Today in YA: A Q & A with Author Caragh O’Brien
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The following post is from Food, Fitness & Fiction Contributing Editor Josh Flores (pictured above).
Caragh O’ Brien is the bestselling author of both the Birthmarked Trilogy as well as the recently released The Vault of Dreamers series. O’ Brien’s writing is both thrilling as well as haunting. While she writes teen sci-fi tales, the worlds she creates are extremely realistic and portray a not so distant future for our society.
I had the pleasure of interviewing O’Brien about her writing process and what inspires her to write dystopian fiction for young adults. Read on to learn more about her latest work and to get writing advice.
JF: What inspired The Forge Show and the Forge School in your novel, The Vault of Dreamers?
CO: First, Joshua, let me say thanks for inviting me for an interview for the Food, Fitness & Fiction blog! The idea for an arts school that doubles as a reality TV show came out of my teaching experience and my fascination with TV shows. I was highly conscious of the intrusion when security cameras were first installed all over the school where I taught, and it made me think a lot about privacy and performance. The Forge School and its related live-streaming TV show evolved out of that.
JF: Which of your characters do you relate the most to and why?
CO: My main character Rosie Sinclair is creative, curious, perceptive and gutsy, but she’s also rather reserved. I relate most to her mainly because I’ve spent so much time in her mind and vice versa. Rosie is a filmmaker, and I like how, at first, she uses her camera to focus in on people and to keep the world at a distance. I like the scrappy way she evolves in the novel as she progressively deals with more danger.
JF: Do you write a schedule for yourself when working on a book?
CO: Not really. I’m always conscious that I need to send the next draft of my novel to my editor in a reasonable time, so I work steadily, every weekday, pretty much always. In other words, I keep at it, even if I have days of more deleting than forward progress. Late in the process, if we run into production deadlines, I can do some math and revise a certain number of pages per day, but that’s not my norm.
JF: How was writing The Birthmarked trilogy different from writing The Vault of Dreamers?
CO: They’ve both been fun and intense. I loved writing Gaia’s story which felt very adventurous and physically grueling because she was dealing with the wasteland and very tangible cruelty in her dystopia. Rosie’s story in The Vault of Dreamers has involved more manipulation and twisted, hidden cruelty. It’s a more of psychological challenge for me, because the battleground involves dreams and mental landscapes.
JF: If you were not writing, what other job would you be doing?
CO: I would be teaching high school English. That’s what I was doing when my first YA novel was picked up, and I expected to be doing that indefinitely. I loved teaching and still miss it sometimes.
JF: What books, movies, TV shows, or other forms of pop culture have influenced your work the most?
CO: The reality TV shows The Biggest Loser, American Idol, and Survivor have been interesting to me. They’re all games, all competitions, obviously, and the players are keenly motivated. I also was deeply struck by the film The Truman Show, which again deals with reality TV, but Truman doesn’t know until the end that he is a star. It’s a very clever film about identity, limits, power, and voyeurism.
JF: If you lived in the same world as Rosie and Linus, would you have wanted to go to Forge?
CO: No. Being in the public eye like Rosie would be far too uncomfortable for me. I wouldn’t like the enforced nightly sleep, either, let alone what the bad guys are doing to unknowing students. Still, in a way, my book merely presents an extreme version of the scrutiny that happens in schools now, so I already feel like I’ve lived through some of it.
JF: Are you currently working on any new books? If so, what details can you share?
CO: I’m working on the third book in the The Vault of Dreamers series, and I’ve recently learned it will be out in July, 2017. I have a lot of loose ends to pull together, and it’s a good challenge for me.
JF: How do you #moveitorloseit (stay active) while working on your novels?
CO: Taking walks is my favorite form of exercise, but I also like to swim, bicycle, and practice Tai Chi. I try get off the couch often enough that I’m not stiff, so sometimes that means throwing in a load of laundry or playing the piano for a few minutes. I try to remember that my body is a gift and do my best to take care of it.
JF: What piece of advice would you give to those who’d like to write a novel?
CO: Writing a novel is first about satisfying your own heart, so I would say write what fascinates you and believe in yourself. If you can manage that, you’ll go far.
To learn more about Caragh O’ Brien, visit her website.
Here are a few reviews for The Vault of Dreamers (#1, September 16, 2014, Macmillan):
Joshua Flores, a junior from Tustin, California is currently an editor for the Beckman Chronicle and enjoys both reading and writing. He spends most of his free time writing, and coming up with weird characters for the novel he is working on. You can follow him on Instagram at @booklover41899.
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