YA author, Caragh O’Brien has a numerous amount of successful novels, such as the BIRTHMARKED trilogy and THE VAULT OF DREAMERS. YEM had the opportunity to interview O’Brien and discuss her latest novel, THE KEEP OF AGES, which was released on August 28th!
YEM: In your novel, THE KEEP OF AGES, were there any specific messages that you intended to be sent out with all of the deep existential questions included in the novel? If so, what were they?
CO: While I didn’t set out to deliver specific messages, the novel kept veering towards certain philosophical issues and plunging me into them, so I’m not surprised that the novel touches on existential questions. I value pondering what it means to be alive and what makes each of us unique, so when Rosie, my main character, ran into some mind-blowing concepts, I tried to explore them with her. If the book invites people to contemplate how alive we are and how we connect with each other, that would be wonderful.
YEM: Did you enjoy writing this novel more than any of your others? Why or why not?
CO: There has been something different about this novel all along, something very special for me. I feel like I wrote the first two novels in the series as preparation to reach The Keep of Ages, and then all three books came together in a way I couldn’t have predicted when I started. I routinely agonize over my writing, so I can’t say I enjoyed writing The Keep of Ages most, but I am feeling a new kind of satisfaction now that this latest one is finished. I am deeply pleased with how it turned out.
YEM: Being a YA author, you have the potential ability to inspire readers as they get ready to take on the challenges of adulthood. Do you believe your novels act as inspirational tools that young adult readers would be positively influenced by? Why or why not?
CO: I feel an enormous responsibility to write novels that are true, and I’m also very concerned that my books fall into readers’ hands when they’re ready for them. For instance, Prized (Birthmarked #2) delves into reproductive rights in what I feel is a complex, compassionate way, but I’m careful not to recommend it to young people who haven’t discussed such matters with their families yet. The Vault of Dreamers series also grapples with the rights of a mother, plus extreme surveillance and medical harvesting, so they aren’t light books. I respect my readers enormously, and I know they want to read about characters who seem real and face real dilemmas. I try to deliver that, and I do think my novels can have a positive influence. They provide a safe way to contemplate some very murky moral situations.
YEM: When did you first know you wanted to become an author?
CO: In seventh grade, I started writing a journal and kept at it, but I didn’t consider trying to write for a living until I was a senior in college. It seemed so impossible, you know? Everyone–absolutely everyone–tells you that you’ll never make it as a writer. But I liked working with words and struggling with stories, so I did it anyway.
YEM: Were there any specific influential individuals who inspired your writing career? If so, who were they and how did they inspire you?
CO: Jim Shepard, my creative writing professor in college, introduced me to short stories (Lorrie Moore!) that dazzled me, and he gave me marginal feedback that made real sense. During graduate school, Stephen Dixon at Johns Hopkins was also wonderful and generous with his feedback. More recently, I’ve been inspired by my students and my own children who are incredibly brave, insightful people. I try to write books that can live up to them.
YEM: In the future, do you see yourself continuing to write more science fiction novels, or would you like to eventually start exploring different genres?
CO: I like writing science fiction that looks into the future and projects what might happen because I like imagining what will real people will do down the road. My writing helps me deal with my fears about climate change and injustice. I’m also interested in time, so I’m likely to play around with that in a novel soon. I expect I’ll think about each book as I write it and let it become its own thing, without too much concern about genre.
YEM: Did you come across any challenges when you first began your career as an author? If so, what were they and how did you overcome them?
CO: I did have challenges. I had an odd thing happen when my first novel, a romance, was picked up and published shortly after I finished college. Then it took me ten years to publish another book, and decades, really, before my first YA novel, Birthmarked, was published. Along the way, I completely abandoned all ambition and learned to write purely for myself. It was a slow and humbling method, to be sure, but it was necessary for me.
YEM: What is your favorite quote from the book?
CO: “It’s no good thinking of him this way, reducing the real Linus to nostalgia. He isn’t mine. I can’t be with him. My dream made that clear. No matter how little Linus is to blame for the camera in his eye, Berg rides along inside Linus like a tiny, perpetual spy, seeing everything he does, invading every aspect of his life.”
— The Keep of Ages (p. 50)
Along with her other novels, THE KEEP OF AGES will definitely not disappoint readers. Get your copy now and experience the mind-altering experience this novel has to offer!