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A very warm welcome to the wonderful Marie Rutkoski, whose debut YA novel The Shadow Society I simply adored.
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of alternate worlds and alternate histories. What inspired you to write about this in The Shadow Society?
You and I are kindred spirits! You know, maybe I watched too much Quantum Leap as a kid, but it seems both wonderful and almost frightening that so many decisions, small and large, shape our world. Things could so easily look different.
As for why, specifically, I wrote about an alternate world/history in The Shadow Society, I knew that I wanted to set the story in Chicago and its suburbs. One of the defining features of the city is how it was ravaged by the Great Fire. "What if?" is a question that sets almost every story in motion, and in this case I began to wonder, "What if the fire never happened?" which gave rise to another question: "What if the reason it happened is not the one we learned?"
What sort of research did you have to do for this novel?
Not a lot of active research, beyond reading up on the fire, asking a friend how to paint with oils, and talking with a couple of other friends about how the Department of Children and Family Services functions. For me, it tends to be the case that my novels spring out of "research" I've already done-- and by "research" I can mean that literally, but also just generally as "things I've learned." For example, when I was in grad school a classmate of mine gave a conference paper on how the legend of Mrs. O'Leary is not only fake, but also based on bigotry toward the Irish in Chicago. Basically, the story Chicagoland kids learn is that the Great Fire was started because Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern she'd lit in a shed. My friend explained that this was an urban legend, one that sought to pin blame for a great disaster on an Irish woman when Irish immigrants were many, poor, and disliked. The story is false-- and worse, xenophobic.
I heard this paper perhaps ten years ago, and when I heard it I had no plans to write something about it. But it interested me, and stayed with me, and eventually influenced The Shadow Society—which, among other things, is about the damage different ethnic groups can do to each other.
Your previous novels, The Kronos Chronicles trilogy, are middle grade but The Shadow Society is young adult. How, if at all, was writing your first YA novel different than writing your first three books?
I think the main thing is that different themes are emphasized for the two different audiences. Middle grade books—at least the way I write them—feature adventure, friendship, and a sort of old-fashioned storytelling that hearkens back to fairy tales. YA—at least the way I write it—features romance and figuring out one's identity in the face of powerful institutions and the legacy adults leave you. It's all very fun to write, and of course all of these themes end up in both genres. It's just a question of emphasis.
As someone who both writes and teaches creative writing, how does one occupation affect the other and vice versa?
The two tasks—juggling them—give me a heightened sense of self-consciousness. I'm not always sure this is a good thing. But I try to be more aware of how I'm doing what I'm doing while I write, so that I can teach it. And in the process of teaching, I set out very deliberately to consider how elements of fiction function. Sometimes this consideration makes me more careful when I write.
What is the most interesting thing you learned while writing The Shadow Society? (This can be about yourself, about writing, or anything at all).
This is a good question! I learned that while I loved writing in the first person for the book, that is probably because the story hits close to home—not because I'm a paranormal creature or from another world, but because the book is in some ways inspired by the community and place in which I was raised.
Also, I learned that I probably write about other worlds because I tend to inhabit at least two. I'm a professor and I write. I usually live in New York City but am living in Paris for the year. I'm married to a Frenchman and have bilingual kids.
What is the most rewarding part about being a young adult author?
I'm not sure I can answer this question yet. It's still very new for me. Plus, writing a book is its own reward, and that doesn't change even if the genre does.
If there was one thing you could change about The Shadow Society, what would it be?
Rachael, this is a good question...but also one I shouldn't try to answer, for the sake of my mental health! Alas, there is no Quantum Leap-like way to go back in time to change things, and there is no alternate world for me to visit. One of the hardest—and most important—aspects of being a writer is letting go. The Shadow Society is done. It is not perfect, but I love it like I would a friend, flaws and all.
What are you working on next?
My next novel is The Winner's Curse, about a girl who is an aristocratic member of a warmongering empire. There are balls, duels, deadly gossip....and a rising rebellion that threatens to change everything. (It is not a dystopia.) It will be published in Fall 2013 or early in 2014.
Intrigued? Well, then here's your chance to win Marie's new book!
(1) lucky winner will receive The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski
courtesy of Macmillan
To enter this contest, please fill out this form:
- US/Canadian mailing addresses only.
- Contest ends 10/30/12, at 9 p.m. EST.