Book Nerd Interview
Was there a defining moment during your youth when you realized you wanted to be a writer?
SK: I think I ALWAYS wanted to be a writer… honestly, even before I knew how to read. I remember scribbling on a piece of paper when I was three or four, folding it over, and telling my mother it was a book. At different ages, I was briefly obsessed with other professions—archaeologist, veterinarian, artist, jockey—and I really wanted to be an actress when I was in high school. But deep down, I think I always knew I’d end up writing.
LK: There wasn’t one moment, but I used to ride my bike a lot as a kid, and I would make up stories in my head along the way. Eventually I found myself doing it without my bike. I wanted to be an actor, too, but my twin brother wanted to be one, and I didn’t think there’d be a lot of opportunities for twin actors. This was before “Full House.”
Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
LK: I think storytelling helps people understand their lives by hearing or reading about other people’s lives. It gives order to experiences that might seem absurd and random and gives a point to things that might seem pointless. So it can make people feel better—less panicked and confused—or at least more thoughtful. Plus, when people started telling stories, there wasn’t a lot to do, besides hunting buffaloes and gathering nuts, or something, so it was entertainment, too.
SK: That’s a big question… I think we could all discuss that for the next twenty years! Stories aren’t just important; they’re literally part of what it means to be human. They not only entertain and comfort; they connect us to others in such a deep way, it’s spooky… and they help us make sense out of the chaos of life. I honestly believe the impulse to tell stories is hard-wired into us; after all, everyone dreams, and what’s a dream but a wacky kind of story? If you deprive a lab animal of REM sleep and dreaming, they eventually go insane. We need stories, I think, in much the same way.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
SK: Wow…that’s hard, because I’ve heard tons from many, many writers I admire! I would say the best piece of advice is, just write, even if it’s awful and you’re feeling blocked; if there’s anything there, you can always dig it out and polish it later. Oh, and also: don’t throw any of your writing away!
LK: It wasn’t said to me, but Woody Allen once said, eighty per cent of life is showing up. In other words, the first thing is to do your work.
In your new book; Wasteland, can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about it and why they should read your novel?
LK: Wasteland is set in a futuristic world in which, due to a disease, no one lives past the age of nineteen. In the town of Prin, the few resources left are controlled and doled out by one boy, a cruel despot. Sixteen-year-old Esther decides to fight him and she is soon joined by Caleb, a boy with his own secret need for revenge. While I don’t like to hard-sell a book, I hope it’s an exciting and touching story in which the teenage and child characters are forced to have emotions and experiences every bit as deep as those of adults.
SK: They should read it because even though it seems to be about something futuristic and strange, it’s actually very familiar when it comes to love, revenge, family relationships, and friendship. Besides, who hasn’t ever fantasized about hiding out in a Costco if the world ended?
For those who are unfamiliar with Esther, how would you introduce her?
SK: Esther is kind of a klutz, a tomboy who’s impulsive, stubborn, and passionate. Although wary at first, she would walk through fire for you if she liked you. She is idealistic, but also a hothead.
LK: We wanted very much for Esther to be flawed and human and to change—mostly for the better—as she grows up…at a faster pace than she might like.
What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Caleb?
LK: In writing a character who starts off so angry, I learned that that emotion can come from a desire for love as much as a need for vengeance.
SK: I agree. He starts out as a kind of single-minded avenging angel. And then the more we wrote, the more his character started to open up.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
LK: The notion of having to live quickly, in a world that won’t last, seemed dramatic and a good starting point for a story. And, of course, there’s so much anxiety about the future of our own world now. Besides that, being a teenager is a short and intense period of time, no matter what world you’re living in.
SK: As in our graphic novels, we’ve always loved the idea of imperfect heroes. And Esther and Caleb definitely aren’t superhuman, either in their abilities or powers or even their temperaments. We thought it would be cool to put characters like them in a really messed-up time in the not-so-distant future, one that represented everything we feared gone wild. It’s like we splattered all of our fears and anxieties across this one canvas: not only global warming, epidemics, and genetic mutation, but also starvation, brutality, and what would happen in a world with very few resources. A lot of it, funnily enough, turned out to deal with family dynamics, as well, and the fact that you can maybe love your siblings deep down while not being able to stand them most of the time.
If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
LK: Maybe I’d introduce the citizens of Prin to the kids in Lord of the Flies and let them fight it out.
SK: Ha… I wish I’d said that! Actually, despite their age difference, I’d love Esther to meet Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. They’re both brave and resourceful, as well as loyal and just plain heroic. And I’d love to see what Esther’s daemon would be.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
SK: Laurence and I are almost finished with the second book of our trilogy, Wanderers. And we started the third book, which is called Guardians. I’m also doing some TV writing, which is mostly how I support myself: a new animated kids’ show and a documentary for PBS. I was thrilled this past fall to publish my first short story, “Recurrence”, in the British magazine Black Static; I’ve always had a secret passion for horror stories and have several that I definitely want to finish once I have time.
LK: Besides Susan’s and my series, I have several short stories being published soon and a collection coming out next year from a publisher called Chizine. And I’m working on a longer piece of fiction in the vein of the stories, which are for adults. I also have a play being work-shopped soon in New York.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
SK: I try not to lie mostly because it’s hard to keep track, but I’ve learned to either turn the question back to the other person or just change the subject really quickly. The truth is, I’m kind of a private person; I get uncomfortable when people ask me even the most boring questions about my personal life.
LK: When people ask, “what’s your worst trait?” my usual lie is “I care too much.” or “I try too hard.” Generally I think it’s okay to lie to spare someone’s feelings or not to expose a child to a truth he or she can’t handle. Those aren’t really lies, more like compassion.
You have the chance to give one piece of advice to your readers. What would it be?
LK: I try not to give advice about life, because I should be getting it. But if anyone in the Book Nerd community wants to be a writer, I would say, assign yourself a certain amount to do each day and do it. Don’t be lazy but also don’t set daunting, unachievable goals.
SK: Figure out who you really are and then learn to accept it. What the hell, right?
Who is the first person you call when you have a bad day?
SK: Laurence, who is not only my co-author, but also my partner, boyfriend, and best friend. If he’s not in, then my sister.
LK: Same here: I would call Susan. Then I would call her sister. I’m kidding, though I like her. If Susan wasn’t around, I would call my eldest brother or figure it out for myself. If it’s a really bad day, my shrink.
What’s your most missed memory?
LK: There are a lot of them, but one I can tell is: when I was a kid, my father did a radio show in New York City that went on very early in the morning. Sometimes, when we were little, he would take us in with him from the suburbs, at about four thirty in the morning. At that age, seeing the nearly deserted highway and city was magical and fun.
SK: I miss parts of being 13. A lot of it really sucked, but it still was the most intense time of my life. In the summer, I would write a story or go to the library and browse the shelves (they let me have an adult card early because I read so much), and it was like falling down a deep well (in a good way!) I still write and read a lot, obviously, but it takes me longer to get to that other place and it’s harder to stay there, too.
What decade during the last century would you have chosen to be a teenager?
SK: The 1950s! Even though on one level it was a really square time of Eisenhower and suburbs and Father Knows Best and housewives in their frilly aprons, it also had a really wild subculture of Beat poetry, rock and roll, and art. I bet it was even cooler than the 1960s, which would maybe be my 2nd choice.
LK: The sixties would have been an exciting time to be a teenager, as long as you didn’t get drafted. Good movies and music, too.
When was the last time you cried?
LK: I got choked up at a play I saw recently, called “Picnic.” At the end, two young people move away from a small town and the reactions of some of the other characters was moving, the sense of loss.
SK: Two hours ago. I had coffee with a friend whose boyfriend just dumped her, and the two of us sat there talking about love and pain and loss and we both kind of lost it.
What are you most passionate about today?
SK: Do you mean what things in the news make me want to kill myself the most? I’m distressed about the environment, the fact that it’s becoming so hard to be middle-class in America, and the solipsism that makes us blind to the suffering of others, whether they’re on the next street or the other side of the planet. If you mean the good things, I’m passionate about writing and writers, cats, books and art, and my friends and family.
LK: I’m passionate about writing, because it’s so hard to do. If I don’t care, who will? So that’s a constant and has been since I was a kid. And the people I’m close to. Other things come and go.
What is the one, single food that you would never give up?
LK: Cereal. It’s all I’ve got left.
SK: Kimchi. Definitely, always, eternally, kimchi.
Where can readers stalk you?
SK: KimKlavan@twitter.com. Also our Wasteland fan page on Facebook. And I’m also a blogger on Huffington Post; you can sometimes find me there, spouting on and on about something that intrigues or annoys or amuses me.
LK: LaurenceKlavan.com, my website. I’m also on Facebook. But please only say nice things.
Just the thought of not living past nineteen is hard to fathom. The terrain in Prin is harsh and dangerous. The descriptive texts allow readers to have a clear visualization of this unknown world. Authors Susan and Laurence strip away what is so precious in our own world and turn them into something deadly. Reaching a certain age only guarantees death and water and rain have become deadly. In this harsh world, a new race is born. The Variant are completely different and have developed abilities to adapt the new world. The creation of this world and the people inhabiting them is refreshing.
Although it has that Mad Max dystopian appeal to it, there is so much more to Wasteland. From the highly compelling characters like Esther and Caleb and its focused message on prejudice and the mistrust of people who are simply different, it encompasses many elements that make for great storytelling. The writing style that wraps this book is amazing and totally envelopes readers into Prin’s desolate landscape and brutal conditions. This first in a trilogy is a great way to start it off. The grip that Wasteland has shown is strong and will continue to get tighter as the story continues.