Only teens survive the mysterious illness that wipes out most of the population of a post-apocalyptic New York City in The Young World, the first installment of a YA trilogy by film director, producer, screenwriter, and actor Chris Weitz. Little, Brown will release the novel on July 29, when the author kicks off an eight-city tour. Though this is his first foray into fiction, Weitz is no stranger to the realm of children’s books: he adapted and directed the film version of Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass (2007) and directed the movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009).

The premise for The Young World simmered in Weitz’s imagination for decades – since his fourth-grade teacher gave her students daily story-writing assignments. “I remember daydreaming about having possession of an entire city with all my friends, which as a kid seemed like a great idea,” he said. “That notion of wish-fulfillment stuck with me until it took on a more complicated shape, when I began thinking of writing a YA novel.”

Weitz, who is now working on the sequel to The Young World (due in summer 2015), describes novel writing as “a very humbling experience,” and a very different challenge than screenwriting. “Writing screenplays is very straightforward, since there isn’t much screen time and space to work with,” he explained. “And with films, you have all sorts of people – actors, production designers, costume designers – helping you and doing a lot of the heavy lifting. Writing a novel, you have tremendous freedom, but at the same time have enough rope to hang yourself! Even if you’re working from an outline, at certain junctures you have to reengineer things if it’s not working well on the page. And that’s hard work.”

Warner Bros. has optioned film rights to Weitz’s trilogy, and the author is currently writing the screenplay for a movie based on The Young World, which he will also produce and direct. Asked if he feels as though he wrote the novel cinematically, given his background, he responded, “I think novelists tend to think more cinematically than they’re given credit for, dreaming up visual scenes, yet I included in the book many scenes that would be hard to get into a film. And I wrote the story from two first-person points of view, and internal narratives are really hard to convey in a film. Films are largely objective – the camera turns everything into the third person.”

Painting a Clear Picture

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers executive editorial director Alvina Ling, who acquired Weitz’s trilogy after reading only two chapters and a synopsis, was impressed with the author’s writing, and with its visual clarity. “The opening scene of The Young World is immediately cinematic, and readers get a very clear picture of the characters and the setting,” she said. “And Chris really nailed the teen voice, and made the story very real.”

The editor also praised Weitz’s weaving of cinematic and literary allusions into his first novel. “The book has elements of some great survival stories – including Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games – with wonderful journey sagas like Watership Down and The Hobbit mixed in. There are even Star Wars references,” she said. “The novel really spoke to me personally – I especially appreciated its philosophical aspects. The protagonists ask a lot of intelligent questions and think about their world, and I’m a sucker for novels that show teens they can make a difference.”

In addition to a cross-country author tour, Little, Brown is launching The Young World with a 250,000-copy first printing and a marketing campaign that includes print and online trade and consumer advertising, social media promotion, promotion at major industry conventions, and a sweepstakes to win a trip for two to New York City.

Welcoming this new chapter in his life, Weitz said that his role as author “has brought me into close contact with the world of books, which were my first love before film came into my life.”

Though he notes that, with two more novels in the trilogy to complete, “It’s hard to see past those mountains,” Weitz hopes to add additional YA titles to his writing credits. “The YA genre gives a writer so much latitude, and there are so many ways for interesting and complex ideas to find their way into the books,” he said. “And I know from adapting novels by Philip Pullman and Stephenie Meyer that young adults are an amazingly supportive audience – and likely the most avid group of readers out there. That’s very gratifying.”

The Young World by Chris Weitz. Little, Brown, $19 July ISBN 978-0-316-22629-5