Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Guest Post: Mark Jeffrey Author of Max Quick: The Pocket and the Pendant

Some people have asked me why I wrote a Young Adult novel. The answer is simple: I thought writing YA was simpler than writing for adults. I want to try writing a novel on a 'toy scale' before attempting something for adults.

Ha. Boy was I ever wrong about that.

I'm a great admirer of the psychologist Carl Jung. He once wrote, "One of the most difficult tasks men can perform ... is the invention of good games." I think the same is true for good YA. Just as games on the surface seem trivial and unimportant, YA can easily be dismissed. Yet the best of it fills all of our imaginations, shapes our consciousness: The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings -- these titles are burned deeply into our collective souls. They are metaphors in our everyday speech, we talk about them all the time, whether we are conscious of it or not.

You see, Young Adult novels are actually harder to write. They are more universal, more mythological. And they have interesting constraints that do not apply to the adult novel world: what are the rules of Young Adult? Can you have guns? What about horror? How complex can the concepts get? How philosophical? How scientific?

When I first started MAX QUICK: THE POCKET AND THE PENDANT I was shooting for something in the Narnia / Harry Potter vein, yet with a mechanism of magical realism a la 50's South American authors such as Borges, etc. I also had some pretty large-scale quantum concepts I wanted to tie into the magical realism aspects. I wanted to write something that adults and kids could both read with equal pleasure. So I didn't want to 'dumb it down'. On the other hand, I remember being a kid: I knew when someone was talking down to me. I knew when punches were being pulled.

And I didn't appreciate it. So I wanted to 'keep it real', I wanted to write what I wanted. I wanted an authentic voice.

Only trouble was: I wasn't doing that yet. I was scared, tentative. I was afraid of offending, of confusing with too-complex stuff.

I was about thirty pages in, and struggling with this, and someone told me about Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I picked it up with fascination: it was YA, yet the author had quantum entanglement and other things here. He even snubbed his nose quite pointedly at the religious establishment. It wasn't like Rowling, who wrote about witches and was attacked for it, yet who didn't mean to make people angry: no, no -- Pullman was on offense, he was specifically attacking. His boldness -- regardless of whether I agreed with him or not (I thought he was a bit shrill) -- nevertheless was inspiring on a certain level.

He did YA his way.

It was only then that I had the courage to write 'Pocket' the way I wanted. And it was only then that it flowed freely onto the page.

Then I had a new problem: My Editor started to push back on a few things. Now before I go any further, let me first say that my Editor is amazing. The book would not even be half as good as it ended up being without her influence. Nevertheless, we did not always agree on everything. In particular, she objected to guns in the book.

The premise of the book is that time stops all over the world, except for a few kids. Physics is somewhat altered because of stopped time; all energy is multiplied, so superspeeds are possible (yet if you hit a wall, you die). And to illustrate this, I had one kid-character try to use a gun. The gun didn't work, so all the kids resorted to knives (since it quickly goes all Lord of the Flies with semi-superpowers and no adults around).

Now: it should be a scary and somewhat violent world at this point. The Pocket (what they called stopped time) is a very wild place. In my opinion, the first thing anyone with half a brain would do is try to get a gun. When I was twelve, that would certainly have been my first move. Now, as part of the editing process, I did this sort of horse-trade thing with my Editor where she gave ground on some things, and I did as well. And the gun was not strictly necessary to the plot, so I sacrificed it to save other things that were.

And then I read the best-selling THE HUNGER GAMES. For those of who you don't know, this is a young adult dystopian novel about an arena deathmatch between 24 kids. Only one leaves the arena alive. Not only are there guns, but there are new and exotic weapons that cause pain and death in exquisite and detailed ways. And no punches are pulled: kids die left and right. It's basically THE RUNNING MAN with kids.

So this that I struggled with this all over again after reading GAMES. I wondered whether I should have stood my ground a bit more. I wasn't interested in guns for guns' sake: I just wanted something that felt real. Even so, I made sure my world was a semi-sanitized. For example, everyone has knives, but so does Peter Pan. And all they do is wave them around at each other and threaten.

Sigh. If only I'd read HUNGER GAMES earlier. :)

About the Book
Hardcover & eBook, HarperCollins, 2011

When time stops all over the world, creating 'the Pocket' of time wherein basic physics are strangely altered, only Max Quick and a few other kids seem to unaffected. While the rest of the world remains frozen around them, Max -- and Casey, Ian and Sasha -- find that it is up to them to discover how this has happened and reverse it. Along the way, they encounter 'magic' Books, ancient artifacts and other clues to the riddle of stopped time. And Max finds that his own true identity may not be what he once believed. Now he must embrace his past to save the future and prevent the very world from being altered forever ...

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