Burning NationThis month’s edition of Bartography Express features a Q&A with Trent Reedy, author of the second book in the Divided We Fall trilogy, Burning Nation (Scholastic). It also includes a giveaway of a copy of Burning Nation — please see the newsletter for details.

The formatting of my newsletter made it unwieldy to include Trent’s complete answers to my questions, so I made a few edits for space. As I promised my subscribers, though, I’m including the full text here.

CB: What drew you toward the story you’re telling in the Divided We Fall trilogy?

TR: I wrote the Divided We Fall trilogy because I love stories about nightmare futures where everything we rely on to maintain our safe, comfortable lives fails us: government, law enforcement, food distribution, the electrical grid… Stripped of these systems we’ve come to depend on, would our society descend into total violent chaos, or is there enough kindness in humanity to offer hope? These sorts of narratives are great venues for action and adventure, but they also raise fascinating issues about the human condition and the nature of our contemporary society.

Some of my favorite post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories are The Walking Dead, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Giver — just to name a few. But the thing about these books and TV shows is that we usually don’t see much of the story about how the world arrived in such a dire situation. I wanted to do something different, where the focus was on what led to the collapse and on the collapse itself. So I decided to write the story of the fall of the United States.

I was also inspired to write the trilogy by watching the news, so much of it bad. I think many Americans are frustrated with a political system that seems to celebrate arrogant, divisive partisan politics more than it seeks to work toward compromise and solving our collective problems. I think many believe that if they can only help their party to defeat the other, then America might be saved, but I’ve come to believe that this rivalry, the divide itself, is America’s biggest problem. I’ve written Divided We Fall and Burning Nation to show what happens when the bitterness over that divide is carried out to its most disastrous potential.

CB: Tell me about the kind of kid you think Burning Nation will appeal to the most.

TR: When I began writing the trilogy, I thought that most of my readers would be high school students. However, I have received letters from readers as young as ten years old and e-mails from readers in their forties or fifties. I’ve heard from girls as well as boys. Veterans. Children of veterans. Teachers and librarians.

Burning Nation maintains an exploration of a lot of the socio-political issues in Divided We Fall, but it cranks up the action even more and runs the protagonist PFC Daniel Wright and his friends through even harder circumstances.

When I was a combat engineer in the Army National Guard, I learned a lot about weapons and explosives. I brought that knowledge to my work during my year in the war in Afghanistan, and now, I’ve used it to bring authenticity and visceral details to this trilogy. So I’d say that readers who are interested in action or military stories would enjoy Burning Nation.

But Burning Nation isn’t merely an action story. As a veteran who is writing war stories marketed toward younger readers, I am acutely aware of my responsibility to avoid glorifying war or violence. I try to be as honest as I can about war and its effects on the soldiers and civilians trapped in the middle of it. We Americans are used to thinking of war as something we’re rather distanced from, even though we’ve been at war now for over a decade. Divided We Fall and Burning Nation bring a recognizable near-future war to our back yards.

It’s an action story, a war story, but it’s a thinking-reader’s war story, a cautionary tale for us all, and a reminder of the need to get better at working together to overcome our shared problems and to bring unity to our country.