Gennifer Albin explains that her inspiration for Crewel, the first novel in her YA Crewel World trilogy (2012), was sparked by the painting Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle by the Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist Remedios Varo. The author describes an “ethereal” scene of half a dozen girls sitting in a tower sewing cloth, which cascades out of the windows and covers the world below them.
“They’re creating an entire world,” Albin notes. “I was fascinated by this image, so I sat down and started writing about a girl in a tower who didn’t want to be there.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux pitched Crewel, set in the dystopian world of Arras, as “Mad Men meets The Handmaid’s Tale and Hunger Games.” Against her parents’ wishes, 16-year-old Adelice is tapped to become a Spinster—one who works the looms for the all-powerful and mysterious Guild that rules Arras—weaving the very fabric of life for its inhabitants: determining what people eat, where they live, how many children they will have, and even when they will die. But there is a dark underside to being a Spinster, which causes Adelice to rebel against the Guild and everything it stands for.
Altered—the sequel to Crewel, due in October from FSG—is “progressively more science fictiony,” says Albin. The story picks up after Adelice has fled Arras and is headed toward Earth with the two teenage boys she is torn between. Albin wrote Altered to “explain how this world came to be,” she says. “I thought it was important.”
The author, who holds a master’s degree in 18th-century women’s literature, says that the memories of her years in academia have had a significant impact on her fiction writing, particularly in conceptualizing the Guild. “I’m not very good with bureaucracy,” she explains, describing the Ph.D. program she once was enrolled in as a negative experience of “going through ridiculous channels” and “jumping through hoops” held by “people who knew nothing about teaching.”
She notes that life on 22nd-century Arras isn’t all that different for teenagers from life on 21st-century Earth. “People are always telling teenagers what to do and what they can’t do,” she points out. “That’s why they can relate to dystopian literature: they live it every day.” If there’s one lesson Albin hopes that teens will take away from her novels, it’s that “we dictate the course of our lives, how we perceive reality, and the world about us.” Even with all the restrictions placed on them, she says, teens still “can change the world—they just have to go out and do it.” Albin signs ARCs of Altered today, 11 a.m.–noon, at Table 11 in the Autographing Area.