A Q&A with “Conspiracy Game” Author Adam Holt

unnamedI’m pleased to introduce you to an up-and-coming author who has written a book that is out of this world! Literally, the book is set in outer space. If you’re among the legions of syfy/dystopian fans who love books/blockbuster movies like The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game or Divergent, I highly recommend checking out The Conspiracy Game. Adam Holt, the mastermind behind this intergalactic coming-of-age story, was kind enough to answer a few questions about his brand new book. Read on to learn more about the first of many adventures that lie in store for Tully Harper! Be sure to visit his blog for more about the book series.

Tell us about The Conspiracy Game.

The Conspiracy Game recounts the adventure of Tully Harper, a 14-year-old boy who sneaks aboard his dad’s spaceship on a covert mission. Along with his best friends Tabitha and Sunjay, he uncovers The Conspiracy Game, which could be no big deal, or it could change the fate of the solar system. It’s an upbeat, heartfelt space adventure, and the first in a trilogy. I wrote it as a young adult crossover: accessible to teens but with a larger audience in mind.

What made you decide to become an author?

Writing and creating stories always elevated my soul, ever since I was in elementary school. I remember the joy of writing my first novel, entitled Space Vampire. It was two pages long, done on construction paper and Crayola. I show it off sometime. That one isn’t available on Amazon…

Becoming a novelist was different: I’ve written poems and short stories since I was a teen, but those don’t take commitment. Then I dreamed up a novel idea that would not leave me alone. At the time I was teaching middle school English. Writing a novel while grading essays and midterms is a recipe for insanity—for me and for the students, too. I needed to devote myself to being a teacher or a novelist. I left my teaching job and wrote The Conspiracy Game—starting in my condo in Dallas, finishing when I was traveling in Europe, and revising when I made it back to Houston, where I now live. It’s been an eventful year.

What draws you to the realm of deep space?  

I was born into the space business. My dad worked in Mission Control during the Apollo missions. He helped send people to the Moon and managed many shuttle missions. That didn’t fascinate me much as a kid for some reason. I never went to Space Camp. He never talked about work when he got home, which I respect. I was too busy to notice his job anyway. I was playing, reading, and ironically, memorizing every line in Star Wars. Over the past decade I’ve gained a good perspective on what human space exploration means for humanity. It’s lead to so many amazing breakthroughs that impact us every day on Earth. So I wanted to write a story that, among other things, showcased that opportunity.

I feel like people are best when they have big things to achieve. That’s certainly true for Tully, Tabitha, and Sunjay. I wanted to remind people that they have enormous challenges and opportunities in front of them. Traveling into space gets us away from our daily concerns and helps us focus on the bigger picture of life. Astronauts talk about that—coming back and feeling more connected to the world around them. So that’s one way to answer: leaving Earth makes us better people.

Secondly, space is captivating. Weightlessness is all kinds of fun for fiction. The cold vacuum of space is all kinds of danger. It’s a place we can explore but only with the mind, for the most part. I think committed readers love to do just that—visit fascinating other worlds, see our own planet from the surface of the Moon. I wanted to bring readers on a short, intense trip into such a world in this first book. Really, it’s also a possible world, where we have colonies on Mars and androids to help us in our daily lives. The second novel, Tully Harper and the Rathmore Chaos, delves deeper into our solar system and the relationships previously formed.

How did the idea for The Conspiracy Game come about?

A toddler inspired me. I went to see the movie Prometheus on opening night by myself, and I was alone in the theater except for two women seated near the screen. They had a seat between them, but I quickly realized the seat wasn’t empty—a little hand popped up and reached for popcorn in one of the women’s laps. Prometheus is a great sci-fi movie, but it’s also part of the Aliens franchise. It’s gory, scary, and my stomach turned when I realized what this child was about to sit through. So I walked down and asked the mother if she knew this was a violent R-rated movie, thinking that they meant to see Brave or Madascar. She smiled at me and said, “Oh, yes, my daughter just loves scary movies!” I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t watch the movie with that little hand reaching for popcorn in the corner of my eye. I thought about how this child was about to see some magical and gruesome images that her mind couldn’t yet understand. It was at that point that I made up my mind to write a space exploration book, one that captured the wonder of space travel but that this young girl could one day enjoy. So the book was inspired by hope and fear, two potent emotions, and the ones which drive Tully Harper into space as well.

I’m intrigued by Tully Harper’s sidekick, Tabitha, who bears some similarities to Hermione Granger. Could you briefly describe this character?

Oh, definitely! I wanted my readers to find people like themselves swept up in the action of this novel, and I know not all of them would naturally relate to Tully, a 14-year-old only child. Tabitha Tirelli is less like a sidekick and more like Tully’s teammate. She keeps Tully and Sunjay focused on the right problems throughout their adventure. She is the wise counselor that Tully needs if he’s going to survive in space…and he’s not quite sure, but he might be falling for her, too. Tabitha is always so busy with local theater that they don’t spend much time together except in the summers when she has time for him…and for Cave-In!, their favorite video game.

The problem is that Tully holds some crucial things back from Tabitha at times. He has his reasons for hiding things from her, but she is intuitive. She can sense that something is wrong. I was pleased with how this played out once they get into space. So she’s a resourceful, divergent thinker, and she tackles problems in ways Tully never considers. That’s the beauty of friendship, isn’t it? It’s Tabitha’s beauty. My editors helped me mold this character into a tough, capable young woman. Oh, and Tabitha also likes vintage clothing from the early 2020’s. The book is set in 2069, so the 2020s are retro-chic by then. Anyway, she has a vintage scarf that changes colors with her moods. It’s Tully’s (and the readers’) window into her thoughts sometime.

Of all the characters in the book, which one would you like to spend an afternoon with and why?

Maybe Queen Envy. She’s a pop diva who is on board the Adversity to record the first album in space. She’s also there to disguise this mission as just a routine trip to the Moon, which it is not. Tully and Tabitha think she is ridiculous, but there’s more to her than meets the eye. If I could have a few minutes with Tabitha, that would be awesome, too. She could tell me things about Tully that I don’t know.

How can teens – and even adults – identify with some of the challenges Tully is experiencing?

Tully may be sneaking into space, but his motivations for doing so are real. He is an only child from a single-parent home. He is petrified of losing his father, but also brave enough to help him on a dangerous mission. I think that’s momentous—those moments when we’re struggling to put others first. Tully makes that transition—from fearful child to brave son. If you’ve seen or read Les Miserables—my favorite novel—remember when little Gavroche helps with the student uprising? He has an innocent bravery that I’ve always admired, and I hope Tully has a bit of Gavroche in him.

Of course, life isn’t always full of nation-inspiring moments. It can’t be. People are too quirky and unpredictable, and Tully is a teenager. He’s stumbling upon love for the first time. That’s fun and funny. He’s also figuring out that he can trust some adults, and others he can’t. How to navigate love and friendship is a universal struggle. I think readers will find Tully right in the middle of life changes that are familiar, either at sharp and present or as a distant, muddy memory.

What do you hope your readers will get out of this book?

What a reader takes from a book often has more to do with what they bring to the book—what hopes and fears and doubts. I hope they’ll see in Tully someone who is determined to live life to the fullest. There’s this great thing that Jesus once said: “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” I hope they’ll see in my characters people that are striving for lives full of love and accomplishment—and they’ll see those that oppose his efforts, too.

What I hope they will get is this: take risks in life, let the chips fall where they will, and be satisfied with the results. For Tully, that’s going into space to follow his dad. He hears a voice in a vision one night: “Go, and do not delay.” He follows that voice. I hope that phrase resonates with readers. What must they do with their “one wild and precious life?” as Mary Oliver wrote. It’s different for every person, but to be the people we could become, we have to step out and do things that take bravery.

What’s next for Tully Harper in the second installment of the trilogy?

The Rathmore Chaos. There are hints at the end of the book about this, and Google can help uncover the mystery of the name. I’ll just say that, by the end, both Tully and his enemies have lost some valuable people and things, and The Rathmore Chaos will give them a chance to win back their losses. It’s much more an action book than a thriller. You now know the characters and motives—or think you do. So the pace picks up.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Sure. I’ve received great feedback on the novel so far, and I’m nothing but grateful for that. For readers that like the book, I ask them to spread the word about The Conspiracy Game: email a friend, suggest it for a book club, like the Facebook page. There are some great self-published novelists out there, and all of them rely on readers as their best promoters. Since this is my debut novel, that goes double for me. I love to correspond with fans and other writers, so look me up on Twitter (@adamholtwrites).

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