martes, 20 de febrero de 2018

Event: Neal Shusterman in San Diego [Thunderhead tour]

On 02/10/2018 I had the chance of attending Neal Shusterman’s signing in San Diego, which was part of his Thunderhead book tour.

I arrived 15 minutes early and snatched a seat. Before Neal’s appearance, the staff of Mysterious Galaxy did a small trivia of the Arc of Sychte books to give away double sided posters to the winners. I haven’t read the books yet so I didn’t participate, but the posters were really pretty and many people participated, even more than once.

At around 2:10 Neal appeared, introduced by one of the book sellers. He started telling us
how he got the idea for Scythe around the time his book series Unwind was published, at the same time as the hunger games when YA dystopia was still not a thing. He asked himself what would happen if we lived in a perfect world, no illness, no war, and no death.

The premise of this trilogy is set in the far future, where death by natural causes has been virtually eliminated thanks to advance technology and an advanced computer system known as "ThunderHead" that controls society. The Scythes are an independent organization tasked with deciding who must die as overpopulation has remained a problem.

Shusterman said he had to ponder a lot about what would happen if death didn’t exist, what would people do, and every time that a reader asks a question he hadn’t think about, he writes down the answer to probably incorporate it later in the story or just to know more clearly the rules in the Schyte World.

The second book ThunderHead, has the title of the AI system that controls society in this world. Shusterman mentions that after reflecting about it, every story that involves AI ends up badly, because the AI gains consciousness but turns evil. He mentioned the movie Transcendence where Johnny deep is the “internet” himself, but in the end it has to be killed because even if he was good and benevolent, people still though it was too dangerous. Shusterman says it may be because we always think whatever we create will has our human flaws, but not his system ThunderHead, he gave us this little spoiler saying that while writing about it is too easy to think in turning it evil, but the ThunderHead will never be bad in the story, never because it has no human flaws.

After this little talk, Neal Shusterman read some excerpts of Thunderhead, and then the Q&A started.
He talked more details about how the ThunderHead works, but I don’t really want to spoil anything, so the only thing you have to know is that the ThunderHead is a perfect artificial intelligence system that can predict things and will always take the best decision in every situation.

While talking about this, he mentioned that the ThunderHead can’t really interfere with the Scythes, just watch how things unfold and that, at a certain point, is how he feels about writing. “You just stand back and watch things flow out and happen and just transcribe it as it happens.” The scenes more shocking, scary, or disturbing to readers are the most fun to write for him, the more emotion there is in a scene, the more he is into the writing.

Someone asked “when do you live forever, what do you do with yourself?”

That is a question he asked himself a lot. In his book, one of the consequences of living
forever is that life has become kind of bland because everything they can do, they can do it tomorrow, so there is no more sense of passion, and he said this book is about consequences about getting what you want, including immortality.

He was asked about his favorite character in the trilogy, and he said Greyson (a new character in Thunderhead) was becoming his favorite, he says that what makes a character his favorite is that he throws a lot of difficulties to that character and they overcome it and become better because of it, and sometimes the villains are fun to write and his favorites.

He was also asked about what family members feel when someone is taken by a scythe. He said that because death is so uncommon, they’re not used to it, but at the same time they have emotion deprivers that prevent them from being depressed, so they never experience grief or emotions in general at the same level we all experience, but also with less grief and pain, the levels of joy and happiness decrease too.

The audience, including myself, was really interested in the writing process and writing tips. the first question about this topic was “What is your process for world building, how long do you spend building the world before start writing and how do you get all that down?”

His answer was that half of the process of writing a book like scythe is the world building, only half is writing the book, and the rest is about making sure everything works and the world is consistent and makes sense, which makes it difficult because once you say a rule, you have to live by it and cannot change it even if it’s inconvenient for the story.

When asked about his writing process, he mentioned that he is more of a sporadic writer, he admires those writers that can write 2000 words per day, but he can’t, he sometimes is inspired, sometimes not, and he writes by hand, then transcribe, organize, and revise his chapters.

He was asked about his best advice in terms of creativity, developing a creative profession. Shusterman said that whatever you enjoy, you have to do it. If you like to write, you have to do it, if you like music you have to play. He mentioned that several persons have approached him and tell him that they have wonderful ideas but can’t never finish writing or that they have writer’s block, he says writers block doesn’t exist, “you sometimes find it easy to write and sometimes hard, but saying you have writer’s block gives you an excuse to not continue.” And advised that if you want to be a writer you have to read and get out of your comfort zone.

His final advice was to persevere. His first book didn’t sell because it was awful and he wrote a second one that was less awful, it was his third book the one that was published and if he had given up, he would never been published.

“Write, rewrite, read and persevere.”

Someone asked him about how he made people look into his books even if he had been rejected twice and he said he was very sly about his third book, he sent 30 pages and an outline of the rest to an editor who wrote him a nice rejection letter before, and she told him that she loved it, but couldn’t buy a book that wasn’t finished, so he finished it and it sold.

When asked about his inspiration to start writing he said that he always knew he wanted to do something creative, but writing really emerged when he was in high school, where he had a teacher that challenged him to write a story in exchange of an extra credit in English, and by the end of 9th grade he had identified himself as a writer. In 2002 he invited that same teacher to lunch and presented her a stack of books and told her those existed because of her.

A girl asked him about how he ends his books, he said he always knows how the story is
A glimpse of the posters and pins.
going to end even before starting, but things always change along the way. In ThunderHead, he planned the end differently, but he decided to push all the things that were going to happen into the third book, and now he is trying to incorporate that information in the book without making it look like a second ending to the second book.  

The last question was “What kind of community writers have?” He said YA and children books community is very close and supportive and that they aren’t competitive with each other as you hear in the publishing industry.

After this question it was time for the signing, when it was my turn I asked him for a song he recommended me to listen to while reading Scythe, his answer was “Don’t fear the reaper.” I also asked him how long does it takes him to write a book and he said six months, and I got a cute free pin of ThunderHead at the event. 

As always, it’s a pleasure to attend one of these events, it’s fun and informative. Have you read Scythe or another book by Neal Shusterman?

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