THE MARBURY LENS
by Andrew Smith
Sixteen-year-old Jack gets drunk and is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped. He escapes, narrowly. The only person he tells is his best friend, Conner. When they arrive in London as planned for summer break, a stranger hands Jack a pair of glasses. Through the lenses, he sees another world called Marbury.
There is war in Marbury. It is a desolate and murderous place where Jack is responsible for the survival of two younger boys. Conner is there, too. But he’s trying to kill them.Meanwhile, Jack is falling in love with an English girl, and afraid he’s losing his mind.Conner tells Jack it’s going to be okay.But, it’s not.
*Andrew Smith has written his most beautiful and personal novel yet, as he explores the nightmarish outer limits of what trauma can do to our bodies and our minds.*
benvenuto, Empfang, Καλωσόρισμα, välkomnande, bienvenida, ようこそ, accueil
Welcome to my blog, Andrew.
1. I’m just going to put it out there right away, about The Marbury Lens. Do you wanna give us the deets on The Marbury Lens and how much of it is fiction and not? Are you ready to give that info up?
So far, I suppose I haven’t written a single thing that isn’t somehow connected to real-world experiences I’ve had. I hope that, at the very least, the connection between my prose and my life allows for some element of realism in my narrators’ voices.
I’ll leave it at that.
It’s a question that I get asked – and evade – frequently. But I will add that writing The Marbury Lens troubled me quite a bit. I had terrible nightmares throughout the process, especially in the beginning, when I had intended to take the story in an entirely different direction. The nightmares became part of the narrative, too. Then I got particularly stressed and panicky right when the book came out. Just ask Liz (my editor) or Jean Feiwel (my publisher). I went insane, I think, and it had nothing to do with the typical writer’s book release jitters. Honestly, I don’t know how those two remarkable women put up with a basket-case like me.
2. When you wrote Ghost Medicine and In The Path Falling Objects were those novels loosely based on life events as well or just stories made up in your head?
As I mentioned above, yes… all my novels have a great deal to do with things I did and went through in my own life. A lot of Troy Stotts’ (he’s the narrator in Ghost Medicine) story were things from my own life. I mention as much in the acknowledgments from In the Path of Falling Objects, too – how I once took a road trip with two of my buddies through the Southwest, and I had to sit in the backseat beside a life-size tin statue of Don Quixote, always thinking to myself how one day I’d write a story about that situation. Also, when I was very young, my older brother served as a soldier in Vietnam. A lot of the letters he sent home became the basis for Matthew’s story in that novel.
3. How long did it take you to write The Marbury Lens? During that time did you come across any blocks/times that you couldn’t write?
It seems like such a long time ago. I’ve written three complete novels since I wrote The Marbury Lens. But, I believe, it took me about 3 months to finish Marbury. I’d sent the first portion of it in to my editor, Liz Szabla, before I was anywhere near finishing it. And, to be honest, I haven’t yet encountered a time when I couldn’t write.
Sometimes the writing goes slower than others, but I always have an idea about what’s going to happen next. Just knowing that kind of forces me to get through the tougher, more uphill, portions of the journey.
4. Is there a living Conner?
Conner is a lot like most of the guy friends I had when I was younger. Well, actually, he’s a lot like the guy friends I have now. Although I frequently “name” characters after people I know, I never actually make a character who serves as a representation of anyone specific. Except the bad guys. Usually, my bad guys are more like real people who I actually do know.
5. I learned this recently in the video about warning labels, but wanted to know for a long time so will still ask for others, how you do you feel about your own children reading The Marbury Lens and if in fact they have read it?
See below for the "video response I made to a video-blogger's (ooohhh... how meta) post about The Marbury Lens and the idea of warning labels on YA literature"
This question has a couple separate parts to it: First, I don’t feel uncomfortable about my kids reading pretty much anything they want to. I’d be hard-pressed to specifically name anything you could get that I’d want to take away from my son (16) or daughter (13).
That said, everything I’ve written was produced with my son in mind. I realized when he was younger that a lot of the books that found their way into his hands had some weaknesses – in my opinion – as far as being “good” books for boys. For one thing, the books he was exposed to at school, to me, had a kind of anti-boy bias – an agenda – to them. I wanted him to read stories about REAL boys – kids who have to deal with difficulties, who make mistakes, and who sometimes fail, without having super powers or magic. So, all my stories kind of hover in that atmosphere. They’ve also grown up as he has – from Ghost Medicine to The Marbury Lens. And yes, he was the first person, besides my editor and agent, to ever read that book.
6. Do you still work with a YA Lit group? Wanna give us the basics with that?
To be honest, I don’t do groups very well. I’ve never found one that I fit into, and the ones I’ve made an effort to participate with invariably make me feel like an outcast. I don’t like politics and cattiness, so I prefer my uncomfortable isolation. I do, however, coach a group of young writers who range in age from 15 to 18 years old, and this is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences ever. It’s not about giving anything up or trying to fit in, and I can only hope I’m helping the kids discover – on their own – how to be better writers, help one another, and discover their own creative instincts.
7. What are your feelings about blame and innocence from your youth? (Marbury) Do you still have any that you harbor over?
I thought about this for a long time. There were four boys in my family. My parents were very strict, but we had nothing to compare our upbringing to, so there was really no questioning the system (and this, by the way, is a big part of the storyline in my upcoming novel, Stick). But it was like there was this general expectation that everything we ever did was bad and wrong. As a result, I think that as I grew up I naturally began to assume not only that I was a bad person, but that anything negative that happened to me was my fault and that I deserved it. I guess for readers of The Marbury Lens, this may echo as something very familiar in Jack’s narrative.
8. We never hear about your wife? Does she just prefer to stay behind the lines? Does she have an opinion of The Marbury Lens?
Ha ha! I only see my wife when I put on this special pair of glasses I keep on the stand next to my bed.
She was, I think, a little shocked and stunned after reading The Marbury Lens. To be honest, I don’t think she liked it. But I don’t expect everyone to like everything I do. In fact, I suppose I truthfully expect very few people to like the stuff I write. And, by the way, I never allow anyone to read my work until it actually comes out in published form, as an ARC. So, my family generally knows less about my forthcoming projects than people who read book blogs like yours.
I have modified my tight-lipped demeanor in recent months. I’ve allowed a few friends to read initial drafts of Stick, and I sent a final-draft copy of another novel I recently finished, called Winger to an author friend, too.
9. Please list ten random likes; then do the same for dislikes, go way random.
Random Likes: (this sounds like a singles survey) Thunderstorms in summer, running in the hills around my house, meteor showers, my sauna, kayaking, going to bed early and waking up at an outrageously early hour, watching snow fall and having a fire going, traveling to somewhere I’ve never been.
Random Dislikes: Putting my contacts in backwards, the weird guy who drives a white truck and looks like a murderer, people who follow too close, people who walk too slow, television, exclamation points, emotions, and text speak.
10. Stick, your 4th published novel will be out this fall (10/2011) correct? Care to elaborate?
To say that Stick is like nothing else I’ve written is kind of vague, because if you look at the body of my work, I think one thing that stands out is that not one of my novels is even remotely similar to another. That said, Stick involves some experimental-type narrative structure that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in any other novel (which doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m the first writer to try something like this). But here’s what I wrote as a description (also very vague) of the plot:
Stark McClellan (“Stick”) hears the world in a different way. He is surrounded by cruelty and ugliness, but holds on to a powerful sense of wonder, faith, and love for his best friend, Emily, and the most important person in Stick’s world -- his older brother, Bosten, who happens to be gay. When the boys’ father throws Bosten out of their home, Stick steals a car and takes off on a three-state odyssey to find and rescue him.
11. Where do you come up with the names for your characters in the novels that you've written?
I used to worry about character names because I know too many people and I had this insane assumption that characters should never have the name of anyone you know in real life.
Maybe that's why so many people want to write fantasy: you get to make up totally bizarre names that you'd never hear in the real world. The bottom line is you'll never be able to write for any length of time and NOT have a character name that isn't attached in some way to a real flesh-and-bone person that you've known in your life. So there are many characters in my books whose names I've "borrowed" from people I know. In fact, sometimes, I'll write a scene, give a character a name that just doesn't sound right to me, then I'll change it to the name of one of the first people I talk to that day.
The catch is to not have characters that ARE real people (or, to make them just different enough that only you will know for sure who they are). But the bad guys in my books... they all are really people that I knew. Really.
12. Tell us about the biggest challenges you face in your writing process.
I have a few challenges, I think, that make my process quite a bit different from most of the writers I know (and certainly different from the handful of writers I can honestly call “friends”).
First of all, I never sell things before writing them. I don’t think I could respond properly under that type of pressure. I know most writers do this, but I feel like I would always suspect my judgment and creativity if I ever got a contract on the basis of I am going to write a novel about…
So the challenge is that I do invest a lot of time and energy producing things that are very personal, and for ME only, before I ever take the risk of submitting them to anyone. And I have lots of stuff that is just sitting there on my hard drive. My agent, and other people in the business, tell me I’m too prolific. I know that already. I’ve considered taking gigs as a ghostwriter, but I couldn’t stand myself if I did something for another person’s brand.
The other challenge for me is that I really don’t have anyone I can talk to about the job part of writing. I don’t belong to any writers’ groups, and I live in a very remote location, so I don’t hang out with people at all where I live. I have a couple friends whom I’ll sometimes ask for advice by email, but I rarely do that because I’m more of a say-nothing kind of person. I most appreciate my friendship with author Michael Grant, because 1) he’s a guy, and 2) he has absolutely no qualms at all about being brutally honest with me. He has a wicked sense of humor, too. Wow, I guess this sounds like an ad for a dating service or something.
But I never talk about writing with my wife or kids. I’m not a bring-the-job-home-with-you kind of guy, for one thing. And, to be honest, I think my wife and kids secretly hate the fact that I’m a writer. So I shut up about what I’m doing and what I go through (sometimes writing is really very painful, and it can make me insanely moody) around them.
On the other hand, I do talk to my son about his writing. He is an amazingly talented writer – much better – by light years – than I ever was at the age of sixteen. If he keeps it up and seriously pursues the craft, I have no doubts that you’ll be hearing his name soon.
Bedankt, merci, ringraziamenti, Multumiri, Şükürler, спасибо, ありがとう, gracias
Thank you very much, Andrew. This was fun. We appreciate your spending your precious time with us. I look forward to reading something from your son in the future.
Absolutely. And thank YOU, Amy.