Author Interview: Christian Schoon on Zenn Scarlett

Katja: Welcome to YA’s the Word, Christian, it’s lovely to have you here today. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed your novel, Zenn Scarlett. Could you tell us a little about it?

Christian: I’d be happy to. And, first off, thanks for hosting and for giving me the chance to ramble on a bit with you and your “YA’s the Word” readers about Zenn and her world!

Now then: Zenn Scarlett is the first book in a series, and follows the adventures of a 17-year-old novice exoveterinary student studying at the ancient, down-on-its-luck Ciscan Cloister Exovet clinic and training center on a future, colonized Mars. Her schoolwork encompasses learning about the physiologies and medical treatments of large, sometimes dangerous and generally fascinating alien creatures. These include 80-foot-long marine predators like Mu Arae whalehounds, Tanduan swamp sloos long as a battleship, baby Kiran sunkillers that will, when full grown, carry entire sky-palaces on their backs; you know, the usual specimens one would expect to find at an exovet clinic serving the civilized planets of the Local Systems Accord. As for Zenn, she’s a pretty confident person, even a little cocky, used to doing well in school. She usually aces her exams. But as her all-important end of term tests approach, things become… complicated. Her absent father has suddenly stopped communicating, and Zenn is fretting about this. Then, there’s Liam Tucker, a sort of not-so-bad-looking, streetwise local towner boy, who’s showing an uncharacteristic and vaguely annoying new interest in Zenn. (But she has rules about boys and, for that matter, making any friends at all.) Then, odd things begin to happen at the cloister: animals escape from their enclosures, or suddenly become violent. This is particularly bad news because the local town council already has a xenophobic attitude and would just as soon get rid of the cloister and its “monsters.”  But, most disorienting of all, Zenn feels as if she’s started “sharing” the thoughts of certain animals at the clinic. Which, of course, cannot be. She believes in science, not hocus pocus like ESP. So, she’s juggling these various crises and botherments, all while trying desperately not to fail her novice year.

Coming May 7, 2013 (US/Canada) – May 2, 2013 (UK)
From Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot Books
Distributed in U.S./Canada by Random House

Katja:  I loved the originality of Zenn Scarlett and her world, especially her interest in healing alien animals. What inspired you to write about an exovet heroine?

Christian:Thanks for noticing! Several early reviewers echoed your sentiment, saying they hadn’t really read anything similar to Zenn Scarlett. An author is always pleased to hear that. Broadly speaking, two things brought Zenn’s character to life: my long-standing interest in and affection for basically any life form on the planet (or off), and my equally deep-rooted attraction to all things science fictional. Before moving to Iowa from Los Angeles a few years ago, I wrote scripts for TV. And they were generally all in the SF or fantasy category: things like Saban’s Power Rangers franchise, Warner Bros. animated Batman, Hanna-Barbera’s Gravedale High and Hallmark’s fairy tale series Timeless Tales. So, my mind was pretty well saturated with this sort of fantastical, richly imaginative storytelling. Then, in Iowa, my wife and I bought a farm with lots of pastures and barns, and started fostering abused and neglected horses and helping to rehab and find homes for exotic wildlife like black bears, cougars, Burmese pythons, alligators, emus. I began to hang around various veterinarians with some pretty specialized expertise in exotics and… I think you can see where this is headed: Zenn developed rather naturally from all of the above.

Katja:  The relationships between the various characters were wonderfully complex and yet easy to relate to, did you start the novel with all the dynamics plotted out or did they develop during the writing process?

Christian:  This first Zenn Scarlett novel lifted off into the air with its scribbler-pilot flying seat-of-the-pants, blind-folded and mapless.  And this was totally atypical for me in almost all other respects of how I live my life or approach any given project. But Zenn presented herself to me as a remarkably complete and self-consistent character – competent, resourceful, a little cocky, coolly scientific, but deeply empathetic, a bit socially challenged and naïve and vulnerable; a diverse constellation of traits that made me kind of instantly crush on her, which isn’t such  a bad relationship for a writer and his protagonist to share. The other primary characters then materialized one by one as the novel formed itself, stepping out into their appropriate positions in the Martian social environment Zenn inhabits. Otha and Sister Hild supplied the necessary teacher/mentor elements; Liam Tucker the bad boy who just might have more going on in his head than Zenn imagines;  Hamish, the cloister’s giant insectoid handyman (handybug?) to serve as a sounding board for Zenn as she sorts through the challenges thrown up before her. And, of course, Katie, the pet rikkaset most of us would love to have: a pet that can actually voice its thoughts to us, if only by gesturing in sign-language.

Katja: What were the last five books you read?

Christian: Playing Tyler by fellow Strange Chemistry scribe T.L. Costa (5-star YA SF! and no I’m not biased in the least why would you even think that?) Redshirts by John Scalzi,  Ashfall by Mike Mullin, Fair Coin by E.C. Meyers, Britain After Rome: The Fall and Rise, 400 to 1070 (a fascinating glimpse into the real-world dystopia of Britain in the wake of the Roman empire’s collapse)

Katja: What’s next for you?

Christian: First up are a number of launch-related events for Zenn Scarlett’s release into the wild. Then, I’ll be neck-deep in writing the sequel, which follows Zenn off Mars and into encounters with even more bizarre and intriguing alien creatures and races, more problematic emotional entanglements and, yes, a monstrous threat to civilization as we know it (!) that will test a certain novice exovet to the very limits of her abilities. Imagine that….

Author’s Bio

Born in the American Midwest, Christian started his writing career in earnest as an in-house writer at the Walt Disney Company in Burbank. He then became a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in Iowa several years ago, he continues to freelance and also now helps re-hab wildlife and foster abused/neglected horses. He acquired his amateur-vet knowledge, and much of his inspiration for the Zenn Scarlett series of novels, by learning about – and being educated by –  these remarkable animals.  


  1. Just wanted to stop by and and say a quick and deeply sincere thanks (again) to Katja for letting Zenn and I hang out for a bit here in her bookish realm. Katja, your questions were great – well-interviewed! Just more proof that blogs like this one are the perfect venue for debut authors like me (and veteran authors, too, for that matter) to reach out and connect with engaged, word-savvy YA and A readers.


  2. I am just now starting this book, but all the reviews so far have been great, and after all those words of praise from Phoebe North, whose opinion I trust completely, I know I’ll enjoy it.
    Thank you for sharing the interview! 🙂 I am now off to follow Zenn on her adventures.

  3. Wonderful and informative interview. I must admit that I love Sci-fi films. Anything to do with other planets and other life forms I want to see. But dare I say, I’ve never read a sci-fi novel. OMG, I’ve admitted it. Funny though, Chrsitian reading your responses in the interview, I could see this as being a great flick. Plus the cover is very eye-catching. But, I think I’ll break down and read this before the movie. 🙂

    1. Hi EW and yes, you may be onto something re: Zenn’s cinematic flavor. I tend to write w/ some fairly concrete visuals in mind as I move thru a scene or chapter. It helps me get a handle on the physical/kinetic elements of whatever is happening, which in turn helps me pass that sense-info along to the reader. I suspect a lot of authors do the same thing, but since I started out in scriptwriting, seeing the action of a scene sort of comes naturally. Will let you know as soon as Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Cameron resolve their fight over who gets to adapt Zenn for the screen….(any preference I should pass along?)

  4. I love science fiction! Even better when we’re talking aliens and different planets. 🙂 I’ve heard good things about this book already, which only makes me want to dive into it as soon as I can. Thanks for sharing the interview!

    1. Sam, you obviously have great taste in where you get your book reviews 🙂 And if you like alien life forms and off-world adventure, I think Zenn’s story will be your cuppa tea.

  5. GREAT interview! I love the way this storyline developed so naturally for him because of the interesting background and circumstances of his life. So cool! I really can’t wait to read Zenn Scarlett.

    1. Yeah, you’re right Kelley – Katja does a fine interview. Glad you’re planning on reading Zenn Scarlett – drop back by when you’re done & let us know what ya think!

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