Swanky 17er Jeff Giles spoke to Monica Tesler, author of the new middle-grade sci-fi series BOUNDERS (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin, January 2016).
About the Author
Monica Telser is an author and attorney. She works mostly from the home she shares with her husband and their two boys in a coastal community south of Boston. When the family’s not reading, they’re hiking, biking, walking on the beach, and making music.
About the Book
BOUNDERS is the story of the first class of cadets at the EarthBound Academy for quantum space travel. When the cadets arrive at the space station for training, they discover that Earth Force’s plans for them are far different than what they’ve been told. These kids have always felt different, but they never suspected they held the key to saving Earth from an alien threat.
BOUNDERS’ Origin Story
Monica Tesler wrote her novel largely on a commuter boat to Boston. “I work in sprints,” she says. “I’ll write for the 30 minutes and then come up for air.” The theme closest to her heart was “embracing our differences”—and she’s definitely nailed it. One of the most poignant things about BOUNDERS is that it’s not JUST a gripping, streamlined sci-fi adventure that brings “Ender’s Game” to mind. It’s also a nuanced exploration of how different kids’ brains are and how many different ways they struggle to bond, to socialize, to express themselves, to understand the world and to find their place in it.
Tesler says it was important to her that there “no diagnostic labels” in the novel. Instead, what she’s done is to honor what she calls “neurodiversity.” The cadets have always been told that they’re different, and in BOUNDERS those differences don’t make them outcasts but, potentially, heroes. The kids learn how to “bound,” which is roughly like teleporting, as well as how to overcome their neurological challenges, to open up to each other, to support each other and to work like a team. By the end of the novel, bounding itself becomes a kind of metaphor for the ways in which the mind of a child (particularly one who is “on the spectrum,” to use one of the phrases that Tesler avoids) can make sudden and unpredictable leaps that you’d never expect. None of this is heavy-handed in the least. Most young readers will be so taken with the aliens and the space station and the cool, beautifully articulated science stuff to be aware of anything other than a growing sense that they’ve discovered an author who respects them in all their complexity.
BOUNDERS’s earliest champion was Tesler’s son Nathan, now 11. “He was my first reader,” she says. “He definitely had some feedback, but he’s a big fan.” She asked a handful of other kids to read the novel before she sent it to an agent. “The best thing was that all of them had a different favorite character,” she says. One girl, who’d never met Tesler, just had to know what would become of the main character’s little sister—which the author loved, of course. “I just looked up my favorite handwritten comment,” she says. “‘What will happen when Addy joins? I think you should make a [BOUNDERS] 2. Just some advice.'” There will most certainly be a sequel. Readers everywhere will demand it.
Favorite writing snack?
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds
Oddest job you ever had?
I’ve had a lot of odd jobs. I’ve worked as a professional storyteller, taught square dancing at a dude ranch in Colorado, and even sold shoes. The most intriguing may have been working as a news intern for America’s Most Wanted, the television show.
What were you reading when you were 16?
As a preteen I was all about SciFi and Fantasy—the Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle In Time and its sequels. I returned in my twenties, reading The Lord of the Rings, The Mists of Avalon, early The Wheel of Time books, among others. In my teens, though, I veered off into the world of racy adult fiction. For example, Lace by Shirley Conran was a favorite. Today, I read widely. I’m eagerly awaiting Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin. Hopefully we’ll both be publishing in 2016.
Robot revolution or zombie apocalypse?
Zombie Apocalypse. Not only am I a huge fan of The Walking Dead, I also have recurring nightmares about the zombie apocalypse, so I think my subconscious is better prepared.
Favorite Broadway musical?
Les Miserables is an easy favorite. I also had the immense pleasure of seeing Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Jean Valjean, perform The Phantom of the Opera in Toronto when I was young. Since I’m obviously dating myself, I’ll add that a recent highlight was introducing my kids to Broadway with a recent trip to New York City to see The Lion King.
Do you write longhand or type?
Type. I can’t imagine writing longhand other than for brainstorming. Too much of my magic happens in revision.
About the Interviewer
Jeff Giles’s debut YA novel, The Edge of Everything, will be published by Bloomsbury in January, 2017. He is a former deputy managing editor of Entertainment Weekly, and has written for the New York Times Book Review, Rolling Stone, and Newsweek, among other places. He recently co-wrote a nonfiction book, The Terrorist’s Son, for TED Talks/Simon & Schuster. The book won an award from the American Library Association and is now required reading for incoming students at Columbia University and Kent State.