Bartholomew is half faery, half human, all peculiar.
His genetic misfortune has doomed him to a life of squalor in the faery slums, his poverty leads him to subsist on hot water and wax, and his only hope of survival is avoiding the malevolent eye of violent racists. But when a swirl of dark faery magic from a captivating stranger results in the disappearance of his young neighbor, Bartholomew and his sister are propelled into a dark plot involving kidnapping, murder, espionage and a gaping door into the faery world that promises only mayhem, death and destruction.
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Debut author Stefan Bachmann, 18, takes time from his studies at the Zurich Conservatory to discuss The Peculiar, daydreams, the efficiency of guillotines and Dorothy Gale’s enviable ability.
How did you foresee this project ending when you began it at such a young age?
I had a lot of silly daydreams mostly. They involved living in a castle on a cliff top and sending flawless manuscripts off to somewhere where people bound them into book-shaped things and sent them to adoring other people. So basically I had no clue how publishing worked.
But getting published had always been a goal, and I did think I could write something publishable eventually. I wrote four books before The Peculiar, and number five happened to be the one that sold, but if it hadn't I would have written a hundred more.
Are you an authority on being peculiar?
I'm totally an authority on being peculiar. I was home-schooled for a while, I go to an art school, and I have friends who, on a scale of one to clinically insane, are proud to be around a seven and a half. So I feel qualified. But seriously, I think everyone's a little bit peculiar, and most people train themselves out of it. Whether that's a good thing is debatable.
You study at the Zurich Conservatory. Have your music studies influenced your storytelling?
I don't know if my music studies have influenced my storytelling, but they've definitely helped my work ethic. It takes a lot of time and effort to compose music or play an instrument well, and it takes a lot of time and effort to write a book, even not so well.
Going to the conservatory and being taught by intense and high-energy musician personalities, you learn how to get things done whether you feel like it or not. You learn that you won't always win, but you better keep playing. And you learn that the work you do will usually be worth it in the end, even if you don't see it right away. Also, musicians are weird, and there's a lot of drama at music schools, so that's always good for inspiration.
Would you rather be an undervalued, misunderstood faery on earth or human in the faery world?
Yikes. Both of those are pretty miserable options. Being a human in the faery world is dreadful, so I'd have to say I'd rather be a faery on earth. Because they have trees, like…on their heads.
You’re trying to execute a covert task. What piece of steampunk gadgetry would you use to do so?
A clockwork guillotine. Covert tasks tend to be dark and tentacle-y creatures, so executing one with an axe would be messy.
As an outsider, Bartholomew has his share of hardships. What’s the best part of not belonging?
When you're a kid, there are no good parts of not belonging. I went through the not-belonging stage when I was about 12 or 13, and I was just like, "People are dumb. All people. Dumb." So, unlike Bartholomew, it was mostly my own fault, and I don't have a lot of pity for 12-year-old me.
But I do think that not belonging for a little while gives you an interesting perspective. It lets you observe people and situations from the outside, lets you see things you might not notice if you were in the thick of things, and in the end it gives you more empathy toward people once you figure stuff out. And for the record, I think people are awesome now.
Favorite outsider: Dorothy from Kansas or Marty McFly from the future?
Probably Dorothy because she can burst into spontaneous masterpieces of song. In the movie, at least. That's some serious skill, people.
Gordon West is a writer and illustrator living in Greenpoint Brooklyn, N.Y. When he's not diving headfirst into teen literature, he's writing, drawing (WallaceWest.com), observing (ITakeMyCameraEverywhereIGo.com) or scouring the culinary landscape for gluten-free fare. His beagle mix, Sammy Joe, is supportive of all endeavors.