The new Young Adult book “Devastation Class” is not your average book-to-movie adaptation. When the film rights were snapped up in 2018 to adapt the science fiction book series by Glen Zipper and Elaine Mongeon, the project hadn’t yet found a publisher. A few months later, HarperCollins’ Blink YA Books secured the literary rights.
The book was released on Sept. 8. Centering on a small group of military cadets and students who must mutiny to take control of a starship to save themselves — and the world — from a force of invading aliens, Zipper and Mongeon took time writing the novel inspired by their love for sci-fi and ’80s films.
Below, they talk to Variety about their collaborative process, writing a modern story and writing action sequences for the big screen.
You’ve collaborated on movies, but where did the idea to collaborate on a book stem from?
Elaine Monegon: We used to be a couple and in our early days of dating, on our first date, we discovered our mutual love of genre and sci-fi. That first date turned into an overnight binge-watch of “Battlestar Galactica.” We’re also huge fans of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”
So, early on, we were spitballing ideas while we were supporting other people’s projects and decided we wanted to set out to do this. The one thing we decided was it would be young people in space.
What’s great about the genre is young adult books are being read by adults, and this was so enjoyable for the intended audience, but by adults too.
Mongeon: That was our intention with the subject matter. We hope that adults enjoy It as much as younger people do.
It was enjoyable to read the different perspectives because of how you wrote each chapter as a character’s point of view, where did that idea come from?
Zipper: We grew up on movies of the 80s. Our biggest inspiration was John Hughes. If you look at films like “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” the audience enjoys spending time with Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson. You get their different perspectives and each of them brings something very different to the story.
The audience comes at the content from various perspectives where not everyone is the jock, the nerd, or the socialite. You have this great ensemble in his films and the audience has this chance of finding someone they can identify with. That’s what we wanted to do with this, revisit that part of ourselves and offer our readers an opportunity to connect with characters they could identify with through that POV perspective.
There is a incredible dynamic between JD and Viv – this level playing field, evening though things get a bit complex at times. She’s not the weakest link and that was refreshing to read – this female hero. How important was it to tell a story where your main characters are equal?
Mongeon: It has always been important to present men and women as equals, now more than ever. We’re in a time of pushing female protagonists to the forefront, and for the longest time, it was always men at the front of these stories.
When we were coming up with the original concept, we thought it was important as a man and a woman writing and presenting these characters we do that.
The one comment we faced from our editors was, ‘Why do they make this decision?’ and it’s because they’re kids.
Zipper: The point I’d make was that, when I was a kid, I didn’t have the fate of the universe in my hands or that pressure. They’re 17 and 18, so by emotion, you’re naturally going to make dumb choices.
Visually, the way this was written makes the action jump off the pages. Did you write those scenes knowing this was going to be adapted for the big screen?
Zipper: We do come to the book as producers. When we first started writing the book, we were apologetic about that. We do want this to be a movie and a series of movies one day, but we also want to be able to bring the assets that we’ve accumulated, as producers to the table writing this book.
As we wrote, we were writing set pieces that we wanted to see as if we were producing the movie. We wanted to write set pieces that we knew people’s palms would be sweating in a movie theater one day when they were watching it, and their hearts would be pounding. It was important to us to make sure that once the action gets going, it doesn’t stop.
We wanted the audience whether it’s through the book or movie to say, ‘Wow, that was exhausting,’ but in the best possible way.
Just for fun, if you could cast the movie today, who would you cast as JD and Viv?
Mongeon: There was only one character that based an archetype on with respect to having somebody particularly in mind when writing it, and that was Sam Fuller, and that was Dave Grohl in respect to his energy and looks.
Zipper: I was watching “The Vast of Night” on the drive-in circuit and Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick, the two lead actors from there are the perfect JD and Viv, but they did such an amazing job in that film. They would be the archetype for the characters.
Mongeon: But we were very specific in trying not to describe any of the characters except for hair because we wanted our readers to use their imaginations and envision the characters how they wanted. We wanted the reader to be as open-minded as possible about where these people were from.
Zipper: We did fantasize at times about actors who could play some of these parts, even though they are fantasy, and nothing more than that. For JD’s dad, the two actors that we thought of were Denzel Washington and Jon Hamm. We have no preconceived notions about these characters, so when the day arrives where the film is adapted, the world is truly our oyster. I think whoever is most excited to help us this story, will drive the process.