Interview with Daniel José Older
MWW intern and agent assistant Sarah Hollowell interviewed Daniel José Older:
MWW: You’re running an intensive session in Part I of the workshop called “Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.” Are there any themes that you consider to be unique to YA, or more commonly found in the genre?
DJO: In YA, we’re looking at very specific kinds of crises–the turning point is so often that complicated moment when a young person takes the first step toward adulthood. It’s ripe for literature because it’s always such a truly intense, emotional time and the struggle to take that step, whether dramatized by dragons, cancer, or a breakup, is truly a momentous one.
MWW: Your first session of Part II is about writing the “Other,” an important topic that has been getting more attention with the rising cry from the literary world that #WeNeedDiverseBooks. What do you think is the biggest mistake writers make when trying to write outside their experience?
DJO: Both in these discussions and in our story-craft, we too often ignore power. Power is a fascinating, dynamic, and complex topic that really can only strengthen our writing, but folks dip and dodge around the nitty gritty of it. Why? Because it’s uncomfortable, it’s hard to talk about. It’s messy. And we’re not taught to analyze power with much depth, rarely in high school and college, almost never in MFA programs and writing workshops. But power is what makes conflict great, and conflict lays the backbone of story. To really get real about writing about the “other” requires us to get uncomfortable.
MWW: On a similar vein, you have a session on using worldbuilding as a vehicle for addressing social justice themes without being preachy. How do you combat criticism that says books shouldn’t be used for social justice, preachy or not?
DJO: Oh! I ignore it.
MWW: Your last session is on the ever-changing world of speculative fiction. Are there any types of speculative fiction stories that you are just tired of seeing and reading right now?
DJO: Tired of seeing white men save the world. Tired of seeing the One Special Chosen One narratives. Tired of same-ol’ stereotypes of folks of color. Tired of the idea that a single, simple move will solve all the world’s problems. Tired of heteronormativity. Tired of women only being written as passive, quirky, or hyper-sexual. Tired of lazy worldbuilding. Instead, I’m excited for all the counternarratives and new motifs the world has in store as we open up new spaces for unheard voices.
During Part I of the workshop, Daniel will be teaching Young Adult Literature and the Mechanics of Plot.
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During Part II, he’ll be teaching: Fundamentals of Writing “the Other”; Context The Changemaker: Using Worldbuilding To Address Social Justice Themes; and Writing Speculative Fiction.