The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Lenore Appelhans takes it to the next Level at Edinburgh Book Fest (Interview)

Lenore Appelhans, author of the weird and wonderful Level 2 will be known to lots of you through her excellent book blog Presenting Lenore. Articulate, thoughtful and quick to help those new to the book blogging scene (as she did with Splendibird three years ago when these here mountains were more...molehill-esque), Lenore is a bit of a fixture but we're not here today to talk about her blogging (nope, not even her purse-killing Dystopian months).  Last year, Lenore emerged as an author, making publishing history on her way.  Her debut novel tells the story of Felicia.  Felicia is dead, has been for some time she thinks, and spends her days in a strange afterlife - the Level 2 of the title.  To say more would be to ruin the experience of Lenore's story for future readers suffice to say that Level 2 is a dystopian tale like no other out there and will have you pondering the nature of memory and sacrifice long after you turn the last page.

Lenore will be appearing at the Edinburgh Book Festival tomorrow, along with Sara Grant (author of the also awesome Half Lives) and to encourage those able to pop along, Lenore has answered some of our questions about Level 2.

A year (or thereabouts!) on from the publication of Level 2, how do you reflect on your transition from blogger to author to blogger and author?
It’s been a straddling of both worlds, really. It’s most evident to me in my interactions with my debut author groups when I have the chance to explain what it is that book bloggers do and why. On the whole, book bloggers have been incredibly supportive of Level 2, and I really appreciate that. I know how much time it takes to read a book, write a review and then promote it on various social media sites – and that’s not even the half of what book bloggers do, as you know! Of course, with the writing and book deadlines, I’ve not had as much time to devote to the blog as I’d like. It’s been kind of a ghost town lately.

Level 2 draws on a variety of mythologies and beliefs from Judeo-Christian faith to Greek mythology (with a particularly beautiful take on a variety of underground rivers) as well as what one might call the “cult of technology”. Did you know from the start that you were going to mix and match these ideologies and how did you go about combining them into a cohesive whole?
The original seed of the idea had to do with the value of memories and imagining that memories were a kind of currency in the afterlife. In the summer of 2010, I was in Pompeii, and thinking about social media and dystopian lit in relation to that original idea, and the story sort of tumbled out of me. Of course I spent the next six months researching angels and the afterlife visions of various cultures and religions and letting it all percolate. The Morati and their hives and memory chambers were there from the beginning and certain aspects, such as the rivers, came in during the drafting process.

The world that Felicia finds herself inhabiting is fairly complex. For those who haven’t read the book, could you surmise the situation and conflict that Felicia finds herself in the middle of?
Felicia finds herself in a sterile, closed-off hive where she relives her own memories and rents those of others to pass the time. She’s questioning if this is all the afterlife has to offer when a boy from her past shows up, and promises to lead her to her boyfriend if she joins his rebellion against the architects of Level Two. There are sort of two main conflicts – one is obviously the external conflict of going up against corrupted angels and the other is the internal conflict of not wanting to face one’s painful memories, but that you have to do it if want the strength to move on.

Level 2 itself is very distinct and your writing extraordinarily visual. When did you first “see” the design and how did you expand on it to create such a unique environment for your story? Were there sketches and drawings or did it all just appear on paper the way you saw it in your mind?
One of the inspirations for the Level Two design was Tori Amos talking about bees and their link to the eternal (the fact that, for example, bees fly in a figure eight pattern, the symbol for infinity). I also pictured the beehive huts I visited once on the Dingle peninsula in Ireland, but in a more massive, futuristic environment. My husband’s brother is an architect and we sat down together and talked out the measurements and placement of memory chambers within the hive. He created a cross section of a hive for me, and it was incredibly helpful when I was writing about the characters’ movements within the hives.

Talking of visuals, I believe you made publishing history by selling the book, the foreign rights and the film rights in one mega-deal. Well done! While we can see for ourselves how well the book is doing, can you tell us anything about the possibility of Level 2, the movie?
I’ve heard it said that only about 1% of properties that are optioned ever actually get filmed. I don’t know too much about the industry, but I imagine it has a lot to do with the right people getting passionate enough about something to move it through. That’s a roundabout way of saying I know nothing about what’s going on with the Level 2 movie!

In terms of publishing, I believe that title shenanigans have abounded since Level 2 appeared on shelves. Can you tell us what the new title of the book is and what led to the decision to change it?
The title may never change in the UK because Usborne published it in a paperback original, but in the US, where Simon and Schuster has the rights and published it in hardcover in January, it is coming out September 3rd in paperback with the title The Memory of After. S&S had been getting feedback from sales that people browsing in bookstores were overlooking Level 2 because they thought it was a sequel. The publishing team want to give it the best chance to find an audience, and decided to try a rebranding. It’s actually something that S&S has done quite a bit, and quite successfully, so fingers crossed!

Level 2 circles to a rather intriguing end, twist ridden yet entirely satisfying. However, I’m pretty sure that a certain old face is likely to appear along with one that hasn’t even appeared in Felicia’s afterlife yet… can you give us any clues as to the next instalment?
Yes! The sequel (called Chasing Before in the US, currently untitled in the UK) takes place in Level Three. I don’t want to give too much away, but whereas the character arc in Level 2 is about Felicia finding redemption, it’s sort of the opposite in the sequel in that she’d led back down a path of temptation. There are a couple of big twists in the beginning that make Felicia question everything she thought she knew to be true. And fan favourites definitely reappear – no worries!

Finally, I know you’re a prolific reader. What three books would you, so far, recommend from the 2013 releases and which three are you most highly anticipating?
Only three? You are killing me! Here’s my list of 2013 awesome reads so far. As far as standalones -- I’ve been recommending In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters to everyone for the atmosphere and the tragic love story. Oh and This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales is so raw and honest and about the power of music to heal. As far as sequels, I was gutted by the endings of both Prodigy by Marie Lu and Star Cursed by Jessica Spotswood, so I’m impatiently awaiting the final books in those trilogies.I also can’t wait to read These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner. And as soon as I get the time, I am going to dig into Marisha Pessl’s Night Film.

Many thanks to Lenore for answering our questions. And yay Tori Amos!  Just saying.  Lenore and Sara will appearing tomorrow, 26th August, at 6pm in the Baillie Gifford tent on Charlotte square - be sure to pop in if you're in the area. And pop back here later in the week for Polka-Dot Steph's take on Matt Haig and the Science of Superheroes from a brand new contributor.

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