Hey y’all! I have something that is beyond amazing today! Last year, I got word of a LGBTQ YA novel releasing with Sherwood Smith as a collaborator. I left an excited message on the LiveJournal page asking to be kept in the loop about the project.
Fast forward to 2014, and low and behold, Stranger is now published and available! I purchased the novel and read it right away. The other part of the writing duo, Rachel Manija Brown, agreed to do an interview to promote and feature the new novel.
Today, Brown and Smith are taking over Great Imaginations to answer some very riveting questions about the novel, the characters, and the message behind the first book in their new series.
1. Do you have a backstory about your “Yes Gay” YA novel? This was a large and important feature of the story!
Rachel: Sherwood and I specifically wrote this series so readers who weren’t straight and white could read about people like them who were battling post-apocalyptic creatures rather than racism and homophobia. I’m Jewish and I get really tired of every book with Jews being about anti-Semitism. I was delighted when Michael Chabon wrote The Gentlemen of the Road, about swashbuckling, swordfighting, adventuring Jews.
Regarding LGBTQ characters, that seemed like a particularly underrepresented category, especially compared to its representation in real life.
Sexual orientation is complex. I am most commonly attracted to men, but occasionally to women. Is that enough to make me bisexual? Is that enough to make me queer? Nowadays, the majority of people would probably say yes. When I was a teenager, the majority of people said no. So what does that make me? In addition to trying to represent orientations other than straight, we also tried to explore the idea that sexual orientation is often more complicated than a simple label.
Sherwood: Rachel covered the basics. I want to add that in no way are we saying that coming out stories, or fiction about the Holocaust or other issues facing people of color and LGBTQ people are not important, but they should not be the only things found on the bookshelves.
We think it’s as important for these people to get to read about themselves as heroes as it is for cis-gendered white people to read stories in which people not like themselves matter—are the heroes.
2. In the story, there are alternating multiple POVs in the novel, covering many different thoughts and approaches to the world that you built in the novel. What inspired you to use this approach for various voices?
Rachel: It’s a story about a community, not a lone individual, so multiple POVs made sense and fit with the theme. We also find them fun to write.
Sherwood: My favorite voice is omniscient narrator, but that’s not popular in YA right now, so this was a compromise. And as Rachel said, we wanted an emphasis on community.
3. Something that caught my interest right away was the blending of diverse cultures, such as Mexican and Asian aspects. What gave you the idea for the dystopian melting pot?
Rachel: It’s set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, and current LA is extremely culturally diverse. Many neighborhoods really are predominantly Asian and Mexican. We thought that preserving that reality would be more plausible, more inclusive, and more fun.
4. Be honest – do you have a favorite character?
Rachel: Ross is the most autobiographical, but Mia is the most fun to write. Of the adults, I especially love Sheriff Crow and Dr. Lee.
Sherwood: Mia is the most fun to write, but I have a sneaking fondness for Felicité, in all her prickly, two-faced complexity.
5. Working with Sherwood Smith sounds like a dream come true! How was collaborating with a well-known YA author to build this novel?
Rachel: It is SO MUCH FUN. I am honored to collaborate with her, and to have her as a friend. Not to mention that she’s so good at worldbuilding. It’s like role-playing with Tolkien!
Sherwood: Collaborating with Sherwood Smith is a pain in the booty, as she dithers, forgets stuff, and—oh, wait, that’s me!
Collaborating with Rachel is awesome because there is never any writer’s block, she makes me laugh, she loves so much of the same kind of story stuff I do. And she can fix my logical Mobius strips! We get twice the story fun at a racing pace because either one of us can run with ideas.
(Lyn’s Note: I totally messed that one up, but the answer was so worth it!)
6. Teleporting squirrels and killer trees – how did you even come up with all of your “weird science”?
Rachel: We tried to be very realistic in terms of the economy, the politics, the weapons, and so forth. But since the mutant plants, animals, and powers are not really scientifically based anyway, we went with the “rule of cool” and just tried to come up with fun ideas. Though once we came up with them, we then tried to make sure they felt consistent and plausible (as opposed to literally being something that could exist).
I just love the idea of psychic animals. C.J. Cherryh has a similar concept in her Finisterre novels (Rider at the Gate and Cloud’s Rider) but her take is much darker.
Sherwood: I think there are many authors who have gone the way of horror, but that wasn’t the direction we wanted to take this series. As for realism, I am very visually oriented, so I tend to want maps, with everything understood in relation to everything else, even if little of that makes it to the page.
7. A new form of discrimination develops in Stranger, while cultural differences and sexual orientation seem to hold positive position in the novel. What message are you sending to the audience with this new form of intolerance?
Rachel: We felt that it would be implausible to completely do away with prejudice. But in real life, prejudice shifts around and attaches itself to new groups all the time. We thought that if people mutated, non-mutated people sometimes would be prejudiced.
The other type of prejudice that still exists is classism. We thought that one was likely to have a lot of staying power.
Sherwood:Human beings are hierarchical—it seems to be part of our hardwiring. How to deal with the tension that creates, yet compromises with our innate wish for order, is one of the vital elements of storytelling, I think.
8. If you were going to be best friends with one of the characters in Stranger, who would be the lucky person?
Rachel: Dr. Lee. He’s kind, he’s funny, he’s smart, he’s empathetic, and he cooks!
Sherwood: That’s a hard one, because I have to imagine them wanting to hang out with me, and that doesn’t compute. I see myself following after Jennie, wanting to be her bestie and irritating the stuffing out of her! If it were to be one of the adults, I would totally go for Sheriff Crow.
9. Technology was a contributing factor in the decay of humanity after the catastrophic events in the book. Do you find it ironic when people read your novel on a Kindle or a tablet?
Rachel: That’s just a plot device, not something I believe in. I love my e-reader!
Sherwood: I love my tech too, but it’s not part of my deepest hardwired habit, as I was nearly middle aged before I got a cell phone, etc. So imagining pre-tech life is very easy for me.
10. Any clues for what we might see in the next novel?
Rachel: Book two, Hostage, will come out as a sneak preview ebook on January 6, and as a paper book in March. In Hostage, a team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.
I have a special treat for those of you who can’t wait to read this novel – I will give away a copy to one lucky winner!
No cheating. One email address per household, and I do check!
Giveaway ends 12/29/14.
Enter using the Rafflecopter form below: