Monday, April 22, 2024

Q&A with Aaron Arsenault



Aaron Arsenault is the author of the new middle grade novel The Academy, the first in his Climate Diaries series. He worked in the climate-tech industry, and he lives in Oakville, Ontario.


Q: What inspired you to write The Academy, and how did you create your cast of characters?


A: I was looking for something to read to my own kids about climate change that was inspiring, and I couldn’t find anything! What little there was in the genre seemed to be so negative and dystopian. I wanted to find something for them with a hopeful voice. So, I set out to do something about it and wrote my own!


The characters are a collage.  I wanted each to be unique in their own way, diverse, and quite different from one another. Since they come from such different backgrounds it makes not only for interesting dramatic tension, but it also means that just about any kid will see a bit of themselves in at least one or more of the characters.


I wanted them to be super relatable. Jax is an unusually bright, but typically mischievous California surfer kid born of middle-class parents. Grace comes from a strict home - her parents are high-profile type A people and are recently divorced. August is a very studious kid and the son of a single mom, and Kylie maybe a bit spoiled, but she’s a total free spirit and very affable.


Since I created them, I suppose I see a bit of myself in each kid, too, but they’re more heavily inspired by the people in my life. My illustrator Adrienn Harto did a fantastic job of implanting my early character designs into illustrations that really brought them to life. After spending the last five years with them, they almost feel real to me!


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: Yes and no. I did a pretty thorough outline prior to writing it so I could layout the three-act structure and decide where the major plot points would be. That helped a lot. That said, as I began writing, a lot of things came in from out of the woodwork.


Ultimately, what I didn’t have very good control of was the length. I ended up having to rework my ending to keep it around 300 pages and MG friendly. The benefit to that was that it allowed me to leave book one on a bit of a cliffhanger and gave me a great headstart on book two!


Q: Why did you decide to write for kids?


A: Because I think our kids could greatly benefit from more inspiration as it relates to climate change. Our kids are constantly bombarded with bad news about climate events. "Climate anxiety" is now a very real and growing phenomenon among young people. The statistics are actually quite staggering.


I want to change that. I figured by targeting kids at MG age when they are most impressionable and forming values that it would be the best time to help them reshape a more empowering set of beliefs related to climate change.


We want the next generation filled with hope and inspiration… They’ll be inheriting the planet soon!


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?


A: That climate change is something we’re managing, and eventually, will overcome. There is much being done now to address it, and many more great innovations just around the corner that have the power to truly reshape society.


With the series, I want to take kids on that journey and Book One is the first step. One day our kids will call the shots! As parents, the more we can incline them toward an empowered set of beliefs the more they will move beyond climate anxiety and start dreaming about a brighter future. 


It’s sad to think that our kids are growing up with less hope than we did. We absolutely must do something about it!


Q: This is the first in a series--what's next?


A: Several more books, I hope! I haven’t decided how many there will be, yet. I do have a book-to-book arc shaping up with respect to Powell Aitkins, the missing climatologist that I’ll need to get more definitive about sooner than later. 


Before I drill down on book two, I will probably need to sit down and design a major arc for the whole series. At that point I’ll know! There will definitely be a second one, that I know for sure!


I’ve got many more climate /environment related topics in my mind to explore so hopefully readers enjoy this one and I’ll get to write many more! I even have an idea for a spinoff YA series in the more distant future for one of the supporting characters! 😉


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: As I get older, I’ve gotten to know myself. As a writer, and as a person. Given that this is my debut novel, I wasn’t sure that I had it in me. I’ve dabbled as a writer over the years, took it in school and have been told it was an area I did well at, but I never would have imagined writing this novel even six or seven years ago. It’s crazy where life takes you!


My children are my biggest inspiration in everything I do. I tend to be a big thinker and over the years I’ve had a lot of ideas that were frankly harebrained that didn’t work out - but when I stumbled across this one, I just knew it was a story I had to get out there. It was a compulsion that I can’t really explain.


Now that it’s “done” there has been a temporary sense of relief, but there are many more mountains to climb with this series. As a writer you’d better love what you’re writing about, particularly if it’s going to be a series… The writing part is only the beginning!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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