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Are You Ready for VARIANT?

At YA Highway, we're all super excited about Robison Wells' debut "dystopian-ish" novel VARIANT, which will be published by HarperTeen on October 4th, 2011. Just have a look at this summary:

Benson Fisher thought that a scholarship to Maxfield Academy would be the ticket out of his dead-end life.

He was wrong.

Now he’s trapped in a school that’s surrounded by a razor-wire fence. A school where video cameras monitor his every move. Where there are no adults. Where the kids have split into groups in order to survive.

Where breaking the rules equals death.

But when Benson stumbles upon the school’s real secret, he realizes that playing by the rules could spell a fate worse than death, and that escape—his only real hope for survival—may be impossible.

Robison was nice enough to answer our interview questions at extremely short notice -- seriously, overnight! -- and we really like the guy. You can follow the rest of his VARIANT blog tour at the Teen Book Scene.

1.) If you had to describe VARIANT in 3 words, what would they be?

Paranoid, Chilling, Surprising.

2.) Who's your favorite character in VARIANT and why is he/she your favorite?

From a writing perspective, I thought that Isaiah was the most fun. I really enjoyed getting into his head. He's a complex character--someone completely opposed to Benson, but with plausible, understandable reasons for the things he does. I think it's easy to fall into the trap that antagonists are trying to stop the protagonist simply because antagonists are Bad Guys. With Isaiah (and many others in The Society) I wanted to show their philosophy as understandable, if misguided--that their gang was really a place where normal people with good intentions could end up.

That said, my favorite character overall is Becky. She was originally planned as a minor character, but when I was writing a scribbled out an unplanned scene (now on page 191) that explained a tiny bit of her backstory, and it turned her into a much more fascinating, troubled character. I liked her so much that I eventually rewrote the second half of the book to feature her more prominently.

3.) All writers have their "darlings." A favorite sentence, a favorite scene. Can you tell us about one of your VARIANT "darlings"?

I have lots, but they're mostly too spoiler-ridden to talk about them. So, I'll go with Chapter Eight, where The Society hauls some of the teens to detention in the middle of the night.

The first draft of the book had a lot of external villains--guards and adults and all sorts of wacky security measures. But during the rewrites I found that it was much more frightening for the villains to be the fellow students. I love this scene because its where Benson realizes that the real bad guys aren't Iceman and Ms. Vaughn, but the other teenagers. I think it saps Benson's hope; it was no longer a case of The Students vs. The School, but the students against each other. And he didn't know who he could trust.

4.) Now about you. We like travel here on the Highway. If you could go anywhere in the world - ANYWHERE - where would you choose to travel? Why? What's the first thing you'd do there?

I have a deep love for archaeology and ancient societies, so most of my dream destinations are along that line: Egypt or Mexico or Peru or Easter Island. But, if I had to choose just one, it would be Cambodia and the ruins of Angkor Wat. Maybe it's because they're less well known, or less excavated, or whatever, but they have a very Indiana-Jones sense of mystery to them--this incredibly beautiful, magnificent place that hasn't gone completely commercial and touristy.

That said, if I could travel anywhere--if money was no object--my dream has always been to go live somewhere for six months or a year, and then go somewhere else for a year, and then somewhere else. I want to see what the culture is really like for the people living there, not just what the tourists see.

5.) Was there a singular book as a kid that inspired you to write or that made you love to read? If so, what was the book? If not, what did inspire you to write?

Definitely. Huckleberry Finn.

I was not a good student in high school. I was a smart kid--I was in all the gifted programs--but I learned quickly that if I could do nothing at all and still get a 'B', then why should I apply myself and try for an 'A'? Consequently, I coasted through my English classes, taking tests and doing homework based on class discussion rather than actually reading anything.

(I know that this seems weird. Most writers talk about how they've had a lifelong love of books, and that they loved going to the library as a kid. That was definitely NOT me.)

So, one day when I was about twenty one, my mom had to go to the hospital unexpectedly, and I knew I'd be sitting in the waiting room for a long time with nothing to do. I didn't have a lot of time to be picky, so I grabbed a book from the shelf almost at random--Huckleberry Finn.

And I loved it. I was supposed to have read it in high school, but I hadn't, and I now realized that maybe some of those other required books might have been worth reading, too. So, I dove in, and was writing books of my own within a few years.

6.) Can you give us a teaser of what's next for you?

Well, there's a sequel to Variant, tentatively titled Feedback. But, that's it for the series--it's just two books, not a trilogy. After that, I don't want to get into details but I think I'm going to stay with a similar genre: modern day normal earth, with a big sci-fi twist.

Thanks for hanging out with us, Robison!
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. This sounds fantastic. I will most definitely check it out. Thanks!

  2. A boy narrator, a creepy school AND a dystopia! I'm all over this!

  3. I am SO excited for this book. It sounds incredible, dark and creepy. Right up my alley. Yay!

  4. I'm in. Thanks for sharing! Sounds like a great book :)


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Item Reviewed: Are You Ready for VARIANT? Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard