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Author Talk: October 2007

October 2007

Scott Westerfeld's EXTRAS --- the companion to his hugely popular Uglies trilogy --- is a science fiction novel about a futuristic society that completely revolves around fame.

In this interview, Westerfeld describes what inspired him to write about cultures in which fame and appearance mean everything and discusses how the phenomenon of online social networking worked its way into the story. He also explains the influence behind much of the dialogue in his books, shares his favorite fictional futuristic gadget and jokingly answers some of his readers' frequently asked questions.

Question: In EXTRAS, we meet Aya, and are introduced to a world different from the one we experienced with Tally Youngblood. Where did you get your ideas for Aya's world?

Scott Westerfeld: Sometimes when I'm talking to young people about my books, I get odd questions like, "Do you live in a mansion?" or "Do people recognize you on the street?" or even, "Do you know Paris Hilton?" They surprised me at first, but eventually I realized that these questions aren't so odd. Fame is hugely important to our culture, so it makes sense that teenagers would try to figure out where I, the visiting author, fit into the calculus of fame and celebrity. 

So I wondered how teens would think about these issues in theUglies world, now that Tally has shaken everything up. That began the process of creating a post-Pretty city where fame is everything. 

For the record: I have no mansions, no one recognizes me on the street --- unless I'm at an American Library Association convention --- and I don't know Paris Hilton, but I do know Garth Nix, which is way cooler. 

Q: Both Tally and Aya live in cities that are similar to, yet very different from, the ones we live in today. When you are creating these new environments, how do you decide which characteristics to keep from the real world and which ones to create?

SW: Even if it's set in the future, science fiction is always about the present. Usually how it talks about the present is to exaggerate certain trends of the current era, making them more extreme and obvious. Where the original Uglies trilogy was focused on today's obsession with plastic surgery, EXTRAS is all about our obsession with fame. The Uglies world already had social networking software, which Tally and her friends used for everyday communication. It was pretty easy to imagine people turning that technology into a way to track reputations and status. 

Q: Unlike Tally, Aya lives in a city where your online status dictates your social status. Is this a commentary on the MySpace.com/Facebook/etc. phenomenon?

SW: Well, Aya's city doesn't really distinguish between online and offline status. Every word you say is monitored by the city interface, so every time you talk about someone, watch them on TV, or even hum a tune they wrote, you bump their "face rank." It's a perfect melding of online and offline reputation. And by the way, every citizen has their own "feed," or TV station. 

Of course, that same melding of the online and real worlds is what's happening in the present with social networking software. Teenagers are in effect putting their lives online. Those who are the most obsessive at social networking become celebrities, which brings all the pitfalls of celebrity: loss of privacy, loss of anonymity, and even a loss of self. 

Of course, like my character Aya, they're surprisingly savvy about the rules and techniques of fame. They know how it works and how to work it. 

Q: We've heard that you use Australian slang as inspiration for some of the words in your books. Is this true?

SW: In Australia, "spagbol" means spaghetti bolognese, and "littlies" and "crumblies" are used in some part of the country to mean little kids and old people. Indeed, the whole trick of shortening words and adding "ie" to the end is very, um, Aussie. 

Here's a real Australian sentence: "After brekkie we can open our Chrissie prezzies." I'm not kidding. 

Q: What is your favorite "new invention" from either the Uglies trilogy or EXTRAS?

SW: Well, nothing beats hoverboards, but my favorite new thing in the EXTRAS universe is a "hoverball rig." A rig is basically a full-body suit that allows you to fly without a board. As the name suggests, hoverball rigs were invented to wear while playing a sport, but, like hoverboards, rigs get used in all kinds of unexpected and deviant ways. 

Q: What are you working on now?

SW: It's a new trilogy called Leviathan, which is set in an alternate 1914, at the beginning of the Great War (what we call World War I). It features living airships, walking mechanical war machines, and loads of romance. Plus, it's going to be heavily illustrated by a brilliant artist I've found, almost halfway to graphic novel. 

That's all I can tell you right now...