Recently, Backlit Fiction released a series of teen ebooks, including The Dig by author and television writer Caroline Kepnes (writing under the pen name Audrey Hart). The Dig, the first installment of the Zoe and Zeus trilogy, centers on a smart, savvy teenager named Zoe Calder who finds a portal to the world of teenage Greek gods — Mount Olympus is like a high school, where there are mean girls and Zeus is the hottest guy around — while exploring an archaeological excavation site. Kepnes took the time to chat with EW about her new YA novel and the idea behind modernizing Greek mythology.
ENTERTAINMENT: I read Molly Ringwald is the person who brought this idea behind the Zoe and Zeus books to you.
CAROLINE KEPNES: Yeah, I worked with her on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and then I just sort of kept in touch with her. Then she told me about her husband starting a publishing company and I met with him and his partner, and they had these great concepts. I loved this one and off we go.
What appealed to you about this particular concept?
I like the idea that it was kind of turning it all around and taking Greek gods and making them teenagers that the readers might go to school with. And then the whole purpose of this has always been educational but also to entertain, so this to me makes them more relatable to kids. I was also excited to write this kind of main character, a bookworm-in-combat-boots type girl.
From Teen Mom to a “giant iPhone,” there are so many references to pop culture in this novel.
I think one of my favorite moments was when Zoe was talking to Hera about Kim Kardashian, and I love the idea of trying to explain that to someone from long ago. I feel like it reminds you that Zoe has traveled in time and I love that idea of meeting a guy and having a crush on him but not being able to say the simplest things like “Facebook.”
There are a lot of details not only about Greek mythology but also about archaeological digs. How did you research?
I found an archeologist through a friend of a friend and used him as an expert, and then read through some things online — there are a lot of journals and people keep blogs about their experiences on dig sites. I also read a lot of classical mythology books and I loved finding the variations and different interpretations of each myth. That’s what makes it so interesting. There are so many subtle differences in the descriptions yet the gods at the end of the day are so specifically who they are and that’s where it was fun to kind of imagine them as people.
Zoe has such a great voice and personality. Where did this character come from?
I like the idea of someone’s who hasn’t figured out how to show her real self to other people yet, and that’s why I loved that the book was in first person. I love the idea of this girl who people probably think is morose, but she’s got this inner world and crackling sense of humor that she hasn’t quite learned to express to other people. And I like that she’s not looking to be rescued. She wants to go on these adventures by herself, and it’s not “Thank you, boy, take me away.” She’s confident in that way.
Did writing for teen-driven TV shows prepare you to write this book?
Oh yeah. That’s what I loved about this project so much. In TV, there’s a story that continues over time, and an epic trilogy is sort of like that, as opposed to a short story, which is like five pages. It’s helpful to think long-term in that way because this is the first of three books.
Happy Madison, Adam Sandler’s production company, has a first look deal with all the Backlit books. Did you write with a future screen adaptation in mind?
I love the idea of it having a second life, and I think this genre adds another layer to writing, making sure that there are visual moments that the reader would want to see played out. I love writing first person, but you can be so much in the person’s head that it’s almost hard to translate into action. So I looked at this book as an exercise in including all of this action. It’s something I haven’t done a lot of, but I loved writing tense action moments that you can picture.
Do you have an outline for books two and three?
Oh yes, that’s all pretty set in stone. A lot of what happens in this book will be kind of upended and things you expect to happen won’t happen and it’s very exciting, I’m just of course not allowed to say anything about it.
Anything else you’d like to share with your readers?
Well, I’m just really excited. I’m working on the second one and excited to go forward with it. Readers seem to really be responding to Zoe and the humor. It’s just a great feeling, and I like that it’s sparking an interest in archeology among the readers too. Archeology does just kind of fascinate me. You think about it, from a teenager perspective, and there is something kind of morbid about it.
Benjamin Wood contributed to this report.