|Posted by Matt Posner on June 27, 2012 at 6:30 PM|
Q. How did this story come about?
A. I read an article called "Darkness Too Visible" from the Wall Street Journal. Written by their children's book reviewer Meghan Cox Gurdon, the article severely critiqued a trend toward dark themes in contemporary YA fiction. Novels by such authors as Jackie Morse Kessler, Andrew Smith, and Cheryl Rainfield were heavily criticized for dealing with themes of teenage hopelessness, extreme violence, and self-mutilation. I was inclined to agree with Gurdon that this content might be distasteful as presented, and I started to read the comments to see how it could be prevented. I saw claims that one particular plot element, cutting, is incredibly widespread among American teens. "What?" said I. "No one does that at the school where I work." Asking around, I found that cutting does go on at my school, and realized I was wrong to disregard it. Only one thing to do after that: write about it myself.
How on earth could cutting fit with School of the Ages, though? Apprentice magicians have too many other options for dealing with their feelings, and no one in my core cast could become a cutter without a radical change of personality.
Robbie: Hey, Simon, like, I was all mad and I tried to cut myself, but I missed my own arm and cut Balaram instead.
Balaram: I'm really kicking your ass for that later, yaar.
Avery: My boyfriend is such a dumbass, yo.
No, not happening. So I decided that my core cast would have to help a non-magician who was a cutter. That's how Sara was invented.
Q. How did you come up with the character of Sara?
A. I sat down in the bathtub with my notebook to start drafting and Sara pushed her way to the surface. All the decisions were the result of unplanned creative flow. I like mixed-race characters and I take advantage of what I know about Indian culture to make my stories distinctive. Those are the likely reasons that this particular character manifested from my subconscious. As for her particular psychological condition, even though my upbringing was totally different, I think I find common ground with her. Anyone can feel isolated, and I certainly have, often, and those feelings are not different just because their roots are different. And I've never cut myself, but I do understand the origins and details of self-destructive behavior.
Q. How is "Sara Ghost" different from other School of the Ages fiction?
A. It's written in present tense. This is the first time I've ever written in present tense. I was trying to channel Hunger Games.
Q. Why did you choose the particular School of the Ages characters you did?
A. I've had difficulty writing Simon and have barely touched him for the past year. I felt I needed to try to get back in touch with him so that I could go on to finish the fourth book in the series. As for Goldberry, she is a natural for a story like this, since she appears to be the exact opposite of Sara (elegant vs. sloppy, outgoing vs. misanthropic, confident vs. self-loathing), and bonding between them would not be easy. Dr. Chatterjee has been an understudy for Dr. Archer for quite a while, so he gets a better chance to do something here.
Q. Where does this story fit in relative to the novels?
A. It takes place about two months after the end of The War Against Love. That means that Simon and Goldberry are now using magic they learned in the third novel but which you have never seen them use before. The next story to read in the time sequence is "Goldberry vs. Santa Claus," from Tales of Christmas Magic, which overlaps the opening chapters of book IV. "Sara Ghost" should leave you with some questions about what happened during the third year at School of the Ages, and you will have to read The War Against Love to find out.
Q. Isn't it a little cheesy to write a story that teases a novel?
A. Yes, but it's a really good story, isn't it?
Q. Why does this book have only one short story in it?
A. It's a novelette, technically, which is satisfying enough on its own, and I had such a hard school year that I couldn't get the time to finish any other stories. I was working on one where Robbie goes out with some ghost hunters, and I have one planned where Dr. Chatterjee meets a giant ape, but I just couldn't get them done.