The Children’s Book Review | July 24, 2016
Denise Mealy: The SEEKER series has become one of my all-time favorites. The story immediately draws you in, and is unique enough to demand second and third readings. We’d love to know a little more about the series and you as an author. Let’s get started!
Arwen Elys Dayton: First of all, thank you so much for reading the books! I’m delighted to do this interview.
Thank you so much for agreeing to an interview. I’m such a fan of your books!
Disruptor is the final (?) book in the SEEKER series. Can you tell us what inspired you to write the series?
This question is akin to “where do you get your ideas?” and I’m afraid I don’t have a very satisfying answer for either. One day Quin Kincaid showed up in my mind and she refused to leave. It took several years for the full story to take shape, but once Quin had taken up residence in my head, I knew that I would have to write the story—it was almost like Quin kept kicking at the inside of my skull until I paid attention.
Can you explain your love of Scottish and Asian culture, and how you uniquely combined them in to the SEEKER series?
I’ve always loved the aesthetic of Asia, particularly Japan. In Japan you have the dichotomy between beautiful, traditional order and beauty, which you still find in the countryside and in certain parts of the cities, and the gaudy, futuristic tech/sci-fi parts of the culture. I wanted Shinobu MacBain, half-Japanese, half-Scottish Seeker, to have inherited a little of both from his mother’s side of the family.
Scotland I love for the fact that much of the country feels as though it hasn’t changed in a thousand years. The Seekers have what appear to be modern—or even futuristic—tools and weapons, and yet, they, too, haven’t changed much in a thousand years.
I’ve mentioned Japan, because it’s part of Shinobu’s background, but of course it’s to Hong Kong that Quin escapes when she leaves the Scottish estate. From almost the beginning, I knew that Quin, raised in remote Northern Scotland, would end up in the crowded, ever changing city that is Hong Kong. It was the opposite of her home in so many ways, which could—almost—allow her to lose herself and start over.
The last book has a very unique protagonist/antagonist relationship. Can you tell us about a bit about your antagonists, and how those antagonists changed over the course of the series?
My personal philosophy is that there aren’t many “truly bad” people in the world. More often you find people who are varying degrees of callous, irresponsible, unthinking, inconsiderate, and ruthless. And let’s be honest, we all have had some of those characteristics to some degree at some point in our lives. Add to this the idea that an action is good or bad depending on whose point of view you take…and I think you can see that I have a fair amount of sympathy for my antagonists. I see them on a continuum from very bad (I think, without spoilers, that I can put the Middle Dread on that side of the spectrum) to less bad (perhaps Briac and then John fit here?) and then you can choose where you would place everyone else. Even Quin, whom I, of course, care deeply about, has done a lot of bad things.
The principal antagonist of the whole series (I’m trying to be careful about spoilers here) has mentally “infected” several other characters, with the result that we have a few pretenders to the role of antagonist. I enjoyed muddying the waters this way and over the course of the books, we have to select out who we think is really bad and who is still salvageable.
The Young Dread is my absolute favorite character in all of the books. Can you give us a sneak peak in to how you devised the Dreads, and Maud specifically?
When you work as a novelist, you spend huge amounts of time by yourself, usually in a small room somewhere. If that goes on for too many days in a row, I find myself getting a bit strange and hermit-like. It takes me a little while to get back into the stream of family conversation and I feel truly disconnected until things click back to normal.
The Dreads’ lives are like that, but to an extreme degree. It might take them days or weeks to experience time in the normal way, and therefore, interacting with ordinary people is an uncomfortable proposition. For Maud, who began the life of a Dread when she was only a young child, she has few points of reference for normal life. She is vastly superior to a typical person in so many ways, and yet she is completely under-developed in others. I wanted to explore what that would feel like, and how she would change when exposed to the world for extended lengths of time.
Who is your favorite character, and why? Which relationship did you root for the most?
Gosh, it’s like choosing among your children! I generally love the character I happen to be writing at the moment, but if I have to make a global choice, then, like you, I must choose Maud. She’s a character I often felt sorry for, who nevertheless would not have accepted pity from anyone. Of the more minor characters, I love Nott, unwashed, unruly boy that he is.
As to relationships…that one is tough! Will Shinobu be worthy of Quin’s love? Will John become something greater that his selfish self? Can Maud learn to connect to humanity? As an author you live for all these questions!
The SEEKER series is incredibly intricate, and I assume you plot every little thing. Is that true?
Hmm…yes and no. Within a single novel, I usually plot down to very specific details. When you have four or more story lines intertwining, it’s very helpful to figure out that dance ahead of time. But for the whole series, I had a general sense of where everything and everyone would end up, but I did not have all of the small pieces worked out ahead of time. I had to uncover those along the way.
What are some of your tips for plotting such richly textured narratives?
I find that if I outline too much, to too great a level of detail, I suck the life out of the story. I want to have room to discover the emotion and even some of the action “in the moment” and to be surprised by connections I didn’t plan out in advance.
On the other hand, I don’t want to be wandering about, writing chapters that will end up having no relevance to the overall plot. It’s a funny balance, and to achieve it, I often create a kind of “bible” for who my characters are and the backstory of each one, usually including key, formative moments in their lives (even if these don’t make it into the book), and also the rules and context of my world. If I have those in place, I will often find that the narrative and plot resolve themselves very nicely just using the pieces I already have on the board, so to speak.
Nott, in Traveler, was an example of this. I knew generally what Nott would be doing and how he would be getting in the way of the other characters, but much of what is in the story grew naturally out of the discovery of Nott’s character—a dirty, conniving, resentful boy who begins to get glimpses of a slightly different life. In the third book, he becomes instrumental in a number of ways that I didn’t anticipate.
Are you ever surprised by your characters?
I was completely surprised by John. He starts out, essentially, as a bad and untrustworthy person. He is manipulating people—even people he cares about. And yet he wouldn’t let me leave him like that. It was interesting to watch him try to change himself as the series unfolded. I did not expect him to end up where he did.
What’s next for the SEEKER series, or is it at an end?
Yes, it’s at an end—for now! I wanted to tell the story of Quin and Shinobu and John and Maud, and these three books do that. Of course, the three books opened up a lot of other possibilities for stories in the greater Seeker world (Fiona and Briac as teenagers? The other Young Dreads throughout history? The Scottish estate after the end of Disruptor?). I don’t rule out revisiting at some point in the future.
What was your journey to becoming an author? Did you write many books before the SEEKER series?
I had two novels published before Seeker. Both are science fiction, and one, Resurrection, became a cult hit, which was a surprise and a pleasure. I’ve always written stories, though. When I was eight or nine, I used to write them longhand and force the rest of my class to listen to them at read-aloud. Around age twenty, I got very upset with my parents for not keeping any of those early stories, but on further reflection, that was probably for the best. I’m pretty sure they were awful.
How many words do you write on an average day? How long does it take you to draft a book?
I call myself a “binge writer.” When I’m working on the first draft of a book, I try to write between 2000 and 5000 words a day. Usually I’ll stop after three or four days and read through and edit what’s been written so far, and then I’ll draft another chunk of the book, and so on. By the time a full first draft is done, I’ve been over the story quite a few times. That first full draft might take as little as three months to as much as nine months—sort of depends on how tricky the plot is. And of course, it takes longer to achieve a draft that I’m ready to turn in to my publisher. I seem to be getting a little bit faster, though, which is nice!
Where is your favorite place to write? Do you have a special hangout? Rituals?
I have a beautiful writing studio that looks out onto leafy eucalyptus trees. In the afternoons it is drenched with sunlight and it’s an amazing place to work.
My main writing ritual is to disconnect from the Internet and hide my phone. Why is this so hard? I realized a few years ago that facing a blank page is uncomfortable, but that the discomfort is actually valuable—it helps me get to the story. If I let myself look at social media “just for a minute” to make me feel more comfortable, I never get to the story. So I guess embracing boredom and discomfort is part of my writing ritual. Oh, also chocolate!
Who is the first person to read your drafts? Do you have a critique group, or do you go it alone?
Usually my agent is the first person to read my drafts, but I also have a group of friends who will read concurrently with my agent. It kind of depends on the project. Sometimes I’ll look for someone I don’t know so well to be the first reader. I am pretty strict with myself about not having anyone read a manuscript until I’m really happy with it. Otherwise I’m going to get comments about stuff I already know needs to be fixed.
Long hand or computer? Antique hipster typewriter?
I draft both on a computer and longhand. Often longhand is great for getting started, because it’s harder to read what I’ve just written and so I don’t worry about it and let the ideas flow.
I do own an old Underwood typewriter! My kids come in occasionally and type short stories on it for me, and they think it’s pretty funny that you can’t fix typos.
What’s next for you?
I just finished a new manuscript which will be a novel in six parts—a series of interconnected stories set in the near future which explore life for young people in the age of genetic modification. I’m very excited about it!!
What were the last few books you loved?
I loved Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. Great mix of sci-fi and thriller and teen drama. And I really loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik, which I read a while ago but which I am still thinking about.
Written by Arwen Elys Dayton
Publisher’s Synopsis: For readers of Sarah J. Maas and of Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy comes Disruptor, the sequel to Traveler, the thrilling conclusion to the Seeker series.
Quin has spent her life as her father’s pawn. She was trained to kill and manipulated to guarantee her family’s power. And now that she’s broken free of that life, she’s found herself trapped again, hostage to a plot that has been centuries in the making.
It’s taken generations for the pieces to come together, and finally all is in place. Her best friend Shinobu’s mind has been corrupted, the Young Dread has aligned with her enemy John, and the bloodthirsty Watchers are being awakened and gathered. Now there is nothing that can stop the force of time.
But Quin will no longer be a pawn. Quin is a Seeker. She stands for light in a shadowy world. She will face the vengeance of the past and its enemies and save herself and the ones she loves, or she will die trying.
Ages 14+ | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0-385-74411-9
“Fans of Arwen Elys Dayton’s epic SEEKER series will be glued to their reading chairs with this sweeping finale.”—Denise Mealy, The Children’s Book Review
About Arwen Elys Dayton
Arwen Elys Dayton is the author of the Seeker series: Seeker, Traveler, Disruptor, and the e-novella The Young Dread. She spends months doing research for her stories. Her explorations have taken her around the world to places like the Great Pyramid at Giza, Hong Kong and its islands, and many ruined castles in Scotland. Arwen lives with her husband and their three children on West Coast of the United States. You can visit her and learn more about the Seeker series at arwendayton.com and follow @arwenelysdayton on Twitter and Instagram
This interview was conducted by Denise Mealy. Discover more books like Disruptor: Seeker: Book 3, by Arwen Elys Dayton, by checking out our reviews and articles tagged with Adventure, Arwen Elys Dayton, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Seeker Series, and Writing.