Reader Q&A: Research + thoughts on YA

Commenter Cody asks: How much research did you do [for The Mirage], and was there a point when you felt your head was about to explode?

I did a lot of reading—history of Iraq and the Middle East, biographies of the real-life players who were going to appear in the novel, and accounts by journalists, soldiers, and ordinary Iraqis where I could find them. The fact that The Mirage takes place in an alternate reality did make the job somewhat easier. Although there were a few areas, like theology, where I tried to be as accurate as possible, a lot of the research was aimed less at getting the exact truth than at getting a sense of how far I was (deliberately) departing from it.

The closest I came to having my head explode was during the copyediting phase. I’m always worried about missing some obvious mistake, and there was more stuff to double- and triple-check than usual. Fortunately I have a very good and very patient production editor named Lydia Weaver who got me through it with a minimum of sanity loss.

Also, what are your thoughts on the explosive YA market and have you ever thought about writing for it?

My most recent YA-related thoughts have been about the kind of house I would build if I had Suzanne Collins’ money.

Bestseller-fantasies aside, I think I lack the discipline and temperament to write for a specific market. The way it usually works for me is I get obsessed with telling a particular story and just assume that if I tell it well enough, somebody will want to read it—exactly who is a problem for later. So if I were going to write a YA novel, I’d probably have to come at it sideways—hit on a story that just happened to be YA, or that could be marketed as YA even though it didn’t quite fit the suit. (The closest I’ve come so far is Bad Monkeys, which won an Alex Award in 2008.)

It’s not the leading contender for book #6, but I’ve been kicking around this idea in my back brain for an SF novel about a race to land on another planet. I was telling a friend about it recently and joked that I could pitch it to my editor as “a Matt Ruff take on a Heinlein juvenile.” That’s not a wholly accurate description (the protagonists are all adult women whose attitude toward space exploration would have given Heinlein fits) but it’s accurate enough that I wouldn’t feel guilty about using it.

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