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August 3rd, 2015

Phillip Sallinger is blind. He also has telekinesis, and can move objects with his mind. Phillip is just one of the disabled teen superheroes in Jeremy Scott’s debut YA novel, THE ABLES, which features four friends in the Special Education program at a superhero high school who have to save the world from impending evil. Below, we talk to Jeremy about his inspiration for the book, his favorite superhero and what exactly fills the old suitcases he has lying around his house. What inspired you to write THE ABLES?

Jeremy Scott: I grew up reading superhero comics, and have always been fascinated with that world. I knew I wanted to write a novel about superheroes, and I knew I wanted it to feature individuals with limitations on their powers. I wanted to explore what it would be like to be more “super” than regular human beings, but also not quite fully a superhero.

TRC: THE ABLES is narrated by Philip, a blind boy. Was it a challenge to write the majority of the novel without using visual descriptions?

JS: Yes and no. It was tough at times, but I liked that. I like to challenge myself, I suppose. On the first writing, I definitely had to stop myself a few times and rework a scene or a moment --- it’s very easy to slip into describing things visually, as a writer. But that’s sort of the point of the whole thing, right? It sort of mirrors some of the challenges the characters face with their limitations. And forces the reader to stay aware of that. At least I hope it does.

TRC: Phil's world is made up of superheroes and villains. But, certain characters in THE ABLES emphasize that the world isn't as black and white as Phil sees it. Do you believe one side is evil and the other is good in THE ABLES?

JS: Within the story of the book itself, I think there are a handful of characters that are truly good or truly evil, certainly. But one of the themes of the book is that even good people can make bad decisions or have darker moments. Even terrible people can have good in them. The world of the book is very much intended to be gray.

TRC: In the world of THE ABLES, people don’t understand and sometimes fear those with Down syndrome. Do you think that people in the real world behave in the same way?

JS: I definitely think so. Hopefully that’s improving. It’s easier to educate people today via the Internet and social media. But sadly, people tend to initially fear or avoid things they don’t understand, and it goes beyond Down’s Syndrome to other disabilities, mental and physical.

TRC: What do you think we can do to promote more understanding of those with disabilities?

JS: I think we need to create more opportunity for disabled individuals to have a voice, creatively. I’m sure there are many ways to promote better understanding of disabilities through educational programs and charitable organizations, but I’m a creative person. I’m not an educator or a business person. I write. So my first inclination is toward the creative arts. There’s an organization in Nashville called the VSA that works with disabled individuals in the creative arts --- painting, dance, all sorts of stuff. I love that. There’s a purity and clarity of theme and thought that can be found through creative expression. We don’t foster creativity enough with young people.

TRC: Can you tell us a bit about your creative process when writing THE ABLES? Did you write it all at once or did it take a long time? Did you do research on disabilities?

JS: I wrote the first draft over the course of about 8 months. I work best at night, so I’d write for 2-3 hours each night. But that was 9 years ago. There have been many rewrites and edits since.

I did do research on disabilities. The book doesn’t contain a lot of detail in that regard, but it was important to me to understand what I was writing about. I didn’t want to take the chance of something not ringing true.

TRC: Who are your favorite superheroes and villains?

JS: Batman, Batman, Batman, and… Batman. I was a Batman kid, and that kid never grew up. I’d probably list Joker as one of my favorite villains as well. Outside of classic comic book characters, I’d put David Dunn and Mr. Glass from Unbreakable up there --- that’s a movie I love that often goes overlooked in those “best superhero movies” discussions. Both those characters have such great authenticity in their motives and backstories.

TRC: What were your favorite books growing up?

JS: In terms of classic literature, there were a few books I read in school that just smacked me in the face and stayed with me: A SEPARATE PEACE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE TIME MACHINE and FAHRENHEIT 451. In terms of just broader reading, I’ve read lots of stuff that I loved. I had a Choose Your Own Adventure phase, anArchie phase…I think I read all the original Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton novels. Lots of C.S. Lewis.

TRC: You're the co-creator and narrator of Cinema Sins. Was it difficult for you to transition from writing comedic movie critiques to writing a novel?

JS: Not at all. It was a welcome change of pace. I’ve always had wildly varying interests as a writer. For a while it was all poems and songs. Then screenplays (terrible ones). I worked as a writer for online publications for a while. So I’m always happy to change things up and write in a different style or tone. And maybe give people a chance to see a side of me that’s not an exaggerated nitpicker.

TRC: Are you working on anything new (a sequel to THE ABLES, perhaps)?

JS: I have three projects in very early outline stage. One would be a sequel to THE ABLES, yes. If I’m fortunate enough to continue their story, there are probably fourAbles stories in total that I’d love to tell.

The other two are just ideas I’ve had recently that have resonated with me; one is a detective story and the other is an adventure, both set different eras in early American history.

TRC: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

JS: Write a lot. Write some things you don’t like writing. Take a job where writing is part or all of your responsibility. Write through writer’s block --- I always open a new document and start writing something very different from what I was stuck on, and it usually helps jog my brain back into a creative flow. It’s okay to write things you end up thinking are bad; I have suitcases full of old writing the world will never see. Being a good writer takes practice, but I believe anyone can do it.