Eight Questions With… A.J. Steiger

Hi A.J. welcome to the Eight Questions With… interview for Teen Librarian

The first question I generally ask is for authors to introduce themselves to the audience- who they are, where they come from and so on if you wouldn’t mind?

Hi, I’m A.J. Steiger, and I live in Illinois. I’m a writer and freelance transcriptionist. My work keeps me in front of the computer a lot, so I try to get out into nature sometimes to remind myself that the world is more than words and screens. Mindwalker is my first young adult novel, and it’s out now with OneWorld Publications, and also with Knopf in the U.S.

Mindwalker is your first novel, can you give us an idea of what it is about and what inspired you to write it?

Mindwalker is set in a future where people can choose to have painful memories removed. Seventeen-year-old Lain Fisher is a prodigy who’s already skilled at wiping away her patients’ traumas. A troubled classmate asks her to erase a horrific childhood experience from his mind, and while exploring his memories, she learns that he’s connected to something much bigger…something their government doesn’t want the world to discover.

I’ve always found the idea of memory modification to be a fascinating and disturbing concept. There’s a quote from Gregory Maguire that sums it up well: “Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are.”

If you change someone’s memories, you change their identity. It’s the ultimate power over an individual. It could be used for good—to help people overcome horrors like war, abuse, and assault—but it could very easily go wrong, especially if institutions gain the power to control which facts people remember and which ones they forget.
Mindwalker is also a novel about mental illness and the social stigma that often goes along with it, which I think is a hugely important issue.

Dystopian novels seem to have an enduring popularity, especially amongst young adult readers, what do you think the reason for this is?

The world is already pretty scary. Transforming our fears into fiction gives us a sense of control and reminds us that there are things we can do about the situation we’re living in.

I think young readers especially like these books because they often involve themes of rebellion or bucking the system. When you’re young, the universe hasn’t had time to wear you down and make you cynical and complacent, so there’s still this burning fire to tackle injustice, and that’s a wonderful thing.

There’s a danger of sliding into escapism, though. If we satisfy our need for rebellion vicariously, through movies and books, it can take the edge off our hunger for real change. So I think a good dystopian ought to leave you at least a little bit nervous. Truth and justice doesn’t always win—it doesn’t happen automatically. You have to keep fighting for it.

Mindwalker has been compared favourably to The Giver by Lois Lowry – have you ever read it and do you read novels by other YA writers? If yes would you be able to recommend some authors and titles?

I first read The Giver as a teenager, and it left an impression on me. Its world seems very safe and civilized and pleasant on the surface, but once you peel back the outer layers you see the darkness underneath, and to me that makes it more interesting than a world where everything is blatantly horrible. Real horror doesn’t always advertise itself.

I’ve also read more current YA fiction like The Hunger Games and Marie Lu’s Legend series, and I enjoyed all of those. But my favourite YA novels tend to be brooding, introspective stories like The Adoration of Jenna Fox.

Did you set out to write specifically for teenagers or do you write for yourself and hope that your work finds an audience?

I think all writers have to strike a balance between writing for themselves and writing for an audience. I originally conceived of Mindwalker as a science fiction story for adults, with adult characters. But in the process of writing, I decided to make it YA, and something clicked.

What is the most rewarding part of the writing experience for you?

Revision. Apparently, many writers hate editing, but for me it’s a lot of fun. Writing the rough draft is kind of like generating the raw clay—it’s messy, lumpy and unfinished—and once you have enough of that clay, you can start shaping it and playing with it and seeing it really become what it’s supposed to be. That’s a very exciting feeling.

Of course, I also love getting feedback. Writing is fundamentally an act of communication. Without readers, the experience is incomplete.

What is coming next after Mindwalker?

I’m currently working on the sequel, Mindstormer. After that, we’ll see. I’ll probably continue to write young adult fiction, though I’d like to try branching out into different genres, like fantasy.

You are based in the US so visiting schools and reading groups in the UK may be a bit difficult but do you ever do Skype visits to international groups that are interested in meeting you?

I haven’t yet, but that could be a possibility for the future.

Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions!

Mindwalker is published by Rock the Boat and is available now

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