interview by Kate O’Shaughnessy
We are thrilled to welcome Darcey Rosenblatt to the blog! Darcey is famous among writers in our area for starting an annual craft-based workshop for advanced middle grade and young adult novelists called Better Books Marin. She is a champion for writers, and an accomplished writer herself. Her debut middle grade novel came out in August 2017 (read our craft review of Lost Boys here).
KidLit Craft: What inspired you to write LOST BOYS?
Darcey Rosenblatt: The idea for this story came to me like lightning — complete with one of those spine-tingling, goose bump-filled moments that writers learn not to ignore. Host Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air was interviewing P.W. Singer about his book Children at War which is about the global use of children as soldiers. The story of what happened to a generation of Iranian boys took only a few minutes of an hour-long interview, but I couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like to be a boy in Iran in the 1980’s. I’d read the wonderful graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, which tells the story of this period of time through a young girl’s perspective. My first thought was, “Someone needs to tell this story from the boy’s perspective.” My second thought was, “That someone isn’t me.”
For months after hearing this interview, I tried to work on other projects, but I found myself researching what happened to these young boys. My research brought me several first hand sources that convinced me that 1) no one else was telling this tale and 2) with the help of people who had lived through these times, I could take on the challenge of telling a story so outside my personal experience.
Tell us about the process of writing LOST BOYS. Can you give a brief overview of your writing process from idea to publication?
It took me over a decade to write and sell this book. I was working full time and being a parent, so the actual writing took a long time, but then I got a lot of rejections. They were largely encouraging rejections – agents and editors asked for fulls and then said nice things in rejections, but a no is a no and it was discouraging. But I believed in the book and was persistent. In ways I think it was waiting for the right time and the right people. I was able to sign with my dream agent, Erin Murphy, and she brought me to the wonderful folks at Henry Holt who, like me, wanted to get this story into the hands of readers, young and old.
How did you go about making your characters and setting feel historically accurate both from a timeframe and a cultural perspective?
As I mentioned, my research brought me two important first hand sources that helped me immensely with this challenge. P.W. Singer’s book Children at War referenced a book called Khomeini’s Forgotten Sons – The Story of Iran’s Boy Soldiers written by Ian Brown, who taught in the Iraqi POW camps in the 1980’s. Although the book is no longer in print, when I contacted Mr. Brown he said he’d be overjoyed if I could use his non-fiction accounts to help tell the story. His book was invaluable and he read my manuscript and offered helpful comments.
I also had a neighborhood acquaintance, Masood Moghaddam, from Iran, and he is exactly the age that Reza would be now if he weren’t a fictional character. Masood’s family sent him to the United States at 13 to avoid Reza’s fate. Masood’s memories of growing up in Iran and how his family’s life changed after the revolution gave the characters developing in my head substance and color. Over the course of writing this book I had the help of several additional readers of Iranian descent who read and commented on my work in progress.
LOST BOYS is about a young boy’s experiences during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. How did you balance fiction with history? What choices did you make to both honor what truly happened and also honor your storytelling muse?
In short, I started with the historic facts and then made up fictional characters and their story around those facts. The history of these boys is so dramatic that it made sense to simply feed these facts to my muse and make up story and characters that served the real history.
Some of the most poignant scenes in the book are violent and are quite traumatizing for your main character, Reza. How did you decide how much was appropriate to put in?
Achieving this balance was probably the hardest thing about writing this book. I’d chosen to tell this as a middle grade novel, and I wanted to leave some hope in the story. What actually happened to most of these boys was worse than the story I chose to tell. That said, it was important for me to include enough of the trauma to be true to the story. Early in my writing career I was schooled by Jacqueline Woodson who said that kids are usually stronger than we give them credit for. I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons I write for this age group is that they are looking to their fiction to find their truths, and as writers we have a responsibility to speak to this truth.
Do you have a structure that you use to develop your characters and plot?
What was your favorite scene or character to write? Why?
Oh, such a hard question. Because Reza is my main character, I feel close to him, but writing the scenes that show the growing, changing friendships between these boys in such difficult situations made me happy, and I think these scenes helped me bring heart to the story.
What’s next for Darcey Rosenblatt fans? Where can we find you online?
I am working on a story about a contemporary girl from L.A. who finds the courage she needs through learning surprising things about her great-grandmother and grandmother’s involvement in the California water wars. I’m online at darceyr.com and on Twitter @Darcey_r.
Thanks so much, Darcey!
Darcey Rosenblatt writes for middle grade and teenage people because she believes for them stories can be life changing – they were for her. Her debut novel Lost Boys (Henry Holt for Young Readers) was released in August 2017. Darcey is a cofounder of the annual Better Books Workshop for middle grade and young adult writers. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her fabulous husband and daughter, some fish, and the best dog in the world.