#WeHaveDiverseBooks: 5 Questions with Daniel José Older, author of the Shadowshaper Cypher series

#WeHaveDiverseBooks: 5 Questions is a spotlight on OOM dedicated to exploring Scholastic’s amazing distinct voices. We’ll take a deep dive into the backgrounds, inspiration and works of these authors and illustrators.

Today, we're talking with Daniel José Older, the author of The Shadowshaper Cypher series (Ages 12+).

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Tell us a little bit about your background and yourself as a child—particularly as a teen!

I loved reading, loved sci-fi and fantasy, and especially loved both politics and mythology. My two favorite books in grade and middle school were the Iliad and All the President's Men. Which is to say, I was a huge nerd. I also carried a pad of paper and a pen with me everywhere I went because drawing was the primary creative outlet I used for processing the world. I wanted to grow up to be a political cartoonist or a monster maker for Jim Henson or George Lucas; kind of feel like writing the books I do, I get to be all those things.

You’ve spoken about being influenced by Junot Díaz, Octavia Butler, Stephen King’s On Writing and the Harry Potter books. Are there particular authors or inspirations that influenced the Shadowshaper Cypher series?

Nalo Hopkinson's Midnight Robber is one of my favorite books and taught me a lot about just how layered and complex a fantasy narrative can be, particularly one about adolescence. It deals with healing and activism and solidarity and betrayal, all on such profound levels. Reading that transformed my process and forced me to go deeper. It was one of the brightest lights that lit the path I walked while writing the Shadowshaper Cypher.

What do you want readers to take away when they close Shadowhouse Fall? Has a reader ever told you something they took away from a Shadowshaper Cypher book that surprised you?

I'm always so honored by readers who say they've seen themselves in the books and that they missed their train stop because they were so engaged by the story. Two of my favorite things to hear! Besides enjoying an exciting story full of adventure and magic, I hope readers walk away from Shadowhouse Fall with a sense of strategy and excitement about organizing and activism. There are so many ways to resist oppression, to survive a system that doesn't care about us with our souls intact, but we need to compare notes and strategize in order to share them with each other.

Is there anything you’ve learned about Sierra or her world in writing Shadowhouse Fall that you wish you had known when you started the series?

Ha! Those characters always surprise me. I never know what to expect from them or what they're going to do next and that's what makes writing this series so much fun. I particularly love that they're very willing to engage the world around them, though it can often be painful, and rely on each other to get through challenging times.

You don’t shy away from talking about racism, sexism, or revolution in Shadowhouse Fall and in your presence online and at events. Does this ever feel difficult or uncomfortable to you? What would be your advice to readers who take inspiration from Sierra and from you in speaking out and standing up for what’s right?

Speaking out always comes with risk and discomfort, but for me, being quiet in the face of oppression is much more uncomfortable. And in terms of the room we're speaking to, it's always important to ask ourselves who is comfortable? I'm not interested in making the same people comfortable who have always been that way, especially at the cost of the feeling of safety of people who have never felt that way. Ultimately, speaking out is a question of finding your voice, knowing when to be quiet and listen, being able to place yourself in the various messy intersections of oppression and resistance and being able to be self-reflective and think sharply about power. As it happens, all of these are skills you need to be a good writer, a good editor, a good human in this messy world.