A Chat With YA Author Georgia Clark:
On her New Novel, "Parched", Environmentalism And The Challenges Of Life As A Writer
By Rebecca Lane
Up and coming writer Georgia Clark graced us with an exclusive interview, in which we had the chance to pick her brain on anything and everything. Her newest release, Parched, a young adult dystopian novel, explores a world in the distant future where the privileged live in a utopian city, Eden, inside a protected bio-dome and the rest are forced to survive in the unforgiveable wasteland that is the rest of the planet, called the badlands. The heroine, Tess, once a member of Eden, decides to join a rebel group in the Badlands in their quest to reveal the true evil lurking beneath the false beauty of Eden. We chatted about not only Parched, but also her newbie days in Australia working as a young film and magazine writer (one of her past jobs being with the wildly popular Australian soapie, Home and Away), her recent work with Showtime, as well as her most recent writing project, The Regulars, among many other things. Getting down to even the nitty gritty details of what it takes to be a successful writer, Georgia shares with us stories about her fascinating life and work giving us a unique glimpse into her world as a fiction writer.
Who or what inspired you to become an author?
I guess I just always liked telling stories. I liked being told stories, having people tell me stories, and I liked telling them. I studied film making at university. I wanted to become a director and so was sort of screenwriting and filmmaking, and made a couple of top films. That was really fun, but very expensive and tricky to do. You had to kind of corral endless amounts of people to help you and be around you. I was doing writing as well on the side, and it became apparent that writing was something I could do often, but all the time, any time. I didn't need to talk anyone into trying to help me; it was really cheap. And I could still create stories that were in my head. So, it was something that I just sort of ended up falling into more. And then it’s also sort of like, once you write your first book, once you get through the slog of it, because you know it's a hard thing to do, then you sort of get a bit - it’s the adrenalin of it - and realizing it’s like, “ah I want to do it again, but do it better,” you just want to keep doing it.
What led you to write this Parched?
I’ve always wanted to write a sci fi. I love sci fi, like pop sci fi. I really enjoy stories set in the future. They’re sort of a fun way to work with metaphor and allegory and the sort of things that are going on now. I just really wanted to write the kind of story that I really personally enjoyed, which is rollercoaster rides, thrilling stories, passionate groups of characters trying to fight for something that’s right. I was a big fan of the Hunger Games and just wanted to write something that was sort of that electric and had a big story arch.
And the story I feel like came in some part from when I was nineteen. I went backpacking to Mexico with my then girlfriend for three months. It was the first time I’d left Australia and it was a really eye opening experience. I saw the world for what it was for the first time and was out of my comfort zone and sort of, you know, experiencing culture clash and language barriers. And it was such a formative experience.
I sort of realized after I finished the book that I put my main character, Tess, in the same situation. She’s a young girl, who was brought up in a city called Eden, which is a beautiful paradise of a city, and thrust unceremoniously into this broiling badlands and has to learn to fend for herself. That was just something that I kind of, I guess, went through and I was always interested in putting a character through that. And then you know how it sort of changes you and you develop empathy that you didn't realize you would, and you know a connection to a place, which is sort of what happens to Tess as well. I guess I was just always interested in AI. I wanted to learn more about AI, so I wrote a book about it, which forced me to research it and understand it.
The premise of Parched is that humans have used up most of the world’s natural resources. Is this a topic you are passionate about – environmentalism, global warming, etc… and wanted to highlight?
Yeah, yeah I definitely am. I definitely feel concerned, angry, and upset at the ways in which capitalism destroys the environment and places a greater emphasis on profit than people and the environment. I mean, it’s just something that’s happening so obviously, which I think is one of the worst things. It’s just unashamedly happening before our eyes, and I feel like a lot of people—there’s a degree to which you can just feel powerless. I mean, there are things that you can do in your own way and that I do in my own life, trying to reduce how much you consume. I’m a vegetarian and switching lights off and things. But it’s like sometimes it just feels a little bit like I can do all of those small things, but the reality is we live in an aggressive capitalist society that is destroying parts of the forests and oceans at such a staggering rate. I mean, it’s just like gotten out of control. And so, yeah, I definitely feel really like we have to kind of quite radically change our ways and change the powers that the governments give to corporations. And sort of start acting in green ways pretty fast, otherwise we’re going to end up living in the badlands like most people in Parched are.
Is anything in your book based on real life experiences, or is it purely all from imagination?
Yeah, well, like I said, it’s sort of based on the experience of living in Australia for the first time when I was nineteen. I was in my first year at university and I got involved with the left wing movement, different kinds of left wing movements. Just like Tess found Kudzu, and became sort of like radicalized, I was part of the women’s movement, the clean movement, and the environment movement. You know, basically, if there was a cause, I was there at a rally.
And it was a really exciting time I guess politically, but more like socially because I was meeting people that I was connecting with who were on the left. And I wasn't politicized in high school. I didn't even really think I knew what capitalism really was. But, so at university I kind of decided to understand more of those bigger ideas and meet people who were passionate about making change and seeing unfairness and working to combat it.
It was thrilling, you know. It was exciting. That’s basically what you want to be doing at university or college. And you’re young enough to think that you really can change the world. It’s such a fresh, exciting, young, cool time, and I always wanted to write something where—I loved stories about revolutionaries. They’re passionate and flawed and they have their own agendas and things like that. I am really attracted to those kinds of characters, to idealists.
Which character speaks the loudest to you? Do any of them clamor to be heard over the others?
I guess Tess is the character. Tess is the “I” character, like “I do this” and “I do that.” She’s on the radar. I definitely feel like I relate to Tess. And Tess is a lot tougher than I am. Physically she’s probably stronger than I am, even though she’s only sixteen. I can relate to her in just feeling like, well, everyone’s sort of felt misunderstood and alone and that they want to shut themselves off at different times from parts of the world. So I definitely relate to Tess.
I love Ling. She’s such a badass and just more of a like no nonsense. Like Tess has a sense of humor, but Ling is far more… slightly more humorless, but hopefully in an empathetic way. And I love Hunter and I love Izzy as well.
In my early drafts, Tess’s best friend Izzy from Eden, her old best friend, was kind of a more prominent character, but as I worked through she got cut back a little bit. But she is a fun character as well. I like how she just represents the “don’t worry about it, let’s have a good time,” kind of friend. And she’s fun and sweet and sexy and silly. And I always am attracted to those naughty best friends, best friends that’ll get you into trouble, best friends that like breaking the rules.
But Tess has a realization when she comes back that she originally thought that she and Izzy were rebels, and in their sort of small ways they would kind of break the many laws of Eden. But she had this realization that they weren’t rebels at all. They were just part of the system. They were essentially complicit with everything going on, and its Kudzu who is actually rebellious. And that's what she’s attracted to being a part of.
What is your next project?
The next project I’m working on is a women’s fiction novel. It’s my first adult fiction and it’s set in Brooklyn, NY where I live. And it’s about three female characters in their early twenties, Evie, Willow, and Krista. And it's a book that explores the theme of beauty, beauty standards in our society right now. And it’s satirical and a critique of beauty, but it's a funny book. I’m aiming for truthful, humorous, a little bit dark, and it's a contemporary novel set in 2014. It has a magic realist premise to it. So, there’s a lot of things that I’m playing with that I haven’t before. I’ve nearly finished the first draft. And it's a really fun project and speaks more obliquely to my life and my friends and things that I’m thinking about and have gone through in the here and now. I think after writing a dystopia, I was just craving to be in the real world for a little bit, so this is my real world experiment.
What would you like your readers to know about this book or you in general?
I guess, just, if they’re looking for a fun action adventure with a kickass female hero at the center of it that explores revolts and romance and life in a world with very little water, then this is the book for them.
I noticed you previously worked for the incredibly popular show, Home and Away, as their online producer. Can you tell me a little about your work in Australia before becoming a fulltime writer?
I had a lot of fun writing gigs in Australia before I moved to NYC: it's a great place to be a big fish in a small pond. I produced online content for the 'soapie,' Home & Away, as well as the first season of So You Think You Can Dance and the 3,000th season of Australian Idol. I edited a weekly music magazine called The Brag, which meant I was on the door for every music gig in Sydney for a few years. I wrote for teen magazines and women's magazines, the latter of which is experience I'm drawing on for my new novel, The Regulars.
Why did you decide to relocate to the U.S. and what has been some of the biggest changes and challenges you’ve faced in terms of now being based in a foreign country (in the wild jungles of New York no less)?
I decided to move just for fun! I had fallen in love with Brooklyn, and wanted to challenge myself; have an experience. Obviously it's hard being away from friends and family and the long golden shores of Sydney's incredible beaches. We don't really have a winter in Sydney either, so the polar vortexes certainly test my patience! It also took me a long time to find good freelance work here in NYC: it's so competitive and so many people are willing to work for free. Luckily, I now have a great job, and we're coming into summer: hooray!
As well as writing, you are also working for Showtime. What is it like working for them, and what does your work entail?
Yes, I work as a freelance consultant in the digital media department, helping produce an app called SHO Sync, which is a second screen experience app. Check it out on iTunes! I love my job: I'm a fan of the network, and it offers a lot of flexibility to get my writing hours in. I do recommend to people wanting to be authors to find a well-paid part-time or freelance career: it takes a long time to be a full-time author (consider your first advance might be four figures for years of work), and if you take the pressure off your writing needing to pay the bills (at first), you'll feel less stressed and more free.
What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
My advice for an aspiring author…umm ok let me give you my top three tips. So number one: commit to a regular writing time, a writing time that works for you. So, if you’re a night owl, don't make it 7 am. If you like getting up early, then don't make it midnight. Like a time that you’re going to realistically be awake and you don't have anything else going on, and you can sit in front of the computer. And at least once a week, if not more, in a space that isn’t your bedroom and that is quiet and you won’t be interrupted. So, the first is just starting a habit of doing it, making it a habit, and making it a habit that you don't just decide to break because you don't feel like it. It has to be like, if you actually want to write a novel, like a long form novel, then it is a job. In the same way that you approach your work, like you don't just decide not to go to work because you don't feel like it, you go every day because you have to and that's kind of what writing is. You have to make it a regular thing that you don't have to bargain with yourself every time to get yourself there. So the first one is make a regular time that you commit to.
The second is start working on a story in a genre that you read and that you like. So, don't start writing a YA because everyone’s writing YAs. And you have never read a YA, but you feel like it might be easy to write and sell one. Because A: there is so much competition from people that are passionate and well read in the genre. And B: you won’t reach readers, like you won’t be speaking to readers because you don't know enough about it. And C: you won’t stay with it because it’s really hard. I mean, writing a book is really tough. It kicks your ass, and you’re only going to stay with a project like that if you actually really enjoy it. You feel like you have to tell this story. It's a story that's inside of you. It’s crawling to get out, must get out, and it’s something that you personally enjoy. So, if you read mysteries and you love mysteries, write a mystery story. If you love literary fiction and you love stories that are, you know, sort of beautiful, whimsical thoughts on character, write that. Write something that you know and that you love, and you’re going to stick with.
And 3: I’d say…join a writing group. Join a writing group. Find some other people who are working on something like you are, so that you have, you become accountable to other people. Being a novelist is really isolating. And I’ve kind of developed a work ethic for myself, but it took a long time. And I feel like having other people to read your work and get feedback on it and to encourage you to keep going, you won’t as easily give up. Because at first it’s terrible and everything you write is terrible. And you just need other people to kind of like cheer you on and you can cheer them on and sticking with it. So, I would say that's my three pieces of advice. It would be just to find a schedule and to stick with it, start working with a story in a genre that you know and love and join a writing group.
And just for fun, what is your favorite quote?
I read a quote just the other day. I’m thinking a lot about beauty and things to do with beauty, and this was a quote from Tina Fey that I thought was funny. She says, “When it comes to beauty we must always remember the most important rule, which is who cares?”