Sweet Sixteener Kali Wallace recently spoke to Fearless Fifteener Wendy Brotherlin about her YA science fiction debut novel, FREAKS OF NATURE (May 6, 2015 from Spencer Hill Press).
About the Author:
Wendy Brotherlin is a screenwriter, music enthusiast and all around geek-goddess. She earned a Masters in Screenwriting at the University of Southern California and went on to write for children’s television including Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? Today, she lives in Manchester, Maine with her husband and two little super-heroes-in-training.
Seven psionic teenagers travel by jet to an unknown location, all of them in trouble with the authorities for escaping their assigned government detainment facilities. One of them, a telepath named Bai Lee Chen, claims to have the means to escape. All the others have to do is convince her that they’re worthy of freedom.
Kali: Congratulations on the release of FREAKS OF NATURE! I have a confession to make: the reason I snagged your book off the interview list is primarily because it features a main character who talks to plants, which is such a delightful idea. And I was not at all disappointed by how great that power turns out to be in the story. How did you come up with all of your characters’ psionic powers and figure out how all those different powers fit together in the story?
Wendy: I played a lot of Dungeons & Dragons growing up and psionic powers were a part of that game. I have always been intrigued by the idea that a thought could be used as a weapon. While crafting this story, I took great care in developing the characters’ psionic abilities. I wanted to create new powers—like the psi-blade—and give the readers something they hadn’t seen before. I also wanted to use psionic abilities, such as telepathy and plant communication, that readers had preconceived notions about, and put a unique spin on them. I also wanted a balance of abilities that would keep the story interesting and exciting without being overwhelming for the reader to follow.
Kali: This story centers around one main character, Devon, but it also travels very effectively into the points-of-view of several other characters. How did you develop each character’s perspective, voice, and personality to make them all unique people?
Wendy: As a writer, I love to step into the shoes of my characters and take a nice, long walk. I usually outline my stories before I write them and character work is a huge part of that process. This means I spend time with all of my characters. I know where they come from and who they are, right down to their favorite foods.
Kali: I’d love to hear a little about what inspired your world-building in this story, particularly the clash between the government forces that want to use and control this group of super-powered teenagers and the underground movement that wants to free them. What made you want to tell that story in that particular version of this world?
Wendy: The world of FREAKS OF NATURE has evolved over the last decade, but it began months after 9/11. Our world changed overnight. Laws were quickly passed. We were suddenly at war. Terrorism had crossed the ocean and touched all of our lives. I began to wonder what would have happened if a different kind of global crisis had come to our shores? Perhaps a pandemic?—Perhaps Ebola? (A terrifying thought that became all too real six months before publication.)
And what if something new and powerful arose from the ashes of that world? What if children, through no fault of their own, were now considered dangerous…How would the government react? How would the people react? How would the parents of those children react? Those were the questions that shaped this novel and the outcome became the struggle between government forces and an underground movement that sought to keep the teens hidden from those in power.
Kali: FREAKS OF NATURE is your first novel, but you have experience screenwriting for television. What shows did you work on? How is it different working in book publishing as opposed to television production?
Wendy: The first show I wrote for was Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark?. The series was created by D.J. MacHale, who is also a successful director, producer and author. You may have read his series PENDRAGON: JOURNAL OF AN ADVENTURE THROUGH TIME AND SPACE or his MORPHEUS ROAD Trilogy or THE SYLO CHRONICLES. D.J. is an inspirational storyteller who really connects with his fans all over the world. I wrote three episodes for Are You Afraid of the Dark?. I also worked on a television series called Mentors.
One big difference between publishing and television production is that TV moves very quickly. Going from a pitch to a polished final draft can be as short as two weeks, while we all know that publishing can take years before a final product is on the shelves.
Kali: What can we expect next from you? Do you have any sequels or companions to FREAKS OF NATURE planned?
Wendy: Yes! I am finishing up the sequel right now. Its working title is SHADOW WALKER.
Lightning Round Questions:
Which psionic power would you pick for yourself?
What were you reading when you were sixteen?
DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Phillip K. Dick.
When and where do you like to write?
In my home office from nine a.m. to two p.m.
Favorite writing snack?
You get to revive three dead authors for a party. Who do you invite?
Mark Twain (Samuel L. Clemens), Oscar Wilde, and J. R. R. Tolkien.
What do you listen to while writing?
No music—silence is preferable.
Are you a planner or a pantser?
Which five books would you bring with you to a deserted island?
- THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain
- ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll
- THE CANTERBURY TALES by Geoffrey Chaucer
- THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
- PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austin
Robot uprising or zombie apocalypse?
What’s one piece of advice you would share with your teenage self?
Have faith in yourself, you’re going to do all right, kid.
About the Interviewer:
Kali Wallace studied geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. After a lifetime in Colorado, she decided on a whim to trade the mountains for the beach and now lives in Southern California. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, including Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, Lightspeed, and Tor.com. In her YA literary horror debut, SHALLOW GRAVES (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, Winter 2016), a murdered teenage girl is resurrected as an undead creature with dangerous powers, and she must find a way to reconcile memories of her old, normal life with the magical underworld to which she now belongs, a world populated by monsters from international folklore as well as the people who hunt them.