For a long time, Karen Bao waffled between becoming a scientist and playing violin professionally. And while she is currently studying environmental studies at college in New York, her current trade is writing.
Karen is the author of “Dove Arising,” which she began at the age of 17. “While I always loved reading books, I never thought I could actually write one,” Karen told Cracking the Cover. “Then I tried it, and sort of learned as I went along. Writing was a lot harder than I expected.”
“Dove Arising” takes place on the moon. Humans colonized it long ago, but now they are at war with Earth-dwellers. Phaet lives there with her mother and younger brother and sister. Ever since her father’s death nine years ago, she’s kept her head down and her tongue silent. But when Phaet’s mother is arrested, Phaet has no choice but to join the militia. If she does well in training, she can earn enough to save her family, but that means ranking higher than cadet’s years older than herself. It also means learning to trust, even though her gut warns against it.
Karen says her ideas come from life. In the case of “Dove Arising,” she used Maoist China’s as inspiration for the moon’s totalitarian government. “Since my mother grew up there, she told me stories about academic competition, resource scarcity, and her own father being sent to the countryside for ‘re-education,’” Karen said. “My ideas also come from class, nerdy as that sounds. For example, Phaet often outsmarts her enemies by manipulating the environment around her with concepts I learned in chemistry or physics class.”
When considering a setting for “Dove Arising,” the moon seemed perfect. The challenges of having people meeting their own biological needs while settling the barren landscape was something Karen wanted to take on. “The moon is so close to us, and yet it’s different from anything we know on earth,” she said.
“Also, the moon features prominently in cultures around the world, and I wanted to explore that. For example, in Chinese folklore, there’s a lonely woman with a pet rabbit living up there, and China’s second-biggest holiday is called the Moon Festival. In short, the moon interested me both scientifically and culturally: it was a playground for new ideas.”
With such a setting, “Dove Arising” wouldn’t work without a strong but silent character. Phaet is both. “In a surveillance state like the moon, quiet people are ‘safer,’ so I had my main character be almost completely silent,” Karen said. “But Phaet’s introversion didn’t necessarily mean she’d be spineless — in fact, one of my best friends doesn’t talk much, and she’s one of the toughest people I know.”
Because of Phaet’s circumstances, “Dove Arising” features large amounts of science and military strategy. Karen consulted the Internet multiple times while drafting the book. She utilized that research when choosing locations for bases and selecting viable weaponry. She also “learned my way around the gravitational ‘geography’ of space that makes the Moon a strategic high ground. But I tried not to let fact-checking obstruct the story — after all, 200 years from now, who knows where technology and exploration will have taken us? For some aspects of the story, like the outlandish Lunar produce, I let my imagination run its course.”
Karen is currently working on the other books in the “Dove Arising” series. She says she’s right on schedule, and after Book 3 is done — right about the time she graduates from college — she’ll take one or two years to write a fantasy book she already has planned out in her head. “It takes place in a completely new realm, which I built by drawing on the marine biology I’ve studied in school,” she said. “I can’t wait to put the story down on paper.”
Read a complete transcript of Karen’s interview with Cracking the Cover.
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