I'm pleased to say we have an interview with the amazing Richard Roberts, author of the Please Don Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain series as well as recent novels You Can Be a Cyborg When You're Older and Please Dont Tell My Parents I Work for a Supervillain. He was kind enough to sit down and answer some of our questions about these two new books.
1. Please tell us about YOU CAN BE A CYBORG WHEN YOU'RE OLDER.
You start with the most difficult question, don't you? Condensing a whole book into a paragraph and conveying the fun is hard! It's a YA cyberpunk book about a teenager named Vanity Rose who loves style and adventure. She lives in West Angel City, a terrible dystopia that offers plenty of style and adventure, and in her attempt to have fun earning sketchily legal money, she befriends a telepathic capybara, makes an enemy of the world's least-loved operating system mascot, and plows through a number of people's lives like a murderbot bulldozer. Also, the book includes a murderbot bulldozer. And fake elves, because cyberpunk has to throw in some fantasy and perversely human uses for technology.
2. What is the heroine, Vanity Rose, like?
Vanity Rose is heavily inspired by my friend Nikki. Vanity is passionate, intensely emotional and involved, dragged around by her anger and her joy. She is an active, energetic teenager who never stands still if she can help it, with her favorite hobby being walking around on the walls of her skyscraper city home using gravity shoes. She is literally punchy and aggressive, but has a strong moral streak. Even in a world of cyborgs and bodysculpting, death is the one thing you can't take back. She's the kind of person with energy and goals and plans that are so crazy they just might work, and will drag you around behind her as she follows them.
3. What inspired you to do an Eighties cyberpunk-themed YA novel?
Because I write YA books, and it hit me that there is hardly any currently accessible YA cyberpunk. That's terrible. Modern kids need to learn just how goofy 80s retrofuturist cyberpunk is. It's a genre of ridiculous things presented in a dark and serious way. That must be shared.
4. Can you list some of the influences for the book? [anime, books, video games, etc.)
Ooooh, my goodness. I couldn't possibly keep track of it all. I'll try. Blade Runner, Shadowrun, Rifts, Dungeons and Dragons, Asimov's three laws of robotics stories, Five Night's At Freddies, Rozen Maiden, Battletech, Evangelion, Second Life, all the real life fandoms, Tron, Battlezone, every 80s and early 90s movie where the internet was 'cyberspace' and computer hacking was playing a minigame... that's the stuff that I can put names on right now. This is a mélange of my whole life's worth of processing entertainment.
5. Is it hard to keep it PG when you're doing a YA cyberpunk novel?
No, not at all. Certainly, no harder than superhero genre books. I avoid profanity, keep my description of violence non-graphic, and talk around sexual content. I made a joke out of the profanity thing with Vanity, while using it to add to how her character is emotionally tied to AIs. I'm just keeping things non-explicit for the parents, anyway. Kids know way more than their parents want to admit.
6. Do you think fans of your PLEASE DONT TELL MY PARENTS series will enjoy this?
I tried specifically to keep the same fun tone. I wanted that fun tone, wanted to introduce modern teens to a crazy part of my world growing up. I hope they enjoy it!
7. What can you tell us about PLEASE DONT TELL MY PARENTS I WORK FOR A SUPERVILLAIN?
A lot? I mean, I wrote it. For fans of the series, Penny's story is complete, until she turns eighteen. Please Don't Tell My Parents I Work For A Supervillain is my first book using her story as a launching pad to tell the stories of other teens dealing with having super powers in a world of heroes and villains, having fun and navigating the moral tangles.
8. How does your lead, Magenta, differ from Penny Ak?
They're pretty different. Magenta isn't as fearless as Penny, or as calculated. Magenta has lived all her life with a super power that makes her unrecognizable, even to her family, and she desperately wants to do big things and make an impact. Penny was very focused on what was in front of her. Magenta has ambition. They're both a bit naive and love showing off and putting on a show. They're both very smart, smarter than Magenta realizes. All my heroines are smart. Smart people are fun to write about.
9. Is there an adjustment going from junior high school supervillains to high school supervillains?
Not much, no. They're only one year older. It feels like an impossible gulf to a child living it, but very little in the teenager or the life they lead changes between 8th grade and 9th.
10. Why did you decide to return to this series but switch characters?
Because I hate open-ended stories. When I agreed to write a sequel to Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm A Supervillain, I did it on the condition that Penny had a specific story to tell, and after that it was done. I started writing book two knowing how book five would end. Penny's story is over, so it doesn't ruin itself. But other people's stories? Oh, yes, I can deliver similar fun with other characters, and my fans seem to want more.
11. How has the reception to the two books been?
You Can Be A Cyborg When You're Older has not been a success. Please Don't Tell My Parents I Work For A Supervillain has gotten fantastic reviews and rocked the release. It might even get my career back on track. (Long, long story.)
12. What can we expect from you next?
Okay, this one was also asked in the other interview [Editor: for Grimdark Magazine], but I'm a big boy, I can write an individual answer. My general plan is to alternate Supervillain books with experimental books in new worlds, both for my own fun and to see what people like. Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm Queen of The Dead comes out next, about Avery special, a 15 year old girl with the super power of necromancy, and the only necromancer currently alive. It turns out the world has been saving up a lot of trouble for the next necromancer, and it starts the day she moves to Los Angeles from Kentucky.
While that goes through the publishing process, I'm writing a book about SPAAAAAACE. Ahem. Basically, the solar system is strange and fully inhabited and we on Earth don't know it because math hides the truth from us. Earth is quarantined so math doesn't spread, but Rachel escapes and runs into the kinds of trouble my heroines experience.
YOU CAN BE A CYBORG WHEN YOU'RE OLDER is a Young Adult affectionate parody of Eighties cyberpunk. It's an interesting twist, implementing a lot of tropes that only adult readers will get and not necessarily all of them but also a great way of introducing the genre to people who wouldn't normally be familiar with it. It also takes a number of pot shots at the sillier ideas in the world of neon, rain, androids, and street samurai. As a fan of both cyberpunk and Richard Roberts' PLEASE DONT TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN series, I was very excited to get into this book.
PLEASE DON'T TELL MY PARENTS I'M A SUPERVILLAIN is a work which I think is probably the best superhero fiction out there barring possibly SOON I WILL BE INVINCIBLE and my own work (but I have to say the last). It's funny, cute, and just plain full of joy whereas so much else in the genre is dark or dry. This is not a work deconstructing the grimdark world of saving people or with great power coming great responsibility, it's about fun and how awesome it is to be a supervillain (or hero but mostly supervillain).