Hi! My name is Debbie Zaken and I’m a multiple award winning Young Adult Author. My debut novel, Colliding Skies, is the first in a YA sci-fi series. It received the 2018 Best Book Award for YA from American Book Fest. I was born in Miami, but I grew up in Guatemala speaking both Spanish and English. After I graduated high school, I moved to Israel for a few years and am now fully trilingual.
I’ve always been a huge reader. Throughout my life I’ve read all kinds of genres. Today my favorite genre to read is Young Adult. I find that the Young Adult literature that is being published now, especially in the last decade, really pushes the boundaries and explores themes in greater depth that adult novels. YA experiments and question. It’s not afraid to call BS on things. And yet, somehow it still leaves readers with hope for the future. Those are the books I enjoy the most and it’s what I hope to do with my own books.
Although I always loved reading, I didn’t start seriously writing until much later in life. I’d just had my second baby when the premise for Colliding Skies popped into my head, and wouldn’t go away. I kept thinking about these characters and their story. Finally, I told a friend about it who gave me the kick in the pants I needed to stop thinking about it and start writing the darn story. Because my kids were so little and I had a full time job when I started writing, I learned to write whenever I could. During my kids’ nap time, my lunch hour, whenever. One of the good things that came out of that was that I became a very flexible and portable writer. Although, I’m very consistent about writing and usually write every day, I’m pretty flexible when it comes to time and place. I can write anywhere as long as I have my laptop with me.
So what is Colliding Skies about? Colliding Skies tells the story of Skye Reilly, an astronomy geek who is only months away from graduating high school and pursuing her dream of an Astrophysics major. Skye has life is as meticulously mapped out as her star chart. But when the Celeians arrive and she meets Ethan, an alluring alien, her perfectly planned life is hurled into a cataclysmic collision course of interplanetary proportions.
The premise for Colliding Skies came to me from a song. Music has always been an important part of my life. I was in my car listening to a specific song one morning and the idea just popped into my head. It was like an entire music video played in my mind while I drove. I played the song on repeat the entire way and by the time I got to work that morning, I had the basic premise of the book fleshed out. I went home that night and wrote a brief outline. After that, music became my go to for inspiration. I even had the song titles for each chapter on my outline. As an author, music fuels my writing. Almost every scene I write has a song associated with it. It’s not so much that I look for songs to match a specific scene. It’s more that certain songs will inspire entire scenes. So a song will prompt a scene in my head and once it’s there, I’ll play it over and over, until I can see it clearly, down to the characters’ dialogue. You can find the full playlist for Colliding Skies and the sequel on my website (www.debbiezaken.com).
On the surface, it would be easy to think that because Colliding Skies is a work of science fiction, the scenario is as far removed from reality as possible. But what I learned in the course of writing and publishing this book, is that it’s not too hard to draw parallels from actual historical events and/or current events to science fiction. Science fiction is in many ways, a reflection of society. It’s a representation of our most pressing cultural anxieties. It can make a very powerful statement about the past and the present.
Science fiction has the ability to take on a controversial topic, strip the baggage and preconceptions that usually come with it, and change it just enough so that people reading it can view it from a slightly different perspective. So for example, my book touches upon themes of race (human/alien), the concept and suspicion of “other” and “different”, and explores inter-racial relationships as seen through the perspective of human versus extraterrestrial. It shows biases and stereotypes that both sides have about each other. It also alludes to themes of power, political struggles, and corruption. Some of these themes I was aware of when I was writing the book, others really only became more obvious to me when the book was out and readers pointed them out in reviews and comments.
I think the most shocking thing I learned through this process was how much current events shape the way we read and perceive stories. I wrote Colliding Skies five years ago. When the book came out in March of 2018, the political climate in the United States had changed drastically from when I originally wrote it. I think that is why readers found parallels in the story to current events that I hadn’t really thought about before. This change has really made me more aware of the ability of science fiction to offer commentary on the present. I see this very clearly now as I work on the sequel to Colliding Skies. I’m drawn to explore in more depth themes of political power, corruption, gender identity, and oppression. I now understand ability science fiction has to raise questions about humanity, about individuals, and about our future.
Currently, I am working on the sequel to Colliding Skies, due to come out in 2019. Although I love Sci-fi, I also have a different YA project that I am working on that I’m hoping to shop around soon. It’s a diverse (Own Voices) Young Adult Contemporary about a teenage girl from Mexico living in the US. I’m hoping to get back to working on it once I’m finished with the sequel to Colliding Skies.
Debbie Zaken is an award-winning Young Adult author. Her debut novel, Colliding Skies, is the first in a YA sci-fi series from Oftomes Publishing. It received the 2018 Best Book Award for YA from American Book Fest. Born in Miami, Debbie grew up in Guatemala and is fluent in English, Spanish and Hebrew. She currently resides with her husband and her two fabulously trilingual and adorable girls in South Florida.
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