K. B. Hoyle is the award-winning author of The Breeder Cycle and The Gateway Chronicles for teen readers. (You can find reviews of both series on our Youth Reads page.) I interviewed her by e-mail about her current and future projects.
GRD: Where did the idea for The Breeder Cycle come from?
KBH: The idea came to me late one night after a writing session. I often write late at night because I teach during the day and have young children, but I also suffer from terrible insomnia when I’m writing. It’s difficult for me to turn my brain off and fall asleep, even when I’m exhausted. I often, therefore, need to spend a half hour or more perusing social media before bed to get my mind off the story so I can try and fall asleep easier.
I was skimming Facebook at probably 2 in the morning, and I happened upon an article about social developments in the U.K. (or something like that—sounds stimulating, doesn’t it?), and something about it just caught my attention.I became immediately impassioned over issues of human exceptionalism, the value of all human life, the dangers of radical environmentalism, and the long-term implications of many of the social ideas and programs we take for granted today. Because I’m a storyteller, though, and not a politician or a lobbyist or a social reformer, I spent the rest of the night envisioning and sketching out the basic outline of what I thought our world would look like a couple hundred years from now following the logical progression of some of the things I had read in the article. And then I made a list of topics to research—alongside all the usual story development work—and I slowly got down to it, knowing that it would be at least two years before I would have a chance to actually start writing the first book, “Breeder.”
GRD: Dystopian fiction is a hot genre, especially for YA readers. How did you manage to come up with unique ideas and characters to contribute to an already crowded field?
KBH: Part of my aim was to react against some of the current trends while also swimming in the current with others. For example, I’ve chosen to write in first person present tense, which has definitely proven to be the voice of choice for most modern YA dystopians. I’ve also chosen to tell my story through the eyes of a female protagonist and to include a love triangle. These are all elements that hook readers looking for the “next ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent.’”
From there, though, I wanted to make sure my take was unique. Although my story follows a female protagonist (Pria), she doesn’t arrive a fully formed hero, and she is definitely not a “special snowflake” (as is the popular expression). Although the primary male character (Pax) tells her she is special, it quickly becomes apparent that Pria is along for the ride. She doesn’t have any great fighting skills or any particular leadership abilities that make her primed to save the world—she is almost like a baby bird leaving the nest for the first time, and it’s in her inadequacies that I think my readers really identify with her. As a reader myself, I love a good dynamic character who has to grow through faults, and that’s how I’ve designed Pria.
Also unique, I think, in the flood of modern dystopias is how I’ve delved back into the sorts of themes the older dystopias used to address. “Breeder” has more often been compared to “Brave New World,” “1984,” and “The Giver” than “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent.” I want to explore what makes us human, so although I set “Breeder” in Young Adult trappings, I’m not telling a story about plucky teenagers overcoming an oppressive adult regime and setting everything to rights. I’m telling a story about people, some of whom happen to be young.
The third significant thing that makes The Breeder Cycle unique is that I promise—have promised my readers since I started this series—that my story will end with hope. I fully admit this is a major reaction against some of the endings of the other popular series out there, and it’s not meant to be critical of them, it’s just that I want to do things differently. I believe that, as a Christian, I should offer a eucatastrophe at the end—not get to the end of the story and cry out, “Meaningless! It’s all meaningless, and everything is awful!” So, without spoiling any of the particulars, I promise at least a partially happy ending.
GRD: Your new book, “Criminal,” tackles some weighty themes dealing with human nature. How do you find ways to express these in ways young readers can understand and grapple with?
KBH: Young readers feel weighty themes in a story, and that’s how they grapple with them. They are very empathetic readers, and thus it’s easy to bypass the thinking part of their brains for the impact you want to make. They often feel, for example, injustice in a story. “But that’s not fair!” they might say. “Why isn’t it fair?” an adult might ask. “I don’t know . . . it just isn’t!” And then they go on to wrestle with it from there, but in their hearts, they already feel the injustice. This is what makes them teachable in a literature classroom; it’s what makes their worldviews malleable. They lack the skepticism and the “over-thinking” tendencies of adults, so in a way it’s easy for me, as a writer, to slip in weighty thematic material and present it in ways that they will either emotionally connect with or emotionally recoil from (and then, thus, have to try and figure out why). It kind of makes me feel a little sneaky, and perhaps it is a bit manipulative, but every writer has an agenda beyond basic storytelling, and no story is ever told in a worldview vacuum.
GRD: What are some of the best responses you’ve had from your readers?
KBH: Of course I love hearing from readers who say I’m their favorite author, or that they’ve read my books several times through. But my favorite responses are when readers take the time to tell me my books “really made them think” or helped them through difficult times. Over and over readers have told me about “Breeder,” in particular, that it has made them consider where we (America) are headed as a nation—particularly with how we value (or devalue) human life, and how easily the future world I’ve created for the story could come to pass. This has been extremely encouraging as it means I’m accomplishing what I set out to do.
GRD: “Breeder” has been getting some major recognition in recent months! Tell us about that.
KBH: It has! And I’ve been so grateful! I won four awards for “Breeder” in roughly 12 months. Literary Classics International Book Awards gave me their Seal of Approval back in September 2015, and then one month later, I was awarded their Silver Award for Young Adult Science Fiction—a much more prestigious award. Shortly after that, I was awarded the 5-Star Seal from Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards, and just this September, I found out I won the Bronze Award for Young Adult Science Fiction from Readers’ Favorite, as well. It has been quite a whirlwind!
GRD: Can you give us some hints about where Pria goes from here?
KBH: I am working on the third and final book in the series right now: “Clone.” The final book takes Pria into her biggest physical challenge—confronting the leadership of the Unified World Order—but most importantly into her biggest mental and emotional challenges as she comes face to face with what it truly means to be human. She has to reconcile abstract ideas with flesh and blood, and I think that’s the great test of any worldview: How does it hold up in the real world? I do promise lots of twists and turns, which my readers have come to expect from me, I think, and hopefully an ending that will make everyone want to go back and start reading the story all over again.
GRD: Do you have any ideas yet for future series?
KBH: I’m always working on the next thing! I actually have two future series in the works. The first book of my next series—which is not a linear series, but rather standalone novels connected by a common universe—will be coming out sometime in the coming months, although I don’t have a release date yet. Titled “The Girl in the Sea,” it’s a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and is the first of my upcoming Fairy Tale Collection. Secondly, I am working on a middle-grade science fantasy series. That one is still in the note taking phase, but I’ve been working on building the story for about three years, and I’m excited to get to work on it. It will be five books long and focus on a boy named Orion who discovers he doesn’t belong on Earth when, one day (seemingly out of the blue), some creatures show up and begin hunting him.
GRD: What are some tips you would give to aspiring novelists?
KBH: I always tell aspiring novelists—and they often don’t want to hear this—that one of the best things they can do for themselves is learn the craft of storytelling before writing a book. Writing is so, so much more than just sitting down and spewing words onto a page, and writing well and storytelling well are two entirely different things (and it’s important to be able to do both well). A good editor can help you learn to write well, but often you can only learn to story-tell well through focused study. I did this by studying the books and methods of my favorite novelists. As with any other discipline, study and practice and time must go in to perfecting the craft. You can’t cut corners with novel writing and expect to shoot to greatness any more than an artist, musician, athlete . . . you name it. Put in the time to do things properly. Even if you’re never rewarded with a Big 5 publishing contract—this is a hard industry, after all—you will reward yourself and your readers with a better product and knowledge and skill in your craft.
Image copyright Paul Carby.
Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.