Thursday, October 29, 2009
A Top Secret Interview
A month or so ago, I was interviewed for Costco Magazine for an article about Steampunk and what is hot in YA literature. When the interview was printed I was pleased to see a mention of my book, but the rest of the interview ended up on the cutting room floor. Now I understand that these things happen, but I thought that I’d resurrect the interview and post it on my blog. Since the answers belong to me, but the questions don’t, I’m going to leave the Q’s blank. You can guess what the questions were...heck, make up your own!
Here it is:
A: Arthur Slade, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, 12 years writing full time, my most popular titles are DUST and TRIBES and my upcoming series is THE HUNCHBACK ASSIGNMENTS.
A: I really fell into writing for young adults by accident. I had sent a manuscript that I thought was for adults to a critiquing service and was told it was the perfect novel for young adults. I was totally surprised by this. That novel was never published but when I sat down to write my next one I began to think a lot about the types of books I'd loved as a teenager and they were mostly science fiction, fantasy and horror. I'd always enjoyed Old Norse sagas, so I decided to write an updated version of some of the frightening stories the Norsemen loved to tell. That became my first published novel DRAUGR (a draugr is someone who comes back from the dead).
There are two things I always try to remember when I'm writing for a teen audience. One is, would I have liked this book when I was a teen? I'm constantly trying to recapture the feeling I used to get when I was reading at that age. I could really disappear right into a book. The other important element to remember is to never write down to the audience. Young adults are smart, hip, and they see right through any attempts to "teach a lesson." I always try to aim above the audience and I often find that young readers understand quite a bit more about the world than I give them credit for.
A: Both Twilight and Harry Potter are such big phenomena that it's almost hard to explain exactly why they were so popular. Twilight certainly does aim for an older audience right from the beginning, though I am surprised at how many younger readers (mostly all female) have been drawn into the books. I think this is natural, though, because pre-teens and teens often read at such varying age levels, often far above their actual age. Also, when a book has such a massive popularity it tends to become like a black hole (in a good way) pulling in people from outside the age group it originally captured. Parents want to know what their older kids are reading, so do a million younger siblings. The one major difference I see between Harry Potter and Twilight is that Twilight truly is a "girls" book. Harry Potter bridged the gender gap but Twilight is mainly read by one gender. Boys like reading about vampires, but not necessarily slowly developing books about the "romantic" aspect of vampires. This gender gap, though, is also exacerbated by the fact that the older boys get the less they tend to read. So Twilight's success comes from telling its audience the type of story they want to hear--a romantic, mysterious story about a handsome boy with a problem--he's a vampire. Now this story has been told before, but Twilight tells it in a new way that is familiar enough that the reader feels comfortable, and yet with enough new and interesting details that the reader feels compelled to continue reading.
Twilight hasn't really affected what I write (other than I'm tempted to throw a few more vampires in). Anytime an author attempts to follow a trend,
you're already behind the curve and too late. Where books like Twilight affect an author like me is that they bring more readers to fantasy/horror fiction and the more who become familiar with those worlds the more readers who will branch out in directions away from Twilight.
A: Younger imaginations are very active and keen to explore in many different areas. I believe that's part of the reason fantasy, science fiction, and horror novels are so attractive to them. It's natural for young minds to gravitate towards fantastical fiction (especially horror fiction) because they are just testing out ideas of immortality and mortality. When you're young you feel as though you'll live forever, so it may be easier to identify with immortal creatures like vampires. But a young rational mind also knows that death is a reality for all humans. Horror fiction is a way for younger readers to explore these aspects of life in an almost mythological manner.
A: Young adult readers are very picky but they're also extremely loyal to the writers they enjoy. As a group they are much better at communicating (especially via texting or the web) so that if they find some work of fiction that they enjoy they can easily "broadcast" this information to a number of other teens. As consumers they tend to buy smaller priced items, so books fit easily into their budgets. What also helps to drive sales is the adults in their lives--parents, uncles, grandparents--often buy books for younger readers because its a gift that elders feel is helping to "educate" the child. The real key to identifying work that teens would like (especially if you're an elder buying for a younger audience) is to try to find that book the fits into their taste in genre, yet is something new. As an author I'm always impressed by the energy and vigor that young adults bring to their reading. They will read a book they enjoy sometimes five to ten times. It's important to write a novel with enough depth that they will find new joys in the book each time they read it.
A: The readers enjoy the feeling of continuity that a series can provide. Once they've already invested the time it takes to read a novel they feel as though the characters are their friends and they want to find out what happens to their "friends" next. There is a real comfort for young adults to spend time in a familiar world that has a set of rules and that feels as though they own it. Like any writing, a relationship develops between the reader and the book. Younger readers will want to know every detail about the world that their favorite characters inhabit. So they enjoy reading series to discover more and more about that world.
Q: Gail Giles is an author who writes gritty, real life crime dramas for the young adult audience and her success is partly driven by her ability to make her stories appear so real. Suzanne Collins has a series called the Hunger Games, about a group of teens surviving a life or death reality TV series style game, (the latest is called Catching Fire and will be a huge hit). This combination of something that everyone is familiar with (reality TV) and the powerful life and death drama has really taken the young adult audience by storm. Scott Westerfeld, the author of the Uglies series, has a new novel titled Leviathan coming out this fall, which is a steampunk book (steampunk is a type of fantastical fiction inspired by Victorian times, but jammed full of steam powered ships, zeppelins, mad scientists, etc). My latest series, The Hunchback Assignments, falls neatly into the fantastical steampunk genre--it's the story of a hunchback who has the ability to change his shape, but he always goes back to being a hunchback. He is raised by a British lord to become a secret agent for the British empire and is pursuing Dr. Hyde, a man who plans to use his secret formula to change the street urchins of London into an army of monsters. So the book, obviously, draws inspiration from my horror roots, too.