Today, I’m part of the Untaken blog tour, and I got the chance to do an author interview with J.E. Anckorn. If you haven’t heard of Untaken, here’s your chance:
It turns out that a real alien invasion is nothing like the Sci-fi shows 14-year-old Gracie loves. Not when it’s your own family who are swallowed whole by those big silver ships. Not if it could be you next.
In her search for her family, Gracie meets Brandon, a high school dropout who would never have been caught dead hanging out with a dork like Gracie before the world ended. Gracie isn’t too crazy about Brandon either, but he has one thing she doesn’t: A plan.
Brandon’s uncle has a cabin up in Maine, and If Gracie and Brandon can survive long enough to get there they can hide out until the Space Men pack up their ships and leave. Until the army guys come to rescue them, says Brandon. Brandon is big into army guys. Gracie has to admit that Brandon’s Awesome Plan probably would have worked out great if wasn’t for Jake.
They found 5-year-old Jake, laying half-dead under the remains of someone’s ranch house. He’s a good kid, even if he won’t-or can’t- talk. But Jake has a secret, and when Gracie finds out what it is, the fragile new life they’ve started to forge looks set to break apart.
When the people you’ve been counting on to put the world back together start hunting you down, alien invaders are the least of your worries.
How did you get the idea for Untaken?
We were driving back from Maine to Massachusetts, and the thing about Maine if you’re a horror book nerd is that you can’t separate it from Stephen King in your mental geography. I’d basically spent a week imaging I was about to be creatively eviscerated by shape shifting clowns or devilish antique shop owners (the worst kind of antique shop owners). We stopped off at a huge outdoor goods store at the halfway point. Wondering through this mecha of dead animals and ways to make other animals dead while still in a King-based state of paranoia got me thinking- this would be the best place in the world to stock up in a survival horror scenario! The rest of the book sprung from that idea- only in ‘Untaken’ the store is at the heart of a spooky abandoned shopping mall…that might not be quite as abandoned as it seems. This in no way obligates me to pay Stephen King any royalties.
In the blurb, it’s clear that Gracie loves sci-fi, and from the novel it’s clear that it’s really the older Orsen Wells sci-fi that she’s in love with. Did that type of science fiction influence your writing at all?
Absolutely. My earliest exposure to sci-fi was actually John Wyndham (specifically ‘Day of the Triffids’), H.G. Wells, and John Christopher, who wrote the Tripods series- one of the great alien invasion-based series of all time. The TV series ‘V’ was a big influence too. I loved those books with one reservation- the women were there to scream, endanger the lives of the men by screaming, or in the case of John Christopher, hardly appear in the book at all (presumably they had important screaming work to do elsewhere.) My choice to make my sci-fi nerd a girl was a very conscious one. I wanted to write a book I thought younger me would have appreciated.
Why choose to tell Untaken from all three characters’ points of view?
Well I wanted it to be very character based. In a way the aliens are incidental to what for me was the interesting part of the book; how two very different people thrown together by necessity learn to get along. One of the issues editors had with Untaken was that part of the story is told from Jake’s point of view. He’s only five years old, and they questioned whether teens could relate to that. Well, when I was a teen, I was the oldest of four kids, so I could absolutely relate to a younger child! Gracie and Brandon are forced to be responsible for this little kid, and I feel that’s something a lot of teenagers can relate to- having to care for younger siblings. I think the attitude that teens can only read about teens is troubling, I don’t think it gives them the credit they deserve, or reflects their reality.
Why write for the young adult audience?
I love the diversity of the readership. It’s aimed at teens. But I think the themes it explores are relatable for all age groups. Everyone has been through the horrendous hellscape of hormones and dads who totally don’t get you. Also, one of the themes of Untaken is about the fear that comes from gaining your freedom and autonomy, but losing the support and security that comes with thinking adults know it all. It made sense to write it as a YA.
You’re also a “massive doodler and artist”- what’s your favorite period of art?
I love late Victorian art, especially Aubrey Beardsley, and art nouveau, and then all those great 60s psychedelic artists who riffed of art nouveau, like Peter Max and Heinz Edelmann. The film ‘Yellow Submarine’ turned on so many light bulbs in my art brain.
Of all the places you’ve lived, where would you love to go back to?
Well, it’s gotta be New Zealand. I spent my formative years there, and I left just before the whole Lord of the Rings/Flight of the Conchords thing happened and made New Zealand cool! All my friends became elves and hobbits and rock stars, and I moved to England and became a school child in an unconvincing tie. Children should never wear ties. It’s intrinsically creepy. So I’m going back to the land of the long white cloud to reclaim my birthright, as a wizard with a keytar.
What do you want readers to take away from Untaken?
I want them to be a little scared and a little sad; like they’d seen a child in a crisp new tie, but then uplifted and filled with hope, as though revived by the phat melodies of an antipodean keytar wizard. Actually, all books should be graded on a scale from ‘child in a tie’ to ‘keytar wizard.’ Let that be my gift to literature.