We are sharing our June First Friday Breakfast with NY Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman, writer of more than 40 acclaimed books. His novel Unwind won 34 state, national, and international awards, and its sequel, UnWholly premiered at #2 on the NY Times Best Seller list. The Unwind Series is now in pre-production as a series of major motion pictures. Neal’s novel The Schwa Was Here won the Boston Globe/Horn Book award for fiction, and his Skinjacker Trilogy (Everlost, Everwild, Everfound) are international best sellers. Neal’s work transcends genres, bridges adult and young-adult, as well as bridging the gap between literary and popular fiction, weaving it all together with a little bit of humor and countless questions worth pondering.
Recently he’s collaborated with author Michelle Knowlden (that would be me) on UnStrung , a novella in the Unwind world, and we will be writing several more together.
In June, 2013 Neal’s work is being featured on its own “Must Read” shelf at Barnes and Noble bookstores across the US.
Neal lives in Southern California with his children, who are a constant source of inspiration (but certainly not for Unwind!).
‘Morning Neal. Thank you for joining us today. I’ve just fixed myself a bowl of raw buckwheat groats blended with hazelnut milk and loaded with honey, blueberries, walnuts, dried apricots, and bananas dusted with cardamom. What are you having for your virtual breakfast?
Well, since a virtual breakfast takes up no actual space in my stomach, I can “eat” as much as I like without gaining any weight or feeling full in the least. That being the case, my virtual breakfast would be: a huge glass of fresh squeezed orange juice on ice, a real NY bagel, with lots of lox, cream cheese and capers. Eggs Benedict with creamed spinach instead of hollandaise, classic Mexican green Chilaquiles, A corned beef reuben omelet, and a virtual bypass.
Let me pour you a glass of that chilled orange juice, and please tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
I usually don’t start writing until I’ve tricked myself into thinking I have the entire story worked out in my head (it’s a trick, because it never goes the way I expect). I do my first draft longhand, a chapter at a time — longhand forces me to do a full rewrite as I enter that chapter into the computer. I do three drafts of each chapter, then move forward, never looking back until I’m done with the book. Draft four is the biggest revision, because that’s when I go back and layer things in, fix problems, implement changes I made halfway through the book, etc. I’ll then be so burned out on the book, it’s best to put it aside for a while. I’ll come back a month later, do a fifth pass, and then I’ll show it to people. I’ll do a sixth draft based on comments I receive, and that’s what goes off to the publisher as draft one. Then I’ll do one or two revisions for the publisher depending on how much work they feel is needed.
I’ve actually had the opportunity to do some revisions on one of my favorite book trilogies years after its initial publication. The Star Shard Chronicles (Scorpion Shards, Thief of Souls and Shattered Sky) have recently been republished by Simon and Schuster. With the ten years distance, I wanted to tweak them a bit. I suppose the potential for revision is always there!
Which of your books would you recommend to someone reading this interview and not familiar with your writing?
It’s hard to say, because they’re all so different. I sort of shun the idea of writing in a single genre and in a single style, so the books are all wildly different. My suggestion would be to read three of the most different ones to get a feel for the range of what I write. Perhaps my latest book, Ship Out of Luck , which is a funny, contemporary story, Everlost , which is a fantasy about kids caught between life and death, and Unwind , which is social commentary using dystopia as an arena to reflect our society.
Another glass of fresh squeezed juice? Since UnWholly (sequel to Unwind) came out last summer, it has appeared consistently at the top of bestseller lists (NY Times, Amazon, etc). Congratulations! What grabbed readers about this novel?
It’s really due to the word of mouth from passionate Unwind fans, and the fact that UnWholly didn’t retreat into familiar territory, as many sequels do but instead opened up the concept in whole new directions. Unwind focuses on three fugitive kids coming to terms with the fact that society has deemed their wholes notworth the sum of their parts. In UnWholly, we delve into the psyche of that society, and take another kid on a search for identity — a kid who has no true “self” because he’s made entirely out of the unwound parts of other kids.
Tell us a favorite author’s moment from your extensive, varied and distinguished career.
I’ll give you a few — 1) When I did school visits in Joplin Missouri about six months after the tornado that devastated the town and saw first hand the indomitable spirit of the residents. 2) When I was told by a teacher that a story I wrote dealing with a suicidal teen (Blue Diamond) caused a suicidal kid in her class to come forward and ask for help. 3) When a girl emailed me to tell me how rereading the Everlost books helped her cope with the death of her best friend, 4) When an autistic student came forward to shake my hand, and he told me that Full Tilt was the only book he’d ever been able to read cover to cover, and 5) much less profound, but a career milestone none the less — a few weeks ago when I discovered that Barnes and Noble has dedicated an entire shelf to my books nation-wide for a month!
While your books are categorized “young-adult,” many adults are reading them, too. Why do you think that is?
Young adult is just a label. Yes, the protagonists are teenagers, but the questions and challenges they’re facing are things we all face. I ask hard questions, and put characters in impossible situations that they somehow must find the courage and wisdom to solve. My books are not just for teens, and I’m thrilled with the growing fan base of adult readers.
What are you working on now? When and where will it be available?
I’m working on tons of stuff! UnSouled, the third Unwind book will be published by Simon and Schuster in October, Tesla’s Attic, which I’m co-writing with Eric Elfman is the first of a trilogy, and will be available from Hyperion in February 2014, The concluding book of the Unwind Dystology will be out in May 2014 – title is still under wraps — and in the Fall of 2014, a stand-alone novel dealing with teenaged mental illness, entitled Challenger Deep will be published by HarperCollins. They’ll be available everywhere in print, digital, and audio!
Thank you for sharing your breakfast and writing life, Neal. Congratulations on publishing over 40 novels and the well-deserved esteem of readers, critics, and publishers. I wish you joy in your future work.
Before you blast off to Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local bookseller to buy a stack of Neal’s books, anyone for another glass of ice cold orange juice?