With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Twitter campaign, YA readers called for more diverse books and representation. It’s easy to see why many seized onto Corinne Duyvis’s debut Otherbound as having it all.
“I’ve spent years reading discussions and articles dealing with issues of minority representation and stereotyping. That knowledge inevitably plays a huge part in how I approach my characters,” said Duyvis. “While researching the specific kinds of oppression different groups face is vitally important, it’s also important to grasp the overarching messed-up-ness of society that allows all those oppressions to take place.”
A serious writer since 2008 – but experimenting with the craft since before she can remember – Duyvis took these questions and didn’t let them go. They eventually formed a major chunk of Otherbound’s plot and theme, and took Duyvis down very interesting paths to develop her characters and world. Duyvis studied Dutch Sign Language for months, read up on the physical and practical details of life without a tongue and without a foot, and consulted with a below-the-knee amputee.
“One of the elements of which I can pinpoint the root most clearly is Amara being a healer. It came from watching an episode of Young Justice and seeing Superboy endure pain without lasting consequences. It made me wonder about writing a main character like that. Someone who could endure constant, recurring pain — and who has to. But why? To keep people safe? Because she loves them? Because she’s forced to? Would she ever get used to that amount of pain?”
Duyvis’s own experiences with disabilities, and her experience as co-founder of Disability in Kidlit, aided her approach to disability politics and other details within the book. Duyvis refuses to let those experiences comfort her. Instead, she strives to do more research and to keep the dynamics in the book realistic and accurate.
“Power dynamics are an important theme in the book, primarily between Nolan and Amara, and Cilla and Amara. These are complex relationships and dynamics which significantly throughout the book. And with relationships like that, it’s easy to end up with unfortunate implications,” said Duyvis. “For example, if any of the above three characters were white, it would’ve added an extra layer of ick to their already imbalanced relationships. Ditto if either Cilla or Amara were male.”
Duyvis didn’t completely avoid uncomfortable scenarios.
“I still ended up with some icky situations — such as with Nolan, a male character, having the ability to control Amara, a female character— but I at least tried to be conscious of that. It was important to me to acknowledge and explore the issues of agency, privilege, power, and responsibility that arise in a situation like that.”
Otherbound is far from Duyvis’ last novel.
“Ideas have never been a problem for me. Choosing between them, on the other hand … I’ve got everything from a quirky MG horror to a twisted cyberpunk YA and an action-driven MG sci-fi to a fun superhero YA in the works,” said Duyvis.
Duyvis’ next book will hit shelves in 2016. The science fiction YA follows a guarded, autistic girl from Amesterdam trying to make it through the aftermath of a disastrous comet impact.
For aspiring authors, the diversity-living Duyvis has some advice.
“Enjoy it. While it’s important to push yourself and set goals, it should never be at the cost of enjoying the work. Writing is hard enough as is, and particularly when you’re early in the process and have not yet achieved your goals; it’s easy to see that as a failure and give up. Don’t,” emphasized Duyvis. “Figure out what made you start writing to begin with—what made you love it—and focus on that. Let yourself get sucked into the book, let yourself take risks. In the end, it’s the only thing that’ll keep you going.”