Sunday, May 15, 2016

Interview with Jake Burt, author of (We are so not) the Trevors

Can you tell us about your book?

Absolutely! We are (So Not) the Trevors is the story of Nicki Demere. I could ramble on about the genre (MG contemporary), the point of view (first), or my overuse of parenthetical asides, but at its heart, this is a book about a girl. Nicki knows what’s supposed to happen to orphans like her: they have adventures. Tom Sawyer, The Oz books, Batman comics, Anne of Green GablesHugo Cabret - you name it. If it features an orphan, she's read it. That's why she's disappointed that her own experience hasn't measured up. She's just about ready to quit believing when her adventure does arrive, though not in the form she expects: it's not every day she's adopted by the United States government, after all.

It hasn’t been easy for the U.S. Marshals and the Witness Protection Program these past few years. Instagram, Facebook, Google searches – they make it so much easier for crime syndicates like the Cercatores to track their prey. In order to better hide witnesses, WITSEC has been forced to do more than alter hair color and drivers’ licenses. They’ve had to fundamentally change the composition of families. That’s where orphans like Nicki come in. The Sicurezza family is supposed to have one child. Now, thanks to the marshals, they have two kids, and the newest addition is a streetwise girl who knows a thing or two about hiding things. Nicki swears she can keep the Sicurezzas safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge deadeyed hitmen, cyber-bullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated b-minus average. For Nicki, fitting in at her new middle school doesn't just feel like a matter of life or death; it 
is. As Nicki barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, she learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

One of my favorite underlying themes of the book is the question of identity in middle school. As a teacher, I get to see up close that desperate performance of self that every kid has to grapple with. The genesis of the novel came partly as a result of asking myself what the absolute extreme of that might be. Hence, the kid who has to be perfectly normal, lest she blow her family's cover.

What are you currently writing?

I'm a debut author, so Trevors is where my focus is right now. However, I've got a few more projects that I'm excited about, too. One is a YA post-steampunk fantasy that I'm revising, and I'm storyboarding another MG contemporary and a MG fantasy. For the latter, I get to do research in Beijing and Xian, China, so I'm thrilled about that upcoming trip. The tricky part is deciding which one I want to tackle next.

When will it release?

Trevors will be released in winter or spring of 2017 (Feiwel and Friends).

If you could give any piece of advice to unpublished writers what would it be?

If you'll permit me a simile, I'd tell unpublished writers to think of their work as clay, rather than stone. I know that there's an overwhelming urge to declare one's novel "done," but thinking of it in that way, like art chiseled from granite, can back an author into a corner in a really unsatisfying way. It'll hurt more when agents don't pursue your query, it'll make you reluctant to accept critique and act upon it, and it's a whole heck of a lot harder to move on from that novel when it's sitting at the back of your mind like a ton of bricks. Thinking about it more fluidly opens up myriad possibilities and avenues that could lead to your publication goal. Fifty agents have rejected your manuscript? Maybe that's because it's actually three short stories that would work wonderfully well in a genre literary magazine. Novel's going nowhere, but you've got a killer setting? Pilfer that setting from the first book and write a different one. You'll get there eventually, because all that tinkering is actually good work. It's practice, and it's making you a better writer.

Who are your favorite authors?

Anyone who can weave words in ways that make them seem new. Peter Beagle, Catherynne Valente, Tolkien, Roald Dahl, and others who can not only tell you a new story, but show you how pretty the English language can be. How nuanced and delicate and quirky. How poetic.

What are some of your favorite books to read again and again?

The aforementioned Tolkien, of course. Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I'm a huge fan of anything MG or YA wherein the main character has true agency, where the unique characteristics of childhood - curiosity, bravery, trust, belief in magic - are what give that character her or his power. I also love books that do profound things in small, tight settings. Tuck Everlasting is like that. You have the fate of the world being decided in a tiny town, a tiny woods outside that town that could be anywhere. That's as beautiful to me as the sweeping, world-traversing epic.

I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't take this opportunity to talk about another kind of book that I read again and again. When I was a kid, I was into Choose Your Own Adventure novels, and particularly a series by Joe Dever called Lone Wolf. They're pulpy fantasy adventures with a game embedded in the telling of the stories, and for ten-year-old me, they were nigh-on perfect. I still have all my old ratty copies, and still go back and play them from time to time. I'll unhesitatingly credit them with turning me into a reader, and from there, a writer.

Thanks again for the opportunity to chat books, and thanks to Tanya for what you do for authors!

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