Interview with Seth Cohen, Author of Saabrina: Firebird | NewInBooks
What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Saabrina: Firebird?
At the beginning of the first book, when Bob Foxen and his daughter Rebecca walk out of their local theater after watching a superhero movie, Bob asks, “Why are all the heroes kids?” I wanted to explore whether a widowed middle-aged man, a father, businessman, mature person – guy experiencing a midlife crisis – could embark on a hero’s journey that fell outside the bounds of the usual coming-of-age story.
What enables Bob to go on his journey, literally and figuratively in the books, and got me writing, is Saabrina, a sentient AI in the form of a small spaceship called a Saab. To make her voyage equal to Bob’s, I set out to explore Saabrina’s story (or more accurately, she captivated me to write her story). Finally, because I intended the books to take place over a decade or so, I couldn’t leave Rebecca behind as the college kid in the first book. She needed to follow her own course into adulthood, which would also help mark the passage of time while the adventures occurred. She helps keep Bob grounded in the reality of everyday life while exposing Saabrina to a different world.
Once I began writing about the three of them, the books began to fall into place. Given my own temperament and what I like to read, the books had to be both serious and funny at the same time, something like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (I know, a movie not a book).
Saabrina: Firebird is the third book in a four-book series. In this one, an enemy obtains an ancient, dangerous spacecraft called a Firebird. Because I conceived the books as movements in a symphony, specifically Beethoven’s 9th, the third book would be more introspective, perhaps sadder than the first two. In Firebird, I wanted to understand better who Saabrina is and (spoiler) what affect a near death experience would have on her. And what potentially losing her would mean to Bob and Rebecca. She’s special, different from her sisters, as the earlier books hinted at. I needed to expand on that. Maybe there’s more than one Firebird in this book.
If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Saabrina: Firebird, what would they be?
Bob: “It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me” Billy Joel
Saabrina: “Suddenly I see” KT Turnstall
Rebecca: “High Hopes” Panic! At The Disco
What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?
I move between fiction (novels and graphic novels, modern, classic, speculative, mysteries, sci-fi), history, economics, art, and anything else of interest. Right now I’m reading Anthony Gottlieb’s The Dream of Reason, a history of western philosophy from the Greeks to the renaissance.
I don’t read a lot of science fiction, the genre of the Saabrina books. However, I have watched a lot of sci-fi movies and TV shows, particularly anything Star Trek, as any reader will quickly figure out.
What books are on your TBR pile right now?
he Dream of Enlightenment, Anthony Gottlieb, Loki: Agent of Asgard, The Complete Collection (I just finished Monstress, Volume 6, The Vow, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, and it was fantastic), The Economist Year End Double Issue (plus earlier issues I still need to finish), Oona Out of Order, Margarita Montimore, The Glorious Cause, Robert Middlekauff, The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee, Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kanhneman, Less, Andrew Sean Greer, Calling Bullshit, Carl T. Bergrstrom and Jevin D. West, and The Brother Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (way overdue, I know).
What scene in your book was your favorite to write?
Bob riding his bike while thinking about what happened to Saabrina: I tried to reconstruct how my mind wanders, bounces, and lurches on a bike ride. It took a while to get the cadence of the scene right, the flow of his thoughts, shifting between events in the past and his current bike ride as the Beatles song “A Day in the Life” plays in a broken loop in his head.
A second favorite scene to write was when the Emperor introduces the Firebird to the Nobles: this is supposed to be like a big, private corporate event, with the boss wooing key customers with a demo of the company’s latest technology, CTO talk, food and drink, and goodie bags.
Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)
I often do my best thinking on a bike ride. Sometimes I have to stop to write dialog or a scene down on my phone.
Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?
Do good. Be funny. And if all else fails, grab an ice cream scoop.
If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?
For all the science fiction/space opera elements of the plot, the book is grounded in the moral and ethical behavior of its characters. If you want a society to operate with a utopian outlook, the American dream in space, you have to start with the people who inhabit it.
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