YA Author Interview – An interview with Emmy Laybourne, author of MONUMENT 14 | Young Adult Mag


 

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that can go wrong.

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.

Olivia with YA Mag: Emmy, welcome to the YA Lit Mag!  MONUMENT 14 sounds like so much fun. Like one part apocalyptic nightmare and one part The Lord of the Flies!

Emmy Laybourne:  I’m so delighted to be here speaking with you, Olivia. I have to say that YA Lit Mag is one of the coolest sites I’ve found! I love the design, the tone, and of course, the stories themselves! It’s really an honor to be here.

 

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YA: Thanks, Emmy!  That means a lot to us!  Soooo… how did Dean, described in some reviews as quiet and bookish, assert himself as your main character out of such a large and varied cast?

EL:  Ah, Dean! I really, really like Dean because though he’s a good guy in his heart, he struggles with his desires to blow off his responsibilities, cut loose, and get in with the popular kids. 

For readers who haven’t read the book, I’ll explain a bit more — after the kids are stranded in the Greenway superstore, a struggle for power emerges between Jake, a charming, popular Senior; and Niko, a capable underclassman with no sense of humor. Dean is pulled at times towards Jake and at times towards Niko.  As an outsider, Dean gives, I think, a more honest assessment of what’s going on than if he really belonged in one faction or the other. 

Dean has other qualities that make him a good narrator too — he’s observant and he’s a pretty good writer. He’s also highly empathetic, so he’s able to tell us what he thinks everyone else is going through. 


YA: What sets your story apart from other tales of teens vs. the elements, like Michael Northrop’s Trapped or Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Last Survivors series?

EL:  I really like Pfeffer’s Last Survivors Series. I appreciate the care she took to create a realistic post-apocalyptic world. The characters are believable and you really end up rooting for them. I hope readers will come to feel the same way about my motley band of fourteen! What sets my book apart from these books, and other books, I think, is the pace. Monument 14 has a plot that just doesn’t let up. My brother said reading M14 is like falling down the stairs while handcuffed! I think he meant it as a compliment – like BAM, BAM, BAM, BAM!


YA: This year sees many exciting and new catastrophe survival stories coming to the YA world.  What do you think draws today’s Young Adult readers into these harrowing adventures?

EL: It’s hard for me to answer why YA readers are drawn into darker books these days – but I can sure tell you what I, personally, like about them! 

When it comes to post-apocalyptic and catastrophe-survival stories, I think it’s anxiety! When I read this type of story, I get to imagine myself in a worst-case scenario and figure out how I would survive it. It’s cathartic to experience people making it through  doomsday scenarios — or not making it thorough! 

Stories that bring me into a dark, dystopian world satisfy my need to disengage from reality and lose myself in a new world. I love to learn about worlds like the beautiful Grisha world my friend Leigh Bardugo created in her debut novel,Shadow and Bone. Or to go on an adventure in a book like Veronica Roth’sDivergent series.


YA: While writing M14, you probably thought a lot about your own survival in such a situation.  What are some ways you, being an adult, would have changed or done things differently if you were in this story?

EL:  If I had been locked into the Greenway with the kids in Monument 14, I don’t know that I would have done things much differently than Niko! He has really good sense and is so capable and efficient. His strategies for keeping the kids sane and safe worked really well. 

I do think I would have handled the events towards the end of the book differently, though. Without giving away too much of the plot, I think I can say that I wouldn’t have allowed anyone to enter or exit the store…


YA: When you were a teen, what was your favorite book (YA or otherwise)?  Now that you’re an author for teens, what is your favorite contemporary YA?

EL:  When I was a teen, the market for YA books didn’t really exist! People weren’t writing for teens the way they do today. I would have been much happier if I could have been a teen in 2012!

My favorite book was Clan of the Cave Bear. Jean M. Auel’s debut about a young girl orphaned in the prehistoric wild is a masterwork, filled with history and suspense and terrible drama. The sequels to the book quickly became little more than a series of caveman romance novels, but man, Clan of the Cave Bearis a really good read. 

I can’t believe how much fantastic YA fiction is out there right now. It’s like a banquet, and the more I read, the more I discover. Before I left for my book tour, I finished Struck, by my co-Fierce Reads Tour author Jennifer Bosworth, which is good enough that I got a little intimidated! I’m also touring with author Anna Banks, who is a very, very funny person and whose book, Of Poseidon has a great romance and also some really wicked dialogue.  On the tour on and off is author Marissa Meyer.  Cinder is awesome and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

If I had to pick a favorite YA book of all time, I’d have to go with The Hunger Games. I know, I know, it’s been hyped up to the heavens and back, but that’s because it’s very, very good. As a writer, I really admire Collins’ craft in storytelling and character development.

YA: The M14 stories are your first novels!  What can you tell our readers about your road to publication?

EL: I’ve now heard a bunch of writers describe their road to publication and every one of them uses the same word, over and over again: luck! 

I was lucky in that I had a friend who was a NY book agent (Susanna Einstein at Einstein/Thompson Agency). I took her out to breakfast and pitched her five ideas. The idea that became M14 was one of them. Based on her encouragement and advice I wrote the first 165 pages of M14 and a series proposal. 

Susanna submitted it to publishers and I got lucky (again) when Jean Feiwel of Feiwel & Friends, an imprint of Macmillan, bought the series. She encouraged me take the original plot outline laid out in the proposal for three books and condense all the action into the first book!

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