Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Author Interview with Caragh O'Brien!

Today is the official release date for Caragh O'Brien's YA dystopian novel, Birthmarked! Have you heard of this fantastic book yet? It's one of my absolute favorite reads of 2010 so far, and is comparable to The Hunger Games in terms of scope and action, with the addictiveness of Maria Snyder's Study series. I reviewed it here on my blog several weeks ago; if you're interested, please go check it out!

I'm extremely lucky to have the opportunity to interview Caragh, which is supremely humbling as I have a feeling she'll become famous famous famous for Birthmarked real soon (if we can do anything about that). Anyway, without further ado...

Interview with Caragh O'Brien

1. Dystopian stories are usually the result of expanding a current issue into a plausible futuristic reality. What was the present-day "issue" or event that inspired Birthmarked?

Let me first say thank you for inviting me by to ponder a few questions. When I saw how a drought in the U.S. was creating a southern wasteland in the winter of 2008, it frightened me with its implications. For Birthmarked, I extended today’s climate change problems and the social justice related to them out into the future.

2. The code that Gaia has to solve in the book is delightfully complex, though with actually rather simple foundations. What is the extent and history of your interest in codes?

I’ve loved codes since I taught myself the manual alphabet from the back of a book about Helen Keller in fourth grade. My father was a cryptologist for the army and he often invented little playful, loving codes for me to decipher. I’m fascinated by how we use code for so many different things, like genes and music and secrets.

3. I loved playing with codes when I was younger, too! Now, the title Birthmarked refers to the almost imperceptible tattoo that is given to certain babies in the novel. If you got a tattoo, what would it be of?

For sure I’d get the tattoo from the book. I tried it with a marker once already.

4. Very nice. :) Describe a day in the life of "Caragh O'Brien, soon-to-be bestselling dystopian author."

That “bestselling” bit is ridiculous, of course. Since I’m on leave from teaching right now to write Book 2, I get up, check my email (like now), write, eat some breakfast, write, notice I’ve forgotten lunch, eat it, write, take a walk, have dinner with my family, write, and check my email again.

5. Glad to find out I'm not the only one who can forget to eat lunch due to writing! I also beg to differ on the "bestselling" bit--not if I can have anything to do with it. What kind of research went into the writing of Birthmarked?

I did some research on hemophilia, basic genetics, and human inbreeding, and then I asked my husband how I could have a cure for some of the problems in the book. He’s a professor of physiology and neurobiology, and he told me about suppressor genes. I did some research on midwifery and herbs, too, and then late one night, I picked the brain of a friend who is a midwife. It was really helpful to have experts to talk to.

6. Do you enjoy reading dystopian lit? What are some of your favorite and most highly recommended dystopian novels?

I do like dystopian lit. I find dystopias in the most wonderful places, like The Crucible by Arthur Miller. Ayn Rand’s Anthem is by far my favorite because of that whole “we” thing. I read The Hunger Games after I wrote Birthmarked and thought it was great. It disturbed me a lot, actually.

7. What's a book you've tried to read but couldn't make yourself finish?

I forget such books, so I’m drawing a blank.

8. What do you do to get yourself out of a writing funk?

I give myself permission to write badly and I keep writing. It’s painful, believe me. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen often.

9. If you accidentally got caught in a time machine that brought you 100 years into the future, what would you notice to be the most drastic differences? What's the first thing you'd want to explore?

I think it will be hotter in 100 years and we’ll all be wearing gorgeous hats and fashions to stay covered up. I’d want to explore what’s become of my children’s children.

10. Anything else you'd like to add for readers?

I’d just like to add that I’m thankful, Steph, that you’ve been so supportive of my novel, what with your nice review and inviting me by for an interview. It’s a little strange to write a story in private, and care about it deeply, and then realize strangers are off reading it somewhere, hopefully with chocolate. Knowing Gaia’s story worked for you gives me hope that others might like it, too.


And thank you, Caragh, for your interesting answers, and for giving us this glimpse into your thoughts! And I'm being completely non-facetious when I say that if you could only read one book in the next month, her book should be it. Do consider picking up a copy of Birthmarked the next time you're in a bookstore; there's a 99% chance you won't regret it!



  1. I'm reading this now and am absolutely LOVING it. I'm so glad there will be a second book! Thanks so much for that lovely interview Steph. :)

  2. I loved this book and really enjoyed reading the interview. Great job!

  3. I loved the interview and I want to read the book now :)

  4. Awesome interview! I'm really intrigued by the references to the research Caragh O'Brien did for Birthmarked, which sounds just incredible. I also need to go look up Anthem, which I haven't heard of before.

  5. After reading this interview I want to get this book! I had no idea it was about genetics, which is so interesting.

    from Une Parole

  6. Great interview! I loved the codes in Birthmarked.

  7. Fabulous, fun interview -- and I can't wait to read this one! The Hunger Games was one of my favorite reads last year and helped introduce me to dystopian lit... Birthmarked sounds fantastic!

  8. Another fantastic interview! She sounds like a down-to-earth person, someone I would enjoy meeting.


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