Andrew Smith’s third novel, The Marbury Lens, hits stores on November 9th. He graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to stop by the virtual offices to chat about his book and what went into writing it.
Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.
Really? Counting spaces? I obsess over things like numbers and limits.
Can you tell us a little about your book, The Marbury Lens?
The Marbury Lens tells the story of Jack Whitmore, a teen who is completely wracked with guilt after he escapes a brutal kidnapping. Jack becomes convinced he’s losing his mind. When he’s sent away to school in England, a strange man tricks Jack into taking a pair of glasses, and when Jack puts them on, he is in another world called Marbury. And Marbury contains the absolute worst imaginable element from my nightmares I could think of. The big problem for Jack is that once he goes to Marbury, he can’t stop himself from needing to return over and over, even if it means destroying his life.
How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?
Usually when I write, characters come first. But not in this case. When I was a teenager, like Jack, I was kidnapped by a complete stranger, too. The story has been bugging me for a long time, so I decided last summer to write a novel about two friends and a kidnapping-gone-wrong. Pretty straightforward stuff. But during the writing process, I began having these really intense, almost hallucinogenic dreams about a place called Marbury (I keep a pad and pen next to my bed so I can write stuff like this down). So I decided to weave the concepts of the nightmare-world and kidnapping together, feeling that there was probably a good reason why these dreams coincided with my writing the first section of the novel – about Jack’s abduction.
What have you learned about yourself through your characters?
I spent a long time thinking about this question. I think readers are going to learn things about me through my characters, because in so many ways they are all reflections of the ghosts I have inside of me. As such, they only reveal what I want them to reveal, but this is all a conscious process on my part. Some of them definitely take risks – tell things about me that I didn’t think I’d have the guts to say; and, like me, most of my characters can be more than a little evasive when revealing their inner truths. But they’ve never told me anything I didn’t already know. If they did, I’d be really crazy.
Why do you think stories with horror and fantasy elements are so appealing to readers? Why do they appeal to you?
I think there are two main reasons why “Young Adults” choose to read. First, readers want escape. In the same way that some people are attracted to the most terrifying roller coasters, many readers seek escape in some of the darker, scarier realities created by horror and fantasy. Second, and especially important, I think that a lot of young people read because they’re looking for books with stories and characters they can feel a connection to. The sad truth is that many of us have had some really bad things happen in our lives. Sometimes, the trauma of those negative experiences diminishes over time, but you still never totally get over it. For a lot of us, there really is no “happily ever after.” That’s just how life is. When the only thing readers get are books with happy endings, in which all problems are perfectly solved, with plenty of “rising above” and “triumph” for the protagonists, it has a consequence of making some kids feel that there must be something wrong with them – that they’re to blame for not having everything work out beautifully in their lives.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Marbury Lens?
I’ll be honest. Writing the book and the run-up toward its release have been pretty tough, because the book is very personal and has a disturbed, angry, and visceral voice. That kind of writing drags me over some uncomfortable territory and is psychologically exhausting. And once I was finished with the writing and editing, and we began getting closer and closer to the ARCs coming out, talking to the audio book people about it, and now the release day approaching, I’ve found myself lying awake all night sometimes, wondering if I could just make the book go away. When I was writing it, I did often remark how I thought this book was trying to kill me. We’ll see who wins in the end. The book or me.
When did you decide to become an author? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer. When I was a kid, I wanted to write for newspapers, which I did in my younger life, as well as writing for radio. I even had a couple things published in national magazines. I started writing books when I was in high school, but I never considered or even tried to get any of them published until Ghost Medicine, which was my first published novel, in 2008. The Marbury Lens will be my third novel.
If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?
I had always looked at reading as something you had to do, and like all my schoolwork, I was pretty good at it. When I was about 15, though, a librarian recommended Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, and I was, like, wow… reading was really fun. That was something I’d never considered before.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I like to bump into stuff. I travel a lot, and I like taking my wife and kids to places they’ve never been to. I get outdoors quite a bit. I live in a very rural setting where I raise horses and go running in the hills every day.
You can learn more about Andrew by visiting his website here. To pre-order The Marbury Lens, please click the widget below, or visit your favorite bookstore. The Marbury Lens will be available in hardcover, on the Kindle, and as an audio book.