Sarah Fine's Of Metal and Wishes is quickly winning over readers with its dark premise and diverse characters. With hints of The Phantom of the Opera, it's not hard to see why readers are already eager for the sequel. Today, Sarah answers some of our burning questions about the novel's setting, the cultural dynamics and diversity in YA. Take a look:
The book is set in a slaughterhouse, which is a refreshing and perfectly creepy setting. Can you tell us a little bit about how the setting came to be and how it plays its own role in the novel?
I have been haunted by The Jungle by Upton Sinclair for years, ever since I read it as a teen. A few years ago, I was watching the documentary Food Inc., and there was some hidden camera video of workers, mostly undocumented, working in terrible conditions in a poultry processing plant. The moment I saw that, it reminded me of The Jungle, and I just decided I needed to write a book set in a slaughterhouse. Inspiration can be random like that.
I do see the meat factory in this book as one of the characters, and sometimes Wen even thinks of it as a living thing. I decided to show the reader very little of the world outside the slaughterhouse — I know that can be frustrating to readers sometimes, but I wanted them to experience the feeling of being trapped, just like all the characters are, in the belly of the beast.
The prejudice and political turmoil between the Noor and the upper-class add a dynamic social commentary to the story. What was it like creating the book's society and people?
It was important to me that the culture in the book be entirely fictional because these racial and class dynamics occur everywhere, between many groups of people. They’re human dynamics. However, there were several inspirations for the Noor and the Itanyai. Of course, I was influenced by the experiences of the immigrant workers in The Jungle and Food Inc., but also by long conversations with my sister, who has lived in China for the better part of the last seventeen years. We had many discussions about the ongoing conflict in the Xinjiang Province of that country, between the Turkic Uyghur (pronounced WEE-gur) ethnic group and the Han Chinese, and I decided to very loosely frame the cultural differences and tension on that. However, I created beliefs, customs, norms, holidays and even hand gestures to establish my fictional ethnic groups.
Wen and Melik have such strong chemistry. How do you go about creating a believable and engrossing romance?
Well, I never know if it will engross others, only that it engrosses me as an author. When I can’t get the couple out of my head, when they are the first thing that pops into my mind when I wake in the middle of the night, then I know I’m onto something. Wen and Melik are so different from each other, and I worked hard to create them as fully realized individuals whose sole purpose is not to end up with one another, but to accomplish various other goals that are important to them. These two have so much to overcome, but they admire one another deeply in terms of character, conscience, selflessness and strength, not just physical attraction (although that’s there, too!), and I think that’s pretty romantic!
What was the most challenging part about writing the book? The easiest?
Can I start with the easiest? That would be drafting. This book came pouring out of me in the space of just a few weeks. Revision was a much longer process, though I love feeling confident that I’m making my book better, and my editor, Ruta Rimas at McElderry, gave me wonderful guidance in that respect. However, for me, the most challenging thing was putting the story down between drafts and giving it time to rest. It’s essential for gaining a clear-eyed perspective on one’s own work, but when I’m in love with a story, I am constantly tinkering with it.
If you made a wish to the Ghost, what would it be?
I would wish for this book to find its audience. Now I just have to think of what I’d leave on his altar as a gift in exchange for granting this wish ...
What can you tell us about the sequel?
Of Metal and Wishes frequently has been described as a loose retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but the sequel takes off into new territory. All I can tell you right now is that it’s on a much grander scale than the first book, in terms of the conflict and violence, the cultural differences, and the romance.
With a diverse set of characters and a person of color on the cover, what are your thoughts on diversity in YA literature? What do you hope to see more of?
I think we’re starting to get somewhere, and so much credit goes to the We Need Diverse Books campaign and other similar initiatives for that. I would like to see YA books with diverse characters not get marginalized into “specialty” sections. I would like to see diversity become normal and expected, as common in books and on covers as it is in life. And I would like to see authors of color standing in the spotlight, given their due recognition for their talent and contributions to YA literature.
Of Metal and Wishes is currently available, so rush out and grab you copy today! For more author interviews, check out our Everything YA page.