Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your YA thriller novel, Bent Heavens, through Henry Holt! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story?
Daniel Kraus: Most of my books deal with the human capacity for evil, and how we justify it to ourselves. For me, bad versus badder is far more interesting than good versus bad, because where do we draw the line at something being too bad? I don’t think there’s any realm where this struggle is more blatant than in relation to torture.
So, that was the inspiration: America’s program of torture that kicked into high gear after 9/11. Now, I know that doesn’t sound like the funnest book you’ve ever read, but it’s all folded into what I hope is a thrilling, mysterious story of alien abduction. Liv’s dad disappeared years ago after warning his family about aliens. Liv, of course, doesn’t believe in any of that, and is finally about to disassemble her dad’s ridiculous alien traps when suddenly… she catches an alien.
Then, she and friend, Doug – who was the protégé of Liv’s dad – have to decide whether to turn in the alien or taken matters into their own hands.
BD: The novel deftly combines various genres and keeps readers engaged at a breakneck pace. What can you share with us about your creative process in weaving these genres together, and what have been some of your creative influences?
DK: I always try to genre-mix. I love playing with familiar iconography, and then go in different directions than that iconography suggests. In the case of Bent Heavens, I’m dealing with UFOs, aliens, all that, and it raises in a reader certain expectations. That’s great, because then I can subvert all those expectations and take you on a trip where nothing is what you think it is.
BD: In light of Bent Heavens being a Young Adult novel, do you feel that - as a writer - you must approach suspense or science fiction with a specific set of narrative tools to accommodate the targeted age group?
DK: I have a middle-grade trilogy coming out soon, and, for that, I definitely had to consider what younger readers are bringing to the book, how skilled they are at noticing certain elements and themes, and so forth. I don’t really feel that way with YA readers. My YA and Adult books are close to interchangeable in style. I think teen readers may have somewhat different interests than adult readers, but I think believes reading skills are different enough that I need to concern myself with it.
BD: At Fanbase Press this year, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that Liv’s story will connect with and impact readers, and why do you feel that this story was important for you to bring to life?
DK: I do think the book is having an impact. It’s not a book that lets readers off easily. It’s going to challenge you to take a look inward – at ourselves, at our country, at our society. There are plenty of books that show you how to make the world better, but probably not enough that make us aware of our failings – while still delivering an exciting story, too.
BD: What makes Henry Holt the perfect home for Bent Heavens?
DK: My editor, Christian Trimmer! This is our fourth book together, and we have four more coming later. It’s rare in life to find someone who has an instinctive understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish with your art, sees the value in it, and tries to make it the best version of itself. I think the writer-editor relationship doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
DK: In June, Tor is publishing The Living Dead, a novel that I co-wrote with my lifelong hero, George A. Romero. He was the director of Night of the Living Dead and invented the modern concept of the “zombie.” When he died in 2017, his epic zombie novel was left unfinished. I had the great honor of completing it. Then in October, the first book of a middle-grade trilogy called “The Teddies Saga” comes out, and it’s titled They Threw Us Away. It’s about teddy bears, but it’s also very much a Daniel Kraus book, so look out.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about Bent Heavens and your other work?
DK: Probably the best way is to sign up for my monthly newsletter, Last Kraus on the Left.
I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.