What draws you to the science fiction genre?
Neal: There are no particular genres I’m drawn to. I simply like telling stories that aren’t limited to objective reality. I try to find surreal arenas to tell stories of human truth. I think surreal is the key word. I enjoy writing stories that bend reality – Everything from Challenger Deep, to Scythe, to Unwind, Game Changer and Dry. ROXY is a mind-bender, too. Part gritty realistic fiction, part dark fantasy. Hard to pigeonhole into a genre—but then I like being a genre buster.
Jarrod: I don’t feel particularly drawn to science fiction. In fact, the more I develop as a writer, the more real I want my stories to feel. And science fiction is a bigger swing in that sense. I love to write fiction in general because it’s a medium of storytelling, and storytelling in all formats give you the unique experience of living a new life, a new perspective in general.
What’s it like collaborating with family? Do you think your close relationship makes it easier or harder to collaborate?
Neal: I think it’s easier. Jarrod and I work really well together. There’s a level of respect for each other, and professionalism that makes working together a fun, bonding experience.
Jarrod: It definitely makes it far easier! I can second guess things about my writing partner’s thought process that most probably cannot. It allows us to blend voices pretty seamlessly and writing together is always a positive experience! And very rewarding when what we’ve written finally sees the light of day!
You play so much with structure and POV. What advice would you give to young writers experimenting with form in similar ways?
Neal: Experiment away! But always remember that it’s about your characters. You can become wrapped up in structure just as easily as you can get wrapped up in all the bells and whistles of sci-fi and fantasy, but it can’t be center stage. Your characters are at the center and have to behave like real people—even if it goes against how you want them to behave. Remember that structure and POV is just another tool for telling your story.
Jarrod: I would say if you’re going to experiment, go ahead. But don’t get too wrapped up in trying to write just a “cool” story, and relying on the jumping POV to accomplish that, as a means to an end. The telling has to come from the focal point of great characters! So I would say, for beginning writers, to focus on other essential basics. Like, will people want to read this? What is the story I’m telling? Is my protagonist interesting enough? Is this more interesting than the notifications your reader will be receiving on their phone every minute (which you are definitely competing with!) If you feel like jumping to multiple POVs will enhance the telling, and keep a reader gripped, and you’ve got all the basics down… then go to town!
Which character in ROXY do you relate to most, and why?
Neal: I would say for me it would be Addison. I remember what it’s like to be resentful of the “cool kids.” The ambivalence of wanting to be like them, but at the same time knowing how shallow and narcissistic the popular party crowd can be. In Addison’s case those “cool kids” are deadly drugs – but the social dynamic is the same.
Jarrod: I connect most with Ricky, Isaac’s best friend. As someone who has seen people in the throes of addiction, there are a lot of emotions that came up when writing those sequences. It wasn’t easy. And being there for a friend isn’t easy. And there’s always a moment you feel like you didn’t do enough. Ricky is that friend that everyone could use in their life.
What do you hope readers take away from ROXY?
Neal: When I was thirteen, I read (the book) and saw (the movie), JAWS. It made me (and just about everyone else) terrified of the ocean for years. We want readers to be as worried, and wary about these drugs as I used to be when the water started to get over my waist. To seriously consider what might be lurking in the murky waters of their future if they take that pill…
Jarrod: When I was thirteen my father scared the living hell out of me by showing me the movie JAWS. And it worked. I think I learned every shark self-defense technique in the book. As for ROXY, I agree completely with my writing partner on this one. Know what you’re getting into when you take prescription medication. Know the risks of illegal drugs.
Neal: For me, it’s Gleanings, — the Scythe short story anthology, and Courage to Dream – a graphic novel I’ve been working on for over ten years, with illustrations by Andrés Vera Martinez. Also, Scythe, Challenger Deep, Game Changer, Scorpion Shards and Unwind are in active development as either feature films or episodic TV/streaming.
Jarrod: For me, it’s RETRO! A new S&S book coming in 2022 that I’m writing with my partner Sofi, which we are so excited for! Going through edits now, and we already have our sights set on the next writing project! We are so excited about the ROXY release, and what comes next!
About the Authors:
Neal Shusterman is the New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his latest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at StoryMan.com and Facebook.com/NealShusterman.
Jarrod Shusterman is the author of the short story “UnDevoured” in bestselling Unbound. He writes for film and television, and his talents extend to directing films and commercials. He was the story producer on the television movie Zedd—Moment of Clarity, and he and Neal Shusterman are adapting Dry for the screen. Jarrod lives in Los Angeles but enjoys traveling internationally and is currently studying Spanish.