Today I have the honor of interviewing the amazingly talented and awesome Alex Bracken, author of Brightly Woven (Egmont, 2010) and The Darkest Minds (Disney-Hyperion, 2012). I’m lucky enough to call Alex my critique partner and friend, but she’s also one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE authors. I adored her debut novel, Brightly Woven, but her latest book—The Darkest Minds—absolutely floored me. Words can’t even begin to describe how much I love The Darkest Minds (which came out this past December, and is now in stores everywhere), and how excited I am for the next book (which is EVEN BETTER)!
The Darkest Minds was a Kids’ Winter 2012 Indie Next pick, and Kirkus called it:
…Haunting…. A gripping and terrifying dystopian world. Ruby is a reluctant heroine, strong yet vulnerable in equal measure, who will endear herself to readers. Each member of the small band of runaways traveling with Ruby is equally compelling and distinct, making the danger they face all the more terrifying…. A great ride.
And that’s just the start of the many, many glowing reviews for TDM!
When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.
Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.
When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.
When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.
If you were transported into your book, which scene would you most want to reenact?
I really had to think about this one! I went through the book scene by scene, mentally crossing them off as I went. Not the camps, not the escape, and definitely not the end…
Is it really horrible if I say none of them? It’s such a tough, violent world they’re trying to fight their way through—it’s hard enough writing the scenes, nevermind living them! While I’d love to drop in and hang out with the Black Betty crew while they’re driving around, I’m pretty sure I’d have a panic attack from the anxiety of whether or not we’d be caught. But if I had to choose one scene (and one that wouldn’t spoil the book for everyone reading!), I’d probably pick the bonding session Ruby and Chubs have while they’re keeping guard in Walmart. They’re basically just playing Go Fish and eating junk food. A few precious hours of nothing terrible happening! Do you have one you’d pick?
Um, any scene with Lee. OR I’d take the bonding sesh with Ruby and Chubs—I frakking love that dude. (The thing I love most about TDM is the characters. They are all SO REAL to me.) Anyway! Confession time: What was the biggest challenge in writing The Darkest Minds?
Probably the worldbuilding. I actually find it a lot more difficult to write within our world than to create an entirely new one. There are established realities that you can’t really do much playing with—you have to stick within the law and keep everything as realistic as possible. Writers always joke that their Google search histories have probably put them on some kind of watch list, but I’m actually convinced that might be the case with me. I did a lot of research on current anti-government groups, protesting, the Occupy Wall Street movement, weapons, clandestine government programs, how information is traded, etc. It might have been easier on me to push the book farther out into the future so I’d have more room to create the kind of laws I needed, but I wanted readers to be able to recognize their own world in Ruby’s so they’d (hopefully!) feel they had some strange kind of personal stake in the outcome.
The other difficult part of establishing Ruby’s world was knowing that there was so much going on around her that she just wasn’t privy to, or had no way of ever seeing. I didn’t realized it was even going to be an issue until I sat down and realized there was no real, natural way to work in certain information that a reader might want. The story is set in a very small portion of the country—Virginia and West Virginia—and they don’t have much access to the world outside of their minivan. All of the information they’re getting from the radio and newspapers is polluted by propaganda, lies, and straight-up censorship. Initially, Ruby is so focused on surviving and not getting caught again that she really doesn’t care to know what’s happening in, say, California or what the president’s plans for the future could be. I think that’s why it’s been so fun to work on book two! The story was always designed to expand from a small group in a small section of the country to a more national perspective to an even bigger global perspective. I’m really happy Ruby and the reader are getting a lot more answers in the second outing!
Stop sounding so smart! You’re making me feel dumb. 😉 Fess up: do you have a critique partner or beta reader? Or, when do you decide your book is ready for your agent’s/editor’s eyes?
Well, there’s you! Sarah and I have been trading stories for… a few years now, huh? Honestly, she sends me the best, most thoughtful notes and is never, ever, ever judge-y about messy first drafts. I also send most of my writing to my friend Anna Jarzab to get her insight and incredibly detailed feedback. It’s so interesting working with the two of you, Sarah. You guys are so attuned to different aspects of stories that comparing your notes is always fascinating to me. If I get the seal of approval from both of you, then I send it to my agent. I try to get her the cleanest, best draft possible since I know she’s not as editorial as some other agents are, but I always pay close attention to any big-picture notes she sends my way.
My poor editor tends to get things based on deadlines, even if the draft is still 10,000 words too long or a bit rough around the edges. She’s a saint!
Awwww. I’m glowing with CP pride! I know you’re super busy with writing the rest of the series AND a full-time job in publishing, but what are you reading now?
I just got back from vacation and a massive reading binge! I read two amazing but top-secret manuscripts for work, Meghan Shepherd’s The Madman’s Daughter, which was so atmospheric and creepy and wonderful. I also read a lot of Susanna Kearsley: The Winter Sea, The Rose Garden, The Shadowy Horses, and Mariana. Apparently I was in the right mood for historical romance!
Vacation. Massive reading binges. Top secret manuscripts! *sigh* I’m so jealous. I hate to disturb the peace, but—PUB BRAWL!!!!! What weapon are you wielding?
A hardcover of THE DARKEST MINDS. It’s got heft and sharp corners and can take an eye out!
EXCELLENT choice! That baby is a monster! Once the brawling/book beating is over, if you could spend a night at the pub with any 3 authors (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
Nooooo! This is too hard!! Too hard!!!
One would have to be JK Rowling, obv, because I have A LOT OF QUESTIONS FOR YOU, LADY. Also, I just want to hug her. Roald Dahl was my hero as a kid, and no matter how many terrible stories I’ve heard about his life and personality, I would never pass up a chance to chat with him. Sticking with the kid lit theme so we’d all have something in common, I think I’d give the last invite to Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel. He was big character and always had a good story to tell!
If I ever saw JKR ANYWHERE (at a pub, on the street, through a telescope), I’d probably keel over dead. Or I’d just be too overwhelmed to do anything but cry like a baby. And now that I’m pretty sure I’ve come across like a crazy person…. THANK YOU, ALEX, for stopping by today!!!
Guys, if you haven’t already, DEFINITELY grab a copy of THE DARKEST MINDS! I’m giving away ONE copy today (US-only… Fill out the form below!), but don’t miss out on reading this amazing, AMAZING book!!!
You can visit Alex online at her website, on thedarkestminds.com, and on Twitter @AlexBracken. There’s also an AWESOME fan-run site for all things The Darkest Minds called The Skip Kids. Check it out!