I’d become somewhat intrigued with the representation of disability in literature when I came across a book called On the Edge of Gone on Netgalley. I requested it, devoured it, and almost immediately asked the author if I could toss a couple interview questions her way. When she agreed, I was happy as a clam. (Thanks again, Corinne!)
A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative young adult and middle grade novels. She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, released from Amulet Books/ABRAMS in the summer of 2014. It received four starred reviews—Kirkus called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while the Bulletin praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.” Her next book, an apocalyptic YA novel called On the Edge of Gone, is out on March 8, 2016.
Talking with Corinne Duyvis
Scifi and Scary: In the final notes in On the Edge of Gone, you talk briefly about your journey since you yourself were diagnosed with Autism at the age of 14. Is there a lot of you in Denise?
Corinne Duyvis: Yes and no. Denise and I are very different people, and our childhood experiences were nothing alike. When it comes to many of the details of her autism, though, I absolutely used a lot of my own experiences—for one, because I can portray those more realistically, and for another, because these were experiences I don’t often see in autistic characters. I wanted to represent those. So when you read details like Denise’s feelings on eye contact, like sometimes taking a while to process spoken or written words, like being able to recognize expressions when others assume you can’t, like the growing uncertainty as you stand in front of a buffet, trying to figure out whether there’s anything on these tables you can eat … I’ve absolutely experienced all of that. I’ve also spent a lot of time grappling with many of the same issues of value and work that Denise grapples with over the course of the book.
Scifi and Scary: What was the most difficult part of writing it?
Corrine Duyvis: I think deciphering which unintentional messages I might be including. When you’re writing characters all across the diversity spectrum and literally talking about the end of the world and the value of human life, it’s easy to overlook something and imply something you don’t want to be implying. No book happens in a vacuum.
Another, more straightforward element that I struggled with was the pacing. There’s a lot going on. Sometimes it took too long to get from point A to point B, scenes dragged out, character motivations got blurry … It’s a long book, and so making sure it felt like an interesting, cohesive whole was tricky. Which made it all the more satisfying when people read the book and said they couldn’t put it down!
Scifi and Scary: Beyond Denise’s autism, in the same interracial family group we also see a sister who is a transgender girl, and a mother who is addicted to drugs. When you sat down to plan out On the Edge of Gone, were all these elements ones that you know you wanted to include? Or did it just develop out from a core idea?
Corinne Duyvis: They developed over time. Parts of those were elements that I’ve been wanting to use for years and decided fit in this book. For example, one element I wanted to write was a parent who’s addicted but not portrayed as unloving or abusive, which is a common portrayal. Reality is often more complicated. I wanted to explore that.
Other parts were more of a, “Why not?” When I was plotting out the book, Iris was a cis girl, but the idea of her being trans occurred to me and it somehow fit, so I rolled with it as I drafted the book and never looked back. Denise’s teacher being a lesbian happened as I was drafting, I think. I kind of shrugged and went, “OK, apparently she has a wife.”
I’m not entirely sure whether Denise’s autism was part of the original idea that sparked the book, although it came very early in the process and has obviously become a core, inextricable element of the story.
Scifi and Scary: Aside from the short story we just talked about, do you have any intention in putting out a sequel to On the Edge of Gone? If not, where do you think you will go next?
Corinne Duyvis: Although I won’t rule out writing a sequel some day, as there are definitely ways to continue the story, I’m not planning anything. I’m working on several different novels—most of them standalones and all middle grade or young adult—but none are at a stage where I can/should publicly talk about them yet.
Scifi and Scary: How did you get involved with Disability in Kidlit?
Corinne Duyvis: Well—I started it! ☺ I’d been frustrated about the state of disabled characters in young adult fiction for years, as well as how few people even discussed the situation. I’d talked about this with Kody Keplinger a couple of times. As a fellow disabled author, she understood. Early 2013, she suggested starting a Tumblr to discuss the topic; that turned into a temporary blog event, which turned into an ongoing website when so many people offered to contribute and reacted positively to our content. We try to offer all kinds of information that’s relevant to authors, editors, librarians, educators, booksellers, and more—by posting articles about disability tropes or real-life experiences of disabled people as well as in-depth reviews of titles featuring disabled characters. The site has been running for about two and a half years now and we’re very excited about the fantastic responses we’re still receiving from the kidlit community. I hope we’ll be able to keep it going for a long time.
Scifi and Scary: How can readers get involved in the promotion of disabilities in literature?
Corinne Duyvis: One important part is to learn. I’m going to shamelessly suggest reading Disability in Kidlit here! While of course very few portrayals of disability are objectively good or objectively bad, there’s always a little pang when I see people praise a factually inaccurate portrayal as accurate, or a raving about a portrayal that I find sends very troubling messages. Learning about disability representation, tropes, potentially harmful elements is an important step into figuring out what you want to promote in the first place.
After that, it’s the same as promoting any other book: buy the books, talk about them with friends and colleagues, review them online, include them in recommendation lists, suggest them to your local bookseller or librarian—the list goes on.
Scifi and Scary: For readers/reviewers (*cough*me*cough*) who want to get their hands on more literature with diversity in it, are there any authors and/or books you would recommend? (note: I’ve linked the book titles to their appropriate Goodreads page in the following response.)
Corinne Duyvis: Oh, absolutely! If you liked On the Edge of Gone, I would recommend Matt de la Peña’s The Living and Courtney Summers’s This Is Not a Test, both of which are similarly character-driven apocalypse books. Also check out Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans, which is a character-driven post-apocalypse book that also features a character navigating a drowned city.
Now for a few fun questions:
Scifi and Scary: Coffee, Tea, or Other? What’s your choice of drink when you’re writing? What about when you’re reading?
Corinne Duyvis: Tea. Always tea! I have an entire drawer full of different flavors, while the only coffee I like is in the form of coffee-flavored candies.
Scifi and Scary: What’s your ‘dirty little secret’ book? The one you’re vaguely ashamed to admit that you like?
Corinne Duyvis: Don’t have one! Why feel shame over something you like or even love? I’ll never deny that a lot of the books or shows I like may have problematic elements, but I also won’t deny liking them in the first place.
Scifi and Scary: and finally… How long do you think Denise would survive in the zombie apocalypse? What would eventually do her in?
Corinne Duyvis: Honestly? I don’t think she’d last very long. When the comet hits in the book, she’s already had half a year to prepare physically and mentally. She’s been able to carefully consider what will happen and ways she could survive, and she has a fixed goal in mind: a place to get to, a way to survive.
Zombie apocalypses, on the other hand, are sudden and unexpected. There’s no easy solution, because most of the time, there isn’t any safe haven. I’m not saying she wouldn’t survive—she’s smart and determined and excellent at repressing emotions—but a lot of the advantages she had during the comet impact are gone. Add to that the fact that she’s not a particularly violent person and her future doesn’t look too rosy.