Credit: Brian Schott

Jeff Giles, author of Back in the Blue House and veteran of Entertainment Weekly, will release his YA debut, The Edge of Everything next January — but we’re excited to exclusively reveal a couple treats for you here. Along with the book’s cover, below, EW can share Lord of the Ring director Peter Jackson’s high praise for the book — as well as an interview with Giles about what made him choose to write YA, and why he sometimes prays for a meteor to hit the earth.

The Edge of Everything follows Zoe, a 17-year-old still dealing with the aftershock of her father’s sudden death — and her neighbors’ disappearance from their home. As if things couldn’t get worse, Zoe and her brother are attacked in their freezing Montana cabin — but then, just as suddenly, they’re rescued by X, a bounty hunter from a mysterious hell called the Lowlands, who’s been sent to claim the soul of their attacker.

Peter Jackson says, “I was drawn into this story from the first page. Jeff Giles has written a gripping, utterly original work of fiction that manages to capture all of the joy and the pain, the light and the darkness of growing up. Beautifully written, this is a powerful work of fierce imagination that takes no prisoners! Be prepared, the world of the Lowlands is treacherous—you will meet many dangerous characters! At turns poignant and funny, the story of Zoe and her fight to save her family and the strange young man known only as ‘X’ will stay with you long after you finish this extraordinary book.”

Intrigued? Read on for more hints about Zoe and X’s story.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired The Edge of Everything?

JEFF GILES: The opening scene popped into my head when I was supposed to be working: A teenage girl is desperately trying to find her little brother in the middle of the woods, in the middle of a blizzard. All of a sudden, she sees this savage thing happening on a frozen lake: an otherworldly guy has shoved someone into a hole in the ice and is pushing his head underwater with his boot. The girl doesn’t know which of them is the good guy—or if there even is a good guy. But she knows she can’t let the man in the water die. From there, I started to figure out who everyone was and what kind of hell would break loose if the girl tried to save the guy’s life.

Why did you want to write a YA novel?

I was one of the top editors at Entertainment Weekly when it started dominating in its coverage of YA franchises. Tina Jordan, the EW books’ editor, recognized every hit before it happened — she had Stephen King review the first Hunger Games novel, which helped launch the thing — and EW’s photography editor Sarah Czeladnicki oversaw some amazing shoots, including the first one Jennifer Lawrence ever did as Katniss. Yes, we went overboard some times. But EW’s coverage of YA brought a lot of young readers to the brand. I was knocked out by how passionate that readership was and how intense the novels could be. The YA industry is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’d focused on Hollywood for so long that I didn’t know there was a whole other world where people actually felt fulfilled and were nice to each other.

What’s the hardest part about writing YA?

As a husband and a dad, I’m obsessed with creating female characters who are bold and memorable. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to let a dude do something heroic for a change.

What’s your writing process like? Do you outline?

I sold The Edge of Everything as a series, based on about 75 pages and a long outline. I update the outline as I go, but I always have something to guide me. Then I just force myself to sit at my desk and write 1,000 words a day, even if there’s a meteor approaching Earth. It’s weirdly hard work — some days I pray for a meteor.

What are you most excited for your readers to see?

One of my favorite characters is a really fierce British woman named Ripper, who lives in the novel’s version of Hell and trains bounty hunters to go get evil souls. She’s badass, maternal, and only semi-sane. Plus, she’s been wearing the same ball gown since 1832. Some day I hope Emily Blunt will win at least a Golden Globe for playing her.

What’s been the most surprising part about writing this novel? What new things did you learn about yourself?

I’d written nonfiction, but I had no idea if I could create a world — or write scenes that were scary or romantic or funny or moving. And I definitely didn’t know if I could tell a story worth 375 pages. I’m always telling my kids to at least try new things, even if they’re outside their comfort zone, but it took me a long time to take my own advice.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by the awesome force of nature that is Lindy West and American Girls: Social Media and The Secret Lives of Teenagers by the terrific reporter Nancy Jo Sales. I’ve been on kind of a roll reading about the harm that society does to young women. The last three YA novels I read were heartbreaking on the subject, too: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter; Asking for It by Louise O’Neill; and Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow. I’ll just add that any time Haruki Murakami or Kazuo Ishiguro write something, they can have my money.