Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Author Interview: Antony John previews his Elementals series + Giveaway

For my spotlight on upcoming dystopian/post apocalyptic fiction series, I interviewed over 20 authors with novels coming out in the genre in 2012/13. These are exclusive first looks at exciting new works. Enjoy!

Antony John is a busy man and his very latest novel is the start of a dystopian trilogy due November 8, 2012 from Dial (Penguin). He’s also incredibly funny, which you will shortly find out for yourself if you read his interview.

Here’s a teaser:

Antony John’s ELEMENTAL trilogy, set in a dystopian colony of the United States where everyone is born with powers of the elements – water, wind, earth, fire – except for the one boy who is powerless… or is he?
A lost colony is reborn in this heart-pounding fantasy adventure set in the near future . . .

Sixteen-year-old Thomas has always been an outsider. The first child born without the power of an Element—earth, water, wind or fire—he has little to offer his tiny, remote Outer Banks colony. Or so the Guardians would have him believe.

In the wake of an unforeseen storm, desperate pirates kidnap the Guardians, intent on claiming the island as their own. Caught between the plague-ridden mainland and the advancing pirates, Thomas and his friends fight for survival in the battered remains of a mysterious abandoned settlement. But the secrets they unearth will turn Thomas’ world upside-down, and bring to light not only a treacherous past but also a future more dangerous than he can possibly imagine.
ETA the cover:

And the interview!

Why do you think people are drawn to "dark" stories?
Okay, so here’s an Actual Conversation with my four-year-old daughter this morning:

HER: Daddy, can we get Nanny McPhee from the library?

ME: I thought that was kind of a scary movie. We stopped watching it, remember?

HER: Yeah.

ME: Right. So how about we order Mary Poppins instead? She’s a nanny too.

HER: Nah. Mary Poppins isn’t scary. I like scary movies.

In summary: Mary Poppins might be “practically perfect in every way,” but my four-year-old is bored with perfection and wants something dark. Much like the rest of us, I suppose.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, I think darkness is (both literally and metaphorically) inherently dramatic in a way that light is not. If I were to contemplate writing something utopian, I know that within three minutes I’d get bored and my mind would start searching for imperfections. Plus, from a writer’s perspective, explorations of dark themes allow us to tap the deepest recesses of the mind—places we may not choose to live, but make for compelling reading.

(By the way . . . just to show that I’m a caring father who listens to his daughter, let me assure your readers that I have ordered The Shining for family movie night this weekend.)

If ELEMENTAL had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Truthfully, it’d have to be R.E.M.’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” Only, that’s such an easy answer, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before. Instead, let me confess that I listened to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” more than once while I was writing. (Lenore's note: Not Patrick Swayze's She's Like the Wind? I'm shocked!)

What fictional character from another book would your main character choose as his/her best friend and why?
President Snow from THE HUNGER GAMES, because, well . . . my main character is WAY too trusting and eager to please. Besides, President Snow is old and wrinkly and has white hair like Santa Claus. Heck, he’s being played by Donald Sutherland in the movie; and who doesn’t love Donald freakin’ Sutherland, right? (Actually, I’m beginning to think I have a lot in common with my main character.)

What are your top 5 Dystopian lit recs and why? 

HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff. This completely blew me away when I read it. I believe that the best dystopian novels are like circus-mirror reflections of our own world. Written in the shadow of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, this book really shook me up with its depiction of a seemingly random war that may ultimately prove to be apocalyptic.

LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer. I was completely hooked on the behind-the-scenes feel of this one. Dystopian novels frequently focus on the characters best able (either through temperament, circumstances, or destiny) to change or overturn their broken world. This book takes things down to the human level of an ordinary girl, for whom everyday tasks (staying warm, eating) become fraught with danger. Her desire to fight through them is itself a form of heroism.

INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher. The author is a poet. (I don’t mean that figuratively—she really is a poet. Honest.) To me, INCARCERON is what happens when someone carefully weighs every word and action, yet does so within a narrative that never lets up. And the stuffy Victorian world she creates is a perfect analog for the claustrophobic prison of the title.

FEED by M. T. Anderson. I admit it—I think this book is genius. I’ve heard many readers complain about the tiresome use of vernacular, but then, that’s the point. Anderson is holding up a mirror to the world, in all its thoughtlessness and repetitiveness. Ten years on—can you believe it’s ten years old?—I’d have to say that his novel feels eerily prophetic. And that ending . . . just amazing.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins. A lazy selection perhaps, but it would be a travesty to leave it off the list just because it’s popular. Yup, sometimes all those millions of readers get it absolutely right. If they haven’t already, I’d insist that all aspiring writers read the book, because it’s a textbook example of what makes for compelling storytelling. From the opening scenes, to the character dynamics, to the unrelenting panic of the games themselves, this is just about perfect. (But don’t get me started on MOCKINGJAY.)

THE GIVER by Lois Lowry. This is such an amazing . . . hold on . . . what? That’s six books? Really?


What's on the top of your to-do list before the world ends? (you know, in case it ends next year)
Well, I’d like to finish the ELEMENTAL series, because otherwise I just know that I’ll be caught in a version of purgatory in which everyone asks me what happens next. (This is a dystopian post, so I’ve assumed there is no heaven.)

Beyond that, my to-do list is pretty much unchanging day-to-day. I have an unbelievably wonderful life, family, and career, and I’m happy to just keep plugging along. Seriously—I wouldn’t change a thing.

How does your novel stand out from others in the genre?
That’s a particularly interesting question for me, because ELEMENTAL is, on the surface, revisiting well-worn tropes. The idea of people (in this novel, kids) with the ability to interpret and manipulate the elements (earth, water, wind, and fire) is hardly new. But as much as the fantastical side of these elements fascinated me, I was even more compelled by the idea of a society (specifically, a colony) in which such powers are taken for granted because they’re mundane—everyone is born with at least one. It seemed to me that in such a society an element might seem no more remarkable than the ability to run, or shoot an arrow, say. At least, until a boy is born who appears to have no element at all.

The one other thing I’d say up front is that I have made a priority of reaching out to (and retaining) teen boy readers. I was a reluctant reader as a kid, and I’m still a painfully slow reader today; I empathize with boys who feel that reaching for a book falls somewhere between tidying your room and doing laundry on the list of satisfying pursuits. (And to those readers who are shocked and appalled by this, let me assure you that your appreciation for dystopian lit would take a hit if it took you ten hours to read the average book.) Anyway, my response to this is to ramp up the sense of adventure, and to accelerate pacing whenever possible (though hopefully without losing those psychological undertones that make dystopian novels such compelling reading). I’m not saying that other authors don’t write absolutely riveting stories—they do!—it’s just a particular point of emphasis for me.

Thanks Antony!

Visit Antony’s website
Like Antony on Facebook
Add ELEMENTALS to your GoodReads wishlist

And just cause Antony’s cool like that, he’s offering one lucky reader in the US a hardcover copy of his (non-dystopian) novel FIVE FLAVORS OF DUMB and an advanced reader copy of his upcoming (non-dystopian) THOU SHALL NOT ROADTRIP. Enter by August 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm CST by filling out this form.  


Beth S. said...

Great interview! I especially love Anthony's answer about why people are drawn to dark stories. One of the best answers I've read so far.

Amanda said...

A short but intriguing blurb. A great interview. Why is 2013 so far away??

Joy Weese Moll said...

Thanks! What a fun interview. I loved Five Flavors of Dumb -- I pretty much mention it every time I hear the word Seattle or anything related to it.

Anonymous said...

I use to love anything to do with the Elements when I was younger, so this sounds great. Added to my TBR list :-)

Unknown said...

It'll be interesting to see how the elemental+dystopian combination works!

He makes a priority of reaching out to teen guy readers? My brother may end up reading this series before I do. :)

candice (thecrjreviews) said...

I just put Thou Shalt Not Road Trip on my TBR. Good to hear that Antony is venturing into the world of dystopia!! Great interview.

Em said...

Paint it Black is a fabulous theme song! I listened to it for years (YEARS!) and never really listened to it, until about a month ago when I was lyric checking it for a youth radio show and WOW that's some song. Dark dark dark mixed with that upbeat musical energy - love it! Be careful about listening to that one too often, Antony! It's rather heartbreaking.

Najela said...

The premise sounds like anti-Avatar: The Last Airbender.It sounds exciting and fresh new twist on an old trope.

Antony John said...

Thanks again for having me along, Lenore. And thanks to everyone for commenting!

Beth - glad you liked the answer. My daughter told me she could've done better.

Amanda - it comes out fall 2012, not 2013. Does that help?

Joy - thanks for giving DUMB a plug!

Safari Poet - hope you enjoy it.

Susie - please tell your brother to read it. That'd make my day.

Candice - let me assure you, it has been nice to venture into dystopia. No, hold on . . . that doesn't sound right, does it?

Em - Paint it Black is indeed an awesome song. A perfect marriage of music and lyrics. And what lyrics! You can't get much more depressing than that.

Najela - it certainly has some anti-Last Airbender elements. But you can be sure there'll be some fireworks as the series progresses!

Zibilee said...

I liked the conversation between Antony and his daughter, and it shows that even at a young age, people prefer dark stories. I also am amazed that he paired his character with President Snow! It seems like a very unlikely match, and now it makes me even more curious about the book!

Ana LucĂ­a said...

aww this is US only?!?! :( I've been dying to read Five Flavors of Dumb but I can't find it in my country.

Brian Katcher said...

Can't wait to read this one, Antony!

Antony John said...

Zibilee - The President Snow "friendship" was more an indication of my main character's naivety than any actual affection for ruthless dictators. Just thought you'd be reassured to know that!

Ana Lucia - So sorry it's US only. The last time I mailed something internationally, it cost twice as much as the book. I promise that if DUMB is released in your country, I'll ask that the publisher send you an ARC.

Brian - you rock. By the way, talking of fantasy novels . . . has yours got a title yet? Care to share?

Anonymous said...

Every time I think of the elements, I can't help but sing the Captain Planet theme song! "Wind! Water! (Heart!)"
I can't wait to read Thou Shalt Not Road Trip, and I'm beyond thrilled that Antony is writing dystopian! Great interview. =)

Michelle said...

I seriously love his sense of humor and wit. I'm intrigued by the concept of the Elementals. I loved Five Flavors of Dumb so I suspect I'm going to enjoy this one too.