Today, I am hosting Regina Harvey and her dystopian YA book, Outliers! I interviewed Regina, a friend of mine through our Master’s in Writing program at the Johns Hopkins University. A talented and spirited writer, Regina offers much through her prose, and I am sure Outliers is no different. I am currently reading it, and I can’t wait to share a review with you in the future. Without further ado, here’s my interview with Regina!
1. What makes your book, Outliers, different than the dystopians currently out there?
The crazy thing is that when I wrote Outliers, back in early 2008, there really weren’t many dystopian books out there. But now that Outliers is published, it is different than what’s out already. How? There are two big ways I can think of.
Outliers has a multi-cultural and sexually diverse cast of characters, and as the series progresses, many characters of color and LGBT characters take leading roles. Pan Espere is something of the main, main character, since all the others revolve around her, and she is Stri-rajyan, from a land of only women – a mythological setting in India.
Despite Pan being so central, Outliers doesn’t sit with just her perspective. It follows three main characters – Pan, and the two guys she needs to choose between, both to help lead, but also as her ultimate love interest: Abran and Senon. They alternate regularly, each with their own personal demons, along with the complications of living through the End of Days and fighting the corrupt world government, UNITEED.
2. If the world was truly ending, and you could save just one book to shoot up into space and reflect society as we know it…which book would it be and why?
Oh, that’s a tough one – to reflect society as we know it, rather than as we imagine it might become? It’s got to be Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. She shows what we are with the exaggeration that comes from recognizing what we are soon to become if we don’t change something.
3. What is your opinion on the explosion of YA books taking to the silver screen? Do you think it is encouraging young readers to actually read?
I do think it’s encouraging young readers to read. If the kids who are affected are anything like me, when I love something, when I’m obsessed with it, I can’t get enough of it (see Buttered Toast comment below). So, no matter what the starting point of falling in love was – from the movie, from the book – I want to devour everything I can get my hands on that has to do with it. So, even if it starts with the movie, I think it leads at least some fans to the book, and from the book, they might be led to other books, and that can only be a good thing.
When I look through the wealth of the dystopian books that have been published in the last couple years, that are now being turned into movies, what I like is that so many of them have strong female main characters. And these aren’t just being read by girls and young women. They are being read by guys too! That is such a tough line to get crossed – getting guys to read about a female main character who is more about being strong than about being sexy. And it is the YA dystopias that are finally getting that line crossed.
4. The good ol’ cliché question: What inspired you to write Outliers?
I have always been fascinated by the concepts of utopia and dystopia. I actually teach a college course in each, and there are particular features to the dystopias that have been created, not just recently, but over the years. So I wanted to create a world that embodied all of those features. Outliers marries environmental and ecological disaster with two other frequently seen dystopian themes – religious control and genetic manipulation. The Reverend Doctor Cormac, who is Senon’s father and Pan’s arch nemesis, is the embodiment of this. He uses the environmental chaos to seize control of the world through trying to bring all of humanity into communion with him – a seeming religious goal he sets about achieving through the use of genetics.
Teens are the ones who need this type of literature – like the teens in Outliers, they are the ones most likely to have a sense that the world as it is isn’t unchangeable and permanent. What teens often lack, though, is the power to create the change they want to see in the world. So, I created this world that needs fixing, but also gave the teens in it the power they need to change it. It’ll be a struggle, but the Outliers are the ones to get it done.
5. I am always curious about how other authors do this, so how did you come up with the title for your book?
Outliers are deviations from the statistical norms – they are way outside normal. And if normal is pretty bad, what you want is some outliers to pull that norm into a better place. Outliers is also in line with the current trend of one-word titles with some power behind them, and I like the idea of the force of just one word.
6. Describe Outliers in a six word sentence.
Ooh, I love a challenge. But I can’t stop at ONE six-word sentence. How about SIX six-word sentences?
Pan and the Outliers kicking ass.
Get ready, UNITEED is going down.
Reverend Doctor Cormac – he wick crazy.
Who will Pan choose – Senon, Abran?
Will Senon kill his psycho father?
Will Abran ever see Eden again?
7. What advice would you give to any young, aspiring writers out there?
READ. I can’t stress this enough. Read widely too. Read outside what you’re used to. Read some old books – there are themes and ideas and characters that come up again and again in books over the years. Those patterns are there because those patterns are universal. And if you get to the universal through the specifics of your own writing, your books will reach people at a level that is core to their being human. People will feel your writing down deep. Your writing will stick.
Steal ideas from all of what you read. Think about it this way:
If you read a whole bunch of different things, they start to…erm…hook up in your brain.
When they hook up, they are bound to…erm…make some kind of babies.
These babies are the books YOU are going to write.
If you read a whole bunch of different things, the…baby…your book…is going to be a very, very interesting mix that could only come about from the…erm…hooking up you had…erm…going on in your head.
(Austin Kleon gets at this very well is his great little creative inspiration book, Steal Like an Artist. Read it. Do that stuff.)
8. Can you tell us a bit about your protagonist and what makes him/her unique from the typical protagonists we see in YA today?
Like I said before, Pan is something of the main protagonist, since all the others revolve around her – she chooses the team of Outliers and leads them. She is Stri-rajyan, from a land of only women, but it’s a land the women rarely leave. Yet she’s left because she is the ultimate Outlier.
Thing is, she knows this, but she doesn’t really want to be the ultimate Outlier. In fact, she knows her whole life story, but doesn’t want it to be so. Stri-rajyan women are fated – mothers create a book of the life of their daughters before they are born, and they read this book to their daughter from a very young age. So Pan knows what her life is supposed to bring.
But will she stick to it? Can she leave this predicted path? That’s the question. And every time she makes an important decision, her vines grow – dark lines of raised skin making a vine-like growth from her shoulders down eventually to her hands. What pattern she will end up with is supposedly known, but no one really knows. Pan might be the one to break the pattern, create a pattern of her own.
9. What is your favorite food?
Toast. Buttered toast. Yeah, I know. It really is the best thing ever, right?
10. What book are you currently reading?
I’m prepping for teaching a course in dystopia this spring at a local college. So, I’m rereading all the books for that course. Of particular interest might be the Earthseed books by Octavia Butler. I teach using the second in this series – Parable of the Talents – though starting at the beginning with Parable of the Sower (which is my aforementioned shoot-into-space book) is a great way to experience these awesome books. Read them!
Bonus Question: If you write under a pen name, how did you choose it? This is always neat to find out!
I do write under a couple pseudonyms, as well as my “real” (unpronounceable) name. I chose Regina Harvey this way: one of the names is my real middle name, the other is kind of an elision of my maiden name initials. You figure it out.
Thank you for hanging out on my blog, Regina! Please be sure to check out Regina’s website and social media outlets, and most importantly, check out Outliers, which can be bought online where books are sold!
This article was written by Stephanie