We loved chatting about In The Quick with Kate Hope Day. The New York Times best-selling author of Sadie, Courtney Summers, called it “enthralling” and “a powerful testament to human strength and frailty.” Find out what Kate had to say about space travel and classic literature.
Q: In your new release In The Quick, readers get the opportunity to follow main character June as she comes of age surrounded by space engineering and travel. What was your inspiration as you created this character?
The book started with two seemingly disparate things, the idea of a novel based loosely on the plot of Jane Eyre, and the idea to set it in space. From the beginning the heart of the project was June, her intelligence and her persistence, but also the way she always seems to make things more difficult for herself. In that way she’s similar to many of my favorite characters in literature, film, and television, the ones who are still present in my mind years after I first encountered them, who I go back to again and again. They are the characters who get in their own way, who create hardships for themselves simply by being who they are. They can’t help it, and you love them and you shake your head at them at the same time. For me Jane Eyre is quintessential example, but there are so many great ones: Becky Sharp, Lisbeth Salander, Arthur Less, Fleabag.
At the time I started writing In the Quick my kids were obsessed with the International Space Station, so we were spending a lot of time watching videos of astronauts in their daily life on the ISS, eating, bathing, doing science experiments, and performing space walks. I was drawn to setting the book in the physically demanding environment of space because I love to write active scenes, and because I wanted to explore the tension between the human body and the punishing physical conditions of space. I also liked the mind/body problem of the setting—the idea of characters who are driven by abstract scientific questions having to grapple with the intense physical challenges of zero gravity.
Q: This book is filled with brilliantly detailed scenes of astronaut training and space travel. In the pages of In The Quick we learn about what it’s like to train underwater, to breathe the salty air on the newly discovered Pink Planet, and to go through the physical challenges of life in outer space. What was it like to write in such a detailed manner about these foreign concepts, and what was your research process like?
When I started writing I really wanted to get at some of these nitty gritty details of life in space in a way that would make the novel feel more viscerally real, more embodied, and at times more uncomfortable for the reader. Reading memoirs and watching documentaries about life in space was helpful, but I didn’t want to just get the facts right in my book. More importantly I wanted to convey what it really feels like to live in space.
That’s how I ended up going to Space Camp (yes adults can go!). While I was there I gathered a lot of little details I needed for my book: what it was like to touch the controls of a real shuttle, what the toilet on the ISS looks like up close, what it feels like to move around in a bulky space suit. One of the things I got to do there was a simulated space walk in a suit, which involved being suspended from the ceiling by a metal cord thirty feet above a decommissioned NASA shuttle. Despite my huge gloves and awkwardly tethered tools I was able to successfully “repair” a broken control panel. A lot of details from that experience made it into the novel: what my breath sounded like inside my helmet, the vertigo of trying to create force with a tool while hanging suspended and “weightless,” and the almost euphoric feeling when I managed to complete the task.
Q: Both the working and romantic relationships between June and James are fraught with tension, and serve as an ode to Jane Eyre. How did the idea to mix classic literature with science fiction come to you?
The book began with June, and she was very distinct in my mind from the beginning. She shared some of Jane Eyre’s central qualities, a strong will and a persistent spirit, but also like Jane Eyre, she had a way of getting herself into scrapes among people who didn’t understand or value her. I started to think about the ways intelligence can set a person apart, especially if their mind works differently than others.
Just as I was forming the idea of In the Quick, my kids were at a stage where they were really interested in building and inventing things. They were especially fascinated with robots and we spent hours reading about the different rovers collecting samples on Mars. From there I think the two things linked up in my mind—the idea of a Jane Eyre-like main character who has a talent for invention and who wants to become an engineer in space.
Like Jane Eyre, June wants to find where she belongs, where she will be understood, and valued and loved just as she is. Jane Eyre finds that with Rochester; as I began writing I started to think about what a Rochester-like character would look like for June. I liked the idea of an intellectual meeting of minds becoming an emotional meeting of minds, and it seemed right that June and James fall in love as they work on the fuel cell together.
Q: Finally, a question that I tried to research while reading and couldn’t quite figure out: is the Pink Planet real? How much of what you wrote about this magnificent place is based on current knowledge about outer space?
It was important to me that In the Quick felt grounded in reality, in the physical details of human experience, but at the same time the boundaries of our own world were a little too narrow for the story I wanted to tell. So while I hope the concrete experience of the characters feels very real, and not so different from the reader’s own experience, the world the characters inhabit has some key differences. I imagined a world where the US space program continued developing at the pace that was set during the cold war, and that some of the milestones NASA is still working toward (a second mission to the moon, a mission to Mars) had been accomplished long before June was born.
The Pink Planet is entirely a creation of my imagination but I drew a lot of inspiration from the real details of proposed NASA missions to Mars. I’m definitely someone who can get sucked into research, and get so involved reading about the moon or Mars that I lose track of my main characters and what they want and need. The fictional idea of the Pink Planet allowed me to let go of the specific facts of a real life planet or moon, and focus on what this place means to June. At first she associates it with her uncle, their unique relationship, and the longing she feels for him. Later when she arrives there herself, the Pink Planet represents what she’s been looking for her whole life—a place where she belongs, where her unique mind and persistent spirit is understood and valued.