Tuesday, August 4, 2015

In conversation with Suzanne van Rooyen

Suzanne van Rooyen is one of those wonderful people I've met through bookish things, and I recently reviewed her YA SF novel, I Heart Robot. You can read the review here. Anyhoo, she's graciously stopped by today to sit in the hot seat for a little Q&A.

Welcome, Suzanne! You've got less than thirty seconds to tell someone what I Heart Robot is about. Go!

I Heart Robot is about a girl who loves music and a robot-boy who loves music, and about how that girl and robot-boy accidentally discover they might love each other even when their world conspires against them.

What are some of the defining moments of the story?

Almost impossible without giving away spoilers, but since it's obvious from the blurb, I'd say the moment Quinn and Tyri first see each other, which isn't necessarily when they first meet ;) Both characters also have pretty firm beliefs, which are put to the test and they each have to face pretty daunting situations that result in a paradigm shift.

What are some of the underlying themes that you explore in the narrative?

What it means to be human is the overarching theme, and whether or not human creations can ever become more then human. The story also deals a lot with tolerance and acceptance, the theme of discrimination and civil rights. The idea of equality is a major theme, especially the question of who (or perhaps what, for some) deserves rights.

Tell us a bit more about your primary characters. Who are they? What are their goals, and what are some of the challenges that they face?

Tyri is a 16yr old girl who lives with her single-parent, workaholic mom. She loves music and plays the violin with aspirations of one day becoming a professional musician in a world that is becoming more and more utilitarian. She primarily wears black (and can look good rocking ten different shades at once!) and sticks all her favourite scores to her ceiling. She's not a huge fan of raspberry jam. At the start of the book, Tyri's biggest challenge is getting her family and friends to take her passion for music seriously. She feels isolated and more than a little lost as she drifts away from her longtime boyfriend and tries to stay true to who she is despite outside pressure to be someone she's not.

Quinn is a rogue android, hiding out from a troubled past in a robot squatter camp. His biggest challenges involve trying to fuel up without being robbed by fellow robots and evading capture by the humans. He is also a musician and his major goal in life is to show the humans that he is more than just metal and electronics by playing music as well as any human being. Quinn is a pacifist and tries to distance himself from the increasing conflict between robots and humans, but seems to find himself caught up in the storm the more he tries to stay out of it.

As a South African living and working abroad, how does this affect you? Do you miss South Africa? Do you feel your experiences inform your writing? 

This affects me in unexpected ways, for example, I have never met my agent in person and have no idea when I might ever get that opportunity. Similarly, I miss out on a lot of marketing and publicity opportunities because these efforts are often concentrated in the US at conventions that are just too expensive for me to attend on a regular basis. Also, getting to the US from Sweden is no mean feat and I still have my day job to consider.

I definitely miss my friends and family still in South Africa and there were many parts of my life there that I loved - like getting away for weekends and going hiking in the Drakensberg. Also, don't get me started on all the edibles I miss! Thankfully, when the SA post office isn't on strike, my mom sends me parcels with Ouma rusks and Woolies fudge.

Being an immigrant and having lived now in four countries on three continents has definitely informed my writing. I never would've set I Heart Robot in a futuristic Scandinavia if I hadn't moved to the north and had those experiences to draw from. I've also been lucky enough to travel fairly extensively in Europe - from Russia to Iceland - and have experienced a range of cultures. Being an immigrant mingling with other immigrants has also opened my eyes to the kaleidoscopic nature of the human experience and I hope that I can weave at least some of what I've gained by interacting with people and cultures well outside my comfort zone into my stories.

What books are you currently reading, and what do you like about them?

I'm reading my first Andrew Smith novel, The Alex Crow. I like how out-there this story is and how authentic the voice of the teenage boy is. Authenticity in YA is a big thing for me and I appreciate the honesty in this novel. I've also just read The Martian by Andy Weir and it was the first time I've ever read what might count as hard sci-fi and been unable to put the book down. It was gripping and engaging and had me turning pages well into the wee hours of the morning. Weir sure can create tension in his work, and he writes with humor - something I'm still trying to do more of.

Travel destinations often say a lot about people. What's currently at the top of your bucket list, and why?

Somewhere with sandy beaches, sunshine and cocktails served with tiny umbrellas in them. I would do anything for a tropical island getaway after this miserable winter we've had. My big dream is to one day go diving in the Galapagos islands. I would also love to stay in one of those little log cabins on stilts in the ocean like they have in French Polynesia. Give me sunshine and cocktails, and I'll be happy!

Sixteen-year-old Tyri wants to be a musician and wants to be with someone who won't belittle her musical aspirations.

Q-I-99 aka 'Quinn' lives in a scrap metal sanctuary with other rogue droids. While some use violence to make their voices heard, demanding equal rights for AI enhanced robots, Quinn just wants a moment on stage with his violin to show the humans that androids like him have more to offer than their processing power.

Tyri and Quinn's worlds collide when they're accepted by the Baldur Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. As the rift between robots and humans deepens, Tyri and Quinn's love of music brings them closer together, making Tyri question where her loyalties lie and Quinn question his place in the world. With the city on the brink of civil war, Tyri and Quinn make a shocking discovery that turns their world inside out. Will their passion for music be enough to hold them together while everything else crumbles down around them, or will the truth of who they are tear them apart?

We hold each other’s gaze, her hazel eyes so warm and full of humanity. If eyes are the windows to the soul, I wonder what Tyri sees in mine.
“I still think if I concentrated on something other than music, I could do something worthwhile, you know?” She says.
“Like what?”
“Like getting involved. Being proactive. Be the change you want to see and all that. Music isn’t important.” She fidgets with her sleeves, tearing a thread loose at the seam.
“Why’s it not important?”
“Because playing the violin won’t change anything; it won’t give my life meaning. I—” She pauses and frowns as I scowl. In one sentence, this girl has managed to dismiss my entire purpose.
More about Suzanne:
Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. She currently lives in Sweden and is busy making friends with the ghosts of her Viking ancestors. Although she has a master’s degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. When she grows up, she wants to be an elf – until then, she spends her time (when not writing) wall climbing, buying far too many books, and entertaining her shiba inu, Lego. Her books include The Other Me (Harmony Ink) and I Heart Robot (Month9Books).

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