YEM Author Interview: Elaine Mongeon and Glen Zipper share how their book Devastation Class came to be

Elaine Mongeon and Glen Zipper are the authors of Devastation Class. Devastation class is a young adult book that was released last year. The novel takes place in the distant future where human civilization is on the brink of extinction. YEM was able to speak with Elaine and Glen about how their collaboration began, what they would do if aliens really did invade, and plans they have for it being turned into a movie.

Young Entertainment Magazine: How did the collaboration between you two begin?

EM: Glen and I actually used to be a couple, and we started spitballing working on a project together while we were dating. Early on in our relationship, we learned that we have similar taste and similar goals for the quality and types of projects we want to create – and we also speak the same creative language, which is really important in any creative collaboration. I think being in a relationship for so long and living together for half the time we were together, we have a deeper understanding of what makes each other tick – so there’s a little bit of collaboration by osmosis happening. We’ve been inside each other’s brains and have an in-depth understanding of each other’s sensibilities having been together for 8 years.

YEM: Where did the idea of Devastation Class come from?

EM:  On our first date we bonded over our mutual love of all things genre, and specifically sci-fi. And that first date turned into an overnight binge-watch of Battlestar Gallactica (the Ron Moore reboot version). Not too long after we started dating, we started talking about collaborating on writing a television series together. The element we started with was teenagers fending for themselves aboard a starship, a sort of Lord of the Flies in the stars, and then the concept grew from there. We actually wrote three episodes of the television series and a series bible before we decided to write it as a novel instead.

GZ: The film Taps (1981) was what helped us congeal a more specific idea about teens fending for themselves. In that film a group of cadets decides to seize control of their military academy when it is slated to be bulldozed to make way for a new condominium development. We liked how their loyalty to an ideal and the extreme measures they took to protect that ideal brought them to an intersection with unexpected, potentially tragic consequences. The film starred Tom Cruise, Sean Penn, Timothy Hutton and Giancarlo Esposito long before they became household names.

YEM: Humans are at risk as aliens invade. What is it about alien takeovers that makes it so thrilling to readers?

The same sort of stakes that people enjoy in any apocalyptic setting, whether it be a zombie apocalypse, a dystopian future like the world of Mad Max, or anything else similar. In those settings all of the rules of the social contract fall away, as do just about every civilized convention of the world around us. It becomes about nothing more than the base instincts of survival. And, in that context, without the rules, biases, politics, and prejudices of civilization to insulate us, our truth is revealed – because it’s all about the simple reality of whether or not you have it in you to stay alive.

YEM: The alien race is called Kastazi. How did you create this alien race? What are they like?

Very intentionally their origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery and will be revealed judiciously across the series.

What we do learn is that twenty years before the events of Chapter 1 of our book, the Kastazi’s homeworld was destroyed, and they came to Earth claiming to be peaceful. Friends in desperate need of refuge. At first they shared their knowledge with humanity, helping cure disease and solve scientific puzzles once thought unsolvable. But in truth they believed their superiority gave them an inherent right to control humanity, an inferior race in their eyes. And, eventually, this belief justified their attempt to subjugate humanity and take control.

The Kastazi are humanoid in appearance, but their physiology is imbued with all the same predatory efficiency as a great white shark – they have narrow, sloping heads with thickly husked, oyster grey skin and silver pupils / mirrored eyes.  Their soldiers wear matte black body armor with distinct honeycomb shaped, blast-resistant scales, and ghoulish, sharply angled helmets obscuring their faces.

Their ships and weaponry are powerful and brutal – an example being their sidearms, known as Eradicators, which don’t just kill their targets, but rather cause them to melt into a sticky soup of smoldering biomass.

YEM: What is the first thing you would do if aliens invaded our world? How would you react?

GZ: I’d max out my credit cards and stop counting carbs.

EM: In true apocalyptic fashion, I think I’d grab my go-bag, hop on my motorcycle, and ride to hide out in Maine at my friends’. They have chickens, a massive garden, and two giant stocked freezers 😉

YEM: What is the relationship like between the main characters, JD and Viv?

JD and Viv are best friends, both trying to succeed under the weight and long shadows of their war hero parents. And their friendship is complicated by an undercurrent of restrained attraction and competition.

YEM:Were there any sci-fi movies that influenced you when writing the book?

Yes, Star Wars, Star Trek, The Last Starfighter as well as non-science fiction movies such as Taps and genre shows such as Battlestar Gallactica and The Leftovers. Although it had its finale a few years ago now, The Leftovers was the last show that we deeply connected on together. As the show went on, it more and more existed in a world somewhere between reality and a dream. And like a dream, its most powerful ideas and images reflected back to inform and give meaning to its reality. There’s a specific episode from Season 2, “International Assassin”, that had a very direct influence on parts of the book.

YEM: As film industry experts, do you anticipate Devastation Class being made into a movie?

We’re having those discussions now.

YEM: Who is your dream cast for Devastation Class?

There was only one character we had an archetype in mind for, and that was Dave Grohl for Sam Fuller. Fuller might be the most brilliant scientist Earth has ever known, but he’s also got the appearance and demeanor of a mercurial rockstar. For the younger characters who are our main protagonists, we never really went there believe it or not. We were careful to not be very specific as to each character’s physical appearance so readers could see themselves in the characters they identified with, and we tried to abide by the same idea ourselves. The less we boxed ourselves in with ideas on who might play what character, the easier it was to be open to layers of possibilities for each.