In Dualed, two of you exist. Only one will survive. West Grayer is ready. She’s trained for years to confront her Alternate, a twin raised by another family. Survival means a good job, marriage—life. But then a tragic misstep leaves West questioning: Is she the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future? If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from herself, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.
Dualed and Divided explore a brutal world in which each person must kill or be killed by a twin. What inspired you to create this world? In particular, why did you decide to make the characters face off against copies of themselves?
I always read about authors having really special, meaningful reasons why they wrote what they wrote—sadly, I’m not one of them. I wrote Dualed after my son asked me about how people could be sure they didn’t have some mysterious twin out there, unknown to them. The idea just kind of formed itself into a book, and so I wrote it, mostly just to see if I could.
How does it feel to look back on stories you wrote years ago? Has your perspective on these books evolved with time?
Sometimes I find myself wishing I could change so much about them, because I no longer write the same way, or even think the same way; given the same concept right now, I’d write those books very differently. And other times, I’m perfectly fine with them as is — they were the writer me four, five, six years ago, and even though I’ve learned a lot, I still wrote them.
How have readers responded to Dualed and Divided? Does the response of readers impact you as a writer?
I got readers who sent me fan letters and presents — I also got sent reviews telling me how much they hate my writing. Which, you know, is just part of being a writer. Responses from readers only impact me in that they are reminders that my books, once they are out there, are no longer entirely mine. Of course, I hope more like them than not, and I will never not love hearing that my books helped someone in some way, but all of that is out of my control, and I really do have to move on to the next project.
Your protagonist, West Grayer, must fight for survival in a violent society while also navigating more typical teenage concerns, like romance and self-discovery. How did you balance these two threads in the story? Did one help inform the other?
I think the heart of any YA is the character’s own personal journey, and the circumstances around them merely its frame. West literally trying to stay alive propelled the plot, but that had to be propelled by her own internal questions of why was her world suddenly the way it was, who was this boy to change on her now, how was she going to figure out who she really was? You use one thread to open up the other, to make the other bigger.
Has your approach to writing changed since these books? If so, in what ways? If not, what has stayed the same?
I used to pants my books, but now I outline, and it helps me a lot—not just in upping my daily word count, but in avoiding plot holes, keeping sight of themes, to be aware of what each chapter needs to achieve at whatever point of the book. I hate revising more than drafting, so knowing from the beginning what’s going to happen saves me time and pain.
I’m also way more conscious of how I write my characters now when it comes to diversity, and how it can impact a reader if I’m not careful. Back in 2011 and 2012, as far as I can recall, diversity wasn’t really talked about in the YA community. It was a whole different world back then—year end blogs talked about best YA boyfriend lists, and stuff like that. Which I think can be a lot of fun, but I’m also really glad the community at large is tackling more serious issues, too.
What have you worked on since these books? Can you share any details about your current project(s)?
Along the Indigo comes out March 2018 from Abrams/Amulet, and it’s a YA historical fiction (sometimes I still catch myself calling it a contemporary, because the 1988 setting doesn’t feel historical to me, and because I’m old). It’s about two bi-racial teens finding each other while feeling very lost in their very small, very white, and very deadly hometown. A Thousand Beginnings and Endings comes out Summer 2018 from HarperCollins/Greenwillow, and it’s a YA anthology of Asian folklore retellings that I’m co-editing with Ellen Oh (I’m also contributing a story). Then there’s All the Ways Home, my first MG, and it comes out from Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends Spring 2019. I get to talk about Japan, and bands, and even a bit about Chinese mythology — it’s pretty much the book of my heart. Currently, I’m revising a YA.
Do you have any advice for new writers on the twists and turns that a career in publishing can take?
If your main goal is to stay traditionally published, you have to stick with it. You can’t give up if a book doesn’t sell. You just have to write another and then try to sell that one. And if you do end up selling and publishing, congrats! Now start over again. This business is so hard because a lot of it is work that often never feels rewarded. But I honestly believe no writing is wasted—just because something isn’t published doesn’t mean you haven’t learned from writing it. What if you needed it to help you find a new agent? Or it helped you meet some writers that later on end up being some of your best critique partners?
Also, sometime over the course of your career, you’re going to end up comparing yourself to other writers, and you are going to feel like a hack. And this is normal, and it can even be useful, if you can let it push you to become a better writer. That’s actually the hard part—not about avoiding envy altogether (impossible), but how you react to it.
Social media can be really hard. It plays with your writing time and how you feel about your writing. There is nothing wrong with taking breaks from it. For the vast majority of authors, our books sell our books, not our tweets or posts or pictures.
Make good writer friends who will support you when the writing is going well, and even more importantly, when it’s not.
Who do you hope will find these books?
Any kid readers who likes science fiction or dystopia, and who don’t mind prickly, not necessarily likable girl protagonists.