Author Lindsey S. Frantz comes by both her love of Appalachia honestly. Growing up in Kentucky, she has an appreciation for the beauty of the environment and the people of the area that shines through in her work. This love is especially apparent in her novel The Upworld, on sale now from Line by Lion Publications. In The Upworld, Frantz builds a science fiction world that focuses on a Appalachia following a war that has a direct link to centuries of pollution humans have spilled onto the Earth. Frantz paints a world in which the population has segmented and fragmented in the aftermath of the conflict, and throws the spotlight on two special young people whose pasts collide and threaten to turn their lives upside down.
Lindsey S. Frantz spoke with us recently about the genesis behind The Upworld, why the absence of many young adult books set in Appalachia influenced her decisions when writing her novel, and what we can expect from the world she’s built moving forward.
FreakSugar: For folks considering picking up the book, what can you tell us about the conceit of The Upworld?
Lindsey S. Frantz: Well, the novel is set a few hundred years in the future, but after the fall of modern civilization. I don’t go into this in the novel, really, but before the world fell apart there was a war over a new substance that was discovered while mining for oil called Vitium. Basically, Vitium is the culmination of year and years of pollutants being pumped into the earth, air, and water. After it’s discovered, scientists realize it can be used as a power source, so of course there’s a huge war—The Vitium War—and the world falls apart. Eventually I plan to write the history out, for the people who like digging into imagined histories and timelines.
Anyway, so after the war the world population is smaller, thanks to the loss of modern medicine, electricity, and some side effects of Vitium/pollution, and the societies that are left are more primitive. There are three primary societies of people—the upworlders, who live in small cities or towns, usually with some kind of wall around them and police forces to keep out the second group of people, the wylden. The wylden are a wild, violent, nomadic people that the upworlders don’t know much about except to be wary of them. And then the third society, the cavedwellers, are a very secretive society that the other two aren’t even sure exist. The cavedwellers, who the upworlders call nightcrawlers, keep to themselves. After a few hundred years of isolation beneath the earth mixed with constant exposure to vitium, they’ve lost most, if not all, of their skin’s pigment and cannot safely come outside during the day.
In addition to all of this, Vitium has had some strange and awesome side effects on the diminished world population by altering the way neural pathways connect and altering certain genetic codes. For instance, Erilyn—who grew up as an orphan, living in a cavern that had veins of Vitium running all around and through it—can read peoples’ emotions, see their auras, and sometimes hear thoughts and move things with her mind.
LSF: Well, the story that eventually because The Upworld probably developed in my brain over the course of two or three years. But the story as a whole has gone through many, many different versions. I guess the first kernel of an idea came to me about 15 years ago when I had just started my undergraduate degree in English. I started writing a story about an elven girl named Erilyn. I actually finished a whole novel manuscript, but it was really, really bad. You know the few scenes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit where the hobbits just walk and walk and walk and the reader is left reading about the tall waving grass and the lovely trees or the way the characters feel? Well, my book was like that. Every single page. So, I scrapped it all except a few images I loved and the main character’s basic essence.
But this version of the story probably got its real start in grad school. I wrote a story about a time when I went spelunking with some friends and how awful it was, and then I wrote a story about a reclusive girl who could read minds and lived in the woods. Both stories were OK, but one day it occurred to me that the girl in the woods was really Erilyn, and that the two stories were actually two parts of one story. Once I got there, The Upworld (which originally was titled Petrichor) was born.
FS: What can you tell us about Erilyn and Finn, our two through characters in the book?
LSF: Erilyn is a character who, in one form or another, has been with me for at least fifteen years, as I said. I’m sure, long after the trilogy I’m working on now is over, she’ll still be with me in some way or another. But as far as her personality goes—Erilyn is someone who feels a lot, all the time, but tries to maintain a very stoic, standoffish demeanor. It’s mostly for self preservation—if you feel a lot, and share that with others, it’s easy to get hurt, and she’s been hurt enough in her short life for ten people. So even though she’s very emotional, she comes across as very tough. I mean, she is tough, but she also has a softer side that few people get to see.
Meanwhile, Finn is like her opposite. Two sides of the same coin, I guess. Finn is also a very emotional guy, but that’s obvious to anyone who meets him. If Finn feels something, he doesn’t hide it well, and he doesn’t try to hide it. He’s very artistic and that pours out of him in his regular interactions as well as when he’s carving beautiful things from wood. But when as much as he feels, he’s often oblivious to how the people around him feel. Because Erilyn is an empathy and can read peoples’ emotions, she’s hyper aware of how others are feeling, but Finn is often clueless about how someone feels if his own big emotions are focused on someone else. Together, they make a good duo, though. They’re different in complimentary ways.
FS: Your choice to present alternating chapters in Erilyn and Finn’s voices adds a nice layer to the book. What was the impetus for that idea?
LSF: I actually got the idea from a book series I read five or six years ago. Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi does this same thing—alternates between a male and female protagonist. I thought it was so nice to be able to see so much more of the world while still having a really close perspective, so I figured I’d give it a shot! Plus, I’d never really tried writing from a male perspective, and I like a good challenge. When I was doing my final two or three revisions, Finn’s chapters got the most work, because I was already so comfortable with Erilyn’s voice, but writing him, and a guy in general, was brand new for me.
FS: The book is set in Appalachia and you yourself grew up in and live in Kentucky. What is it about Appalachia that made you want to explore the area as a setting for your novel?
LSF: I grew up in Appalachia. I’ve driven all over and gone hiking and camping. So it was easy for me to put my characters in places I’d been while also creating settings in this area that were believable, even if they don’t exist in the real world. Plus, it’s gorgeous here. Like, really, truly gorgeous. When I drive the hour and a half south to my parents’ house in the spring, summer, and fall, I get completely enthralled with the foliage in the hills. Plus, there’s a lot of (well, a good amount) of realistic fiction set in Appalachia, but very little YA fiction with a fantastical twist set here, and I wanted to contribute to that. I read voraciously as a child and teenager and young adult, and I kept thinking about how cool it would have been to read a story about a girl like Erilyn set somewhere that I could imagine was just like the hills behind my house or down the street.
FS: Following up on that, your love for Appalachia shows in every page. Was part of your mission to shine on the parts of Appalachia that aren’t always shown in other pieces of literature and pop culture?
LSF: Maybe a little. I think it was more just wanting Appalachia in a story that incorporate unrealistic elements for the people, like me, who would rather read about a dragon than a regular person. Also, I wanted to write about an area I was comfortable with, as well as an area I loved. When I was just out of high school, I worked at a gas station in my hometown, which is right on a good-sized lake. In the summers, people would come from surrounding states to fish and go boating and camping, and a lot of those people stopped at our gas station to fill up their boats and jet skis. By nature, I’m a fairly talkative person, so I always asked a lot of questions, and during those conversations I learned that almost everyone that came through agreed that Kentucky was one of the most beautiful places they’d been.
I also just really love writing nature imagery—you should have seen some of the earlier drafts of this book; I had to cut a lot of overly poetic language about how pretty trees and fields and things were—and Kentucky/Appalachian landscape is ripe with beautiful and interesting things to write about.
FS: Your book, while being its own animal, shares DNA with other YA novels out there. What influences do you feel impacted your approach to The Upworld?
LSF: I kind of think I pulled from all over. As I said earlier, the back and forth point of view I pulled directly from a book by Veronica Rossi. Reading work by Julie Hensley, particularly the stories in her story cycle Landfall (and taking classes from her in undergrad and graduate school) strongly influenced my love for nature writing and including aspects of that anywhere I could. I took a brief, two week course about world building with Jim Grimsley years ago—our classroom was a living room in a hotel in San Miguel de Allende and everything about the class was magical—and it taught me so much about what I needed to know about the world I was writing.
Even though the book is set on our planet, it’s definitely not the world that we know. I also think Katniss from The Hunger Games influenced me a lot. I don’t think Erilyn is like Katniss, but they’re a little alike in the fact that they’re both fairly flawed (and sometimes unlikable) heroines, and I feel like that makes them more accessible than a heroine who’s perfect and lovable in every where. And then, of course, just reading a lot of YA before and during the writing and revising process.
FS: Do you have a follow-up in the wings to The Upworld?
LSF: I do! I’m working on the rough draft for the sequel (hopefully to be the second of three novels) right now! I have two small children—James is three and Sadie will be one in April—so finding big chunks of time to write has proven more difficult than with The Upworld, which I wrote initially when I was pregnant with James, but it’s getting there. This second novel is going to focus more on the female relationships—primarily the relationships between Erilyn, Aiyanna, and Lucy—as well as on the wylden, which should be a lot of fun to write.
The Upworld by Lindsey S. Frantz is available now from Line by Lion Publications.
Lindsey S. Frantz was born and raised in Appalachia and earned her MFA from Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Her stories and poems have previously appeared in Main Street Rag’s Villains Anthology, Ruminate Magazine, Young Ravens Literary Review, Emerge Literary Journal and others. Her first novel, The Upworld, was released from Line by Lion Publications in the summer of 2017. She currently lives in sleepy, art-rich Berea, Kentucky with her husband, Vince, and their two young children, James and Sadie.
From the official description of The Upworld:
It has been many generations since the Vitium War. In the ruins of what was once Appalachia, the population has split into three groups—upworlders who live in sparse, walled off cities, albino cave dwellers, and a group of savage nomads called the Wylden. Then there’s Erilyn—a telekinetic 17-year-old girl who can see auras and hear thoughts. For three years she lived a quiet, calm life in the woods with Luna, her albino serval cat, until the day Finn—an upworld boy from Sunnybrook—stumbles, injured, into her clearing, chased by Wylden hunters. Erilyn’s once calm life is turned upside down as she guardedly travels with Finn back to Sunnybrook. There she must confront both the secrets of her past—the cave dwellers she ran from as a child and the bittersweet memories she daily tries to forget—and Morrigan, the girl who broke Finn’s heart and who’s harboring her own a dangerous secret. In alternating chapters told in Erilyn and Finn’s voices, in a style similar to Veronica Rossi, Frantz explores segregated societies and how vitium—the product of hundreds of years of pollution—affects this post-war world, which has startling parallels to our present.