Posted by: Natalie Hatch | February 27, 2011

The Unidentified by Rae Mariz

Joining us today is Rae Mariz, author of The Unidentified, a great YA read. The book is available through Text Publishing and is out now.

The Unidentified really hits a nerve with teens at the moment, especially with the rise of reality tv, social media and the rest. Did you specifically plan out the scenario of sponsorship in high school or did that just develop as you wrote?

I think the sponsorship element developed as the school took shape. I started with what would be the “ideal” learning environment and then when that was in place I thought: hm, how could a program like this be funded? And that’s where the corporate sponsors came in. Having kids subtly compete for sponsor attention tied into that theme of intense importance on popularity. And then the way that advertising works on online social networks and how tell-your-friends marketing could affect friendships and relationships… I don’t know. It all just fit.

•  The characters you’ve written could be any kid in high school, how did you draw them out so well? What inspired you for the character of Kid?

Thanks! That’s quite a compliment. It’s always the goal that the characters will feel real. I guess, I just thought about having characters really smart about some things and kind of misguided about others. Maybe it helped that I wasn’t thinking about writing “teen characters,” just about what makes interesting human characters… for me, at least.

With Kid, I actually wanted to explore something I didn’t understand about some people and their relationships. That Kid’s friendship with Ari was so important to her that she kept trying to keep it going even as Ari was hurting her and blowing her off. I kind of admired Kid’s loyalty but was also frustrated by it. And figured their relationship tied into the question: In a super social-mediad world, what is a “friend”? That sort of launched the story for me.

And I just really like the idea of Kid. Someone who doesn’t fit in, but doesn’t really feel left out. Characters like her don’t often get to tell the story… it’s often the anguished nerd or the Chosen One hero. So I thought it was fun to see a world through her eyes.

•               What would you like teens who are reading The Unidentified to come away with at the end?

It probably sounds cheesy to spell it out, but I think I was hoping readers would think about what forces are at work in the decisions they make. Do we have as many freedoms and choices as we are told we do? But basically, to think about how complicated our new networked lives are… and that it’s not BAD to be complicated, but we just have to keep an eye out so that what’s important doesn’t get lost in the distractions.

•        Identity theft is such a hot issue, the thought that someone doesn’t have any rights to their online presence etc is quite confronting at times in the book, did you write with that in mind?

Nope! Not specifically identity theft, at least. But I do think the issue of having an online personality is interesting. And important. That it can be something you create, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Interacting online and playing certain kinds of games you get to test out different ways to be, to find out the kind of person you are or want to be. That’s sort of a natural part of adolesence… trying out new identities to see what fits. That process is just kind of heightened with today’s technology, and heightened even more with the story’s technology.

You’ve taken social ostracism to a new level in the story, and it seems like it’s not to far off that there will be reality tv set inside schools. Do you think this would be a good thing?

A good thing with reality TV in high schools? Uh, no. The thing with the reality TV phenomena (and I enjoy watching some of those as much as everyone else!) is that the only kind of person you see is the kind that WANTS to be seen. Those are the voices that are heard and that’s the ideal we’re shown. There’s no real diversity in personalities and that’s what I find problematic. It feels like there’s a push to be social, to “get out there,” and that it’s the only way to be successful. But that’s only one game to play. There are other, less obvious, ways to win.

•               How do you write? Set times? Routine? Daily quirks that you must complete before you start?

I like to write in the mornings. Nine to two are my most productive writing hours. I guess I do have a must-check-writers-group-forum itch that needs to be scratched before getting to work, but otherwise, as long as I have my laptop and know what comes next, that’s all I need to get writing. But I can’t really say I have a process. Sometimes I outline, sometimes I don’t. I always end up revising a terrifying amount of times. Scary statistic: For every word that made it into the final version of the Unidentified, there are three times as many words that got cut. It’s true. I have documents full of deleted scenes and storylines that didn’t go where they needed to get. Characters that got cut. I don’t think that makes my process inefficient, it’s just what I have to do to get to The End and mean it.

•               Do you ever act out a scene to make sure it works? Which scene would you think you’d love to act?

Hm, I’ve never acted out a scene, but they do play out in front of me— like I can hear everyone’s voices and the cadence of the words exactly. SO exactly that I can barely listen to the voice over for the book trailer because the way it’s read sounds “wrong” even though her voice is right.

And I don’t know if I’d like to act any scene out personally, but I’d love to watch any scene with Kid and Mikey acted out. Their banter is so fun.

What advice would you give to teens struggling to write?

Don’t listen to so much advice? Haha. Writing is a process and you learn by doing it. For me it helps to write about what I’m interested in and want to know more about… in a way that hopefully gets other people interested in and want to know more about it too. But that’s the tricky part, eh? I don’t have any super helpful advice for what really matters, and that’s how YOU tell a story. There aren’t really and rules or instructions for that. So if you’re struggling? That’s good. It probably means you’re challenging yourself and that you’re learning and that you’re improving. I don’t think the process ever ends.
Thanks Rae for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions.


  1. Hi Natalie,
    Louise from the Pan Macmillan publicity department here. I had your details on our blogger database, but they seem to have dropped off. If you’d like to be added again to receive review copies, can you please email me? The address is

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