Though she’s known for writing such young adult fantasy novels as The Memory Tree and City Of Islands, writer Kali Wallace is exploring new territories with her adult sci-fi horror novel Salvation Day (hardcover, Kindle). In the following email interview, she discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as how it actually started out as a YA novel.
Photo Credit: Jessica Hilt
I always like to begin with an overview of the plot. So, in a very basic sense, what is Salvation Day about?
Salvation Day is about what happens when the members of a desperate cult decide to kidnap some students and seize an abandoned spaceship as their new home, only to find out that they don’t know the full truth about why it was abandoned in the first place. Things for both the cultists and their hostages begin to go very wrong as soon as they set foot aboard the ship because none of them have any idea what’s been waiting for them in that dark, dead, terrifying place.
Where did you get the idea for Salvation Day and how did the story evolve as you wrote it?
I’ve long been in love with the idea of writing something set aboard a creepy abandoned spaceship because I love gloomy, moody, dangerous sci-fi settings of all types. I’ve also long been obsessed with cults and why they do the outrageous things they sometimes do. And I am always looking for ways to tell stories about how the damage of the past continues to inflict trauma and pain upon people living in the present. So all of those things stewed around in my mind for some time, and I wrote some different beginnings (there were two ships at one stage; it was confusing) before finally settling on this one — which is, it turns out, very streamlined and fast-paced, but still, I think, manages to capture all of those elements I love.
Salvation Day sounds like a sci-fi horror story. Is that how you’d describe it?
That is! Sci-fi horror is one of my favorite genres, and it is what I set out to write. I love the atmosphere and trauma of horror amidst the trappings of sci-fi. My publisher likes to call it a thriller as well, which I am happy about; I think it’s exciting and will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
Now, Salvation Day is not your first novel, but it is the first that’s not for kids or young adults. Did you set out to write something for adults or did you start writing this story and then realize it was not an appropriate story for young’uns?
I originally conceived it as teen novel, mostly because that was what I was primarily writing when I started it, and I was with a publisher that only does children’s and YA books. The YA version of the story would have looked quite different! Mostly because the characters were younger, which leads to differences in perspective and plotting.
I reworked it into an adult novel well before I finished it and shaped it into its final form. It wasn’t that I thought it was inappropriate; I just felt it was a better fit for what’s being written in the adult SFF side of publishing these days. The main characters are still quite young — early to mid-twenties — because I wanted to retain the elements of the story that are about young people angry at the world they’re growing into.
Speaking of your previous books, are there any writers or specific stories that had a big influence on Salvation Day but not on anything else you’ve published?
Oh, definitely. This is the first science fiction novel I’ve written, but I’ve been reading sci-fi for my entire life. My father read Frank Herbert’s Dune and Gene Wolfe’s The Shadows Of The Torturer to me and my sisters as bedtime stories, so I come by my lifelong sci-fi love honestly. Some of the books I’ve read as an adult have definitely influenced what I’m writing now: James S.A. Corey’s Expanse novels, Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space novels, Martha Wells’ Murderbot series… Probably many more than I’m forgetting. I love a good space adventure, and I especially love the ones with a bit of grit.
How about non-literary influences, such as movies, TV shows, or video games; did any of them have an influence on Salvation Day? Because the plot immediately made me think of the Dead Space games.
Movies and TV, mostly. I’m not a gamer and I’m not familiar with comics or graphic novels, so I can’t claim any direct inspiration from those sources. I would say that Alien and Aliens were my biggest influences — they are classics of sci-fi horror and do it so very well.
But on a different level, I have to admit I am also massively inspired by Star Trek in all of its forms. I’m a lifelong fan — I used to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with my mom every week when it was airing — and the Star Trek vision of a not-quite-utopian-but-still-better world centuries from now is one that I still feel, bone-deep, when I want to think about the future. I wasn’t aiming for a Star Trek-style Earth in this novel, more of the still-troubled precursor to one, where people are still mired in prejudices and inequalities, but it’s always there, in the back of my mind, when I’m writing future sci-fi.
Now, on your website it says that Salvation Day is the first of two adult science fiction novels you’re writing for Ace/Berkley. Does that mean that Salvation Day is the first book of a duology?
No, right now Salvation Day is a stand-alone. I’m not ruling out a sequel entirely — we’ll have to see. I think it works as a satisfying complete story on its own, and it certainly doesn’t end with any sort of cliffhanger or lack of resolution. But the world is big enough that there is room for more if I find the right story and want to continue.
My second book from Ace/Berkley is going to be another, unrelated sci-fi thriller. It’s a similar kind of book, a fast-paced bad-things-happen-in-space yarn with scary elements, but takes place in a different future, with different characters. (I haven’t decided on a title yet, which is why I’m not naming it.)
Earlier I asked if Salvation Day was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting it into a movie, show, or game?
I can tell you a little bit! Salvation Day has been optioned by a production company for a feature film. I can’t tell you more about it yet, but hopefully there will be an official announcement in the near future.
If that happens, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I don’t really know who I want to be cast in the main roles because I’m not super familiar with too many actors. It will never be up to me anyway — the author doesn’t get a whole lot of say in that process.
I will say that I purposefully wrote a diverse group of characters, because humanity is diverse and I very much hope it remains so in the future, so I want that to be retained and reflected in the casting.
And what if it was a game? Any thoughts of what kind of game it could be or who could make it?
I am not remotely familiar with game makers, and my knowledge is limited to me watching my roommate play Breath Of The Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn. But can I just say that I would freakin’ love for some horror or sci-fi game designers to take on this story! Call my agents, game folks. You would get to design so many horrifying corpses and nasty spaceship puzzles.
Finally, if someone enjoys Salvation Day what similarly scary science fiction novel would you suggest they read next?
Blindsight by Peter Watts. Terrifying and baffling encounters in space, great unknowns at the edge of the solar system leading to creeping cosmic horror, oh, and vampires, but don’t let that deter you.