Author Interview with Nicholas Maes
This week we’re talking about YA books. School starts next week for a lot of students and while we know that’s not the best news for a lot of people, we’ve got some books that will help get you through! Today we interviewed Nicholas Maes, author of the new release Transmigration.
Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.
Nicholas: My latest book is called Transmigration. It involves some creepy beings, a hero who discovers talents that both impress and alarm him, and a battle not so much between good and evil (although you could partly read it that way)as between two very differently marked populations. The story draws together elements that interest me (and make for an exciting adventure, or so I’d like to think): the supernatural (with a ‘scientific’ basis), evolution, some violence/drama, some detective work, travel (the story starts in Vancouver, moves to Europe and ends in New York City) and a final, monumental struggle. If I’m going to spend months devising a tale, I want it to have vigor, yes, and at the same time to bring new elements to the table. I hope I have accomplished this with Transmigration. It has certainly been a lot of fun to write.
Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?
Nicholas: It started with my daughter’s pet rabbit. One night, when I was putting it back in its cage (otherwise it would chew every wire in the room and electrocute itself – they really aren’t that clever, the poor beasts), I imagined for a moment how I’d react if it spoke to me – I even imagined Tony Soprano’s voice, “Hey, how’s it goin’?”. The idea stuck with me – not at all in the Dr. Doolittle sense – and I imagined circumstances in which such an event could happen, dramatic, life-altering ones for the characters involved. The thing about fantasy (in my opinion) is that it can’t seem too arbitrary – an author has to explain how the very strange is in actual fact reasonable, so I developed a systematic explanation for this event. This in turn led to the creation of different categories, hamax, wolph, hemindh etc – the world of Transmigration, in other words.
Caitlyn: Tell us a little about the overarching theme of your work, and why you felt compelled to explore it.
Nicholas: The overarching theme, I suppose, is the struggle to survive. In some ways, this is THE human theme; indeed, the theme behind all living things, and therefore it has a compelling character all its own.
I didn’t start out with this theme, however. At first (as I mentioned) I was looking for a dramatic occurrence – a talking rabbit – an event on which I could hang my narrative. When this rabbit led me to the idea of transmigration – soul transference – I realized I wasn’t yet out of the woods. A number of questions suggested themselves, who can transmigrate, why, what’s the point, what do these creatures want, who were they originally etc.? To avoid the trivial (e.g. alien invasions) and a black-and-white battle of us against them, I opted for something subtler – I don’t want to give the plot away so I’ll explain this with the word ‘Evolution’. The word evolution, in turn, gave rise to the theme of the struggle to survive. The theme of survival, moreover, cast the ‘enemy’ in a different light: he was now more sympathetic but at the same time just as frightening. This innovation also placed my hero in a difficult position because 1) I decided to make him a fusion of both populations and 2) I now placed him in a position where he had to choose sides; no wiffle-waffling was possible. A struggle for identity and the notion of loyalty (bot concepts that greatly interest me as well) assumed a central role in the book.
Caitlyn: Did you have a specific readership in mind when you wrote your book?
Nicholas: While I don’t write for any age group, I am conscious that Transmigration will be read more by the 11-15 set, say, than by anyone else. This assumption determines, partly, the sort of language I’ll use, how I’ll draw certain characters and the sort of themes and devices I’ll introduce. That being said, I hate the idea of drawing barriers between one age group and another. I’d love to think that Transmigration will tease the adult imagination as well as the adolescent one, even though the latter is the book’s most natural audience. Books are human artifacts. Once they’re put in circulation, there should be no limits placed on the people who ‘consume’ them. But time will tell if my book has this general appeal.
Caitlyn: What is your new project?
Nicholas: I’m working on a number of projects. I tend to develop an idea extensively, write the first one hundred pages or so, turn to something else, then return to the earlier stuff. This means I’m working on about five different projects now. One of them is an adult novel that is taking place five hundred years in the future. It has elements of a detective novel, of sci-fi and of something more reflective too – the name is Athanatos. Then there is my Y/A novel Quarry about a fictional realm, vaguely medieval, in which a young man is forced to run for his life in an attempt to escape people who are his nation’s heroes – this project strongly appeals to me. I am also maybe one-third through a Y/A novel (Bibliotheka) in which five high school students are touring Europe and stumble on a mystery, one that takes them to a wide variety of monuments and libraries; the ultimate goal is an ancient (and very tantalizing) mystery. I’ll mention one more project, Insurrection (again a Y/A work). It is based on an adult novel I finished two years ago: in it a fourteen year old decides he doesn’t like the world around him and, for the very best of reasons, tries to bring the system to its knees. I always thought of myself as the law and order type but this novel maybe proves I have a slight anarchist’s streak. There are other novels in the making, too, but I’ll keep them to myself for the moment. I drive to school every day, incidentally, (it is 13.4 kilometers each way) and this trip gives me plenty of time to think about ideas and scheme away.
Nicholas Maes is a high school history teacher and teaches classics at the University of Waterloo. His previous novels for young people are Crescent Star and Locksmith. Maes’s first Felix Taylor Adventure was Laughing Wolf, which was nominated for the Snow Willow Award. He lives in Toronto.