{Interview/Giveaway} Interviewing Erin Bow, Author of THE SWAN RIDERS!

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by Erin Bow

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 An Interview With
Erin Bow


Hi! My name is Erin Bow -- physicist turned poet turned author of young adult novels that will make you cry on the bus. I'm a white girl, forty-something, feminist, geeky enough to do the Vulcan salute with both hands -- in public. I live in Canada. I love to cook, hate to clean, and yes, I do own a cat. 

In the beginning, I was a city girl from farm country—born in Des Moines and raised in Omaha—where I was fond of tromping through wood lots and reading books by flashlight. In high school I captained the debate team, founded the math club, and didn’t date much. 

In university I studied particle physics, and worked briefly at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) near Geneva, Switzerland. Physics was awesome, but graduate school kind of sucked, and at some point I remembered that I wanted to write books. 

Books: I have six of them — three novels, and two volumes of poetry and a memoir (the poetry under my maiden name, Erin Noteboom). My poetry has won the CBC Canadian Literary Award, and several other awards. My two novels, Plain Kate and Sorrow's Knot, also have a fistful of awards, including Canada's top award for children's literature, the TD. The third novel, The Scorpion Rules, still faces its award season. No one read the memoir. 

Right now I'm looking forward to the publication of my fourth novel, a companion piece to The Scorpion Rules called The Swan Riders, which will be out September 20 from Simon & Schuster. I'm at work on an new an entirely different novel, and a book of poetry about science. 

Did you notice I got to Canada in there somewhere? Yeah, that was true love. I'm married to a Canadian boy, James Bow, who also writes young adult novels. We have two small daughters, both of whom want to be scientists.

While your Prisoners of Peace duology has dystopian roots, it also turns the genre on its head. What goals did you initially have when developing the story for THE SCORPION RULES?

I usually start my books with something I call “the original equipment” – a handful of characters, and something a bit more than a premise, and a bit less than a plot. I started this one with Greta, and with the idea of the royal hostages. I was so captured by this idea of a privileged, royal, honoured young person, who is doomed precisely because she is royal and honoured. The hostage, who does not fight against her captures but actually thinks they are right. Who is willing to die. I like the contradictions in that; I like the tension. 

So I didn’t start with a goal; I started with Greta. The world came into place around her. For me, structures and themes and goals are something that happen way later. 

But once I got moving toward a complete draft and a revision, I did want to take the dystopian apart a little. I didn’t want one of those Evil Systems that had no motivation for being evil except that the plot required it so. I wanted a system that actually worked for most people, and in most ways. Talis’s world is rotten for these six particular kids, but for everyone else, hey, world peace. 

I also didn’t want the system to have one crucial weakness, namely, teenagers. I wanted it to be tough, smart, and durable, such that rebelling against it probably wasn’t going to change it. Both those things make the moral choices of the characters a lot more interesting to me, and a lot more complicated for them. Plus, it’s the situation in which many teenagers find themselves. High school sucks, but you’re unlikely to get to burn it to the ground. 

Finally, even though the flap copy totally sounds like “proper girl meets bad boy; they fight robots,” I didn’t want to write that book. 

The bottom line is I wanted to write something unpredictable. And since I had no idea how THE SCORPION RULES was going to end until I had nearly finished writing it, I would like to think I succeeded.

It is amazing to think that an A.I. could so callously put the lives of children in the balance in order to achieve world peace. It's both brilliant and devious. What was your inspiration, especially in creating the Children of Peace?

I didn’t make up the idea of putting the lives of children in the balance for peace. It’s real. It’s happened, over and over again, around the world, across history. And it has largely worked to keep the peace – or at least to keep smaller states from rebelling against the larger ones holding their princes and princesses hostage. If you read AND I DARKEN (by Kiersten White) – and you should – you can watch this play out in the life of two such historically accurate royal children, hostaged to the Ottoman Empire. 

As Grego notes in my book, that’s a story that works out super well for everybody.

For those readers who have already read THE SCORPION RULES, what can they look forward to when THE SWAN RIDERS releases? (Besides more goats! ^.~)

There are sadly few goats, actually, but there’s an awesome horse. 

While THE SCORPION RULES is a high-concept political thriller set entirely on a single goat farm, THE SWAN RIDERS takes place on a much bigger stage. Part of that’s literal: there’s a long a horseback road trip across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. Part of it is figurative, as political intrigue explodes on several fronts at once. 

It will have more Greta, and way more Talis. As you might suspect, you meet some of the Swan Riders, and I hope you will fall for one of them, a quiet badass idealist named Francis Xavier. There’s also a minor character who out-does even Talis: Evie, who is an absolute over-the-top insane hoot. I want to write an entire middle grade spinoff about her and scare the pants off of all the grownups. 

Sadly there’s not as much of the girls kissing. I know. G/X had my heart too, but the geography of the story kept that from being center stage. I do promise not to do the doomed tragic queer girl thing.

Who is your favorite character to write in the duology? To read?

As a reader and a writer I’m drawn to the Mr. Spock characters. Those ones who, the more they feel, the less they react. I am entranced by these people. I can’t take my eyes off them, in case I miss the little crack in their façade through which one can see their soul. 

But let’s be real. These people are a pain in the neck to write about. They’re work. People like Talis – not work. I love Greta with my whole heart, but Talis is the most fun to write about.

Do you think A.I. might genuinely learn and change and evolve in the future? Would you want to live in such a society?

Yes. Actually: “yes, but.” Yes, I think machines are rapidly becoming able to sense and adapt to their environment. Add to that an ability to improve themselves, and to reproduce, and you almost have a new form of life. It’s not far away. I think it’s interesting, and I hope it will happen slowly enough that we can adapt to it. I’m not so sure about that part. 

BUT, I think our understanding of human consciousness is a long way from good enough to produce the kind of transhuman AIs that show up in these books. We know almost nothing about how consciousness works. We are taking the first baby steps in researching it. We’re a long way from understanding it well enough to duplicate it. 

So I think we will have intelligent machines soon. I just don’t think they’ll be human-like. 

I hope they like us.

Were there any intriguing territories you developed that were cut from the series?

Lots. I developed nation-states for each of the hostages in Greta’s class. Li Da-Xia’s state was by far the coolest of them. In a world where water is power, it’s amazing how much power you can put in this little patch of the Himalayas. All the big rivers in today’s China and India originate in Tibet. If you have a water tower in your town, you can perhaps picture them as a water tower, but for half the continent. Imagine a nation that’s willing to use that as a lever, and you get the Mountain Glacial States, terrifying superpower of central and southern Asia. Early drafts of the book included long backstory about how Tibet and Nepal came to dominate a big chunk of China and SE Asia, with a big thing where Xie herself was ethnically Tibetan but nevertheless Mandarin speaking, at least at court. 

I had to cut it. There’s a lot going on in the book, and in the end I included only on things that were relevant to the plot, or emotionally resonant with the characters as viewed through the lens of Greta – thus we learn more about AIs than we do about Amnok, Han’s state, on the Yalu river, straddling what would now be the border of North Korea and China.

If the Children of Peace existed in our world and you held a territory, would you accept the rules for maintaining peace as Greta does or would you want to rebel, as Elian does?

Greta is embarrassingly close to a self-portrait of a young me. In her situation, I’d probably do as she does, complete with reading the Marcus Aurelius. 

On the other hand, young me as since become middle-aged mom me, and no one is taking either of my children, world peace be damned. I would be way more like General Armenteros than Queen Anne.

What has been the most challenging aspect of writing the Prisoners of Peace duology?

The hard part of writing is always the same for me. When she five my daughter asked me: “what’s taking you so long with your book, Mommy? Is it all the words?” 

It’s all the words.

What's next on the horizon for you?

My agent will KILL me if I tell you about the novel I’m finishing; she wants to surprise the world with it. But I can probably tell you about the book of poetry I’m writing. It’s about science and scientists. This is one of the poems, “Curie in Love.” http://www.rattle.com/curie-in-love-by-erin-noteboom/

Erin, thank you SO MUCH for stopping by!!! I loved all of your in-depth insight on the series AND the process! ♥♥♥
O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Erin Bow
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2016
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books / Simon & Schuster
Purchase Links:

Amazon | B&N  

Greta Stuart had always known her future: die young. She was her country's crown princess, and also its hostage, destined to be the first casualty in an inevitable war. But when the war came it broke all the rules, and Greta forged a different path.

She is no longer princess. No longer hostage. No longer human. Greta Stuart has become an AI.

If she can survive the transition, Greta will earn a place alongside Talis, the AI who rules the world. Talis is a big believer in peace through superior firepower. But some problems are too personal to obliterate from orbit, and for those there are the Swan Riders: a small band of humans who serve the AIs as part army, part cult.

Now two of the Swan Riders are escorting Talis and Greta across post-apocalyptic Saskatchewan. But Greta’s fate has stirred her nation into open rebellion, and the dry grassland may hide insurgents who want to rescue her – or see her killed. Including Elian, the boy she saved—the boy who wants to change the world, with a knife if necessary. Even the infinitely loyal Swan Riders may not be everything they seem.

Greta’s fate—and the fate of her world—are balanced on the edge of a knife in this smart, sly, electrifying adventure. 


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