is sensitive, while still showing strength. I wanted to explore the idea of a “strong female character” who does not want to kill or hurt others, but whose hand is forced in a cruel world. On the other side of that we have Eli, who is different from Eva in almost every way, who is morally-grey, and who makes some very bad choices because he is trapped and hurting. I wanted to explore redemption and forgiveness through him. I also really love Jess, my disabled character, because she is feisty and fierce and, like most other characters, does what she needs to in order to try and escape her prison. One thing I wanted with this story was to make the supporting characters have their own intricate stories, instead of just serving as supports to the main characters. More of their stories will be revealed in books 2 and 3, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes with every character, and I really loved exploring that! Eva’s mother, Amara, Aaden, Joel… each of these “side” characters also has their own story playing out, with pain and strength and complex decisions.
How did you come up with the world your characters live in? And is it dystopian?
Fun fact – What Lies Above is not a dystopian story. I am actually flattered that my book has enough talk behind it to already spread rumors haha, but it caught on that WLA was a dystopian and although I’ve talked about it before, it stuck. WLA is actually a sci-fi fantasy, and takes place in its own world entirely. I completely understand why people see it as dystopian though. It has many similar tropes! The first thing from this world that came to me was an ice planet. That was all. In fact, the story did start as a dystopian, after I read a textbook about climate change in ninth grade. It took a long time to develop into what it is now, though. I started asking why the planet was frozen. What role did it play?
Was it set from the minute you started writing, or did it change a lotover time?
The setting grew and developed a lot over time, as I began exploring the story and the characters. Originally, the book was only told from one perspective – Eva’s. In fact, I finished, edited, and queried the book with only her perspective originally. Eli was a secondary character. But then, his story spoke to me in a deeper way, and I actually ended up completely rewriting the book with him as a second point of view. When I added him, the setting changed a lot as well, and when you read the book, you’ll see why!
What do you hope people feel or learn from reading your book?
I love this question. There are a lot of themes in What Lies Above. As I mentioned with Eli, I explore the idea of what people are willing to do when they feel helpless and cornered. But I also explore the idea of pain, regret, redemption, and forgiveness. Some of my characters might seem beyond forgiveness, and the book asks the reader… are they? There is also a strong message of hope and light, especially since this world is quite cruel and hopeless at times. One of my favorite quotes from the book summarizes this theme well… “There is hope in the brokenness. There is light, in and after the darkness.” Ultimately, I hope the story moves people, in whatever way. Some readers have been moved by Jess’s story. Others have been moved by the theme of grief and finding hope again after loss. I think each reader will connect to different things. These characters have personally touched me in different ways, and I hope that readers connect to a character, whichever one, and in whatever way they need.
How did you come up with the names for your characters? Any funanecdotes?
My two main characters are Eva and Eli. Their full names are Evangeline West and Elijah Young, and to be honest, I just chose these names because I liked them! Evangeline has always been one of my favorite names, and I absolutely love names that can be shortened to a nickname. I do this quite frequently in my books. It’s kind of a trademark haha. However, there are some fun names in the book that have important meanings:
Elurra – the name of the ice planet; this word means “snow” in Basque
Sub-terra – means “underground” in Latin, and is the name of Eva’s underground city
Bene-Celaris – another Latin name translating to “well hidden”; no spoilers, but this definitely has meaning
What was your biggest inspiration for the story?
This story changed so much over time that my inspiration changed with it. I got the idea for WLA when I was 14, and started writing it at 16. Now, at almost 23, the story means something drastically different than it did to me then. I think my biggest inspiration for the book was not so much another book or person or “muse”, but rather, a feeling. To me, these stories embody deep emotions and questions, and although there is a very twisty plot, there is also a lot of grief and heartbreak and hope too. I wanted to write something from my heart, and I truly think, after all these years, I did.
Readers of which books will love to read What Lies Above?
The books that early readers have most frequently compared WLA to are Hunger Games, Matched, Divergent, and grown-up City of Ember. Those are big shoes to fill, and they all happen to be dystopian novels haha (I think book 2 will clearly define WLA as a sci-fi fantasy and not a dystopian). I have also heard from a lot of readers, though, who say that they see the parallels, but also see something completely different in WLA, which is the most touching thing to hear as an author.
When did you decide it would be a trilogy? Was it a decision you made before youstarted writing book one?
Yes, I think sub-consciously, I always knew I wanted this to be a trilogy. However, when I was heavily rewriting WLA (which I did many many times over the years), the story arc for the entire series began taking shape, and I realized exactly where each character’s arc would go through books 2 and 3, and then I knew that it would absolutely be a trilogy.
How did you know your story was complete and how did you feel atthat moment?
My journey with this book was wild, there is no other word I can think of to describe it. There were so many ups and down, starts and stops, highs and lows. As I mentioned, I had the idea at 14, started drafting at 16, finished the draft at 17, revised and then queried at 18, rewrote it again and queried again, then rewrote it another time and queried again. I had agent interest and an offer, but after years, I decided I wanted the creative control of indie publishing. My journey was not over yet, though. When I decided to indie publish, I thought my book was done. I set a release date. I sent it out to beta readers (my second set of beta readers, because my critique partners and original betas had already seen this book earlier). And then, I realized, that after rewriting this book countless times, adding a brand new narrator and storyline, and going through the query trenches only to change direction completely – after all that, I needed to rewrite it again. I cancelled my release. And last year, I completely overhauled the book and rewrote every. single. chapter. I can’t exactly describe how I knew it was done. I think I knew because it reached a place where the pacing was woven perfectly between Eva and Eli, the stakes were high, the climax was big (that had been an issue before), the characters had agency (another issue I had). But more than that, there was a feeling. I set the book aside for a while, and when I came back to it and read it cover to cover, I cried when I reached “the end”. I cried because this story spoke to me so deeply, and I knew, that I was so in love with this book, and it was ready for the world.
What did it feel like to unpack the first copy of your book?
Again, more crying haha! I honestly wondered if I would cry, and the interesting thing is… I didn’t cry until I read the acknowledgements to my family. I was so excited, and it was so surreal, when I first held my book, after eleven years of writing and fighting for this dream. I was all smiles, no tears. But then, when I started reading to my family and thanking them for walking on this journey with me, everything just came pouring out, and I cried, because I remembered how hard this road was and how long it took me to reach this place. It was an incredible moment.
Do you have any advice for people who also want to write a book? /self publish?
I have so many things I wish I could say, and I share lots more advice on my Instagram page, but I’ll just say this… every rejection is a redirection. I have faced rejection in every way – rejection from agents and rejection from readers. I have cried myself to sleep over my stories, and over this story. I have received messages from early readers who wouldn’t even finish reading it. But, I have also received messages from people who cried over it, connected with it, and loved it. I always tell people – your book will never connect with everyone, and that is okay! Books can have both 1-star and 5-star reviews, and the book didn’t change. People’s opinions did. It is so, so hard, but tell the story in your heart. Learn and grow, and realize that rejection will hurt, deeply. Feel those feelings, but then learn and grow, take the advice that helps strengthen your work and learn to weed out the opinions that don’t. Stay true to your voice, because it is yours and yours alone. No one can tell your story the way you would tell it. And always strap yourself in, because this journey might be long. You might read this and say yeah that’s easy for you to say, you’re on the other side of it. But the thing is, I’m not. In many ways, this is just the start for me. But in many ways, it is nowhere close to the beginning. I had to go through so many hard moments to get here. But they strengthened me and they strengthened What Lies Above, and so I can look back and be grateful for them. The first book you write might not be the one, and that is okay. It will teach you so much. The path you envision might not be the one you end up on, and that is okay. I am not in any way on the path I imagined I’d be on when I started out. But I love where I am. I am cheering you on, because I’ve stood where many of you are standing. It always seems impossible until it’s done. So go. Learn. Grow. Write.
Thank you so much, Tracy, for having me!
Connect with Caitlin:
Learn more about What Lies Above and/or find purchase links at: https://www.caitlinlambertbooks.com/my-books