Sophia Elaine Hanson - Gritty Dystopian Fiction With Clashing Concepts
Music is an important part of author Sophia Elaine Hanson’s life, which is why it also plays a big role in her dark, gritty, dystopian novel, Vinyl. The book is the first in a trilogy and features plenty of twists and turns along with flawed, but very relatable characters. Today we talk to Sophia about how music has helped her find her strength, the reaction of readers to Vinyl and her surprising secret skill.
Please give us a short introduction to Vinyl, what the book is about
Legend meets Leviathan in this gritty dystopian fiction by debut author Sophia Elaine Hanson. All citizens within the soaring black walls of Revinia have metal Singers grafted into their skulls at birth. The parasitic machines issue a form of auditory hypnosis called The Music, which keeps their minds malleable and emotions flat. All artistic expression—especially real music—is strictly prohibited.
On the edge of the city, nineteen year old Ronja struggles to support her cousins and disabled mother. A chance meeting leads to her kidnapping by an underground resistance striving to preserve the human spirit. Violently severed from her Singer by the brash young agent Roark, Ronja revels in her newfound freedom until the consequences of her disappearance begin to unfold.
The first in a trilogy, Vinyl is a story of loyalty, passion, trauma, human connection, and the extraordinary power of real music.
The story takes place in a gritty, dystopian world. Why this backdrop?
One look at the bestselling young adult books will tell you that futuristic, dystopian worlds are popular. There is no doubt Vinyl is a dystopian novel, but I wanted to turn the concept on its head. Rather than sticking with the almost alien, sterile, futuristic world, I went for something darker, grittier. There are elements of the past blended with elements of the future. For example, Ronja has an oil lamp in her bedroom, but a mind altering device clinging to her ear. The concepts clash, and I like that. It throws the reader off.
What type of music do you listen to while you write? And why did you make music such a central theme in this book?
I wrote Vinyl at a very difficult time in my life. I was sixteen years old when I developed the idea. I had just been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Only months after my diagnosis, I was sexually assaulted. It was mild, I was 'lucky', but it was still very damaging to an already fragile teenager. One of the ways I found my way back to myself was through music. Singing, performing as a soloist in my high school show choir, and of course listening to music. It was cathartic, it helped me find my strength. The idea of using music as a weapon appealed to me, and the idea for Vinyl was born.
As far as what I listen to when I write, I range all over! Sometimes I blast Beethoven, sometimes Beyoncé. I think the one unifying factor for the music I listen to is that it is dramatic, powerful. Right now my writing playlist is full of alt_J, Halsey, Grimes, Hozier, and Atmosphere.
How do you manage to keep a creepy atmosphere throughout the book?
Frankly, it was not too difficult. The idea of a device that controls your emotions through constant, grating, inescapable sound is just plain creepy.
Vinyl contains some twists that readers did not see coming. Did you plan them out before you started writing? Or did some of them just happen?
Honestly, I just let them happen! When I write, I generally have a basic idea of where the story is going, but so often I find it changes as I write. Sometimes, I feel like I am reading the story rather than writing it. I must admit...I was pleased with my readers' reactions to the twists. It means I did my job!
How did you manage to make your characters so relatable? Were any of them inspired by real people?
Hmm, interesting question. I think what makes them so relatable is that they are all flawed. Deeply and genuinely. Ronja is rash and damaged. Roark has something of a god complex, he believes he can get away with just about anything. Anyone who has read the book knows Terra can be incredibly selfish and is driven by her grudges. But...none of them are bad people. Their flaws are balanced by their attributes. Despite her rashness, Ronja is loyal and loving and honest. Despite his overconfidence, Roark is a true friend and protector. Terra may be cold, but she values the freedom of her people above all else, and will do anything she can to see them liberated.
None of my characters were inspired by real people specifically, but I do have a funny story about that! The only steady romantic couple in Vinyl is Evie and Iris. Evie has dark hair and brown eyes. Iris is petite with flaming red hair, freckles, and bright eyes. My freshman year of college, the year I published Vinyl, my roommate, a lovely girl with dark hair and eyes, started dating a girl with red hair and freckles. Both of them kindly bought and read my book. I thought nothing of it, until they came to me asking if I had written them into the story on purpose. We all laughed so hard, because the answer was no. I came up with the idea of Iris and Evie a full year before I met them...but I guess both couples were just meant to be!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I have something of an eidetic memory when it comes to movie lines. Weird, I know, but fun. I can remember massive chunks of movie scripts after only hearing them once. When I say massive, I do mean massive. We're talking 70-90% of the script when prompted. I often quote obscure lines from movies my friends and I saw once...five years ago. They are usually things I think are side-splitting-ly hilarious, but are met with awkward silence because nobody knows what the hell I am talking about. I guess you could call that a skill. If only it worked on lectures.
How long did it take you to write Vinyl? And was there anything in particular that motivated you to get started on your first book?
As I mentioned above, I came up with the idea for The Vinyl Trilogy when I was sixteen, but it actually began as a short story. When I was done with the brief work, I realized I wanted more. I let the idea sit for almost a year before I started working on the novel. From start to finish, the book itself took about two years to write, edit, and produce.
Vinyl was not my first book, actually. My first crack at novel writing was a little book called Witch, which I wrote when I was eleven. It really was a novel, some three hundred pages I believe, but hopefully it will never see the light of day. As far as what motivated me...boredom. I was a reader before I was a writer. I devoured books like most people breathed air, and I got bored of what I was seeing on the shelves. It seemed natural that if there was nothing left I wanted to read, I would just create it for myself.
You were only nineteen when Vinyl got published. What was the experience like to get your first book published at such a young age?
It was insane.
What surprised you most about readers' reactions to Vinyl?
I was shocked by the flood of positive responses I received after I put my baby...I mean my book...out into the world. I had braced myself for a digital undressing, but to my surprise...most people who read it seemed to genuinely like it. Not just friends or family, but readers all around the world that I had never met. The fact that they read the story, laughed, and even cried fills me with joy I can't even put to words. Not that I want to make people cry, but it is sort of my job.
Tell us a bit about the book cover and how it came about
Funny story! I found the image, which is by the incredible photographer Marta Bevacqua, on tumblr and actually shot out of my chair and screamed "RONJA"! I had such a clear image of her in my head, but I had never seen anyone that compared. Her eyes, her hair, the dirt on her face, her expression, even her long nose. She was perfect. I emailed the artist right away and she kindly sold it to me for a reduced price, as I was only eighteen at the time. See! Being a young writer does have some advantages!
How does the next book, Radio, tie in with the story of Vinyl? How many books are you planning for the series?
Radio picks up roughly two months after the dramatic end of Vinyl. The story follows Ronja and her comrades as they try to come to terms with the trauma they have endured, and to kickstart a musical revolution. There will be blood. There will be music, the good kind and the bad. There will be betrayals and kisses...perhaps even a bit more than kisses...and there will be some seriously deadly plot twists. Vinyl and Radio are the first two books in a planned trilogy, though I am thinking about writing a collection of short stories following the same characters after the third book comes out.
If you could meet any person, living or dead, who would it be and what would you talk about?
Hmmm...hard to pick just one. If I had to choose I think I would like to meet Alexander Hamilton...or Lin Manuel Miranda, who formed my obsession with A.Ham with his groundbreaking musical Hamilton. If I met them I believe I would talk to them about the same things: writing and love. I would ask them where their creative energy comes from and what they love about their wives, the first so I can improve my own craft, and the second because I am a hopeless fangirl.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
The best places to get in contact with me are Twitter and Instagram. I love it when readers talk to me, bring it on! For more information on books and events you can visit my website! There is a blog tab, which I update once a week or so.