Hi everyone! Today I have a special author interview and a giveaway for you. Meet Catherine Austen, a Canadian author who wrote All Good Children which was released last October 2011. I have a feeling that not all of you have heard about her or her novel. So this is your chance to get to know her.
What or who inspired you to write All Good Children?
The inspiration for the factual side of the story (what happens where and when) was a news article about a school board that took a family to court to force them to medicate their unruly child. It shocked me to think a school might have that power. The school board lost the case, but in a more precarious economic climate, where you’re lucky to get into school at all, who knows? Add the pursuit of perfect genes, and a country afraid of its own population, and presto: schools that medicate students for behaviour control as a matter of policy.
The inspiration for the emotional side of the story (who suffers what) was that, as a parent, I’ve felt the twisted desire for my kids to be “good” (as in successful), instead of authentic or challenging or troublesome. Yet I remember being a kid under pressure to be “good” at any cost, and how awful that is. So I wanted to explore the idea of what makes a good kid in a bad world. The hero of All Good Children is annoying, arrogant, rude, and mischievous, but he is good in a way that the adults around him can’t compare to.
What kind of apocalypse is in All Good Children?
None. There were times when the writing got tough and I considered adding a big meteor heading straight for Earth, but I never had to resort to it.
What kind of future did you portray in All Good Children?
The book is set in a futuristic walled city, built around the world’s largest geriatric hospital. It is a corporately owned and controlled utopia. Outside the city walls are poverty, crime, environmental disasters and terrorist plots. Inside the city, people are segregated by employment status but life is basically rich and safe and under constant surveillance to keep it that way.
The elite kids in this city – genetically, economically, and academically gifted teens - have an overblown sense of entitlement and no clue about the rest of the world except to know they don’t want to be tossed out into it. Their parents would do anything to help these kids succeed. Anything. So when the corporation launches a New Education Support Treatment to “help” students work harder and without question, no one raises any objections. After all, it’s a treatment that turns troublemakers into better students. No one thinks it’s all that bad. Except one suspicious teenager.
Can you tell us about your main character?
Maxwell Connors is one of the academic elite of New Middletown. He’s a 15-year-old graffiti artist who likes to have fun and mess around when he’s not studying. He’s a decent running back, a budding artist, and an A-student. More than anything, he’s a loyal friend.
But Max is a naughty boy. He likes to tease. He likes to fight. He has a chip on his shoulder because he’s short in a world of giants and he’s fatherless in a world of wealthier families. He has responsibilities he resents but takes pride in, like minding his little sister and helping out his mother, who works her butt off to keep them both in school. Max has a great combination of arrogance and vulnerability. And he is very bright. But he is high on the list of students whose behaviour needs “treatment” - so when he finds out about it, he knows they’re gunning for him.
What are the things in the present (our time) and in your novel?
Much of the society is the same, just taken to extremes and stressed by environmental and economic crises. Though it’s set in the future, it’s not a radical future and the book reads more like contemporary realism or suspense than a lot of YA dystopias. (I never considered it a dystopian novel when I wrote it. I didn’t know much about dystopias then and didn’t realize it was a genre I’ve always been a fan of.)
There are RIGs (Realtime Integrated Gateways) that are like handheld computers, but with content you can project elsewhere. There is news media, but access is strictly controlled by the corporation. There is reality TV, but the contestants are judged on their deformities and misfortunes, not their dancing ability. There are cars within the city, but they’re expensive and people rent them by the hour. There are old gas-powered cars outside the city, but people take the engines out to make more living space.
There are children, but they’re more like commodities. Wealthy families use fertility clinics to prepare a purchased number of embryos and then choose one to develop based on genetic readings. As in our time, there are kids in schools trying to make the best of it, but they are under near-constant surveillance.
Society changes but humanity doesn’t change much. There is racism and war and fear and paranoia and contempt for those less fortunate. But there is love and hope and risking your safety for those you love and confronting what you fear and realizing that it’s not what you thought it was.
What are the themes tackled in your novel?
Friendship, responsibility, cowardice and courage. It’s mostly about friendship, about a kid who feels like he’s losing everything but who’ll risk what’s left to save the friend he loves.
What is the best thing that a reviewer said about your novel?
All Good Children has had many great reviews, so it’s hard to choose. I am fond of Booklist’s “Austen writes with cinematic definition, driving the action with taut dialogue and unremitting menace,” because that sounds like somebody might buy the film rights. The best newspaper review was probably in the Montreal Review of Books, which closed with the words “Great literature is never limited by its genre.”
Teen reviewers have a special impact on me. One 16-year-old boy, Alex, did a YALSA YA Galley Teen Review of All Good Children and, in the box that asks, “Were you disappointed with the book for any reason?” answered, “No no no no no no no no no no NO”. I loved that. I pinned it on my bulletin board. I want to name a character Alex in that kid’s honour.
My all-time favorite review came from a teen named Brennan, who reviewed All Good Children through his library book club, and said “This author seems to know what it’s like to be a kid.” I can’t really think of anything better than that.
Did you ever base any of your characters on real persons?
Max’s friend Xavier is loosely based on a real boy, a beautiful smart kid with Asperger’s and very few friends. And there are a few fragments of the book that come from my own teenage son who, like Max’s friend Dallas, asks, “Who do you think would win in a fight?” several times a day.
Can you give us one line from your novel that you find important, striking or unforgettable?
I’ll offer the line chosen for the back cover: “Living with hope is like rubbing up against a cheese grater. It keeps taking slices off you until there’s so little left, you just crumble.” Max’s life has pretty much gone to hell by the time he says that. But he doesn’t give up.
Win: Signed Finished Copy of All Good Children + Swag
Nasty Future for Naughty Boys
"Living with hope is like rubbing up against a cheese grater. It keeps taking slices off you until there's so little left, you just crumble."
Quick-witted, prank-pulling graffiti artist Maxwell Connors is more observant than the average New Middletown teenager. And he doesn't like what he sees. New Middletown's children are becoming frighteningly obedient, and their parents and teachers couldn't be happier. As Max and his friend Dallas watch their classmates transform into model citizens, Max wonders if their only hope of freedom lies in the unknown world beyond New Middletown's walls, where creativity might be a gift instead of a liability.
For those who like their dystopias with a rich character sauce and a side of humour.
Do you WANT a taste of the novel? Click here to read the First Chapter of All good Children! Don’t miss out on this opportunity!
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Catherine grew up in Kingston, Ontario, the youngest of five children. She studied political science at Queen’s University and environmental studies at York University before moving to the Ottawa area to work in the conservation movement. Eventually, she quit office life to raise children and write freelance.
She now lives in Quebec with her husband, Geoff, and their children, Sawyer and Daimon. They have a dog, Charlie, and two cats, Isis and Playdoh.
She began to write children’s fiction in 2003, and I’m starting to get the hang of it. Her first novel, Walking Backward, was released in October 2009 from Orca Book Publishers. Her more recent books are My Cat Isis, illustrated by Virginie Egger (Kids Can Press, 2011), 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6 (James Lorimer & Company, 2011), and All Good Children (Orca Book Publishers, 2011).