Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Our Sweet Six: An Interview with Alex London, Author of PROXY

Have you guys heard about Alex London and PROXY, yet? If not, all I can say is thank me later because you are going to want a piece of this action. This book is a nonstop thrill ride of awesome that managed to make me feel all the feels along the way. Tired of melodramatic romances overshadowing the larger plot? PROXY is more bromance than romance, and the friendship that develops between the two main characters is one of my favorite parts of the book. Here's the blurb that sucked me in:

Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid

The Valentine's Sweet Six

 1. You're a writing pro, with several adult and middle-grade books out on the shelves, but PROXY, which releases on June 18th, is your first YA novel. Tell us about it.

I once wrote the sentence: Proxy is a semi-messianic, queer-affirming sci-fi thriller which critiques the corrupt meritocracy forged by neo-liberal capitalism and the dehumanizing nature of financialized debt...for teens. 

I vowed never to share this sentence in public. Oops.

Proxy is a futuristic thriller about two guys from opposite ends of society who are never supposed to know each other. There is Knox, a patron—privileged, entitled, kind of obnoxious, dashingly handsome, and there is Syd--an orphan, a loner, closed off, and desperately trying to get out of debt. It’s the debt he’s in that makes him Knox’s proxy. When Knox gets in trouble, Syd is punished. When Knox’s hijinks go too far, Syd has had enough and the two of them end up caught up in events much larger themselves. They're going to need each other to survive.

That’s the plot anyway.

To me, the heart of the story is these guys figuring out how to connect--with themselves, with each other, with the world around them in a larger way than mere self-interest. It’s sort of the fundamental journey we all have to go through in growing up. 

Usually, though, there aren’t clone armies after us. Syd and Knox have to deal with that too.

The book came from two places, really—Sid Fleischman’s chapter book, The Whipping Boy (which is an obvious inspiration; I even seeded references to it throughout the book. I wonder if anyone will get them all?) and from some stuff I was dealing with, guilt trying to process my own privileged upbringing and trying to figure out why all the stories I read with main characters who were gay were about being gay in some way, were "issue" novels. In this story, Syd happens to be gay, but that’s not really germane to the plot. I don’t believe that any one facet of a person’s identity should limit the kinds of stories they get to see themselves in, so I wanted to write an action-packed adventure tale about big ideas—debt, friendship, society—that didn’t shrink itself into a “gay” novel.

So there’s a lot going on, but I mean it to be a page-turner…I repeat: clone armies.

2. What scene in your book do you love the most?

How can I choose just one?? Did you see how long my last answer was?? Did you see all the big words I used in that first sentence??

I love the first chapter because I wrote it a very very long time ago, before I knew much about the book and the form it exists in now is almost identical to how it came out in the first draft. That is rare for me. Usually everything gets rewritten.

There is a camping scene in the desert in the middle of the book where the three central characters (spoiler alert: there’s a girl) get to (briefly) be normal teens again, silly, flawed, sarcastic, hormonal. I love that scene.

And lastly, the last scene of the book, which I rewrote and reconceived a million times (well, seven times, counting when I hid out in Penguin's offices and tweaked it in pencil one last time on the final page proofs). I ended up surprising myself with what happened. I don’t want to ruin it, but I did not expect it to go the way it did (although looking back it seems inevitable…like I was setting it up from page one…I just didn’t know that). It makes me cry and it makes me smile. I'm very proud of that scene. 

3. Name a YA character, not your own, that you love, who and why?

Obviously, I’m not going to pick just one! I could name a dozen! A hundred! Choosing a favorite book character is like choosing a favorite person…there are many I love, but some I keep closer to the bed. So: Titus from Feed by MT Anderson and Lyra from His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. 

Titus is just such a perfect depiction of an average teen in an all too plausible futuristic world (and he is, to a small degree, a literary antecedent to Knox in Proxy). I love his flaws, his naïve lack of enthusiasm for the wonders around him and his obliviousness to the horrors. In that way, too, he is like me, growing up in Baltimore as the murder rate was spiking in the 90's and AIDS was decimating the gay and the African-American communities…I knew none of that. I was just hanging with my friends in prep school, looking for a good time, thinking how lame everything was. But in Feed, Titus grows; Titus questions; Titus evolves. We should all hope that for our characters. We should all hope that for ourselves. 

And Lyra. Amazing Lyra in the His Dark Materials trilogy. She’s tough, she’s bold, she’s inconsistent, she’s a liar and a dreamer and a hero and a fully realized human in a fully realized fantasy world. She may be one of the best ever created. She's accessible enough for the reader to pour himself into (for the same reason Harry Potter or Bella in Twilight are kind of bland…we need to project ourselves into them) but unlike Harry or Bella, Lyra is also a fully unique individual and far from bland. She's quirky and universal; a character we can aspire to be and also far from a role model. I mean…how did Pullman pull that off? The man is a genius.

4. What's the craziest, most memorable valentine you've ever received?

I have received precious few valentines. Actually there aren't any that I can recall! I guess I don't really do valentines day. I was closeted for most of high school, so romance wasn’t really in the cards and later, it just seemed like a corporate holiday for straight couples to overpay for dinner. After nearly 10 years with my partner, I like to think every day is romantic and special and we don’t need one prescribed day to celebrate our relationship. 

Also, I always forget about it until the morning of. But my rationalizations sounded convincing, right?

5. If you were a Brach's heart, what phrase would be written on you?

You R Not Alone

6. Flowers, candy, or... *Paula flails to come up with a more Y-chromosome friendly choice* human flesh? (What? According to his blog he wrote a MG book about cannibals!)

I did write a middle grade novel called We Dine With Cannibals, but in the story the Cannibals are (spoiler alert) a red herring. My way of playing with colonial stereotypes and assumptions about ‘the other’ through silly middle grade adventure stories. So probably a no-go on the human flesh. Not because of the taboo. I’m an adventurous eater, but because I couldn’t bear to think my dinner was somebody's son or daughter. It doesn't seem right. Then again, the same could be said about cows or pigs or chickens, all of which I  eat...hmmm....I'm a hypocrite.

Better go with candy. Flowers die, but cavities are forever.

So my dentist keeps telling me! Alex, you rock for being my first Valentines victim, er, interviewee, and I cannot wait to watch the public clamor for PROXY just like I did :)

Alex London writes books for adults, children and teens. At one time a journalist who traveled the world reporting from conflict zones and refugee camps, he now is a full time novelist living in Brooklyn.

Check out Alex's blog, twitter, and FB.


  1. I was so impressed by this interview, Paula, that I immediately went over to GR and added this book to my WANT IT NOW list. I recognized The Whipping Boy in the novel description even before Alex mentioned it and immediately thought, hey, what a cool idea!

    And now I'm wondering what the heck happens in that final scene?

    No, NO, don't tell me. I want to get there by myself. ;)

    Thanks so much to Alex for doing the interview!

    1. Final scene made me CHEER and CRY and start harassing Alex on twitter to write faster, dammit. I NEED book #2 :)

  2. "Flowers die, but cavities are forever." <-- LOL How true that statement is!

    I cannot wait to read this, ever since Paula recommended it to me weeks ago! Thanks for the interview! :)

  3. I MUST have this book!! You had me at clone armies.

  4. Yeah. I was totally blown away by Alex's thoughtful answers and I think this is my fave book with a gay MC (and of color, no less). Syd's orientation doesn't take over the whole plot and it's not some tacked-on to be PC thing either. It just worked for me on so many levels :)

  5. I can't wait for everyone to fall in love with Syd and Knox the way I did! And the ending! Oh...the ending. I'm still recovering.

  6. This book sounds great, and I love that it has a gay MC whose whole arc isn't about being gay. And what kid doesn't want to read a biting critique on neo-liberal capitalism?

  7. This book sounds amazing! I can't wait to get my hands on it.

  8. Holy book premise. I'm dying here. As soon as I read the blurb I thought: The Whipping Boy. Love it. Can't wait for this one.

  9. You guys are amazing. Thanks for your comments and I do hope you enjoy the book!

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  11. Oh sorry, book after Guardian #2 (2014). I really need to know or I'm going to DIE! D;