Father and son authors Neal and Jarrod Shusterman didn’t have to search far to find inspiration for their YA thriller, Dry (Simon & Schuster, Oct.). The California residents are all too familiar with the consequences of drought and wildfires, and their home state’s recent struggles with both fueled the book’s premise: a teen is forced to make life-and-death decisions for her family when a drought escalates to catastrophic proportions.
After writing a piece together for UnBound, a story collection set in the world of Neal’s Unwind Dystology, the Shustermans began talking about collaborating on a novel. “I think that our story was one of the best in the book, and we wanted to work on something else together,” says Neal. “Jarrod came up with the concept of a society in which critical services are about to be shut off, and the pieces of Dry began coming together. In California, we are constantly dealing with drought, and recently the possibility of the state running out of water has become frighteningly close. So that got us thinking about what could happen if millions of people were struggling to survive without water.”
Eerily, their fictional story line continued to reflect real-life natural disasters. “When we were about halfway through the book, we started hearing about the critical water shortage in Cape Town,” Jarrod says, “and that the city was approaching the point when water would be shut off to residents and redirected to critical services. In Cape Town, it’s called ‘Day Zero,’ and in Dry we call it the ‘Tap-Out,’ but the parallels are creepy.”
The pair found additional parallels when they were visiting family in Savannah last September as Hurricane Irma struck. “When we couldn’t find any water to buy, we had to get into an evacuation mindset,” says Jarrod. “We were actually living through a similar experience as our characters, which helped us understand and convey their actions and emotions.”
The Shustermans have a second book under contract with S&S, but before tackling that project they’re writing the screenplay for a movie adaptation of Dry, which was optioned by Paramount Pictures in a multistudio bidding war. “We both write very visually, so as we work on the script, it’s relatively easy to imagine what the movie might look like,” says Neal. Jarrod adds, “It’s a joy to adapt something that’s your own, and to reimagine the story. It’s quite a seamless process—after all, we have the book memorized.”