You might know award-winning writer John Shors for his world-spanning novels of romance, intrigue and history — page-turners like Beneath a Marble Sky and Unbound. So you might be surprised to find his latest set of books in the Young Adult section. Shors’s new trilogy, The Demon Seekers, is about a post-apocalyptic Earth in 2171, nearly a century after a hostile alien race turned our world into a prison for the worst of their kind, nearly wiping out humanity in the process.
In advance of his reading at Tattered Cover Aspen Grove on Thursday, February 6, we talked with Shors about his new fiction focus and what it’s like to write for a whole new audience.
Westword: You're bringing the three books in your new YA trilogy to the Tattered Cover. Can you talk about the book series and how it came about? It's quite a departure from your previous novels.
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John Shors: I'd wanted to write a young adult science fiction trilogy for a long time. Having lived for a few months in Australia back when I was in college, I was intrigued with the fact that Australia once served as a penal colony for the British Empire. It occurred to me that a really interesting premise for a science fiction series would be the concept that an alien race had turned Earth into a penal colony for the worst of their own kind. In such a scenario, how would any surviving humans fare? What would their world look like? Would they seek to destroy the alien intruders or hide from them? These sorts of questions bounced around in my head for many years. Finally, I decided to sit down and write the story that became the Demon Seekers trilogy.
How is it that all three books are already done, published and available? Usually fans have to wait with the customary bated breath for the next installment of their favorite series.
Penguin published my first six novels. I decided to self-publish my seventh novel, Unbound. I hired some of the best people in publishing to help me with the cover, the interior design, editing, etc. The book did very well, getting as high as #9 on Amazon, and was a bestseller in four countries. I made more money on it than most of my other books.
I worked for six years on the Demon Seekers trilogy. I was able to do that because my travel business brings in some good income. Therefore, I didn't need to rely on traditional book advances like most writers do. That's why typically books come out every eighteen months or so. My plan with The Demon Seekers was also to release all three novels at the same time, because I think people are such binge readers. I want people to be able to go from book to book in my series without waiting. So far, that strategy seems to be working really well. People are reading the entire series at once. I self-published the series, hiring all of the best people. They also have great distribution and are available pretty much anywhere in the world.
You mention your travel business as it relates to your writing. Has that that travel fed into this new YA series, as it has your past novels?
The Demon Seekers occurs in many different locations around Earth — from the Australian Outback to the temples of Japan to the jungles of Cambodia. I've been to all of these places, and clearly, it's easier to write about something that you understand and have firsthand knowledge of. In all my novels, one of my goals is for the setting to become a character of sorts within the story. And that was certainly the case in the Demon Seekers trilogy. I wanted to create apocalyptic yet recognizable settings, and my own travels allowed my imagination to take root and flourish.
What's been your experience with YA lit as a whole? Beyond Harry Potter, what else have you read in the genre and come to admire?
I've read many of the biggest series in the genre, such as The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight and more. I was intrigued with the approach that successful novelists were taking.
Did your own fatherhood play into the creation of these stories? Have you shared a love for YA fiction with your own kids at all?
I wanted to write a story that would strongly appeal to my children and their peers. That was the seed that led to me setting aside six years to work on this trilogy. I had always written with older generations in mind, and it was fun to write with a much younger generation in mind. My children and some of their friends acted as early editors during my writing process, reading the first draft and providing some feedback. That was fun.
What do you think it is about post-apocalypse Earth that so draws a YA audience?
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I think that many readers, both young and old, are interested in the concept of a post-apocalypse Earth. The older generations grew up fearing a nuclear war with Russia. The younger generations worry about significant climate change. In both scenarios, Earth would undergo radical and grim transformation. Perhaps our fears compel us to imagine such a place. We wonder if we'd survive, if we'd want to. Could such a world be improved? Could any survivors dare to hope? My characters wrestle with these same sorts of questions.
So what's next for John Shors, writer? Do you have more YA fiction in you, or will you be returning to your old adult-lit stamping grounds?
Well, there are several Hollywood studios that are quite interested in obtaining the film rights for the Demon Seekers series. My immediate goal is to sell the rights and then to be involved in the production of whatever comes next, whether it's a big series for Netflix or three separate movies for the big screen. Beyond this goal, I have several ideas for various novels, but really need to wait and see how readers react to The Demon Seekers. Fortunately, the series is off to a great start and has been extremely well received by readers. I'm grateful that so many people are connecting with my story.