Alexandra Bracken talks PASSENGER, female characters, and shipping

We interviewed bestselling author ALEXANDRA BRACKEN at BookCon — and she’s awesome.

It was a crazy, crowded weekend at BEA and BookCon 2016, and it’s safe to say speaking with Passenger author Alexandra Bracken was one of the highlights. Not only is she just as kind and intelligent as you’d expect, but she shows a genuine love for fans (so much so that she spent an extra hour signing at BookCon).

The Fandom caught up with Alex and talked Passenger, The Darkest Minds, fan art, and shipping. Check out the full interview below!

TheFandom: How is Passenger similar to The Darkest Minds series, and how is it different?

Alex: That’s a good question! I think they’re similar in that I always like to write about a young woman who’s discovering an innate ability inside of herself, and to kind of extend that into a metaphor about young women discovering who they are as people and being empowered by who they are… so that’s how they’re similar at their core. Ruby and Etta have that in common that they’re trying to figure out how to use this power within in them. And then also, I always like to have a cool team of characters and I like to have them have very different personalities. Like, I just finished working on Wayfarer — I’m still editing it, of course, but in Wayfarer you see that more than in Passenger where it’s really just Nicolas and Etta traveling together. Suddenly they’re in a group with different kinds of personalities; that was really the joy for me with The Darkest Minds series. They’re both adventures. They’re both kind of road trips, in a way: one is a road trip through the southeast of America, the other is a road trip through different continents. So journeys, girls discovering who they are, and teens, I guess.

Very cool. So, what would you like to see more of in the representation of female characters in YA literature?

Definitely more women of color. I’m trying to be better about that, I’m trying to put more research into it, trying to talk to people and open up my own world view. Definitely more women of color, and main characters who are women of color, not just secondary characters. What else? I’m kind of tired of love triangles. I’m kind of tired of love triangles being… I mean, and that’s funny to say because Passenger is a romance, but that be their sole purpose, to be a romantic partner or to have the male character provide everything for them that they need. I just want strong independent ladies. I want more female friendship, but I also want more complicated female relationships too, like frenemies — I think that’s so interesting! I think that women relate to each other in so many different ways and it’s very underrepresented.

What was the writing process for Passenger like?

It was really research intensive, and I did a lot of research for The Darkest Minds series, but it was a lot of stuff that was like… creepy research? I don’t know how else to put it! It was research that would put me on an NSA watchlist. It was like, how are car bombs made? What are the different types of assault rifles? — and stuff like that which was not fun, and a little bit of science research to explain how they got their abilities. But with Passenger it was like from the top down. Actually one of the most difficult things about writing Passenger was trying to nail Nicolas’ voice just because there are so many words that would be anachronistic for someone from the eighteenth century, so double checking that he would actually use a phrase, or that he could glean the meaning of it. So constantly referring to the Oxford English Dictionary, which gives you where [words] were widely used, or when it was first mentioned. So, like, what types of shoes the privateers would wear… it was pretty intensive. I had to do a lot of my research up front. Time travel is crazy, and really confusing — I’m constantly walking into paradoxes of my own making, which is not helpful! So I wrote it, and just rewrote it because I’d constantly be like oh, I can’t do that, it breaks one of my own rules! It was so funny. It was a very long process. And now with Wayfarer, I was researching as I was writing, which is very different.

So do you try to outline any planned books in a series, or do you kind of take it one step at a time?

I know the main emotional and plot beats of the book before I start writing it, and then I give myself freedom to play around with how they get from point A to point B. I think I’d get bored if I ruthlessly outlined every scene. I don’t know, I feel like as I go along I’ve become more of an outliner… it just saves time in the end. It’s funny because I think one of the joys of writing is discovering the characters and the story as you’re writing it. Sometimes I think if you over-outline, it can take out some of the mystery and some of the magic. For me that happens where I’m like, I already know what happens! So I like writing towards a big scene but being able to play — I think it’s really important to be able to play while you’re writing.

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With TDM and now Passenger, you’ve created this fanbase that’s going on…

[Laughs]

What’s your favorite part of having a fan base who follow these series’ and are really attached to these characters? Does anything stick out to you?

I always get really emotional when I see fan art. Even when I go through and see that someone’s made a graphic and they pulled out a line that really was important to me and for the character… and it resonated with them. When I hit that, it’s just that perfect meeting of minds where they get it, and they understand and they’re there for it — that’s when I get really emotional. Someone today on Twitter just asked me if Ruby is right handed or left handed and I was like… you think of these characters are real people, and that’s amazing to me because I think of them as real people too. Now I’m trying to go back into my notes because I’m sure I wrote down if Ruby was right handed or left handed. If someone says they really miss these characters, I’m like, I miss them too! Let’s talk about them!

That’s very cool.

It’s weird and wonderful because, when you’re writing, your characters live in your head and just in your head for so long. To have people appreciate them as much as you do… that’s magic.

If you’re aware of the fan art, are you aware of things like shipping?

Yes!

Do you take any of that into account?

I really can’t. I feel very strongly about authors staying true to their vision, but sometimes I’ll get feedback and I’m like yeah, I should probably fix that. For Passenger for instance, I heard from a lot of readers that the chapters were too long, and I was like yeah, I can fix that! I can make this easier for you guys to take a break. So stuff like that I take into account… I think readers catch when you’re giving them fan service, and I don’t think they always appreciate it. It’s so funny to me, because I think readers are surprised that authors have ships that they love. I started writing fan fiction, that’s what really got me into writing. I watched a lot of anime, I read a lot of manga growing up — I’m a huge Star Wars fan, my dad was a collector… authors are always shipping someone too. We’re there with you! Come talk to us about our ships!

With things like ships in YA fiction, how do you avoid falling into tropes and stereotypes? I know I loved TDM series because it wasn’t like anything I’d read before.

I think tropes are there because they work, and people constantly use them. I think the problem you run into is now there are so many books to choose from and it can feel repetitive to readers if you’re not going through and twisting a trope. You can use a trope, but like, you have to approach it from a very different angle or you have to find a way to twist it on its head. That’s how you make a trope feel fresh. You play with reader’s expectations… Another way to avoid it is to blend genres and blend interests. Passenger plays with the romance genre, but it also plays with historical fiction, and it also plays a little bit with fantasy… With YA I feel like there’s not that same genre expectation, you can mix and match to see what works. And I think ultimately what makes a story is the characters, so I think if your focus is the characters and developing them and making them interesting and different than anyone else you meet in another book, I think that really serves the story well.

In addition, Alex — once a fan fiction writer herself — encourages aspiring authors to keep writing fan fiction! On an unrelated note, we also determined that she has the perfect “selfie arms.” Thanks for chatting, Alex.

Signed Alexandra Bracken

Follow Alex Bracken on Twitter here.