A young adult novel without the dystopian gloom

“We’re gravitating toward a world where more and more of our interactions with other people are mediated by technology,” said first-time author Katharine McGee.
“We’re gravitating toward a world where more and more of our interactions with other people are mediated by technology,” said first-time author Katharine McGee. Chris Bailey Photography

In a market glutted with young adult series set in dystopian futures (think “Divergent” by Veronica Roth and “The Maze Runner” by James Dashner), it’s refreshing to find the more optimistic “The Thousandth Floor,” the first in a planned trilogy by Katharine McGee (Harper Collins, $19, 448 pages).

Her story is set 100 years in the future, the action and drama unfolding inside a 1.5-mile-high skyscraper in New York City. It’s a self- contained vertical city so vast that it encompasses Central Park. The story unfolds largely in alternating narration from several characters’ points of view. Publisher’s Weekly magazine called it “a confident debut, replete with romance, jealousy and enticing future fashions and tech.”

Before graduating in June with an MBA from Stanford University, McGee, 28, worked at Alloy Entertainment in New York, a division of Warner Bros. Television. “We were focused on creating content for young women, generating ideas for books, TV and film,” she said. She wrote her novel after leaving her job and before enrolling at Stanford. Visit her at

Q: How did this happen?

A: Working in teen fiction, I’d been a little frustrated with the plethora of dystopias that came out after “The Hunger Games.” I said to my friends, “Why is everyone so down on the future? Does anyone really believe that in 100 years we’ll all be ruled by a dictator and have a caste system?” Everyone kept saying, “If you want to see a more optimistic future, you should write it.”

Q: How did you end up in a mega-skyscraper?

A: I didn’t know the specifics of the setting until I saw a YouTube video online, for (an ongoing) project in China called Sky City. The idea is a self-sustaining city in the countryside that would house several million people. The trend is called “vertical urbanization.” That became the trigger (for the book). I was living in New York and kept thinking, “What if New York was this kind of city?” Built on my desire to write non-dystopian fiction, this is the story that came out, with fun characters with overlapping stories to place in it. There’s nothing really ominous about it.

Q: The futuristic technology is intriguing – Google Glass contact lenses, holographic TV that scrolls through thousands of channels with the wave of a hand, hover boards, anti-gravity yoga, “hyper-loop” trains to foreign capitals.

A: The story speaks to more extreme versions of modern society. We’re gravitating toward a world where more and more of our interactions with other people are mediated by technology (such as social media). It’s scary how much we depend on our smartphones and communicating with each other through screens. I’ve tried to show a version of that where it hasn’t gone haywire, where we’re not isolated and moving in bubbles apart from one another.

Q: How do you see your audience demographic?

A: Technically it’s aimed primarily at women ages 13 to 30, but I’m hoping there will be men interested in the story, (maybe) because of the setting and the male characters.

Q: What do you think will resonate most with your readers?

A: The characters, first and foremost. I tried to create stories that are character- and relationship-driven, so if you strip away all the tech and the glittery futuristic shell, the story could exist in the present day. Even though the characters are running around on high-speed elevators for miles at a time, the motivators are the same as in any human story. I hope (readers) root for the impossible romance.

Q: Do you have a character role in the book?

A: Pieces of myself and moments of my life are all over the place. When my fiancé read it, the first thing he said was, “I’m a little scared of Leda, I didn’t know you had that (maliciousness) in you.” I do have a lot of insecurities.

Q: There’s talk of a TV series.

A: ABC purchased a one-year option which expires this fall, and we don’t know if they’re going to renew it or not. Hopefully it will resonate with someone in Hollywood, but I have very little control over that.

Q: What about the rest of the trilogy?

A: I sold (Book 1) based on the first seven chapters, and I’m deep into Book 2, which will publish in 2017. I know where everything will end in Book 3, I just haven’t written it yet. I operate with a color-coded, bullet-pointed outline, so I know the overall stroke.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe