Dorothy's List: "The Expeditioners"

Oct 8, 2013

The Expeditioners is the first book in an adventure series featuring three orphaned siblings in a futuristic world where there are no computers or electronic technologies. The book, by Hartland, Vermont author S.S. Taylor, was recently nominated for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award.

In this special series "Dorothy's List" we hear from the author as she answers questions posed by students from Vermont's U-32 Middle School.

Noah Witke: The steampunk aspects of this novel were really cool. What were some of the things that inspired you to write about it?

S.S. Taylor: I’m so glad that you liked the steampunk aspects of the novel, Noah, because I like them too. As you can imagine it was really fun to dream up the gadgets and to sort of come up with the technology background, if you will, of this world. And that came from, for me, thinking about a world in which all of the computers have crashed. In my alternate future, we’ve become very dependent on computers. And when there’s a mass crash where basically everything digital, everything networked goes down, people are all of a sudden left to have to sort of pick and choose from archaic technologies and figure out which ones might work for this new world in which explorers are going out and finding new places.

Alex Reilly: What inspired you to write about this kind of steampunk novel, rather than another kind of fiction novel?

S.S. Taylor: I actually didn’t set out to write a steampunk novel. It was, I think this world, which is actually not strictly steampunk but probably something like futuristic post-digital steampunk, or something, where that world came from. It really came out of the characters and this idea about the truth of the globe being obscured in digital technology.

Ruby Lamb: Why is it that the three protagonists – The Expeditioners – are so different from one another?

S.S. Taylor: So, Zander West, the oldest kid in the family, is very brave. He looks exactly like their father. Everyone assumes that he will be the one to follow in their father’s footsteps.

Kit West, the narrator of the book, is a little more unsure of himself and unsure of his place in the family, I think. And yet, in some ways, he is the one who really is the heir to their father’s legacy.

And, of course, M.K. West, their younger sister, is a mechanic, an engineer. She loves fixing things. She’s also quite brave, although sometimes not in her best interest. So I wanted to kind of explore how these three siblings could all love each other and get along, and yet feel jealous of each other and feel competition with each other.

Rena Schwartz: Why did you choose Kit as the main character, instead of Zander, M.K. or Sukie?

S.S. Taylor: I chose to make Kit the narrator because I really wanted to tell the story from the point of view of a kid who isn’t sure who he is, what his purpose in life is – as I think all of us struggle with that question – certainly when we’re 13 and throughout our lives, probably. But I wanted to tell the story from the point of view of someone who was coming to understand his own skills and his own talents.

Lucy Wood: I was wondering how you were able to come up with so many different kinds of gadgets for the characters.

S.S. Taylor: The gadgets were one of the best things about writing this book. I loved dreaming up the gadgets. I think I’ve always been interested in gadgetry. I had a James Bond obsession when I was in Jr. High, and maybe it comes from that.

But, I came up with them largely through the process of writing the book. I would put them in a situation and say, “Alright, what gadget would help Kit get out of this situation? Would it be an umbrella that pops out of the back of his explorer’s vest? Or would it be a special knife that also has a magnifying glass on it? What would it be?” And it was really fun to come up with those. And probably there were a few gadgets that I just threw in there because I thought they were really cool.

In the next installment of Dorothy's List, we'll visit with librarian Steve Madden and seventh graders at Camel's Hump Middle School, in Richmond. They are working on a 1940s-style radio drama based upon Steve Sheinkin's nonfiction book Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World's Most Dangerous Weapon.

"Dorothy's List" airs monthly during Vermont Edition and is made possible by the support of the VPR Journalism Fund. 

Post updated October 8, 2013, 1:12 p.m.