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'Proxy' creates a gay action hero for young audiences

An author talks about writing for a younger audience and a gay protagonist.

Alex London (Credit: Jonathan Kleinman) Alex London Credit: Jonathan Kleinman

Alex London's new young adult novel, "Proxy," serves up a dystopian future where the debt-laden have-nots, or proxies, suffer punishments on behalf of the wealthier haves, known as patrons — that is until one of the proxies, Syd, comes face-to-face with his patron for the first time. We check in with London about writing for older readers, creating a gay action hero and welcoming "Hunger Games" comparisons.

How do you approach writing for teens as opposed to younger readers? Are there age-specific considerations to make?

The voices are very different, but there is no deliberate choice that happens in the beginning. I don’t write "for kids" or "for teens" — the categories are much too broad; every young reader is a thousand contradictions — but I write books that I think might be of interest to them. Of course, when writing for the younger set, I'm sensitive to sentence structure and vocabulary. I have to make sure my syntax isn’t too complicated for someone who has just begun solo reading. Otherwise, I've found there's very little difference in the act of writing. If I'm telling a story that captures some piece of the teenage experience, then I think teens will find their way to it.

More and more, adults are consuming YA titles, adding to your book's prospective audience. Do you take that into consideration at all when writing, or is it just an added bonus?

It is a nice added bonus! I think adults are looking for the authenticity and the immediacy they find in literature for teens. You have no time to indulge yourself when writing a YA novel. You have to capture the reader's interest and keep it with a good story and compelling characters. There’s no reason adults wouldn’t respond to those things, too. I hope both teens and adults enjoy "Proxy" by the millions! My dog eats expensive food.

How often does "the Hunger Games" come up in conversation for you, and how annoying is that?

It comes up a lot. Luckily, I like the books. Suzanne Collins is a genius at pacing a story. And of course, I welcome the comparisons because, again, my dog’s food is expensive.

Acceptance of homosexuality seems to be advancing rapidly, especially among younger people, and as an example of that you have this book marketed as "YA" and not just "Gay YA."

We’ve come a long way as a culture since I was a teenager, and LGBT visibility is at a high point. I mean, they’re even carrying "Proxy" in Walmart! Just five years ago I’m not sure that could have happened. I set out to write an action-adventure story — "Mad Max," not "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert." When I started writing, I didn’t even know that one of my main characters would be gay. His sexuality is, of course, a major part of who he is, but it isn’t a major part of the story. It’s just a fact of the world. There are gay people, they exist, and they are the protagonists in their own lives. I don’t think any one facet of a person’s identity should limit the kinds of stories they get to see themselves in. Syd is gay, but he’s also an action hero, and I hope he’ll be judged by his daring escapes and kick-ass battles, not his sexuality.

When I described this book to a friend, his first question was, "Could it be a series?" So, could it? How much thought have you given that?

There is a sequel! I just turned it in to my publisher the day before "Proxy" was published. It’s called "Guardian," and it will come out in 2014. I don’t want to give too much about it away, but I’ll say this: The stakes are much higher for Syd and his friends.

 
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