IMAGE: Debbie Smyth
American-born, U.K.-based dystopian young-adult novel wiz (The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men). He appears as part of the “YA Gets Real” panel with L.K. Madigan and Conrad Wesselhoeft on the McMenamins stage and 5 pm Saturday on the Columbia Sportswear stage.
What are your favorite themes to write about?
I’m not sure it’s a great idea to start out with capital-letter Themes in your head; you put yourself in danger of writing a sermon rather than a story. I do tend to circle around what concerns me in the world, though: fractiousness, sectarianism, erosion of privacy. Happy things!
Name three books on your nightstand or shelf right now.
The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch, just to see if you can really write a novel with a title like that, The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell and Nightwatch from Terry Pratchett’s phenomenal Discworld series, which are practically a moral good in the universe.
What’s your personal writing ritual?
A thousand words a day, however long that takes; then a return to that the next day to rewrite the 1,000 and adding another 1,000 on to the end. Continue until the end of a suitable section, then repeat process until you end up, trembling and pith-eyed, with a book.
The most beautiful word in the English language is:
What authors made you want to pick up a pen in the first place and why?
Peter Carey’s writing churns and boils and emits smells both spicy and rude. He’s the one author who really taught me that novels are merely a thin slice of a larger imagined world. Amazing stuff, read his books immediately.
Name a book you think is highly overrated. Be honest.
No, I think there’s too much of this around these days. The Internet has somehow turned us into people whose first waking thought is, “How can I most loudly proclaim my disgust for something someone else dearly loves?” We should be celebrating books. If one book isn’t for everyone, so what?
The dumbest thing I ever did is…
In a moment of madness, buy a leather jacket that cost more than my first car and then be so afraid to wear it that it’s been hanging in my wardrobe for going on 12 years.
The best piece of advice I ever got was…
Write a book you’d want to read yourself. You’d be amazed at how often people don’t do this.
What’s your literary guilty pleasure?
No pleasure should be guilty, though I have read a surprising amount of Monty Python-related material. Even Michael Palin’s diaries, which are huge.
The closest I’ve ever come to quitting is…
Truthfully, about a month before I got my best book deal. It was that close. I’m really lucky.
Most recent nightmare:
Oh, you know, the usual—end of the world, global apocalypse, the dearth of decent Mexican food in England….
Your cure for writer’s block:
(1) Running, I get all my best ideas while running, and (2) writing about the block rather than the blocked subject. It often helps to get you out of the slump.
A dead person you’d like to meet (they’d be alive during the meeting):
Billy Wilder, easy.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
Not a book, but as a 15-year-old, I got taken to a Seattle Rep performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I write nothing like Tennessee Williams (who does?), but the heat and the possibilities and the yearning…. Boy, it really changed everything for me.
Please paste a short paragraph from a story, poem, article, blog post, etc., you’re currently working on below:
I’m really protective of my works in progress, actually; they need privacy and quiet to grow properly. No one at all reads them until they’re absolutely ready. It’s advice I give to aspiring writers, too. That way, you can make all the mistakes you need without anyone ever having to know.