One of YALSA’s Alex Award winners, Julianna Baggott, is hard at work on her third installment of the Pure trilogy, Burn. She will be answering questions in a panel of Alex Award recipients on June 30th at the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. She agreed to answer some questions for the Hub about her thrilling series. If you’ve read an adult book that you think would appeal to teens, be sure to suggest it to the Alex Award committee!
Science fiction often says more about the time period it was written than the imagined future society. What parallels do you see between our current social experience and your imagined world?
I think that the rise of post-apocalyptic fiction in mainstream literature does reflect current global instability and fear — for adults. However, I think there’s a deeper, more lasting psychological resonance with the apocalypse for teens. And, maybe I’m revealing too much personally, but I think that childhood can represent a kind of pre-apocalypse, a cocooned and protected time that is then ruptured by adolescence. In other words, the teen years are post-apocalyptic and science fiction with this lens is, surely, not realism, but I think a case can be made for psychological realism.
What trends did you extrapolate on that led you to envision the culture in Pure?
The first challenge of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is to decide on our collective demise. This is usually a decision that has political ramifications. For me it certainly did. I had to explain how our culture’s most dangerous elements — to my mind — would lead to a world order ripe for someone like Willux to come into power and destroy us. I was deeply worried during the 2008 presidential campaign — especially the ugliness of the Religious Right and then as Palin started to feed the frenzy of hate rhetoric (and how McCain, to my mind, found himself talking to crowds whose vitriol scared him) — about what would happen if someone like Palin were put in office. But it’s larger than that too. (I can’t summarize it all here.)
Once I was locked in the world of the novel, however, the harder job was to decide what would endure the apocalypse — love, art, faith? Those are the themes that I struggle with throughout the trilogy.
If you had to choose between the two worlds, the Dome or the real world, where would you rather live?
By the end of the trilogy, I can say that I’d prefer the outside world. The threats are brutal, but usually more physical, and the attacks within the dome, on the other hand, are psychological. I prefer the risk made to my life over the risks to my psyche.
Where did you get the ideas for the fusions, particularly Pressia’s baby doll hand?
I actually wrote a failed short story about this before I found Pressia hiding in the ash-choked cabinet. I was playing with the notion of fusings for a while. But, on a very basic level, I have four kids and part of my daily life was taking the lid off of the toy box and shooting the toys into it from wherever they were scattered across the room. I was an athlete, once upon a time, and I’m a pretty good shot. Anyway, I’ve palmed a lot of baby doll heads and, in the fatigue of child-rearing, at the end of a long day, there can be a blur of your hand, your knuckles and the doll’s bald pate. It always starts very very small.
If you had to have an object fused to your body, what would it be and why?
Well, there are characters in the book, the Mothers, who are fused to their children. This also came from raising kids — especially in the swamplands of Florida. I’ve written an awful lot with babies swaddled to my chest, sleeping and sweating, while I typed away. At a certain point, they feel fused to you. It certainly isn’t how I’d want to be fused — but, in truth, I wouldn’t want to be fused to anything at all.
Is your writing process different when you are writing novels than when you write poetry?
It is and it isn’t. While writing fiction, I see it more in my head before and while I write, yes, but the main difference is that a poem is a sprint and a novel is a marathon. A book of poems takes me longer — but not on the page, not the hours of pounding on the lines. It takes longer because of the necessary recharging between poems, for me.
While writing Pure and Fuse did you have a teen or adult audience in mind?
I had my daughter in mind. I generally try to write a book to only one person — in fact, I imagine whispering the story into their ear with urgency. If it’s not urgent, I’m probably not telling the right story.
Who are some of your favorite authors and what are you reading right now?
I loved Gabriel Garcia Marquez when young, and then adored John Irving. I love the poets Marie Howe and Adelia Prado and Seamus Heaney. New books that just came out by debut novelists: Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm and Rhonda Riley’s The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope.
What is it like to have your book turned into a film?
It’s a handing-over. It’s trust. It’s a letting go. It’s a collaboration. It’s having your work seen through someone else’s eyes. In the end, it might be the closest thing to a manifestation of the reader’s experience. I never can see the books I write in the heads of readers, except maybe this way, in the head of James Ponsoldt, the writer director who’s signed onto the trilogy.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Burn comes out in February 2014, and I’m always working on many things at the same time. If I don’t, I burn out. More things to come…
— Kris Hickey, currently reading Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Don’t forget: If you’ve read an adult book that you think would appeal to teens, be sure to suggest it to the Alex Award committee!