Today we have YA superstar Andrew Smith joining us. His 2014 science fiction novel Grasshopper Jungle was a Printz Honor Book and tells the compelling story of three teenagers trying to survive an apocalyptic invasion of six-foot-tall praying mantises. Yeah, it's rad. He has published eight other books, including Winger, Stand-Off, and Ghost Medicine. His most recent book is The Alex Crow, and it tells the story of a refugee who is the only survivor of an attack on his village. Andrew is one of the most unique voices in YA fiction, and we are so excited that he was able to join us today!
James: Let's start with the obvious. How did you come up with the idea of destroying the world with six-foot-tall praying mantises?
Andrew: Hmm... I'm not a planner. I sit down and write, and things just come out of the keyboard. But I do think praying mantises are cool animals.
James: Austin's narration feels so incredibly real. He's hilarious, and terrified, and confused--often at the same time! What about Austin's voice makes it feel so genuine?
Andrew: I'm a big believer in two things, well, probably more. But as far as writing is concerned, I do believe you should "write what you know," and I also believe that all books are self-portraits of their authors. I think in all of my books I try to strip away at appearance and get into something that is essentially true about myself, and all of my books, I think, examine elements of my own personality at different points along my journey. This is important to me as an artist. I don't know if I'll ever get down to the absolute truth of who I am or what shapes me, but I can keep trying. I think this effort resonates in the varied voices of my narrators.
James: Throughout the novel, Austin finds himself caught up between his feelings for his best friend Robby and his girlfriend Shann. Now that the world's no longer ending, who is he going to end up with?
Andrew: I just wrote a follow-up to Grasshopper Jungle. I could copy and paste it in here, but it's about 90,000 words long. Hang in there. You'll find out.
James: What was your favorite scene to write?
Andrew: My favorite scene wasn't really a scene. It was a chapter in which Austin describes four photographs. It was very emotional--very sad. I think it's good writing.
James: Which lines from The Grasshopper Jungle still make you chuckle?
Andrew: "It happened to the Italians in Ethiopia."
James: On Twitter, you've been pretty vocal about the importance of keeping young adult literature "weird." What do you mean by that?
Andrew: I don't think Young Adult literature should necessarily stay "weird," unless weird means original and innovative. I like that.
James: In addition to Grasshopper Jungle, you've written several other novels, including Winger, 100 Sideways Miles, and The Alex Crow. If someone just finished Grasshopper Jungle and loved it, which of your other books should they read next?
Andrew: They should read Ghost Medicine, if nothing else, to expose themselves to the fact that I do not write the same thing over and over again, and that all my books are vastly different from each other.
James: What's the most meaningful compliment you've ever received from a reader?
Andrew: I don't take this lightly. I get a lot of very serious, very moving letters from readers all over the world who tell me how one of my books has touched their lives.
James: What books do you always find yourself recommending to other people?
James: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
Andrew: I have a short story coming out in an anthology from Bloomsbury in 2017. The anthology is called Because You Love to Hate Me, and my story is called Julian Breaks Every Rule. The story is set in Ealing, Iowa, and there are a lot of connections to Grasshopper Jungle (and even to some of my other novels) in it.
That's it for today's interview. But if you have any questions for Andrew or want to let him know how Grasshopper Jungle or one of his other books have impacted you, be sure to check out his website and follow him on Twitter. And be sure to come back again next week, when we'll be talking to Australian author Alyssa Brugman!