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Interview: Alex McAulay

October 7th, 2006 (12:40 pm)
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Alex McAulay has the distinction of being the first MTV Books author shelved in teen fiction. Prior to BAD GIRLS, MTV had released mostly adult fiction and books related to music or written by musicians. Alex's stories are full of suspense, survival, and summer. They are making a splash with both teens and adults. One is even coming soon(ish) to a theatre near you . . .

How long did it take you to write the actual book?

It took about two months to write the rough draft -- but it was pretty rough! So it took another two and a half months of editing, plus a few more weeks here and there to proofread and tighten things up. The original draft of LOST SUMMER was almost 400 pages (the final version is around 300) so there was quite a bit of cutting (lots of deleted scenes!) But it made the book much more focused.

Was your book written before or after you landed the book deal? Did you or your agent approach MTV Books or vice versa?

I wrote my first novel, BAD GIRLS, before my agent got me a book deal with MTV. But for the new one, LOST SUMMER, MTV bought it based on a synopsis and the first few chapters. I'd just gotten married a week earlier, and we were on our honeymoon when we heard they wanted LOST SUMMER, so it was a great wedding present!

Why write for teens? Did you write your book specifically for the teen fiction shelves?

Neither of my books were written specifically as YA books. In fact, for some reason, all Borders bookstores stock BAD GIRLS in the adult fiction/literature section. But I think because both my books have teen protagonists, they tend to get categorized that way (which I don't mind at all, because there are some truly amazing authors writing YA books at the moment, like Sarah Dessen and John Green). I think YA is definitely one of the coolest, most emerging fields at the moment. I feel like everytime I go to our local bookstore, the YA section has grown!

What age range or grade levels do you feel your book is suitable for - or not?

I'd probably say 15 and up (but I'm sure mature readers who are younger would enjoy them too, although there are some disturbing/scary scenes in LOST SUMMER).

What inspired the title of your book?

My agent David Dunton (who is really brilliant, and such a nice guy too) helped me with the titles, as did my fantastic editors at MTV Books, Lauren McKenna and Megan McKeever. My original title for BAD GIRLS was something silly and pretentious (I think it was "A Gift from the Shadows"—I was trying to be all arty and clever). Then for a while it was THE LOST GIRLS, then it just got simplified to BAD GIRLS. It's funny, 'cause LOST SUMMER started out with a much longer title too ("All the Summers in the World") but it started to feel too unwieldy and clunky, so we all agreed on LOST SUMMER, which had a nice ring to it.

Do you watch MTV?

Yup. I caught The Killers playing at the end of the VMA's, which I thought was a pretty great performance.

Who are your favorite authors?

There are too many to name! Here are just a few: Stephen King, JG Ballard, Paul Bowles, Alex Garland, Paul Theroux, and Anne Rice. In terms of YA fiction, I'd say John Green, Stephen Chbosky, Sarah Dessen, Ryan Gattis, and William Sleator.

What are some of your favorite musicians, actors, or TV shows?

Favorite musicians/bands: David Bowie, Pixies, Tegan & Sara, Beck, Velvet Underground, Killers, Prince, Coheed & Cambria, White Stripes, Ramones, Bloc Party, Liz Phair, Neil Young, John Lennon, Bjork, Belle & Sebastian, and Elliot Smith.

Favorite actors: Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Winona Ryder, Sean Gullette (from Pi and Requiem for a Dream), Paul Giamatti, Jack Nicholson, Claire Danes, Clive Owen.

Favorite TV shows: LOST, 24, and THE OFFICE.

Would you ever write a sequel for either BAD GIRLS or LOST SUMMER?

I've thought about writing a sequel to BAD GIRLS quite a few times, but haven't come up with the perfect idea yet. I think it'd be fun to revisit those characters and that world. For LOST SUMMER, which is more of a self-enclosed mystery kind of thing, probably there won't be a sequel. But you never know . . .

What are your top ten books of all time?

I tend to have pretty strange, eclectic taste in books (I like survival/suspense fiction, strange literary fiction, and I read a lot of nonfiction too). So these are my top 14, in order, with #1 being my favorite:
1. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
2. The Magus by John Fowles
3. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. The Beach by Alex Garland
6. Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo by Oscar Zeta Acosta
7. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
8. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
9. Sir Vidia's Shadow by Paul Theroux
10. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
12. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
13. Carrie by Stephen King
14. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Bad Girls was your first published novel. Was it your first completed novel, or had you written previous manuscripts?

Bad Girls was actually the first novel I ever wrote. I'd written a few short stories beforehand, and had tried to write an earlier novel, but didn't get very far. At that point, I wasn't even sure whether I could write a novel or not! I wrote most of Bad Girls a couple pages at a time, usually late at night.

Tell us about the Lord of the Flies backstory.

Both my wife and I were forced to read Lord of the Flies when we were in high school. I really loved the book, but she hated it. For some reason, we started talking about it one night and she pointed out that the book didn't have any female characters in it. So then I said, "Yeah, it'd be funny if someone wrote a book like Lord of the Flies but with all girls instead of boys . . . " So then a year or so passed, and we kept talking about the idea, and finally I thought I might as well try writing it.

So far, you've written two suspense novels that have strong female protagonists and are set in modern day. Are thrillers your forte? Are there any other genres that you'd like to tackle?

I love thrillers -- especially dark ones. And I find that within the genre, I'm able to deal with a wide range of topics and themes. So in Lost Summer, there are definitely some thrills and surprises, but there's also a family drama element, and a romantic relationship as well. I grew up reading thrillers, so I've always been drawn to their structure. In terms of other genres, I suppose it would be fun to write a really great horror novel one day, or an intricate historical mystery. But who knows? For now, my plan is to write a string of really great, intense teen thrillers. I'm already halfway through my third one, which is about a group of kids who get stuck out in a snowstorm in Colorado.

What's the newest news surrounding the movie deal? Will you be involved with the production or screenplay at all?

It's been fun to follow all the casting rumors about Bad Girls, the most persistent being the Hilary Duff/Lindsay Lohan ones, but I don't really know much about the casting at this point. I know MTV hired someone to write a screenplay, but I haven't seen a copy yet.

Who would you cast in the film?

I hope they don't hire actors who are way too old for the parts (I always think it's cheesy when they hire someone who's thirty to play a teenager or something). I don't know how old Jena Malone from Donnie Darko is, but she's pretty great. I'm probably more concerned that they get a really good director. Jessica Sharzer, who directed the film version of Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak," lobbied for the job, but for some insane reason MTV turned her down! But I'm optimistic the film will come together sometime soon . . .

How would you describe your music? Why use the name Charles Douglas?

"Charles Douglas" is actually my middle name (for some reason my parents gave me two middle names). When I was in my teens I was in a punk rock band called Vegetarian Meat -- our goal was to be the most insane band ever, or at least to have the worst band name ever. We actually made a record for a label in New York, but the album didn't do too well. So when the band broke up, and I wanted to make some solo albums, I thought it'd be prudent to record them under a different name. Because the music was so demented-sounding, I didn't want to use my own name, so I used my middle name and it just stuck. I would describe my current music as sounding a lot like The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, and The Ramones.

How is the great American road trip going? What has been your most memorable signing so far?

Driving around and visiting bookstores has been great -- it's always fun to hit the road, and to meet the booksellers, and to actually see my books in the stores. The most memorable incident that's happened recently wasn't even at a bookstore -- it was when I was flying to Miami and saw a girl in the airport randomly reading a copy of Lost Summer. I wanted to go up and say "Hey, I wrote that book," but I chickened out!

What do you think of BAD GIRLS being the first official teen fiction release of MTV Books?

I think mine was definitely one of the first teen novels they released. Prior to Bad Girls they seemed to be releasing novels aimed at a slightly older age group. However, in 1999 they did release The Perks of Being a Wallflower -- which is a great novel, and the whole reason I decided to go with MTV Books in the first place. I've noticed that since Bad Girls came out, MTV has released a ton of YA novels, so I like to think that the success of Bad Girls played some role in this (but maybe I'm deluded!) Anyway, I hope they keep releasing teen novels. The editors over there (Lauren and Megan) are really great at what they do.

Visit Alex's official website and LiveJournal.