Excerpts from the interviews:
“I moved all over the country as a kid because my father was a computer programmer when computers were big as a house and came with guys in suits to make them work. Every time we went to a new place, I was reinventing myself. I had two older sisters, and each time we moved our parents promised us it was the last time. (When we found out it wasn't, there were a lot of tears.) Midnighters, Peeps, and So Yesterday all involve characters coming to a new town for the first time, which is of course a classic trope. In half of literature a stranger comes to town. Of course, not all of that is a teenager moving to a new town and getting to reinvent themself.
“Midnighters is about a kid coming from Chicago, where she wasn't cool, to this little town in Oklahoma, where she is cool. But then she gets dragged in with the uncool people who are outsiders. That's something that happened to me continuously through my youth. In the South I was a Northerner coming down, and in the North I was a Southerner coming up. People would ask lots of questions about the place I'd come from. They'd say, 'In Texas do you all ride horses to school?' and 'Do you speak English in Connecticut?' The great thing is, I could lie and make stuff up. I think some of my earliest world-building exercises were telling Texans what life was like in Connecticut, and vice versa.”
“There are lots of relationships between the young-adult world and the science fiction world. Both teenagers and science fiction fans are voracious readers and also into completism. Another thing I like about YA is that teenagers read across genre more than adults. You meet adults who only read crime novels or whatever, but teenagers think nothing of going to the library and bringing home a fantasy, a biography, a book about sharks, a science fiction novel, and a 'teen problem' novel. So if you're a YA writer you can write a fantasy and a contemporary realist book, and they'll still be next to each other on a shelf because you're already in a genre. So Yesterday is contemporary realist, Midnighters is fantasy, and Uglies is SF, but I've never heard publishers or fans saying 'I wish you'd write more science fiction' or 'How dare you to come out with a fantasy when you were writing SF before!' Nobody cares.”
“When it took Evolution's Darling a while to get published, I decided to write something a bit more accessible, where it was all going to be in the past tense, the protagonist was the commander of a starship, and it would be set in an empire. Part of the thought experiment that goes on with science fiction is purely literary, wondering 'How can I take this thing I have had a sense of wonder about and loved since I was 13 and make it into an adult entertainment?' That's what a lot of the New Space Opera is about. I also wanted to write something with lots of battles! I'm almost always disappointed by the military sequences in SF films or books, where it feels like hand-waving. So I wanted to do something where it felt right to me, like a real military engagement.
“The Risen Empire and Killing of Worlds were written as one 190,000-word manuscript, though I hadn't expected it to be that long. Borders or somebody came out with an edict that they weren't going to support anything with a price point of over $25, and since then a whole bunch of books have been famously split up. From the submission draft to Tor splitting it in two, I did a lot of structural refiguring. There were a lot of changes, and I think the book is actually better because of them.”
“Something that was already there in my work, but that I've become more aware of by having teenagers write me, is the way teens go back and forth between being knowing and being innocent. There's that weird self-awareness, trying to be savvy, but at the same time realizing you don't know anything and are just bluffing your way through. It's about bluff and bravado, and part of the bluff is 'The world's crazy and I'm not -- but maybe I am crazy.' They'll write to say, 'This is the best book I've ever read. It's so great! But hell, what do I know? I could be crazy.' There's this constant refiguring of your position.
“Lots of themes in adult literature are about various kinds of ennui, like marriages the life has gone out of, or just going through the motions of your job, or other midlife crises. (In the classic literary scene, you're doing the dishes and the damp dishrag represents your life, your marriage, your career, or the career you didn't have.) It's not like teens don't have ennui -- if you've ever hung out with a 15-year-old, you know they have immense doubts as to whether world is worth living in for the next five minutes -- but they don't go through the motions in that situation; they actually explode pretty quickly.
“I think these explosions are much better fodder for a certain kind of drama and a certain kind of writing. When you're writing about adults, there are a lot of false conflicts. But I feel like I'm forcing the dramatics less when I write about teens, because conflicts can flare up and go away really quickly. That lends itself to adventure and intensity. If you have a bad day when you're 50, it's just another bad day, but have a bad day when you're ten, it's a disaster!
“A lot of YA is about identity: 'Who am I?' 'How do I fit into this world?' There's that uncomfortableness in your skin. And if you're a science fiction writer or reader that never goes away, because you're still looking at the world and challenging it, saying 'Does it have to be this way? Does it make any sense that we follow these rules?' Science fiction is about thought experiments. What does it mean to tell stories set in a different place than this one? How does that affect our world? It's a completely philosophical enterprise.”
“My next project is an alternate-history trilogy for teenagers. It's around 1900, and Charles Darwin has discovered the secret of life in the Galápagos, but it's different from the secret he did discover (so it's alternative-science history). The result is this sort of Edwardian biotechnology Britain is using, while Germany and other countries that are Darwin-resistant have gone off into the machine world. I guess you could call it Edwardian Ribo-Punk!”