Aurora: What was your inspiration behind your most recent novel?
Shannon: My book is based on a very (very!) old story, the medieval legend of Tristan and Iseult. I first read the story as a teenager and loved it, but the idea kicked around in my brain for years and years before I found the right way to put my own spin on it. I think the real moment of inspiration was when I started mapping the story onto contemporary Brooklyn and the youth chess scene and realized that so many themes from the original (fear of difference, abuse of power, a longing for home) are still alive and well today.
What character do you most relate to and why?
There’s probably at least a little bit of me in every character (even arrogant Hull, even super cool Marcus). But writing Tristan’s voice felt the most like hearing my own interior monologue. Even though his personal history is vastly different from mine (for one, I’m an awful chess player), we’re both introverts who play our emotional cards close to the chest, nerds who strive to be smart and practical while sometimes getting tangled in our own dreamy ambitions.
Why do you feel YA books are so popular and have such a voice right now?
Young adulthood is loaded with so much potential–for transformation, for heartbreak, for speaking up, for falling down, for finding your niche. So many of the decisions we make as teenagers feel very high-stakes; even if they don’t affect the rest of our lives (and they sometimes do), they affect the way we think of ourselves and the way we operate in the world. It’s dramatic for anyone who lives through it, so it doesn’t surprise me that both teenagers and adults are drawn to reading about characters who are trying to navigate that period of their lives.
Please describe the content of your latest book and what can readers expect from the read.
At its heart, Izzy + Tristan is a love story between a chess prodigy and the aspiring doctor who moves to his Brooklyn neighborhood. But from the very start, the outside world starts to intrude on their relationship. It starts with those closest to them–Izzy’s twin brother stirring up trouble, Tristan’s cousin asserting his power, Izzy’s best friend making well-intentioned but impulsive decisions–but it spirals into bigger and bigger problems. Readers should remember that the story is based on an epic romantic tragedy, and as with all tragedies, fate isn’t kind to all the characters.
What’s next for you in the book world?
I’m in the middle of working on another novel. This one is also for young adults and it is based on another old story, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end, so it’s exciting to be working on something new and different.
Who is your favorite writer right now and why?
I’m so happy that, with the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s work is enjoying a surge of popularity. She’s long been one of my favorites, and though she’s not usually thought of as a YA author, she’s great at writing about the lives of teenage or young adult characters. If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake or The Heart Goes Last, get on it.