Nicole Kornher-Stace is joining us today to talk about her novel, Jillian Vs. Parasite Planet. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Can an anxious eleven-year-old find her chill and save her family from creepy aliens? Only if she’s the most awesome, super-brave astronaut since Spaceman Spiff! So take a deep breath, grab your sidekick, and blast off with Jillian to Parasite Planet.
Eleven-year-old Jillian hates surprises. Even fun ones make her feel all panicky inside. But, she’s always dreamed of joining her space-explorer parents on a mission. It’s Take Your Kid to Work Day, and Jillian finally has her chance to visit an alien world!
The journey to Planet 80 UMa c is supposed to be just a fun camping trip. But then the local wildlife starts acting really dangerous. Only the onboard computer SABRINA sorta knows what’s happening—at least when it’s not goofing off or telling bad jokes.
Looks like it’s Jillian versus Parasite Planet—and Jillian is determined to win!
What’s Nicole’s favorite bit?
So I have a bad habit of approaching each new book idea with this mindset like I’ll never get a chance to write another one. I’ve always been like that. I don’t know why. Because of this, my books end up packed full of things from my (ongoing, endless, constantly-being-added-to) I want to write about this someday list. It’s full of random concepts I find fascinating, characters who don’t have a storyhome yet, random scenes or bits of dialogue floating around in the soup waiting for me to fish them out and put them somewhere. And so on.
It makes for really fun-to-write books because you have to set yourself the challenge of: okay, how do I make all this make sense together? And hopefully it makes for exciting and interesting reads. But it makes it really hard to pick one favorite thing!
So for Jillian vs. Parasite Planet I’m going to have to cheat a tiny bit and say: my favorite bit was the research. Which was just a blast to do.
One of the things on my I want to write about this someday list was: an artificially intelligent shapeshifting nanobot cloud. This became the Semi-Autonomous Bio-Reconnoitering Intelligent Nanobot Array (SABRINA), which in turn developed a whole personality (literal-minded but sarcastic) and a penchant for watching cartoons and amusing itself by turning into random objects for fun. The idea to write an AI character came from following Janelle Shane’s blog AI Weirdness and her book You Look Like a Thing and I Love You.
One of the first things I knew I wanted to include in my first middle-grade book was a survival story set in space. (Several people so far have called it The Martian for kids. They’re not wrong! But if it was influenced by any other novel, it’s Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, which was my son’s favorite book at the time I wrote Jillian. Just…mine’s in space. And has a girl protagonist, because we need a lot more of those in adventure stories and hard SF stories for kids.) And I’d always wanted to invent a fictional mind-control parasite and stick it in a book. It was a pretty easy leap from there to the planet’s infested with mind-control parasites.
So I got to invent my parasite! I wanted to go all in on it: its life cycle, how it transfers between hosts (and why), how it manipulates these hosts to do its bidding, and what its bidding actually is, and why. To do that I got to do a deep dive into researching some mind-control parasites we have right here on Earth. This article is a great place to start. If that intrigues you and you’re also ready for a deep dive into the weird world of mind-control parasites, check out Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer, This Is Your Brain on Parasites by Kathleen McAuliffe, Plight of the Living Dead by Matt Simon, and the National Geographic all-ages book Animal Zombies! by Chana Stiefel.
It probably goes without saying that I highly recommend all the reading material listed above! As much as I loved putting together the actual story of eleven-year-old Jillian pitting her wits (and anxiety disorder) against a whole planet, doing my homework for this one was an absolute delight.
Nicole Kornher-Stace is the author of the Norton Award finalist, Archivist Wasp, and its sequel, Latchkey, which are about a postapocalyptic ghosthunter, the ghost of a near-future supersoldier, and their adventures in the underworld. She has had two more books in 2021: the sci-fi thriller, Firebreak, and of course, Jillian Vs. Parasite Planet. You can find Nicole on Twitter @wirewalking, where she is probably semicoherently yelling about board games, video games, hiking, aromantic representation, good books she’s read recently, or her cat. She lives in New Paltz, New York with her family.