I’m so happy to host author Marcus Sedgwick at the Eastern Penn Points Café today! He’s the winner of a Printz Award for MIDWINTERBLOOD and two Printz Honors for REVOLVER and THE GHOSTS OF HEAVEN, and his books have been shortlisted for over forty other awards. Marcus is here to talk about the upcoming US release of his YA thriller, SAINT DEATH.
I’ll be giving a FREE copy to a random commenter on May 1, 2017, so be sure to enter yourself to win SAINT DEATH, which is already getting rave reviews!
The Times UK’s Alex O’Connell says….
Marcus Sedgwick’s timing is immaculate. This gripping thriller set on the Mexican-US border — I read it in one glorious gulp — asks the questions of our day: what sort of country do we want to live in; can we have a free market without freedom of movement; is it better to die a good man than live as a bad one? Yes, this isn’t a larky read, although the heavy subject matter could not slow down the pace if it tried.
LB: Hi Marcus, and welcome to the Eastern Penn Points Cafe! Thanks for traveling all the way from the French Alps to spend time with us today. As we settle into our comfy booth, can we get you something to drink?
MS: I’d love a cup of black tea, it’s still a little chilly out.
LB: And a little something to munch on?
MS:I see they have some of that excellent lemon polenta cake, and I won’t say no since you’re offering.
LB: I’m so happy to finally have you as a guest at our virtual cafe! Many of our readers know how much I admire your work, and I’m really excited for the opportunity to chat with you about your newest YA novel, SAINT DEATH, which releases in the US on April 25, 2017.
Can you tell us a little bit about what drew you into telling Arturo’s story?
MS: That’s a simple question with a massive answer. I’ll try to be brief. The book came about largely as a result of two things. First, I’d seen at first hand the immersing number of refugees and migrants arriving in Calais, trying to get to the UK. I felt something was stopping me writing about this issue, until the second thing came along; a chance meeting with a Mexican academic and writer who told me about the cult of Santa Muerte that’s on the rise in Mexico.
That was fascinating, but it was when I started really researching Mexico and things connected to drugs, migrants, the border and relations with their Northern neighbour, that I really felt there was a story to be told. There were many interesting things about Mexico I wanted to draw on, but the main thing was this: I believe that there’s a chain of causality between rich ‘developed’ countries and what occurs in the financially poorer nations of the world. In any cases, the chain is long, complicated and hard to unpick. In the case of Mexico, while things are of course complicated, I feel the chain of causality can be more easily seen – and it’s a story of the imbalance between a rich nation (like the US) and the poorer nations of Central and South America (where the majority of the migrants heading to the north come from). Mexico stands between them, and many of its problems arise form its geographical position. It is not in itself a poor country, and yet it has very many people living in extreme poverty, as a result of which arise all sort of desperate situations, the drug industry being just one of them.
LB: I know you especially love the research aspect of writing. What kinds of resources did you consult as you were writing? Did you travel to Mexico yourself?
MS: I spent a very long time research at arm’s length – all the usual stuff: books, magazines, articles, blogs, vlogs, youtube videos, first hand accounts, google earth, and so on and so on. In particular I found the work of Charles Bowden and Julián Cardona, and fell for their anger, painful honesty and ability to cut through the obfuscation to something closer to the ‘truth’. But eventually I was able to go to Juárez and see things at first hand on the ground, to stand, for example, by the fence on midsummer’s day in the Colonia de Anapra, feel the stillness and heat and see border patrol in their white trucks just on the other side. Of course, such an experience is only a drop in the ocean of knowing, but I am glad I had the opportunity.
LB: I found the story’s interludes particularly fascinating. At the end, you have a note stating that the book was inspired by the writings of Chomsky, Marx, and Freud to name a few – are any of the interludes direct quotes or paraphrases?
MS: I wanted to introduce a range of views and feelings and quotes about Mexico and the place it finds itself in in the opening of the 21st century. Some of these interludes are my own, some are paraphrases of the writings I cited, and a few are verbatim quotes, such as Victor Hugo’s open letter about Benito Juárez. The couple who run the bar where Arturo hangs out are of course Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and much of what they say is taken from their writings.
LB: You portrayed the complexity of the situation in Mexico so heartbreakingly well. Clearly, there is no quick fix or simple solution, and responsibility rests on many different shoulders. What do you want readers to take away from this story, particularly those – like me – who close the book and ask, How can I help?
MS: The first step to solving anything is understanding the problem. That means dispensing with dogma and the sort of lies and half-truths that are often spoken about a situation like that in Mexico. For example, almost no one seems to be aware that since 2008 more Mexicans have left the US than have migrated there, according the best figures that the Pew Research Center can deliver. The reason for that is obviously the financial crash of the western world in 2008, and it helps us to understand why migration occurs. People are poor and look for work. For me, it’s a massive issue about how global capitalism works; the solution lies in our children’s hands. So any conversations that help younger people see the world as a collaborative venture rather than zero-sum game of aggressive trade are to be welcomed.
LB: You have a gift for writing page-turning suspense blended with thought-provoking themes. Any time I pick up a book of yours, I find myself finished with it in a day or two, and thinking about it long after. Any tips for writers seeking to hook readers both emotionally and intellectually?
MS: Well, I could either write a book in answer to that one, or just offer one (apparently!) simple idea: in order for anyone else to be hooked by your book, you yourself have to be obsessed by it. I don’t write anything until I feel an extreme level of obsession set in. It’s not guaranteed to work, but I’m sure that without it, no writing can hope to obsess other people.
LB: This makes me feel better about my googling habits! And also, feel free to also write the book!
All right, now imagine that you’re snooping around a flea market when you find an unusual lamp. You take it home, polish it up, and POOF!! Your very own genie pops out, offering you a round-trip ticket back in time. When and where do you go?
MS: Oh boy. So many answers come to mind. I love history and there are so many moments… Since Mexico is on my mind I will try to avoid the obvious of choosing something related to that, such as the pre-history of the various empires of Central America, or hanging out with Malcom Lowry as he wrote that book… Instead, I’m going to choose the nights on and around the 2nd of June, 1816, in the Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva. I’d like to be a spooky presence, ducking out of sight in the candlelit corridors and passages, never quite seen fully, and eavesdrop on Byron, Shelley, Shelley and Polidori as they wove their ghost stories, from which were born the world’s first vampire novel, and the monster that became the legendary creation of Victor Frankenstein.
LB: And now, it’s time for rapid-fire favorites! Finish up that last bit of lemon polenta and get ready to tell us your favorite…..
Writing music (as of this very minute!) – Max Richter, Three Worlds
Place to read –The bath
Midnight snack-Yogurt with cornflakes and raisins. And honey if I need it.
Research trip-Aaaargh…! Too many! Okay, this time I’ll say the obvious; Juárez, Mexico.
Snowy-day activity-Scandinavian hot tub with a book and a friend
Quote-“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing’ I’m not wild about who said it (Werner von Braun) but I have to remind myself of it almost all the time…
LB: Thanks so much for joining us to talk about SAINT DEATH, Marcus! We wish you the best.
MS: Thanks Lindsay! I’ve had fun – thanks for having me visit the virtual cafe 🙂
Comment before May 1, 2017 for a chance to win your own copy of SAINT DEATH!
Good luck and happy reading!