Scott Westerfeld recently took some time to talk about Extras and Midnighters. I’ll post the link to the Extras questions once they are online.
One of the things that struck me was that there’s a certain school rites of passage feel.
My Dad was a data processing guy in the 60s, he ended up working with Nasa in Houston and Lockheed in California, so I moved around a lot. Sort of like an army brat, a data processing, aerospace industrial complex brat, and so I was moving around so much, I was literally going to a different school every year until tenth grade. So the whole experience of being the new kid at school is one I have a lot of experience with. Its something that I associate with as a beginning, it make a good narrative.
New kids in new towns have gnarly powers of reinvention. They get to reboot themselves, they get to say â€œOh in Texas, we all ride horses. Why don’t we ride horses in Connecticut?â€ You can bullshit people, you can lie a lot. Its practice for being a writer. So I think that’s where I started with Midnighters. That’s why I started it on the first day of school with a new kid.
One of things that struck was the language games, the thirteen words that are used.
I don’t remember where I got the idea of the thirteen letter words from. The first book I was just coming up with them off the top of my head or seeing them as I read. If you get focussed on them, you can eventually start seeing them. About halfway through the second book, some body showed me a site you could search for a word and you can put in wildcard characters, so you can stick in thirteen wildcard characters and bet an entire list. But then of course you have the embarrassment of riches problem which is that most of them are obscure. What I would do is take all those an dump them into a spellchecker and get rid of all the ones that a spellchecker didn’t recognise.
Where did the idea of the twenty fifth hour come from? It strikes me as a very English thing.
When I was a kid I used to sneak out of my house and walk around at night and being in a small Texas town at night, it is like the world has frozen. There’s nobody outside, there’s nothing, there’s no cars. Everything shuts down at 10. I really thought that I’d discovered this entire world that no one knew about that was completely secret and completely mine. That’s why I called it the secret hour, the secret time. That’s kind of what its like when you sneak out, you create this kind of nowhere. Sleep just seems like a dumb idea and I was one of those kids who always resisted sleep and I wanted to stay up all night because that’s when the cook stuff happened. So walking around at night, the only things that are around are cats or maybe dogs and the only sign of life is the blue glow if someone’s watching TV and the blue hour comes from that.
What interests me are the secret histories of Bixby?
The secret history of Bixby is like when your thirteen and you realise what racism is. You realise that patriotism or the civic rituals that exist in your school or community are covering something up. Especially in Oklahoma which was the last, it was the place where every Indian was marched to from various directions, the whole Trail of Tears. If a hundred thousand started in Florida, thirty thousand were left at the end. The rest were dead and these are the descendants of these people. It sort of finding out that the Midnighters who are the heroes are the bad guys. Its an important passage of childhood when you realise that you fele stupid or gipped and you realise all that stuff that history sort of it. So I liked the idea that the second book is all about this, that they’ve been duped by propaganda. Its partly about the real stuff that’s Oklahoma but its also about more fantastical stuff mixed in with it so its easier to swallow.
I was intrigued by the Old Ones. Is a reflection of the Cthulu mythos?
A lot of Midnighters. I was in Africa in maybe 1991, with a friend of mine who was South African. I went just after Mandela was released and I spent most of my time with her. The one time I was on my own, I was out and walking and the guy I was with mentioned that there were lions and the feeling of â€œI’m not at the top of the food chain right nowâ€. It was a completely world shifting realisation, its like parts of your brain that don’t ever fire up, fire up. So one of things I was trying to do with Midnighters is to have the Darklings be the things that really tried to eat us and that we’ve sort of completely lost that part of the magic, even if it is dark. We don’t have that intensity anymore, the Old ones are sort of like that. There’s a lot in the book about predators and predation; its a recurrent theme.
You wrote an adult sf novel, Risen Empire. What’s the difference between writing children’s sf and adult sf?
When you write for teenagers, you can’t faff around. You can’t have set pieces really. You have to be a little more direct and I think its great for your writing because it sort f cuts to the chase a little bit better. In Risen Empire, some of the parts that I like a lot are the parts that are waffling around a lot like let’s see what the consciousness of this entities house is like? The sort of omnisicient roving around in some people’s heads and stuff. I wouldn’t do that as much in a YA universe. Other people do.