Firstly, could you tell me a little about yourself? Who is Steven Bereznai?
Lol, I feel like I’m about to fill out a dating profile. Other than long walks on the beach, with the wind in my hair, I love sci fi, and have been known to binge-watch Buffy and Teen Wolf, and I’m loving the adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (I was a fan of the books as a teen). When I’m not writing (and admittedly watching too much TV), I play recreational water polo, something I took up as an adult to pull myself out of a post-relationship depression (although it terrified me to play a team sport, it was somewhere to be, not alone, two nights a week). I’m also taking an adult ballet class (for now anyway–I’m TERRIBLE) and I’m a travel writer, which takes me to some interesting places.
“I Want Superpowers” is a rather compelling blend of both the dystopian Young adult novel, and an exploration of superheroes and comic culture. What were your main influences when writing it?
So many influences! Hunger Games and Divergent rank very high, along with Kick Ass, X-Men and the Avengers. From classic literature, definitely the Chrysalids and 1984. In 1984, the main characters have their secret place that they escape to, and in I Want Superpowers so does Caitlin and Normand. For them it’s a comic book shop. Imagine a world where there are hardly any comic books, and you stumble into a comic book store that survived the apocalypse, and there’s all these titles and back issues that you’ve never even heard of, hundreds, maybe thousands of them! My brain is exploding just thinking about it.
As a book with comics and superheroes so close to its heart, were you influenced by any superheroes in particular? For me, there seemed to be some nice references to Marvel’s Inhumans line in the rather horrific method of exploring whether people have powers, and the dystopian future with superheroes and the protectors felt like something that could fit well with a dark future like that of the “Days of Future Past” timeline in X-Men. In addition, Catwoman’s claws definitely seem to have a hold on you!
Well, I died a little when I watched the Deadpool movie, and the brutal ways they use to get Ryan Reynold’s character to develop a power, because it was more similar to Caitlin’s Testing Day than I would’ve liked. I swear I wrote I Want Superpowers before the Deadpool movie came out! Oh well, it was a great film, and the process that teens like Caitlin endure to try to get them to Manifest powers was different in many ways. For one, it wasn’t some underground operation. In fact, in her world, it was institutionalized. Every teen had to go through it, and yeah, it hurts. The main idea I wanted to convey was that powers don’t come cheap. There was a price to be paid. It was dangerous, with possible head injuries and maiming, and most teens wouldn’t even have powers in the end. In terms of Days of Future Past, that was one of my favourite storylines in the X-Men comic books. Remember the cover with Wolverine and Kitty Pride on it, with the poster behind them of who has been slain and who has been apprehended? That image always wrenched my gut, and I wanted some of that in I Want Superpowers. I wanted that darkness. To me, it’s just a more satisfying experience. Maybe I’m like the evil, emotion-feeding clown in Stephen King’s It. And yes, I heart Catwoman!
Whilst the general feel of the timeline is rather dark, it’s nice to see that both sexuality and gender are dealt with by most as almost an afterthought. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
So I definitely wanted the gender and sexuality rules of this society to come through without overtly explaining them. We see the world through Caitlin’s eyes, so she already knows how it works. To spell things out would’ve clashed with that. But to make it feel like an “afterthought,” as you put it, actually required a lot of thought. In one scene, the handsome testing official Joshua comes to the classroom door, and at first I just had the girls perk up, because yeah, he’s nice to look at. I realized that was pretty heterosexist (I of all people should know better), so I changed it in a way that would include those with same-sex attractions–but in such a way that trans people in the class were excluded. So I wrote a super long, super inclusive sentence that was utterly cumbersome. It was a huge struggle to fix it, until I asked myself, what am I really trying to say here? It came down to this: when the hot guy comes to the door, “Anyone who’s into boys sits up straighter in their chairs.” It was that simple. I aimed for those kinds of simple fixes throughout, as best I could.
Main character Caitlin goes on rather a journey throughout, including going to some very dark places that I feel go slightly beyond that we’ve seen in other YA novels that explore a similar genre. It’s shocking, but also feels somewhat more realistic, especially Caitlin’s reactions to the situations she finds herself in. Was finding a slightly more real voice for your character important to you? And how did you get yourself in the mindset of a teenage girl?
I don’t know if her voice is more real than characters in other YA novels, but I appreciate the compliment! Thank you. One thing I played around with was how her friendship with Normand developed. It was important to me that she find him really annoying at the beginning because he’s very quirky and socially awkward. Then after they become friends, their relationship is challenged as she suddenly finds herself excelling socially, and he’s holding her back. I think those are real things that we all face at some point in our lives, and I wanted to see her selfish side win, at least for a while.
In terms of putting myself into the mindset of a teenage girl, as a gay man there’s lots of stuff that I think I identify with (maybe too much), from angst to an appreciation of strong female role models, and yeah, cute guys. Beyond that, although high school was a long time ago for me, as a closeted kid, it left lots of deep imprints on my psyche, which I’m drawing on now.
“I Want Superpowers” seems ripe for adaptation – do you have any actors in mind should it ever hit the small or silver screen?
Many, many, many! And I prefer to say WHEN it hits the big or small screen :). For Caitlin, someone like Alexandra Schipp (Storm, X-Men Apocalypse), Eliza Jane Taylor-Cotter (The 100), or Shelly Henig (Teen Wolf). Someone who can do angst, but knows how to kick ass.
For Brady, I imagine a young Zac Effron, a guy who has that boyish innocence, but a devilish twinkle to his eyes. For his brother Trenton, someone like Bob Morley (Bellamy in the 100), Fady Elsayed (of the Dr. Who spinoff Class), or Ryan Kelley (the hot police officer/hellhound) from Teen Wolf. It’s essential that whoever it is that he look good with his shirt off
Normand was inspired by characters Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang) and Neville Longbottom (Harry Potter). I love what JK Rowling did with Neville. Neville was basically a nothing character, but Rowling found brilliant ways to make him shine. For Normand, a young version of Jeffrey Wright (Hunger Games, Westworld) perhaps?
And for Caitlin’s nemesis, Lilianne, I’m seeing a young Lucy Liu. Maybe Arden Cho? She plays sweet on Teen Wolf, but I feel like she could crank up the bitch, yet still pull at our heartstrings when the time comes.
The world of “I Want Superpowers” is an incredibly complex one – with a backstory waiting to be explored and perilous futures ahead for many of the lead characters. Is this world one you’d like to come back to in the future?
Yes, I would LOVE to more fully explore this world, and the characters. I have several ideas bouncing around in my head. For it to happen, “I Want Superpowers” needs to be a financial win. I need fans on board, posting on social media, encouraging friends to read (and buy the book, posting positive reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Instagram, and other sites (hint hint :). Any other book bloggers, reviewers, and bookstagramers interested in reviewing/interviewing, please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally – what’s next for Steven Bereznai, and do you have any other books the readers should check out if they enjoy (as I most definitely did) “I Want Superpowers”?
I’ve got a Zombie book that I hope to release next year. I won’t say too much, except that it’s definitely inspired by a lot of my own dating insecurities (I wouldn’t call it a love story though). It revolves around the bromanship between the straight main character and his gay best friend. I will leave it at that. And for those who enjoyed “I Want Superpowers,” I’d love them to check out my book “Queeroes”, about gay teens with superpowers. It’s very Buffy inspired, and a lot of fun.