YA Book Interview: Ann Aguirre Talks 'Enclave'

In Ann Aguirre's new novel Enclave, a ragtag society of human beings -- mostly children and teens -- struggle to survive underground after an apocalyptic event. The story focuses on the relationship of Deuce, a teenager who has just achieved the hard-fought status of "Huntress," and Fade, a young man with a mysterious past who might hold the key to the world Topside. MTV Geek chatted with Aguirre about Enclave (published by Feiwel & Friends), the debut book of the Razorland saga -- but first take a look at the pulse-pounding Enclave book trailer!

MTV Geek: The dystopian, largely subterranean world of "Enclave" feels very gritty, real, and plausible. Did you do a lot of research to get that authentic feel to the book?

Ann Aguirre: I did, in fact. In my Author's Note, I reference the materials I perused in devising my end-of-the-world scenario. In particular, Life After People provided invaluable insight as to what it might be like. I read Jennifer Toth's book, The Mole People, which is haunting, riveting, and terrifying. Along with personal experience exploring various cave systems, the book served as an indispensable resource in permitting me to depict a realistic underground environment. In my travels, I've also visited various crypts, which gave me some sense of the world Deuce lives in. Finally, I filtered in personal observations about human behavior during times of chaos and crisis. People are capable of incredible gallantry and terrible cruelty in situations of extreme duress. I tried to showcase that range in Enclave.

Geek: Enclave's heroine, Deuce, balances being a very formidable warrior with the sort of issues every teenager has. Can you elaborate on the character, and what you like about her?

AA: Deuce is fascinating to me because she's a dichotomy. In the physical sense, she's tough; she defends herself impressively, and she's dangerous with her blades. But in the emotional sense, she's naive. She doesn't understand feelings or relationships. Such things fall outside the parameter of her duties, and she never questions the elders who tell her physical contact and emotional development is breeder territory. So in addition to not understanding that aspect of herself, she is repelled and frightened by it. She believes that these impulses make her weak, unfit for her role as a huntress. It's not until she meets Fade that she questions her conditioning. As she breaks away from enclave teachings, she realizes everything she's known has been a lie, and that maybe this is wrong too. So over the course of the books, she has quite a journey of the soul to undertake, learning who she really is instead of who she was trained to be. In that way, the Razorland books are a coming-of-age story.

I like her honesty. She doesn't understand deception. Lies are alien to her. So is game-playing. Next, I love her loyalty. She's fierce in regard to those she cares for, and it's never more apparent than in book two, Outpost. Finally, I adore her bravery. There's great joy in writing a true warrior spirit, who never stops fighting. Deuce has a pure animal ferocity, a great and shining need to survive, learn from her mistakes and misconceptions, and rise above her circumstances. She's constantly adapting to survive without sacrificing the essence of herself.

Geek: Tell us about Deuce's relationship with Fade. Can young love bloom in the post-apocalypse?

AA: Deuce isn't given to internal reflection and analysis, and she's slow to pick up emotional cues. She doesn't understand subtext. Relationships are mystifying to her, and it's fun to write scenes where a normal girl would get what the boy wants or what comes next, but Deuce is clueless. Often, she's alarmed by Fade or confused about his intentions. She has no experience with which to parse Fade's attraction, and she's working it out as best she can as she goes along. He bewilders her with his behavior.

But the further they get from the enclave, the more she realizes it's all right to feel--that it doesn't make you weak. In fact, caring about someone else makes you strong; it gives you another reason to fight. Though she doesn't know it herself in book one, she's certainly falling in love with him, though she lacks the experience or vocabulary to articulate it. Fade, since he was raised in a different environment until he was nine or so, has some experience of what a loving relationship between a man and a woman is like. His parents were partners and lovers, and he remembers them. Deuce has never seen anything like that. Breeding is a job, not an emotional attachment, in the enclaves. Couples don't bond or stay together, apart from rare exceptions, and even then monogamy isn't a tradition. So they're coming at a relationship from polar perspectives... but yes, they can find middle ground--and love--in time. There will be other obstacles, of course. 'The course of true love never did run smooth'; the Bard was right about that.

Geek: What type of adversaries are the Freaks? Would it be accurate to refer to them as "zombies" of some sort?

AA: The Freaks are tough, tenacious, hungry... and angry. And they're getting smarter all the time. There are scientific, worldbuilding reasons for this, and all will be revealed in increments through the next two books. By the end of the trilogy, you'll understand exactly what they are, how they came to be, and how it all hangs together. It's worth the wait. *g* And actually, no. There are similarities, of course, but no. The best hint comes when Longshot calls them Muties. As you know from Enclave, the Freaks don't infect; there is no especial danger from a bite, except the normal problems of bacteria from that kind of wound. You'll find out more, I promise. Keep reading!

Geek: Part of what works for me about Enclave is that despite the oft-grim situations, there is always a spark of humanity and hope that shines through the darkness. But as an author, how do you mentally prepare yourself to write something of this weight? When you write a particularly wrenching scene (such as the one with the blind boy), how do you distance yourself from that? Can you?

AA: No. I don't know how other writers do it, but I never have distance. I immerse myself in everything I write; I feel what my characters do. I suffer with them. I cry as I type, sometimes to the point that I can't see the screen. If the scene is super wrenching (and the one you reference was so difficult), I often have a headache from crying so hard by the time I'm finished. I feel like I owe that emotional devotion to the reader. If I'm not brave enough to experience it fully, then my readers will sense that. In the end, my complete commitment offers a more intense book. Well, that's the goal anyway.

Geek: Why do you think dystopian novels are so popular with the Young Adult (and adult) reading audience right now?

AA: I think it's because they're uplifting. No, seriously. You take a world in utter disarray. Things are incredibly bleak. Then a hero arises, someone who has the desire and drive to succeed, no matter what. And this person changes his or her world in some fashion. How can that message not be incredibly valuable to young adults? I think it lends hope that there can always be brightness, no matter how dark it seems.

For me, that's the absolute crux of the matter. People need to believe they can make a difference--that one person standing strong can turn the tide. It's easier to demonstrate that in the Razorland world, but that example of internal fortitude will serve readers (of all ages) well.

Geek: I've heard this book being compared to The Hunger Games. How do you feel about that? How do you feel your book differs?

AA: Since The Hunger Games has been incredibly popular and well-read, I am flattered, of course. Any comparison that drives kids to pick my book up strikes me as a good thing because teens need to read more. If they can't read, they can't dream. So I want my book in their hands, however it gets there. As for how it differs, I can't say. I haven't read the The Hunger Games or any of its sequels. I've read little dystopian fiction because I wanted to try my own hand at it some day, and I preferred to be sure any similarity of theme or treatment came from a collective zeitgeist. The dystopian works I've read can be named on one hand: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr., Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. By contrast, I've seen hundreds of zombie survival movies. *g* I even wrote a paper on the symbolism and themes in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead for a university film class. So I come at the dystopian apocalypse from that background, which may be why people say Enclave feels cinematic.

Geek: Enclave is your first YA novel. How is writing for teens different than writing for adults? And how do you feel about the trend of adults "crossing over" and reading YA books?

AA: For me, it's not different. I don't change my style or pull punches. I use all the same storytelling, worldbuilding, and characterization techniques from writing fiction for adults. The primary difference is the age of the protagonists, which informs their levels of personal experience and emotional development. Other than that, I write the same kind of book; my work tends to be gritty, dark, and action-packed. I think it's fantastic that people are reading, no matter what their content of choice. So I'm all for it.

Geek: Could you give us a hint about what we might look forward to in the sequel?

AA: Yes, absolutely. Outpost is tentatively scheduled for a Fall 2012 release. It will be about Deuce, Fade, Stalker and Tegan, and their new lives in Salvation. Obviously, their stories are not told yet. They're better off than they were in Enclave, but trouble is brewing. The Freaks are gathering. And there's more danger on the way. Early readers have told me it's ten times more intense than Enclave, brilliant, grim, beautiful, dark and shocking.

Enclave by Ann Aguirre is currently available in hardcover at bookstores and online!

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