Rummanah Aasi
  I'm very excited to bring you this interview I had with Sara Grant, the author of Dark Parties. Dark Parties is one of the many books featured in the awesome blog tour, Cornucopia of Dystopia, that I am participating this year. If you'd like to read my thoughts about Dark Parties, you can read it here. Dark Parties will be available on August 3, 2011.
  Sara Grant was born and raised in Washington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing from Goldsmiths College, University of London. Sara now works as a senior commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. Dark Parties is her first young adult novel.

Sarah, welcome and thank you so much for stopping by! What is it about dystopian novels that attract young adult readers?

I read an article in The New Yorker where Scott Westerfeld compared high school to a dystopia. Perhaps that is why the genre appeals so much to teens. Dystopian novels allow readers and writers to explore ideas and themes in a way contemporary fiction can’t. They also can offer a complete escape from everyday life. Practically it allows writers to rid teen protagonists of pesky parents, cell phones and the internet, which allows for greater adventure and risks.

I loved Westerfeld's comparison of high school and dystopia, because it is so spot on. Teen years are the years that you begin to question yourself and challenge authorities. I wonder if teens also thought it was a way to get away from the mundane of everyday life too, which is an interesting thought. What is the best part about writing dystopian fiction? What’s the worst?

The best part is the freedom. Anything is possible in a world completely of your own making. With dystopian fiction, you can really shine a light on a particular aspect of society or human nature. You whittle away the parts of the real world that don’t serve your story.
  The worst part is also the freedom. Changing one thing in the world/future you’ve imagined can change so much. You not only have to write an interesting story with authentic characters but you also have to build a believable world. I had to consider how growing up in a protected and closed society would effect not only the environment and resources but so many other things, such as how the characters spoke and thought.

I completely agree. Unlike some other genres, with dystopia you really start from zero. You have to create everything. It definitely sounds daunting.  What do you think sets your book apart from the other YA dystopian fiction?

This is a difficult question. There are so many amazing dystopian writers. You’ve generated an impressive list and I feel honored to be included. I wanted to combine an atypical love story with elements of adventure and intrigue. I’ve tried to create a compelling story and engage readers on many levels. But ultimately, this is a question better answered by you and your readers.

Are there any books that inspired you to write Dark Parties or did you have the concept in mind for some time?

I came up with the idea for Dark Parties as the result of my move to the UK. Both the US and UK are struggling with immigration issues. I believe that diversity makes us stronger. So I said: what if we closed our borders to people and ideas? Dark Parties is my answer.
  Once I understood what was at the heart of Dark Parties. I began to read and re-read every dystopian novel I could get my hands on. However, I waited until I had a first draft before engaging with other dystopian books so that they didn’t unduly influence my creation process.

I was wondering if your move had influenced your story. Immigration laws have become more complex with the unfortunate rise of terrorism. It's so interesting that you read other books after finishing your first draft. What comes first: world building or your characters?

Actually the theme came first. I wanted to explore issues of identity – both personal and national. I built my world and developed my characters to enhance my ability to examine this theme. But in the writing, the world, characters and plot evolved and influenced each other in a way that, I hope, ties them inextricably together.

You are probably the first author I spoke to that mentions how the theme comes first! Many talk about how they envisioned their world or had characters that spoke to them and demanded a story. I know that you are a commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. What does a commissioning editor do exactly and could you tell us a little more about Working Partners? How does the process work and how can writers join you?

Working Partners has created successful series for children –such as Warriors, Rainbow Magic, Dinosaur Cove, Faerie Path, Beast Quest and Animal Ark – since 1994. From young chapter books through sophisticated YA novels, we produce the full range of children’s fiction. Our team of editors develops storylines and hires writers to bring the stories to life. Writers who are interested should visit our website. Fill out and submit the writers form. We review writer forms and invite writers to try out when their interests, expertise and experience match one of our new projects. Not every writer who submits a writer form will be asked to try out, but we do endeavor to find new writers – both published and unpublished.

That's great news for aspiring writers who are looking to get their works published! Did having some experience working in the publishing industry help you write your novel at all? If not, what important lessons did you learn along the way of writing your debut novel?
Absolutely. Working at Working Partners is a daily tutorial on writing and editing. I am fortunate that I get to learn from an amazing group of writers, who work on my series, and a talented group of editors at Working Partners as well as editors in the US and UK who publish our books. It has taught me that there’s not one way to tell story. I practice storytelling on a daily basis and am constantly being edited. This creative collaboration helps when agents and editors give me feedback, and also helps when I need to re-envision and improve a story. Having a novel published is a collaboration. I feel very fortunate to have the best agent in this or any world and a stellar team of editors in the US, UK and Germany who helped make Dark Parties a much better book than I could have created on my own.

 While writing Dark Parties, which character would you say surprised you the most and in what way? 

Strangely enough…Neva’s mom. The novel grew from an idea I had for a short story, which started as a letter from Neva to her mom, telling her that she was escaping. When the idea expanded into a novel, Mom took more of a backseat, but she definitely continued to surprise me. Neva loves her mom but sees her as someone who has given up and given in. I don’t want to spoil anything for future readers, but I love the fact that Neva is keeping secrets from her mom and soon realizes that her mom has her own set of secrets.

I really liked Neva's mom and was surprised by her actions towards the end of the novel. I'm curious as to what secrets she has of her own. I have to ask: What is your favorite dystopian novel?
I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The first book in her trilogy is a master class in deftly creating a world but not letting the world take over. She blended a compelling love triangle with page-turning action.

Hunger Games is well loved by many for the same reasons you stated. Is there a sequel to your novel? What is next for you?

I have ideas for a sequel and have planted a few seeds in Dark Parties for a follow up, but no plans yet for publication.
   My second book will come out in the fall of 2012. It’s another dystopian novel. Its working title is Half Lives. It’s very much a work in progress, but here’s what I know so far: Half Lives chronicles the journey of two unlikely heroes – Icie and Beckett. Both struggle to keep themselves alive and protect future generations from the terrible fate that awaits any who dare to climb the mountain. Even though they live hundreds of years apart, Icie and Beckett’s lives are mysteriously linked.Half Lives is a race against time and the battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

Wow, you definitely piqued my interest and I'll be on the lookout for this one. Thank you so much for stopping by!

To learn more about Sara, be sure to visit her website and her blog.
2 Responses
  1. Jenny Says:

    Really fantastic interview! I think it's really interesting she waited to read a bunch of dystopian books until she had an early draft done to avoid them influencing her world. That would be a problem I would have I think as a writer, sometimes even when I'm writing a review I'm positive I'm having an original thought and then I realize I pretty much just copied a thought straight from the book:) Oops. I haven't read this one yet, but I adore dystopians so I look forward to reading it!

  2. I do too, Jenny. So often writers advise others who are aspiring writers to read a lot before they right. I thought it was fascinating that she did the opposite. It almost seemed as if she wanted to double check her draft to make sure all the elements of the genre were there.

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