Sean sure knows how to rock out with his cocks out. He’s made this chicken funky since I started reading his epic mind-fuckery years ago. His most recent incarnation of a literary acid trip, THE INFECTS, had no less of an effect than previous works but I noticed some differences. I had to ask Sean about them and he even answered. I’m the luckiest little fangirl ever. Fried chicken, zombies and Sean Beaudoin make for an insane combination. If you haven’t read THE INFECTS yet be sure you do. It’s available today and I’m pretty sure it’ll make you boycott all forms of fried chicken, not just the homophobic kind. Thanks for stopping by, Sean!
What made you decide to mutate your zombies, make them, for a lack of better words, evolve?
What is it about the human brain that we always have to envision ourselves at the height of culture and physiological development? The Sumerians thought they had the best religion, political system, and literature in the history of the world. And five thousand years ago, they were right. The Romans were right too, until the Goths sacked them into submission. France was right at the time of Louis the XVI, the Germans were right at the time of Weimar, and we’ve been right in 1776, 1876, and 1976. The thing is, we have no clue not only who we’re going to be, but what we’re going to be in 2076. Or if we’re going to be at all. In three hundred years we may all have insect wings, or be disembodied heads floating in vats of saline and electrolytes. Or we may devolve and live underground like voles. I guess my point is that all of us becoming zombies seems as likely an outcome as any other. Why would zombiedom necessarily be a step backward?
THE INFECTS appears to be tamer in terms of your usual mind-fuckery. Is this just me or have you toned it down a tad when compared against FADE TO BLUE or WESLEY PAYNE?
Well, if there’s any toning down it wasn’t a conscious choice. I think zombies inherently bring a lot of blown minds to the table without needing to be larded with the metaphysic or overly conceptual. On the other hand, maybe the mean nurse on the ward has started to palm my medication and sell it in the alley out back.
Is there really a not-so-subtle and nominally serious bit of commentary on America’s fast food nation and the over-production of meat a la Perdue and Tyson in your book or am I simply having a stroke?
You are having a stroke. And your response in the first three minutes is vital to your future quality of life. Here is what I suggest: locate a salt shaker and immediately swallow the entire contents. Next, cook and eat several steaks and then down an entire jar of peanut butter with a spoon. Finally, change into some sweats and watch a Million Dollar Listing marathon on Bravo.
The end of THE INFECTS leaves a few doors open. Have you fallen into the pit of YA series or are you just a horrible, horrible tease?
I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to write an Infects sequel. I guess the sales numbers will let me know if I need to. The end does sort of leave it wide open for another book, but it really wasn’t as intentional as it might seem. Since I’m such a famous and powerful author, I was able to work into my contract that I have the option of whether or not to continue the Nero saga. In the meantime, my next book is a punk rock diary called Wise Young Fool that will be out August 2013, and it has zero zombie content.
If you could draft your favorite zombie writer into your evolving zombie army, who would it be and why? Would you want to collaborate with him or her (in zombie form, of course)?
My favorite zombie writer is Jonathan Franzen. I definitely want to go (zombie) bird watching with him, but I don’t know about writing a book together. I guess if Oprah is into it, I’m in.
Discuss, in a short paragraph, your feelings regarding SEAN OF THE DEAD.
You are speaking, I take it, of the one-man rock opera that I wrote and performed for my extended family in my grandmother’s living room when I was twelve?
Or do you mean Shaun of the Dead? I dug that movie. Like all of the best zombie fare, it was amusing without really trying too hard to be.
What’s your favorite artery-clogging fast food joint and has your own book made you shy away from it a bit more as of late?
Fast food freaks me out. I literally haven’t eaten McDonalds since 1986. My abstention is not so much political in nature–although I’m sympathetic to that line of thinking–as it is that factory scale meat processing strikes me as hallucinatory and demented. To be able to sit down and eat a Quarter Pounder with bacon and cheese you simply can’t allow yourself to ponder the steps required for it to arrive boxed and steaming in front of you. I wanted readers to think about that just a little bit, without being preachy. Personally, I’d always rather hear a good chicken-anus joke than listen to a lecture. And the bottom line is that people are going to eat what tastes good to them, regardless. But so are zombies. And, as we all know, zombies mostly prefer sweaty, alienated teenagers.
Brains or intestines?
I’ve had sweetbreads before and I’ve always found them to be slick and unpleasant. They taste like debauchery. Or maybe they just taste like death. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed tripe tacos in Mexico a number of times. It helps to have had some tequila. So, I’m going with intestines. Hands down.
One of my favorite things about Eilis’s THE FALSE PRINCESS was Kiernan. He was Sinda’s life-long friend and their relationship was a natural progression of that friendship. Kiernan really loved Sinda but it wasn’t a love to a fault. He didn’t try to protect her from herself, he didn’t try to make decisions for her. She was her own person, he recognized that and even when he really didn’t want to he left her alone so she could do her own thing when she felt she needed to. Of course I asked Eilis about this and she graciously offered up a post in response. Here’s Eilis waxing poetic about what makes a really awesome love interest (as opposed to an over-bearing, insta-love douche <–my words). Thanks for stopping by, Eilis!
When I was twelve, I was going to marry George Cooper. Never mind that he was nearly twice my age, in love with someone else, and a thief. And especially never mind that he only existed in the pages of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness books. He was my first—though certainly not last—big book crush. And he’s continued to be, to my writer’s eye, a great example of a male love interest.
Male love interests were something I thought a lot about while writing my own YA fantasy novel, The False Princess. When done well, they can be absolutely wonderful—worthy companions for your main character and crush-worthy delights for the reader. When done poorly, they can pull your whole story apart. I definitely wanted Kiernan, my main character’s love interest, to be in the first group, but I was actually a little surprised by the adoration that he received from readers right off the bat. So what makes Kiernan so lovable, and what makes for a great love interest for me in general?
To start off, there’s the best friend angle. Kiernan is Sinda’s best friend—her only friend for a lot of the novel—and, in some ways, he knows her better than she knows herself. I love this in a romance, partially because I’ve always been a little skeptical of the “love at first sight” storyline, which can seem forced if not written by someone who knows what they’re doing, but more because I love that moment when something shifts inside the main character, so that she suddenly sees this boy she’s known for years differently for the first time. There’s also something very satisfying about being able to explore a relationship that has been ongoing for years before the book begins. Closeness can be expressed in so many ways then—inside jokes, small looks, little stories from the past. And then to watch that closeness develop into new sort of bond is just yummy.
The other way that Kiernan really fits the bill for me and love interests is in the way he interacts with Sinda. It’s really important to me that my main character’s love interest be a partner with her, not a savior, and this was especially so because Sinda is (or was) a princess, and princesses traditionally get saved. I didn’t want there to be any “Stand behind me so I can protect you,” or “I can’t let you do anything dangerous because I love you so much.” Though I think we always want to keep the people we love from harm, I become really, really irritated when a love interests gets so bent on protecting the main character that his arms stop being supporting, and end up being binding. I wanted Kiernan to recognize Sinda’s competence and capability and to love her for them (indeed, he recognizes these qualities in her before she herself fully does).
In short, I didn’t want Kiernan to save Sinda, but to stand with her while she saves herself.
So those are probably the two top reasons that I like Kiernan as one half of The False Princess’s love equation, and they’re qualities that resonate with me in the works of others. Not all, of course. But that list would be a little too long, and besides, I have to get to the library. I’ve got two books waiting there with potential book-crushes in them . . .
It had been a while since since I connected so deeply with a set of short stories. I’m talking like reading Flannery O’Connor in college “a while” so I got myself a little giddy. Despite not being a target audience for VANISHING I liked it so much I asked Deborah if she wanted to stop by. Imagine my surprise when she said yes! Woohoo! While I am looking to branch out a bit in what I read I know it’s going to take a while and I’m glad Deborah was okay with helping me do that. Thanks for stopping by Debbie!
As a short story writer do you find it difficult to quarantine your stories to a snapshot in time? Or is this how they form in your head?
It doesn’t feel difficult at all. I wish I had a mind for stories that were longer if only because the market demands them, but I seem to be drawn now to the shorter form. I don’t do outlines, which is maybe part of it. I just start writing, with characters and sometimes a situation or an image in mind. I often write a lot more than I end up keeping, so part of why my work is short in length is because I think editing is at least as important as writing. And I also read a lot of short stories, which I’m sure has influenced my imagination. I’m reading more novels now, with an eye to how they’re put together, because one day I’d like to try my hand at a longer work. Until then, I’ll keep doing what seems to come naturally, which is short stories.
Are there any plans to extend any of these shorts into novel-length books?
There are a couple of stories in the collection I’m still drawn to, but most feel finished to me. I always worry that the integrity of a story will be damaged if it’s expanded. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot right now, as I’m writing new work. It’s always difficult to know the proper scope for an idea––it seems you often have to actually write it out, then put it aside and come back to it to know how much time and space it deserves.
You wrote from a variety of different perspectives. Is there any particular head you found rather difficult to get in to? Which did you find the easiest? (gender or character, really)
One of the pleasures of writing fiction for me is getting into someone else’s head. It’s an adventure from the comfort of my own desk! I don’t remember having terrible difficulty with any of the characters in the collection––usually if I can’t get a voice, I give up or put the story aside until it feels more alive and real. As for writing from the perspective of men, I’ve never given it much thought and this naive attitude helps a lot! I think that as a writer you simply have to go wherever you’re drawn to going, especially in terms of character. And you’ll know when it works and when it doesn’t. I also always believe that people are people––complex and strange and unknowable, whether men or women, rich or poor, young or old.
That said, the easiest characters for me to embody are often the young women. Lise in “This Other Us” and the sisters in “The Separation” all came to me fully formed and I wrote those stories quickly and easily.
Are any of your stories based on your life experiences at all?
When they are, the experience is so changed it’s almost unrecognizable. I really did live in Alberta when a tornado hit, and “The Weather” came out of that experience. But the characters and their situation were entirely fictional. It’s mysterious to me where they came from, but I feel oddly attached to them!
What’s in store for your next book?
I’m working on linked stories all about the same family. I’m at the horrible spot where I’ve written several of these stories but it’s unclear to me whether they work together, whether I’ll ever deem them publishable. It’s an uncomfortable grey zone, but I think it happens to all of us. The trick is to be honest with yourself, or to have people around who will be honest. My fingers are crossed!
While THE BLACK ISLE is probably more ghostly literary I do think it has some crossover appeal with YA in that it’s a story about Cassandra coming of age and finding out who she really is. The ghosts are all around her and held within her and she needs to manage her ability to fight them off on both fronts. I fell in love with THE BLACK ISLE from the very first page and I knew even then I wanted Sandi to come by and chat a bit about her book. Hooray that she agreed to do it! Check out THE BLACK ISLE on its own website, read an excerpt from the novel and then go check out Sandi at her website or over on Facebook and let her know what you think. Thanks for stopping by, Sandi!
What made you choose this island in the South China sea as the setting for THE BLACK ISLE? Is there really an island in that area that bears this history or is it entirely fictitious?
The Black Isle is an entirely fictional place. I decided to set my novel afloat in that corner of the Pacific, midway between China and India, because it’s a fecund, festering tropical zone that hasn’t been explored much in international storytelling—and that’s a pity. This is a part of the world where the air is so dense you break into a sweat just by moving, where violent thunderstorms happen three or four times in the course of a regular day, where bugs and lizards abound—it is rainforest by nature and civilization only by nurture. Imagine the most humid New York or South Carolina summer and then imagine it year round. The Black Isle is a physical composite of several island- or archipelago-states in the region: Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong—all of which experienced a similar historical trajectory with colonialism, World War II and post-war independence; but the Isle also bears some resemblance to tropical cities in Latin America, like Recife in Brazil, and many others in Mexico. Near the equator, the conflict between man-made order and natural chaos is both everyday and eternal. On the Black Isle, this is also true of the conflict between the present and the past—and that’s where the ghosts come in!
|Photo by Kathleen Clark via sanditan.com|
To me, the Black Isle is as much a character as a place. Its coming-of-age from messy little port city to sleek international powerhouse is a kind of dark mirror of our heroine Cassandra’s own growth from plucky little girl to mature, powerful woman.
You make Cassandra seem at times both endearing as a character in trouble and someone not so innocent when it comes to blatant self-preservation. Did you find it hard to toe this line and maintain a balance that ultimately tipped in favor of a likable character as opposed to not?
Not really. When I created a heroine who was going to fight to retain her legacy, to keep herself from being erased by history, I knew I had to make her even more vivid than the usual heroine. She had to be a super-real whispering companion you’d feel charmed by, concerned for, terrified of, one you’d ultimately—hopefully—admire, as you witness her gradual rise to power. Because Cassandra’s a sensitive soul—she sees the dead, after all!—I wanted to make her extra susceptible to the emotions that grip us all, bad and good: fear, envy, lust, love, and even unexpected jolts of great courage and compassion.
My hope was that if I tied Cassandra’s experiences in the supernatural realm to down-to-earth, everyday feelings, if I made her honest about her feelings (for example, romantic jealousy!), I would be able to take the reader to strange and exotic places, and still keep them on her side. This is what a “likable” heroine means to me—the character may not always be noble, and may not always do the “right” thing, but she should always be honest so we understand her motives for her actions—especially when these are linked to feelings. THE BLACK ISLE is as much the story of a young woman managing her supernatural powers as the story of a young woman harnessing her wild emotions.
Why does Cassandra maintain such a strong sense of family when, time after time, they push her away, whether it’s her mother favoring her brother or her father letting responsibilities fall to her while reaping the benefits? Is this a draw on a more cultural dynamic or a more inherent familial need? Or both?
It’s both and more—it’s primal. I think everyone feels they need the support of family (or the familiar) when they’re thrown into the wilds of a strange new land, as poor little Cassandra was—shunted as a seven-year-old from the known world of Shanghai to the mysterious Black Isle. As she discovers and gradually comes to terms with her own unique power, she’s able to shed some of the negative people and emotions that try to cling to her; yet her family remains her most persistent ghosts, probably because they are tied to her childhood past, and to deny them would be to also deprive herself of her own history. They are inseparable from her memory of herself. I think we are often shaped by the difficult relationships we have with people in our lives, if only because we are forced to chart our own destinies in reaction to them.
The relationship between Cassandra and her brother at times borders on unhealthy. Is this a cultural dynamic manifested by their being twins (alluded to in the story) or a need to depend on each other due to their parents’ shortcomings?
Yep, Cassandra’s got a troublesome relationship with her twin brother, Li! This is partly because he’s been through so many of the same dramatic situations she’s been through—the creepy voyage by ship to the Black Isle, the terror of the rubber plantation, the military invasion during World War II. They’ve seen each other at their worst, and there’s shame and embarrassment in it. Yet ironically, this shared experience over the years is what binds them, for better or worse, and makes them each other’s secret sharer, each other’s shadow witness. They understand each other on a cellular level, like two halves of the same person.
In the end, they are both survivors—they do the best they can, and help each other the best they can. It slowly becomes clear that Cassandra is much stronger and braver than her brother. And of course, it’s Cassandra herself, more than anyone else, who is the most surprised—and chilled—by this!
I don’t actually interview authors often but every once in a while they’ll want to deviate from my standard blog posts and will have me wing some questions at them. Wing I did. Hopefully this’ll give you all more insight into SKYLARK and if you haven’t read it yet this should light a hotter fire under your ass. Thanks for stopping by, Meagan!
You did a good job of portraying the disparity of the city in a multitude of ways, and not glossing over any of it. Is this only the beginning of the lengths they’ll go to in order to preserve themselves?
One of the things that’s constant throughout all three books is the struggle between what is right and what is best. I love moral grey areas–I love exploring territory where it’s not clear what’s right and wrong. We all grow up thinking in terms of black and white, and I think one of the hallmarks of becoming a teenager, of becoming an adult, is that you start to realize that it’s not always that simple. In fact, it rarely is. While I can’t quite go into deep specifics about books two and three, I will say that SKYLARK is the most black and white of all three, in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Lark’s home city is a part of that, and in book two, she ends up in another city just as morally troubled as the first, but in different ways. And we haven’t seen the last of the Institute.
Lark can see past people’s rougher exteriors to something that others might not realize is even there, even considering her upbringing (Oren being more than a feral boy following her, the woman and child in the magic bubble, etc.) and experiences. At times it seems to almost be a fault. Is this something we’re going to see her grow beyond or has her time in the wild reshaped her thinking of people in general?
Having lived most of her life in an utterly sheltered environment, Lark has not had many experiences with people beyond the ones she grew up with. One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about working on book two (which I finished a couple months ago, and am now revising) is exposing her to forms of civilization entirely different from what she’s encountered before. I think with each broadening of her world, Lark’s view of the people around her expands as well. And while I can’t go into it without spoiling the end of SKYLARK, I can say that by the final pages Lark transcends the definitions of what she thought she was… book two is all about her struggle to understand herself, and what she’s become. Power isn’t always a gift, after all. The demons Lark faces in book two don’t all wear fangs and claws.
Is your world supposed to be our earth? Are we going to see more of this war that completely destroyed the world?
Originally, it was our earth. The basic idea was that people discover “magic” in the near future, and society exploits it as a resource the way we’ve exploited our existing resources. Leads to a cataclysm, and then voila, post-apocalyptic magic world. In revision, though, I decided to take it another direction and create a world separate, but similar. An alternate universe, of sorts–one where magic was always the dominant power behind technology. But human nature in this world is the same as human nature in ours, and the exploitation of that resource was always inevitable.
We are going to see more of the war! We learn a bit more about it in book two–how the Renewables were involved, what they did that was so terrible, how they could have destroyed the world in their quest for power. And in book three… well, that would be telling. But I’ll just say that instead of just learning about it, we get to see it.
Your world is a combination of fey and steampunk. What made you decide to go this split route? Could one pure side or another have worked in the world you created?
I think that I probably could have told a lot of the same surface story by choosing either steampunk or magic. But at the risk of sounding utterly pretentious, I think the themes would have changed. Lark is caught between two worlds–the rigid, orderly, measured, safe world of machines and technology (the steampunk aspect) and then the wild, ruthless, dangerous, beautiful world of magic. Magic is wild and untamed, machines are by their very natures controlled, doing what they were designed to do and no more. The juxtaposition of these two elements is so much fun to play with. If I’d chosen one kind of world or the other, I wouldn’t have the same external factors on Lark as she’s having these internal struggles. Her world really is a reflection of herself.
Can we expect more unabashed monstrosities in the next book a la chick hooked to tubes and siphoned for power? I found that particular aspect of your story to be especially grounding, that you aren’t afraid to go where it needs to go.
The last thing you need to worry about with my books is a lack of monstrosities in them. One of the things I love most about working with my editor at Carolrhoda Lab, Andrew Karre, is that he not only lets me go to dark places and explore them–he encourages me, when so many YA authors and books are shying away from the dark. So much of human nature is below the surface… scuttling away in the dark, hidden and not talked about. I like to find those creepy-crawlies and drag them out so people can see. I think what makes it so horrifying is that we can see ourselves in these shadows. I don’t like villains who are just evil, you know? I like people who do “bad” things because they don’t know what else to do, because their choice was, in their eyes, the only thing they could do. Someone who we can look at and say, “I’m not sure I would’ve done differently in his place.” There’s always a reason behind every terrible act my characters commit. And sometimes it’s a really good reason.
But they’re still going to do plenty of terrible things.
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