Michael Buckley speaks with Hypable about his debut YA novel Undertow and which type of Alpha he’d like to be if given the choice.
Lyric Walker has learned to keep her head down. After 30,000 Alpha showed up on the beach in Coney Island, she’s made herself as unassuming as possible. After all, there’s no telling who’s more dangerous — the race of sea creatures who left the depths of the ocean, or the humans who demand they go back to where they came from.
Unfortunately, the current situation is nothing compared to what the future holds. The Alpha left the ocean for a reason, and it turns out they may not be the bad guys everyone thinks they are. Can Lyric bridge the gap between humans and Alpha, and can the two races work together to defeat a common enemy?
Interview with Michael Buckley
Tell us five random facts about yourself.
1. I was run over by a drunk driver when I was 20 2. I was in several sketches on the Late Show with David Letterman, including one where I wore a gymnast’s leotard 3. I just tried deep fried eel on a trip to Shanghai 4. My go-to karaoke songs are always by Billy Idol 5. I stage dived at a Jane’s Addiction Concert
What inspired you to write Undertow?
The idea came to me in a dream and then sort of melted into some things that were going on in the news. There was a story about immigrant children being held in prisons and warehouses while our government decided whether to give them asylum or send them back. I thought it must have been pretty frightening for those kids and it got me thinking in larger terms about how we treat immigrants. I wondered how we’d react if we had a new group of immigrants land on our shores and they weren’t even human.
How did you come up with the different types of Alpha and their varying looks?
I tried to think of a community that had wildly different appearances all living together, so I watched documentaries about the ocean and read articles about sea life. Eventually I gravitated toward images of fish that live in the deepest parts — the sort of things that have been recently discovered or the sea creatures scientists think are extinct that then wind up in a fisherman’s net.
What made you decide to write from a female point of view?
I’ve been writing female characters for awhile now. I gravitate toward their points of view. Perhaps it’s that unlike a man, women have ten times more obstacles set in their paths, whether that’s workplace inequality, sexism, violence, the struggle to be heard and taken seriously, etc. The odds are against them in real life so how they fail or succeed is, I suppose, inspiring to me.
What was your favorite part about writing this book?
The world building is always the fun part — creating the mythology of the characters, especially the Alpha; trying to make their culture make sense; and then placing that culture in the middle of another.
Considering this is your first YA novel, what did you do differently to prepare for writing this?
Every book I’ve written has the same preparation. I first read a ton of books in that genre, then I read a ton more that are for that age group, and then I reach out to people who write those types of books for advice. It’s a long process and I joke about this, but it often feels like a master’s program in English Lit. I have to know and love and respect the work of all the people who do what I’m attempting to do. You don’t want to just assume you can do something — you need to prepare. You can decide to write YA or poetry or picture books without any preparation — celebrities do it all the time — but usually it isn’t very successful. I go in thinking I have no idea what I’m doing and send myself to school.
We’re already impatiently awaiting the sequel! Can we expect the stakes to be even bigger?
The stakes are bigger, both figuratively and literally! Raging Sea comes out next February and our heroes — Lyric, Bex, and Arcade — are going to have a tough go. It’s a very different vibe than the first novel, much darker, but there’s a bit of hope as well. All I can say is — more monsters, more action, more Lyric Walker.
What is easier to write, the first line or the last line?
The last line is always easiest for me. I know when the book is done and usually that last line has been percolating the whole time I’ve been writing. The first line is fresh out of the box. The subconscious hasn’t had time to get to work on helping me craft it. I usually write and rewrite the first line a hundred or so times.
What one YA novel do you wish you had when you were a teen?
Probably The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It’s brutally honest and real, but touching and hilarious at the same time. I think it would have helped a lot of my generation come to understand one another in the sense that we all are different but want the same things. It’s also an amazing book for boys — the point of view is spot on.
If you could be any type of Alpha, which would you prefer?
I have to go with a Triton. They’re tall, handsome, and have razor-sharp swords that pop out of their forearms. I’d spend a fortune on new shirts every time I tore them to shreds, but it would still be a pretty cool party trick.
About Michael Buckley
New York Times bestselling author Michael Buckley was born in Akron, Ohio. He tried his hand as a stand-up comic and lead singer for a punk rock band before attending Ohio University. After graduating with honors he moved to New York City to be an intern on the Late Show with David Letterman which led to stints developing programming for Discovery Networks, MTV, MTV Animation and Klasky Csupo (producers of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats). Today he lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, Alison, and their son Finn.
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