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Archive for the ‘Scott Westerfeld’ Category

Scott Westerfeld on my strangest inspiration

Friday, March 21st, 2008

Meg asks “What is the strangest thing you have ever gotten inspiration from?”

About 15 years ago, I went on a guided tour of a game reserve in South Africa. It was just me and the guide, on foot. We were strolling away from the hotel when I noticed we’d gone through a gate into the hippo area.

Now, hippos are deadly and unpredictable, and fast when they want to be. In fact, they kill more humans than any other mammal in Africa. So I said, “Um, are the hippos gone today or something?”

He said, “No, but it’s just us two, and you look pretty fit, so I thought I’d take this shortcut. You don’t mind if we have to do a little running, do you?”

To which I responded, “I don’t mind running, but I do mind running for my life.”

There’s a big difference between the two kinds of running, it turns out, which I didn’t totally get until that moment.

We were lucky, though, and the hippos didn’t even notice us. But long minute walking across the space of a potential hippo attack started a tingle inside me.

The tingle returned later that day, when we found some lion footprints. Recent lion footprints, that made the guide frown unhappily. Like, this was much worse than a stroll past the hippo pond.

Now obviously, I made it home that day without being eaten by lions. But the experience of not being atop the food chain, even for a few hours, definitely changed the way I saw stuff like fear and nature and, you know, life. In a way, it was an inspiration to write with the intensity I felt there on the African plain.

We’ve all seen hundreds of car chases and shootouts where life is at stake, so many that the can become routine, almost. They rarely give me the same chill I got from seeing fresh lion footprints in the dust.

So now when my characters are in life-and-death circumstances, I try to do justice to those hours I spent with no barrier between me and nature, and no guarantees. I try to make my fictional worlds a place where you really might have to do some running . . . for your life.

Scott Westerfeld is the author of such novels as EXTRAS and UGLIES. Visit his author page for more information.

Scott Westerfeld on issues teens should be thinking about

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Sarah asks “What do you think are the biggest issues that teens need to be thinking about today? Do you think teens today are looking for quality in the books they read, or just to live vicariously through superficial characters?”

Every generation has two sets of issues to deal with: the ones they got left by the previous generation, and they ones they make themselves. For teenagers these days, both these sets of issues are huge, unprecedented, and intense.

Let’s start with the biggest leftover issue: My generation hasn’t made much effort to deal with climate change. In fact, a lot of crumblies think that there’s no such thing, which means they think that 90% of the scientists who’ve looked at this issue are wrong. (I always ask them, if 90% of aircraft engineers said a plane would crash, would you put your grandkids on it? Would you put EVERYONE’S grandkids on that plane? Because that’s what you’re doing when you ignore climate change.)

But I think the teenagers of today will do okay on this, because they understand something that crumblies don’t—the choices you make every day can affect the whole planet. Human beings are just that powerful these days. And once enough people understand that, our leaders (the people who make the REALLY big decisions) may finally get the message.

So what are the new issues, unique to this generation? Well, most are the kind I tried to deal with in Extras—all the issues created by online social networking. This generation will have to answer a lot of basic questions all over again: What does it mean to have privacy? How do you trust someone you’ve never met face to face? All this stuff is really complicated online, where even the meaning of the word “friend” is changing all the time.

Luckily, both of these big issues are going to be pretty interesting to solve, because they’re both about exploring new ways of living. “How do we use less oil?” and “Can you fall in love with someone through email?” aren’t horrible questions like, “How many nuclear weapons do we need to kill everyone in the Soviet Union?” But they ARE also extremely important issues, and the decisions of the next generation may make the difference between having a planet and not having one.

But no pressure.

Scott Westerfeld is the author of such novels as EXTRAS and UGLIES. Visit his author page for more information.

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