Saturday, 28 January 2012

Have you been to a Dark Party?

Guest Post by Sara Grant, author of Dark Parties

Why Dystopian?

When I finished the first draft of Dark Parties in 2009, I had an agent tell me that she didn’t think dystopian novels would sell. How times and tastes have changed. I recently heard someone call ‘dystopia’ the new ‘paranormal romance’ of young adult fiction.

Hunger Games, Delirium, Matched, Divergent, Blood Red Road, XVI, Bumped, The Declaration. There’s definitely something in the zeitgeist. I’m sure someone out there with a Ph.D. can hypothesize about the current social and political climate that predisposes writers and readers to dystopian fiction. And maybe there’s another doctor-type who can explain something about a teenager’s brain chemistry that makes them particularly susceptible to dark, futuristic tales.

I read an article in The New Yorker where Scott Westerfeld compared the high school experience (secondary school/Sixth Form in the UK) to a dystopia. Maybe teens intuitively understand and appreciate this genre because they are living it?

But the reason I write dystopian fiction for young adults is far less lofty and scientific. I love the freedom – not only the freedom to imagine the future and make the rules, but also the freedom that I can afford my teen protagonist. Teenagers can save the world.

Dystopian stories offer a complete escape from everyday life. Practically it allows writers to rid teen protagonist of pesky parents, mobile phones and the internet, which make answers and rescue come far too swiftly – and boringly. A story void of competent parents and efficient technology allows for greater adventure and risks.

And dystopian novels allow readers and writers the freedom to explore themes in a way most contemporary teen fiction can’t. You can illuminate a particular aspect of society or human nature and whittle away the parts of the real world that don’t serve your story.

The idea for Dark Parties came shortly after I moved from Indianapolis, Indiana, to London, England. Debates on immigration were raging on both sides of the Atlantic – and still are. What does it mean to be American or British? How ‘open’ should countries’ borders be? I wanted to explore issues of national and personal identity so I created a country that had literally closed itself off from the rest of the world.

Another benefit of writing dystopian fiction is the ease with which it can cross borders and appeal to readers around the world. I intentionally didn’t identify the country in Dark Parties. In my mind, it’s a mixture of my two homelands – the US and UK, but it could also easily represent other countries. Dark Parties has sold to the US, UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey, China and Taiwan.

Now I’m completely hooked on dystopian fiction. I not only read every dystopian novel I can get my hands on but I’m already neck deep in writing another dark futurist tale – which will be published in 2013. So stay tuned for Half Lives – a race against time and a battle to save future generations. It’s about the nature of faith and power of miscommunication – and above all the strength of the human spirit to adapt and survive.

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