Monday, September 22, 2014

Skila Brown Explores Guatemala's Wrenching Past in 'Caminar'

Debut author Skila Brown takes a hard look at politics and war with Caminar, a historical novel written in verse. The story is set in Guatemala in the 1980s. It's a coming-of-age story about a boy named Carols, who must decide what it means to be a man during a time of war. Exploring violence and loss through individual poems from Carlos's perspective, it shows the confusion of being caught in a conflict that takes its toll on both young and old. Kirkus Reviews called it "a moving introduction to a subject seldom covered in fiction for youth."

Question: What inspired you to write your book?

Skila Brown: I think I might write about things that greatly upset me. In the novel I’m revising now, people are dying from starvation. In Caminar, a boy suffers a devastating loss because of politics and war. Both stories began with my own interest in a subject. Caminar evolved from years of reading about Guatemala’s history and struggles and specifically about the internal conflict there that was especially violent during the 1980s.

I grappled with questions like, “How could I have been going to school and learning to read while kids like Carlos were dealing with something so much harder? How could my own government have contributed to this awfulness in the way that they did? How could this have gone on so close to where I live without me knowing anything about it?”

I think writing Carlos’s story was a way to help me sort out some of my angst and also hope that I’d be doing something about it — making sure this story was getting told.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

SB: The greatest achievement as a writer would be to know I’ve made someone think — think about the world in a different way, question the facts in front of them, empathize with a character in way that broadened the reader’s world. Even just to make one person think deeply would feel like a big accomplishment.

Q: What are you working on next?

SB: This week I’m working on revisions for my next novel in verse, due out in 2015. It’s about the perilous journey of the Donner Party in 1846. I also just saw the sketches for a picture book I have coming out in 2016. (They are amazing!) It’s a fun blend of poetry and non-fiction — all about sharks.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Matt London Blends Eco and Adventure with '8th Continent'

Debut novelist Matt London's The 8th Continent takes on one of the most curious yet fascinating yet stomach-churning eco-nightmares, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. An action-adventure series from Razorbill for readers 8 to 12 years old, The 8th Continent publishes Sept. 16. Two sequels are planned for 2015 in what Kirkus Reviews describes as "Fast-paced action, cool inventions and remarkable robots combine for an auspicious opener."

It tells the story of Evie and Rick Lane, siblings who try to avenge their father's arrest by the international police agency Winterpole. They take off in search of part of the formula that will convert the churning oceanic mess known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch into an eighth continent. But they're up against their bullying classmate Vesuvia Piffle, whose aim is to build a giant pink continent of her own made of plastic. The two sides race around the world and to the bottom of the ocean in search of what they need to create their own brave new world.

Question: What inspired you to write The 8th Continent?

Matt London: So many things inspired The 8th Continent! When I was a kid, it was always the science fiction books that got me super excited to read. Maybe growing up in a family of scientists had something to do with it. Beyond my personal connections, I draw a lot of inspiration from real science. Universal translators, superstructures, terraforming, and advanced artificial intelligence are all technologies that feature prominently in The 8th Continent. And then there are seasteads, these artificial islands people are trying to build in international waters, so the owners can declare their seasteads countries, independent of any existing government! The heroes of my book, Rick and Evie, concoct a similar plan.

More than anything, what inspired me to tell this story was learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's scary to think that we are all contributing to these giant blankets of trash in our oceans, but there is plenty we can do to help.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

ML: First and foremost, I want to tell a good story. It's good to have lofty goals, but if you don't wallop 'em with an amazing tale filled with action, twists, and memorable characters, no one will stick around to receive your message. That said, pollution is a serious issue. Regardless of your politics or thoughts on climate science, there are things each of us can do to make the Earth a cleaner, healthier place. I want readers to finish The 8th Continent and realize there is stuff we can do to help. Science is cool. Saving the planet is cool. And hopefully they'll go to The 8th Continent website to learn more about it!

Q: Hey, there's an online game associated with the book! Can you tell us more about this?

ML: In The 8th Continent game, you get to play as Rick or Evie Lane, the two heroes of the book. You have to use your father's garbage morphers to stack trash in a fast-and-furious puzzle-y, action-y kind of way. If you stack fast enough, you can transform the garbage into a beautiful eighth continent. The art is gorgeous and the gameplay is a ton of fun. The game will be hosted first on Funbrain and then will live on the website.

It was really important to me to have an interactive component to The 8th Continent. As a professional game writer and designer, games are very close to my heart, and the elements that make a great game feature prominently in my writing. For example, the labyrinths Rick and Evie navigate, the items they have to gather, and the adversaries they have to face all draw inspiration from games. Classic adventure games like King's Quest and Sam & Max influenced the tone, while building games like Minecraft and Sim City influenced the world. Gamers will feel right at home in the universe of The 8th Continent. Reluctant readers, perhaps readers (like me) who sometimes neglect reading to play games, will love this book.

Q: What are you working on next?

ML: More 8th Continent! Book 2, Welcome to the Jungle, comes out in February, and Book 3, Born to Be Wild, next summer. I'm super busy continuing the adventures of the Lanes. The best part is, each book is bigger and wackier than the one before.