GETTIN’ LUCKY: an interview with Steven dos Santos, author of THE CULLING

Today, we’re talking to Steven dos Santos, author of the dystopian young adult novel The Culling–out today, from Flux Books! Let’s take a look at this thrilling blurb before we get started–

Recruitment Day is here…if you fail, a loved one will die…The Culling (cover)

For Lucian “Lucky” Spark, Recruitment Day means the Establishment, a totalitarian government, will force him to become one of five Recruits competing to join the ruthless Imposer task force. Each Recruit participates in increasingly difficult and violent military training for a chance to advance to the next level. Those who fail must choose an “Incentive”—a family member—to be brutally killed. If Lucky fails, he’ll have to choose death for his only living relative: Cole, his four-year-old brother.

Lucky will do everything he can to keep his brother alive, even if it means sacrificing the lives of other Recruits’ loved ones. What Lucky isn’t prepared for is his undeniable attraction to the handsome, rebellious Digory Tycho. While Lucky and Digory train together, their relationship grows. But daring to care for another Recruit in a world where love is used as the ultimate weapon is extremely dangerous. As Lucky soon learns, the consequences can be deadly…

Doesn’t that sound edge-of-your-seat exciting? I’ve been lusting after this book for months, and I’m so excited to have gotten a chance to talk to the author.

What do you think has been the most unique or unexpected aspect of your journey to publication?

I would have to say coming out of the publication gate writing a series as opposed to a stand alone novel has been both unique and unexpected. When I first started seriously pursuing publication back in 2001, I never expected that when I finally got published it would be in a multi-book deal. As exciting as it is, it’s also a little stressful. When I started writing, I told myself I’d never write a sequel until the first book had been published. Now I find myself in this very scenario and it’s a challenge to revisit the same world I created in The Culling in other books and somehow find a way to keep things fresh and exciting and (hopefully) tell a huge, epic story that will not disappoint too many people. It’s strange to be working on books 2 and 3 when book 1 hasn’t even come out yet, but I consider myself very fortunate to be in this situation!

If you were to branch out into another genre, what would that genre be and why?

That’s easy. Horror, hands down! LOL. I love creepy stories, particularly psychological horror in the Stephen King vein. Stories that get under your skin and keep you up late at night long after you’ve stopped reading. I don’t feel there are enough of these types of stories in YA fiction. I’d love to give it a shot someday, maybe after The Torch Keeper series is over!

Queer protagonists remain sadly underrepresented, particularly in speculative YA. Are you happy with the attention The Culling is drawing for having a gay protagonist, or would you like to see more focus on the book as a dystopian YA, rather than a queer dystopian YA?

Actually, I’m very excited about the fact that The Culling seems to be drawing attention in both the dystopian YA community, as well as the LGBTQ community. This to me is a positive sign of the times. As I’m sure you know, many times when a book comes out that features a gay main character, regardless of what the book is about, it’s labeled as a Gay book. That would be like labeling a paranormal book featuring a heterosexual protagonist as a Straight book. I’m hopeful that things are progressing and that ultimately, books featuring minority protagonists will be classified according to their genre, as opposed to the character’s sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. We all have our differences, but we share a common humanity with universal emotions that everyone is capable of relating to. That being said, I agree that there’s currently a severe underrepresentation of LGBTQ characters in most genres of YA and hopefully more authors will accept the challenge to address this.

What did you struggle most with while writing/editing The Culling? Was there any particular plot point or aspect that kept giving you trouble?

I am extremely fortunate that plotting is something I truly enjoy. I think my love for film and television has programmed me (pun intended ;-)) and helped develop my instincts regarding pacing and tension. That being said, the book is divided into three parts and the second of these required an extensive revamp which I had to pull off during edits without losing any of my characterization moments which are at the heart of the story. I also have a tendency to overwrite, so I ended up trimming around 40k words from The Culling, while trying to keep the core of the story intact. The readers will be the final judge of whether or not I managed to pull it off and I’m crossing my fingers they won’t demand my Culling!

It’s time to preen: what part of the book are you proudest of? A particular scene, a world-building aspect, a character?

Without giving too much away, I would have to say that the nature of each individual Trial the recruits have to go through was a real challenge. How do you make them brutal and at the same time keep them changing enough so that each time there’s an increasing level of tension? I didn’t want the Trials to start feeling like they were repeating themselves, and I kept throwing in new twists to keep them fresh and more emotionally draining for my poor characters. This aspect and the fact that I was able to incorporate gay characters as the leads, make their sexuality a non-issue, and still treat the story as mainstream were very satisfying to me.

As this community is All for One and OneFour KidLit, we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid.

I would have to say that at the age of 8, I read Paul Gallico’s The Poseidon Adventure, which was an adult novel that I somehow managed to check out of the library because as a kid I loved the movie so much. That’s the book I remember starting me down the path to reading and leading me to devour countless other tomes growing up.

The other books I loved as a child were C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, which cast their magic spell on me, and led to many hours of reading and playing make believe adventures with my friends, back in the days when kids used to actually play outside and explore any world their imaginations could conjure up…sigh. Now I feel ancient! LOL!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Steven–and good luck on release day!

Steven dos SantosYou can find Steven dos Santos skulking about at:

Add The Culling on Goodreads, or buy it via:
Amazon US & Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
The Book Depository

Corinne Duyvis lives in Amsterdam, where she writes speculative YA novels and gets her geek on whenever possible. She also sleeps an inordinate amount. Her debut YA fantasy novel OTHERBOUND is forthcoming in 2014 from Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books. (Corinne is very excited, and hopes this development won’t impede her sleeping schedule too much.)

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