On the occasion of the release of her new book, THE INEXPLICABLES, my admired friend (and one of my daughter’s favourite authors) Cherie Priest kindly accepted my invitation to mark this new piece in her groundbreaking steampunk sequence with some thoughts on what it is and how it came to me. — W
When a new book looms, you start to see a pattern early on. You figure out quickly which questions will be asked most often, and which will be hardest to answer; and with regards to The Inexplicables, which lands November 13, I could already see the big ones on the horizon.
In short, people want to know what this steampunk undead Sasquatch book is really about, and they want to know if it’s a young adult novel. So let me try to explain.
* * *
When I began The Inexplicables my husband and I were already planning to leave the Northwest; we were already watching the real estate market in Tennessee, saving up our money, and thinking about what we wanted from our first house. But Seattle was very kind to me, and before I went anywhere I wanted to do one more book … one more Boneshaker, another warped little love letter to the place. The Clockwork Century franchise had wandered far and wide – all the way across the country, East Coast to West, and up and down the continent.
But one more, for the road.
I wanted to tell a story that was uniquely northwestern, while still falling into the niche that’s become my personal tradition: low concept treated with the straight face of high concept. But I drew a blank until a conversation with a friend, wherein she jokingly recommended a Bigfoot story. I doubt she thought I’d take the idea any more seriously than she’d suggested it.
But it festered, and in the end, I wrote it. And although I do guarantee you one undead Sasquatch, mostly this is a story about people who aren’t worth saving.
Worthless, useless, downright destructive people – people who will stab you in the back as soon as give you a hand. Ruthless, selfish, incompetent people who began their miserable miscreant careers as miserable unwanted children, leftover from a disaster they didn’t cause and twisted by an environmental poison they didn’t ask for. They were given nothing, and told to survive – and no one cares if they do.
This book is about them, and the places they find. Places that are every bit as run-down, wrecked, wretched and unlikely to be hospitable as the people themselves.
To be more precise, this is the story of one homeless, drug-addicted teenager in particular – who wanders inside a dangerous walled city full of the living dead in pursuit of a ghost. The Inexplicables is about what he finds there – criminals and fellow villains. Peers and problems. He finds his way into legend.
I’m routinely asked if Boneshaker was intended to be a young adult novel, or if it just turned out that way. I always find that question strange, since most of the book is told from the point of view of Briar Wilkes, a 30-something woman whose teenage son has gone missing. But largely because her son’s perspective is likewise featured … I ended up with a whole new audience: a demographic lovingly euphemized as "reluctant young readers." By which teachers and librarians mean "teenage boys."
(Teenage girls tend to be less reluctant readers. That’s not so much a sweeping generalization as a market trend.)
So ever since that first in the series, people have wanted to know when I’d do another young adult book – when in fact, I never wrote one in the first place. And in keeping with that longstanding tradition, I’ve already heard a number of queries along these lines in the wake of The Inexplicables, for its protagonist is an eighteen year old boy. But these questions don’t bother me in the slightest. In case you’ve ever wondered why I don’t fight the YA label, this is why: Nobody reads a book and says, “That was great. I have read a book. I need never read another, and I shall never tell a soul about it.” And this is particularly true of teenagers.
Let it never be said that I tried to distance myself from them, for they have been some of my greatest advocates. But sometimes adults are squirrelly about reading things intended for young people, for whatever ridiculous reason, so the questions keep coming. And here, now, by way of getting everything (or nothing) straight upfront, I’ll lay it all on the line: This is a story written by an adult, for adults or anyone else, but yes, it’s a story about a kid. He’s kind of an asshole, but I’d like to think that by the end, you can find it in your heart to root for him.
That’s all, I guess. So call it what you want, and thanks for listening to me ramble. But most of all, thanks for reading.