November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Scott Westerfeld Answers That Perennial Author Question

 

Listen to Scott Westerfeld reveal the story behind Afterworlds, courtesy of TeachingBooks.net.


afterworldsWhen Scott Westerfeld presented his
book Afterworlds (S. &S., Sept., 2014; Gr 9 Up) recently, he joked that “This is basically the 150,000-word answer to the question ‘Where do you get your ideas?'” He also described it as “a novel not about writing but rewriting” and a project that took three years start to finish.

Afterworlds is two novels in one. It’s the story of 18-year-old Darcy Patel, who’s just sold and is revising her first book; it’s also the novel that Darcy’s writing, titled Afterworlds, narrated by Lizzie Scofield about her near-death experience and its aftereffects—the ability to travel between two worlds, the one of the living and the one of the dead—and falling in love with Yama, the psychopomp she meets in the underworld.

How did you decide to create essentially two novels “in conversation”?
There’s always something interesting happening when I’m on the road with my books, and for a long time I’ve wanted to write something about touring. Then came the idea for the novel-within-a-novel, something about a terrorist at an airport.

There have been books about writing a novel, of course, but I thought it would be a whole other dimension if you could read an entire novel-within a novel—in this case, a novel that starts with someone playing dead during a terrorist attack.

How did you—or rather Darcy Patel—arrive at the rules for how the Afterworlds operate?
I wasn’t writing it as a Scott Westerfeld novel but rather as Darcy’s novel. As an author, my approach would be to break everything down and figure out how everything worked beforehand. But Darcy, as a younger writer, would likely write and then retrofit the rules.

We don’t see the drafts of Darcy’s story—only the finished version of the novel, but we do see how the events of Darcy’s life influence how she writes about love and its complexities. How did you make that work?
I knew there would be a romance in both books. Darcy’s novel is a romance and would have to be about that. I figured it would be interesting if Darcy’s real-life story also had the same kind of romance going on, and for the two stories to have some similar characteristics. Darcy’s love affair is with someone who’s older [Imogen] and knows the ropes. Darcy wants to prove herself to Imogen in the same way that Lizzie wants to prove to Yama that she’s adept at using the underworld. Darcy and Lizzie both flounder on similar misunderstandings. The logical thing to do was to have their experiences in some way mirror each other.

Tell us about Young Adult [YA] Drinks night. Is that a real thing?
Most of the publishing stuff is real, as in it’s based on things that happened to me, or things that happened to friends of mine. Just as Darcy was feeling that she’s basing her book on her real life, I’m kind of doing the same thing.

Without mentioning individual tweets between characters, you do discuss the effects of social media and the influence of the Internet. How much has social media changed the field of YA lit?
YA novels are a lot about identity. The way people construct and determine an identity these days has a lot to do with the way they are online. I always say the main difference between the Americans represented on television and real Americans is that in real life, Americans watch a lot more television.

In a funny way, one of the things about writing a contemporary YA novel is not getting involved in the amount of time that teens are spending online. I was trying to do was to acknowledge the amount of time Darcy and her friends spend on it and how that shapes who they are, rather than talk about it.

Tell us about this quote from Darcy: “Maybe that was the price of loving someone: You lost your grasp of where they ended and you began.” Isn’t that true not only of Darcy and Imogen but also Darcy and Lizzie?
By calling the characters Darcy and Lizzie, I’m suggesting there’s a certain amount of tension between the writer and the character—also characters and ghosts. The ghosts that Lizzie sees are on the one hand not real, really; on the other hand, she has a moral responsibility to them. Writers don’t want to betray our characters and make them do things they wouldn’t do, for a plot contrivance. I wanted Lizzie to grapple with the question: Are the ghosts real people? Are they just stories? I wanted to make these the same concerns parallel Darcy’s ethical concerns. Should it be a happy ending? Should it not?

And what about Lizzie and Yama?
That’s another set of concerns that I had and maybe Darcy had: not going down the path that romances too often do—meaning, where the human, the girl usually, gives up her real life to join the hot dude in some sort of vaguely defined meta-supernatural world, leaving behind her family and everyone else. Another trope is keeping the secret of the vampire, or the faerie, or other supernatural creature, and cutting off that experience from friends.

I wanted to put in a lot of YA archetypes. There’s the snarky younger sister and the mother who gets cancer and the hot FBI agent solving crimes in the neighborhood. There’s a meta-YA thing going on over the whole book.

There’s a cutting-edge quality to all of your books. How do you manage that time and again?
Probably a lot of it is taking conversations that are happening in the adult world, particularly in adult science fiction, and applying them through a YA genre filter. Most things are more interesting when you look at them through the lens of a teenager.

Do you see this book being read in book groups and classrooms?
I think Afterworlds will make for good class discussions and for young writers to think about. I’ve been working on posts about writing. Right now, it’s about 50,000 words, so it’s probable that I’ll publish them as a “How to Write YA” [likely this month at Scottwesterfeld.com]. There’s my trilogy: Lizzie’s story, Darcy’s story, and “How to write YA.”

Author’s note: Scott Westerfeld plans to release a special edition of one of Darcy’s first draft deleted chapters online at scottwesterfeld.com.

TB imageListen to Scott Westerfeld reveal the story behind Afterworlds, courtesy of TeachingBooks.net.

 

Curriculum Connections

This article was featured in our free Curriculum Connections enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you every month.

Share

Comments

  1. scott westerfield i am in 6th grade and me and my friend amaya are making a comic based on your book [extras]. Can you give us some ideas on our comics,that would be helpfull.

    your fans kali and amaya