An interview with K.J. McPike, author of Souls Untethered (Previously known as XODUS).
The first time it happened, Lali Yavari told herself it was just a dream. But when she starts flashing between realities during the day and seeing people disappear before her very eyes, she can’t deny that something is happening to her—something she’s sure is linked to her mother’s disappearance.
Then the unsettling Kai Awana shows up at school, and Lali discovers she has inherited her mother’s ability to astral project—with a surprising twist. Not only that, but Kai needs her help to get to a world she never knew existed. In exchange, Kai promises to help Lali find her mom using his own unique ability.
Now Lali must learn to control her budding power if she ever hopes to see her mother again. She’s not sure she can trust Kai, but with her mother’s life hanging in the balance, will she have a choice?
After reading K.J. McPike’s XODUS and loving every page – I just had to ask the author for an interview to share with you all and she was lovely enough to take some time to answer my questions! Here is what she had to say…
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
As far back as I can remember, I have always loved to write and tell stories. I started with poetry and short stories at first—the thought of writing a novel was pretty overwhelming for me. When the inspiration for XODUS hit, I was so eager to get the story out that I didn’t care about the length anymore; I just wanted to do the story justice.
Do you have a favourite place to sit and write?
At the risk of being a big cliche, but I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. They usually have the perfect amount of background noise and creative energy. I have a few coffee shops on rotation, so if I feel blocked at one, I’ll pick up and move to another. I also love writing on trains.
What authors inspire you?
J.K. Rowling is amazing to me. I would love to have just a fraction of her brilliance in plotting and world building. Planning is a bit of a struggle for me, so the fact that she mapped out seven books and planted seeds that became major plot points two or three books later is incredible. And I think anyone who has ever read the Harry Potter books would agree that the magical culture feels so real that you start to forget it’s a story.
I also recently discovered Tahereh Mafi, whose writing is so poetic and beautiful that I was in awe the whole time I was reading Shatter Me. I’m usually happy if I can get one really great metaphor or simile in a chapter, and it seems like she has them in every paragraph!
Do you read much? Do you have a favourite book or series?
I love to read, though I don’t know that I could choose a single favorite book or series. You may have guessed from a previous answer that the Harry Potter series will always have a special place in my heart. Those books probably made me the most anti-social I’ve ever been because I spent every free moment reading them. I also loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
What made you decide to write Young Adult Fiction?
It wasn’t so much a decision as what came out of me. The main character in XODUS came to me as a sixteen-year-old, and most of my writing comes out sounding like the perspective of a teenager. I’m not sure what that says about me…apparently, I don’t want to grow up.
How did you come up with the idea for XODUS?
My first inkling of what the story would be actually came to me when I was trying to plot out another book. As I was thinking, I was rubbing the back of my neck, where I have a tattoo of a symbol that combines the first initials of my four siblings with my own first initial. It hit me that it would be really fun to write a book about five siblings and a symbol they shared that had some kind of mystical power. The story has transformed nearly beyond recognition since then, but that is how it started.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?
With XODUS, I started with an idea and ran with it. I didn’t outline much at all, which may be why it took me nearly three years to finish the book. I am trying to get better about outlining so I don’t write myself into corners so often.
Tell us about the book cover and how it came about.
I knew the concept I wanted for the cover from pretty early on because the symbol is where the story stemmed from. I used 99designs to run a cover design contest, so I described what I had envisioned, and then I got to choose the design I liked the best out of all the entries.
For readers who haven’t read XODUS, can you give us an insight into your main character?
My main character Lali is a teenager struggling to balance school and helping her father take care of her younger siblings after her mother’s disappearance. Shortly after her sixteenth birthday, she finds out that she has inherited the ability to astral project. Throughout XODUS, Lali is pushed and pulled in different directions, all the while trying to figure out the truth about her mother and what she is willing to do for the sake of her family.
I have 6 siblings so I love that Lali comes from a large family. Do you have a lot of siblings and are any of your characters based on them?
I grew up the second of five children, so the dynamic between Lali and her siblings and the way they banter is largely based on how my siblings and I interacted when we were growing up. None of my characters are fully based on any of my own siblings, but there are pieces of their personalities woven into the story.
In XODUS, Lali says that the small town of Browshire celebrates an official Drive Your Tractor to School Day. Have you ever lived in a town that celebrates Drive Your Tractor to School Day?
I did! Drive Your Tractor To School Day was part of my high school’s spirit week!
If you could have a supernatural ability, what would you like it to be?
I would love to be able to teleport. My family members are so spread out now that I’d love to be able to visit them whenever I wanted.
What can readers expect from the book 2 of The Astralis Series?
Book 2 of The Astralis Series (which will be titled XODUS Genesis) will be told from alternating perspectives of Lali and Lali’s mother when she was a teenager. Readers will learn a lot more about Alea and the history of XODUS, as well as find out what happens with Lali and her family after all the secrets are revealed.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I want to spend the rest of my life writing books.
What is your favourite thing about writing?
I love that writing can take me anywhere—when I sit down to write, there’s no telling where I’ll be when I stand up again.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
Leaving things alone! It is really hard for me to accept that a piece of writing is done; I always want to make changes.
How do you deal with writers block?
So far, the best remedy I’ve found for writer’s block is to close my laptop and use good old-fashioned pen and paper. I usually just start writing words on the page, even if those words have nothing to do with my project. I’ve been known to begin with things like “I have no idea what to write” and go from there (shout out to my tenth-grade English teacher, Ms. Stanley, for teaching me that trick). Once the pen gets moving, there’s no stopping it. Best case scenario: I get back on track with my project. Worst case: I get my frustrations out. I figure it’s win-win.
What do you do when you aren’t writing?
I love to draw, and I love to sing (though not in front of people). I’m also a board game fiend, and I LOVE video games—perhaps too much.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Make time to read and write every day. Both are equally important. Also, try not to go back and edit until you get to the end of your project. I spent so much time editing and perfecting scenes as I wrote them, only to find I had to cut them once XODUS was completed. Cutting scenes always seems to be heartbreaking, but it eases the pain if you didn’t spend countless hours working on one before you give it the axe.
How can readers discover more about you and your work?
Right now, the best place to look is on my website, www.kjmcpike.com.