MTPR

"The Dead Enders": Erin Saldin Sets Young Adult Lit On Fire

Sep 27, 2018

In a place like Gold Fork, sometimes a secret is the only thing that’s really yours.

Ana, Davis, Erik, and Georgie know that best. Bound together by a horrible tragedy from their pasts, they forged a friendship that has lasted through high school. In a town full of weekenders, they all know what it’s like to be dead enders, fated to stay trapped in a tourist destination for the rest of their lives.

The Dead Enders

The following highlights are from a conversation with Erin Saldin about her young adult novel, The Dead Enders. To hear the full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast. 

The book is a young adult novel and from the get-go you let readers know that this is not a fantasy, there will be no spells, no dragons, no time travel. What was the importance of that declaration?

I think that was in part a little wink toward young adult readers. I don’t read a lot of fantasy literature, specifically not YA fantasy. But a lot of my students at the University of Montana who are studying creative writing live in that world of fantasy writing and it’s a complex and dynamic, and very valid literary world. But that’s not the area that I’m writing in. I wanted to speak to that right off the bat as the author, but I also wanted to speak to the idea that when you go to a resort town like Gold Fork (as I imagined it), you do have a sense upon entering that town like anything is possible. It’s kind of a magical realm. You can do anything. You can be a different person. Anything you want is yours for the taking, perhaps. . .

Break

In spite of all the unruly behavior, like the crime, and mystery, and even sex, there is this sense of a moral threadlike a light guidance to the youth of America. How did you walk the line between being overly rebellious and chaotic, and being goody two-shoes? 

That’s a really hard line for me to walk and it’s been the thing I’ve had the most learning in as I’ve entered writing YA. With my first book, when I wrote it, it had an ending that was just devastating and my editor  said very kindly to me, “You cannot end a book this way. Your readers can’t handle this kind of devastation.” And I said, “Well, that’s consequences! That’s what happens in real life.” And she said, “But that’s not what happens in young adult literature.” 

For me it’s been a struggle to find ways to have the characters learn things—as we all do in real life—but have them do so in a realistic way. So if there is a moral thread, I hope it’s one that feels realistic, instead of being impressed upon the reader.

One of the other serious topics that comes up in the book is suicide, and in the back of the book you offer Suicide Prevention resources. It got me thinking about the show “13 Reasons Why” which has had a huge impact on the dialogue around what’s appropriate, safe, and has integrity. I was just wondering, Erin, how did you figure out the line between how to talk about something that is real and not glorify it?

That was really difficult; I’ve had some strong opinions to that TV show, some strong reactions. I think it’s very easy to glorify it and I think it plays such a prominent role in so much YA literature. But I think the more important question is why it does. Because so many kids think about—if they don’t actually act on it—they are thinking about it, and it’s worked its way into the conversation to the degree it's worked its way into people’s internal conversation. 

There were two things I thought about as I was writing that scene and the aftermath. One was that I actually wanted there to be a bit of a question, just a glimmer of hope. I don’t think people have read that as being there. But as I wrote it, it was there in my mind. I did want there to be just this question mark. Then the other thing I thought about was how I wanted to focus on how when there is suicide, what’s the aftermath? It’s not pretty and it’s not glorified and it’s not easy. I think the thing I resist the most in YA literature, and I think the best YA literature does not do at all, is when things are tied up in a neat little bow. I think you can have a moral thread in a book and still not tie it up and say, “The End. Here you go; all is saved.”  I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be messy, because it’s a messy world that I’m creating, or reflecting.

About the Book:

Erin Saldin
Credit Lindsay Jane

In a place like Gold Fork, sometimes a secret is the only thing that’s really yours.

Ana, Davis, Erik, and Georgie know that best. Bound together by a horrible tragedy from their pasts, they forged a friendship that has lasted through high school. In a town full of weekenders, they all know what it’s like to be dead enders, fated to stay trapped in a tourist destination for the rest of their lives.

But with the appearance of long-lost family members and an arsonist setting the town ablaze, it’s time to confront the fact that what brought them together years ago might be what ultimately tears them apart.

Because someone is keeping one last secret—a truth that could change everything.

About the Author:

Erin Saldin is the author of The Girls of No Return and The Dead Enders. She has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa, and a bartender in New York City, and holds an MFA from the University of Virginia, where she was a Henry Hoyns Fellow in fiction. In 2010, she lived off the grid and alone in the Klamath mountains of Oregon for six months, where she encountered mountain lions and bears and lived under constant threat of forest fires. She is the recipient of a Montana Artist’s Innovator Award from the Montana Arts Council. Her short stories, reviews, and essays have appeared in Gulf Coast, Fivechapters, Open City, The New York Times, The Best New American Voices, The Northwest Review, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. Erin lives in Missoula, Montana, with her partner, two toddlers, and a dog, and she is a lecturer in creative writing and the Davidson Honors College at the University of Montana.