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Interview with Author Neal Shusterman

YA Highway teen contributor Kristin Briana Otts is almost not a teenager anymore. Her novel, City of Shadows, is about to go on sub to publishers. For more about Kristin, visit our Who We Are page.


I was first introduced to Neal Shusterman's writing when my sister (who mostly reads contemporary chick lit) said, "You have to read this book called UNWIND."

I told her, "If you liked it, then I probably won't."

"Trust me," she said.

I read UNWIND in one sitting, and it's still one of my top ten favorite novels.

So, obviously, I was very excited when Mr. Shusterman agreed to do an interview for YA Highway. Thanks for joining us, Neal!

KB: On your website, you say that your two years in Mexico City as a high schooler “gave me a fresh perspective on the world.” How do you think that perspective comes across in your writing?

NS: Having an international experience – there are several things that it does. One, it gives you a broader perspective of the world and your place in it. Secondly, once you overcome culture shock and live in a different place than you’ve ever lived in before, it makes you feel like you can accomplish anything.

KB: You’re not just a YA novelist; you’ve also written for TV and movies. What is the biggest difference between writing screenplays and writing books? Does your writing process differ for screenplays and books?

NS: Writing a book is an internal experience; a book comes from the inside out, and it comes from the mind of the reader – whereas a movie comes from the outside. One appeals to your senses; one appeals to your thought processes. In terms of the writing itself, I find that when you’re writing for film and tv, you’re writing for hire. You’re giving the networks what they want, and they’re the ones who control the content. When you’re writing a novel, you’re writing for yourself. You own it more when you write a novel.

KB: So it’s more limiting, writing screenplays?

NS: Definitely more limiting.

KB: I love what you said on your website about how you think that “most writers, deep down, have a desire to change the world.” What kind of impact do you want your books to have on your readers?

NS: I want people to think. I want them to think about their lives and the world in different ways. I think only by reevaluating your own positions on things, your own way of looking at things, can you really make sense of the world. It’s important to me not to preach and lecture. I don’t want to give people my opinions, because the reason these issues are so debatable is that everyone has opinions. A great deal of my writing is pointing out that things we see as black and white are really areas of gray.

KB: In the same vein, where do you draw the line between writing to affect your readers and writing for yourself?

NS: It’s very blurred. I write what I want to read. When I’m writing it, many times a story feels like it’s writing itself. I sort of have the freedom to enjoy the story unfold as if I’m reading it, but at the same time being a part of that creative process. I never want something that’s solely for myself without thinking of my audience; but on the other hand I never want to write something completely for my audience without enjoying myself as well.

KB: One thing I loved about UNWIND was the world-building. I had never really read a sci-fi novel that focused on the society rather than advanced technology or space travel. What made you decide to write a dystopian novel that didn’t have those flying cars and super computers?

NS: I have no interest in writing a story that is not grounded in reality. UNWIND is about people, not about things. It’s about decisions that we make as a society, how polarizing issues can create horrific decisions. That’s what UNWIND is about; it’s about our society and how things operate when things go wrong. Spaceships and flying cars, that’s fun, but it doesn’t excite me enough to spend a year of my life writing about it.

UNWIND intentionally does not take a side on any issue. My point was to point out the fact that there are two sides on all of these gray-area issues, and that’s part of the problem. You have to look at it from a different perspective.

KB: What usually comes first – a character, a setting, or a story line?

NS: Every story is different. Sometimes it’s the concept that comes, and the characters and setting come to fill that concept. Sometimes I have a really cool setting that sits in the back of my mind until a character comes along to fill that setting.

KB: Besides the script for EVERLOST, what are you currently working on? Can you share, or is that information top secret?

NS: I’m working on an original script for Disney Channel, and I’ve recently finished a novel called Bruiser that’s coming out in June. And right now I’m working on Everfound, the third book in the Skinjacker trilogy.

KB: Do have a strict writing routine, or does it vary from day to day?

NS: It varies from day to day. I try to get large blocks of time to try to focus on writing. Getting in the zone is very important. Sometimes I’ll take writing retreats for a week or two just to get something done.

KB: If you had to read only one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

NS: I have no idea. Anything that I come up with won’t be a good enough answer. Give me another question. (laughs)

Wait! I have the answer! The dictionary – because from that I can create any book I want.

KB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers and writers who are just starting down the road to publication?

NS: First of all, you have to write. Don’t just talk about writing or think about writing but actually do it and do it a lot.

Second, you have to rewrite. Rewriting is the most important part of the writing process.

Three, you have to be a reader.

And four, you have to persevere and be persistent. It’s not going to be easy, and you have to persevere through all the difficulties.

Thanks again, Neal!

If you want to learn more about Neal Shusterman and his novels, you can contact him via his website, Facebook, or Twitter.
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  1. Great interview Kristin, and thank you to Neal!

  2. Love this interview. Neal Shusterman's THE SHADOW CLUB was one of the first honest-to-goodness YA novels I read when I was actually a YA ten or so years ago. I've read most of his more recent books, but that and UNWIND are particularly haunting. Thanks so much, Kristin & Neal!

  3. Loved Unwind! One of the few books that made me really think about it for days afterward.

  4. I absolutely LOVED Unwind!! His book, The Schwa Was Here was an excellent read as well as Everlost!! :) Love him!

  5. EXCELLENT interview. I love what Neal said about international experiences, it's so true. (Plus he has an awesome last name.) ;)

  6. Great interview! I agree with so much he said about the writing process. I'm dying to read one of Neal's books now...

  7. I read Unwind a few weeks ago and have been recommending it to everyone I know. It still haunts me. I can't wait to read more of Neal's books!


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