Alden Bell is a pseudonym for author Joshua Gaylord. His novel The Reapers Are the Angels won a 2011 Alex Award, YALSA’s award for books written for adults that have appeal for teen readers. The Reapers Are the Angels is set twenty-five years after a zombie apocalypse has decimated North America. It follows fifteen-year old Temple on a road trip of sorts as she flees enemies (both living and undead) and deals with her unhappy past. Josh agreed to answer some questions about his inspiration and writing process, and his answers are below.
1. First, congratulations on your Alex Award, and for being nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award! The Alex Award is given by YALSA to recognize adult books with appeal for teenage readers. Part of the appeal of The Reapers Are the Angels is Temple, the fifteen-year old protagonist. Why did you choose to feature a teenager as the main character? Do the students you work with as an English teacher influence your writing?
There are a lot of reasons I chose a teenage girl for my protagonist. Some of my reasons are lofty and overly intellectualized (teenage girlhood as a symbol of incorruptible purity of spirit)â€”and some are mundane and rather embarrassing (Temple is based, somewhat, on one of my favorite warriors: Buffy). The fact is that I wanted to see a teenage girl do things that are normally the domain of boys and men. I’m tired of watching men ride up on their steeds and heroically save the day. Even though Temple does all the things we might expect a clichÃ©d zombie-killer to do, it’s refreshing for me to see a girl do them. Sometimes a gender switch is all it takes to transform the ordinary into the unexpected. As a teacher of rather insulated and well-to-do New Yorkers, I don’t think any of my students contributed much to the character of Temple. On the other hand, the great thing about teenage girls is that they cannot be over-dramatized. They are naturally melodramatic. So Temple’s epic sense of drama is, in certain ways, related to the life-and-death dramas that seem to happen every day in the buzzing minds of my female students.