For the next week, I’ll answer any non-spoilery questions about my next novel left comment thread of this post.
UPDATE: THE ANSWERS ARE BELOW
Let me answer a few obvious questions, just to get them out of the way:
Afterworlds comes out September 23, 2014.
It will be published by S&S in the US and UK, Penguin in Australia, Pocket Jeunesse in France, and Eksmo in Russia.
More countries/languages to come!
I will be going on tour (no firm schedule till late summer).
No movie or TV deals on Afterworlds yet.
Over to you guys now. Ask away!
(Note: Questions about other books will be mocked or ignored!)
AND HERE ARE MY ANSWERS SO FAR
For the bits of Darcy’s story, will we just be getting ‘chapters’ or sections that she writes in chunks, with editorial notes or changes happening later, or will the sections be interwoven with the narrative of Darcy?
Here’s how Afterworlds novel works: The odd-numbered chapters are about Darcy, the writer, and the even-numbered chapters are about Lizzie (and thus are written by Darcy). What you’re reading is the final draft of Darcy’s book (which is also called Afterworlds!). You only see the rewrites happening when you’re in Darcy’s world, like when she gets an editorial letter or comments from a copyeditor, and then has to address the shortcomings of her first draft. But you don’t actually see that first draft on the page.
So you’re going back and forth between “reality” and fiction every chapter. But the chapters are pretty long (for me), about three to four thousand words.
How is the protagonist of Afterworlds (Darcy..?) different/similar to the protagonists of your previous books?
There are two protags in Afterworlds, Darcy and Lizzie. Darcy is the young novelist, and Lizzie is the main character of Darcy’s novel. So I’ll answer this question twice!
Darcy is a lot more pensive than most of my heroines. She’s a writer, after all. There’s only one slightly action-ish scene in her half of the book, and she is revealed as a total scaredy-cat in many places. She thinks a lot about language and representation, which most of my characters don’t. So really, she’s a lot closer to me, Scott Westerfeld, than she is to, say, Tally Youngblood.
Lizzie is more of a badass, and a bit more like my usual heroines. But she’s not in a Westerfeldian story. Like, there aren’t any airship battles or hoverboard chases going on. It’s set in the contemporary world (though with ghosts and such) so it has fewer action-tastic scenes than I would have written.
What does the title refer to in the actual story?
Lizzie accidentally learns to cross over into the world of ghosts, even though she’s still alive. So she’s exploring the afterworlds (there are many) while Darcy is rewriting a book called Afterworlds.
What inspired you to write this?
Every time I go on tour, or hang out with YA types in NYC, I meet lots of wonderful and wacky people, and have interesting conversations. I’ve always wanted to write about the milieu that we’ve all been building over the last decade or so. So when I got the idea for Lizzie’s story (can’t remember how that came to me), I decided it would be fun to frame it with the story of a young writer working on her first novel.
Was writing about a more ‘meta’ subject different for you?
Certainly. It gives me a lot of opportunities to say what I think about writing itself, how it works and how stories affect all our lives. But I didn’t wan to get too wanky, which is why I also have a normal YA novel happening alongside the meta-narrative.
How closely does the ‘Afterworlds’ publishing/fiction-writing universe reflect real life and did you base many aspects on real life experiences or people?
I’ve stolen a lot of stories from real life, things that happened to me and to my friends. I actually sent out an email to friends asking for stories to steal. And many of them will recognize actual events from their own careers. But you can’t look at any one character and say, “That’s Maureen Johnson” or whoever. Most of the writer characters are compilations of people I know, not specific people.
How easy/hard was it to essentially write two interwoven novels? What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses of this technique?
The trickiest thing is making the two threads have a real impact on each other. Like, whenever Darcy learns something in the “real” world (she’s just moved out of home, so she’s learning all the time) she then incorporates it into the novel. So I have to place that thing she’s learned into Lizzie’s story in a way that the reader can see it. Of course, it doesn’t always have to be in the very next chapter. In fact, it may have already happened, because when you write a book, you can make changes to any chapter at any time. So the reader’s brain starts bouncing around, seeing connections. The trick is to do this without being perversely confusing.
Another tricky thing is that Darcy’s novel takes place over about six weeks, while my novel about Darcy takes place over a whole year. So time is moving in different ways, which means I have to be very clear about what’s going on for the reader, time-wise.
What does Darcy look like in your mind?
The actress who plays her in the trailer is pretty close to perfect. That’s not done yet, so you will have to wait. In the meantime, Darcy is short and round-faced with big eyes, and her parents are immigrants from India.
Any particular reason behind her name?
Her mom is a Jane Austen fan. (So she’s named after a fictional character!)
Does Darcy do more discovery writing or planning things out ahead of time? I mean, she’s already got a backbone since she’s basing it on something she’s already completed of sorts, but you mentioned that there’s major rewrites happening.
Darcy wrote the whole first draft in November in her senior year of high school (NaNoWriMo!), which happened before the books even starts, so it all blurted out of her in a huge rush. But you see her rewriting for a whole year, meticulously reworking every aspect of the novel. And it’s the first year she’s lived away from home. so she’s growing up a lot, and realizing that the way she saw the world in high school might have been bogus. (Possibly SPOILER-y thing: Darcy’s falling in love for the first time, which changes the way she sees the romance in her book.)
Is Darcy’s style of writing very much or even your own, or do you try to adopt a different style with her writing? (if so, is it successful, do you think?)
I didn’t try to adopt a different style, per se. But Darcy the novelist makes different choices than I do. Like, there are scenes I wouldn’t have written that she does, and certain kinds of constructions that I avoid that she’s okay with. But I didn’t want to make her novel crappy or juvenile, or her style of writing so different from mine that it jerked the reader every time the switch came. As to whether it’s a successful impersonation, we shall see.
The main difference between Darcy’s writing and mine is that I tend to go from giant action set piece to giant action set piece, whereas her book doesn’t have that kind of structure. There are action scenes at the beginning and end, but the middle is much more about exploring the afterworlds. Which is not how I would have done it. (Will my fans find this boring? We shall see.)
Did you decide to write metafiction by a specific comment or idea, or has the thought just been persistent and you finally decided to listen?
Like I said above, it was mostly about having lots of cool stories to steal. Not sure why now, except that I felt like doing something big and ambitious after Leviathan, which was ambitious in a totally different way.
Is this a standalone book?
Yes! It was really hard, and I doubt I’ll want to do another one (really another TWO) because I am lazy. But you can see it as a trilogy if you want:
1. Darcy’s book about Lizzie (even chapters).
2. My book about Darcy (odd chapters).
3. My “How to Write YA” guide that I’ll be releasing at the same time.
All three of these “books” are about the same length, 80,000 words, which is the usual length for a novel by me.
You’ve written other books with teenage girl protagonists, and Afterworlds is the same, i’ve gathered. Are there any techniques you use to write your female characters? Is it difficult? By the way, you do an exceptional job capturing their motivations and fears.
Thank you. I’m not sure why I’m good at writing teenage girls, except for the universally useful technique of realizing that both they and I are human beings. (Also, I was a teenager once, and like a lot of YA authors, remember that period of life pretty vividly.) In our imperfect and gender-binary-obsessed world, teenage girls are often socialized to express and think about their own feelings a lot, in a way that many boys aren’t, which makes them very useful as point-of-view characters.
So I’ve always found it fairly easy, and don’t fully understand why anyone would find it hard.
AND NOW FOR MORE ANSWERS ON DAY TWO
Where is Lizzie’s story set?
Mostly in San Diego. (Also, the afterworld.)
Would Darcy’s experience trying to publish her first novel have been different if she’d been in a city other than New York, like London or Sydney for example?
Yeah, it would have been very different. In NYC, Darcy’s in the middle of the publishing industry. She’s hanging out with lots of other writers, but also editors, agents, designers. She has moved to NYC to experience publishing at its heart (which gives me a lot more stuff to play with).
Is Jane Austen also why you named Darcy’s character Lizzie? Is that why she named her Lizzie?
It was an accident at first, for both me and Darcy. But yeah, I do go there in the book.
Can you tell us about any of the other characters? (At least some names, if not non-spoilery descriptions?)
There’s an Australian writer named Kiralee Taylor, who’s older and wiser and very acerbic. She wrote YA before the boom, and is a bit non-plussed about all the fuss these days. There’s Yamaraj, the smoldering love interest in Darcy’s book. He’s a super hot psychopomp (soul guide), and is conflicted about exposing Lizzie to the dangers of the afterworld. There are Sagan and Carla, Darcy’s very nerdy best friends from high school, who make her remember how young she is whenever they’re around. Then there’s Stanley Anderson, the YA author King of All Social Media, and Imogen Gray, another young author who befriends Darcy, and the Sister Debs!, a group of authors whose books all come out the same year as Darcy’s. And Mindy, a ghost who’s been haunting Lizzie’s mother for three decades. Nisha, Darcy’s snarky little sister, and Yami, Yamaraj’s snarky little sister. SO MANY CHARACTERS. I’ll stop there.
You said when it was coming out on October 28th that that date was a hint at the subject material. Does this have to do with Lee Jang Rim predicting the end of the world on October 28, 1992?
Heavens, no. It was related to the fact that Darcy wrote her first draft for NaNoWriMo, and October 28 is the last Tuesday before NaNo starts. (Books come out on Tuesday because the bestseller week starts then.)
Julia the bookworm
is it a lot harder to get a book published about a main character that is in their late teens early 20 s ( like age 18 and 24) than it is for books about early to late preteen\teenage characters ( ages 11 to 17)? I figured it might be harder to publish a book with young adults in it because they are somewhat emotionally different from teenagers and they are considered adults by law, consider themselves adults & and have privileges of an adult but in some ways they’re not quite emotionally there completely. I mean I know their making that new literary marketing category: ” New adult” for readers 18 to 25. But, is it still hard to sell books like that because of the emotionally awkward developmental state the characters?
True, usually YA characters aren’t 18 or 19, which Darcy is. And she’s moved out of home, another marker of New Adult (NA). But she’s very young for her age, and the pairing of her own novel (written in high school, and Lizzie is 17) makes this book pretty much YA. Though, frankly, so does my name on the cover. I think this book would be a pretty hard sell if you weren’t an established YA author, just because it’s kind of weird and insider-y.
The whole question of NA is pretty weird. It usually means “sexy content” more than anything else. And if it is hard to sell, that isn’t because of the “emotionally awkward” part of the characters’ ages. It’s more to do with the fact that any genre has both codes and an audience built into it, and a new genre (like NA) may take a while to find those codes and that audience. (Also, everyone on TV is 23, even the teenagers, so that story space is already saturated. Or something.)
MORE ANSWERS ON DAY THREE
I love metabooks. Neverending Story, Sophie’s World, Inkheart … any books you drew on for this?
I wasn’t thinking as much about metafictional books like those, in that there’s no “magic” blending between the two worlds in Afterworlds. There’s just the blending into the writer’s life from the novel and vice versa that happens naturally. I did draw on some non-fiction about young writers in New York, like Manhattan, When I Was Young, by Mary Cantwell, Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s, by Marijane Meaker, Goodbye to All That, edited by Sari Botton, and the essay of the same title by Joan Didion. And a 1958 novel by Rona Jaffe, The Best of Everything.
Why did you decide to write from a participant of NaNoWriMo and what unique aspects does that particular event bring to the novel?
NaNo just fascinates me, all those people exploring what it means to write a novel. Also, the NaNo credo of writing very quickly, but taking time to rewrite slowly and thoughtfully, made for a great plot device: Darcy has to take her wild, carefree, and youthful first draft and revise it from the more experienced and thoughtful position of growing up and leaving home. It’s rewriting as loss of innocence. I wrote a post for NaNoWriMo along those lines.
Will you tour in Australia?
I’ll be in the US for most of this year, but I will be back in December. So maybe then. What city are you in?
Is romance central to either Darcy or Lizzie’s story? I know that romance is a part of the story, but I was wondering how much exactly. Is it fundamentally something the plot revolves around, like, per say, Peeps or even The Hunger Games, or is it more of a side thing?
It’s a big deal for both of them. They’re both having their first real love affair, after all. In both cases it’s also part of the plot, as in, related to traveling the afterworlds or being a writer. More would be spoilery.
Also, how interwoven are Darcy’s love life and Lizzie’s?
As Darcy starts to understand love better, she’s trying to make her book more realistic, so they’re interwoven in that sense. There’s one very steamy scene in Darcy’s book that you can tell she experienced in real life. So hopefully you’re reading about Lizzie and saying, “Ermagahd, I know who this REALLY is.”
Is Darcy a reflection if how you were as a young writer?
Not really. I was neither published nor a YA writer. I was writing sf for adults. But certainly some of her travails as a young person living in NYC are inspired by my own.
How many words is the entire novel? And, if you have the answer, how much is split into each section (Darcy’s POV and Lizzie’s)?
It’s 150,000 words for the whole novel, and the two sections are almost exactly half that. Each character has twenty-one chapters from her point of view. But it’s not exactly even all the way through. Like, it’s probably more Lizzie at the beginning, then more Darcy in the middle, and more Lizzie at the end again, so the fictional frames the real.
After writing series with completely made-up/heavily altered worlds(uglies, succession, and leviathan), or slightly added-to versions of our modern world (midnighters, peeps, and last days), what made you decide to write another book (at least partly) set in the real world?
There was no separate decision: “I want to write realism!” In other words, I wanted to do something in the real publishing world, which I know a lot about the reality of, and writing in an alternate world felt like it would dull the edge a little.
But it is weird how hard I find it to write in reality. Like, people driving cars and stuff is pretty dull. One of the themes of the book became: real life isn’t like a novel; it’s just a bunch of stuff that happens.
A FOURTH CHUNK OF ANSWERS!
Is there a significance in the fact that Lizzie has the even chapters and Darcy has the odd chapters or was it just random?
Well, Darcy went first, so that’s why she got the odd numbers. The book starts with a short little chapter to clue you in to the fact that it’s a book within a book, bascially.
Lizzie ends up in the afterworld ( is “afterworld” capitalized? Or plural?) because she thought her way there because of a terrorist attack, right? What sort of terrorist attack is it? Does Lizzie die or sort-of die before she ends up in the afterworld (or is that too spoilery?)?
Don’t want to discuss the specifics of the attack, because that would spoil the drama! But she wills herself into the spirit world; she isn’t halfway killed or anything. In my mythos, every soul guide has a near-death experience as an origin story. And “afterworld” is only capitalized when it’s the novel’s title.
Did you have the idea for Darcy’s story first and then combined it with Lizzie’s, or did you think of Lizzie’s side of the book first, and then included Darcy’s part? Or were the two stories always interconnected in your vision of how the book was going to be?
I had them separately, and then they came together. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to do a novel set in the YA world, so that idea was probably first. But Darcy as a character only became clear after I knew what kind of book she would write. So it took that idea to bring her (the writer) into focus. So, yeah, the two books were growing together from a very early stage, and I pretty much wrote the overall book in order, switching back and forth.
It seems like Afterworlds is a bit of a departure from Uglies and Leviathan, as it’s less fantastical and action-oriented. Was this a challenge for you, and how was the experience of writing it similar or different from that of writing your previous books?
It was often frustrating, not having an action scene to write toward. Darcy’s story is relatively quiet, about leaving home and discovering herself, so the stakes are sometimes very small. (Well, not to her they aren’t.) There are a lot of scenes with writers talking about writing, which sounds boring, but hopefully winds back into itself in interesting ways, since you’re reading those writers’ books as well. It’ll be interesting for me to see if and how readers get invested in the fictional and meta-fictional characters.
What message (if any) do you hope readers will take away from Afterworlds?
Mostly, the themes are about representation and storytelling. How writers appropriate things from real life to create our stories and characters, how what we write bounces back to affect our real lives, our ethical responsibilities to both the real world and our imaginary worlds. Stuff like that!
And finally… any plans to come to Boston on tour?
No tour plans till the end of summer. (I don’t schedule my own tours. The nice people at S&S do that.)
I know you’ve written several novels set in New York (So Yesterday is one of my favourite of your books!), will the New York in Afterworlds be the same as in your previous novels? Or will you be including/excluding certain things to give a different picture?
Most of my previous books are about characters who know the city well. But Darcy has just moved there, and is exploring the city from scratch, so that’s a very different perspective. And, of course, she’s involved with the publishing and YA world, which has its own geography of the city. (She goes to Book Expo America, for example.) Also, Darcy likes eating more than any of my other NYC characters, so there’s more about the food of the city.
Were there any challenges writing about a character from a different culture? You mentioned Darcy’s parents immigrated from India.
Darcy is from an Indian-American family, and her novel draws on Hindu mythos, so she confronts issue of cultural representation in storytelling. Don’t want to get more spoiler-y than that.
You mentioned that the actress that plays Darcy in the trailer is quite perfect, if I’m correct. I’ve probably missed something. Is a movie already set to come out for Afterworlds? Oh and by the way, do you think you would ever tour in Europe (and, erhm, specifically, Greece maybe?)?
There’s a book trailer, but it’s not out yet. It will be awesome!
Will be in France and the UK for the launch of Afterworlds in those countries, but not Greece, alas!
FINAL BATCH OF ANSWERS!
Will there be any chance of cameos from characters in your other New York books?
Eep. I think that would get way too meta. (Also, the NYC stuff is in the “real” world, not the world of Darcy’s novel.
Do you think that Afterworlds as a book would give an idea of what happens in the process of rewriting a book (Darcy’s side, anyway)?
Yeah. It’s more about rewriting than writing a first draft. Which is, after all, the more important part for many writers.
And if I’m allowed to ask about this too, will the book about how to write YA be about writing the story or rewriting or publishing or some combination or something else I haven’t thought of or what?
It’s about writing and editing. There’s a bit about getting an agent and such, but mostly it’s about craft. (And some artsy thoughts about what novels are.)
I asked about touring in Australia earlier. I’m in Adelaide.
Justine and I were just at the Adelaide Writers Festival a year ago, so we probably won’t be invited anytime soon. But we did love the city and have friends there. So we might show up sometime.
This isn’t really a proper question, but will your website theme change when Afterworlds comes out like I presume it did for leviathan?
Yes. The reskinning is underway as we speak!
Thanks for all your questions. That’s it for now.