William Sleator - Author
William Sleator is an acclaimed young adult author, with more than 30 books to his credit. Despite his musical beginnings as a pianist for a professional ballet company, Sleator writes science fiction and horror books. His books include the autobiographical Oddballs, House of Stairs, Interstellar Pig and The Boxes. He divides his time between Boston, MA, and rural Thailand.
RIF: You base some of your characters on real people. Have the people ever recognized themselves?
William Sleator: In House of Stairs, probably my most famous book, every character is based on someone I know. The villain is based on a real person. The words that come out of her mouth are real, but I changed her appearance. And because I changed how she looked, she never guessed.
RIF: In your autobiography, Oddballs, you write about your quirky upbringing. What was it like being an "oddball?"
WS: We were outcasts that turned ourselves into a group and made it work for us. By the time I graduated from high school, I was kind of a star. I’d done so many things – I made a movie and created lots of music. I never betrayed myself. I never tried to be an athlete. I excelled at what I was good at. That’s one reason I’m very easy for editors to work with. I can take criticism because I’m confident about myself. People who don’t feel good about themselves are the ones who can’t take criticism.
RIF: So many of your books are based on science. What's your favorite scientific fact?
WS: My favorite fact is that time goes at different rates of speed. Acceleration slows down time. As you approach the speed of light, time goes slower. I don’t know why it does, but it does.
When you approach a black hole (an intense gravitational force), time almost entirely stops. It looks to you like the universe is speeding up. But if someone else was looking at you as you approach the black hole, you could look like a statue. This is a fact.
I’ve written at least four books on this topic, and I’ll probably write more.
RIF: Is there any science fiction you think might really be true?
WS: I hope time travel is true. But if time travel were possible, we would know it. We would see time travelers. We would see people from the future. Where are they? That probably means it isn’t going to happen.
RIF: There's so much science in your books. Were you good at science in school?
WS: I was all right. I was the worst one in the advanced classes. In my house, you couldn’t escape being around music, literature, and science. It helps to have two brothers and a father who are all scientists. They help me understand. I don’t write the book until I understand the subject.
What I do to make it interesting is to weave science into reality. I wouldn’t write a book that opened in an alien world. I start out with a real-life situation and work science in. When I write books, I try to be very realistic. I use details to make hard-to-believe things believable. If I put things in a realistic setting, people will buy these fantastical elements.
RIF: Why do you like writing about teens?
WS: I feel it’s a very interesting and unique period in a person’s life. They’re changing from a child to an adult. The conflicts and the ways they see the world are extremely interesting.
Many adults don’t know what they’re missing when they pass by the Young Adult books. They’re well written, and they’re about very interesting topics. When I write, I try not to be boring. Young Adult books aren’t padded. They’re taut and to-the-point. A lot of adult books are padded.
RIF: What advice do you have for kids who want to be authors?
WS: You can’t write if you don’t read a lot. Write as much as possible. If I had not kept a journal, I couldn’t remember what it was like to be 15. Keep a journal. Writing is like any other skill. The more you do it, the better you get.
RIF: And what would you say to kids who consider themselves "oddballs?"
WS: Assess your good points. What’s considered to matter – clothes, looks, that sort of thing – doesn’t really matter in the long run. Once you’re out of school, peer pressure, bullying, and the oddball stuff stops. Be aware that it’s only a part of your life for a certain amount of time.