Shaun Hutchinson was nice enough to come by and talk about We Are the Ants. I am now obsessed with this book. :)
I love that the impetus for this story is the main character losing his boyfriend. (I don’t like THAT part; I’m not a jerk. But I love that it’s a gay relationship. Can you explain why you made that choice?)
Thank you! I really feel it’s important to discuss and write about suicide and mental illness. I suffer from depression and attempted suicide when I was 19, so it’s something that definitely influences my work. But with We Are the Ants, I wanted to look at suicide from a different angle. From the POV of the survivors. It took me a long time after my own suicide attempt to consider how what I’d done affected my family and friends. There’s a mention in the book about how Audrey (Henry’s best friend) and Jesse had a pact that if Jesse was thinking about hurting himself, he’d let Audrey know and give her 24 hours to talk to him and help him. I made a similar promise to my best friend, but I broke it, and I still feel the guilt over the pain I caused her. So I wanted to explore that from the side of the survivors. And coupling Henry’s grief with this idea that aliens seem to have given him the chance to spare the world from complete destruction seemed natural to me because Henry isn’t sure a world where Jesse couldn’t find a single reason to live is worth saving.
What was the inspiration for this book?
There was no one real inspiration in this case. We Are the Ants went through many iterations. It began as a haunted house story, morphed into a murder mystery, and at one point was a sci-fi set on a space station. None of those were really working for me though. Enter the sluggers (Henry’s name for the aliens). As soon as I started thinking about them, Henry’s voice came through so clearly that I couldn’t ignore it. Aliens had abducted him and told him the world was ending. Then they told him he could save it. I thought I’d abandoned Jesse’s character, but I realized that Henry’s story wasn’t going to be about how he saves the earth, but about whether the earth was worth saving. And that’s where Jesse came back in. Like I said, there was no one inspiration. I drew upon my own history with depression, my love of science and weirdness, and it just sort of came together from there.
Do you believe in alien abductions (or in aliens in general)?
I found this really great quote by Arthur C. Clarke that I used before the start of the story. It goes, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” That perfectly describes how I feel. Honestly, I feel the same way about aliens that I feel about God. I’m not sure. There’s no evidence aliens exist, but the universe is so vast and weird and amazing that I can’t discount the possibility that they might exist somewhere out there. It’s terrifying to think that in an infinite universe, we are alone. I hope we’re not. I hope one day we’ll find proof that there is other life out there. But I just don’t know. I remain hopeful. And if we’re not alone, I hope the aliens are peaceful.
Can you share the first few paragraphs?
Consider your life for a moment. Think about all those little rituals that sustain you throughout your day—from the moment you wake up until that last, lonely midnight hour when you guzzle a gallon of Nyquil to drown out the persistent voice in your head. The one that whispers that you should give up, give in, that tomorrow won’t be better than today. Think about the absurdity of brushing your teeth, of arguing with your mother over the appropriateness of what you’re wearing to school, of homework, of grade point averages and boyfriends and hot school lunches.
We shave our legs and pluck our eyebrows and slather our bodies with creams and lotions. We starve ourselves so we can fit into the perfect pair of jeans, we pollute our bodies with drugs to increase our muscles so we’ll look good without a shirt. We drive fast and party hard and study for exams that don’t mean dick in the grand scheme of the cosmos.
Physicists have theorized that we live in an infinite and infinitely expanding universe, and that everything in it will eventually repeat. There are infinite copies of your mom and your dad and your clothes-stealing little sister. There are infinite copies of you. Despite what you’ve spent your entire life believing, you are not a special snowflake. Somewhere out there, another you is living your life. Chances are they’re living it better. They’re learning to speak French or screwing their brains out instead of loafing on the couch in their boxers stuffing their face with bowl after bowl of Fruity Oatholes while wondering why they’re all alone on a Friday night. But that’s not even the worst part. What’s really going to send you running over the side of the nearest bridge is that none of it matters. I’ll die, you’ll die, we’ll all die, and the things we’ve done, the choices we’ve made, will amount to nothing.
Out in the world, crawling in a field at the edge of some bullshit town with a name like Shoshoni or Medicine Bow, is an ant. You weren’t aware of it. Didn’t know whether it was a soldier, a drone, or the queen. Didn’t care if it was scouting for food to drag back to the nest or building new tunnels for wriggly ant larvae. Until now, that ant simply didn’t exist for you. If I hadn’t mentioned it, you would have continued on with your life, pin-balling from one tedious task to the next—shoving your tongue into the bacterial minefield of your girlfriend’s mouth, doodling the variations of your combined names on the cover of your notebook—waiting for electronic bits to zoom through the air and tell you that someone was thinking about you. That for one fleeting moment you were the most significant person in someone else’s insignificant life. But whether you knew about it or not, that ant is still out there doing ant things while you wait for the next text message to prove that out of the seven billion self-centered people on this planet, you are important. Your entire sense of self-worth is predicated upon your belief that you matter, that you matter to the universe.
But you don’t.
Because we are the ants.”
If you could make one book mandatory, what would it be and why?
On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. For me, On the Jellicoe Road is everything that’s great about YA literature. The prose is stunning without being overwrought. It’s complex and beautiful and perfect. Whenever I’m feeling stuck with my own writing or feeling like I’m a terrible writer, I reread that book for inspiration. A very, very close second would be Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle (fun fact: there’s a little nod to Andrew Smith and Grasshopper Jungle in We Are the Ants).
What are your five favorite authors?
What books are you excited for next year?
There are so many books I’m excited for! Hannah Moskowitz has a new one out in 2016 called Your Machine Anatomy (I freaking love that title). The second book in The Illuminae Files by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff will hit shelves (The first book isn’t out yet, but I read an ARC, and it’s AMAZING). Melina Marchetta will have an adult book out called Shaming the Devil. The third book in the Raven Cycle (The Raven King) and the third book in The Fifth Wave series (The Last Star) both come out. And Brandon Sanderson will be dropping his third book in The Starlight Archives series. Plus, I’m sure there are tons of books coming out I don’t even know about yet. There’s always so much to get excited about in YA. It really is a great time to be both a reader and a writer.
Thanks, Shaun! :)