Your last book, Lore, brings together Greek mythology and present-day New York. What pros and cons did you find while combining an ancient legendary world with a modern and technological one? And how was your researching process for this book?
It ended up being a little bit complicated when I was sitting down to actually figure out what myths I wanted to include, just because there are so many myths and there are also so many versions of each myth. So, I really had to go back and kind-of figure out which name spellings and which stories readers would be the most familiar with, so that if you didn’t necessarily know much about Greek mythology, you’d be able to still follow along with the story. And then we also included some helpful guides just in case you have no experience with Greek mythology whatsoever.
But, you know, one of the things I really wanted to explore, which is also kind of falls into what you're asking, is how the ancient world and the modern world clash with each other ideologically, just in terms of our beliefs and ways in which we still haven’t improved upon the ancient world (for example, in the treatment of women and how women are judged for their anger or their ambition).
But my research process, most of the research was centered on how the ancient Greeks lived and how they worship the gods. But on the whole, a lot of the research was just going back and rereading all the stories.
In Passenger duology, the main character, Etta, travels not only far away in distance, but also in time. You majored in English and History. How do your studies shape the way you conceptualize your stories? How do you draw the line between fiction and fact?
When I was in college, I had this wonderful class. I went to school at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which is at one end of… I’m not sure if you have a similar word for it, but a reenactment, of 18th century America. So it was like a little colonial town and then the school at one end.
And one of the best classes I took while I was in school explored… It was like an all-day Saturday field trip, which is very dorky, but it was so much fun. We got to go to all of the local historical sites, like around Colonial Williamsburg, but also Virginia in general. And the biggest takeaway I got from that class was that it’s to look for the people that history has forgotten because history is often written with a certain intent and with a certain narrative to get a point across or to elevate one people over another people.
And so, when I was writing Passenger, I really wanted to look at the margins of history and explore the people that maybe time is forgotten or has threatened, I guess endangered of being forgotten. And in terms of fact and fiction, I tried so hard in that series to stick to the facts. But sometimes you have to bend things just a little bit to make it work with history, and I didn’t think readers would mind if I took some slight liberties with it.
In The Darkest Minds’ world, children and young people get powers and the adults feel threatened by them and do everything possible to control them. It would hit a bit home if you compared it with some events that have been repeating themselves throughout human history, also recently, when someone in power tries (usually violently) to subjugate another rising group. Was your intention to mirror this kind of events in TDM? If not, what was the inspiration for that story?
Yes, definitely picking up on things that had already happened in History, even how quickly the camps came together in the books and how ramshackle they are, just sort of the terrible conditions in them. So I really look to my main source of how would the United States put something like this together very quickly, was the Japanese internment camps that we had during World War II: how quickly those came together, how terrible living conditions were there, how unfair it was for these people to be forced to live there. And so, I really wanted everything in the story, like when you're talking about kids with superpowers, obviously, that’s sort-of the one thing in the story that's allowed to be somewhat unbelievable, so everything else has to be somewhat believable, and that's why I was looking to History rather than trying to invent an entirely new situation.
In 2018 you revisited the world of The Darkest Minds with The Darkest Legacy with Zu as protagonist. What moved you to go back to those characters? Does this mean we could get more TDM books in the future?
Oh, good question. I would never say no to more The Darkest Minds’ books, because I love those characters so much. I feel very close to them still so many years later and I miss them like I miss my real friends. It sounds very strange, but…
I wanted to go back and give Zu her own story because I felt like of all of the main characters, Zu got the least amount of page time, and we ended up knowing the least about her because she doesn’t really speak at all in the first book. Actually, yeah, I’m trying to remember if there’s a scene where she mumbles in her sleep… And that’s it. And then she's absent from the second book, and we really only get her again in the last story (In the Afterlife, in the third book).
So I really wanted to explore her character and see how she, even among all of the characters, has really grown up in this world and has experienced things from a very young age. I wanted to see how that shaped her, and mostly I just wanted to be in her head again because I missed her. But I hope everyone enjoyed Zu's point of view.
The Darkest Minds was made into a movie in 2018. How was your experience with the whole process, from buy-in rights to premiere? What is your opinion of the adaptation?
I was not superinvolved with the movie, that was the choice of the producers. I got to visit the set, though, on their last two days of filming, which was really cool, and I got to meet the actor who played Clancy, for example. Actually, I did end up meeting everybody, just quickly, n passing. And I got fitted for costume and got to have a little cameo in the movie. That was very stressful to film. I could not be an actor. It was very embarrassing how stressful that was for me, and I did not have a single line. I was mostly involved with promoting it and doing things like panels, and I got to go to a really cool early screening and get all dolled up for that, which was really fun.
It's interesting because I consider the movie and the book to be just like two different things. I think some things the movie does better (for example, getting the story going a little faster. And then other things, I feel the book does better, because you get to see more of the world. It has a little bit more of like, I don't know if this is the right word for it, but like a little bit more of a tone to it, it feels a little grittier. But on the whole, I love the actors. I thought the actors did an amazing job. So yeah, I think it's a really fun movie.
And would you like to see more of your stories in the big screen?
Oh, definitely. I would love Lore to be adapted. I think it would be such a cool movie. As long as it's done right. It isn’t cheesy. I think sometimes it's really hard to do Gods on screen.
In fact, you have done the opposite process: you have written the young adult adaptation of Star Wars’ Episode IV, The Princess, the Scoundrel and the Farm Boy. Considering that you are the daughter of a Star Wars fan and spent your childhood going to fairs and cons, what meant to you being in charge of writing that book? How did you manage that project?
Oh, I was so excited when they asked me to do this. I actually started crying, but I was also so nervous to do it because I had grown up going to Star Wars conventions with my dad, and it meant a lot to me, because my dad had passed away at that point and I hadn’t really watched Star Wars because it made me too sad. And I was like, «Oh, I don't know if I can handle this emotionally between the pressure, the very short deadline and also thinking about my dad».
But it ended up being really nice because it made me feel close to him while I was working on it and I just had so much fun. I didn’t need to even consult the script as I was writing because apparently I had the movie memorized. But I got to pull lines from the radio adaptation and from some other source materials, and I got to visit the Lucasfilm offices. They gave me their style guide, so I know how everything is capitalized, which is a totally nerdy thing that I love. But it was just such a huge honour to work on that book, and I had the best time writing it.
And even your debut novel, Brightly Woven, is going to be published again, but turned into a middle-grade graphic novel. How do you feel about this transformation? How did Brightly Woven translate into the comic language? What kind of involvement did you have into the project?
This was actually a dream that I had for years and years, pretty much from the moment that the novel went out of print, because its original publisher closed. I thought it would be really cool to see the story in a different format that would be a whole new experience for readers who loved the original novel.
Because I’d never written a graphic novel before, I worked with the adapter Leigh Dragoon. She did a great job taking the story and addressing certain things that I cope to change, including making the main character more active, having her take charge of the story a little bit more, because she was very passive in the novel.
It was such a challenge to be able to figure out how to condense that story down into one graphic novel. But it's so fun and so cute. I love it.
Throughout your career, you have written several series and standalone books. You have also written for different readerships. How the creative process differs from each other (series vs standalone, young vs child)? Which type do you enjoy writing the most?
Oh, that's tough. There are pros and cons to all of them, really. I like that a standalone… The good and bad thing about a standalone is that, after you’ve written that story, it's done. Do you know what I mean? You're not thinking about… You don’t immediately dive into the next story. You’re not thinking about what's going to be in the next couple of books as you’re writing. But at the same time, you’re really sad because you grow so attached to those characters. And then all of a sudden you’re like, farewell, I guess, maybe I’ll visit you again.
But with a series, it’s just so complex to keep track of all of those moving parts. I really love the challenge of a series, I think if I had to pick, I would pick just the traditional trilogy. I know readers are very hot and cold on the trilogy currently, but I think there’s something really nice about that story format and having the rising action and things really hit the fan in book two and then the resolution in book three.
But yeah, in terms of writing YA versus middle grade for younger readers, it’s really just… In YA, I feel like it the main character is leaving home and experiencing the world for the first time outside of the home, whereas in the younger books their world is still so centered on their family and on their hometown. And so it’s not that there's less room to explore, it’s just a different mentality and a different set of priorities that a young adult would have versus a slightly younger kid. They're both really fun to write. I think I can get away with a lot more humour in middle grade, so I enjoy them a lot.
You coordinate a book club in Slack called «The Brackfast Book Club». Could you tell us a bit about it? How did the idea come up? How is your experience so far with it?
So last year, when the pandemic was happening, and I just felt so stressed and I was like «I’m not reading anything, I feel like I'm not working, I feel very cut off from readers». I asked on Instagram if anyone would want to do the book club. We could read books and discuss it every week, just like a certain section and a bunch of people were like «Yeah, let’s do it». And over time, the book club has slowly shrunk a little bit. So if anyone else would like to join us, you’re welcome to.
But we usually pick a different book a month and we discuss either two or three times. We discuss usually on Sundays. It’s just a nice way to keep in touch with everybody, see how everyone’s doing. And it really was just a lovely connection to everybody, especially last year, when things were still so hard.
To close the interview, what do you have next in your pipeline? Could you give us an exclusive of your current and upcoming projects?
Yes. I am currently working on a project called Silver in the Bone. It will be published in Spanish. It's similar to Lore and it's set in the modern world and uses mythology and folklore. In this case, though, it's kind of Celtic, Welsh and Arthurian lore. So it’s very different. It's partly set in Avalon, and it's the story of a girl who is trying to break a curse on her brother and is in kind-of a race against time and sorcerers and a bunch of other things. So it’s very… It’s much more, I think of an adventure, than Lore is, but I hope everyone will agree there are still some pretty good twists in it.
Thank you very much!
Thank you very much for your questions! You’re so thoughtful. Thank you.