LAUREN MILLER

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I promised an excerpt from PARALLEL if views off the book trailer hit 1,000.  That happened (yay!) so here’s your excerpt.  It’s from the beginning of Chapter Two of the book, the first “THERE” chapter (which means it takes place in a parallel world).

THERE

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2008 (the day before my seventeenth birthday)

“Abby? Abby, honey, wake up.”

My eyes fly open. My mom, still in her pajamas, is sitting on the edge of my bed, her face the picture of calm. I appreciate  her effort, but I know instantly that something is wrong. There is much too much sunlight in my room.

“What time is it?”

“Five till eight.”

I blink. For a moment I am still, calculating the exact number of minutes between now and the time the late bell rings. Thirteen.

“Abby?” My mom is clearly confused by my stillness. We both know there’s no way I’m making it to school on time, which means I’ll miss the beginning of the senior parking lottery. They start at the parking spot closest to the building and work their way toward the street, drawing names from a box at lightning speed. In order to claim your space, you have to be present at the drawing when they call your name.  If you’re not, game over. You’re automatically relegated to the annex lot across the street.

I spring out of bed. “Why didn’t my alarm go off? And why is my alarm clock on the floor?” I point an accusing finger at the base of my nightstand, where my clock radio is lying facedown on the carpet. My mom bends to pick it up.

“There was an earthquake last night,” she replies, setting the clock back on my nightstand. It’s blinking 12:00. “At least, they think it was an earthquake.”

“There was an earthquake? In Atlanta?” I stare at her. “How is that even possible?”

“Apparently, it’s not the first time it’s happened. And it wasn’t just here, either.” She presses the radio button on my clock. The familiar sound of my favorite morning news program fills the room.

“No significant damage or injuries have been reported, but people are reporting power outages in various parts of the city. This is the third earthquake to hit the Atlanta area since 1878. Seismologists are baffled by the quake, which, despite its relatively small size—only five point nine on the Richter scale—appears to have triggered seismic activity all over the globe.”

I wonder briefly if I’m still asleep. An earthquake felt all over the world?

Why sci-fi

Y’all have heard me talk about the whole sci-chic thing — the fact that PARALLEL doesn’t really fit into any of the existing molds for YA fiction.  I like what Jen of Librarian Tells All said in her recent review of PARALLEL: she called it ”good sci-fi dressed up to look like Sweet Valley High.”  (She also said: 

Just When This Book Has You Thinking It’s Some Dumb Sweet Valley Crap, It Goes All Awesomely Quantum Mechanics On You.

Thank you, Jen, for my favorite review line ever.)

Okay, so why did I write a book like this?  I got that question quite a few times when I was speaking to students on the East Coast last week.  Well, there are a couple reasons.  First, PARALLEL is the kind of story I’d want to read.  It forces you to use your brain to make sense of the narrative, and I like books like that.  My favorite stories are ones where the author respects me enough as a reader not to beat me over the head with the little details he or she expects me to notice.  It’s on me to pay attention.  THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, a book I adore, is like that.  So is John Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, another one of my all-time favorites. 

Both of those books also have something else in common with PARALLEL — the main characters experience something inexplicable and supernatural, but the stories themselves feel very real and grounded and relevant.  They are in no sense fantasies, despite their sometimes fantastical elements.  J.J. Abrams’ television shows are like this, which is exactly why I’ve gobbled every single one of them up.  (Okay, not ALCATRAZ.  But no one watched that show so it doesn’t count.)

But my reasons for writing a book like PARALLEL extend beyond my own tastes.  I dressed my sci-fi up to look like Sweet Valley High because when I was a teenager, science fiction was as intimidating to me as the science classes I was so careful to avoid.  Intimidating and, in my mind (I’m embarrassed to even write this now), uncool.  I was a cheerleader.  I watched 90210 and Party of Five and listened to Dave Matthews.  I wore mascara every day.  I was not a girl who wandered into the Science Fiction section of the library.  But I wish I had been.  (And I’m pretty sure my parallel self totally was).

It wasn’t until college that I discovered sci-fi.  It was a class called “Science Fiction, Science Fact,” and I took it to satisfy my hard sciences requirement (I already had “Physics for Poets” under my belt).  We read Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, examined the science underlying their fiction, and in the end, produced a piece of our own.  My short story, about an eternal paradise that was moving around the Earth at the speed of light, thereby allowing its inhabitants to live forever earned me a respectable A minus and sparked my interest in a genre I’d previously avoided.

Why had I been such a hater before?  Was it gender bias in the classroom?  A fear of failure?  A preconception that science was boring or not for girls like me? It was a probably a little of all of these things.  The same factors that continue to steer young women away from science.  It’s these barriers that I want to knock down with my books by giving girly-girls a way to engage with science in a new way.

That said, PARALLEL is not an easy read.  It forces you to pay attention to details and dates, and there are rules that you’ll probably have to stop and think about, and maybe even ponder over.  I’m not gonna lie, there’s quite a bit of science speak.  But behind all that is a narrative about a girl on a journey of self-discovery, a girl who’s struggling to live in the present the way we are all. I think that’s true of all good sci-fi — the contexts are unique and unusual and a little mind-bendy, but the stories are universal.  

Did I succeed with PARALLEL?  Will my sci-fi dressed up as Jessica Wakefield get invited to the prom, or will she have to stay home and dork out with episodes of Dr. Who with her best friend, THE BOYFRIEND APP? (PS, if you haven’t read Katie Sise’s debut, you should!)  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, I have another sci-chicy book to write.

coincidence and connection

You can’t really tell from the jacket copy, but Parallel is a book about connection and coincidence, or, more precisely, how we often mistake connection for coincidence.   The book doesn’t go as far as to say that there are no coincidences, but it contemplates that perhaps there are fewer than we think.

It’s also a book about, at least peripherally, quantum mechanics.  The central conceit of the story is the idea of entangled parallel worlds.  Without going into the science here (you’ll have to read the book for that), the basic idea is that it’s possible for two things to interact without there being any tangible link between them.   The entanglement that happens on the cosmic level in my book mimics a phenomenon that happens on the quantum level in real life.  Quantum entanglement, or what Einstein called “the spooky action at a distance,” lies at the very heart of my story and was the kernel around which I built my narrative.

What then, to make of this:

Husband and I just got back from a 10 day trip to Argentina, during which we spent 4 days in Mendoza, the country’s main wine region.  The night we arrived in Mendoza, I finished Anna Jarzab’s new book, The Opposite of Hallelujah.   While the plot of TOoH has very little in common with Parallel, Jarzab’s themes, and, even more, the way she interweaves elements of science, faith, and art, really reminded me of my story.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  In my book, Seurat plays an important role.  In Jarzab’s story, it was M.C. Escher.  I am familiar with Escher, of course, but have never studied him and haven’t seen any of his work since high school (one of my favorite teachers had an Escher print on her wall, the one with the two hands writing).  It wasn’t lost on me that the artists we chose shared an interest in math and science (indeed, that is why we chose them - read our books and you’ll understand why!).  For those who aren’t familiar, Escher was known for his mathematically inspired, yet logically impossible, constructions, while Seurat invented the pointillist technique of painting, which relies heavily on optics and geometry. Both were pioneers known for their precision.

Okay, so that was the night Husband and I arrived.  The next day, we did a day-long wine tour.  After a few tastes of Malbec, I found myself thinking about Jarzab’s book again.  Science, faith and art.  Just like Parallel.  Different, but the same.  

Husband and I arrived at La Azul, a tiny tiny winery where their production is so small they hand label their bottles.  After our tasting, I stopped in the restroom.  There, in a basket on the floor, was a old, dusty book of M.C. Escher prints.  I stared at it.  M.C. Escher was Dutch.  I was in Mendoza, Argentina, at a small family run winery.  There was no art on their walls.  There were no other art books in the basket.  What was this book doing here?  It was a startling coincidence.  It felt like more than that.  It felt like a reminder of the very thing my book supposes:  that there is a great mathematician and artist moving and working in our lives.  

Over lunch, I told Husband about what I’d seen, and he asked if I’d taken a picture.  I hadn’t.  We marveled about the coincidence and toasted to it (we love this kind of stuff).

Then, we went to a third winery.  It was very much out of the way, and after 45 minutes in the car, I was regretting having chosen it.  Then, we walked into the tasting room (which also happened to be a small art gallery) and I saw this canvas:

image

It caught my eye immediately, mostly because of its strangeness.  It wasn’t until after the tasting that I got close enough to really see this:

image

This is the theory of quantum entanglement.  First discussed by Einstein, a German physicist.  Written in the pages of my book.  Painted on this canvas by a Japanese painter.  At a winery in Mendoza.  One of about 2000 wineries we could have selected to visit.  

This time, I did take a picture.  And this time, Husband and I didn’t mention the word coincidence because we knew it wasn’t one.

There are connections everywhere.  Sometimes they delight us, sometimes they teach us, sometimes they simply remind us that there’s more to life, more to this world, than we see.

Husband sometimes asks me what I do all day.  He knows I’m working on Book 2, and he knows that sometimes that means that I spend 8+ hours at my computer crafting story.  But he also knows that sometimes I don’t.  So what am I doing during those other times?  Sometimes I’m at the playground with Lil Mil.  Sometimes I’m cleaning the house or paying bills or rearranging my closet.  I am never doing laundry or watching daytime soaps or eating pints of ice cream.  Often I am checking Amazon or GoodReads or B&N.com to see if my book is listed there, knowing that it won’t be, but checking anyway.  This is what I did just a few minutes ago.
AND THERE IT WAS.
First I found it on GoodReads and was elated.
Then I found it on Amazon and shrieked in amazement and delight.
MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!!??!?
Yes, yes it is.
Now, before you click over and buy 100 copies of the hardcover edition (because, really, that’s what all of you are planning to do, right?), let me tell you that this will only be the first of my many, many, mentions of the various ways you can buy PARALLEL and tell your friends all about it.  So, if you want to wait a few months until you get fed up with me and say OKAY OKAY I’LL BUY IT NOW!, feel free.  But if you want to buy a copy now, hey, I’m not going to stop you (please buy a copy now)
Stay tuned for the cover reveal.  HarperTeen is going live with it on October 29, so you’ll see it here a few days before that.

Husband sometimes asks me what I do all day.  He knows I’m working on Book 2, and he knows that sometimes that means that I spend 8+ hours at my computer crafting story.  But he also knows that sometimes I don’t.  So what am I doing during those other times?  Sometimes I’m at the playground with Lil Mil.  Sometimes I’m cleaning the house or paying bills or rearranging my closet.  I am never doing laundry or watching daytime soaps or eating pints of ice cream.  Often I am checking Amazon or GoodReads or B&N.com to see if my book is listed there, knowing that it won’t be, but checking anyway.  This is what I did just a few minutes ago.

AND THERE IT WAS.

First I found it on GoodReads and was elated.

Then I found it on Amazon and shrieked in amazement and delight.

MY BOOK IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!!??!?

Yes, yes it is.

Now, before you click over and buy 100 copies of the hardcover edition (because, really, that’s what all of you are planning to do, right?), let me tell you that this will only be the first of my many, many, mentions of the various ways you can buy PARALLEL and tell your friends all about it.  So, if you want to wait a few months until you get fed up with me and say OKAY OKAY I’LL BUY IT NOW!, feel free.  But if you want to buy a copy now, hey, I’m not going to stop you (please buy a copy now)

Stay tuned for the cover reveal.  HarperTeen is going live with it on October 29, so you’ll see it here a few days before that.

The label is everything

Whether it’s fashion or food or fiction, how we identify the product - as “designer,” or “healthy” or “sci fi” - determines how we perceive it.  More often that not, we look to the label to tell us whether the bag/eggs/novel in our hands is right for us.

So what happens if the traditional labels don’t fit? 

Missoni for Target:  designer or discount?

Organic frozen yogurt:  sensible or splurge?

A young adult novel that explores the meaning of destiny, the nature of identity, and the defining power of choice within a narrative about entangled parallel worlds:  sci fi or realistic fiction?

That novel is Parallel, my upcoming debut, and the what is it? conundrum is more than just food for thought.  It impacts where my book will be shelved in bookstores, how it’ll be treated by reviewers, and, most important, who will read it.  In other words, the label matters.  A lot.

In my mind, Parallel has never been sci fi, and the people who’ve read it say it doesn’t feel like sci fi.  But, at the same time, its entangled parallel worlds premise keeps it from being an easy fit in the realistic lit category. 

So what is it?

"Sci-Chic," I said to my agent the first time we spoke.  And it stuck.  It’s how she pitched Parallel to HarperTeen.  It’s how I describe my story to someone who knows nothing about it, and when I say it, almost invariably, the person will smile and nod.  They get it.  The label says it all.

Sci-Chic summarizes the kind of books I want to write, but it also embodies where my interests lie outside of my writing.  I’m mildly obsessed with pop science (in particular neurobiology and psychology), but don’t have the attention span - or the time - to dive into the heady stuff on a regular basis.  Figuring there were others like me, I decided to create what I’d want to read if I were me.  Since I am me, this was easy.

Surprise surprise, it’s a blog, and surprise surprise, I called it Sci Chic.  I envision the blog as an extension of the idea behind the Sci Chic label.  An exploration of what’s happening at the intersection of science and culture and cool.  A science blog, yes, but one with lots of pop references (including at least one post dedicated to J.J. Abrams’ new show), and plenty of stuff for teen readers.  My hope is to create a forum for discussing what’s new and newsworthy in psychology, physiology, cosmology, pharmacology, gastronomy, technology, neurobiology, and any other -ology that people are talking about. 

In an effort not to duplicate content (after today - sorry to those of you on Facebook who have read this already), I won’t post my Sci Chic content on this site, which will remain dedicated to book/writterly stuff.  You can find Sci Chic at its home, http://scichic.tumblr.com, or on Twitter, where I’ll aggregate all my stuff.

If you’re into science, I hope you’ll join the conversation!

The opposite of 9-5

Before I started writing full time, it took effort to turn my brain off at night.  I had to choose to not think about work anymore, and then I had to choose not to think about the dishes I still hadn’t done or how long it’d been since I’d worked out.  And then, maybe, my mind would go quiet for a few minutes, usually while I stared blankly at whatever show I’d DVRed three weeks earlier and still hadn’t had the chance to watch.

Now, there is no choice.  My brain does not turn off.  EVER.  Not during meals, not when I’m at the playground, not when I’m on the phone with a friend.  Not even during yoga, when I’m doing ujjayi breath and wearing my serene I’m-a-legit-yogi face.  I am always, always, thinking about my story.  

This sounds like an exaggeration.  Believe me, I wish it were.  I wish I could tell you that right now, I’m thinking about this post and the words that I’m typing.  But no.  I’m half focused on this while the rest of my brain is puzzling over the ending of Book 2, whether Rory should know whether the secret tunnel is or whether she should find it.  When I try to stop thinking about this, I start thinking about the title for Book 2, whether I should go with the suggestion from my favorite intern at ICM (Kyle, that’s you) — “Guided” — or come up with something else (thoughts on “Guided” as a title?).  I go to sleep at night thinking about the intricacies of my plot, and I wake up with a general sense of anxiety that the book I’m writing will not be nearly as cool as the story in my head.

Writing is not a 9-5 job.  It is not an 8-8 job.  It is an every-waking-hour-and-sometimes-while-I’m-sleeping job.  It’s not quite 24/7, but it’s at least 16.5/6.  

My brain is tired.