I’ve interviewed Susan two times before, which you can see here and here. Thanks again to Susan for taking the time out of her day to answer my questions once more, this time about her most recent novel, This World We Live In (my review can be found here). Here goes:
This World We Live In marks the third novel in your post-apocalyptic Earth series for young adults. What was it like finally returning to some of your previous characters?
When I was first working out the idea for a third book, I was a little nervous about returning to Miranda and, in particular, her diary. A lot had changed in my life since I’d written Life As We Knew It, and I didn’t know if I could slip back into her mind. I wasn’t concerned about Alex from The Dead and the Gone, since there was a gap of several months between the end of d&g (which ends before New Year’s) and the start of This World We Live In (which starts late April). But a month or less would have passed between LAWKI and TWWLI, and I was concerned that Miranda hadn’t changed, but I had.
But once I began writing, Miranda came right back to me. I had Matt make a major life change, which affected how he behaved and made things more fun for me. I created two new characters and there was less focus on Mom.
Was merging casts for this novel particularly difficult? What was most challenging for you?
The trickiest part was that time gap. I knew from the time I wrote The Dead and the Gone that if there was a third book, Miranda and Alex would meet. But I had to figure out where Alex and Julie were during the winter and, of course, how to get Miranda and Alex at the same place at the same time.
For a while, I assumed Miranda was no longer in her house and she and Alex would meet on the road somewhere. But Alex had a minimum of a three month head start on the road, so I could never get that to work.
It was an enormous relief to me when I figured out how to have Alex show up in Pennsylvania, rather than Miranda showing up in Ohio or Indiana (or Texas or anyplace). As soon as I worked that out, the rest of the book was fairly easy to work out.
I knew that I wanted the book to end with something big and bad, but I went through some different variations of big and bad before I was satisfied. But that’s just part of the process.
One of the interesting things about This World We Live In is that it is both a science fiction survival story and a story about the interaction between family members, all within the epistolary format (which you have used since the start of the series). This seems to be a very difficult way to develop relationships among new characters, and yet you manage to do just that through the journal entries of the main character. Can you talk about how you managed to do this? Did the epistolary format hinder you as a writer, perhaps forcing you to plan your narrative in more detail than you have had to do for your other novels?
I loved writing Life As We Knew It, and a lot of what I loved about it was the diary format. Diary books are so easy. You’re limited to just what your main character sees. You don’t have to worry about fancy writing (which I’m incapable of, but it’s nice to have an excuse not to try). It really feels like the diary keeper is doing all the work for you; she’s dictating and I’m just writing it down.
The Dead and the Gone was harder because it was third person. I considered doing This World We Live In in third person, but decided against that. If Miranda was going to be the viewpoint character, then it was back to her diary I needed to go.
This World We Live In was a very tricky book to work out, because it was a sequel to two different books, and there were going to be people who read it without having read Life As We Knew It or The Dead and the Gone (there are actually some people who haven’t read either book, and I was aware of that possibility as well). I had to let readers know just enough, but not too much, since I assumed people who’d read one of the two books might go back and read the other one.
I don’t think I’ve ever thought through a book as much as I did TWWLI. It took lots and lots of brain cells.
Cats make a prominent appearance in your post-apocalyptic novels, and also on your blog. What’s the deal? Why cats? (You pulled my heartstrings with the death of the family cat in this series, by the way.)
When I was growing up, I wanted to have a dog, but my parents wouldn’t let me. I didn’t push to get a cat, but they probably would have said no to that as well.
As soon as I had my first apartment, when I was in college, I got a kitten, and I’ve had a cat or cats pretty much ever since. I went for a few months a couple of years ago, after my two cats had died, and I was uncertain if I wanted to take on another pet. But the desire for a cat overwhelmed me, and I adopted a little black and white I named Scooter.
Scooter is a lunatic, but there was no way of predicting that when I looked at his darling kitten face.
I spent this weekend listening to the Listening Library audiobook version of This World We Live In (Emily Bauer, who was also the reader for Life As We Knew It does a brilliant job). I found all the stuff about the family cat difficult to listen to, since it brought back memories of the cats I lost two years ago.
Are there plans for any more novels in this post-apocalyptic world?
I have no plans for another such book, and I don’t think my publisher is interested in one. I think we’re all pleased where I ended things.
What are you currently working on and what can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I’ve been working on a book called Blood Wounds. At least that’s its working title, and no one has told me they want the title changed. It’s a YA novel, and it goes back to what I think of as my basic theme, that of a family whose life is changed by one extraordinary event. This time it’s officially realistic fiction.
I’m waiting to hear from my editor about rewrites. It’s scheduled to come out in the fall of 2011.
Now for a random Question: If the world was ending and you could save one piece of art (fine art, like painting or drawing), which piece would you save and why?
That is a great random question. My immediate response was a painting I don’t even know the name of. It’s a giant Matisse painting of women dancing in a circle that used to be the first thing you’d see when you went to the Museum of Modern Art.
I think if there could only be one painting to represent humanity, it’d be good if it were something joyous and musical.
Thanks again to Susan for her time. If you enjoyed the interview, please check out her books. All three are fantastic!