As a kid, New Zealand-born author Karen Healey wanted to be an astronaut or a dinosaur-hunting cowgirl—but not a writer. Things changed when she was bullied, and she started making up fascinating adventures that “all revolved around me being awesome.”
Now an award-winning YA novelist, Healey wrote Guardian of the Dead (2010) and The Shattering (2011, Little, Brown), both urban fantasies set in New Zealand. Guardian of the Dead won the 2010 Aurealis Award for Best YA Novel and was a finalist for the William C. Morris Award. She’s now working on the forthcoming When We Wake.
Healey is a guest speaker at SLJ‘s August 9 online event, SummerTeen: A Celebration of Young Adult Books. If you’ve signed up for SummerTeen, make sure to gather your teens to hear Healey speak on the “Aftermath Lit” panel from 3:45 p.m.-4:45 p.m. Registration is still open.
Moderator Angela Carstensen, the head librarian at Convent of the Sacred in New York, says she plans to discuss the popularity of dystopian themes with teens beyond The Hunger Games, as well as the crossover from writing for adults to teens.
What’s one of the most touching things you’ve heard from someone about your books?
“Thank you for writing someone like me”.
Including an asexual teenager in Guardian of the Dead wasn’t a particularly momentous decision for me. I just thought, “Well, why not?” I did some research and talked to some asexual friends, and that was pretty much it. But a lot of asexual teenagers and adults found the inclusion of Kevin a huge relief-just the acknowledgement that asexuality existed was really satisfying for many of them.
Some asexual readers were less pleased with his portrayal, and that’s an entirely valid reaction. I’m very sorry that I failed those readers as a writer. But I do treasure those emails and comments from readers who were happy to see someone like them.
How’d you end up writing urban fantasies?
Although my books are classed as urban fantasy (Guardian of the Dead, The Shattering) and near-future dystopia (the forthcoming When We Wake), I am basically a cross-genre nerd, which is another great thing about YA-readers tend to be much more accepting of works where it’s an urban fantasy and a crime thriller and a horror and a romance. I read voraciously across a number of genres, so it’s lovely to be able to pull inspiration from all of them.
What do you like best about being a YA author?
Teenage-and and adult!-YA readers tend to get very involved in their reading. They review, they make fan products, they passionately debate nuance and analyze the text. I love it. To me, discussing a book is just as much fun as reading it, and it’s so great to see so many young people delve into their favorite-and sometimes less favorite-works.
How valuable are librarians at getting the word out about your work?
Librarians are priceless. Librarians have pushed my books into the hands of readers, and asked me to come and speak at their schools, and nominated my work for awards, and written thoughtful, thought-provoking reviews, and invited me to nice lunches-and basically they are just great. Sometimes I get an email saying, “I got your book at the library because I couldn’t buy it, sorry,” and I’m like, “Are you kidding, that’s the best, support your libraries!”
Do you ever worry about your work being censored or challenged?
Not really? Granted, I don’t publish in the U.S. exclusively, where I understand it’s more of a concern. But I think censorship and book challenges are the worst possible ways to respond to content and ideas that you find unpleasant or objectionable. Well, second worst, next to book burnings. I regard the people who employ challenges as bludgeons against librarians, schools, and authors with complete scorn, and if I caught myself thinking, “Well, I’d better not write that because the book banners might not like it”, I’d be ashamed. Why would I want to make those people happy?
What are you working on now?
A sequel to When We Wake, my forthcoming dystopia following the adventures of Tegan Oglietti, who dies in Melbourne 2027 and wakes up 100 years later into a very different world. This is my very first sequel, I’m so proud! There are gunfights, daring escapes, perilous stakes, fraught ethics, and of course, lots of making out.
Currently, the book has the Internet working title, Cheerbaby Goes to State.
After I wrote two books, which had several title changes between the first draft and final publications, I started giving manuscripts Internet working titles for the purpose of talking about them online. The first was Mysterious New Novel, which was the working title for When We Wake, which never had a single title change. But I’m pretty sure this one will!
Other SLJ SummerTeen Interviews: