Earlier this year I had the great pleasure to sit down with two delightful YA authors to talk books.
Chris Weitz, best known for his work in film including the movie adaptations of The Twilight Saga: New Moon and The Golden Compass, just released The Young World, a dystopian novel (the first in a series) set in New York that is also one of our August Best YA Books of the Month.
Jennifer E. Smith is the beloved author of several contemporary YA novels that deftly navigate the waters of teen relationships with humor and creativity, including this year's The Geography of You and Me.
On a random note, when we were talking both authors shared major league baseball hopes for this year and it's interesting to see how things have shaken out. Chris Weitz hoped the Yankees new pitcher Masahiro Tanaka didn't turn out to be a dud (so far so good, though he's coming off an injury...) and Jennifer E. Smith was pretty adamant that the Cubs were going to take the 2014 World Series. Well, there's always next year...
Below is a transcript from our chat.
So, what would be the elevator pitch for your book?
Chris Weitz: It’s basically about a group of kids making their way in a post-apocalyptic New York in which every convenience and comfort they're familiar with is gone. So it’s a New York that has fallen into a chaos of warring tribes, and how they will function in that world.
Jennifer E. Smith: I keep joking that my book has the best elevator pitch ever because it starts in an elevator. It’s about two teens who get stuck in elevator during a major blackout in New York city and end up spending an evening together on a really magical night in the city where you can actually can see the stars because all the lights are out. It’s loosely based on the blackout that happened in 2003. Then, as the title might suggest, with Geography, it sort of spins off into other locations from there, but it all begins in an elevator in New York on a very dark night.
Chris Weitz: That was a great blackout...
Jennifer E. Smith: Yeah, it was really fun. I won’t tell you all about my experiences since we’re on the record here, but it definitely included more alcohol than cute boys and elevators. It was one of those nights that felt sort of out of time, once people realized that nothing was seriously wrong everybody was out on the streets, people were giving away beer before it got too warm, and giving away ice cream before it could melt, and New York took on this almost celebratory atmosphere. It was a really memorable night.
Weitz: It’s funny because I think I found the one single thing that unites our books, because my book was partly inspired by the blackout amongst other things, this is sort of New York without electricity and the way that people behave when everything they’re used to goes out the window.
Chris – you’ve directed films adapted from YA novels and written screen plays, was writing a novel a logical next step for you?
I’m not sure it was a logical step, especially looking back. Given how much harder it is to write a novel than a screen play, it’s a highly illogical thing to do... but, in a sense, adapting as many books as I have, and I was a literature major in university, that’s where I thought my life was going to be concentrated. Making films was kind of a way to deal with my love of books in a positive way, so it isn’t totally unreasonable that I would turn my attention to trying to write something.
And why young adult?
Weitz: Well, at the time that I decided to do this, I was receiving a lot of submissions of YA and some were great and some were less so, so I thought, well, I may as well give it a go myself. And I had certain things that I’d been thinking about that I wanted to explore further that kind of come out in this--not necessarily YA related stuff but actually stuff about economics, sociology, and politics.
Jen, you’ve written YA and one middle grade, do you think you’ll write adult in the future?
Smith: I think always it’s fun to explore different creative outlets. The middle grade was really fun for me because all of my YA books are for a similar audience, so the middle grade was very different. I was once telling somebody that the three things I would never do were: write middle grade, write fantasy, and write for boys, and I literally came out of the lunch and was like, ok, now I kind of want to try… So I think it’s a similar thing with the adult side, I think if the right idea came along it’d be something new to try and something exciting, so we’ll see. But I really love YA, I think that’s kind of my sweet spot, I feel like I’m 16 at heart and it’s a genre I really love and the audience is amazing for YA books. It’s just so much fun meeting teens, they’re so enthusiastic.
The YA writing community is really great too, isn’t it?
Smith: It really is, everyone is so supportive and generous, it’s a great little corner of the industry to be part of.
Chris, as someone just coming into this community, have you found that to be true?
Weitz: I have and it’s also I think that this time in life, maybe from middle school through this period, is a period of really fervent reading. I remember that from when I was younger, and that’s really wonderful. There’s also a tremendous desire to see people succeed, to want to see the best in things, as opposed to, if you look at literary fiction, the extraordinarily snarky, kind of difficult, social landscape that that represents. I think there’s a weird barrier to entry in literary fiction as far as ideas go, I think that young adult is where a lot of the most interesting fiction is actually being written because it’s not as caught up in questions of style.
I think the interesting ideas and openness is part of why so many adults are reading YA fiction...
Smith: Yeah--I get as many emails about my books from people in their 30s and 40s as I do from people in their teens. Everyone is sort of 16 at heart, somewhere down deep. Like what Chris was saying about the way you read at that age, there’s such a joy to it, whereas now you start reading a book and you have to go to work so you put it down, but as kids, I remember just tearing through books (I guess I still do now, but…) you can’t get enough and you find an author you love, you read everything they’ve written and then you look for everything that’s similar to what they’ve written, and you’re obsessed. And it’s such a joyful way to read.