Holiday House sat down with J. A. Dauber to talk about his YA novel, Mayhem and Madness: Chronicles of a Teenaged Supervillain.
We’ve seen villains start to make a rise in YA. What was your inspiration for writing more of a villain story than a superhero?
As you’re suggesting in the question, the book’s story—the main character, Bailey’s, journey—is a little more complicated than simply “villain” or “hero.” Lots of people—kids and grown-ups—start on a path with the best of intentions, and it takes them to places that they couldn’t have imagined, couldn’t have seen themselves in. I thought that was an interesting direction to explore. Bailey does all sorts of things he regrets, and that are regrettable—or worse—by the novel’s end, but for reasons that are well-meaning, or, at least, understandably human.
What was your favorite scene to write in Mayhem and Madness?
Without giving anything away? A fateful meeting that takes place in a comic book shop.
This is your first YA novel. How was writing it different than your other work?
What led to the main character having a super suit instead of born superpowers?
Most importantly, I wanted Bailey to be thrown into a world he didn’t fully understand—an adult world, one he’s ill-equipped to navigate (which leads, often, to trouble). And thus he acquires this thing, this suit, that works in ways—and with consequences—he doesn’t foresee. There are lots of interesting stories to tell about characters with born superpowers, with all sorts of allegorical ramifications, but one of them—the choice to use or not to use them—is very different if they’re innate than if they’re external. A character saying to herself, “I can fly, but I shouldn’t” seems different from “Here’s this suit; should I get in?”
What’s the most important thing you’d like readers to take away from your book?
A deep and abiding sense of having had a lot of fun reading it.
Lightning Round Questions
Instagram or Twitter?
Twitter, a thousand times Twitter.
Book you’re currently reading?
I’m teaching a class at Columbia on American horror fiction, so, Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.
The Joker (ca. 1975-1985, when the psychotic murderiness was more balanced with cartoonish looniness).
Sweet or salty?
Sweet, although I’ve recently gotten into salt and vinegar almonds.
One thing you must do before you sit down to write?
Listen to something loud and raucous, then turn it off.
Marvel or DC?
Marvel (ages 5-16)
DC (ages 17-)
Where can fans connect with you online?