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Ann Brashares talks dystopia and her new YA novel 'The Here and Now'

Over a decade ago, Ann Brashares wrote the first book of a series about four friends who form a sisterhood while sharing a pair of old jeans over a summer. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" achieved international acclaim and led to the "Sisterhood" movies. 

In recent years, she's kept busy writing fiction for adults ("The Last Summer [of You and Me]") and young adults ("My Name Is Memory").  Her new novel, "The Here and Now" (Delacorte Press, 256 pp., $18.99, ages 12 and up) is a departure from the tales of romance and friendship her fans know so well, taking her into another popular YA genre: dystopian fiction.

"The Here and Now"  is the story of Prenna, a teen from the future, where the world has fallen into disease-ridden destruction and survivors are forced to escape to the past. Prenna's situation is made complicated when she falls in love with someone who is not from the future, but rather, from the now.

Brashares, who lives in New York with her husband and four children, chatted by phone about the challenges of delving into a new genre — as well as what it means to be the author of one of the most familiar young-adult book series.  

She'll be appearing at the L.A. Times Festival of Books on Sunday at 10:30 a.m. on the panel "Somewhere in Time" with Eoin Colfer, Melissa de la Cruz and Tamara Ireland Stone, moderated by Sonya Sones. More info at http://events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks/

Young Adult Fiction: Somewhere in Time

What was the inspiration behind the premise for “The Here and Now”?

The very seed of the idea was trying to view the world from the perspective of the future — trying to see our present time in hindsight. That led to the idea of a love story involving a person who had lived in a future time — and how it would be if she were to come back, what sort of perspective she would have and how that would affect her relationship with somebody from the present time.

I asked myself, “Why would someone from the end of this century be here?" ... There are a lot of interesting writings on the near future, predictions and thoughts. I began researching those and reading what people imagined would happen with our climate and what that would mean. I eventually came to this catastrophic idea of a future full of blood plagues and mosquito-borne illnesses because there isn’t a true winter anymore. 

I also became interested in the idea that things were so desperate that people from the future tried to colonize a space station and another planet, but none of it worked. The only thing that does work is the idea of colonizing the past. What really resonated with me is that it’s so different from our whole idea of progress, manifest destiny and everything getting scientifically better. That somehow at this late date, we just have to go to backwards.          

With elements of time travel, “The Here and Now” is a departure from “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.” What was it like to try out a new genre?

It’s funny because I didn’t realize what I was getting into when I started. I started with familiar ground: the relationship. This person with this other perspective having this intimate, romantic relationship with someone from our time....

Once I started to think about time travel and the how and the why she got here, I found myself in a whole other genre, like it or not.  It ended up being a much harder book to write than I thought it would be.

And unlike "The Sisterhood" books, I probably have 10 pages written for every one page I published. I didn’t want the reader to have to struggle the way I was struggling.... So I wanted to get myself all figured out as far as how I was going to handle the version and the iterations of the future — how things change, when people come back and all the different paradoxes.

I bit off a lot more than I expected to chew.       

You are so well-known for "The Sisterhood" books. Does it ever become frustrating or challenging when you want to dive into something new?

In terms of me and my own desires, it’s not hard to follow what I feel like doing. I think it may be harder for people’s expectations. I have a great publisher at Random House and they’re willing to follow my whims a bit.

But I think often people want you to stick with what you’ve done. It can be a little bit intimidating to move into new territory, but I feel like not to do it would be a failure.

As a young teen, what were some of the books and characters who inspired you?

I didn’t read a lot of science-fiction and I didn’t read a lot of fantasy. I typically would read more realistic fiction and historical fiction. I loved Judy Blume and I loved Beverly Cleary. And then there were the classic books like “Little Women,” “Anne of Green Gables” and “Rebecca.” I read anything I could find, for the most part.

The Judy Blume books definitely stand out. I really connected to that wonderful, very intimate point of view. Judy Blume is able to provide readers with that feeling of wanting to establish an emotional connection to a character, and that’s been an inspiration to me as a writer throughout. If I can try and provide that reading experience or something like it, then I can feel gratified as a writer.      

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