Jason Wiese | Culture Editor
Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016; 9 a.m.
For author Rick Yancey, teenagers identify with the dystopian themes of young adult novels for one particular reason.
“I cannot think of a more dystopian environment than high school,” Yancey said. “You talk about a dystopia? That’s high school.”
It is this relatable connection between the young adult demographic and bleak depictions of the future that inspired him to create a dismal world of survival in the midst of society’s downfall and tell it from their perspective, as he does in his 2014 bestseller “The 5th Wave.” The first in a trilogy, the novel chronicles the aftermath of an apocalyptic alien invasion that comes in a series of individual attacks from the point of view of a handful of mankind’s remaining youths and has been adapted into a feature film from Sony and Columbia Pictures that is now playing in theaters.
“I’d been writing books for young adults for a few years prior to that and, particularly, that time in a young person’s life is rather apocalyptic,” said Yancey. “Childhood is coming to almost an abrupt end… I think young people really relate to that, sort of, ‘I’m on my own and how am I going to navigate surviving in a world so foreign to me and to everything I’ve known before?’ Certainly that’s one of the major themes of the book, I mean obviously it’s in an alien apocalyptic setting which is not very usual, but you can look at that as a metaphor of being forced to grow up.”
Yancey grew up in Lakeland, Florida, raised by his adoptive parents who named him John Richard in 1962, before the shortened version of his middle name stuck as his preferred identification. His first attempt at writing came in the form of a seventh grade English assignment.
“It was to write a short story, which was the first one I’d ever written, and I think from then on it was, like, one of the easiest things I’d ever done and it was also one of the hardest,” said Yancey. “It gave me such a feeling of fulfillment and made me feel just so comfortable in my own skin.”
He started a career as a full-time writer in 2004 after working for the Internal Revenue Service for 12 years, which would be the subject of his memoir, “Confessions of a Tax Collector.” He took his first stab at writing for a younger audience after his agent suggested he rewrite the protagonist of a book for adults as a high school student. Thus, the science fiction Carnegie Medal finalist, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp”, was born and more YA entries would follow.
“I stayed with it because it’s just so much fun, because no rules apply when writing for young people except ‘don’t be boring’ and I love that rule,” said Yancey.
He saw “The 5th Wave” as an opportunity to explore the aspects of the genre and use them as a vehicle to explore deeper themes as well as make use of his life-long fascination with otherworldly beings.
“There’s a lot that we don’t know about the universe. I think there’s probably some stuff that the government knows about the universe that we don’t,” Yancey confessed. He also believes it should be kept that way, considering the danger in knowing too much, as well as the creative privilege of knowing too little, which plays a part in the suspenseful nature of the story.
The screen adaptation of “The 5th Wave”, which opened in sixth place at the box office this past weekend with $10.7 million, came out not long after the book’s sequel, “The Infinite Sea”, was released and before the book series’ conclusion, “The Last Star” is scheduled to be released this May. The rights to make the film, starring Chloë Grace Moretz as the 16 year-old heroine, Cassie Sullivan, and directed by J. Blakeson, were picked up by Sony almost as soon as the book itself was purchased by Penguin Publishing in 2014.
“I think I was probably luckier than a lot of writers who have their original work adapted,” Yancey recalled. “I had meetings very early on with executives and producers and also had some interaction with the screenwriters, so I was in that process pretty much from the very beginning, although, I did not have a hand in adapting my work, which is probably a good idea, because… there are demands that are narratively possibly in books and not in movies and vice versa and I always try to keep that in mind as we move through the process.”
Yancey, who currently resides in his hometown with his wife Sandy and three sons, has no plans as to how he will follow the “5th Wave” trilogy once it comes to a conclusion this year.
“I’ve got a few things that I’m kicking around, but the thing about me is that even after all of these books, I think I know what I’m going to work on next, but then I’ll start on it and I’ll realize it shouldn’t be what I’m working on next,” the author said.
Regardless of what story he will add next to his literary catalog and when, Yancey’s imagination will surely be his guide.