Good morning! Today I’m sharing an interview with the author of 2015 debut title,Â Immaculate, Katelyn Detweiler. This interview is about her newest novel,Â Transcendent, which sounds REALLY good!
When terrorists bomb Disney World, seventeen-year-old Iris Spero is as horrified as anyone else. Then a stranger shows up on her stoop in Brooklyn, revealing a secret about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Irisâs birth, and throwing her entire identity into question. Everything she thought she knew about her parents, and about herself, is a lie.
Suddenly, the press is confronting Iris with the wild notion that she might be âspecial.â More than just special: she could be the miracle the world now so desperately needs. Families all across the grieving nation are pinning their hopes on Iris like she is some kind of saint or savior. Sheâs no longer sure whom she can trustâexcept for Zane, a homeless boy who long ago abandoned any kind of hope. She knows she canât possibly be the glorified person everyone wants her to beâ¦ but she also canât go back to being safe and anonymous. When nobody knows her but they all want a piece of her, who is Iris Spero now? And how can sheâone teenage girlâpossibly heal a broken world?
How did you come to write TRANSCENDENT?
My earliest, vague conception of the book was that it would start with an unprecedented tragedy, a state of international heartbreak and desperation so raw that the world would be at a total loss for what nextâlooking to anything, anyone, to bring stability or clarity or hope. I knew, too, that whatever the tragedy would be, it had to center on children. We can all recall how we felt when we heard about Sandy Hook. A mass shooting is horrifying no matter who the victims areâbut targeting children? I couldnât stop watching the news updates, staring at the faces of the students whoâd been killed, thinking about the futures they would never have, the families left behind.Â It was this memory that guided me hereâthe question of what could be so completely awful that people might actually stand still. Might remember, might keep remembering. For TRANSCENDENT, I chose a bombing. Disney World. I knew that my mind would have to go to dark places, that things had to get worse before they could get better. But it felt necessary to me, starting these conversationsâand it feels more necessary, more relevant today than ever.
Did you write it with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 in mind?
It was completely unintentional, though the timing seems hugely important to me now. I was in high school when the towers were hit. It felt like such a terrible, extraordinary, surreal event at the time. It was the beginningâto my mind, at leastâof a new era of terrorism, of that terrible state of wondering what awful tragedy would hit next. Teens today donât know another reality outside of our current world; theyâve grown up in a place where acts of terrorism and mass shootings have become the norm. I was especially horrified when the Pulse shooting happened, to think that Iâd targeted Orlando, too, in this book. But really, by the time it publishes, who knows how many other cities could be on the list of victims? No place is immune. Orlando could be any city, every city. This is our reality now. We need some outlet for our fearâwe need to find a way to still have hope.
One of the big themes in the book is hope and forgiveness overcoming hate and despair. Can you talk more about that and why itâs so relevant for young people today?
Itâs hard sometimes to not react to hate with more hate. To blindly lash out, hurt whoever hurt you, ensure justice is served. We see this in our personal lives. And we see it so often on an international scaleâthe fear that terrorism causes, the desperation. The feeling of weakness that can morph into something quite ugly, spawn intolerance for people who look a certain way, talk a certain way, pray a certain way. People desperately seek a target, someone to point a finger atâeven if that blame is unjust, irrational. But we cannot sink to that level. More hate will not solve the problem. More hate wonât make terrorism go away. Young people are still just formulating their opinions about the world, about othersâstruggling with who they are, who they want to be. They are still figuring out the role theyâll play in the world, their responsibilitiesââCan I make a difference?â How they learn to find answers to these questions helps to shape and strengthen their identity, their (our) future.
Is it important for people to believe in miracles and to have faith in difficult times?
I believe that in difficult times more than ever, people look for something biggerâthey want to believe that the world is not as black and white as it seems, that there is hope to be found beyond our everyday existence. Faith isnât necessarily about believing in God, or any god, some supreme being up in the clouds. It can be, sure, for some. But it can also be about trusting in yourself, in your family and/or your friends, in the love you choose to surround yourself with, the connections you make with the world around you. Thereâs a quote that opens IMMACULATE, attributed to Albert Einstein: Â âThere are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.â I love this ideaâthis thought that weâre just too jaded to realize how many tiny miracles are around us every day, even in the ugliest, darkest times. Life is a miracle. Weâre miracles. Weâre more than just our cells and our DNA.
This story, like your previous book IMMACULATE, is centered on a virgin birth. Why did you choose to explore that topic? Is TRANSCENDENT a religious book?
Iâve been fascinated by the idea of a pregnant virgin in contemporary times for years now, ever since I was a teenager and asked my own mom: would you believe me if I said I was a pregnant virgin? She said yes. She would believe me. It stuck with me, the idea that faithâwhether it be in a supreme being, or in a person you love and trust dearlyâcan be so all encompassing. That we can still believe in something that defies all science and reason. I would say that, at this point in life, I am spiritual more so than religious, and I think the book reflects this perspective. Spiritualityâto meâis believing in more than the orderly scientific rules of our world, even if we canât explain it, even if thereâs no doctrine to help us better understand. My goal for both books was to explore and question with respect for all sides; I wanted there to be something for everyone, to find the commonalities that unite people of different faiths (or no faiths) rather than the differences.
Why was it important for this story to take place in Brooklyn?
I knew from the outset that I wanted the backdrop of Brooklynâthat a more sheltered, traditional small town wouldnât do. Iris didnât just grow up reading about the wider world in books or hearing about it on TV. Sheâs experienced it firsthand. Sheâs been exposed to all different kinds of people, seen lives and cultures that are so different than hers. This felt necessary to me in building a protagonist who was comfortable enoughâempathetic enough, compassionate enough, bold enoughâto step up to the plate, to be a voice of change. I grew up in a small town (surrounded by fields and woods rather than people and skyscrapers) and moved to NYC eight years ago, Brooklyn specifically for the last few. Living here has heightened my awareness of the world. A lot of things were so much more theoretical to me beforeâpoverty and homelessness, for example. Different religions, different races, different cultures. I wanted a true microcosm for this story, a more accurate, complex representation of our world.
What role do race and privilege play in the book?
Privilege is key in all threads of the novel. To start: Disney is attacked because of the vast privilege it represents. This is not a park, a destination, for everyone. This is for a select, elite group. A fairytale that is unobtainable to so manyâa tangible way of separating out the haves and the have-nots.
Iris herself is an upper middle class white teenager in Brooklyn. Though sheâs open minded and aware of the disparity around herâvolunteering at a soup kitchen, engaging with the homelessâsheâs still very much in her own bubble. Irisâs Brooklyn is the version we see across the media: farmers markets and organic everything, beautiful old brownstones, hip, industrial-looking bars and restaurants, pretty white people with beards and buns and bicycles. Iris has accepted this privilege as normal, more or less, until for the first time the guarantees of her life come into question. Iris ends up at a homeless shelter; sheâs confronted by a side of Brooklyn that sheâd only glimpsed at surface-level before. Iris must question basic assumptions about herselfâand othersâas she struggles with how to reorient her life.
Do you think thereâs value in exploring these ideas fictionally, vs. conversations that start from live news, internet articles, social media, etc. around current events?
Our perception of current events today is so heavily influenced by the speed of news, the internet and social media generally, the constant demand for fresh, compelling content; weâre blasted with horrific tragedies every weekâbecoming increasingly graphic and uncensored, as evidenced by the streaming video we saw of Philando Castile, dying after being shot by a cop. Week after week, day after day, itâs something new, something equally or more shocking than weâve seen before. Weâre becoming so numbâthe names and faces fade so quickly. Already, Orlando and Pulse feel so long ago. Weâve had so much tragedy to face since then. Our brains can only absorb so much pain and suffering. I think it sometimes takes stepping *out* of our realityâour day to dayâinto literature (or movies, TV, etc.) to fully process our thoughts, to make sense of how we feel, what role we could possibly have in change. Books slow us down, show us new perspectives, challenge our beliefs. In reading we can intimately identify with characters, individualsâsee something in them that speaks to our own lives, our own fears and dreams. And, hopefully, we leave books with a new understanding of our real worldâand a new resilience.
Did you readÂ Immaculate? Will you tryÂ Transcendent?