Interview: Ann Aguirre, author of “Foundation”

Ann Aguirre is a New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author with a degree in English Literature; before she began writing full-time, she was a clown, a clerk, a voice actress, and a savior of stray kittens, not necessarily in that order. She grew up in a yellow house across from a cornfield, but now she lives in sunny Mexico with her husband, children, and various pets. She likes books, emo music, and action movies. She writes all kinds of genre fiction for adults and teens.

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I have to be vague. “Foundation” covers the story of a character referenced in Enclave, Book 1 in the Razorland Trilogy. What I can reveal is that it tells how the College enclave got started.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I’m a child of the eighties, and we saw filmstrips about what would happen if the bomb dropped. Sometimes we had nuclear drills in addition to fire and tornado. When I think about twenty small children huddled under their desks in case the Russians let one fly, well, it’s rather absurd, isn’t it? But that sort of fear shaped my psyche, so that’s definitely a contributing factor. In these times, we all think about how the world might end, and what it would be like. Facing our most dire fears can be cathartic. In time, my desire to write my own dystopian crystallized into an idea for the world, then the heroine who lived in it, and finally, a book.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Actually it was easier than most short fiction. Since I’m more experienced in novels, I usually have a hard time with shorts, but not with “Foundation.”

Most authors say all their stories are personal. If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

You could say my stories are personal in that I’m inspired by things I see and experiences I have. Weird things. Random things. Everything. The world is pretty awesome when you get right down to it. True story, I was driving to pick my kids up from school and I saw a man trudging down the sidewalk. He was dressed up, but disheveled, as if the day hadn’t gone as he’d planned. In his hands, he carried a mixed bouquet of pink and red roses. He paused outside a house, but he didn’t ring the bell. Instead his shoulders slumped and he put the flowers in the rubbish. Then he walked on. Watching, I thought, that’s a story.

That’s kind of how I operate. I get ideas from snippets of conversation, from a vignette I see, from the way people dress and talk. Sometimes books come to me in incredibly vivid Technicolor dreams. I pretty much always have an incredible backlog of ideas that I haven’t gotten to write yet. It’s enough to keep me busy for the next ten years.

In the case of this story and series, see my answer above about the nuclear drills.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I didn’t do any, apart from what I’d already done for the trilogy. Most of my research for the novels indicated that if some apocalypse occurred—disease, famine, or zombie scourge—society as we know it would likely break down within a hundred years. I read a number of articles, including this one: Science Ponders Zombie Attack. (Full study details are available here: here) In the nebulous future described in Enclave, biological weapons and manufactured plagues were to blame for the swift deterioration of modern life. To aid in that depiction, I also watched Life After People, an informative and entertaining show on The History Channel.

What is the appeal of apocalypse fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

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.

What are some of your favorite examples of apocalypse fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

I’ve always been a fan of apocalypse movies. The first one I saw on my own was Night of the Comet. (Don’t laugh!) As a kid, I was alone at the mall with a friend for the first time, and we decided a zombie movie would rock. The flick was awesome, campy, and it imprinted on me for life. Later, I took a film class as part of my English degree, and I wrote a paper analyzing the themes in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Since then, I can’t get enough of the genre. Most of the apocalypse movies I’ve loved over the years haven’t been as silly as Night of the Comet. Some of my favorites include: Terminator (the future is bleak indeed), any Resident Evil film, 28 Days Later, Undead (a wicked awesome indie Aussie film), Daybreakers (by the same directors who did Undead), Zombieland, 12 Monkeys, Children of Men, Road Warrior, Shaun of the Dead, Logan’s Run, Blade Runner (some might argue with its inclusion), Equilibrium, Tank Girl, The Postman, Escape from New York, The Blood of Heroes, Reign of Fire … hm. I should stop now.

Before I wrote the Razorland trilogy, I hadn’t read extensively in the genre, mostly because I intended to take a crack at it, and so I wanted to be able to say, honestly, that any similarity came from a collective zeitgeist. Before I finished the series, I had only read A Canticle for Leibowitz, which is post-apocalyptic but not YA, and Lord of the Flies, which is more about the savagery that lurks close to the skin. Since completing the Razorland saga, I’ve discovered a long list of dystopian authors I cheerfully recommend, including but not limited to: Paolo Bacigalupi, Veronica Rossi, Patrick Ness, Courtney Summers, Meg Rosoff, and more. I’m still reading, still discovering new treasures (like Mindy McGinnis).

Thanks for including me in the anthology!