The best thing about books is how many different kinds there are, wouldn’t you agree? Some books are like an emotional reckoning, others keep your adrenaline in high gear, others hand you back your heart in pieces and many are filled with torturous choices. But some books, readers, are like a lovely melody and a warm mug of something sweet and an open window. I took home Incarnate on a Friday and stayed up all night reading. At around midnight, somewhere near the middle, I hugged this book.
Here’s the premise of Incarnate by Jodi Meadows: In the land of Range there live a million souls, reincarnated again and again, remembering their past lives each time. Then Ana is born. She is a brand new soul and as she arrives, no other soul is reincarnated. Is she a bad omen? Has she stolen this other soul’s life? Does she have a soul at all? She travels to the capital city of Heart for answers, determined to unravel the mystery of her one, short life before it’s over with the help of Sam who believes her new soul is deeply good and worthy of love.
Incarnate has one of the most delightful love stories I’ve read in ages and I highly recommend it for all, so I’m thrilled that Jodi has agreed to a Q&A with us about this first book in her planned trilogy!
Indigo Teen Blog: What helped inspire you when building the land of Range and the city of Heart? Were there favorite visuals you looked to? Were there things that changed dramatically as you developed the story?
Jodi Meadows: I started off not knowing much about Range and Heart, only that it was cold, surrounded by mountains, and very, very dangerous. I explored it along with Ana and did a lot of adding and layering of world building details in further drafts. Once I put Range and Yellowstone National Park together, I had lots of photos and videos to go through when I needed inspiration. (Thanks, people who post vacation pictures!) That gave me not only the geography and geothermal features, but the flora and fauna as well. I could check what I already had in the story against the types of animals and plants actually found in Yellowstone and adjust/add as necessary.
ITB: The city of Heart is filled with unsolved mysteries like the great tower, the fact that it existed almost fully formed before the residents “found” it, and the way the city feels almost alive to Ana’s touch in a disturbing way. Can you talk about these elements and how you decided what to reveal in this first book of the series?
JM: One of the fun things about writing from a new person's point of view is that she can ask questions. She can be curious, try to figure things out, and spot when something doesn't appear to work right. And the reader can experience a new world right along with her. But I also have to make sure I reveal things only when Ana can reasonably learn about them. There are lots of mysteries older than even the population of Heart -- things they don't know (or can't remember) about the city -- so no one can just tell her the answers. She has to be able to find them on her own, which means she can only find the answers by being aware of what questions to ask, or knowing where to look. It wasn't so much deciding what to reveal as figuring out what Ana could know without making wild logic leaps. Heh. By the end of INCARNATE, Ana is much more aware of her world. She (and the reader) has questions. Books 2 and 3 will explore those in a lot more detail.
ITB: The culture that has developed among a people who know they will be reborn is fascinating! Age difference means less, projects can span lifetimes, and the gratitude for eternal life is celebrated with ceremony. Can you tell us what it was like imagining up this culture? In particular the way eras are named, for example “The Year of Songs”.
JM: When I decided to write this story, one of the very first things I did was to consider what the society might be like. I wrote pages of random notes about the society and how it might evolve, what kind of governmental systems they'd form, laws (capital punishment is pointless), even relationships between individuals. I had to decide whether or not they could be reborn into the opposite gender, and how that would affect their views and opinions on gender and age issues we look at in our world. I considered several different possibilities for the world and took things as far as I could in order to explore both the benefits and consequences of being perpetually reincarnated. When it came to things like their calendar, I admit, I've always loved the Chinese calendar and been sort of jealous of the way "Year of the . . ." sounds. But instead of the year name being symbolic for people born then, in Range, the people named the years after something they did, or something that happened to them. Sort of like saying "The year there was that fire and everything burned down . . ." but much shorter!
ITB: Ana was such a gripping blend of someone hurt, shy and untrusting, yet fierce, determined and incredibly brave. There was definitely a sense that with her new soul she was more awake to her life determined to experience all she could if her time was short. What was it like to write her and learn who she was as the story progressed? Did she surprise you at any point?
JM: Ana definitely surprised me. I knew from the start that she had been brought up in an abusive household, so that would determine how she responded to people and read their intentions. But I also knew she needed to be brave and smart in order for the reader to be able to root for her. I didn't expect quite the level of smarts she was showing off, though (way to make the author feel dumb, Ana), or that she was as passionate and connected to music as she turned out to be. I knew it would be there, but not to the level it ended up. Writing her as she learned and grew was definitely emotional. I had to learn more about abuse and its effects than I ever wanted to know, but watching her overcome her past and learn to embrace the good things in her life -- that was very rewarding.
ITB: Sam’s character was so lovely and one of the reasons I hugged this book while reading it late, late into the night. I don’t want to say too much about him as the experience of reading the role he plays in the story is worth discovering without any hints, however, the contrast of a world-weary character, reincarnated for so long that nothing really seems new anymore, played against Ana very well. Can you tell us how much you envisioned this beforehand, or did it develop naturally from the story as you wrote?
JM: Sam is, as you said, a bit world-weary and tired of the same-old. He enjoys watching Ana experience life for the first time, like it is for us sharing a favorite restaurant or movie with a friend who hasn't been there/seen it before. Some of this was planned -- because there had to be something in her he found initially attractive -- but a lot of it blossomed on its own as I wrote. Before I started writing the story, I wrote several scenes of dialogue between Ana and Sam, exploring how their views differed from each other's. (Some of these made it into the book, and others were heavily revised or cut. The scene in chapter three where they discuss their im/mortality made it through all the revisions.) I wanted to get a good feel of their differences and what they could learn from each other, even if I ended up cutting the scene.
Bonus Butterfly Question!
ITB: The butterfly as a metaphor in this story is quite powerful, with all it symbolizes both about becoming who you truly are and prizing the time you have. Can you tell us how you came to choose this for your tale?
JM: Sam chose this metaphor. It came up during one of those early scenes that changed drastically; one of the few things that stayed was the butterfly comparison. It fit the rest of the story so beautifully I kept it going. But where that initial butterfly thought came from? Only the Sam region of my brain knows. :)
Thanks to Jodi Meadows for this interview! If you're interested in more fabulous books, check out our Parties and Prom Nights boutique.