How did you come up with the idea behind your book and the concept of every word costing actual money?
We live in a lawsuit-crazy time, where words are routinely trademarked in a way that makes me deeply concerned. I took this logic and pressed fast-forward on it. I wish I could say it seems impossible that we might ever reach a time where we might have to pay for our words, but if you can be sued for using a word now, I think there is some real danger down the road for us that speech could be restricted based on trade. The good news is that while cases of outrageous word trademarks make the news every few months, if you follow these cases to the end, they are rarely successful.
Where did the inspiration for your book come from?
While I am lucky enough to live in a society that values freedom of speech, that doesn’t mean that speaking comes without a price. Communication is hard. Saying the wrong thing can cost people dearly, both personally and professionally. If you’ve ever said the wrong thing and regretted it, you know this firsthand. We live in a time of unparalleled access to each other and, at the same moment, have found so many ways to shut down discourse and innovation by ending dialogue. I fear we aren’t heading in the right direction on this and I truly hope readers will be horrified by the world of ALL RIGHTS RESERVED, and be inspired to fight against such a potential future.
How do you go about creating such vivid characters?
Good character writing starts with empathy. Humans have developed this amazing capacity to imagine what it is like to be someone else—to imagine their motives and desires—and what we imagine is incredibly useful. In writing characters like Speth, Sam and Saretha, I had to think about how close they would be to one another as a result of living without any real adult guidance. It makes them very close in some ways, but then the system that requires them to pay to speak begins to tear them apart as the book opens. Empathizing with them is painful because things go so wrong, and you want to see them succeed and thrive or, at least, survive. The addition of Kel into the mix, as a mentor and parental figure, only complicates things, because it is a role she shouldn’t have to take.
How I wrote Speth’s family is in bizarre contrast to how I wrote Margot and Henri. The two of them appeared one morning in an early draft, fully formed. This happens sometimes and I don’t completely understand it. I’m deeply grateful to the power of the subconscious and whatever hard work it does behind the scenes to make things like this happen. I adore both of them and sympathize with the deep frustration they feel in trying to reach Speth when Speth can’t communicate with them.
What was the biggest difference or challenge you found writing your first YA book?
I didn’t set out to write ALL RIGHTS RESERVED as a YA book. I also succeeded in not writing a YA book in my first draft. But that draft wasn’t very good. I scrapped it and moved on. I returned to the idea when I found a new way into the story. I found a way to counterpoint the world of the story with someone who refuses to participate in it. When I began to think about what it would mean to go silent, I felt a teen girl was the best choice for the story. Teens and especially teen girls have so much to say and are often dismissed, belittled, or go unheard in a way that I find profoundly unfair.
What is your writing routine like?
I don’t have a routine. I find routines guilt-inducing…and scary. Also, I have no discipline. I find my best writing is done if I have 3 or more hours to myself without interruption. Unfortunately, interruptions don’t seem to know this.
What authors inspired you to start writing?
Douglas Adams, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Barbara Kingsolver all got me interested in what I could do with words and story, each for very different reasons.
Who is your favorite author?
I’m not going to play favorites with authors. My favorite vegetable is the humble carrot.
And why do you write?
I don’t think I have any choice in the matter. I have so many ideas I won’t be able to write everything I want to before I expire.
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About The Book
Speth Jime is anxious to deliver her Last Day speech and celebrate her transition into adulthood. The moment she turns fifteen, Speth must pay for every word she speaks (“Sorry” is a flat ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt), for every nod ($0.99/sec), for every scream ($0.99/sec) and even every gesture of affection. She’s been raised to know the consequences of falling into debt, and can’t begin to imagine the pain of having her eyes shocked for speaking words that she’s unable to afford.
But when Speth’s friend Beecher commits suicide rather than work off his family’s crippling debt, she can’t express her shock and dismay without breaking her Last Day contract and sending her family into Collection. Backed into a corner, Speth finds a loophole: rather than read her speech—rather than say anything at all—she closes her mouth and vows never to speak again. Speth’s unexpected defiance of tradition sparks a media frenzy, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps, and threatens to destroy her, her family and the entire city around them.