Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Cornucopia of Dystopia: Author Interview with Sara Grant (Dark Parties)

Sara Grant was born and raised in Washington, Indiana, a small town in the Midwestern United States. She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Sara now works as a senior commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. Dark Parties – her first young adult novel – was published in March in Germany (as Neva) and comes out in the US in August and in the UK in October.

Sara volunteers for SCBWI-British Isles. She has served as editor on Goldfish, the first anthology of Goldsmiths College’s creative and life writing programme, and is co-creator and co-editor of Undiscovered Voices, a bi-annual collection of writing from unpublished SCBWI members in the UK.

From author's website.

How far into the future is DARK PARTIES set? How did you arrive at this date?

I’ve been intentionally vague about the exact date, but it’s several generations after the Protectosphere was sealed. I didn’t want anyone to have parents or even great grandparents alive before the sealing of the Protectosphere. It’s far enough into the future that the limited gene pool is starting to affect life expectancy. Many of the physical differences among Homeland citizens have been averaged out. I also wanted the current generation to be completely institutionalized so the reader can see how living in such a homogenous society has limited their thought and creativity.

What was the first scene you wrote for this novel? How has it changed over the course of the publishing process?

The first chapter – the dark party – was the first scene I wrote. I wrote it as a short story and submitted it to an anthology. I said that if it was selected for the anthology then I would write the book. Thankfully the judges for the anthology picked DARK PARTIES. It took me six months to write the first draft and another year of revision before it was in any shape to submit to publishers. The opening scene has evolved and become more complex – and better I hope. I think I’ve rewritten the opening chapter literally a hundred times.

The first paragraph from the original short story:

I wave my hand in front of my face, but I can’t see it. It’s pitch black. I seem to have disappeared, blended in. My father would finally be proud of me.

The first paragraph from the book:

I’m standing in the dark, not the gentle grey of dusk or the soft black of a moonlit night but pitch-black. My heart batters my ribs like a bird beating its wings against a glass cage. I wave my hand in front of my face. I can’t see it. I never knew it could be so dark. My edges are merging with the inky blackness around me. My dad would finally be proud of me. I’ve blended in.

In both DARK PARTIES and many other dystopian novels, it is the female population who are the most oppressed or abused. Why do you think the future is so often envisioned this way? Do you think our society will ever completely escape patriarchy and misogyny?

You pose an interesting question and one that would take a master’s thesis to properly answer. The books that I can think of that envision a future where women are oppressed tie into the need of the imagined governments to control or manipulate the procreation process. In these books, a woman’s role is narrowed to her ability to give life. I find this limited view of women terrifying. But it’s important to note that these books also explore the power of the feminine spirit. In many of these books – mine included – it’s the women who lead the rebellion.

I am very hopeful for the future – one without patriarchy and misogyny as well as racism and homophobia. With DARK PARTIES I exalt the benefits of a diverse society. I must admit that I’m shocked when I still see examples in my backyard and the world beyond that demonstrate how much further we have to go to live in a world where all people are treated equally.

Sanna is quite the character. Did you have friends like her when you were a teenager? Were you like her?

I think I have a friend like her now. She’s enthusiastic and has a million ideas. She’s the one who I know I can call when I have some wacky idea, and she’ll help me find a way to make it happen.

Which came first – Neva’s name or the snowflake motif?

The snowflake motif. I thought it was the perfect symbol for the story I wanted to tell. I searched until I found just the right name for my main character that also meant ‘snow’.

Why did you decide to make Neva afraid of the dark? Is there a particular significance to her fear?

I liked the symmetry of creating a society that is figuratively ‘in the dark’ and having a protagonist who manifests the cultural blindness into nyctophobia. Throughout the story I use light and dark to symbolize shades of the truth.

Neva’s fear of the dark started after her grandma disappeared. I don’t want to give too much away but I wanted Neva to overcome her fear of the dark while she discovered the truth about Homeland. Neva’s story starts in the dark and ends in the light – both literally and figuratively.

What character from another YA novel would be Neva’s best friend if they were to suddenly jump off the page and into the “real world”?

I think Neva and Katniss Everdeen from HUNGER GAMES might have a lot in common. Katniss could teach Neva a thing or two about how to defend herself. Both girls are unlikely heroes who have to step up and lead, when neither thinks they are ready. They also have some pretty tricky boy problems. :)

What was your biggest challenge in writing this novel?

Building the world inside the Protectosphere. Changing one thing in the world/future you’ve imagined can change so much. You not only have to write an interesting story with authentic characters but you also have to build a believable world. I had to consider how growing up in a protected and closed society would effect not only the environment and resources but so many other things, such as how the characters spoke and thought.

What is a random fact readers probably don’t know about you?

Well, one really random fact is that I can say the alphabet as quickly backwards as forwards. Another is that I met my British husband while standing in line for a ride at Universal Studios in Florida. Fast forward ten years and a lot of life experiences later, and we start to date transcontinentally. Less than a year later, I quit my job as director of communications for the Lumina Foundation for Education and moved across the Atlantic to be with him. I changed pretty much everything about my life at that point. I went back to school and received a master’s in creative and life writing and took a job as an editor at a company that creates series fiction for children.

What book have you re-read the most? How many times have you read it? What is it about this story that keeps bringing you back for more?

When I was younger I re-read The Secret Garden and The Boxcar Children several times. Recently I’ve read and then re-read and analyzed A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly. I love that book and wanted to consider it page by page to figure out what made it tick. I read To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee for the first time last year and I already want to read it again.

For more about this author, please visit:

Thanks so much to Sara for taking the time to give such thoughtful answers!

Coming August 3, 2011!

Sixteen-year-old Neva has been trapped since birth. She was born and raised under the Protectosphere, in an isolated nation ruled by fear, lies, and xenophobia. A shield "protects" them from the outside world, but also locks the citizens inside. But there's nothing left on the outside, ever since the world collapsed from violent warfare. Or so the government says...

Neva and her best friend Sanna believe the government is lying and stage a "dark party" to recruit members for their underground rebellion. But as Neva begins to uncover the truth, she realizes she must question everything she's ever known, including the people she loves the most.


The Slowest Bookworm said...

Loved the interview and Dark Parties sounds really great. I already have it on my wish list waiting for release date!

Lauren M said...

Wow! I had no idea that Dark Parties started as a short story! That's awesome!
Being able to say the alphabet backwards is amazing! I hear that's used as a sobriety test, but I'd never be able to do it, even sober! :P
The Secret Garden was one of my favorite reads as a kid, too. I even had some parts memorized! :P

Christopher Bunn said...

Great interview. Dark Parties is going on my tbr list.

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