Scott Westerfeld is a New York Times bestselling author. He has written twenty-two novels, seventeen of which are for young adults. His best-known series Uglies was published in 2005. Westerfeld is revisiting this series with his newly released novel titled Imposters. Westerfeld is also well known for the Levithan trilogy, the Zeroes trilogy, and Afterworlds. He has won multiple awards including the Philip K Dick Special citation, the Aurealis Award, and the Victorian Premier’s Award.
One of the first young adult novels I ever read, and definitely the first dystopian novel I ever read, was Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. I remember how much I loved those books in middle school and how I would rush to the school library to check out the next book as soon as I had finished the first. To me, Scott Westerfeld is an icon of YA authors. His books are just as powerful now as they were when I read them in 2008.
Upon learning I would be attending Y’ALL fest for Miscellany I knew that I wanted to see if I could interview Westerfeld. He was extremely nice and allowed me to ask him some questions about his writing process in between his busy schedule of panels, events, and signings. We walked and talked while his wife and dad lead him to the restaurant they had chosen for lunch, trying not to trip over the uneven Charleston streets along the way.
You have written for both young adults and adults, but you have written more YA books. How is writing for young adults different that writing for adults?
The readership is different; teens are more experimental and are learning things for the first time. Their brains are more plastic, they’re more fun to write for.
What draws you to write YA?
There’s an inherent drama in being a teenager. It’s an era of firsts. You experience you first fuck-up that will change your life. Everything is happening for the first time.
What books have inspired your writing?
Charlotte’s Web, which showed me the power that words can have, the literal power of a word. Also, Ursula K. Le Guin. Just a lot of Science Fiction.
You have written both stand alone work as well as collaborative novels, how is collaborating on a project different than working on something on your own?
It allows you to see how you approach things, such as narrative, differently than other people.
You have also worked on some graphic novels, particularly your recent book Spill Zone. How has writing a graphic novel been different from writing a traditional novel?
Working with an illustrator is different because pictures can change your perception of a character. You have to learn to write fewer words when writing a graphic novel. I would write these long paragraphs of a characters reaction and then after seeing the image I would just change it to “wow”. What I really like is when the text are pictures are fighting each other or telling different stories.
Do you have a process when you start writing something?
I always start with the setting. Science fiction is the genre where you say “where”, in a world where, in a society where. I build characters who are in conflict with their world, environment, or setting. I’m interested in how people react to their environment.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to get published?
Finish everything. If you don’t, you get to be great at beginnings, good at middles, and you suck at endings. That’s how you end up with like twenty beginnings, eight middles, and no endings. You learn about beginnings and middles by writing endings. Finish your writing even if it sucks.
Through our natural conversation we began discussing the role of YA, the newness of the genre, and how we think it may expand in the future.
Teenagers are a new concept; it’s a mythical time. It used to be that you were a child and then you got married and had kids and got a job and were an adult. So being a teenager is completely new and because of that YA is a very new concept. People in their twenties are still doing things for the first time too though, which is why I think so many twenty, thirty, forty-year somethings are still reading YA, even though the protagonists are almost always teenagers. We see seventeen-year olds falling in love for the first time in YA, but there are twenty-year olds doing the same thing. Maybe we’ll start writing about twenty somethings and there will be a new genre. Maybe this idea of “teenagerhood” will stretch out until it encompasses the majority of our lives, which will see us exploring and learning things and doing things for the first time, and only the first and last ten years of our lives won’t be a part of that exploratory phase.