Tag Archives: dystopian

Interview with Sara Grant, part 2

Today we continue the chat with Sara Grant, whose YA dystopian novel DARK PARTIES comes out later this year.

Tell us about your writing journey. How have publishers reacted to your work?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story, which I submitted to the SCBWI British Isles (www.britishscbwi.org) UNDISCOVERED VOICES anthology (www.undiscoveredvoices.com). I let a writer friend and my niece read a very early draft. They both wanted to know what happened next and encouraged me to write the rest of Neva’s story. I told myself that if my story was selected, then I would write the novel. And, luckily it was included in the anthology.

The anthology was sent to UK-based editors and agents who focused on children’s fiction. I received calls and emails from editors and agents who were interested in what they’d read. I signed with an agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates because we hit it off immediately and within moments I knew she understood my work and would be an amazing partner in the crazy world of publishing. And I was right. We worked together for about a year before she submitted my novel and about five months later I accepted an offer from Little, Brown in the US.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in DARK PARTIES. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. DARK PARTIES has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland and China.

How about readers? Have you found any special challenges reaching people with this genre?

My book isn’t released in the US until August in the US and October in the UK but I have started to be approached by book bloggers who have read advanced copies of DARK PARTIES. Because DARK PARTIES is my first novel, I must admit it’s a very strange experience to have something you’ve written out in the world. What I’m most fascinated by is watching this story take on a life of its own. It’s very gratifying to have people read something you’ve written and even more exciting to learn what they’ve discovered in the pages of your novel.

DARK PARTIES was published in March in Germany under the title NEVA. I was lucky enough to visit Germany for the launch and attended the Leipzig Bookfair where I got to meet my very first readers. It was an overwhelming experience for this small town girl to be signing copies of her book in a country she had never before visited and being so graciously welcomed by enthusiastic readers.

What are some of your favorite speculative fiction books for young people?

I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in her trilogy is a master class in deftly creating a world but not letting the world take over. She blends a compelling love triangle with page-turning action.

I’ve also recently discovered China Mieville. I’ve heard him speak and read a few of his short stories but he’s definitely an author I intend to read more of and study.

If you could live in a sci-fi or fantasy world, which would it be? Why?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I will have to go with my earliest influences in TV and film – Star Wars and Star Trek: the Next Generation. I suppose I couldn’t resist a trip on NCC 1701-D. I love the idea of being able to be beamed anywhere. I would also spend endless hours on the holodeck. Oh, and of course work with Jean Luc to bring peace, love and justice to the universe!

What would readers find surprising or interesting about you?

If I thought the last question was difficult….hmmmm…I find personal questions like this even more tricky to answer. Am I honest and tell you that I think the most perfect food in the universe is mashed potatoes and I will eat them for any meal? Does that make me sound too bland? It’s true but is it interesting? Maybe I should mention that I can say my alphabet as quickly backwards as forwards. Surprising but is it too trivial?

A relevant fact: I remember writing my first story at eight years old. It was written on notebook paper and tied together with three pieces of string. It was dedicated to Farrah Fawcett Majors. (Um, yeah, I was writing under the influence of an extreme obsession with the TV show Charlie’s Angels at the time.) Too weird?

What if I shared that I quit my job as director of communications for one of the biggest foundation in the US and moved to the UK to be with a British man I met standing in line for a ride at Universal Studios in Florida?

Maybe that’s interesting but it certainly isn’t the whole story. So maybe I’ll just say that I wrote my first story for children when my niece Megan was born and I got my first book deal the year she turned seventeen. Oh, I don’t know. I think I should just stick with something simple so how about I just say: orange is my favorite color.

Thanks, Sara! Best wishes for the success of Dark Matter.

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Interview with Sara Grant

Today I’m chatting with Sara Grant, whose debut novel comes out later this year.

Sara, please tell us about your book.

DARK PARTIES is a dystopian novel for young adults.

Sixteen-year-old Neva was born and raised in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies and xenophobia. Hundreds of years ago, her country constructed an electrified dome to protect itself from the outside world. What once might have protected now imprisons. Her country is decaying and its citizens are dying. Neva and her friends dream of freedom. A forbidden party leads to complications. Suddenly Neva’s falling for her best friend’s boyfriend, uncovering secrets that threaten to destroy her friends, her family and her country – and discovering the horrifying truth about what happens to The Missing…

DARK PARTIES will be published this year by Little, Brown in the US on August 3, Orion in the UK in on October 20.

Why did you choose to write in this genre? What inspires you?

It may sound strange but I didn’t choose the genre. I found an issue and characters that interested me and I let the story evolve. I’d just moved to London, England, from Indianapolis, Indiana. I was immersed in the paperwork of immigration and uncovering news stories on both side of the Atlantic about who and how many should be allowed to enter a country. That got me thinking….what if a country closed its borders to people and ideas?

This question led to more questions of national and personal identity. The citizens in my fictitious country grew more and more alike. Their population dwindled. How would a teenager rebel in this closed and homogeneous society?

DARK PARTIES started as a short story about Neva and her best friend Sanna who host a party for their friends in the pitch black and secretly plot a rebellion. I was intrigued – some might say obsessed – by this idea. I spent the next three years writing and revising DARK PARTIES.

What inspired you to tell the story of a society cut off from the rest of the world?

As I mentioned above, I had just moved from the US to the UK and wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity. You don’t have to look far to see countries, cities and individuals questioning how to maintain their cultural identity in a global society. What does it mean to be American or British when the cultural make up of your country is changing? I definitely believe that diversity of cultures and ideas makes a country stronger. DARK PARTIES was my way to explore all these issues.

I also think DARK PARTIES was influenced by growing up in a small town where it often felt as if I was living in a fish bowl. Everyone knew everyone else – which has many benefits but if you are a teenager, it makes it next to impossible to rebel.

Are there special challenges in writing speculative fiction? How do you deal with them?

I love the freedom of writing speculative fiction – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. In contemporary novels, teens are confined by so many rules, and the adventure is limited when the protagonist can pick up a cell phone, search the internet or turn to a responsible adult to solve problems. In speculative fiction, you can break all the rules, raise the stakes, and allow your teens a greater sense of action and adventure.

But the challenge of writing speculative fiction is also the freedom. You create a world and make the rules, but changing one thing can have a nearly endless rippled effect. For example, closing the borders influences how my characters think, speak and act. It’s exhilarating to have that kind of freedom but also daunting. All you can do is think and analyze and ask questions about this world you’ve created and construct it in a way that’s believable to your readers.

I believe less is better. I have to know more about the world than I share with my readers. It’s tempting to write a lot of ‘look at me’ passages where you share with your readers all the weird and wonderful things you’ve imagined, but I believe the world you’ve created must serve the story. You must give your readers enough detail to navigate the world, but not so much that it detracts from the story.

Great advice! We’ll continue the interview tomorrow, so stop back to learn more about Sara’s writing journey, along with some fun facts about her.

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Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE (Part 2)

P. J. Hoover answers more of my questions about her new YA e-book, SOLSTICE, which she e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Read Part 1 of this interview.) SOLSTICE blends teen romance with dystopian elements with Greek mythology.

Parker Peevyhouse: What about marketing–is that all up to you or will the agency help with that? We friended your book on Facebook, by the way. :)

P. J. Hoover: Thanks. I think they will do what they can to help market the book as far as advertising on their Facebook page, and Laura Rennert will be talking about it at a panel at BEA.

Parker:  I would guess it’ll get press just from the angle of “ABLA takes psuedo-publishing role.”

PJ: I hope so.

Parker: What specifically will you do to market SOLSTICE? You’ve got the book trailer, your blog, this interview…

PJ: I plan to really focus on the online. There is no book party at a store to plan, no postcards to mail. So I am going to focus on blog tours, twitter… I’m going to Dallas Comic Con. I made trading cards to hand out with secret content–each card has a special QR code.

Parker: Those weird boxes that you take pictures of with your phone?

PJ: Yes, with a barcode scanner app. It takes you to a hidden website link with maybe a secret vlog or a deleted scene or a chapter from another character’s POV. That sort of thing.

Parker: So I will get one of these cards, when?

PJ: I’ll mail you some! Teens are totally savvy about these things. I handed out cards last Saturday at an event and had hits on my hidden links before I got home.

Parker: Wow. So your marketing will target teens, not gatekeepers like booksellers, librarians and teachers.

PJ: Librarians are definitely in the mix because you can loan out e-books.

Parker: How will sales of your e-book affect future sales of other projects to publishers?

PJ: I think with as much as the market is changing, my options are wide open. I also think, for my career, marketing is very important. I don’t think it’s enough for an author to e-publish a book and put it on Amazon and expect it to just take off. I really think author marketing is huge. HUGE.

Parker: Did author marketing work well for your EMERALD TABLET books [which were published by a small press, CBAY Books]? Is there a difference here?

PJ: There are a few differences. First, those books were middle grade. MG readers are not online, so online marketing is very hard. So much depends on librarians and bookstores. Also, the CBAY books are hardcover and priced at $16.95. Some parents are reluctant to spend that on a book for their kid. SOLSTICE is priced at $2.99. So now I have a book aimed at teen readers who are online and moms who are online. And it is less expensive than a cup of coffee.

Parker: Are you going to aim any marketing specifically at older women?

PJ: Yes, I would like to. It has enough romance in it that I think older readers will enjoy it, too. There are lots of blogs for teens that readers of YA love, and then there are writers, and romance blogs.

Parker: What’s your next project?

PJ: Well, I do plan to write a sequel to SOLSTICE, and I’m also working on another standalone YA but I’m not going to talk too much about it except to say that it’s the first thing I’ve written without mythology in it.

Parker: I ask because with Hocking and others it seems like the strategy is to get as many e-books out there at one time as possible to up visibility and keep the hype going. That’s not your strategy?

PJ: I would love to be able to write that fast, but I can’t. :) I do see the genius behind doing that, though. I may work on some short stories in the same world.

Parker: What if a publisher sweeps in and wants to publish the sequel(s)? Would you do that or stick with e-books? Is getting a contract with a “Big 6″ publisher your end goal?


Parker: For any book at all.

PJ: I certainly wouldn’t say I’m sticking with e-books forever and never traditionally publishing, but I’m not in the mindset that I have to be at a traditional publisher either. I think so much is changing that even in a year, it will look different.

Parker: So SOLSTICE is not a stepping stone?

PJ: No! It’s just an awesome way to get the book in the hands of readers.

Parker: Before the mythology/dystopia trend dies.

PJ: I think with dystopia we see so much of the same type of thing–the government is bad or the world is destroyed. But what I love about SOLSTICE is that it is a totally new take on the subject.

Parker: I happen to know what that take is and it is pretty cool :)

PJ: Thanks!

SOLSTICE is available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse


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Interview: P. J. Hoover Talks About E-Publishing SOLSTICE

With the explosion of chatter online about authors who make their careers by self-publishing e-books, I was eager to talk with former Spectacle contributor P. J. Hoover about her new YA novel SOLSTICE, which has just been e-published with the help of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. This is a new model for literary agencies who are interested in finding a place in the e-publishing process, and P. J. explains here how that partnership worked in her case.

SOLSTICE is set in a future plauged by a Global Heating Crisis and is about a young woman who becomes entangled in a love triangle of Greek mythic proportions. It’s available now on Amazon and Smashwords, and will be available soon on Barnes&Noble.com.

Parker Peevyhouse:  It’s been a while since we’ve seen you here! Looks like a lot has been happening since then. Let’s hear about why you chose to self-publish. Why this book?

P. J. Hoover: This book is really timely for right now. It’s a mythology-based dystopian novel, and right now both of those elements are hot. I think the tipping point was really looking at the market and seeing the books that were coming out and knowing that even if we did sell to a traditional press it could take over a year to come out. Like even into 2013.

Parker: Which means you might miss the trend for dystopian or mythology-based novels.

PJ: And also, given how exciting all the e-book news is these days, it seemed like a really fun thing to do.

Parker: Had you previously submitted the manuscript to publishers?

PJ: My agent [Laura Rennert] and I had subbed a very different version earlier (about a year ago) with minimal dystopian elements. We got close to selling but never found the right fit.

Parker: How did you talk to your agent about self-pubbing?

PJ: I didn’t. I had a phone call scheduled with her to talk about what our submission strategy would be. We talked about that a bit and then she said, “Well, there is another option.” And she suggested the self-publishing route.

Parker: Was this before or after Amanda Hocking’s success with self-publishing?

PJ: This was two months ago–so after her news went viral.

Parker: Had the agency ever suggested self-publishing to their other authors or was this a new view they were taking?

PJ: I’m not sure if they had suggested this to any of their other clients or not. But once I decided I wanted to go the indie pub route, they took the ball and ran with it. We did another round of edits. And then a copy edit, and two proofreading edits.

Parker: Is that more editing than an e-book usually gets? I guess it probably varies.

PJ: We did many rounds back and forth. My agent and her reader are some of the most gifted people I can imagine when it comes to editing.

Parker: Were you always cool with the suggestions?

PJ: There are definitely some things I stood against changing. For example, the character of Piper’s mom–I really had an idea of how I wanted her to be, and though it was mentioned a few times, I didn’t change her (too much). I think in some ways, they imagined a happier world in the world of gods, and I viewed the world of gods as a bit of a cruel and deceitful one.

Parker: The agency did a lot more than editing, though, right?

PJ: They chose the cover picture and found a cover designer. (The POD book should come out a while after the e-book.) So, the agency arranged for cover design and layout and editing, and they are getting their regular 15% of royalties.

Parker: Did you get to approve the cover? How much say did you have? You like to think e-pubbing gives you more control…

PJ: They sent me the cover photo, which I loved, and then they sent me the actual cover and really, it was so gorgeous, I never would have even thought to say anything should change. I was in love with it the second I saw it.

Parker: That worked out well!

PJ: It really did.

Parker: It is a really great cover!

PJ: Thanks!

On Tuesday, I’ll talk with P. J. about marketing and more…

Parker Peevyhouse


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Lois Ruby, author of The Secret of Laurel Oak

Today I’m chatting with Lois Ruby, who is offering a book giveaway of her ghost story, The Secret of Laurel Oak!  Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy. Please be sure your post links to your e-mail or website so we can contact you, or check back on Sunday’s post to see the winner.

Lois, tell us about your books.

The Secret of Laurel Oak is a gen-u-wine ghost story – my first.  Daphne was born an African slave around 1830 and sent to spirit after a violent death at the age of fifteen.  She’s modeled after a girl named Chloe whose brief life was spent at Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. Myrtles is on the Smithsonian list of the ten most haunted houses in America.

What’s come down through history is that Chloe poisoned two little girls at Myrtles. Whether by accident or design, or if she even did it, we do not know, but her ghost has been spotted by dozens of visitors to the plantation. Nor does Chloe herself (Daphne in my book) know what happened that horrific night.  For 160 years, she’s waited patiently for the right person to show up to solve the mystery.  Now Lila has arrived, and all the spirits of Laurel Oaks are quickened.  The book’s written in alternating voices, half in Daphne’s and half in Lila’s, as the shocking story unfolds both from the here-and-now and from the other side. Will Daphne’s spirit finally be released to eternal rest?  Maybe.

The Secret of Laurel Oaks

I’ve also done another novel, yet to find a publisher, set in the early years of spiritualism, the 1850s. Two intrepid girls fake séances, enthralled by the popular new belief that we can all talk to dead loved ones in the realm beyond.  It’s just a profitable game for them – until they discover that one of them actually has the gift and begins to hear the wails of  six children murdered by their mother.  Based on a true story of Polly Frisch, who poisoned her children with arsenic-laced bread and butter.  Cold, hunh?

Are there challenges in writing in this genre?

Let’s be honest.  In my normal life, I do realistic fiction for middle graders and teens. I’m so steeped in realism that my toes are growing roots like trees.  But as I’ve gotten more rings around my trunk, I’ve hungered for flashes of the visionary life.  So, I’ve begun studying about other realities, in hopes that some day I’ll experience what now is only wide-eyed speculation.  The challenge for me is to escape from the bonds of having to explain every phenomenon in some logical way.  It doesn’t have to make sense; it only has to sense. But that’s hard for a prove-it girl like me to reconcile.  I’m working on it!

[Chris’s note: Lois’s powerful realistic novels for middle grade and young adult readers include Miriam's Well, Skin Deep, and the humorous The Moxie Kid. Her historical novels include Shanghai Shadows, Journey to Jamestown, and Swindletop. Two of her previous books also cross between the past and the present: Steal Away Home and Soon Be Free. Learn about them all on her website.]

Skin Deep

Have your loyal readers followed you down this new path?

They’ve led me down this path.  It’s where young readers already are.  Now that Laurel Oaks is in Scholastic book fairs, I hear from kids around the country who never would have opened my other books.  They take speculative fiction very seriously and clamor for more.

What are some of your favorite speculative books for young people?

I love classic science fiction.  The old Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury books are among my favorites, probably because they’re strongly written, character-driven novels about  brave new worlds, and they don’t depend on super technology and flashy special effects.

I like some time-travel books, especially Jane Yolen’s wonderful The Devil’s Advocate, which catapults a contemporary girl into the milieu of the Nazi Holocaust, then gets her safely home again.  I’m not interested in magical, fantastical books or vampires or elves and faeries, either in medieval or urban settings.  I’d rather read post-apocalyptic, dystopian novels such as Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Beth Pfeffer’s Life as We Knew It, and Haddix’s Among the Hidden series.  Of course, I join the zillions of fans of the Hunger Games trilogy – unmatched for heart-thumping excitement coupled with contemporary satire.

However, in my estimation, as a librarian and author, the finest book for young readers in this genre (maybe any genre) is Lois Lowry’s The Giver. That’s a book I can read over and over, holding my breath all the way through the quiet, understated horror of a world without color, art, music, blemish, passion, memory – and the awakening of Jonas, who is given the gift of these forbidden emotions by the one dying old man who safeguards them all for future generations.  Magnificent book.  Fifth graders can read it for sheer story, seventh graders get the subtleties and begin to think about the implications.  Adults are devastated by it.

Why do you think young people are drawn to dystopian novels?

Some say the 21st century high school is the quintessential dystopian society.  It can be a cruel and hostile place with its social stratification, intense bullying and hazing, and its refusal to accept those who are “different,” however that difference is defined from within a clíque.  Other people say that we live in a gloom-and-doom world that is totally out of control.  The young heroes of dystopian novels find and earn ways to out-smart and overcome the doom of their worlds and change society for the better.

Once you read your way through the muck and joylessness of those post-apocalyptic worlds, you see hope at the end of the dark tunnel.  Young people want to know that there are ordinary kids just like them who summon the determination and courage to triumph over incredible obstacles, foes, and threats, and come out whole on the far side of the adventure.

Steal Away Home

Is the same true for ghost stories?

It’s different.  I think people of all ages wonder about what’s beyond life.  Very religious people think they know, but most of us see death as a mystery, and life as something we don’t want to let go of.  So, we speculate about reincarnation and a vibrant spirit life after we shed our bodies.  Besides that, young people just love to be scared witless and then to be reassured that things will be set right again when the nail-biting, heart-racing story ends.

Anything else we should know about you?

I have a wonderful husband that I met the first day of college at Berkeley, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren.  I’m older than permafrost, but I made the decision way back when that I’d never totally grow up if I wanted to write stories for and about young people.  You could say I’ve stayed blissfully immature.  I have the pleasure of visiting schools all over the country and have encountered some awesomely good teachers and librarians.  It’s the kids, though, who make it so much fun.  Oh, one more thing.  I  collect pigs, though not live ones.  Yet.  Please follow me on Facebook and visit my Website.

Post a comment on this interview, and we’ll randomly choose one lucky winner to receive a copy of The Secret of Laurel Oak!


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Notes on Starting a Dystopian Novel

I’ve started writing a dystopian YA. I’ve read dozens of these books and finally have an idea of my own which I feel compelled to write. While I am good at plotting and cliff-hangers, it will be a challenge to build a new world. When I’ve written a SEER or DEAD GIRL books I already know the world and paranormal rules. But world-building is new to me and I have to do more than plot a story; I have to create a new world. I’m having to consider language, setting, history, rules of society and much more. I could spend months creating all the background for this book, but my impatient style is to just jump right into the first chapter.

How to start my book? If I compare myself with clever writers of my favorite novels, I’d probably get stuck and never write anything. I often like to start books with dialogue, but is that a good idea for a darker glimpse of a future world?

For examples, here are the opening lines from my favorite dystopian authors:
HUNGER GAMES: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
INCARCERON:  Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.
CITY OF EMBER: (Chapter 1)  In the city of Ember, the city was always dark.
BIRTHMARKED: In the dim hovel, the mother clenched her body into one final, straining push, and the baby slithered out into Gaia’s ready hands.
FIRST LIGHT: Most boys his age had never touched paper.

All very different openings, but each sets the scene for a new and different world. Which is your favorite? I particularly like the opening for FIRST LIGHT. Not a surprise that this author, Rebecca Stead, went on to win the Newbery with her WHEN YOU REACH ME last year.

So now I’m thinking…should I start with dialogue? None of these authors did. But then I have to remind myself dialogue is a strength of mine. It’s important not to follow other authors and hone in on my strongest skills.

I have lots of notes about my society and I have an idea of where the book is going, including some dramatic plot points. But as I plot, I wonder if some of my ideas are over-used? My society is secluded, which has been done a lot. It involves scientists, which is also common. And even if I come up with something completely new that hasn’t been done yet, it might be published by the time my book is ready. So how can I make my story different enough to be publishable?

It would be interesting to know what things you think have been overdone in dystopian books. Comments please!

Linda Joy Singleton — who is entering a strange new world where the future is a scary, fascinating word adventure.


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It’s Like That

Okay, so I’m way late getting in on the dystopia discussions. I’m also late to pick up the Hunger Games series, being only at the start of Book 1 while everyone else seems to be polishing off Book 3. (My excuse is that I’m only on Book 4 of Suzanne Collins’s Underland Chronicles and as a longtime Collins fan I really wanted to finish that first before starting anything newer.)

However, I can be the first to mention another trilogy set in a post-apocalyptic engineered dystopia revolving around life-or-death games: Battle Circle by Piers Anthony. In fact, I first mentioned Battle Circle in a comment over a year and a half ago. So who’s the trendsetter now, hmm?

Battle Circle was made up of Sos the Rope (1968), Var the Stick (1972), and Neq the Sword (1975). The series was my first introduction to the genre of engineered dystopias and therefore the yardstick I’ve subconsciously used ever since. I’ll be interested to see the parallels and differences between this Cold War inspired series and Suzanne Collins’s more modern futuristic drama.

I also want to recommend a new dystopic trilogy that’s just started in Mark Peter Hughes’s A Crack in the Sky. I had a chance to critique an early manuscript and this is a very cool book. It has a modern environmentalist and media culture mentality but also reminded me, at times, of Logan’s Run, another late 1960s book.

Which got me thinking “It’s Like That” would be a great topic for a blog post. There’s nothing new under the sun, and only 3, 7, or 36 different story plots, depending on how you count them, so maybe it would be fun to talk about some other new books, the classics they remind us of, and why. Suggestions, anyone?

—Greg, who also thought of that Shirley Jackson short story, The Lottery, when reading the Hunger Games opening. Dude, that was published in 1948!

Greg R. Fishbone

Greg R. Fishbone

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Guest Post: Agent Michelle Andelman on Dystopian Fiction

Today’s guest post comes from Michelle Andelman, a literary agent with Regal Literary, who recently sold Elana Johnson’s dystopian novel POSESSION to Simon & Schuster. Here are Michelle’s thoughts on dystopian literature and THE GIVER:

My mom was a junior high school English teacher, and she was the one who handed me Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER. She was deciding whether to adopt the book for her curriculum, I think, and she wanted to test it out on me. She wanted to know what I thought. Regarding the cover, I considered myself too old for it. I’d just graduated from junior high, and THE GIVER had just won the Newbery. I dove in feeling self-important, feeling like my mom trusted my opinion, feeling like I was revisiting a place I’d just left. Cracking the spine, I felt adult for the first time. And, then I fell in love.

In the beginning, Jonas describes feeling excited about the impending Ceremony where he’ll receive his Assignment to the role he’ll play in his society. But when he thinks about what might happen, he confesses to also feeling a shudder of nervousness. He decides he’s apprehensive. I felt the same, the whole way through THE GIVER, suspended like Jonas between excitement and nervousness. Suspended? I think I mean trapped. And, in a way I never had before as a reader. By both the story and the storyworld, a dystopia that’s misguidedly drained its society of color, pleasure, and memory in order to drain it of pain. I think I could feel the trap of this dystopian logic, by which well-intentioned ends are meant to justify terrible means, and nothing is gained without everything being lost. That’s what I remember feeling throughout: a sense of loss. And, this is what Jonas comes to as he receives the communal memories The Giver transmits to him: a sense for what good has been lost in the transaction his society has made in order to be better. The most compelling thing about dystopian lit for me is that its storyworlds are the result of authors imagining, with excitement and nervousness, with apprehension, what transactions a society might make in the name of what’s good, and what might happen if a society willfully built itself on those unthinkable losses. We can withstand such losses – of freedom, happiness, knowledge, love – dystopian lit tells us. But are we willing to, for how long, and for what gains? How chilling the question. The genre. Yet also maybe how comforting.

I don’t remember telling my mom I loved THE GIVER. I don’t remember sharing why I thought her students would love it. But I have this proof of the conversation: on the inside cover of my Laurel-Leaf paperback edition, the one on my bookshelf today, my copy is inscribed: “with love to those who read – and remember – and GIVE – Lois Lowry.” I don’t remember and maybe I never knew where or how they met. Lowry dated it 1994. She framed her inscription with three quick stars. Above Lowry’s inscription my mom – in the red ink of all English teachers everywhere, forever – wrote her own name ABlumenrich. She didn’t separate the cursive A of her first initial from the cursive B of the maiden name she used “in school.” She didn’t dot the “i.” She marked up the book in black and blue and, yes, red ink. She underlined line after line. She wrote one word at the top of one page: “pastime,” thinking perhaps to ask her students why Lowry chose to spell it “pasttime” instead. She drew one question mark in one margin, at the end when Jonas “found the sled that was waiting for them at the top of the hill.” The curl of my mom’s question mark doesn’t end in a period. It ends in a star. All over Lowry’s book, my mom drew her own quick stars. She taught from them.

My mom died in 2003. My copy of THE GIVER is hers.

–Michelle Andelman


Filed under Parker Peevyhouse

Author ex machina

I recently read a dystopian novel. (Who hasn’t, right?) While I thought the characters were terrific and the emotional core of the story very satisfying, some of the plot and dystopic elements were equally disappointing, often because they were contradictory or way too convenient. A crucial plot point depended on the characters’ abilities to create something that was almost dismissively easy for them to create. But wait — if the good guys can do this, what’s to stop everybody from doing it? And why haven’t some of those everybodies done it before now?

The only answer seemed to be, “Nothing, but then it wouldn’t be a dystopia any more.” There were other contradictions in the world-building, some of which had more impact on the plot than others, but all of which weakened it for me. I liked the book, but I was disappointed. I find it hard to believe that an agent or editor didn’t raise the same concerns and ask the author to fix them.

And yet… I’ve only seen a few reviews of this book, but none of them seem to care that the more technical or societal aspects of the book are weak at best. Which makes me wonder if I am the only one who cares about plausibility and the technical matters that make me believe anything the author says… or not. I have to admit, this is not the first spec fic book I’ve read in the past few years that I had similar trouble with, but that seemed to do well among other readers.

Thus my question: Is the character/emotional story more important to you than plot plausibility, world-building, or the trust you can place in the author?

— Joni, who wants to care as much about the ideas in a book as its characters


Filed under Joni Sensel

Counting Down to MOCKINGJAY

School Library Journal recently interviewed Suzanne Collins about her upcoming finale to the Hunger Games trilogy, Mockingjay. Reading about Suzanne Collins didn’t make me simply want to reread her books – - I found myself longing to meet her and become her friend. I admire how she worked hard with other writing jobs for many years until trying fiction and then falling in love with the format. I love fiction and always have. While I write non-fiction articles occasionally, fiction is the true calling of my heart.

And the characters in Suzanne’s series (HUNGER GAMES & GREGOR) touched my heart. I can’t tell you exactly why; it’s the subtle magic in her voice and writing style. Her characters make you love them and root for them the way sports’ fans root for favorite teams. Passion, anxiety, adoration — all combined to keep readers flipping pages to make sure beloved characters succeed and survive. When I first read HUNGER GAMES, I could hardly breathe as I worried about Katniss and Peeta. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the book since it made me feel so anxious…but then Suzanne delivered an ending that outdid my expectations.

Speaking of expectations, one line in Suzanne’s interview troubled me. Read the interview, and you’ll know which one I mean. It’s when she compares her story to mythology and the tragedies of war. My first thought was “Oh, no! She wouldn’t do that…would she?” But then I put myself in her place, as an author with a crazy-popular book, and I thought I might tease readers just a little. Still, I am a little worried for Peeta and Gale. It’s like in the Harry Potter books when Voldemort says to “kill the spare.” Katniss has a spare boyfriend. So I do worry…and won’t relax until MOCKINGJAY comes out on August 24th.

I am counting the days.

Linda Joy Singleton


Filed under Linda Joy Singleton