Welcome to our first guest post in the YAAM – 2010 edition. As part of our celebration of all things YA, we tried to invite authors from different genres to write articles about the books and the genres they write. Michael Grant is the author of the Gone books (so far with three books published: Gone, Hunger and Lies), one of Thea’s favourite Dystopian series. Please give it up for Michael Grant!
The GONE series. Oh, good lord, why did I write the GONE series? Approximately 550 pages each. Times 6. Which — if you can believe the calculator app on my laptop — totals 3,300 pages.
Would this be a good point to mention that I don’t touch-type? Two fingers. Left and right index. Occasionally, if it’s something exciting like an action scene, I can use the middle finger on my right hand. Middle finger on my left hand? Totally useless. I swear that finger contributes nothing and I hate it.
Where was I?
The GONE series (GONE, HUNGER, LIES so far and PLAGUE, DARKNESS and LIGHT still to come,) has a simple premise: one day for reasons no one understands at first, everyone 15 and over disappears from the town of Perdido Beach, California. The kids left behind soon discover three salient facts: they are trapped inside an impenetrable dome, some of them are mutating in fairly disturbing ways, and your 15th birthday doesn’t necessarily call for a party.
So, one day I was thinking about 1) LOST, 2) THE STAND and 3) This half-formed idea I have called GUNS AND DRAGONS. (How great is that name? Guns are cool, Dragons are cool. Put them together and it’s a case of coolness squared.)
And one last thing: I was thinking about Disney movies. What do Disney movies always do? Aside from recycling dance sequences? And going with the cute animal sidekick? They kill Mom. Little Mermaid? Dead mom. Bambi? Dead mom. Aladdin? Dead mom. Nemo? Mom was a Filet-O-Fish sandwich some kid ate half of and then threw out.
A slight digression: Everyone said when THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG came out that the cool thing was to have an African-American heroine. That was cool. And about damn time. But the amazing thing, the knock-me-down Disney revolution was: mom was not dead! An actual mother. In a Disney movie!
So, anyway, LOST, THE STAND, GUNS AND DRAGONS and every matricidal Disney movie ever made. That’s what I was thinking about. And suddenly, I had it. A group of characters cut off from the outside world, in an existential struggle between good and evil, with the laws of nature rewritten, and not just dead moms, not even both parents dead, but everyone over the age of 15 wiped out!
Wiped out! Gone! By Michael Grant.
With GONE I started with an over-the-top fantasy/science fiction/horror premise, and then wrote it with absolute seriousness and all the realism I could bring to it. The basic idea may be crazy, but the way it plays out is realistic. My characters aren’t all good or all bad. (Well, except for Drake who is definitely all bad.) My characters make mistakes, do stupid things, do mean or short-sighted things. Some go well beyond short-sighted all the way to evil. But I work at making sure all the characters stay real — even when that frustrates readers.
The result with GONE is a very dangerous, violent, intense world. Because although good often triumphs over evil, it takes its sweet time doing it. There is love and romance in GONE but it’s not the main focus. Characters in GONE are mostly paying attention to finding food, avoiding being eaten by killer worms, avoiding being purged by sick-minded bigots and dealing with the fact that Drake is walking around with a ten foot tentacle where his arm used to be. When they have the time they have romance. But their first priority is survival.
So, it’s a mix of the hot and the horrifying. Kind of like the Megan Fox – Brian Austin Greene marriage.
I have a simple goal as a writer. I don’t care much whether I get good reviews. (Although I do get them.) And I don’t care whether I hit bestseller lists. (Although, it’s kind of cool when I do.) I really set out every day to write a story that makes readers stay up all night reading.
The thing that is special about science fiction, fantasy and horror — and GONE fits somewhere on that spectrum — is that in addition to keeping readers up all night neglecting their homework, I get to think about some interesting ideas. In GONE we deal with politics: who’s in charge, who should be in charge? And there’s just a bit of philosophy: what is true and how do we know it? And moral issues: are right and wrong always the same or do they change when circumstances change?
There are even sneaky bits of history. A rather obscure case is that of Zil and Human Crew. Zil is modeled on the rise of Hitler. Zil’s main supporters are Turk, Hank, Lance and Antoine. Without going into too much boring detail, I’ll say that each is based on a member of Hitler’ inner circle. (One easy clue: Lance means spear, and spear in German is speer. As in Albert Speer, the handsome, well-educated architect who gave Hitler some glamor.) In LIES Zil and Human Crew even stage a sort of burning of the Reichstag, the German parliament building, which was burned by the Nazis who then tried to use the ensuing chaos to take power.
Of course I don’t really expect anyone to see all that while reading the book, but in the course of doing my main job — frightening readers and keeping them up all night — a science fiction sort of premise gives me an opportunity to write about some interesting issues, and I hope make readers think a little about good and evil, and the ease with which good people can cross the line.
It adds a level of interest for me as well as for readers. And that makes it fun to use those two (and occasionally three) fingers to type those 550 page manuscripts.
A quick note on where the series stands. I have completed book #4, PLAGUE. (Which sounds like a happy book, doesn’t it?) And I have just crossed the 200 page mark on DARKNESS.
And still my left middle finger contributes nothing to the writing process. Although it occasionally helps me when I’m driving in traffic.
Thank you Michael!