Interview by: Lauren
Thomas Fahy has been writing for awhile, but has just recently released his first YA novel, The Unspoken. We talked to Tom about YA writing and more!
1. The Unspoken is your first YA novel. Did you always plan on it being for that age group? If so, what made you want to write a YA novel?
Yes. The original concept for The Unspoken came from my reaction to the use of fear by the Bush administration to manipulate the public after 9/11 and to curtail civil liberties. I started thinking about the long term ramifications of this, and I wanted to write a book about the ways in which fear can manipulate people. I felt that focusing on teenagers—who are excited about the future but also scared by it (the uncertainties, the responsibilities of being on their own, etc.)—would be an interesting way to go.
2. How did you come up with the idea for The Unspoken? Do you normally come up with ideas as a whole or just bits and pieces?
Well, I was doing some research about cults and religion in nineteenth-century America, and I came across Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven (among other things). I thought that using a cult as the backdrop for the book would work nicely with my interest in writing about fear. As far as my ideas are concerned, I tend to map out the entire project up front. Sure, it changes along the way, sometimes significantly, but I like to have a general map to being with—even if I take lots of detours or get lost (so to speak).
3. Do you have to have silence to write or do you prefer music or noise? Do you type everything out or use a notebook?
A combination of the two. Sometimes, I need silence to hear the voices of my characters. At other times, I like the way certain music can inspire me or reinforce the mood of a particular scene. My first adult novel, Night Visions, was a thriller/mystery about Bach’s Goldberg Variations. As you can imagine, I listened to that piece hundreds of times while working on the manuscript.
I carry a journal with me most of the time—to write down ideas, scenes, or questions that I want to explore. At this point in my life, I type everything out. Throughout high school and college, I wrote everything on a yellow notepad. (Most of my students find this hard to believe. They can’t imagine growing up without the internet—just as there are times when I have trouble remembering what life was like without it.) Now my laptop is my yellow notepad.
4. How long does it normally take you to write the first draft of a book? Or how long has it taken in the past?
It depends on the book and the project. I tend to draft a YA novel in a few months, then I put the manuscript aside for a while—to get some distance from it and to get feedback from other writers. But taking a book from the first sentence to publication is a long, arduous process, and it can (and often does) take years.
5. What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Keep reading! Read whatever you can get your hands on, take classes that challenge you to learn more about your craft (language, literature, grammar, etc.), and make writing an active part of your lives. Keep a journal or try to do some kind of writing every day.
6. What do you feel is the best compliment for a writer to receive?
That something is beautiful.
7. If you could have written any book, what would it be and why?
Well, let me list the first few that come to mind:
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion
J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace
I honestly believe that these novels are perfect works of art, and I reread them regularly. Without them, I wouldn’t be a writer myself.
8. Who are some of your own favorite authors? What are your favorite books?
Well, I should probably answer this question in regards to the genre that I’m currently working with. Back in grade school, I loved Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie stories, and I couldn’t get enough Stephen King and Raymond Chandler in high school. After that, I found myself drawn to books like Perfume and Chronicle of a Death Foretold—works that play with the genre effectively and beautifully. I think all of these writers have shaped my work in the horror/mystery genre.
9. Are you currently working on anything at the moment? Anything you can share about it?
My next thriller, Sleepless, is about a group of students in a secret society that try to figure out who or what is responsible for an epidemic of sleepwalking that is causing teens in a small town to kill each other. It’s pretty wild, scary stuff. That’s coming out next year (2009).
10. If you could wish on a shooting star, what would you wish for?
For the humanitarian aid in Myanmar to reach those who need it most.