Ashley and Leslie Saunders are twin sisters from Dallas, TX. Driven by a passion for storytelling, the Saunders Sisters are award-winning film makers from The University of Texas at Austin and decided to expand their talents to novel writing; their first novel being the brilliant and recently released The Rule of One. Wanting to learn more about their backgrounds and this novel, I was able to interview them for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were stories you two loved experiencing? Are there any you two still enjoy revisiting?
Ashley and Leslie Saunders: The Lord of the Rings changed our whole lives. After first watching the first film at thirteen and then after quickly devouring the books, we knew we wanted to be storytellers. We’re obsessed with stories that are about people from all different backgrounds- hobbits, elves, dwarves, men and women- all coming together for a single purpose. We just love them. We’ve watched The Fellowship of the Ring well over one-hundred times and we wear The One Ring around our necks.
Yanes: You two went to the University of Texas at Austin’s film school. Looking back at this experience, what do you two think of as the most important lessons from this program?
The Saunders Sisters: Not being so precious with your work. When we first started out writing in college, we both would want to horde away our work and not show classmates or professors until we thought the story was “perfect”. It took a few years getting used to sharing the process of our work with peers in every stage of the work’s evolution. Which brings us to our second biggest lesson: learning to be critiqued. College set us up for growing tough skin and putting ourselves out there for constructive feedback.
Yanes: On this note, what was it like experimenting with film making while in Austin?
The Saunders Sisters: Film school was great for us because we had the chance to produce a lot of stories that allowed us to experiment and find our voice. Austin will always hold a major place in our hearts. The energy and lifestyle of the city was the perfect place for us to hone our writing skills while being surrounded by the indie film community. We made tons of short films, commercials, wrote many short films and features. All of it helped us be able to write our debut novel The Rule of One.
Yanes: You two recently published the novel The Rule of One. What was the inspiration behind this novel?
The Saunders Sisters: The Rule of One was originally a feature screenplay that we then adapted into a novel. Backwards, we know. We’ve always wanted to tell a twin sister story. We asked ourselves, what is the highest stakes situation we can put the sisters in? Our answer: being born into a society that only allows one child. Taking initial inspiration from China’s one-child policy, we built a near-future U.S. that could plausibly enact such a law.
Yanes: I am always fascinated by novels with many writers. From a production stand point, how did you two divide the work load? On this note, was a system developed to resolve creative differences?
The Saunders Sisters: We had the perfect outline to go off of- our own feature screenplay of the same story. We heavily plotted the story together and each wrote those scenes together, but for the novel we split the chapters into two POV’s. Ashley, the eldest twin, wrote all of Ava’s chapters and Leslie wrote all of Mira’s chapters, the youngest twin. It was a lot of fun to have different writing processes for different formats.
Yanes: How did writing this novel differ from writing a film? Did you two find novel writing to be more freeing than traditional movie making?
The Saunders Sisters: The biggest difference is the amount of time it takes to write. A skeletal 120-page screenplay takes much less time to outline and write than a 70k novel. We wrote first-person in the book, which was a lot of fun. We were able to get into the heads of the characters and express feelings and thoughts that can’t be done in a screenplay. It was also challenging to create a much more in-depth world, but in a way felt more freeing because we had to explore the backstory of the characters and got to know them in ways we didn’t when writing the script. It opened up so much detail of Ava and Mira’s world to us.
Yanes: As twins writing a novel centered on twins, what do you two think writers get wrong when creating twin characters?
The Saunders Sisters: We do feel many writers that portray twin characters play heavily on stereotypes. If they aren’t making the identical sisters or brothers out to be “weird” or kitchy, then more often than not they’re in a love triangle or scaring people like in The Shining. We really wanted to write our POV of the uniqueness of a twin relationship all while showing how relatable the bond truly is.
Yanes: What are the long term goals for The Rule of One? Given how engaging the main characters are, are there plans to write a sequel?
The Saunders Sisters: Yes, there will be a sequel! The Rule of Many comes out May 7th.
Yanes: When people finish writing The Rule of One, what do you hope that they take away from the experience?
The Saunders Sisters: Though The Rule of One takes place in the harsh environment of a United States that has become a militarized, surveilled state, we hope through the actions of two young girls, Ava and Mira, the readers will come away inspired and hopeful for the future.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you two working on that people can look forward to?
The Saunders Sisters: We’re currently finishing up the sequel, The Rule of Many, and just began writing the television pilot for The Rule of One!