The Compulsive Reader: Interview with Trent Reedy, Author of Divided We Fall

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Interview with Trent Reedy, Author of Divided We Fall

Trent Reedy's third book (and first YA novel), Divided We Fall, came out yesterday. It's a great novel about family, loyalty, friendship, and survival, plus it has a pretty kick-butt cover. You can read my review here. Trent is in the blog today to answer a few questions!

TCR: What was the hardest part about writing Divided We Fall? The easiest?

Divided We Fall is completely unlike any other book I’ve ever written in that I had a firm grasp of the novel’s characters and events very early in the writing process. The protagonist, Danny Wright loves his country and his home town. He also loves his big truck, country music, rodeo, playing high school football, his family, his friends, and above all his girlfriend JoBell. Danny’s character was clear to me from the start, as was the situation he was forced into, that of being forced to decide if his loyalties as a soldier in the Idaho National Guard lie with his state or with the federal government, if he should honor his sworn duty to obey his governor or his president. I was blessed when this novel came to me very quickly.

The hardest thing about writing Divided We Fall came from current events in the news. First, I am eager to get this novel out into the world because social and political elements that I added to the novel as future speculation keep happening. For example, from the earliest draft of the manuscript, I had added political trouble resulting from a federal government shutdown over budget disputes. I worried at the time that readers might find such a thing too far fetched. Then a federal government shutdown happened. I wondered if readers would believe that a state in modern times would nullify a federal law, declaring said law to be illegal within that state. Then Missouri very nearly nullified federal gun control laws. Secondly, I kept having to revise to keep the near future setting of Divided We Fall ahead of current events. Sadly, this meant altering the way the media in the novel reports on events, as I saw a number of changes to traditional news coverage in the aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing.

Writers and artists have long used their craft to make sense out of or bring beauty to the wake of horrific occurrences, and so I tailored Divided We Fall not just to offer a story about a possible dark future, but to reflect upon the present day.

TCR: You served in the National Guard like your protagonist Danny does, but was there any additional research that you had to do while writing this book to create Danny's world?

TR: Danny has taken advantage of the opportunity to enlist in the National Guard at age seventeen. With parental permission, a seventeen-year-old can enlist to attend basic training the summer after the junior year of high school. He will then return to his home to finish high school. At basic training, Danny is trained with a rifle, machine guns, grenades, and even the AT4 shoulder fired rocket launcher.

Danny is a combat engineer, just like I was. This means that he is scheduled to return to an Army base after he graduates high school to train for his job. After that he would serve one weekend a month and two weeks every summer, with the chance of being activated for war or for fighting floods, wildfires, or riots in his home state, should the need arise. Combat engineers are trained in wire obstacles, land mine warfare, TNT, and C4 plastic explosive systems.

All of my own Army knowledge came in very handy in Divided We Fall. I think I worked in just about everything but the land mines. I did have to do some research because the Army has changed a little since I’ve been out. The uniform has been changed many times with more changes likely in the future. I therefore made up a fictional future uniform for Divided We Fall. I also researched projected advancements to certain weapons systems. For example, the M203 rifle-mounted grenade launcher looks like it is about to be replaced by a superior system, and so I took that into account.

The other research was all fun stuff like exploring the beautiful state of Idaho and watching Idaho rodeos. I checked out several sections of the Idaho/Washington border because I wanted photographs and a clear mental picture of where Danny would eventually be pulling guard duty.

I have the greatest job in the world. I get to put twists on my own experiences to make them work in my stories, and so much of my research is completely fun.

TCR: Your two previous published novels are written for middle grade readers; did you encounter any challenges in writing for a slightly older audience? Or, do you tend to not have a specific audience in mind while writing?

TR: Like I said before, Divided We Fall came very quickly and clearly to me. So in regards to the audience I had in mind, I think I mostly had my characters in mind. I wrote the novel for Daniel Wright and for his friends, all of whom are caught in this terrible stand off between the state and the federal government.

That said, I was open to suggestions. My editor always offers great advice, but in the very early planning stages of Divided We Fall she casually dared me to put in a ramping vehicle. I enjoyed that challenge, and I think it worked out well. I’m certainly open to similar challenges from Divided We Fall readers as I work on books two and three.

TCR: What are some books that inspired or influenced you as a kid/teenager?

TR: I think sometimes young people face a lot of pressure to read the classic or “college-bound” books that adults think they are supposed to read. I’m glad I never faced that problem, because I feel like I was blessed to encounter just the right books at just the right time.

First, I discovered a short chapter book called Ghost Ship to Ganymede by Robert Swindells. This story of three kids who stow away on a ship bound for a moon of Jupiter compelled me to read it at least five times. The first novel I ever read was Tamora Pierce’s amazing Alanna: The First Adventure. This was another book I read many times, and I loved following Alanna through her four novels.

When I was about eleven years old I became a Doctor Who fan and so when I found the novelization of the classic Doctor Who story Day of the Daleks in the tiny paperback rack in my hometown grocery store, I was thrilled. I loved that book. Those were the early books that made a big difference in my life, of course like any writer, my life quickly became immersed in books and reading. The list of books that have been important to me in my lifetime would take far more time than any of your readers would care to invest.

TCR: Can you tell us anything about your next book(s)?

TR: Divided We Fall is ready to rock, so I’m working on two other books right now. After Divided We Fall, I’m coming out with a book that is not a part of the trilogy, a novel called If You’re Reading This, a story of a sixteen-year-old boy from Iowa who begins getting letters in the mail from his father who died eight years earlier in the war in Afghanistan.

Of course I’m also working on the second book in the Divided We Fall trilogy. I’m still in the early phases of book two, so I can’t tell you too much about it yet. All I can say is that book two has even more action than book one. It’s intense.

Thanks so much, Trent! Be sure to pick up a copy of Divided We Fall either from your local bookstore or library!

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