Author Interview: Alex London

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

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

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.

Author Interview (#2): Susane Colasanti

Susane Colasanti author photoRegular readers know that I am a big fan of Susane Colasanti’s books. They’re always fun and optimistic with great characters and, more often than not, have a summery vibe. I’ve talked to Susane previously about her 2011 novel So Much Closer. She is back today to talk about All I Need–a story of soulmates, seredipity and summer–which came out in May.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for All I Need?

Susane Colasanti (SC): When I was a teen, the first day of summer vacay always came with this overwhelming feeling of excitement. Like anything was possible. I had visions of meeting my soul mate over the summer, reinventing myself, and going back to school as a shiny new girl. Of course that never happened. But I never stopped hoping it would. Writing All I Need was my way of bringing that fantasy to life. Seth and Skye are soul mates. They have this immediate, intense connection right from the first night they meet on the beach. They both know right away that they’ve found something real.

MP: All I Need has two narrators—Skye and Seth—who alternate chapters told in their first person voices. This is a return to the dual narration format of your debut novel When It Happens. How did you know dual narration was the best way to tell this story? What was it like returning to that format? How did having two narrators influence your writing decisions regarding pacing and what readers learn from both main characters?

SC: The original plan was to write all of my books from two points of view. The few YA love stories I remember reading as a teen (because that was back in the day before there was a teen section with the awesome selection of novels available now) only featured the main girl character’s point of view. I was dying to know the boy’s side of the story. What was he thinking? Did he really like the girl? What did he talk about with his friends? What did his room look like? I promised myself that if I ever wrote a teen novel, I would tell the story from both the girl’s and boy’s perspective. My intention worked out for When It Happens and Take Me There. But when I was working on the Waiting for You chapter outline, I realized that I couldn’t reveal Nash’s side of the story. It would give away his big secret. The same was true for my other books up until All I Need. I was stoked to finally be able to return to the alternating perspectives I love so much.

MP: Building off the last question: Skye and Seth are two very different characters. How did you get into each of their “heads” while writing? Did you write the story linearly or work on one character at a time? Was it hard to transition between Skye and Seth’s narrative voices?

SC: Moving between the two voices was actually a pretty smooth process. Although Skye and Seth have their differences, they also have a lot in common. They’re soul mates who are meant to be together. I know what it’s like to meet a soul mate. How amazing it feels to have that instant chemistry and connection with someone. Moving forward from that point when Skye and Seth meet at the beach in the first two chapters felt familiar. It was like I’d known Skye and Seth my whole life. And in a way, I have.

MP: All I Need spans a significant amount of time as Skye and Seth try to find each other and later try to make their relationship work. How did you decide which scenes were key to their story? Is there anything you wanted to include but couldn’t? Any favorite scene or scenes?

SC: The last scene comes to mind as a fave. To see these two characters back on the dune where they kissed that first night they met was a wonderful full-circle moment. Full-circle moments always feel so powerful to me. I love the concept of closure, the sensation that everything is connected. The Universe brings Skye and Seth together at the beginning of the book and it brings them right back there in the end.

All I Need could have been much longer. There are tons of cute scenes that I could have included. But every chapter must advance the plot in a significant way. Keeping that rule in mind, I wrote scenes that moved the story forward while reflecting the special bond that Skye and Seth share.

MP: The last time you were on the blog for an interview we were discussing So Much Closer, a wonderful novel as well as a bit of an ode to New York City. Your latest novel All I Need is set on the Jersey Shore and in Philadelphia. How did you go about researching these locations? Are any of the locales mentioned in the book inspired by real places?

SC: Including actual locations in my books is something I really enjoy. Like Seth, I went to the University of Pennsylvania. I adore Philly and thought it would be a fun setting for the book. The Jersey Shore felt like a good place to bring Seth and Skye together in a realistic way. My hometown is Middle of Nowhere, New Jersey. Taking day trips down the shore was standard summer practice. I remember how unique Sea Bright looked on maps, this tiny town on a sliver of sand. I never went to Sea Bright back in the day, but I visited while I was researching All I Need. Real places like Diner on the Square, the Land of Make Believe, and Good Karma Cafe are also included in the book.

Speaking of actual locations and how everything is connected…Skye’s hometown of Newfoundland, New Jersey is also the setting of Something Like Fate. A couple of the characters from Something Like Fate even have cameos in All I Need.

MP: While we’re talking about locales, one place Skye and Seth both love is the Snowball stand (store?) by the shore. Skye and Seth both have their own flavor preferences. What’s your flavor of choice? Also, inquiring New Yorkers (called Miss Print) want to know: Is a snowball really different from Italian Ices?

SC: Loving this question! The snowball place in All I Need, Cold as Ice, was inspired by an actual snowball place right here in New York City. It’s called Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls and is open every summer. Dude, these are the most delicious snowballs you will ever taste. This year you can find them at 55 Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. We went the other night after dinner to get snowballs and walk the High Line, which starts a block away. Which flavors did we get? Skye’s fave is my fave: watermelon tangerine. When I told my BF/soul mate that Seth likes spearmint lemonade, he immediately ordered one. He is so like a boy right out of one of my books.

Yes, snowballs are very different from Italian ice. The ice in an Italian ice is smoother than in a snowball. Which is not to be confused with a snow cone. Snow cones contain coarser ice. As I am a huge fan of crushed ice, I consider these differences to be significant.

MP: Early on, Skye covets a certain sweet carnival prize. What would your dream carnival prize be? Was there one you actually coveted? Did you win it?

SC: Would you believe I still have my most beloved carnival prizes? A stuffed satin crescent moon and matching star. They have shiny ribbons dangling from them. I don’t want to think about how many quarters my Gram sacrificed for me to win those prizes.

MP: At his dorm Seth has some wacky suite mates, particularly his roommate Grant. Were any of Seth’s roomie troubles inspired by actual experiences?

SC: Totally. I had the worst roommate freshman year. She was a slob. She would do disgusting things all the time like leave a bowl of cereal on her desk for days. It would grow mold and everything. Her grossness factor inspired the moldy bowls on Grant’s side of the room.

MP: What is one thing you hope readers will take away from All I Need?

SC: The reassurance that soul mates are real and the determination to never settle for less than what they want. Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves to find true love. My BF/soul mate is the man of my dreams. I’m so thankful that I never stopped believing I would find him. I want my readers to keep that same hope alive.

MP: That ending! Without getting into spoilers, it seems safe to say there could be more to Skye and Seth’s story. Can you tell us if we will be seeing more of them? (If you can’t, maybe just wink once for yes or twice for no?) Since that’s a rather pointed question, let me also ask: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

SC: Readers often ask if I’ll ever write sequels to my books. While I’m not sure about sequels yet, I’m psyched to report that we’re working on a movie adaptation of Something Like Fate right now. One of my biggest dreams is to have at least one book become a movie. It’s a long process, but I have a Knowing it will happen. Always dreaming big…

In the meantime, my eighth novel will be released next year. And I just announced that I’m writing a trilogy called City Love! The first book of the series will be released Summer 2015.

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Thanks again to Susane for a great interview! You can also read my review of All I Need here on the blog and visit Susane’s website for more info about her and her other books.

Author Interview: Tessa Gratton

I feel like I’ve been waiting for Tessa Gratton’s latest book, The Lost Sun, for my entire life. The Lost Sun combines everything I’ve always loved in a book with things I didn’t even know I wanted in a story. A modern day world with Norse gods? A reluctant berserker? A seethkona on a quest? A missing god? Sign me up! Happily, The Lost Sun delivered everything I was hoping for and more. Even more exciting, Tessa was gracious enough to take time out of her own release week (The Lost Sun came out on the 25th so you can go out and buy it or request it from your library right now!) to take part in an interview 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?

Tessa Gratton (TG): I’ve been writing since I was in 5th grade, and even when I wanted to DO other things for a career, reading and writing was always in the background, a thing I just always did for fun. I chose to leave grad school and focus on being an author for a living, and in 5 years wrote and rewrote 4 novels before finding my agent and first publishing contract with Blood Magic. It was the 7th novel I’d written since high school, and has a companion novel, The Blood Keeper. The Lost Sun is the first of a NEW series! I’ve also published about 70 short stories online with my critique partners Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, as well as a fun anthology, The Curiosities.
 
MP: What was the inspiration for The Lost Sun?
TG: I wanted to write about faith and religion in America, and started with the question, “What do you believe in when the gods are real?”
MP: How did you approach writing a story about such distinct world? Did your vision for the United States of Asgard start with a specific place or aspect?
TG: The “vision” started with a single image: Baldur the Beautiful being sacrificed on live television. I did my best to marry modern American society and Nordic mythology/Viking Age culture, which was easier than I expected because we share a lot of the same values as the Vikings.
A lot of Norse gods make appearances in The Lost Sun. Was any god a particular favorite to write? Is there any character you’re especially excited for readers to meet?
TG: I loved writing Baldur, especially because he wasn’t very godlike. He’s so human – as Soren, the narrator, points out, Baldur is the most human of all the Norse gods because he dies. He’s also a symbol of light, and as a dying god it puts him in the same category as Christ. That was intriguing, challenging and surprisingly fun.
I have to admit, right now as I finish working on the second book in the series, I’m very excited to introduce readers to the new narrator, (and Soren through her eyes), but in The Lost Sun I think I’m most excited for people to read about Soren and Baldur’s relationship. And OK, Glory. She is a delight to write about.
MP: In The Lost Sun people dedicate themselves to specific gods. Astrid has been dedicated to Freya since she was eight. Soren, on the other hand, refuses to dedicate himself to Odin despite Odin being the god of berserkers. If you were in the United States of Asgard, which god would you dedicate yourself to?
TG: Odin, haha. He’s the god of war and madness and POETRY. To me, Odin represents the violence of creation, so I disagree with Soren a bit about Odin being entirely untrustworthy. He’d dangerous and challenging, but I think artists should be both of those things.
MP: There are a few twists and turns in this story as Soren and Astrid’s fates knot together. How did you go about pacing the story? How did you decide what to reveal to readers when?
TG: I reveal everything I can to readers as early as possible. Never hold back! If Soren knew it, I wanted the reader to know it too. And honestly, because this book is a road trip novel, it was the EASIEST of all my books to plot and pace. You can’t get too complicated and messy when the characters are literally driving from one place to another. I tried to put in a natural rhythm of ups and downs and surprises and twists, just like when you’re on a road trip and you take detours or hit unexpected traffic or roadside attractions!
MP: Obviously a lot of research went into this book. Were any resources especially helpful to you while writing The Lost Sun? Can you offer any recommendations for readers who want to learn more about Norse mythology after finishing this book?
TG: I tell you what: I like Wikipedia for a starting point. It’s not at all inaccurate re: Norse mythology, and can give a good overview so you know what you’re interested in and then you can look at the books that delve in deeper to those subjects.
The BEST way to understand the mythology, though, is to read some of the sagas. I recommend the Saga of the Volsungs esp, for magic, dragons, shape-shifting, sex, and a lot of burning things down and interfering gods.
For straight-up academic research, I recommend GODS AND MYTHS OF NORTHERN EUROPE by H R Ellis Davidson.
MP: The Lost Sun is the first book in a series.  Do you have a set arc for this story or know how many books will be in the series? Will we be seeing more of Soren and Astrid?
I’m hoping there will be 4 books total, and for sure there will be three. Every book has a different narrator and a self-contained plot, but they’re all connected by, well, the strands of Fate and a certain goddess who likes to manipulate said strands of fate. I have a general idea of the over-arching series plot, and I know quite a lot about the rest of the books. I can tell you Soren is one of the main characters in all 4, though not ever the narrator again. Some of the future narrators you meet in The Lost Sun, but not all of them!
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
TG: My next project, and my projects for the foreseeable future, are all USAsgard related! I’ve been working on Book 2 for almost 2 solid years. It’s kicking my butt! But should be worth it!
Maggie and Brenna and I are working on a follow-up to our short story anthology, but there aren’t a lot of details available for that yet!
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
TG: Have adventures! Meeting new people and visiting new places will teach you about humanity, and that’s always what we’re writing about, isn’t it? Discovering your own stories will lead you to being able to invent amazing new ones!

Thanks again to Tessa Gratton for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Lost Sun here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books. (Be sure to stop by the badass United States of Asgard section while you’re there. It’s awesome!)

Author Interview: Dianne K. Salerni

Dianne Salerni at the real caged grave of Sarah Ann Boone. Photo credit: Robert Salerni

Dianne Salerni at the real caged grave of Sarah Ann Boone.
Photo credit: Robert Salerni

Last month I read and reviewed The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni. It was definitely a favorite book this year and a very fine work of historical fiction (and mystery to boot!). Because of the magic of Twitter, I also started “talking” to Dianne after the review posted and was lucky enough to set up this interview. Needless to say I’m delighted to have her answering questions about The Caged Graves on the blog today!

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

Dianne Salerni (DS): I’ve been writing all my life, but I was too timid to seek publication. My husband is the one who started submitting my work to agents and editors. He had no success with anything I wrote in the early years of our marriage, and rightly so, because those works were NOT ready! But when I finished a historical novel in 2006 (my first attempt at that genre and my best book to-date), he suggested self-publishing it without even trying the traditional route. That book, High Spirits, was later picked up by Sourcebooks and re-published with the title We Hear the Dead. It also attracted the attention of an independent Hollywood producer. A movie option resulted in the production of a 10 minute short film, The Spirit Game, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Shortly after We Hear the Dead was published, I began looking for representation and after an 8 month search received an offer from Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, Inc. The Caged Graves is the first book Sara sold for me.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Caged Graves? (Trick question! We know the story started with the two real caged graves as explained on your website. But how did you decide what direction to use for your own story?)

DS: I briefly considered writing a novel about the two young women and how they ended up in the graves, but I wanted the graves to be the central mystery in the story – not how the story ends. So, I decided to focus on a daughter of one of the women. If the daughter had been sent away to be raised by relatives after her mother died – a common thing in the 1800s – it was plausible that she might not know the story behind her mother’s death and the graves.

Having decided that much, I started researching the history of the area. When I read about the Wyoming Massacre in the Revolutionary War and the Shades of Death swamp, I wanted to weave that history into the story. A plotline began to develop that tied together a legend of lost treasure, a deadly swamp, and a young woman’s search for answers about her mother’s death.

MP: The Caged Graves is about quite a few things including Verity’s reconnecting with her birthplace and her family. It’s also a bit of a mystery and a story of suspense. As a writer, how did you go about bringing these elements together in one story? Did you always know Verity’s familial relationships would play such a large part in the story?

DS: I am a hopeless pantster. So, no, I did not know her relationship with her father and other relatives would play such a big role. I had the solution to the mystery in mind when I started the book, but getting the clues presented in the right order and at the right time took multiple drafts and claimed most of my attention. Verity’s relationship with her family and her adjustment to living in the mountain town developed along the way. I credit my editor, Dinah Stevenson, for encouraging me to give more “screentime” to that part of the story. Sometimes, in an effort to get the word count down, I have a tendency to cut things that should not be cut. Dinah’s editorial comments encouraged me to make the family elements a priority in the story.

MP: Both The Caged Graves and your earlier novel We Hear the Dead are historical novels. What are some of the challenges or unique experiences of writing historical fiction?

DS: Getting the historical details right is always a challenge. One small thing that drove me nuts was figuring out where Verity would acquire ornamental plants to adorn her mother’s gravesite. Florists and nurseries would not have existed at that time and in this place. Ultimately, common sense prevailed, and I had her get cuttings from someone who already had the plants. (How that person got the plants was not my problem!)

Another issue is language – especially weeding out vocabulary, idioms, and turns of phrase that would not have been used in 1867.  I spent a lot of time on Dictionary.com and other sites, tracking down the origin date for various phrases. If I could not prove the phrase dated to that time, I changed it.

MP: In some sense, this book starts with a choice as Verity has to decide between staying with relatives in Worcester or returning to the much smaller and less urbane town of Catawissa. If you were in Verity’s position, what choice do you think you would have made?

DS: Verity moves back to Catawissa to marry a young man she knows only through letters. This is not so different from meeting somebody online, having a virtual romance, and then meeting him in person. While I can imagine doing that part – I’m not so certain I would have the guts to move across the country and settle in a new place. I have lived in the same county of Pennsylvania all my life, surrounded by family. Of course, Verity was returning to family when she moved to Catawissa, but they were nearly strangers – even her father. Verity is a lot more bold and outgoing than I am. I think I would have been too timid and shy to do what she did.

MP: While a big part of the story is, of course, the caged graves I have to say what really stood out to me were the wonderful characters. Are any characters particularly close to your heart? (I was about to name my own favorites when I realized it would be all of them!) Was one character more fun to write than others? Was any character harder?

DS: I love all the minor characters as much as the major ones. I was particularly fond of Verity’s father, Ransloe, who had trouble re-connecting with a 17 year-old daughter he barely knew. I had a lot of fun with her fiancé’s sisters and Verity’s young, rambunctious cousins. Hadley Jones, the doctor’s assistant, turned out completely different than I’d planned him to be – a lot more playful and irreverent, with a rather unconventional doctoring style.

I’d have to say the character I worked on the most was Verity herself. I wanted her to learn something about herself during this book, which means that she starts out with some faults – she looks down on the country townspeople at times, she makes assumptions about everyone she meets, and she is sometimes tactless. But she’s also compassionate and kind at heart. I wanted her to realize her mistakes, while still holding true to her personality. And I wanted her to be likable, in spite of her faults.

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MP:

MP: One of the interesting things about The Caged Graves is how the secret of the graves comes together and the book’s surprise ending. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story. How did you go about setting up the pace of the story? How did you decide what details to reveal when?

DS: It took several drafts for me to get the clues presented in the right order and at the right time. My beta readers helped me out with that. A couple of them pointed out I was holding secrets back too long. One person in particular mentioned that, in a mystery, the reader wants to feel as if s/he is making progress at figuring things out all along the book; otherwise it’s too frustrating.

I knew the story behind Verity’s mother’s death and the caged graves before I even started writing the first draft. However, I did not have a resolution planned out for the legendary treasure when I began writing. I was about two-thirds into the first draft when the idea for my climactic scenes came to me, and I changed what I had originally planned to happen. (This also required me to go back and snip out plot threads I had planted earlier for an ending that was no longer going to happen.)

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

DS: My next project is something completely different – a middle grade fantasy in a contemporary setting. The Eighth Day is about a boy who discovers an extra 24 hours between Wednesday and Thursday and a mysterious girl hiding in the house next door who exists only on that secret day. HarperCollins bought the story in a 3 book deal, with the first book expected to release in Summer 2014.

I am currently completing editorial revisions for Book 1 before it enters the copy-editing stage. A draft for Book 2 will have to be revised to match the changes I made in Book 1, and I am still planning Book 3. So, I am really looking for the school year to end so I can devote more time to those projects!

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

DS: Keep writing! When you complete a project and begin querying, start a new project – (not a sequel). Things don’t always happen in the order you expect. The Caged Graves is the first book my agent sold for me, but it’s the second book I sent her. The Eighth Day is the second book she sold, but it was the fourth one I gave her. That doesn’t mean the other manuscripts won’t eventually have their day, too, but it does mean that the more you have to offer, the more likely you are to get picked up by an agent, and ultimately, an editor.

Thanks again to Dianne Salerni for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Caged Graves here on the blog and visit Dianne Salerni’s website for more info about her and her books.

Author Interview: Lois Metzger

Lois Metzger is here today to talk about her latest novel A Trick of the Light. It’s an interesting book with a lot going on including a few surprises. The book’s official publication is today and I’m very excited to have Lois here to talk about this book.

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

Lois Metzger (LM): I knew from the age of 14 that I wanted to be a writer.  I loved J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories; I always hoped to write that tenth story.  I started out by inventing characters’ diaries, which turned out to be good training—it let me understand them from the inside.  Then, when I wrote a story about those characters, I’d learned enough about them to know what they would say, how they would react in any situation.

I had some short stories published in my twenties, and my first novel (Barry’s Sister) in my thirties; I wrote the sequel to that book (Ellen’s Case) a few years later, and a more autobiographical novel (Missing Girls) a few years after that.  A Trick of the Light took me almost ten years, from original idea to published book.

MP: What was the inspiration for A Trick of the Light?

LM: In 2004 I came across an article in the New York Daily News.  It was about a boy, Justin, who developed an eating disorder and almost died, and ended up in a hospital.  This came as a shock because I really didn’t know that boys could get eating disorders; I thought it was something that only happened to girls when they dieted too much.

I emailed the reporter of the article, who put me in touch with the family; I interviewed the boy’s doctor, who gave me the names of patients and families in New York so I could meet them.  Recently I took another look at that article, and saw how much of Justin’s story stayed with me and is still part of the final version of the book, even after substantial changes.

MP: This book is interesting because there is a very distinct narrator and main character.  What was it like writing Mike’s story from this remove?

LM: Having this narrator wasn’t my first idea.  Originally I had Mike tell his own story, but that became awkward because so many strange things were happening to him, and he was denying a lot of it, aware of some things, unaware of others.  How can a character say, “I didn’t know it, but…”?  Similar problems arose when I tried telling it from his friend Amber’s point of view; she got to know Mike pretty well, but she didn’t know his past.  Also she has her own agenda.  Mike’s friend Tamio knew Mike’s past, but Mike pushes Tamio away so quickly that Tamio couldn’t narrate the story, either.  I also tried having Mike’s mom be the narrator, but she really didn’t know what was going on inside Mike’s head.  Only one narrator knew that.

MP: In addition to a very separate narrator, this novel doesn’t have a very likeable narrator.  What was it like writing a story with a narrator that is so negative (and dangerous even)?

LM: There were moments I definitely found creepy as I was writing them.  Mike’s mom finds Mike lying on the floor, and she freaks out.  The narrator thinks it’s no big deal, that Mike was “tired” and “took a nap.”  It sounds so innocent and harmless.  Later, Mike’s mom has to tell Mike, “You blacked out.”  Another moment I found sad was when the narrator tells Mike to ignore his mom when she’s crying.  I just felt bad for her.

Still—and I hope this doesn’t sound like a contradiction—I really enjoyed writing the narrator’s thoughts and opinions.  Many actors and actresses say they love to play villains.  I can see why.

MP: One of the fun things about Mike is his interest in stop-motion animation.  Is that an interest you share?  Did you always know this interest would be a part of Mike’s character?

LM: Yes, I’m a Ray Harryhausen fan, the stop-motion animation genius who learned his craft from Willis O’Brien, the man who created King Kong.  I’m so sad to say that Mr. Harryhausen died only very recently, on May 7, at the age of 92.  He knew about A Trick of the Light and I’m sorry he didn’t get a chance to see it; I’m sending a copy to his widow, Diana Harryhausen, and to Tony Dalton, the co-writer of his books on stop-motion animation.

My favorite Ray Harryhausen movie is “The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.”  The monsters he invented—or creatures, as he liked to call them—are wonderful and, as Ray Harryhausen used to say, you feel sorry when they die because they have “a mind and a soul.”

From the first draft, Mike had an interest in stop-motion animation, but it was only in relatively recent rewrites that Mike and his friend started making their own movie.  The significance of the movie and the character they invent for it actually got much more fleshed out only after the book was accepted; now I see it as one of the most meaningful parts of the novel.

MP: A Trick of the Light is a pretty intense story.  Was there any part that was harder to dive into as a writer?  Is there any scene you’re particularly excited for readers to get to?

LM: The hospital scenes were hard, because Mike is sad a lot of the time, and I didn’t want to keep coming back to that.  So the narrator convinces Mike “You are not really here.  This is not your real life.”  While he’s in the hospital, Mike listens/doesn’t listen to his therapist; he makes friends with a girl he can’t stand at first.  A lot happens in a short time, and I wanted it all to be consistent and believable.

If I had to pick something I find exciting for readers, I’d have to say—the last chapter.  Sneaky answer, right?  You have to read the whole book to get there!  But, for me, the ending really brings the thing full circle.  You know where Mike has been, and you get a strong sense of where he’s going.

MP: I don’t want to reveal too much, but this book does involve eating disorders.  How much research was involved in the writing process?

LM: I wanted everything to be realistic.  A professional who specializes in eating disorders read the book before publication, and assured me that it’s accurate.  I read fiction and nonfiction books on eating disorders, and interviewed the people I met after first contacting Justin’s family.  It was fascinating research, though sometimes very painful.

MP: Building off the last question, are there any resources you’d suggest for readers who recognize the warning signs from A Trick of the Light and think they might know someone at risk or suffering from an eating disorder?

LM: Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any psychological illness, between five and 20 percent, so if you suspect a friend or family member has an eating disorder, follow up immediately.  Please get in touch with:

The National Eating Disorders Association

http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

For the helpline, call:  1-800-931-2237

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

LM: I’m in the middle of writing/rewriting a book called Change Places With Me.  It’s slightly science-fiction-ish, and it has to do with memory.  The main character is a girl who had trauma in early childhood and she tries to come to terms with it head-on at age 15.  It’s a little sad but funny, too—at least that’s the intention!

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

LM: Read and write.  I always liked reading Salinger because of his ear for dialogue.  A writer may appeal to you because of how he or she describes things.  For me, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has the perfect plot.  Ebeneezer Scrooge, one of the best characters the world has known, has a complete change of personality in only one night, and it’s just beautifully done.  Henry James does amazing things developing characters in Washington Square, especially the unlikeable ones.

Also, the more you write, the better your writing gets.  And have I mentioned how much rewriting is involved?  Humorist Peter De Vries said, “I love being a writer.  What I can’t stand is the paperwork.”  Try to enjoy the paperwork!

Thanks again to Lois Metzger for a great interview. You can also read my review of A Trick of the Light here on the blog and visit Lois Metzger’s website for more info about her and her books.