Author Interview Kathy McCullough on Don’t Expect Magic

Kathy Mccullough author photoKathy McCullough is here today to talk about one of my favorite books Don’t Expect Magic which takes a very unconventional spin on the Fairy Godmother stories you might know. I read this book back in 2012 and I still think about it quite a bit. When I found out a sequel called Who Needs Magic? came out in 2013 I was even more excited and reached out to Kathy to see if she’d talk to me here on the blog.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Kathy McCullough (KM): I’ve been writing since I learned how to write. I wrote poems in grade school and began writing stories as well in middle school. I’ve always loved to read, of course. I took a lot of creative writing classes in college and then went to graduate school for screenwriting. My initial professional success was writing for film and television, but I’d never given up the dream of writing fiction. My TV and screen work tended to be in the family/teen/kids genres so it seemed a good fit for me to write novels for kids and teens.

MP: What was the inspiration for Don’t Expect Magic?

KM: I wanted to come up with a comic YA twist on a fairy tale character, and I liked the idea of focusing on a minor figure instead of the familiar leads, which is how I came up with the teen fairy godmother idea. The original idea had Delaney’s grandmother being the adult fairy godmother in the story, and the ability skipping a generation. However, that idea didn’t have a lot of humor in it, and that’s when I thought of making it her father. Having Delaney accept the skill willingly lacked conflict, so it was a natural development to make her someone for whom this is not a good thing: she’s a loner and this forces her to interact with people; she’s dark and sullen, and so the typical image of a sparkly, cheery fairy godmother goes completely against how she views herself. Part of her journey is accepting this destiny; in the process, she heals her fractured relationship with her father.

MP: Delaney’s story starts when she has to move in with her father in California–much to her East-Coast-Loving dismay. Which begs the question: Does your heart belong to the East Coast or the West Coast?

KM: I have a lot of great memories from growing up on the East Coast (and in the Midwest before that), but I’ve lived the longest on the West Coast and have made a home here, and since “home is where the heart is…”

MP: Working off the last question: As Delaney navigates her new life, she explores some of her California surroundings. Were any of Delaney’s observations or locations inspired by actual places or events?

KM: Yes, a lot of them were, most notably the mall, which is featured in Don’t Expect Magic, and where she gets a summer job in Who Needs Magic?, but in every case I took the original and made it much more extreme and surreal, to underscore the “modern-day-fairy-tale” feeling.

MP: One of my favorite things about Delaney is her talent at making boots into art. Did you always know that would be part of Delaney’s character?

KM: No, that developed in rewriting. Characters seem to expand and gain dimension when I’m revising, which is fun – they really do “take over.” One day, I just discovered that she had this interest and ability.

MP: Of course I also have to ask: If you could “Delaney-fy” your own pair of boots, what would they look like?

KM: Alas, unlike Delaney, I am not a visual artist, but if I did have any talent in this area, I’d add a lot of buckles and snaps, and some colorful spiral swirls.

MP: A big part of the story involves Delaney making sense of her father’s unusual work. If you were in Delaney’s shoes, would you want to try your hand at being a Fairy Godmother?

KM: Definitely!

MP: Don’t Expect Magic also has a sequel now called Who Needs Magic?. Did you always know Delaney’s story would continue after her first book? Will this be the last readers see of Delaney?

KM: I did hope to write a sequel, but the idea for it came much later, after Random House had made the deal to publish Don’t Expect Magic. I do have an idea for a third book, as well as ideas for prequels and spin-offs, but there’d have to be the demand for them. Right now, I’m working on a new, stand-alone idea.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

KM: It’s contemporary and realistic. It’s YA and the characters are slightly older teens than in Don’t Expect Magic and Who Needs Magic?, but it has a similar tone: comic with serious undertones.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

KM: Write a lot, write consistently, embrace revision, seek feedback and don’t waste time on doubt.

Thanks again to Kathy for stopping by the blog. You can find out more about her and her books on her website kathymcculloughbooks.com.

You can also check out my review of Don’t Expect Magic here on the blog.

Author Interview: Marie Rutkoski on The Winner’s Curse

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Marie Rutkoski. photo by Tobias Everke

Photo by Tobias Everke

Marie Rutkoski is here today instead of my regularly scheduled Chick Lit Wednesday Review as part of her blog tour for The Winner’s Curse to talk about her new book. This book is already one of my favorite 2014 reads so trust me when I say you should read it! I’m also giving away a copy of The Winner’s Curse and will be reviewing it tomorrow.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Marie Rutkoski (MR): I wanted to be a writer from the time I could conceive of becoming anything. Yet there was a period during grad school when I didn’t write fiction at all. I was hugely intimidated by my program and decided that I should focus all of my energies on what I was there to do: research and critical writing. It wasn’t until the last year of my doctorate, when I was living in London, that I dared to write fiction again, and that was because during my long stretches of a kind of lovely loneliness there, I had the idea for what became The Cabinet of Wonders, my first book. A friend of mine, the novelist Neel Mukherjee, encouraged me to write it, and I’m pretty sure that if he hadn’t responded with absolute enthusiasm and support to the idea for the book, I wouldn’t have even begun it.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Winner’s Curse?

MR: The economic term “the winner’s curse,” which describes how, during an auction, the winner has also in a sense lost because she’s bid more than what everyone else has decided the item is worth. I was drawn to this version of a pyrrhic victory and tried to think of a story that would have that title. I wanted to write a story where winning an auction exacted a steep emotional cost. It occurred to me: what if the thing up for auction were not a thing, but a person? What would winning cost you then?
MP: The Winner’s Curse is the first book in a series. Do you already have a set arc for Kestrel’s story?
Yes. The second book is written and in edits.
MP: Did you know, when you started writing The Winner’s Curse that the story would span more than one book?
No. I wanted it to be a standalone. Then, after much difficulty and trying to force a different kind of ending to the first book, I got honest with myself. I realized that the ending I hoped to have wasn’t true to my characters or the story I was trying to tell. I saw what I had to do. Once I figured that out, I also realized that I couldn’t leave matters there. And so….a trilogy.
MP: This book is very grounded in its setting in a Herran conquered by the Valoreans. Did any real locations inspire your descriptions of this world?
MR: Mmmm…I thought a bit about Pompeii. Mostly about the way the homes of the wealthy had fountains in the entryway. I’ve been there, and was struck by those empty, shallow pools. I suppose it’s not just the place of Pompeii that influenced me, but also the loss, the way some people who lived there had everything, and then suddenly had nothing, not even their lives.
MP: Working off the last question, you mention in an author’s note at the end of The Winner’s Curse that ancient Greek and Roman practices played into the ideology of the Valoreans as they claimed Herran. What sort of research played into your writing process?
MR: I read Thucydides. It was awesome. Also, I read Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian to try to get inside the mindset of a Roman emperor who was fascinated by and possessive of the conquered Greeks.
MP: Kestrel’s musical talents and her love of the piano are continuing threads throughout the story and key to her character. Later Arin’s own musicality is also pivotal in the story. Did you always know music would be such a big part of Kestrel’s and Arin’s characters? Is their love of music inspired by your own experiences?MR: Yes, I knew. I’m not a musician, though I dabbled in music at an earlier age and have recently (well, almost a year ago) begun learning the violin. But I’m passionate about writing, and I like to think about other people’s passion and art. I’ve written about visual arts before, too.MP: In addition to action and some romance, this story is very thoughtfully plotted. Kestrel is a brilliant strategist and Arin is cunning in his own right. As these two circle each other throughout the story, how did you decide what to reveal (both to readers and other characters) and when to reveal it during the story?MR: It was very hard– and very different, when written from the POV of one character or another. Although Kestrel’s observant, she fails to understand some things about herself, and so sometimes she doesn’t reveal things to the reader because she doesn’t know it, so the trick when writing from her POV was to let the reader understand what was going on while making it clear that she doesn’t. Dramatic irony FTW!We don’t get as much of Arin’s POV, especially at the beginning, and this is a deliberate reflection of his character: his anger, his armor, his hardened heart. He does not want to let you in. Even you, the reader. Kestrel would be as honest with you as she can be. Arin doesn’t want you to know. But he shares more as the story goes on, and this allows the plot to move forward.MP: With so many details to explain and expand both Kestel and Arin’s world, where did you start? What was it like creating all of the corresponding locations and histories for the backdrop of this story?
MR: I love worldbuilding.  Worldbuilding can and should be intricate, but the process is sometimes nothing grander than cause and effect. I wanted a militaristic society. Ok, so… what would be the social choices of a people focused on war and empire-building? They would need to convince a rising generation of the importance of being skilled with a weapon. They’d need to boost the population: to get soldiers to fight and people to make babies….so that the babies would grow up to be soldiers.
It’s hard to talk about the locations, though. I’m not sure how I did that.
MP: As I’ve said before, I loved this story which included so many things I love to see in a book including Herrani gods and Valorean war strategies not to mention a complex tile game. What detail(s) of Kestrel’s world was your favorite to write? Which was the most difficult?
MR: I definitely LOVED writing every single scene where that tile game– Bite and Sting– is played. I also loved writing a duel. That wasn’t planned from the beginning. I happened to drop in a mention of a duel early on (because of worldbuilding. A militaristic society would totally have duels). And then it was the Chekovian gun: there must be a duel! And I WANTED to write a duel. And I thought, “Under what circumstances would one occur?” And then my mind went, “OH.” And then it all magically fell in place. Though the physical pacing of the duel, and how to weave in dialogue, was kind of hard.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Or when to start looking for news about the sequel to The Winner’s Curse?
MR: I can tell you that I videotaped a teaser from the sequel for Macmillan. I read a brief scene from the book. A sexy one! When my publisher will put it up online, though, is in their hands. I can tell you that you’ll see more of Arin’s POV than in The Winner’s Curse, though the sequel is still Kestrel’s book. What else….? I’ve seen the cover for the second book and it is PRETTY. Seriously, I might like it even better than the cover for TWC.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
MR: Have a good memory. The very oldest seed of this book was planted in an ancient art class I took my sophomore year in college. What I learned– that Romans, after they conquered Greece, had Greek slaves reciting poetry in their houses– was not enough for a story. Not for me, anyway. But I remembered it for twelve years. It wasn’t the inspiration for The Winner’s Curse, but it was an influence on the writing of the book.

Author Interview (#4): Sarah Beth Durst on Conjured

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her latest novel Conjured and answer some questions about it. A spooky story including a magical serial killer and visions of a creepy carnival, this is an ideal read as you get ready for Halloween. Complexly written and patently suspenseful this one is a definite page-turner!

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Conjured?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Sometimes ideas come as lightning strikes.  But sometimes ideas sneak up on you when you’re paying attention to something else.  In the case of CONJURED, I was working on a story about federal marshals who worked for the paranormal witness protection program.  As I was developing their case, the witness herself, Eve, a girl with no memories and tons of bizarre powers, drew more and more of my attention.  The instant she made the birds in her wallpaper fly around her room, I knew the story had to be hers.

MP: Eve is a really interesting character because she knows almost nothing about herself at the start of the story. She is in danger, she has strange dreams, she can do some magic. How did you go about writing a story about a character with no clear picture of her past?

SBD: Eve is a true blank slate character.  She has basically no identity.  At the start of the novel, Eve is basically a camera, recording what she sees but not knowing how to process it.  Eventually, all this input fills Eve and gives her some basis to build her own identity.

In order to compensate for Eve’s lack of self, I tried to paint a really vivid world around her, filled with vivid secondary characters, to ground the reader in the present while Eve gropes for some solid ground of her own.

MP: Eve also suffers from blackouts and memory loss during the story leaving her not only without a past but also often losing time. What was it like writing about a character who is (through no fault of her own) such an unreliable narrator?

SBD: The entire story is told through Eve’s eyes.  The reader knows no more and no less than Eve does — and that info isn’t necessarily correct.  All the other characters have far more information, including memories of interactions with Eve.

The trick to writing this was to work chronologically.  If I tried to hop around, it was too easy to accidentally drop info too early or mess up the gradual evolution of her identity.  Working chronologically helped me pace her development.  From a sheer technical standpoint, I also tried to keep careful track of who-knows-what-when and what happened during the time that Eve’s forgotten.  I used up a LOT of Post-It notes.  :)

MP: Throughout the novel Eve has visions of a creepy carnival complete with a Magician and Storyteller. Was Eve’s carnival inspired by any actual places or experiences?

SBD: I think there’s something inherently surreal about carnivals — the sounds, the smells, the colors, the everything is all this heightened experience that can feel almost dreamlike.  I did do a whole lot of Google searches for creepy and abandoned carnivals.  And now I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go to one without thinking of the Magician and the Storyteller…

MP: At its core Conjured is a story of suspense and even a thriller. Although there aren’t (many) high-speed chases or shootouts, the story is taut. How did you go about maintaining this level of tension throughout?

SBD: Thanks!  I obsessed over the atmosphere in this book.  I wanted to create a feeling of claustrophobic disorientation that Eve feels so that the reader goes through this experience with her.  So I kept the POV very tight on Eve and kept ratcheting up her level of inner chaos.  As soon as she begins to figure out her present, her past intrudes to rip the ground out from under her.

MP: You use the writing in Conjured to tell readers a lot about Eve and how she is changing throughout the story. Did you always plan to include these changes in perspective and tense when you started writing? How did those changes impact your writing process?

SBD: I broke a lot of writing rules in order to tell Eve’s story through her eyes.  This was one of the major ones.  For Eve’s visions, I shifted from past tense, third POV to present tense, first POV to create a feeling of disorientation.  The visions feel timeless to Eve, and I wanted them to feel the same way to the reader — unbalanced and disorienting.

And I choose to shift perspective when Eve achieves agency.  I actually planned this early in the writing process, though I changed around the moment of the shift — it had to be a moment that was both meaningful and subtle.  I knew it was an unusual choice, but I felt (and feel) strongly that it reflected the true shift inside of Eve.

MP: What can you tell us about your next book?

SBD: I am working on two projects right now: THE LOST and MIND OVER MAGICTHE LOST is my first novel for adults.  It’s the first in a trilogy, and it will be coming out from Harlequin/Mira in June 2014.  MIND OVER MAGIC is my next YA novel, and it will be coming out from Bloomsbury/Walker in fall 2014.  I’m really, really excited about both of them!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

Thanks to Sarah for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Sarah and her books you can also visit her website.

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels Enchanted Ivy and Drink, Slay, Love and Vessel.

If you want to know more about Conjured be sure to check out my  review.

Conjured also has an awesome book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5b4nQKM-YE

Author Interview: Alethea Kontis on Hero

One of my favorite books I read this year was Enchanted by Alethea Kontis. The book came out while I was still working in a bookstore and, though I didn’t get to read it as soon as I’d have liked, I was quite taken with the cover and the premise. So much so that I hand sold the book to anyone who would stand still. Then I read it and loved it. Then I found that Alethea was absolutely delightful on Twitter. THEN I found out the book was the first in a series AND I got to meet Alethea at BEA 2013 where she was signing arcs. Needless to say it was all very exciting and I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Hero (the second book in the Woodcutter Sisters series). For more info about the blog tour and to see the other stops check out: http://prismbooktours.blogspot.no/2013/09/hero-by-alethea-kontis-on-fairy-tale.html

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Alethea Kontis (AK): I can pinpoint the birth of my writing career to when I was eight years old. That year my grandmother gave me a doorstop copy of Unexpurgated Tales of Grimm & Andersen, I got my first real, paid, TV acting job, and Romancing the Stone was the blockbuster movie that summer. I was already writing poetry, but suddenly I wanted to be Joan Wilder more than anything in the world.

I was a good student–I’ve always liked learning things–but my parents frowned on the idea of my being an English major. So I got a degree in Chemistry real quick, left college not long after my 20th birthday, and went to work in a bookstore. I haven’t left the publishing industry since. I’ve been a bookseller, a librarian, an editor, a copyeditor, a reviewer, a columnist, an interviewer, a small press publisher, and a book buyer for a major wholesaler. Oh — and an author. I can’t just do one thing. I HAVE TO LEARN IT ALL.

MP: Hero is the second book in a series. It’s preceded by Enchanted. What was the inspiration for this series? When you started, did you know the story of the Woodcutter family would encompass four books?

AK: The plan is for the Woodcutter Sisters Series to encompass 7 books — one about each sister. That’s always been my original plan. The publisher’s plan was for Enchanted to be a solo book. But I pulled out all the stops doing my own publicity and the book got some pretty rave reviews, and dontcha know it, they asked me to write two more books! This seems to be how publishing goes nowadays — everyone plays it close to the vest. Mama Woodcutter would be proud.

The inspiration for the series was the original novelette “Sunday” which I wrote for a fairy tale contest in my writers group. As the idea got bigger and bigger in my head, I had to promise myself that I would write the novel in order to edit out key points for the short story. AND I DID!

MP: What was the inspiration for Hero specifically?

AK: I was reading by the age of three and was quite the avid reader by age five. One of my favorite books was Petronella, a feminist retelling of the Grimm Brothers’ “Master Maid,” written by Jay Williams and illustrated by Friso Henstra. I always envisioned Saturday as a Petronella-type character: a girl who was meant to be a boy, but was just as tough and clever. Saturday’s story is definitely a nod to my heroes Robin McKinley and Tamora Pierce.

MP: Obviously these books nod to a lot of fairy tales throughout. Were any books or stories especially helpful in your writing?

AK: One of my favorite books in my personal library is an Annotated Mother Goose, and I recently purchased the Annotated Brothers Grimm. I have many versions of the Grimms’ tales, of course, and Andersen’s. I’ve also been reading back through the Lang fairy books, taking obsessive notes on place names, character names, food, animals, and objects. I’m sure the inside of my head looks like one of those serial killer rooms on TV…man, I wish I could collage a room like that without getting locked in a padded cell.

MP: Working off the last question, both Enchanted and Hero have some great settings in the story. Did any actual locations help to inspire Arilland? Or the Wood? Or even the Top of the World?

AK: I’m so glad you asked! In one of my favorite books (The Princess Bride), the author (William Goldman) says that the story takes place “before Europe, but after Paris.” That’s my setting for the Woodcutters–a Once Upon a Time land where I can recognize the French influence in certain words and character names without ever naming “France” as a country. I want to be able to pull in all sorts of cultures and folk/fairy/magic tale influences while still obfuscating with author handwavium.

MP: One thing readers learn fairly early is that the Woodcutter sisters are all very unique. Was one sister more similar to you than others? Did you have a favorite sister to write about?

I was born on a Sunday, and like Sunday, I’ve always hated that nursery rhyme about the days of the week. But Sunday makes her own adventure, as I have made mine. Despite that, of course, there is quite a bit of all of me in each of the sisters. It’s as if they all live in my head at the same time…like in Tanya Huff’s The Last Wizard. My favorite sister is always the one I’m writing at the time.

Personally, I CAN’T WAIT to write Monday’s story…but that might be because it’s the awesome culmination of the series. It also scares me the most, because I’m definitely not ready for my time in this fairy tale world to be over. Not in the slightest.

MP: In the Woodcutter family, each child received a special name day gift. If you had a fairy godmother, what would you hope to receive as your name day gift? Is there anything you’d really want to avoid receiving?

AK: Everything happens for a reason and all gifts are useful, so I’d definitely never turn anything away–especially if it was something intrinsically liked to who I was destined to be. I’d certainly love Sunday’s neverending journal. I have a bazillion notebooks. I would save SO MUCH space and money.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

AK: Right now I’m working on BELOVED (Friday’s story), which will release in the fall of 2014. I’m also working with a friend at a small press to release a collection of my non-fairy tale short stories called WILD AND WONDERFUL, DARK AND DREAMING.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

AK: NEVER STOP. Never stop writing, never stop learning, and never stop putting yourself out there. Opportunity is out there, but it’s a lot of hard work finding it. And then you have to find the next one. And the next one. It’s tough. Really tough. But you can do it!

Thanks again to Alethea Kontis for a great interview.

You can see more about Alethea and her books on her website.

You can also read my reviews of Enchanted and Hero here on the blog!

Author Interview: Alex London on Proxy

Alex London recently released his first YA novel, Proxy which is an incredible exciting page-turner filled with a diverse cast of characters (some likable and some . . . less so). He is also a non-practicing librarian and, true story, one of my classmates from library school as well as an all around nice guy (not to mention an author of lots of other books under other pen names). He’s here today to answer some questions about his writing and his fab new novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point? (Please also feel free to tell us about your other writing personas!)

Alex London (AL): It has been a long and winding road. In 2nd grade I wrote a book called Lawrence & Luther Lizard go to Summer Camp. Then I spent a few years playing kickball, going through puberty, reading Kerouac, temping, and working when I could as a freelance journalist. In my twenties I published two books of nonfiction for adults—One Day the Soldiers Came and Far From Zion, both under the name Charles London (which is my first name). I had trouble making a living that way, but I knew I wanted to be around books and readers, so I got my masters in Library Science from Pratt, and worked at NYPL. It was there that I really began to read literature for young people and fell in love with the diversity of voices and stories on those shelves, as well as the passion of the readers. I started writing middle grade shortly thereafter (as C. Alexander London, so as not to encourage 10 year olds to stumble upon the rather heavy stories of young people in war that fill the pages of One Day the Soldiers Came). I was a YA librarian at NYPL, and I simply loved teen literature. I knew one day I would write a novel I hoped would be of interest to teens, but I wasn’t sure what it would be. I was drawn to books like MT Anderson’s Feed, Lois Lowry’s Giver, and an ARC I’d picked up of the as-yet unreleased first book in Patrick Ness’s astonishing Chaos Walking trilogy. The imaginative scope of dystopian stories always intrigued me. Even in High School, I loved 1984.

MP: What was the inspiration for Proxy?

AL: I’ve said elsewhere that writing a novel is like summoning a genii, and geniis are wily creatures. They’re found in unlikely places and often grant wishes you didn’t ask for, so the inspiration for the world of Proxy, the story, and the characters, came from more sources that I’m probably even aware of and it isn’t exactly the book I thought it would be when I began.

The concept in Proxy, where the rich pay for the poor to take their punishments, came from The Whipping Boy, which I read in elementary school and which my partner reminded me of one day when I’d forgotten to do the dishes. He took one look at the sink, one look at me sitting on the couch having spent all day not doing the dishes (or much of anything) and called out “fetch the Whipping Boy!”

For those who don’t recall, The Whipping Boy is the story of a bratty prince and the poor, put-upon boy who takes punishments in his place. So that fateful neglected household chore provided the initial spark.

The main character in Proxy, Syd, got his name assigned to him as an orphan from a database of literary names—his full name is Sydney Carton—so it’d be hard for me to deny that A Tale of Two Cities inspired me. I do know that Syd’s crushes on the popular guy and his banter with his straight best friend are right out of my own high school life, as is the sense of entitlement among the elites of the society. I am, myself, a prep school boy and Proxy grapples with that upbringing. At the same time, I love sci-fi, so there’s as much Blade Runner and Mad Max informing my imagination as there is Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. I like my books filled with big ideas and big explosions. I hope Proxy satisfies on both counts.

MP: In Proxy, foundlings taken in by the Benevolent Society are named from a database that uses names from classic literature. If you were such a foundling what name would you hope to get from the database? Is there any name you’d really want to avoid?

AL: I have a deep and abiding hatred, instilled in me in 6th grade, for the book Johnny Tremain, so I would loathe being named after that particular character. In he grim cosmology of Proxy, however, it seems likely that name would be exactly my fate. Sticking with Dickens, like I did for Syd’s name, I think I’d enjoy being named Oliver Twist, because I am deeply partial to the name Oliver for some reason.

MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct future? Did your vision for Syd and Knox’s world start with a specific place or aspect?

AL: The Whipping Boy concept was where it began and the future I imagined really stemmed from that. I had to create a world where young people would enter into such a system, would not rebel against it right away, and where such a system would even be possible. So the idea of the free market run amuck, the privatization of everything, and a class of people whose only value to society was as debtors informed all the decisions I made about the world where Syd and Knox live. And that world, of course, informed their characters as they were each shaped (or warped) by their society.

MP: In addition to some crazy action sequences, Proxy has quite a few twists and surprises. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

AL: I don’t really make outlines, for good or ill, so I wrote first and foremost to surprise myself. I didn’t know most of what would happen before it happened. In revision of course, I had to make it all make sense, control the pacing and the revelations. My goal was to make the book unputdownable, the kind of book I enjoy reading, so in a way, I served as my own beta reader. If I was surprised by the twists and turns, I could believe my readers would be too. Although, there are still places in it where I wished I handled it more elegantly. I often feel I could have done better if I outlined. I’m an ‘aspirational plotter’ trapped in ‘pantser’s’ mindset.

MP: One of the coolest, most refreshing things in Proxy (besides the premise) is the casual diversity. Syd is gay but the story isn’t about him being gay. He is also brown. I hesitate to reveal more because of spoilers but you have a diverse case of characters here. Did you always know that Syd was gay? Did you have to strive to include diversity in Proxy or did it come organically?

AL: The diversity really emerged organically. I live in a very diverse neighborhood in Brooklyn and looking around myself, I couldn’t imagine a future that was not diverse. There was no world I could see in which races, religions, and ethnicities didn’t continue to mingle. So that aspect of the story just seemed a fact of the future. As to Syd’s sexuality, that was not at all planned. He surprised me with it, but it really did seem right as I explored it (there were drafts when it was more heavy handed). As a gay man myself, I was happy to create a gay action hero whose gayness was not central to the story. It informed him, but didn’t define him. I liked writing a story like this where the hero had no interest in that tired old trope of ‘getting the girl.’

MP: In addition to the delightful Syd, Proxy’s other main character is the more-troublesome-but-still-charming Knox. Which character did you identify more with while writing? Was one character more fun to write than the other?

AL: Knox, being such a charming jerk was definitely more fun to write. He was much more of a challenge too, making him if not exactly likable, redeemable in a way. I had to find a path to forgive him for so much of who he was and that was not easy. I also have a lot more in common with Knox than I do with Syd (other than Knox’s womanizing), so writing him was a chance for me to explore my own relationship with privilege. I also just really enjoyed writing the dynamic between Syd and Knox. The straight-gay friendship has always interested me (for obvious reasons…in high school all my guy friends were straight).

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? What should readers expect in Guardian?

AL: I actually wrote Proxy as a standalone novel, and then my publisher really wanted a sequel, so I had to figure out what story I still had to tell in that world. It turns out, I had lot. I need more time with a certain character in Proxy who I didn’t focus enough on. And of course, Syd’s story is far from over. Without giving too much away, the stakes of Guardian are even higher. The action comes faster and perhaps more mercilessly, and there is, at last for young Sydney, a possibility of romance…

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

AL: 13 books into my career and I’ve only learned one thing, really. Every book is different and the only way to write is to write. There is no difference between what I do and what an aspiring author does when they stare at a blank page. We get the stories out as best we can and then try to make sense of what we’ve got through revision.

As to making a living doing it…that is another question. For me, finding early readers I trust and an agent who is committed to helping me reach my goals have been essential. There is only one name on the jacket of a book, but there are countless people whose hard work goes into making the book happen. Find those people however you can.

Thanks again to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and be epic.

You can also read my review of Proxy here on the blog or visit his website for more information about Proxy and his other books.

Author Interview: Elizabeth Wein on Code Name Verity

You’ve probably already heard of Elizabeth Wein what with her novel Code Name Verity receiving a Printz Honor last year. Her novel is one of my favorite reads from 2012 and also one of the best odes to friendship (not to mention an excellent historical novel) I’ve ever read. I could go on and on about this book–especially because I almost didn’t pick it up. The real clincher was when I (briefly) saw Ms. Wein when she came to sign stock at the bookstore where I worked. It wasn’t a long encounter. And I hadn’t read the book yet. But I picked it up very soon after that. Suffice to say I was dazzled by the story and the characters but also by how everything came together the more I read. Since then I’ve had the chance to meet Elizabeth in real life at BEA (regular readers might remember it was a highlight of my recap!) and also to “talk” to her sometimes on Twitter (twitter is magic). Today I’m absolutely thrilled to have Elizabeth Wein here answering some questions about her novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Elizabeth Wein (EW): I’ve wanted to write children’s books (somehow they all morphed into YA) since I was seven and first started reading novels.  I wrote my first full length opus when I was eleven—it was about 25,000 words long!  It was a time-travel adventure in which a modern girl changes place with her great-great-grandmother for a summer.

I wrote another novel, which was utterly appallingly awful, when I was 15.  My best friend called it “the stupidest book she’d ever read.”  It was an epic fantasy and the denouement involved the heroine playing a flute with her nose.  I am not kidding.

About this time I was also a serious King Arthur fanatic and started inventing the epic journey which eventually became my first novel, The Winter Prince.

I wrote five “spin offs” to The Winter Prince—A Coalition of Lions, The Sunbird, The Lion Hunter, The Empty Kingdom and The Sword Dance (the first two have recently been reissued as e-books from Open Road Media, with the next three in the pipeline.  The Sword Dance isn’t yet published).  They were all originally published by Viking Children’s Books in the past ten years or so, but they weren’t getting very much notice, and my editor at the time suggested I write something a bit more mainstream.  Code Name Verity was the result.

MP: What was the inspiration for Code Name Verity?

EW: Actually, I devoured Holocaust and World War II literature when I was a kid, and when I was about twelve I made up (though never wrote down) a World War II epic which focussed on the fearful and dynamic relationship between a captured resistance teen and her Nazi interrogator.  I just needed the female pilot aspect to put the whole thing into motion over 30 years later!

MP: How did your own experiences as a pilot inform the story?

EW: Partly, the story exists because I got my pilot’s license in 2003 and wanted to learn more about the possibilities available to women pilots throughout history.   The ATA fascinated me.  I don’t think I’d have written this if I hadn’t learned to fly myself, but I should stress that my fictional pilots are much more accomplished than I am!

I think, if anything, it is being a woman in a mostly male-dominated arena that informs the story, and that is a piloting experience that hasn’t really changed much over the past century.  Women are still a minority in the air.

MP: Code Name Verity takes place during WWII and is filled with historical detail. What kind of research did it take to write about this time period? Did you learn anything that surprised you during your research?

EW: Well, I’d already done some of the research for a short story called “Something Worth Doing,” published in Firebirds Soaring (edited by Sharyn November).  It’s about a girl who disguises herself as her dead brother and becomes a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain in 1940—she actually turns up again in a cameo in Code Name Verity as Theo, the Air Transport Auxiliary pilot who first tells Maddie about Lysanders and the Moon Squadron!

I first found out about the ATA, and the SOE (Special Operations Executive), when I was doing the research for this story at the Imperial War Museum in London.  I do a lot of library research whenever I write a book, but one of the things that was fun about researching Code Name Verity was that there was so much hands-on stuff you could get at—museums, ruined fortifications, period clothes and leaflets and logbooks and recipes, and of course, living people who experienced some of these events.  I went to a seminar at the Royal Aeronautical Institute and got to meet four women who had been ATA pilots themselves!

I kind of want to say that everything I learned surprised me.  I hate to admit this, but until I wrote Code Name Verity I hadn’t really taken on board the difference between an occupied nation, and a nation at war.  Because there is a really big difference.

One thing that made a huge impression on me was the scale of it all.  It’s just amazing how global World War II was – much more so than World War I.  I tried to get some of that across in some of the things Maddie says after she’s lived for a few weeks in Nazi-occupied France.

MP: What draws you to the historical genre as a writer?

EW: Really, it’s just these amazing stories.  I’m not drawn to the genre—I’m drawn to the amazing things that people did, and their ingenuity and their bravery, and I want to tell people about it.  Remember I said my first books were all King Arthur spin offs?  That’s not because it was historical.  It’s because I was madly in love with Arthur.

MP: This is a story about war and flying and suspense, but it’s also very much a story about friends. Did you always plan to have a strong friendship at the center of this novel?

EW: No!  It was only when I got the idea for the huge plot twist and the structure of the novel—I started out to write it and realized that in order for the climax to be effective, these girls were going to have to be real best friends.  So I sat down to construct their friendship.  And once I got going, the whole thing just turned into a huge celebration of friendship for me.  I used real incidents and emotions from my own life, and thought of so many of my own friends while I was writing it.  It was a joy to write because I was so wrapped up in capturing the essence of what it’s like to have a best friend.

MP: Without getting into spoilers, the narrative voice throughout Code Name Verity is fascinating. How did you go about capturing the right “voice” for your characters?

EW: I can’t really take credit for capturing Verity’s voice—her narrative pretty much wrote itself.  I know that’s a cliché, but honestly, she was so easy to write.  Essentially she speaks in the voice of my own journals, so although she’s not like me, she talks a lot like me.

The other narrative was harder to capture because it’s not as literary.  I had to keep checking myself and forcing myself to write in plain English.  Whenever I wanted to wax lyrical I found that using a metaphor about flight or engines usually worked very well!

MP: One of the most impressive things about this novel is how intricately the plot comes together. There are a few big twists and throughout the story there are moments where everything readers thought they knew is thrown into question (or even proven completely wrong). As a writer how did you go about pacing this story? How did you keep track of details? How did you decide at what point to reveal key points to the reader?

EW: Keeping track of details was hard.  I didn’t want to use a diary format but in the end I had to date the entries simply because they were so hard to place in context otherwise.  Then when I got to part 2, which has events taking place simultaneously with part 1, I had to construct a time line.  When I finished the manuscript I ripped it completely apart, rearranged it all in chronological order and read it through that way to make sure all the events aligned properly.

I pretty much knew instinctively what I wanted to reveal and when, but it wasn’t till I got to part 2 and started knocking down all the ducks I’d lined up in part 1 that it really became clear the framework was actually going to work.

MP: A companion to Code Name Verity is coming out soon. What can readers expect in Rose Under Fire?

EW: We’ve got a new (and younger) heroine, Rose Justice, who’s an ATA pilot like Maddie.  The action takes place a little later in the war.  Rose gets lost during a routine ferry flight and ends up in Germany, where she’s taken prisoner and sent to the women’s concentration camp at Ravensbrück.

It’s harrowing but not twisty—a different kind of story from Code Name Verity, with a less brazen heroine.  Early readers are saying it makes you cry “a different kind of tears”!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

EW: Well, it’s set in Ethiopia in 1935 during the Italian invasion, and there are planes in it.  Believe it or not, it’s more of a “family” story than anything else.  There are two teen protagonists, a boy and a girl.  I’m in the middle of writing it and don’t want to talk about it too much lest it change drastically before I finish!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

EW: “Don’t get it right, get it written!” (—James Thurber.)

Seriously.  An outline helps if you’re struggling.  Write—get something done—get it accomplished.  Then start to polish.

Thanks again for the interview and the chance to wax lyrical about the making of Code Name Verity!

Thanks again to Elizabeth for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can find more information about her books on her website.

If you want to read more about Code Name Verity check out my review! (And if you haven’t read it yet, seriously, go pick it up!)

Author Interview: Emma Trevayne on Coda

Emma Trevayne is here today to talk about her debut novel Coda–a futuristic, sci-fi read where music a a controlled substance and being in a band could get you arrested. Or worse.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Emma Trevayne (ET): I’ve spent years writing various things – a few attempts at books that never got finished, plays that never saw the light of day outside workshops. Coda was the first project I really completed.

MP: What was the inspiration for Coda?

ET: I’m not sure that it had any one thing I can say “that was the inspiration.” I wanted to write the kind of book I’d like to read. Several things–movies (The Matrix and Hackers) and a few particular songs were influential. It started to feel like a real thing when Anthem, the main character, popped into my head. He was such a complete person to me so quickly, within a matter of minutes of me first thinking of him, that I knew I had to tell his story.

MP: Coda has a very strong atmosphere with the Web and the world Anthem calls home. Did any real locations help you conjure Anthem’s world? Did you vision for this world start with any particular place?

ET: It was always–and still is–a slightly skewed version of Manhattan. Why I always pictured it there, I don’t know. Maybe because I love the city, maybe because it was easy to isolate and that was necessary for the plot. In terms of making it look the way I did for the book, it was just always the look in my head.

Reality sometimes imitates art, though. Not long after I finished writing Coda I was in Manhattan during a hurricane and seeing the streets gray and deserted was pretty eerie and very, very close to a lot of scenes I’d written months before.

MP: In Coda music is a tightly controlled drug and your narrator, Anthem, is in an illegal band. Were these plot aspects inspired by your own love of music? Do you play any instruments?

ET: The whole book is definitely inspired by my love of music, but I have no special talent at playing any instruments. I’m just an avid researcher and listener. I did, however, deliberately have to have Anthem make mistakes in his composition and terminology so that he didn’t appear more perfect, talented, or knowledgeable than he should.

MP: One of the cool things about Anthem’s sometimes scary world is that people get something called chrome work—metal adornments on their body kind of like tattoos. One character has chrome eyebrows. If you had the chance would you get chrome work done? If so, what kind?

ET: I would! Though I’m not sure what I’d get. A design on my back, maybe, or intricate armbands of some kind.

MP: Another cool thing: Everyone in Coda is known by a citizen code. But they also have handles which are names of their own choosing. If you could pick your own handle, what would it be?

ET: OH MAN. Believe it or not, you are the first person who has ever asked me this and I have no idea. I think I actually gave mine to one of the characters in the second book: Lynx.

MP: Coda has a diverse cast of characters. Is there any character that was especially fun to write? Any character you’re really excited for readers to meet?

ET: They were all fun to write, in their own ways, even the “bad” ones. But if I had to pick a favorite, I’d say Scope was the most fun. I loved his humor and attitude, and that was all him, very little to do with me. These characters really took on lives of their own while I was writing them.

MP: There is a sequel to Coda, called Chorus, set to release in 2014. Can you tell us anything about it? When you were writing Coda did you know that you would be returning to this world with a sequel?

ET: I’d actually pretty much intended not to write a sequel; I was determined that it would be a stand-alone book. Just after I signed with my first agent (who sold Coda for me) I got the idea for Chorus in the middle of the night and had to say to her the next day, “So, uh, you know how I said I didn’t want to write a sequel? Well…” Later on in the process, my editor decided she wanted me to write it, so I did.

MP: You have a few projects on deck, besides the sequel to Coda, can you tell us anything about them?

ET: I have a book for younger (middle grade) readers coming out next year, which is a really classic kind of fairytale with a steampunk twist. It’s about a young boy named Jack who accidentally (though not really accidentally) goes through a magical doorway and winds up in a strange, steam-powered London. He makes some strange friends and gets caught up in the legend of a clockwork bird.

I also have an anthology of short stories coming out next summer for which I’m one of four contributors. The stories are all for middle grade readers and are all dark, spooky, or creepy in some way. Masters of that particular genre–Stefan Bachmann, Claire Legrand, and Katherine Catmull–are the other three writers. We started a blog to share the stories for fun and were later offered a chance to publish them as a physical book.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

ET: Turn off the internet when you want to work. Seriously. Other than that, just write what makes you happy, write what you love, write what you would read if you saw it in a bookstore. That’s what you’re passionate about and that passion will show through in your voice on the page. After the first book deal, it gets harder and harder to hang onto the idea that you’re writing for yourself, so enjoy it for as long as you possible can. Once you do get that first book deal, try to remember that you’re doing what you love.

Thanks again to Emma Trevayne for answering some of my questions! You can read more about her and her books on her website.

You can also read my review of Coda here on the blog.