Interview: Alexandra Monir Talks The Life Below

When it comes to writing stellar sci-fi, THE FINAL SIX by Alexandra Monir comes to mind. Set in a near-future where climate change is in full force, 24 teens from around the world are drafted to train in order to become the final 6 human beings on earth who will go to space and start anew.

Told in alternating points of view between an Italian championship swimmer who has lost it all and an Iranian-American science genius who must leave everything that she loves behind, THE FINAL SIX is not one to miss.

You can read it in one sitting, it so so captivating. So get to it because the sequel, THE LIFE BELOW is out now and I had the pleasure of chatting with Alexandra all about it! Let’s dive right in!

I’m curious to know what the most challenging part about expanding this world was?

I was a little intimidated by how much more imagination and world-building this sequel required! The first book was set on Earth, and even though it was a very different, ravaged version of our planet, I was still writing about places we all know, and the key setting of the book, International Space Training Camp, was based on NASA’s Astronaut Training program in Houston. So THE LIFE BELOW was a bit like flying with no road map as I was imagining the characters in their new spaceship environment, and of course on Europa! I think I’m most proud of this book because of all the creativity that went into it.

Between Leo and Naomi, who surprised you the most in the sequel?
I would probably have to say Leo! In the first book, Naomi was the one taking the lead when it came to investigating the mystery behind their mission, taking risks, etc, and the sequel was where Leo stepped it up on multiple fronts in a major way!

So as not to spoil too much in THE LIFE BELOW, what were the moments in THE FINAL SIX that your editor really made you think about the story or characters in a different way that you hadn’t previously and how did that reflect on the page?
I remember when it came to revising the all-important scene with the (slight spoiler alert!) extraterrestrials, my editor shared this Alfred Hitchcock quote with me: “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” She challenged me to write the aliens in a much more mysterious, less in-your-face way, and I think that advise really helped me heighten the suspense and make the extraterrestrials feel that much more believable, too.

When it comes to revisions, how would you say the sequel has changed from the initial outline or draft to what readers have in their hands?
The final book on store shelves is dramatically different from the first draft, as is usually the case with my books! The fates of two characters in particular changed on a life-or-death scale! But what’s interesting is that certain big scenes read almost the same as they did in my first draft, so there were at least some moments in the book that I got right from the get-go.

Your writing is so well paced, so well developed, and your characters are so well crafted. What would you say is the skill (mentioned here or otherwise) that you are most proud of with THE LIFE BELOW?
Oh thank you so much! I would say I’m most proud of the action scenes I wrote in THE LIFE BELOW. When I started my writing career, I think I initially got a bit pigeonholed as a romance author, and while I love romance and almost always include a love story in my books, I always felt I could do so much more than one genre. This was the first book where I really got to stretch my action and horror muscles as a writer, and I’m really proud of how those scenes turned out!

Speaking of horror…what would you say was your biggest challenge getting the tone right for the sequel? Giving the readers what they loved from THE FINAL SIX but also delivering on the expectations set up there?
I thought about that a lot, making sure that even though we were entering new territory with THE LIFE BELOW, that I still maintained elements that fans loved from the first book. Something I found helpful in bridging these two books was by taking supporting characters from Book 1, who you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see in the sequel, and including them in the story in a way that drove the plot forward and helped maintain our ties to the first book. And then, in terms of delivering on expectations, I’d heard an interview with Stephanie Garber (I believe it was the podcast, 88 Cups of Tea) where she said she made a list of promises she’d made to her readers in the first book, basically plot points they were waiting to see pay off, and making sure each one of those is answered by the end of her series. I definitely took that advice in my drafting of this book!

I’m curious to know what documentaries  you watched and what nonfiction books or memoirs you read as part of your research.
I did tons of hands-on research. For Book 1, I actually went to space camp for adults at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama, and then I was so fortunate to be able to meet with NASA luminary Dr. Firouz Naderi, who was kind enough to read a draft of THE FINAL SIX and gave me feedback. I also got to interview actual NASA Europa Mission scientist Dr. Robert Pappalardo, who even gave me a tour of NASA-JPL- another bucket-list item!

For Book 2, I did a MasterClass online with astronaut Chris Hadfield, which was so helpful in getting inside the astronaut psyche and learning more about what it feels like to go up into space, all the different things you have to be prepared for, etc. The research was such a big part of this series- I feel like I got a mini-education!

That all sounds amazing. You also narrated both THE FINAL SIX and THE LIFE BELOW (with James Fouhey)! I’m curious to know how if at all that impacted your writing for THE LIFE BELOW? After writing and narrating THE FINAL SIX, did bringing the story to life in this medium impact the way that you saw and heard your story going into the sequel?
I had so much fun narrating the Naomi chapters in the audiobook! It was definitely a bucket-list experience. It didn’t affect how I wrote the sequel, but I did feel a huge sense of relief when I was narrating the sequel in the studio this past January, because it was the first time I’d read the book aloud after so many months writing and revising it- and I was so glad to feel while reading and listening that the book turned out the way I’d hoped! That was definitely an amazing feeling.

That’s so awesome to hear. Now, for something else fun… if you could pick 6 public figures to go to Europa or 1 public figure to crash Europa, who would it be?
Haha, I love that question! I think probably the most interesting person to watch land on Europa would be Elon Musk, because it feels like his whole life has been leading up to a mega, world-altering mission like that, and he has the most tools of any public figure to be able to get there and hopefully survive! So that would be one reality show or documentary I would be straight-up glued to!

Since you mentioned what we’re glued to…Hollywood the Write Way focuses on TV and film too! So I want to know, what are you watching and loving right now?
We’re a bit late to the party on this, but my husband and I just started watching Season 2 of Big Little Lies, and we are completely hooked!

Finally, what’s next?
I have two big IP novels coming out next- one for DC and one for Disney! I will be able to share more about both very soon.

Photo: Kerem Hanci

About the AuthorAlexandra Monir is the Iranian-American author of the YA sci-fi novels The Final Six and The Life Below, the best-selling time-travel romance Timeless, and three other young adult novels. She is also a professional recording artist and composer and she is the granddaughter of the late Monir Vakili, the foremost Iranian opera singer. Alexandra lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and son, where she is at work on her next novel. The Final Six was acquired by HarperCollins and Sony Pictures during the same week, in two major pre-emptive deals.

THE FINAL SIX and THE LIFE BELOW are available now. For more from Alexandra Monir, visit here official website