Darren Groth writes powerful and insightful young adult novels. His work has won several prestigious awards and has been a finalist for the coveted Governor General’s Literary Awards in Canada.
Bonnie Ferrante: Welcome Darren. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to interview you.
Darren Groth: Thanks, Bonnie. Great to be with you.
Ferrante: You are originally from Australia and came to Canada in 2007. How does the literary landscape for young adult writers compare in Canada to Australia?
Groth: Writing-wise, both are at the cutting edge of YA. Fine work from any number of brilliant authors abounds in both countries. In terms of the industry, the category is robust and agile and leads the way in the quest to bring greater diversity to the shelves. One Aussie initiative that has been highly successful in spotlighting the category is ‘LoveOzYA’, which started as a humble hashtag and is now a vibrant movement attracting the attention of publishers and booksellers alike. It would be great to see ‘LoveCanYA’ or something similar put together here.
Ferrante: You have teenage twins, do they ever inspire your topics or approach to writing? Do you think they help you to reconnect with your teenage self?
Groth: As a writer who looks close to home for fictional fare, my twins have been very inspirational. My novels KINDLING and ARE YOU SEEING ME? are dedicated to my son and daughter respectively, and arose out of fundamental questions I grapple with as a father and parent. Do they help me reconnect with teen me? In some ways. More so, I think they give me a window on the young adult of today; the stuff that I never had to consider or deal with when I was their age, and the stuff that never changes and remains constant from generation to generation.
Ferrante: ARE YOU SEEING ME? was a powerful book about love, courage, and sacrifice, putting a sibling’s needs first. Although the protagonist was autistic, it was easy for the reader to relate to his inner landscape. You must have done a great deal of research to acquire such an intimate knowledge of this condition. What advice would you give my readers on interacting with people on the spectrum?
Groth: Thank you for those kind words – I’m thrilled you related so well to Perry. I did do quite a bit of research, but I’m also father to a fifteen year old son who is on the spectrum, so my intimate knowledge is also derived from lived experience. My advice for hanging out with ASD folks? Be open of mind, heart and spirit.
Ferrante: Justine cares for her autistic brother and is viewed with sympathy and admiration by others. She sees herself differently. What, if any, misconceptions would you like to see corrected about the family and support systems of people on the spectrum?
Groth: You nailed it with the sympathy and admiration associated with Justine. Viewing neurodiverse families primarily through such lenses is a symptom of ‘otherness’. We need to move beyond otherness and focus on the characteristics and the motivations and the joys and the challenges that are shared. We need to find and embrace ‘anotherness’.
Ferrante: Your newest release, MUNRO VS. THE COYOTE, is about grief and guilt manifesting as an inner critical voice Munro names the Coyote. Why did you choose this animal as the symbol of his psychological struggle?
Groth: Munro’s therapist, Ollie, names the voice ‘Coyote’ and it serves as a nod to First Nations folklore. Aboriginal tales often depict Coyote as a trickster and a deceiver – that was the perfect identity for the destructive presence plaguing Munro’s mind.
Ferrante: Munro goes to Australia, your previous home, on a student exchange. Do you often use Australia as the setting for your books? Does it feel more familiar for you than Vancouver, Canada?
Groth: I’ve largely used Aussie settings to this point in my career, but I’m gravitating more and more towards ‘home’ here in Canada. Interestingly, in MUNRO VS. THE COYOTE, Brisbane felt very foreign to me and I was much more comfortable writing the Vancouver references.
Ferrante: Several of your books feature protagonists who are a little different or have unusual characteristics such as autism and Down’s Syndrome. Could you tell us how and why you choose these particular subjects and what you do to ensure authenticity in your writing with regards to their abilities, challenges, and life experiences?
Groth: Between being an ASD parent and a former special education teacher, it’s no surprise that disability and neurodiversity feature prominently in my writing. It’s also important for me to tackle these subjects due to their poor levels of representation in YA and adult fiction. In this age of #WeNeedDiverseBooks and #OwnVoices, it’s vital that those marginalized groups with little or no agency to tell their stories still have a place on the shelves. Regarding authenticity, it requires immersed experience and quality research. And even with both of these things, the decision to write in first-person POV requires very serious consideration and, in some cases, rejection.
Ferrante: Is there anything you would like to share with us about your work or upcoming projects?
Groth: I’m very proud to say that my next book is a novella I co-wrote with my younger brother, Simon. It’s called INFINITE BLUE and will be released Fall 2018. Simon and I also do a podcast called ‘Fireproof Garage’ where we rant, lie, crack up, and generally talk all sorts of bookish stuff. You can find it at simongroth.com.
Ferrante: Now, for a bit of fun.
(From a bit of banter.)
Ferrante: Of all the movies you’ve seen, which one made the strongest impression?
Groth: ‘The Usual Suspects’ is my all-time fave. Iconic bad guy, and the finest example of unreliable narrator you’re ever likely to see.
Ferrante: What proverb best sums you up?
Groth: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Ferrante: If you were a natural disaster, what would you be, and why?