Interview with Maureen McGowan, author of DEVIANTS

Today is a really special day: the release date for Maureen McGowan‘s amazing new novel, DEVIANTS.

Here’s a brief summary:

In a post-apocalyptic world, where the earth is buried by asteroid dust that’s mutated the DNA of some humans, orphaned, sixteen-year-old Glory must hide and protect her younger brother. If their Deviant abilities are discovered, they’ll be expunged—kicked out of the dome to be tortured and killed by the Shredders. Glory would give anything to get rid of her unique ability to kill with her emotions, especially when Cal, the boy she’s always liked, becomes a spy for the authorities. But when her brother is discovered, and she learns their father, who was expunged for killing their mother, is still alive, she must escape the domed city that’s been her entire world.

Outside in the ruins, they’re pursued by the authorities and by sadistic, scab-covered Shredders who are addicted to the lethal-to-humans dust now covering the planet. Glory’s quests to transport herself and her brother to safety make up the thrilling and fascinating first volume of The Dust Chronicles.

I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of DEVIANTS and I just loved it. In fact, this is what I said:

“A tense thriller with a strong, beating heart at its center. Glory and her impossible choices will keep you glued to the page. I’m still trying to catch my breath!” –Diana Peterfreund

So when Maureen offered to do a guest appearance on my blog to celebrate the release of her book, I jumped at the chance. I have known Maureen for a long time — we were baby aspiring writers together back in the day, and I’ve been enamored of her writing ever since I first read her women’s fiction manuscript in a contest many years ago. It should come as no surprise to anyone that the interview that follows is as sharp and insightful as the woman herself. Okay, here we go:

DIANA: One of the things that really struck me in Deviants was the worldbuilding. I loved the way you’d thought through all the ramifications of generations living in a dome with limited resources (Like families living on staircase landings, etc.). What kind of research did you do and what were your inspirations for this world?

MAUREEN: Thank you. I wish I could claim to have done extensive research, but I didn’t. Most of it came from speculation. I watched the History Channel series Life After People, but the details of my apocalypse were so different from any they considered on that show, that I didn’t draw much directly from it.

I did have my engineer brother-in-law help me figure out possible dimensions for the dome based on various heights of the highest buildings inside, but at some point I decided that the book wasn’t about the science or engineering, or whether individual elements in the world were actually possible—I mean, there’s space dust! special powers! monsters!—so I hoped that as long as I made logical decisions and stuck to them, that readers would come along for the ride.

As far as life inside Haven goes, I figured space would be at a premium inside the dome. Even when it was built, they would have packed people in tightly. I imagined that they used materials, from the tops of the skyscrapers and buildings outside the dome’s perimeter as construction materials, for infill buildings, making all the streets narrower. And then bridges were built—some officially, some unofficially—to facilitate travel around the city.

Then, I decided that the population grew as time went on, until every available space—rooftops, staircase landings, closets, elevator shafts—all became dwellings. I’ve written a short story about the building of Haven that’s only available to high school students in Canada right now—have your teacher or librarian ask for “Out of the Ashes” if you’re in Canada—but it should be available more widely soon.

DIANA: I have read that story (even though I’m not a Canadian student. This is what comes of plying the author with drinks every time you meet for the better part of a decade) and it’s great! I’m really glad everyone will be able to read it soon. I’m a huge fan of short stories that tie into novels. 🙂

I just loved the images of the people living on the stairwells. It felt very realistic and thoroughly considered. I love those kind of details in my dystopias. When you look at overcrowded cities, even today, that’s the kind of space use you see. When I was in college, I took a tour through the Greek islands and you’d see people setting up overnight “camps” on the stairwells on the ferryboats instead of buying sleeper cabins (I know, the safety issues!).

Another worldbuilding question — sorry I’m a geek like that. I loved the idea of the residents of the dome being “employees” and every aspect of their lives, including dating, was treated like a human resource issue. What inspired that?

MAUREEN: Ha! When I first started working on this story, I wasn’t thinking dystopia at all. I thought of my story idea as a post-apocalyptic thriller, with a dash of horror and romance. But I do recognize now that I did set my story in a dystopia and that the dystopia all stems from setting up Haven as a corporation.

The corporation idea arose when I considered how this dome would have been built quickly enough to save people, and whether or not there were similar domed cities elsewhere, and if not, why not. What I decided was that the CEOs of the big banks and companies in a particular city, in a desperate attempt to save themselves, overthrew—or basically ignored—the various levels of government and took matters into their own hands, procuring whatever supplies and manpower they needed, hiring employees, making life-or-death decisions for others based on who would best help them—the CEOs—survive.

Because I have a background in business and worked for a major accounting/audit/consulting firm where most of my clients were large corporations, I’ve observed how many companies make decisions and treat their staff, and I found it easy to project how a society might develop if it were run like a corporation. In hindsight, I’m shocked that I didn’t realize I was creating a dystopia sooner.

It’s a particular in-joke for me that the Compliance department ends up with so much power, because compliance is another way to say Internal Audit. They’d be the logical ones to make sure everyone followed company policy, which would equate to the law. [DIANA: “Compliance” are the cops in the Dust Chronicles world.] Similarly the HR Department would have power, because they’d decide which jobs everyone did and how much they’d earn and therefore eat. And the dating license idea stemmed from the sexual harassment releases that many companies now require staff to sign if they start a relationship with a fellow employee.

I find it funny to speculate that these two departments, which tend to be less glamorous places to work in most corporations now, might actually end up being the most powerful. Whereas a department like Sales, might become redundant.

DIANA: I loved the scene where Glory and Cal apply for their dating license. It did indeed read like a liability release form! What are your thoughts about other corporation-dystopias like in Cloud Atlas, Infinite Jest, and, my personal favorite, Oryx & Crake?

MAUREEN: Oryx & Crake is one of my all-time favorite books, and while I wasn’t thinking directly about it whiIe writing this, I’m sure it crept into my consciousness. Hmmm… I’m going to have to think about that some more.

I actually met Margaret Atwood last winter when she was signing copies of In Other Worlds, her collection of essays about science fiction. I told her about Deviants. I doubt she remembers, but she very sincerely, I thought, wished me luck.

DIANA: That’s awesome. And it’s great you actually met her, as opposed to her robot-pen. You know it’s interesting, I was listening to a recent podcast that theorized that the uptick in fertility-associated YA dystopia we’re seeing now is the Atwood effect — it’s a generation of female science fiction writers who were permanently scarred inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale. (I think you definitely see its influence in books like Wither, Bumped, and even my own story, “Foundlings.”) I read THT pretty late in life, but I do think I was permanently scarred inspired by O&C, and you can probably see echoes of that in my choice to make a genetic engineering disaster central to For Darkness Shows the Stars.

You are a big movie buff, which definitely shows in the cinematic quality of Deviants. What are the best films you’ve seen this year? What do you think would be the best movies (from any time period) for fans of Deviants?

MAUREEN: I’m happy that you found it cinematic. Here’s hoping a movie studio will too.  🙂 Recently, I really enjoyed Cloud Atlas, The Master and Looper and of course The Hunger Games. And just last night I cried and cried watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Wow. What a great movie.

A film that might be interesting for fans of Deviants would be Logan’s Run. I was really affected by that movie when I was a teenager (when thirty seemed really old). I think a tiny bit of Logan’s Run might have crept into Deviants, although that world is much shinier and prettier. I haven’t seen that movie in a few decades, but my memories of it are very clear. I think.

DIANA: Structurally, I can see that. The whole idea of escape from the domed city. (confession; Logan’s Run is one of my big guilty pleasures. There’s just something about Michael York and painted backdrops.) And thanks for the recs. You know I get all my movie recommendations from you!

MAUREEN: When I started working on Deviants I re-watched Mad Max and a few other bleak post-apocalyptic movies, but I find Mad Max so unrelentingly violent and lacking a real story. I only like action movies when I can emotionally relate to the characters. Avengers=Yes. Transformers=No.

DIANA: You and I have been in the writing trenches forever it seems, and you have a very tight-knit group of friends that you blog with. How do you think your writing life would have been different without your friends? What do you think an organization like RWA gave you, even though you (like me) do not write traditional romance novels?

MAUREEN: I often say that I wouldn’t have continued pursuing writing if it weren’t for my critique partners/friends. Writing is the hardest, most grueling and demoralizing job I’ve ever done—and I worked in very competitive, high-stakes jobs in the past. Don’t get me wrong. I love writing. Love it. I can think of no better job for me than making up stories for a living.

But the lows can be so devastating and the highs so exhilarating, and I don’t think anyone really understands what we go through in the same way that other writers do. For example, who else can understand how something that sounds like bad news can actually be a minor triumph, if it was a really close call, or came with praise—or how something that sounds like good news can fall so short of your dreams that it’s a let down. I have trouble explaining these things to my family and non-writer friends. They all think: you write a book, it gets published, you get rich. If only!

RWA, I think, is fantastic. They are so organized (compared to other writers organizations) and so supportive of aspiring authors. The entire culture seems to be: pay it forward. No one hoards information. My only disappointment is that I wish I could enter the RITAs with Deviants, but given the way they’ve changed the rules for this year, I don’t think I’d stand a chance. My trilogy features a complete romance, but each individual book in the trilogy does not.

DIANA: What’s next for you, writing-wise?

MAUREEN: Compliance, The Dust Chronicles #2, comes out May 21, 2013. And the third book, tentatively titled, Glory, will either come out in the fall of 2013 or in early 2014. (And I’d better finish writing it soon!)

After that, I’m not certain, yet. I have a few YA series ideas I’m excited about, plus I have some adult books that suffered from epic bad timing about five years ago, and I’m hoping that the market might be better timed for them now.

DIANA: Who is your favorite Avenger and why? ::wink::

MAUREEN: Ha! I’m going to go with the Hulk. 🙂 I really like the idea of a man—who’s actually pretty sensitive and loving—having an alter-ego who’s so powerful and strong that he’s unable to control that power, even around people he loves. Now, as I write that, it sounds like I’m intrigued by men who abuse women. I am not. At all. I don’t consider rage or alcohol or drug abuse to be excuses for violence. But gamma rays or space dust. Well, boys can’t help that!

I liked the way that the Dr. Banner character in this recent incarnation of the Hulk story dealt with his “problem”—basically by isolating himself and avoiding attachments and stress. My hulk-like character in Deviants makes different choices, but he’s a teenager. He’s not quite as mature yet.

DIANA: Thank you so much, Maureen. And readers, you can read the first chapter of DEVIANTS (which involves rat-catching) online now.


Hooked yet? Then this is the perfect time to enter the giveaway I’m holding for one of two (TWO!) copies of DEVIANTS.

Open internationally (and please, do not let your comment entry be “Is this open internationally?” or I may get grouchy).

Leave a comment on this post (on my website!) to enter. Open through November 12, because who knows how wonky the power situation might get.

And if you can’t wait that long, I feel it’s only fair to let you know that DEVIANTS is only $3.99 on Kindle right now. What a steal.

Posted in giveaways, other writers

13 Responses to Interview with Maureen McGowan, author of DEVIANTS

  1. Sarah says:

    This sounds like an interesting book! Looking forward to reading it. Also, great interview! I love hearing about how an author creates their work!

  2. Teija says:

    I really enjoyed the way the Hulk’s story was handled in the recent Avengers film as well, he was very nuanced and his character felt very rich. Much more than just “I get angry, I punch things.”

    This new book sounds super interesting!

  3. Oh, Logan’s Run is totally a guilty pleasure of mine as well and a definite way to get me interested in reading “Deviants”!

    It’s also fascinating to see the “Atwood Effect” in YA, it’s definitely a type of dystopian that really resonates with females readers. I’m with you and feel like I was permanently scarred after reading “The Handmaiden’s Tale”!

  4. jpetroroy says:

    Sounds like RWA is such a helpful organization.

  5. Thanks so much, Diana!!!

    I had a huge crush on Michael York when I was about 12, so maybe that’s why Logan’s Run always stuck in my mind. 🙂 That story would have been done as YA if it were new now.

    I definitely saw echoes of Oryx & Crake in For Darkness Shows the Stars. It’s one of the many things I loved about your book, Diana.

    Meeting Margaret Atwood in person, instead of meeting her robot pen, is one advantage of living in the same city as her! I don’t think she likes to travel anymore when she doesn’t have to.

    I actually saw her a few years ago browsing in a bookstore. (I was writing in the Starbucks in said bookstore at the time.) But I was too shy to go up to her. Plus, she might have hated it.

  6. Juli Jones says:

    What a great interview. Makes me want to join RWA asap. Can’t wait to read Maureen’s new series. Reading The Handmaid’s Tale didn’t scar me; if anything it made me more interested in sci-fi.

    • Thanks Juli,

      I don’t think I was scarred by The Handmaid’s Tale either… but I was a little older when I read it. I was, however, very creeped out by Robert Duvall in the movie. That book really made me think about how lucky women were to have rights over our own bodies… and now that’s all being threatened again. Sad. People need to read that book again!

  7. Shelver506 says:

    Oooh, cool! Thanks for the giveaway!

  8. Lisa says:

    This book sounds fascinating! As a 30 something who loves teen books and read The Handmaid’s Tale as a teen (and loved it)- I had not thought of this Atwood effect. Can’t wait to read Deviants.

  9. Sign me up! I just met Maureen at an Ontario book bloggers event, and I’m now doubly excited to read Deviants. Thanks for the fantastic giveaway, Diana!

    Hulk was awesome in the new Avengers, btw. And I love the idea of applying for a dating license…geez.

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