The Most True Book She's Ever Written: Beth Revis on her New Genre-Switching Novel
Beth Revis's space adventures are beloved by YA fans everywhere. But her new release, A World Without You, inhabits a different subgenre in the Young Adult world: it's a contemporary. Today, Beth's sharing the very personal reason why A World Without You means so much to her.
I wrote ten books before I landed an agent. Ten. Every single one of them was fantasy. And every single one of them remains unsold and unpublished.
The book that eventually snagged me both my agent and my first book deal was Across the Universe. A science fiction, one I didn’t intend to write. I’d spent a decade working on fantasies, but suddenly I was known as a sci-fi writer. And while I love my genre and adore blowing things up in space and having my characters kiss in front of the backdrop of the universe, I also knew I wasn’t just a sci-fi writer.
But sci fi became the easy thing for me. I felt comfortable on space ships and alien worlds, and when I first got the idea for A World Without You, I thought I was writing another science-fiction novel. After all, it’s about a boy who can travel through time, and he accidentally gets his girlfriend stuck in the Salem Witch Trials. Straight out of Doctor Who, right?
Because as I was writing, the story shifted. It wasn’t about a boy who could time travel ... it was about a boy who thought he could time travel. And the school for super heroes he thinks he’s attending is actually a school for mentally disturbed youth.
And my sci-fi thriller was a contemporary novel.
I admit it: I panicked. I felt grossly underqualified to write this story because I had not experienced the types of delusions that my main character had, I had not been diagnosed with a mental illness and I wasn’t sure I knew how to write this kind of story. But while I, personally, hadn’t experienced mental illness, I grew up with someone who had: My brother, who died when I was in college, in part to due to the mental health problems I had watched him struggle with all his life.
The story shifted again. A World Without You was a contemporary, and now it was very, very personal. I added chapters from the sister’s point of view, and I found myself looking at the world through her eyes. As I wrote, I tapped into the long-buried memories of feeling lost and abandoned, ignored in a family that was forced to focus on the child who needed help.
A World Without You became the most true thing I’ve ever written. It’s not a memoir or nonfiction—it is very firmly a novel—but the heart of it is true. And once I tapped into that heart of the story, all my fears about switching genres evaporated. Across the Universe, my first novel, is a murder-mystery set in space. But the heart of that book spoke of my own fears of living alone and not being a good enough writer after a decade of rejection. The current book I’m working on is a fantasy, but it’s about falling in love after you experience grief. It doesn’t matter that these three books are different genres—they have a heart that’s true.
And they have a heart that’s similar—because it’s my heart. Even though these novels are all different genres with different main themes, it all boils down the same things I always end up writing about: the choices we make are important, the people we love are worth fighting for, and being true to yourself is always worth it.
As writers, we have a lot of things to worry about. Your genre doesn’t need to be one of them. The genre of your novel is like the outfit a person wears. It can be a cocktail dress or overalls, a ball gown or a military uniform, but the person inside is still the same. The heart is the same.
And that’s what matters.