Interview: Christy Ann Conlin Author of Dead Time

A few weeks ago, I started to look at Young Adult (YA) novels with my daughter in mind. Adolescence is still a few years off, but I'd like to know what types of books are available now. What I discovered is that there are a lot more books for the 14 to 21 age group than when I was a teen.

Most of you will recall The Outsiders, That Was Then This is Now, and Rumble Fish by S. E. Hinton, or the classic coming of age novels, such as the Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies, all of which pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable behaviour in their day. The S. E. Hinton novels gave us a look at the darker side of the teenage years, but the one that left me gobsmacked and terrified about drugs, particularly LSD, was Go Ask Alice.

What was your favourite coming of age novel? I have quite a few, but I think that my all time favourite was the Diary of Anne Frank

Pushing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour is still very much a part of the YA literary landscape. Young protagonists continue to confront social issues and situations, addressing edgy themes such as sexuality in all of its various manifestations, drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, crime, pregnancy, abortion, psychological, verbal and physical abuse, cutting, suicide and yes, love.

I've just finished my third YA novel, and I must admit that it's a good exercise to help you remember how intense teenage emotions can be. The frighteningly realistic Dead Time by Christy Ann Conlin may convince you to start spending more quality time with your kids.

In this novella, we meet Isabella, the 15-year-old protagonist, who has been abandoned by her mother and left with her busy, important father, who is rarely home. Despite her family's wealth, Isabella is acutely insecure and extremely angry. This volatile mixture along with some help from her shiftless boyfriend, Sergei, results in murder. (For the full review click here.)

In addition, to Dead Time, Christy Ann Conlin is the author of the bestseller Heave, which was chosen as one of the top 40 novels of the decade by the CBC's Canada Reads in 2010. Her soon-to-be-released novel Listening to the Island links back to Heave through the character of Fancy Mosher.

Christy Ann was kind enough to answer a few questions about Dead Time and tell us her thoughts on YA literature. 

What made you decide to try your hand at YA?

CA: Well, I was asked to write a book the Single Voice series published by Annick Press.  I was dying, no pun intended, to work with the editor on that series, Melanie Little. She's now at House of Anansi. She's both a uniquely talented editor and writer and I knew working with her would be extraordinary, which it was.  I already had an idea in mind for a novel and so I just wrote that. I would say I didn't write it as YA specifically -- it just happens to work as a YA book, and an adult book.  It's what we could call "cross genre" in its broad appeal to different ages of readers.

Where did you find your inspiration for the character of Isabella?

CA: That's always such a hard question for writers. It's a compendium of factors, I suppose.  The Stephanie Rengel murder in Toronto was really what inspired the book, the tragedy of her slaying, and the horror of the murderers being teens.  I was fascinated with how a young woman, at an age we see as so innocent, could be capable of such violence and horror.  Isabella appeared for me like a fairy tale character, a very dark fairy tale. 

What would you say fuels Isabella's rage and jealousy?

CA:A childhood of extreme neglect. Extreme narcissism and lack of empathy. She's a psychopath.

What YA novel affected you the most as a teen and why?

CA: Harriet the Spy. Her solitude, both the peace of it, and the loneliness of it, are so easy to relate to.  I could so relate to her loss of innocence when she discovered how cruel her peers could be, and her pain on realizing how messed up adults are. But there is such optimism in the book, as Harriet finds her way, and redefines her friendships with her peers, and adults.  It's so moving. Plus, I've always been obsessed with New York and so it was fun to read that book with a map handy, dreaming of the big city when I was stuck in rural Nova Scotia.  I also loved Catcher in the Rye, for the same reason, that it really crystalized that sense of dismay we feel transitioning into the imperfect adult world, where our heros fall off the pedestal.  I find it so interesting how often kids are fed all kinds of ideals, and sheltered from so much, and somehow we expect them to just transition seamlessly into adulthood.  Books like these can be lifesavers, honestly!

Thanks so much Christy Ann! I look forward to reading Listening to the Island.



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