Teen Press Corps Member Evelyn Interviews Author Ryan Graudin
by Evelyn Eaton, BookPeople Teen Press Corps
Ryan Graudin: I basically wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember. When I was 5 or 6, I wrote short stories in my dad’s tax ledgers called “The Adventures of White Wolf”. That was my first foray into storytelling. I didn’t really start writing longer pieces until I was 13 or 14 and started writing thinly veiled fan-fiction for Ella Enchanted. I was a huge reader when I was younger, and it sort of just came to me as I grew up.
EE: How do you start your books? What comes first? Characters, plot, etc…
RG: Every book is difference for me, like where that bit of first inspiration comes from–I call it the idea seed. Sometimes the idea seed comes from an image, like a vision, of characters. And sometimes it comes as a line that pops into my head and I’m like “Who is this girl, who are these people?” and I sit down and start writing. For Invictus the idea seed was a short story prompt. There’s a festival in my home town where the owner of the Blue Bicycle book store runs a reading every year and he asked me to write a quick 1000 word short story to read aloud for this festival. The story that I wrote was about a time-traveling thief who went back in time and stole a historical object and is now in the present and trying to smuggle the stolen object to a museum. The problem is, he’s being chased by time-traveling police. I read the short story at the festival and my friends were like “This has to become a novel!”. And I said, “I have four or five books to write, but I’ll put it in the queue”. And that’s how I work, I have this list of stories and idea inside my head so when I sit down to write I have these “saplings” from that idea seed.
EE: How do you feel parts of yourself have made their way into your book?
RG: I always like to joke that each book is kind of like a horcrux because each book has a piece of yourself in it. When I sat down to write Invictus, I just finished the Wolf by Wolf series, and I was sort of emotionally and mentally exhausted from writing such a heavy and serious book series, so I decided I wanted to write something that was fun, something that I could infuse my sense of humor into. With Invictus, I wanted there to be levity. For example, one of the characters (Imogen) chalks her hair a different color every day, has a pet red panda, and works at a place where she can play “dress up” every day. And through her voice I was able to be whimsical and have a sense of humor, which was a different direction from my past books which were very dark and serious and Invictus was the perfect way to display the more fun-loving and light part my personality. And the sparkles.
EE: What was the naming process for Invictus like?
RG: Titling books is really hard because you have to encapsulate the spirit of the book in two or three words and get something that captures peoples’ attention and makes them want to pick up the book and read more. So “Invictus” is the name of the time machine in this time travel story, and it is also a poem by Willian Henly. Some of the last lines of that poem are ” I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”. The theme of that poem is “you are the master of your own destiny” and the main character of Invictus thinks that he is the master of his destiny, but as the story goes on he realizes that he might not be the master of his fate. So the title kind of plays in to the character’s arch, and also just “This is the ship that the entire crew is on!” The original title was Aeterno which is latin for “out of eternity” and is the ship that Farway, the main character, is born on. The marketing team was like “noooo, too Latin-y”. Invictus is Latin as well, but it has more of a punch.
EE: How did the character of Farway come into existence? And how did his character arc get written?
RG: I started writing Farway and I wanted to write a character that was very cocky and very calm, collected, but also has a sensitive side. Like, he cares about his crew and he cares about the people on his crew. With him, it just kind of naturally happened. I just sort of sit down and start typing it out. The opening scene of Invictus is actually the first few pages I ever wrote for Invictus, and I wasn’t sure where it was going. And from this opening scene, Farway gets born in a place outside of time. And this makes him feel like he is supposed to time travel, like it’s in his blood to time travel. And through this story he learns that “maybe I’m not as special as I thought I was” and also the “maybe I’m not special in a great way”.
EE: You do have a lot of different characters in your book. What is it like having multiple main character that you have to develop and create arcs for?
RG: So with each book that I write, I try to chose a new challenge. With Invictus, I wanted to have a BIG cast, and I wanted to do that movie style where you pan from character to character and get their view of something. That’s really hard to do, because you have to marry everyone’s experiences and make sure you’re balancing everyone’s arcs. So you get all the different pieces, and as an author it’s difficult to figure out where to put these pieces and which chapter to give to each character. I also liked writing different characters better than others. For example, the character Imogen, I really enjoyed writing her chapters and they always came really easily to me. And with other characters it was a little harder to pin down. Like Gram sees the world through a very calculating lens, it was hard for me to write from that point of view and his chapters took me a little bit longer to write out.
EE: What would be your advice to aspiring young authors?
RG: I usually have like two different main staples of advice for people who love writing and want to become authors. I always tell people to read widely. I grew up reading lots of YA and loving it, and I moved overseas when I was younger and the only English language books I could get my hands on was a shelf in a nearby coffee shop with English books that people swapped out. That year I read a lot of books that I never would have picked up, like memoirs, and poetry. One thing I tell young writers is that you will get rejected. The people you see signing books and on panels are the ones who didn’t quit, who heard the word “no” and didn’t let it discourage them. It’s easy to quit, but the people who don’t quit are the ones who are determined and keep going.