Chat With an Author Giveaways

The Drowned Cities Blog Tour & Giveaway: A Chat with Paolo Bacigalupi

Today we are thrilled to be a part of the blog tour celebrating the release of The Drowned Cities, Paolo Bacigalupi’s follow-up to the Printz-winning Ship Breaker (one of Thea’s favorite books of 2010). Paolo Bacigalupi needs no introduction – darling of the Speculative Fiction community, Bacigalupi’s work has been critically acclaimed and has received numerous awards for his short fiction, his adult SF (most notably The Windup Girl), and for his YA novel.

Here to answer a few of our questions, please give a warm welcome to Paolo Bacigalupi, folks!

The Book Smugglers: Hi Paolo, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us! You are a prolific writer of speculative fiction, running the gamut from short stories, full-length novels for adults, and now full-length novels for young adult audiences. How does your writing change or differ across these different audiences?

Paolo Bacigalupi: I used to think there were clear differences, but these days I feeling like which genre I write in is somewhat irrelevant. The Drowned Cities feels a lot like my adult work, in terms of tone. It’s much darker and more intense that Ship Breaker, for example. I think the things that I continue to retain as I write for young adults is that I pay more attention to pacing and plot, and I like to write about more sympathetic characters. Mahlia and Mouse and Ocho and Tool are characters that I empathize with, so I desperately want them to have a chance at survival and triumph. The broken world they inhabit makes this difficult, but I really want them to win.

TBS: You recently wrote an article for Kirkus expounding on the current wave of YA dystopias and prevalence of heteronormativity, which proved to be a lightning rod for discussion about LGBTQ representation in fiction. You followed up that initial post with a second piece about different reader perceptions and motivations in YA novels, highlighting that younger readers long to see themselves, or avatars of themselves, in stories. In the future, do you plan on writing books that feature LGBTQ characters, with commentary on gender and sexuality? Do you feel that a reader’s desire for self-insertion in a novel is something unique to YA audiences, or do you believe adults also long to be a part of the story, too?

PB: I’m going to have a couple characters who don’t do the whole heteronormative thing in my next YA book, The Doubt Factory, and I’m happy to have them in the mix. I don’t see that as much of a commentary, more just an attempt to fulfill my obligation as a writer to try to represent the world around us. My editor for Ship Breaker, Jennifer Hunt, called it the “mall test.” You generally want your book’s characters to be as diverse as the population you see during an average trip to the mall. If they aren’t, it’s worth thinking about why there’s a difference. A lot of the time, it just comes down to cultural biases, instead of intentionality, and that’s a problem.

As far as whether adults want to see themselves represented in story…. I’m pretty sure we all want that. My wife and I like seeing mixed-race couples in movies for this reason. It matters to all of us. In the context of the Kirkus op-eds though–and specifically in thinking about my role as a creator of cultural objects that young people will read–I have a lot more empathy for kids’ needs and desires than I do for adults. Young people get all sorts of garbage and judgment rained down on their heads by our culture, and they don’t have a lot of control over its content or bias. They tend to be the victims of adult cultural warfare. If my stories can help establish a space for a wide variety of young people to be entertained and have adventures, I’m happy to do that.

TBS: You also have talked a bit about the current state of YA dystopian fiction, which you remark has the tools for social commentary but seems more content to use a dystopian premise for the dominant purpose of entertainment value (e.g. blowing up zombies). What social/economic/gender/cultural/environmental commentary do you hope or intend for readers take away from your dystopias?

PB: LOL. Well, I think whatever I hope readers will take away is often wildly different from what they do take away. When I wrote Ship Breaker, I thought I was writing about sustainable technologies, but most of the fan letters I receive focus on Nailer’s relationship with his father and definitions of family. When you’re writing, a story takes on its own life, and it can surprise you. With Ship Breaker, it turned out that–even for me–it was more important to write about support networks and other forms of loyalty, than it was to emphasize high-tech clipper ships. Both elements are there, but it turned out to be far more of a family and loyalty story than it did a sustainability story.

In terms of the different goals I have when I write, and how those get balanced… I feel like my first obligation is to create a great story. The book has to be genuinely engaging. If you don’t care about Mahlia and Mouse and Tool and Ocho as they war and make their alliances and try to find ways to trust one another and save each other, then the book is already a failure, and it doesn’t matter what other messages or themes I’m interested in. If I’m lucky, maybe I get to also point out that the broken world these characters are struggling through exists because of selfish choices made in the present day. Or it’s possible that after reading The Drowned Cities, someone will see child-soldiering as something concrete and horrifying, instead of abstract and irrelevant, the next time they see a news story about it. But mostly I just hope people will finish the book and remember it, and not feel like I wasted their time.

TBS: Your YA dystopian novel Ship Breaker and companion book The Drowned Cities paint a grimy, bleak future ravaged by climate change, political and economic collapse. In this grim future, violence and ruthlessness abound – especially for our young adult protagonists. In the wake of The Hunger Games and subsequent rise of dystopian YA, we’ve seen many articles from outspoken critics decrying dystopian subject matter as “too dark for teens” or sending the wrong message to young adults. (We disagree.) What is your position in this debate? Is there anything that you feel is too dark or inappropriate for young adult readers?

PB: There are certainly stories that I recoiled from when I was a young reader, so I’m not entirely dismissive of this concern, but it’s problematic to say in blanket fashion “thou shalt not read about X, Y, or Z, because (insert reason here).” Frankly, it’s amazing to me to see how many different constituencies want to ban books. With The Drowned Cities, with its focus on war and violence, there’s nothing in it that I consider problematic for high-school readers. These kids are within four years of being able to kill for their country. At eighteen, we’ll happily slap helmets their heads, give them guns, and encourage them to pull the trigger–and we’ll call them heroes. Our kids are bathed in war propaganda every day, whether it’s “support our troops” patriotic rhetoric, or recruitment advertisements for our armed forces. When the Marines no longer have an advertising budget, I’ll take the question of whether young adult fiction is too disturbing more seriously.

TBS: Your five favorite dystopian novels of all time are:

PB: Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley is still ridiculously ahead of its time.

Feed, by MT Anderson pulls no punches and does what a genuine dystopia should do. It’s brilliant and relentless and I’ve never read a better critique of consumer culture. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson deserves recognition, just for postulating an America that only excels at writing computer code and delivering pizza in thirty minutes or less. After that, can I plug Gossip Girl? It fits the dystopian structure, I think. Life is ostensibly rich and perfected, but it’s hell for the individual. And finally, given the increasing powers that our government has to spy on, detain and harass citizens, I think 1984 is becoming weirdly relevant, once again.

TBS: We Book Smugglers are faced with constant threats and criticisms from our significant others concerning the sheer volume of books we purchase and read – hence, we have resorted to ‘smuggling books’ home to escape scrutinizing eyes. Have you ever had to smuggle books?

PB: I once smuggled The Private Life of Chairman Mao into China. It was a banned book, but a Chinese friend of mine wanted to read it, so I got it for him. I remember my hands shaking as I picked the box up in customs, just waiting for someone to make me open it and show them what was inside. That was ridiculously stupid of me.

About the Author:

PAOLO BACIGALUPI’s debut young adult novel, Ship Breaker, was a Michael L. Printz Award winner, a National Book Award Finalist, and a Locus Award winner. His debut adult novel, The Windup Girl, was named by Time Magazine as one of the ten best novels of 2009 and won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, and John W. Campbell Memorial Awards. His short-story collection, Pump Six and Other Stories, was a 2008 Locus Award winner for Best Collection and was also named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly. He lives with his wife and son in western Colorado.

For more about The Drowned Cities, check out an excerpt, trailer, and more online HERE.

Tour Information:

Want more about The Drowned Cities? If you’re lucky enough to live near one of the following locations, you can meet the author!

Tuesday, May 1st @ 7:00pm
Tattered Cover
9315 Dorchester Street
Highlands Ranch, CO 80129

Wednesday, May 2nd @ 6:30pm
Boulder Book Store
1107 Pearl Street
Boulder, CO 80302

Thursday, May 3rd @ 7:00pm
Anderson’s Bookshop at Two Doors East
111 W. Jefferson Avenue
Naperville, IL 60540

Sunday, May 6th
1:00pm @ Books of Wonder
18 W. 18th Street
New York, NY 10011

7:00pm @ WORD
126 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY 11222

Tuesday, May 8th @ 7:00pm
Barnes & Noble
210 Commerce Blvd.
Fairless Hills, PA 19030

Thursday, May 10th @ 5:00pm
Politics and Prose @ Bethesda Library
7400 Arlington Road

Giveaway Details:

We have ONE copy of Drowned Cities up for grabs! The contest is open to EVERYBODY and will run until Saturday, May 12 at 11:59 PM (PST). In order to enter, leave a comment here. Good luck!


  • Pippi55
    May 4, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Sounds interesting. I’d love to get it. =)

  • Rawan
    May 4, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Great interview!
    I loved Ship Breaker and can’t wait till I get my hands on The Drowned Cities. It sounds so good

  • Rebecca
    May 4, 2012 at 3:30 am

    Ship Breaker was fantastic. I already have The Drowned Cities coming for my school’s library, but I want one too! Thanks for the give-away.

  • Stuart
    May 4, 2012 at 4:30 am

    Sounds like a great read!

  • Serenity
    May 4, 2012 at 4:46 am

    I LOVED Ship Breaker, and I can’t wait to find out what happens in this book!

  • kara-karina
    May 4, 2012 at 5:15 am

    Brilliant interview! I loved what Paolo said about advertising a career in army for young adults and at the same time prohibiting them to read certain books… The hypocricy always baffles me. I would also say that I find Beauty Queens by Libba Bray and Feed by Mira Grant to be very relevant to the issues we are dealing with right now. Thank you for this giveaway!

  • Tatiana (The Readventurer)
    May 4, 2012 at 6:00 am

    The Drowned Cities might be Bacigalupi’s best novel yet, in my opinion, of course:)

  • Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
    May 4, 2012 at 6:05 am

    I haven’t actually read any of Paolo’s books yet, but I’m positive I will love them when I do. They’re totally in the tbr pile.

    I am still laughing at Gossip Girl as a dystopian. That’s priceless.

    Also very impressed that you actually smuggled a book. Epic!

  • Stephanie T.
    May 4, 2012 at 6:18 am

    Ship Breaker was so good! I just loved how easy it was to picture that world actually happening in this reality. I’m really excited for Drowned Cities! Thank you for holding this give-away!

  • Katy
    May 4, 2012 at 6:52 am

    Would love to have The Drowned Cities to go with my copy of Shop Breaker in my school library!

  • ANna
    May 4, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Ship Breaker was seriously awesome, and I cannot wait to read the Drowned Cities!

  • Becky
    May 4, 2012 at 7:39 am

    I loved SHIP BREAKER and I can’t believe I missed his tour stop in Denver! Shame, shame on me!

  • MK
    May 4, 2012 at 7:45 am

    I’m reading Ship Breaker right now, actually, and loving it. I’d be thrilled to get my hands on The Drowned Cities too!

  • Tina
    May 4, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Sounds like an interesting read! Thanks for the chance to win 🙂

  • Leeanna
    May 4, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Thanks for the interesting interview! I’m definitely going to have move Ship Breaker up on my to read list.

  • Dani Nguyen
    May 4, 2012 at 8:04 am

    I haven’t had a chance to read Ship Breaker yet, but everyone has good things to say about these books. Can’t wait to read them! Thanks for the chance to win!

  • Theresa
    May 4, 2012 at 8:17 am

    I loved Ship Breaker and I can’t wait for The Drowned Cities. I never enter giveaways but I really want this one!

  • Liz
    May 4, 2012 at 8:17 am

    What a fantastic interview – thanks so much for bringing it to us. I am now, more than ever, convinced I should read everything by Mr. B. Please don’t add me to the competition – I just wanted to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the interview and that it is hugely inspiring. More power to his writing elbow(s).


  • Ellie
    May 4, 2012 at 8:23 am

    I loved Ship Breaker and can’t wait to read The Drowned Cities!

  • Kulsuma
    May 4, 2012 at 10:15 am

    I haven’t read Ship Breaker yet, but it sounds amazing! Look forward to starting this series. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • melissa @ 1lbr
    May 4, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Now THAT is an interview! I’d probably have to spend 10 minutes just trying to figure out what exactly you were asking and then an hour responding! Good stuff.

  • Michelle
    May 4, 2012 at 10:18 am

    Loved this interview (especially the bit about Gossip Girl being like a dystopia — that made me LOL). I’d love to be entered to win The Drowned Cities. I’ve yet to read Ship Breaker but my younger brother who is an *extremely* reluctant reader read and LOVED it.

  • Mel S
    May 4, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Does sound intriguing – count me in! 🙂

  • Shannon H
    May 4, 2012 at 11:31 am

    I’ve heard such good things about Ship Breaker, its at the top of my list of things to snag from the library next week

  • Tamara
    May 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    loved Windup Girl but haven’t got around to reading his YA books yet… Great interview!

  • Heather@ The Flyleaf Review
    May 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    Wow, that was an amazing interview. I feel like I am kind of late to the game, I only recently read and reviewed Ship Breaker, but it absolutely blew me away. I really like the commentary on whether the recent trend in dark dystopics are too much for today young adults (I completely agree with his thoughts on the subject.) Good stuff, thanks girls and Mr. Bacigalupi!

    Please count me in for the giveaway, I’ve really been looking forward to The Drowned Cities.

  • JenP
    May 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    Great interview–I’d love to win!

  • Christina Kit.
    May 4, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    Sounds awesome!

    Thanks so much for the interview and giveaway!

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  • Jill of The O.W.L.
    May 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    Sounds sooooooo interesting. I wish he was coming near me!

  • Breanne
    May 4, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Sounds fabulous! Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Renee G
    May 4, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    Would absolutely love to read this. It looks great!

  • Maureen
    May 4, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    It looks like an amazing story.

  • Bethie
    May 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Looks good! I would love to win this one.

  • Llehn
    May 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I’d love to play please.

  • Jen B.
    May 4, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    I have started reading quite a bit of YA dystopian. I love your answers to the post questions. Really thoughtful. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • jenn
    May 4, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    So. So. So. So. PRO.

  • scribe kira
    May 4, 2012 at 7:41 pm

    so excited for this book!!! loved the first one and can’t wait to read the second!!!

  • Shannon
    May 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I really love the depth of this interview and the YA Dystopian focus. I haven’t read any of his books, but I definitely will now. I also loved the Q&A about whether these books are too dark for young teens– hell no!!!!

  • Allie
    May 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    I wish he was coming near me. Can’t wait to read his books!

  • erinf1
    May 4, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    Fantastic interview! I just got Shipbreaker and I can’t wait to start reading. I’ve really been loving this new generation of YA distopian/apocalyptic authors, even more so than their counterparts in adult fiction. Thanks again for the great interview and giveaway. Paolo is definitely one of the best authors of our generation 🙂

  • Mary Preston
    May 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    I would love to read THE DROWNED CITIES thank you. It looks amazing.

  • Stephanie K.
    May 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    I’ve been wanting to read this. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • brenda c
    May 4, 2012 at 11:09 pm

    I’ve not tried this author, looks like I should. Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Stephanie
    May 5, 2012 at 9:20 am

    Loved, loved Shipbreaker, and would love to be able to read The Drowned Cities! Plus, the books smuggling is hilarious.

  • Jasmine Stairs
    May 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

    I regret that I am not near enough one of these locations, but I would like to enter to win the book!

    And that’s a fabulous interview, with lots of interesting things to talk about. Thank you.

  • Chenise Jones
    May 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I really need to read this series!
    Thanks for the giveaway!

  • Stephanie
    May 5, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Met him at ALA last year and got Ship Breaker signed! So excited for the follow up!

  • Raina
    May 5, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I really liked Ship Breaker; excited for The Drowned Cities

  • bigfoot24
    May 5, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Can’t wait to read The Drowned Cities!

  • Nayana Catoia
    May 6, 2012 at 7:43 am

    First time I see it, sounds really good 😀

  • Justine
    May 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I plan on reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s adult titles! I like how his YA novels don’t drip with saccharine romance.

  • sarac
    May 6, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    sounds like a good read!

  • Claire
    May 6, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Wind Up Girl is really excellent; Bacigalupi can surely build a world.

  • Jacqueline C.
    May 6, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    I recently purchased Ship Breaker. I’ve read (and enjoyed) The Windup Girl so I fully expect to enjoy this series.

  • Dovile
    May 6, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I love YA dystopian novels, so I’m always glad to find out about new books to read. Thank you for the chance!

  • Judy
    May 7, 2012 at 7:15 am

    Can’t wait to read this one 🙂

  • Missie
    May 7, 2012 at 9:10 am

    Loved both Windup Girl and Ship Breaker, would love to read this one, too!

  • Vesper
    May 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

    Very interesting interview!
    Ship Breaker is high in the pile of books on my nightstand. I can’t wait to read it…

  • LeAnn
    May 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

    I started reading The Windup Girl on summer vacation last year but quickly stopped reading it. It wasn’t the beach read that I was looking for and I knew I had to devote more time to it, but I still haven’t. I know I really need to because I think it sounds great…as does his latest book!

  • Carrie
    May 7, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Ship Breaker was such a great read and I can’t wait to get into The Drowned Cities!

  • Melanie_2006
    May 7, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Ship Breaker was such a good book. I didn’t realize the next book was out already. Can’t wait to read it.

  • Victoria Zumbrum
    May 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for the giveaway. Please enter me.

  • Deb B.
    May 8, 2012 at 8:03 pm

    I really, really liked Pump Six and Other Stories and adored Ship Breaker. I’d love to read The Drowned Cities.

  • Mia
    May 9, 2012 at 5:31 am

    I’ve read two of Paolo Bacigalupi’s books and loved them both. I can’t wait to read this one.

  • Ann
    May 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Glad to see another novel by Bacigalupi. And, he really was a book smuggler? Interesting.

  • Spencer Phillips
    May 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I loved the Windup Girl, especially the details about Thailand and their culture, the police (those whiteish anti-bio warfare people whose name I do not recall), the chinese immigrant (pragmatic to the point of cruelty, but at the same time honorable), and the whole New Japanese species, which is plausible both in formation and function. It was rather a lot like this novel I read by Paul McAuley, except that I liked it more.

  • Nikki Egerton
    May 10, 2012 at 5:29 am

    I really wanted to read Ship Breaker but never got round to it, I think this is the reminder I needed!

  • Oona
    May 10, 2012 at 8:20 am

    This interview made me love the author even more than I already did. Political YA dystopias for the win!

  • Serena
    May 10, 2012 at 11:37 am

    All sound like great books!

  • dan
    May 12, 2012 at 11:26 am

    I found myself referencing Shipbreaker in an applied microecomics class I was teaching at the time I was reading t the book. It was such a possible world with its realistic scenarios and the fact that shipbreaking does take place in poor coastal regions around the world. I still think of this as a favorote book and recommend it often.

  • Brian
    May 14, 2012 at 11:38 am

    These sound great.

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