Yesterday saw the much anticipated re-release for Ultraxenopia by M. A. Phipps! I’m really chuffed that she had the time to speak with me and answer some questions about one of my favourite series!
Q: Congratulations on the re-release, your new cover is gorgeous! It’s very different from it’s predecessor. Were you excited to have the opportunity for a more symbolic cover?
M. A. Phipps: Definitely! While I loved the other cover, it never felt like it really hit the mark for what the story is. It always seemed to have too much of an apocalyptic feel to it, and although there is that element to the story, it’s not what the book is about at its core. It’s much more heavily focused on the science aspect with Wynter’s condition and then of course the Big Brother-esque society of the State and the corrupting influence of power. I wanted something that would convey this sort of ominous medical feel while also tying in the isolation of the world the story is set in. The new cover hit the nail right on the head for what I was after. I’m in love!
Q: Wynter isn’t your typical protagonist, she starts off very much in line with the state, trying to remain just another face in the crowd. What was it like to write a character that underwent such a change?
M. A. Phipps: Wynter is an intriguing character because she doesn’t just show growth in terms of physical strength with her increasing powers but she also shows tremendous growth in strength of mind. I think a lot of readers would probably get frustrated with her, wondering why she isn’t questioning every aspect of her society when in reality, that’s what happens when you’re brainwashed to believe something—it’s happened in history and is still happening today in places like North Korea. You believe what you’re told and you don’t question it because questioning it means putting yourself in danger and could ultimately lead to your death. She’s lived her entire live immersed in this absolutely toxic place and she’s experienced traumas in her past that suppress her urge to fight even more, with the government using fear as a weapon against her. For so long, she was just told ‘that’s the way things are’ and embraced that for the sake of blending in and surviving. So to go from that extreme and then open her eyes to reality was such an interesting experience. It couldn’t just happen overnight and it had to somehow involve something she previously came to terms with and accepted—that was the only way she’d really see the depraved depths of her society and understand just how wrong it is. And I think that growth of mind and will really made up for the weakness she showed with her degenerating health through the book and still made her seem strong in spite of that. So yeah, in a lot of ways, it sort of felt like her story told itself. She’s been such a commanding presence in my head over the last few years that everything just falls into place around her, and thankfully, she’s been incredibly easy to write (knock on wood—still have Part Three to get through!)
Q: Dr Richter is a character that I love to hate, did he start out as the villain of the piece or did he evolve like that?
M. A. Phipps: Oh, Dr. Richter. When I came up with this story, I always knew it wouldn’t have some typical big baddie, like the head of the government or anything like that. It had to be more intimate and personal—someone Wynter knew in some respect. Dr. Richter was always going to end up as the villain, although I did originally play with the idea of starting him off as sympathetic to Wynter’s situation and almost as a friend to her. But then I realized that wouldn’t work. You can’t do what Dr. Richter does to her and be a “nice guy.” And although Dr. Richter uses science as an excuse for his actions, you can’t torture another human being the way he tortures her and be redeemable at the same time. So, I guess to answer your question, there was the consideration of making him a better person and then the final decision to show his true colors from the get go. Saying that, he does still evolve…into an even more horrible person.
Q: If you were forced to sit an exam, like Wynter, that would map out the rest of your life, what do you think the outcome would be?
M. A. Phipps: What’s funny is that the exam Wynter sits was actually based on a real test! It’s called Kudos and it’s this software where you answer a series of questions and it tells you what sort of jobs you’d be good at. I took this exam in middle school, and I remember thinking, “What if I HAD to do this job it’s telling me I’d be good at?” And that’s where the idea behind the placement exam came from. This thought that we don’t truly have a say in our future and are instead forced into a career where our strengths can be utilized. Now, if this test actually existed, I’d like to hope I’d end up with some sort of creative job (although books and art aren’t allowed in the State, so there goes both of my careers!), but since I’m good at math, I’d probably end up in a job similar to what Wynter was projected—banking or some such.
Q: If you could be any of your characters for a day, who would you choose to be?
M. A. Phipps: As much as I wouldn’t want to experience the crippling pain she goes through, I do think it would be cool to experience an awesome power like Wynter’s. I mean, come on, telekinesis? I could just look at the TV remote and it would come to me. That would be awesome.
Q: If you could have dinner with any 5 writers or fictional characters who would you choose?
M. A. Phipps: J.R.R. Tolkien will always by my #1 choice. The Lord of the Rings has been such a huge part of my life, and I would just love to talk to him about it and fangirl with the creator of my biggest obsession. He also had a really interesting life with his involvement in the World Wars, so I think in general, he would’ve been a fascinating person to speak with. I also greatly admire authors like J.K. Rowling, Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island is amazing), and Stephen King, so I definitely wouldn’t turn down a dinner party invite with that lot. Maybe we could get together and do a seance to talk to Tolkien, ha! In terms of fictional characters, no one will ever top Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, so let’s throw him in for good measure!
Thank you so so much for stopping by and talking to me today, I wish you the best of luck with the re-release!
Readers: If you’re intrigued and want to get your copy of Ultraxenopia, follow this link https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072KP9FHF