7 YA Authors Sound Off On How The Trump Administration Has Affected Their Work
A while back, I needed a vain, misogynistic villain for my new young adult novel — and the real world gave me one. It was the fall of 2016. I was working on The Brink of Darkness, the sequel to a fantasy thriller called The Edge of Everything. Donald Trump was running for president, and the vile Access Hollywood tape of him bragging about sexually assaulting women had just been made public. I couldn’t get the tape — and the sick message it sent — out of my head.
At the time, I was writing a subplot about a character named Sylvie, who’d lived in the 1920s and been sent to Hell for murder. I was trying to figure out who exactly she had murdered. You probably see where this is going. The husband I gave Sylvie is a gentleman farmer named Fernley. He pretends to be sauve and brags about his expertise at just about everything, but he is actually vicious and utterly useless. As Sylvie puts it, “I remember him being confused by a rake one time.” Fernley thinks he’s handsome (he owns an a silver “electromagnetic” comb, which he believes will fix his thinning hair and which he keeps on a piece of red velvet), and boasts about his wealth, though he’s secretly going broke. What ultimately dooms him, though, is that he thinks both Sylvie and a young female servant are his sexual property. A man hearing Sylvie’s story in Hell says he’d gladly have killed Fernley for her. Sylvie says, “The answer to a violent man is not always another violent man.” Asked what the answer is, she says, “In this case, it was two violent women.”
The best YA novels tend to be about empathy, empowerment and inclusiveness, all of which we need now more than ever. I asked a handful of young adult authors I admire if the Trump administration had already begun to affect their work. The short answer was yes. Here's what they said:
A.S. King, author of 'Still Life with Tornado' and 'Please Ignore Vera Dietz'
"I was writing a beast of a novel in the autumn of 2016 and it was giving me a hard time. The outcome of the election knocked me over. I stared at the screen. I couldn’t get my mind away from the news. I asked myself: Who voted for this person? I looked around my town. I knew who voted for this person. While I’ve always written about white supremacy, the election of Trump urged me to dig more deeply into that beast of a novel and into my own privilege. I’m a white woman who lives in an area where (actual) Nazis feel pretty safe and “regular” people are conveniently blind to or in support of systemic racism. Trump and his cavalier embrace of white supremacy made me want to focus on the soil that grows that casual norm. In Dig (which comes out March 26, 2019), I hope to encourage readers to think about where their own inherent racism came from. And then to break it to pieces with the nearest garden tool."
Sabaa Tahir, author of the An Ember in the Ashes series
"While working on A Reaper at the Gates, I struggled to write, distracted on an hourly basis by what was happening on the political stage. The debates over immigration and DACA, the chilling lack of empathy for refugees, particularly women and children, and the sickening misogyny of the administration, directly inspired the following line: “Curse this world for what it does to the mothers, for what it does to the daughters. Curse it for making us strong through loss and pain, our hearts torn from our chests again and again. Curse it for forcing us to endure.”
Zoraida Córdova, author of the Brooklyn Brujas series
"Young Adult literature is, above all, the stories of rebellion. My fantasies have always included a rebel group, a marginalized magical class, or the fight against an impending evil. In Hollow Crown (which comes out in 2019), the monarch spreads lies through propaganda and there is no way for the people to know what the truth is. I can't pull back from writing about resistance, especially during this administration. Lean in."
Jeff Zentner, author of 'Goodbye Days' and 'The Serpent King'
"I’ve approached our current political nightmare from a satirical direction. My forthcoming book has, for example, a blowhard, egomaniac character who is indebted to the Russian mob and who offers grandiose, spurious promises. Another running joke is a very specific form of science denial. Above all, I wanted to make people laugh, because there’s not much to laugh at these days."
Lamar Giles, author of 'Overturned' and 'Endangered'
"The way Donald Trump's presidency has changed my writing... the villains. I thought I understood what villains had to do to get people on their side, that they had to fake charm, or swagger. I used to think villains had to hypnotize most people to their cause. Nope. They can be as bold and overt with their hate/racism/misogyny/deceit as a Saturday morning cartoon as long as they promise a select group of slickly like-minded individuals they'll come out on top. So, in that way it's freed me up to focus not so much on making the villain fully formed, but to study the dark reactions of side characters. I wrote a story for the Three Sides of a Heart anthology called "The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Catwoman.” I won't spoil it here, but there's a character in the mix that might deserve their own book. In that book, they'll do the dirty things they're known for openly, with little regard for maintaining any semblance of decency, and maybe they'll get away with it because they promise to Make [Town] Great Again."
John Corey Whaley, author of 'Highly Illogical Behavior' and 'Where Things Come Back'
"Writing has always been about figuring out my life — often through the lens of a teen — and my life since Trump was elected has been chaos. All our lives have been. I am working on trying to find meaning in that chaos and in the hopelessness that we all feel because of the drastic and scary cultural changes happening all around us. I really can’t see how any artist wouldn’t be changed, in some way, by this bizzaro world in which we’ve found ourselves. Do I know what the meaning of all this is yet? Not a clue. Do I think we will all be okay? I’m really not sure. But my job is to create fiction that can hopefully foster empathy in my readers—so this has me playing around with form and structure in my writing to reflect our new reality and its chaos. Because we live in a stranger-than-fiction world now, I feel there’s a freedom and somewhat of an obligation (for me at least) to explore what meaning/value/lesson/empathy can possibly be learned from the gut-punch of a criminal and treasonous president and his racist, homophobic cult-like followers taking over the country."
Bree Barton, author of 'Heart of Thorns'
"In the first two drafts of Heart of Thorns, I had a fuzzy concept of an “evil king.” After the election, let’s just say that character emerged in high definition. For the first time I saw King Ronan of Clan Killian for what he was: a hateful tyrant who seals the borders, persecutes people of color, and abuses his bisexual son. A man who not only condones assaulting women, but makes it actual policy. Sound familiar?
As a cis white woman, I was bouncing along in an oblivious little bubble before Trump seized the throne. Suddenly I was forced to confront my own privilege. I knew in my bones I wanted to create a magical system in which the female body has evolved to right the imbalance of power. In the world of HoT, this power is why women are feared and hated… but the more they are feared and hated, the more powerful they become."