Friday, October 07, 2011

Interview with J.L. Powers (This Thing Called the Future Blog Tour)

Today we have J.L. Powers here for an interview! This author interview is part of The Teen Book Scene's blog tour for This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers. You can find ou tmore about the tour here. Make sure to visit all the other stops of the blog tour if you'd like to know more about This Thing Called the Future!

Have you always loved writing?
My mother says she started finding stories laying around the house when I was five years old. I found one of those stories years later—a mystery about a boy who couldn’t understand why his ice cream kept disappearing when he went outside to eat it and then found out that a neighbor had a machine that, quick as lightening, stole good food that the neighbors were trying to eat outside.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that I would always be a writer. But I had a couple of very terrible teachers in third and fourth grade and they completely killed my imagination and my love of stories and my love of learning. When I was nine, I remember telling people that I hated writing. There was some real recuperation that had to occur before I decided, at age eleven, that I wanted to be a writer someday.

Why did you decide to write for teens?

I don’t think I ever “decided” to write for teens. In fact, I do write things for adults, too. But ultimately, whenever I write novels, my protagonists are young, and the stories fit into the young adult genre because that’s the genre that I love most to read, out of all the genres. So it happened by default. 
But having said that, I’d like to add that I think writing about and for teens is one of the most exciting things you can do. Teens change more in a week than most adults change in a year—or, at least, they have the potential of changing that quickly. They have their entire future ahead of them with the capacity for endless innovation and endless new ideas and new ideals. We need to listen to young people more. While they haven’t always thought out their ideas to the extent needed to implement them (that comes with maturity), they have the freshness, the enthusiasm, the excitement that we adults lack. Although I have no desire to go back and re-live my teen years, I’d like to re-capture the sense of possibility I had, that Something Great was always peeking around the corner at me. 

I read you teach African history. How has that helped you with writing this book?
Writing cross-culturally is a real challenge. I could never have written this book if I didn’t have a strong and firm grasp of African history and culture, particularly Zulu culture and South Africa’s past.

I would find it extremely daunting to write a story set in another place—Palestine, for example. But because I have spent significant time in South Africa, have taken 3 years of intensive Zulu language study, and have read widely and deeply in African history and literature, I felt capable of tackling a novel in that setting.

Still, I did even more reading and even more research to write this novel—I read dozens of books, hundreds of articles, and interviewed a couple dozen people in South Africa. Even on copy edits, I was constantly re-checking my notes to make sure that everything was factually correct. I hate reading books where the writer clearly hasn’t done sufficient research—it bothers me deeply, actually. So hopefully I’ve caught any significant mistakes, though you never know!  

Can you tell us a bit about the writing process? Do you have any weird writing habits?
I have always been rather rabid about my writing time. Until last year, I would get up in the morning and write for about five hours, every day, rain or shine. Then I would get to the work that pays the bills. But I had a baby last year and now my carefully guarded writing time has been replaced with stolen moments here and there when the baby is napping and I’m not desperately trying to finish grading student papers or other paying work. I’m hoping I can return to a more regimented writing schedule when he’s a little older. 

I have developed a weird writing habit for the novel I’m currently working on. I’m on the fourth draft of the novel. For each draft, I’ve opened a blank document and started from scratch, without consulting the previous novel except in rare exceptions. It’s a lot of work but sort of exhilarating.

If you could pair the main character, Khosi, up with any character from any other book, who would it be and why?
That’s a hard question. Khosi’s world is so different than the one in most books set in modern-day USA. It’s like taking characters from Gossip Girls and introducing them to, I don’t know, the characters in the Hunger Games.

What would it be like for Khosi to meet the characters from the Twilight series, for example? Actually, I think it would be weird but maybe the parallels would be there so that Khosi and Bella would have a meeting of the minds. There are zombies and witches and shapeshifters in Khosi’s world but they are really real, not in a “I thought those were just myths and it turns out I was wrong” kind of way that they are real in Twilight. In her world, she is being stalked by a drunken man with shape-shifting powers—he becomes a crocodile and tries to make Khosi his own—and a witch is literally trying to destroy Khosi and her family. Still, I think she’d be a little freaked out meeting the cool, beautiful, wealthy people that populate many modern fantasies—like the Cullens. She is poor and even what little she has is being stolen from her by evil people with supernatural powers.

Maybe I would be most interested in having her meet my all-time favorite fiction character, Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. What would Anne say to Khosi? And what would Khosi say to Anne? They both know hardship, and they both know angry people, but they also know love, and loyalty, and the strong ties of family (both blood family and adopted family). I think they’d be able to meet across time and cultural differences to be friends. At least, I’d like to think so, since I love both Anne and Khosi so much.
Which character in This Thing Called the Future are you most like?
I am probably most like Mama—skeptical about magic, a little derisive towards “tradition,” and thus lacking in mystery and mystique. I would prefer to be like Khosi, who sees value in everybody around her, and in the things of both the past and the things of the future. Mama’s inability to embrace Zulu culture means she’s a little disconnected to the people around her. As a young adult, I separated myself from my family’s religious heritage, and it cut me off from some good people. Like Mama, that means I experience some poverty when it comes to community and human connection.

Thanks for the great interview answers!

Make sure to check out all the other stops of the blog tour, and keep your eye out for This Thing Called the Future, which has already been released.

This Thing Called the Future by J.L. Powers
(Amazon / Goodreads)
Khosi lives with her beloved grandmother Gogo, her little sister Zi, and her weekend mother in a matchbox house on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. In that shantytown, it seems like somebody is dying all the time. Billboards everywhere warn of the disease of the day. Her Gogo goes to a traditional healer when there is trouble, but her mother, who works in another city and is wasting away before their eyes, refuses even to go to the doctor. She is afraid and Khosi doesn't know what it is that makes the blood come up from her choking lungs. Witchcraft? A curse? AIDS? Can Khosi take her to the doctor? Gogo asks. No, says Mama, Khosi must stay in school. Only education will save Khosi and Zi from the poverty and ignorance of the old Zulu ways. School, though, is not bad. There is a boy her own age there, Little Man Ncobo, and she loves the color of his skin, so much darker than her own, and his blue-black lips, but he mocks her when a witch's curse, her mother's wasting sorrow, and a neighbor's accusations send her and Gogo scrambling off to the sangoma's hut in search of a healing potion.


Post a Comment

Please leave a comment - I love to hear what you think!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...