YA author Arwen Elys Dayton gives us insight into her Seeker series and the amazing cast of complex characters challenged with finding faith in who they are and what their purpose is.
I recently had a chance to interview Seeker author Arwen Elys Dayton about the Seeker series and the characters involved in the story. Seeker, which came out last year, delves into the lives of four young people whose lives change drastically after one of them seeks vengeance for the wrong done to his family. Traveler, the sequel to Seeker, was released in January and continues with the four characters as they try to right the wrongs done in each of their family’s past. The first book has already been optioned for film and is in the pre-production phase.
In this interview, we ask Arwen about the Seeker family symbols, the characters, including the new characters in Traveler, and we even ask her about book three of the Seeker series, Disruptor.
How would you describe your Seeker series in 5 words?
Wow. 5 words is tough, but I would say it’s something lke “Idealism, Betrayal, In-Pieces, Threat, and Renewal”
We know that Quin has the ram for her Seeker family, Shinobu has the eagle for his, and John has the fox for his. How did you come up with the animals that represented each Seeker house?
Well, it wasn’t deeply philosophical. I had a fan ask me this too and he had all of these cross-correlations, and the meaning of ram, what kind of animal it was and what it represented, but I thought of it more as where their families were from and that animal be of that area, one that they might traditionally associate with. There wasn’t necessarily a hidden meaning other than just these families have been around for a very long time, and that medieval families use animals that you might not see as that elegant often represent the family, like a ram or a goat or something odd. So, it was more from that framework.
I love all your main characters and I love that you gave one of them a somewhat uncommon nationality combination. What was the inspiration for making Shinobu half Japanese and half Scottish?
I went to school at a pretty international school, so there were kids from all over the world. So it was really normal to have a Japanese roommate, and kids from all over Europe and different parts of Asia and you’d find these international kids who were half western. And I always found them really beautiful and fascinating. It was somehow like the combination would bring out attributes that were more interesting than the westerner or Asian traits on their own in some way, and I was always fascinated with these kids and their cool look. So I guess it’s been a little bit of an intriguing and inspiring concept to me since I was a kid.
In Seeker, we know that Shinobu has some serious addiction issues. And even though it does seem he’s over the drug phase, how does his past addiction affect him in Traveler?
The thing is that he can’t trust himself. He gets himself to what feels like a stable and safe point, but then something else can kind of tip the balance and now he’s not sure he can trust himself again. In Traveler he replaces one addiction for another. The first addiction being drugs as a teenager in Hong Kong. And then there’s this device that they discover in Traveler that is intended to help you focus your thought, but if used incorrectly, can actually kind of adulterate or sully or damage your thoughts. So, it ends up being sort of almost another addiction for him, and though he’s aware that’s the case, he’s not entirely able to step back from it. I love him so much as a character, but you can’t just fully trust that he will do what’s right. Even though he’s trying to do that.
In Seeker, we see John doing some very villainous things to try to reclaim what is rightfully his. Then in Traveler, he goes through some identity issues because of it. What was it like trying to write his character to be more than someone who turns from good to bad?
I’ve always kind of understood and felt sorry for John. I get the most fan reaction to John in a way. Some people get him and like him, and many others are like, why would Quin fall for him? Why did you make him ambiguous? But I feel like we’re all ambiguous, depending on how you look at us. He grew up in a situation that was so much more intense. He was sort of taught to hide his real intentions at a real young age, but for what appeared to be good reasons, noble reasons. I think of him as being between such a hard, large rock and such a bad, hard place that’s pushing him. I’ve always understood how he ended up there, and had hoped that maybe he could pull himself out of it, and find a way to balance these things. But even if he didn’t, I was sort of sympathetic to his situation, so I guess for me I’m willing to have someone appear bad if I understand how they got there.
I find those characters a lot more interesting than being a 2-dimensional evil guy. So I felt very sympathetic to his cause, too.
I don’t think anyone, even if you interviewed someone truly terrible, one that everyone would agree was a terrible person, they would have many logical reasons why what they’re doing isn’t so bad. For me, it was a matter of exploring that, and if you were so young and you were given these reasons, even if they were by other people, they would seem totally justifiable.
Well, all your characters are pretty ambiguous in that they make mistakes.
I agree. If you think about it, Quin actually did some of the things she accuses John of being willing to do. Nobody has perfectly clean hands, let’s put it that way.
In Traveler, you bring us two new perspectives to help narrate the story. What was the biggest challenge in writing from 6 points of view rather than 4? And why was it important to add their POVs into the story?
The biggest POV out of it is Catherine, John’s mother. Catherine really comes as kind of the villain in the first story in some ways. Her influence has set all of these things in motion in a certain way. But I never saw Catherine as always having been that person. I always wanted to be able to explain why Catherine became the person she was, and I actually think in some ways she’s the most interesting character, because she’s the most dynamic and idealistic of all of them at the beginning. So seeing things through her eyes when she was a teenager, I felt it was an interesting way to teach us more of the history that led to that point.
And there’s this younger character called Nott who is a kid essentially out of the middle ages in our modern world, and in pretty rough shape. For me, he gave the perspective of the true villain who sort of comes into focus in this book and what it would be like to live under that person’s influence.
Six POVs seems like a lot. Even though there are six characters and we see through their eyes at one time or another in this story, it doesn’t feel like six very separate POVs. I think that the four main characters are still so much in and out of each other’s lives that the chapters with them feel very cohesive, I hope. So it’s not like there’s six people. It’s more that they are woven together.
With that said, we are introduced to Nott. Can you give us an age range for his character?
I think he’s about 12. He could look anywhere between 11 and 14, but I think of him as being around 12.
I was sympathetic to him, too.
I really like Nott. And I have a son, but he’s not like Nott, but I’m familiar to that 11-12 age range. They are very open, there’s no veneer. What they think, they say, and what they say, they’re going to do. I like that age.
What was the challenge of writing between Maud and Quin’s different perspectives?
I feel like Quin is the most normal person, even though her upbringing hasn’t been normal. She’s almost more like the center through which we see the whole story. Her decisions make the most sense to us, even though she doesn’t always make the right ones.
I don’t know where Maud came from, but that’s she’s appeared fully formed in my mind. She’s had this calm, frightening, hard-to-budge vibe about her. Writing from Maud is always thinking that she has this deep-seated basic belief, of what she’s supposed to do and what other people are supposed to do, and it’s very hard to change her view on any of those things. Her view is usually right, in such a noble way, that it doesn’t always translate into day-to-day action. So writing for Maud is sort of like writing this long perspective. What it would be like if I wasn’t involved in the day to day details and I have this sweeping view of these people’s lives.
Whereas Quin can be still sort of a teenager, a very mature teenager, but still a teenager.
What characters, if any, are based on or inspired by real people?
It’s so hard to know that, because I think they’re based more on moments of real emotions that the author experiences or that the author’s close friends went through rather than one specific person. For Quin, she had so much faith in her father and her parents, and what her life was going to be. She was so idealistic about that and thankful to be in this family. And then the betrayal in the beginning of Seeker was so devastating because of that, and trying to pick up the pieces of her life after was so hard. Not that any normal person has those stakes in their life, but I felt like when we’re teenagers, we go through some version of that, whether it’s a because of a friend or boyfriend or crush or your parents getting divorced or something where it’s not the beautiful, happy life you had sort of expected. For me it was sort of that same feeling. I’d like to say that none of us make it through our teen years alive. But with much higher stakes, it’s hard to imagine what you would do in that situation.
Read More: Book review on Traveler by Arwen Elys Dayton
Which character was your favorite perspective to write from?
That’s a hard one. In traveler, I’d say it’s probably Catherine, because I felt like I was saving up so much about her that I got to say in the second book that didn’t show through in the first book. But honestly, when I’m writing from each point of view, it feels like my favorite at that moment.
What can you tell us about Disrupter?
Well, in Disruptor, the world has sort of unfolded even larger. It’s like we’re in this big house and more doors are open that we can see down. They were always there, but we just didn’t see them yet. Disruptor kind of blows those doors all open. It picks up the threads that have been mentioned in Seeker and brought up again in Traveler, but were not fully revealed. It’s sort of like everything in the seeker history that’s been touched on kind of comes into this tapestry, and is sort of either ended or reinvented through the eyes of our four main characters. It’s sort of a coming together of all of these threads, and I can’t really what happens.
If you were given a choice to be a Seeker or a Dread, which would you be?
It would have to be a Seeker, because I can’t imagine not seeing my family and living the same life my family is living. But if you aren’t happy with your family I suppose Dread is a good option.
And what news do you have about the movie adaptation?
Well, I love the writer that they got, who’s the same writer that wrote the Jungle Book adaptation. And that truly looks amazing, so I’m very excited about the writer. I don’t have direct control over the process, but I love the team they put together. I’m optimistic.