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I am beyond thrilled to announce my next author features New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman! He has authored more than thirty award-winning books for children, teens, and adults, including the Unwind dystology, the Skinjacker trilogy, Downsiders, and Challenger Deep, which won the National Book Award. Scythe, the first book in his latest series, Arc of a Scythe, is a Michael L. Printz Honor Book. He also writes screenplays for various motion pictures and television shows. Neal is the father of four, all of whom are talented writers and artists themselves. Visit Neal at StoryMan.com and Facebook.com/NealShusterman.

His Arc of a Scythe series continues in his most recent novel, Gleanings, which contains some of the countless tales of the Scythedom. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. Storylines continue, origin stories are revealed, and new Scythes emerge in this New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel!

I had an awesome time meeting Neal Shusterman during his first stop on his Gleanings book tour where I heard him read an excerpt, answer fan questions, and have him sign my copy! 

Unlike the rest of the Arc of a Scythe series, Gleanings is the first book where there are co-authors. What made you choose to do this, and how do you think multiple authors collaborating on this novel changed the series or even your writing?

I love getting the chance to collaborate with other writers who I admire – and also getting the chance to work with my grown children.  (The book opens with a piece written by my daughter, Joelle, and there’s a story later in the book I cowrote with my son Jarrod, and his partner Sofi).  Collaborating is like inviting friends into your sandbox to play!  I loved cowriting with David Yoon, Michelle Knowlden, and Mike Payne! 

If you could go on any mission with any Scythe, who would it be and why? What would the mission be?

Well, it wouldn’t be a gleaning mission…  I would say going to explore the Thunderhead’s “blind spot,” would be a fantastic mission to go on.  It’s the one place in the world that the Thunderhead doesn’t see and doesn’t know exists.  (Of course, I know what’s there, so it would be much of a mystery!)

Your talents range from film directing to writing music and stage plays as well as creating games. If you were to make a game based off the Arc of Scythe series, what would it be, and how could the audience recreate and play it? 

I love murder mystery games.  I wrote a bunch of the “How to Host a Murder” games, which people still play!  It would be fun to have a dinner party with a group of people, and have to figure out clues, as to which one of you is secretly a scythe!

Each Scythe has a unique personality that oozes off the pages. Which character do you see a bit of yourself in? Were there any tricky or fun characters you wrote in Gleanings? 

Writing is a lot like acting – you end up putting a bit of yourself into all of your characters, so there’s some of me in each one.  The villains and side-characters tend to be the most fun, because the hero’s journey tends to be similar in all stories, but you get to have more fun with the characters on a different journey.  Goddard was fun to write.  He’s just so BAD!  And I loved writing Scythe Curie.  The character of Grayson had quite a character arc.  Although his was also a hero’s journey, it was pretty convoluted. Especially in The Toll!

With multiple awards and books under your belt, you are often requested to speak at schools. How do you find books and literature impact the younger generation even for those who don’t wish to pursue publishing or writing?

Writing is about communicating ideas, and reading is about taking in other people’s ideas.  Both are an important part of critical thinking, regardless of where your life takes you.  You get to experience other lifetimes through reading stories and add what you learn to your own life experience.  I think that’s important for everyone.  I will often have students come up to me and tell me how my books brought them to reading, or, with a book like Challenger Deep, helped them to realize they were not alone.  The right story at the right time can really make a difference in someone’s life!

In an interview, you said you feel you let down students who hope to relate to you through a shared ethnicity since many believe you are a person of color. How do you think perceptions of ethnicity affect society’s views about the literary world when it comes to the blurred lines of identity?

I recently found out that, genetically, I’m about 40% North African. I probably had Moroccan ancestors.  So, what does that make me?  And does learning that change who I am?  No, it doesn’t.  I think we’re all more than our genes.  Identity also comes from common experience, and the things that matter to us.  I tend to be more interested in the things we have in common rather than our differences.  And so, it has always been my goal to tell stories that speak to the human condition and transcend cultural and racial boundaries.  I hope that everyone, regardless of race, can see themselves in the characters I write.  It’s one of the reasons why, in Scythe, I made it clear that, in the Scythe world, all the races had blended to the point that race was no longer a consideration—in fact, they can’t even imagine why it would ever be, because they have advanced beyond the very concept of racism. 

There’s a push now to see everything through a filter of race and identity—and there are plenty of great writers who address the richness of the things that make us different. I think it’s also important to remind ourselves of the many things resonates in all of us. Our overarching identity as human beings. 

The Arc of Scythe series is a blend of fantasy, dystopia, and science fiction. Despite these genres, how do you think elements of the series, such as population control, compare to our current situation? 

As with most of my novels, the problems addressed are real.  It’s the solutions that make them fantasy, or science fiction.  I try to come up with intriguing responses to very real problems.  With Scythe, my goal was to go beyond the dystopian, and write a story that focused on the consequences of achieving our goals as a society. The consequences of our best-case scenarios instead of our worst-case scenarios. Ultimately, if the scythedom didn’t have corrupt elements, it would be noble, and far more humane than death currently is!   

It’s a bit surreal, though, when the world starts to mimic the things I’ve made up. Unwind follows the aftermath of a second civil war over reproductive rights.  I wrote that fifteen years ago, and it seems practically prophetic. Dry, which I cowrote with my son, Jarrod, takes place the day the Colorado river ceases to be a viable source of water for Southern California… which is now on the verge of happening.  It’s scary how reality starts to imitate art.  I just hope that my stories can help people navigate these treacherous times! Because what is fiction for, if not to help us gain perspective on our lives, and on the world?

So many thanks to Neal for making the time to answer my questions while he’s still on his book tour. It was such a fun experience meeting you in person and getting to hear a bit behind your writing process and the upcoming projects you’re working on. I would also like to say a million thanks to Alex Kelleher from Simon & Schuster for giving me this opportunity and for the upcoming interviews I have lined up including Neal’s son, Jarrod, who’s authored Retro.  

Sabrina Blandon is an English American Literature major at NYU's CAS. Her Author Spotlight blog series started at Her Campus Hofstra and features New York Times bestselling authors such as Xiran Jay Zhao and Kerri Maniscalco. She's excited to continue the series at HCNYU! She's a major foodie and loves to explore the city. Follow her on Twitter (@sabrina_blandon) for all things bookish!