Skyclyffe by Z. Moss Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction
Rex Bright enjoys drawing in notebooks and dreaming. He’s thirteen, and his life is ordinary. Until he sees a face in a cloud which changes everything. Rex glimpses the girl from an airplane window while travelling to his aunt and uncle’s farm for the summer. Her features are so perfect, Rex can’t believe she’s only vapor. But Cloud Girl is real. A week later, Skyclyffe, a mysterious airship cloaked in a cumulus, abducts Rex and his family. The captors expect the Brights to live in their flying city forever. And, although he’s kidnapped, Rex loves the craft filled with robots, scientific discoveries, and silvery-white beings. Before long, Rex will be forced to decide whether to escape, or if Skyclyffe and its secret wonders are worth never stepping foot on Earth again.
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Rex shook on the inside like a mouse who’d realized he was about to become a snake’s lunch. His mom disembarked first and smiled, encouraging him to follow her. Radar jumped down, skidding on the concrete floor. Once Old Fart emerged, they stationed themselves in front of the wing, Dan and Sue flanking Rex and the dog.
Now that Rex could see, three extraordinary things caught his attention: a massive machine with a long articulating gun, robots zooming by … and a pirate.
Yes, a pirate stood with the others, dressed in black, including a swashbuckling coat and an outrageous hat. His plumed tricorn was overshadowed only by a beard that radiated from his chin, twisting into many points so it resembled a wild, upside-down crown. Either the young man left a play still in his acting wardrobe or had special needs, so the older adults let him walk around in his ridiculous getup.
The sea rover cleared his throat.
“Welcome aboard, Bert, Susan, Daniel, and Ann—” He halted then looked to the person on his left. She whispered something into his ear. “Holy catfish! Why wasn’t I informed?” The woman bowed her head as she muttered more words. “Oh, I see. Well, nothing we can do now.” He turned back to the Brights and raised his arm in a flourish. “I am Captain Vance Merriweather.”
Could this day get any stranger? How on Earth did the “captain” know who they were? Clues pointed again to an elaborate reality TV show. Or Rex was at the farm or hadn’t left home, and this was a Dr.-Pepper-and-supreme-pizza-with-jalapeños-induced dream.
Rex quit wrestling with the mental muddle. Be it hallucination or actuality, his brain and muscles ached from permanent freak-out. Plus, if these events were occurring in the real world, his mom would take care of things.
The result liberated him. Rex kicked back, excited to face whatever came next, even if it turned out to be horrible monsters, tap-dancing buccaneers, or complete humiliation in front of a laughing audience. Just don’t call him Bert.
A girl donning a cowboy hat, boots, and a T-shirt portraying a horse with a windswept mane appeared then blended into the background. None of the adults noticed her.
Captain Vance Merriweather carried on with his salutation.
“Welcome to Skyclyffe! I give you a great, hearty greeting. I’m looking forward to getting to know each of you—but, by living thunder, where are my manners? Let me make introductions.” He patted a shoulder of the barrel-chested man on his right. “This is our sheriff, Cleve Bowman, and Noble Berry, our chief Telerayist, is next to him. On my other side,” he turned and bowed to the two ladies, “I have Philomena Ferguson, head of navigation, and Hazel Kiely, our principal doctor.”
Hazel was the vaporizer-wielding incarnate of Rex’s old teacher.
“Well, there’s plenty to do and a young lady waiting to have dinner with me, so it’s no time to lollygag. Daniel, if you please, remove the penknife from your pocket and entrust it to Cleve.” He waited while the transaction took place. “Thank you. Our scans found no other security issues, so everything else is shipshape. My crew will get you settled. It’s fantastic to meet you at last.”
The captain gave a wink, a curt bow, and left with a showy swing of feathered hat and swarthy coat.
What a weirdo.
Z. Moss lives in Stillwater, Minnesota and is currently working on the sequel to Skyclyffe. Two dogs, three cats, and two turtles run the household, including the real-life Radar.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I used to play tenor drum in a bagpipe and drum band, and we performed on the Minnesota state capital’s steps during a memorial the Saturday after 9/11. Besides having my kids, I have never done anything more meaningful. On a lighter note, during college I worked in a 50s-meets-the-80s restaurant where I roller skated and danced on tables (but not both at the same time).
What are some of your pet peeves?
A few of my pet peeves: 1) grammatical and spelling errors on signs. 2) multiple opened containers of the same thing in the fridge or cupboard.
Who is your hero and why?
My dad. I didn't get to grow up near him because my parents divorced when I was young, and we were 2000 miles apart. As an adult, I learned how much he cares for his family, my grandmother and grandfather, especially. He is the best storyteller, too. In fact, one of Dan’s stories in Skyclyffe is based on one of my dad’s.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Not until Skyclyffe was nearly complete, and only after I forced myself to tell someone outside of my family.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie? / If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
I suspect all authors nowadays write with soundtracks and leading actors in the back of their brains. How can you not hear music crescendoing in the background as your main characters run away from or toward danger? Not to mention a moody tune to break people’s hearts along with the protagonist’s. Music lives within us, gives us cues that I admit words can't always get across, and goosebumps or tears when we're lucky.
While writing Skyclyffe, I bounced between 90s alternative and soaring orchestral soundtracks, real John Williams kind of stuff. Ultimately, I faced facts. As much as I’d love to hear grunge kings and queens featured in a Skyclyffe movie, it didn't fit with thirteen-year-old Rex finding himself abducted by and then living in a flying city. Besides, I'd kill for a theme song as iconic as the ones for Harry Potter or Indiana Jones.
In regards to who’d play leading roles, I chose photos to represent most of the characters during the writing phase to help me round them out, but I'm not going to tell you who are pictured in those images.
As long as Skyclyffe is just a novel, I want any kid to be able to imagine themselves as Rex or Amelia or any other character they connect with. That is why the Rex on the cover is shown from behind and almost silhouetted. Although a few suggested that I describe what Rex looks like in the story, I resisted as much as possible, and all that I defined is that he has dark, wavy hair. I treated all of the characters this way except for when something was important to the character, like Tulla’s red hair, or something caught Rex’s eye.
Okay, I'll give you one. If Skyclyffe were ever made into movie, Uncle Dan, a.k.a. Old Fart, has to be played by Bruce Willis.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
None—but once during a family trip we slept in a covered wagon on land Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on as a kid.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
When my son was young, he had this soft, round toy, each quadrant a different animal’s face and matching sounds to boot. We called it Piggy Cat Cow Dog. I imagine my spirit animal would have to be something like that, but an amalgamation of dog, elephant, and turtle. A dogphantle? Eleturtdog? That is awful. Let's just go with dog. Besides, I do have a German Shepherd puppy avatar/logo in use just about everywhere.
What inspired you to write this book?
A lone, puffy cloud zigzagging in the sky. I joked to myself, “Who’s in that cloud?” and then a little voice in my head said, “Could be anyone.”
What can we expect from you in the future?
The next book in the Skyclyffe series.
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
The characters who grew up on the Earth’s surface have average names, except Rex’s. You learn about how his name came to be in chapter two.
Since the characters on Skyclyffe were born on the ship or alighted in 1936 (apart from a few we can't talk about here), their names tend to be more typical of that era. I scrolled through Most Popular Baby Names lists by year.
Advice they would give new authors?
Write because you want to, and let the book be what it wants to be.
Describe your writing style.
Positively a Plotter with a capital P, but I’m not afraid to allow new ideas in.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Be original. I kind of like that when I was querying and agents asked for comps, I couldn't find another book to compare mine to. Harder to sell in this publishing market, but I'd rather be a Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or Twilight than one of the scores of books that came after.
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