Moira Young’s Dust Land series, it definitely The Road meets The Hunger Games. You’ve got your badass, gladiator girl in a world so desolate that it can only be brought to life by some perfectly sparse writing. Saba is scrappy and strong and her experience in the ring makes Katniss’ life look like a cakewalk. But it’s the writing in Blood Red Road and Rebel Heart that really won me over. The story flies forward at breakneck pace, fueled by this Cormac McCarthy-style bareness. What better way to describe a barren world than with spare, carefully chosen words? Yes, there is a love story. And yes, Saba must come of age and take charge, but there is so much more going on here. The Dust Lands is a broken world and Saba is a broken girl. She is repairing herself while managing the people and problems around her. I can’t wait to see how Young pulls it together.
We are thrilled to be the fourth stop on Moira Young’s cyber blog tour celebrating the release of the second novel in the Dust Lands series, Rebel Heart.
Indigo Teen Blog (ITB): You’ve created a very bleak world in the Dust Lands books. What were your inspirations for such a stark world?
Moira Young (MY): Well, it all started with a concern of mine: the profound disconnect between human beings and the environment. We’re completely dependent upon the natural world – earth, air, water, plants and animals - for our survival. But we’re a short-sighted, destructive species. We live as if we’re lords of the planet and can exploit it as we wish, without consequences. So, with climate change high on media and government agendas in 2006 – sadly, no longer the case - I began to ask myself the writerly question, “what if?” What if the world were to heat by 3 degrees? Six degrees? What would happen? Add to that my mother’s tales of her depression-era childhood in the Alberta Dustbowl, my travels in the Canadian landscape, a love of epic movies, Westerns and boys’ own adventure stories and the scene was set: I began to write the story that would become Blood Red Road.
ITB: While you have a sparseness of style, you still give readers such rich visuals. How do you manage to create such clear images with so few words?
MY: I don’t really know. I’m just glad if it seems to work! I do choose my words carefully. Other than that, all I can say is that, as a reader, I don’t like long passages of description or explanation or narrative. I tend to skim over those bits until I get back to the meat of the story. These books are told from Saba’s point of view. It’s an intensely personal, close point of view, as if we’re inside her head; we think her thoughts with her, see the world through her eyes, experience it as she does. As I write, the story plays like a movie in my head; the writer as a movie camera, you could say. Descriptions and so on are painted in lightly, with an impressionist’s brush. I want to give the reader enough to anchor them in the landscape - to give them a feel, smell, taste of the places we’re moving through – and, at the same time, leave plenty of room for their own imaginations to roam.
ITB: Many readers and reviewers have commented on Saba’s dialect. Do you find it difficult to write in dialect? How did you keep track of all the subtle nuances of Saba’s interior monologue? Do you find that using a dialect allows you more freedom?
MY: I always refer to Saba’s voice rather than dialect or language. Her voice is very particularly her and I have no trouble writing it or knowing what she would say or how she would say it. She is earthbound and moves from monosyllables at one extreme to simple poeticism at the other. The musical part of me really comes into play with Saba’s interior monologue, as it demands pulses, beats, rhythms and arcs.
She has such a singular voice that it gives me great freedom with words and phrases: I invent them, steal them from here, there and everywhere, and generally kick up my heels. Luckily, English is a robust, rough and tumble language and can survive almost any kind of ill treatment. It does cause some problems for foreign translation and my English language publishers have had to compile a Dust Lands spelling, usage and meaning handbook for desk and copy editors, but I have no problems at all!
ITB: Saba follows in the footsteps of some great butt-kicking females. What is the best part about writing a strong female character? Is there a living person who inspired Saba?
MY: I hope that she doesn’t follow anyone, but is a one-off. She’s a mash up of every character I’ve ever loved and – no doubt - internalized. She’s the boys of Treasure Island and Huck Finn, the gentleman adventurers of King Solomon’s Mines and The Lost World, swashbuckling cinema idols such as Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn and strong silent Western movie heroes. She’s also the strong women of mid-century movies, such as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Joan Crawford. Saba doesn’t conform to contemporary sexual stereotypes, but why should she? She doesn’t live in our world. Writing her is remarkably freeing. Anything that I wouldn’t dream of doing, she does. I would say that Saba is everything that I am and everything that I am not. So, I’m the inspiration for her.
ITB: Why do you think there is such an interest in dystopian fiction for teens?
MY: Every time I’m asked this question, I think of another answer, and every writer has their own take on it. I’d say there are a number of factors at play here.
Books set in the future free a writer from many of the constraints of real-world settings. All you have to do is operate within the rules of the world you have created. You can put your young protagonist in exciting, dangerous situations that no teenager could possibly encounter in real life. They are the heroes of these stories, the monster-slayers. That makes them exciting to read.
They tend to ask the big questions of life: Who am I? What do I believe? How can I make my life meaningful? We start asking these questions as young people and continue asking them throughout our lives.
The themes and settings mirror and explore our own fast-changing society: civil unrest, war, technology, military-style surveillance of citizens by their own governments, climate change, conformity, the decline of the west, propaganda and doublespeak, the undermining of democracy by corporations, repression, oppression and so on. Despite the serious subject matter, these aren’t polemics but provide rich settings for engaging stories where young people are the agents of their own destiny.
ITB: Are there particular dystopian fiction lit that inspired you or would recommend to your readers?
MY: I would never describe my books as dystopian but, since The Hunger Games, any book set in the future seems to get squeezed into that box. I’ve happily roamed across genres for my Dust Lands books, including fantasy, sci-fi, Westerns, thrillers, classic literature, psychology, mythology, fairy tales, romance, and ancient and modern history. I also draw on movies and music. I use whatever works for the story.
I’ve not read much of recent vintage, so I’d recommend the classics: Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Ballard’s The Drowned World and Shute’s On the Beach are great post-apocalyptic tales.
We would like to thank Doubleday Canada and Moira Young for offering us to take part in her blog tour.