Author Interview: Nova Ren Suma

Nova Ren Suma is here today to talk about her novel Imaginary Girls. This year also marks the three year anniversary of the book being published. To celebrate, in addition to our nifty interview, Nova is running a blog series with guest posts from authors about the “book of their heart” so be sure to check that out. (You may also want to enter to win a copy of Imaginary Girls! Just saying.)

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

Nova Ren Suma (NRS): It’s a long and convoluted story about how I came to be a published YA author—because writing YA wasn’t my original intention, and I started off writing novels for adults. During those years I worked a series of day jobs in book publishing in New York City—I was a production editor, the in-house person who handles the copyediting of the books. It was at one of these day jobs that I started reading YA novels that blew my mind. Novels by Laura Kasischke. Laura Ruby. Rita Williams-Garcia. Bennett Madison. I realized what was possible in YA, and I wanted to be a part of it. I took a short story I’d written and shifted and reshaped and expanded it, and it became Imaginary Girls. That’s one part of the story, but I’ll leave it at that.

MP: What was the inspiration for Imaginary Girls?

NRS: Place and a person. Most of my novels start out that way. The place is my hometown and the reservoir where I used to sneak swims with friends when I was a teenager. And the person is my little sister, Laurel Rose. I wanted to write about the bond between an older sister and her baby sister, and throw in some magical thinking to see what happens…

MP: Obviously, Imaginary Girls is a story about sisters among other things. You have written on your website about this book being written largely for your sister and also interviewed your sister about the book. When you started Imaginary Girls did you always know this story would center around two sisters?

NRS: Oh yes—that’s the heart of the book. Imaginary Girls first started off as a short story about two sisters, Ruby and Chloe. They were always there, from the beginning. My little sister was born when I was nine and a half years old, and I delighted in helping take care of her, so it felt like she was mine. I guess this makes me the Ruby of the story, but actually Chloe is more like me and my sister is a lot more like Ruby—beautiful and magnetic. We both see ourselves in the book in different ways, and I would never have written it if not for my sister.

MP: Although ultimately fictional, the town Ruby and Chloe call home is based on a real one. Did any actual locations make it into this novel? What was it like writing about a real place where you spent some of your formative years?

NRS: The town in Imaginary Girls is taken and distorted from the Woodstock area in the Hudson Valley of New York, which is where I lived during high school. The reservoir is the Ashokan Reservoir, which was a short walk across the highway and through the woods from one of the houses where I lived back then. The Town Green, in the center of Woodstock, where I wasted many hours waiting for something interesting to happen on weekend nights is there in the book. The rec field and the artists’ cemetery are both there. The Youth Center, where I hung out with my friends, is there. Cumby’s, the convenience store at the edge of town, is there. Sweet Sue’s in Phoenicia, where I’d get strawberry-banana pancakes on weekends is there… I can’t even remember all the places that ended up in the book. Yet at the same time, I shifted and distorted and played with the place. It’s totally real and yet entirely made-up.

I often take real things, places, and people and distort them for my novels. The weirdest—and yet coolest—thing is when people from my past recognize things, like a night we went skinny-dipping in the reservoir and ran from the cops. We’re immortalized in a way, even if the story took a magical turn none of us lived through.

MP: During the story Ruby (and sometimes even Chloe) manages to say something strongly enough to make it true. If you had the same power of conviction, what would you say into being?

NRS: If I had that kind of power, I would save those pronouncements for the people I love. There is someone I want to be healthy. I would speak those words for her. And there is someone I want to be recognized for his talent. I would make that happen for him and then I’d step back and applaud.

MP: Is there any character or scene in this story that you especially enjoyed writing? Is there any character or scene you were excited to introduce to readers?

NRS: I loved writing about Chloe swimming across the reservoir. In reality, I am too afraid to swim far, and I’m not such a good swimmer—I would never have attempted that, no matter who asked me. I also loved imagining what might be under that water, still breathing beneath her, after all these years. Those were the most exhilarating pieces to write.

MP: You describe your books as including elements of magic realism and have written about the subject of magical realism in YA on your website before. What is your favorite part of writing magic realism into your stories?

NRS: I like playing with the surreal, and twisting a bit of the fantastical into the everyday world. I guess I’ve always believed there could be more than what we see out there, even if we’ll never understand it or know for sure. It all feels perfectly realistic to me.

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

NRS: My next book is a ghostly story of suspense called The Walls Around Us, set partly inside a girls’ juvenile detention center and partly in a ballet school, and told in two voices, one living and one dead. It’s coming out in Spring 2015 from Algonquin Young Readers.

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

NRS: The first manuscript you write may not always be the one that gets published. Or the second, or others beyond that. As someone who wrote and tried to publish two novels before my first book deal and securing an agent, I will tell you that I was very close to giving up. I reached a moment when I thought it just wasn’t going to happen for me, that maybe publication wasn’t in my future. I thought I’d failed.

So I took some time to wallow—I’ll be honest here, wallowing was part of it—but after that, I realized I could never give up, and so I reinvented myself, and I tried again.

Successes are all the more delicious when you’ve struggled to get them. I’m glad, now, that it wasn’t too easy.

Thank you again to Nova for taking the time to answer these questions and happy 3 year anniversary to Imaginary Girls!

To find out more about Imaginary Girls you can read my review.

You can also visit Nova’s website for more information about her and her books or read her blog for more smart thoughts on writing from her and guest authors.

I’m also giving away a copy of Imaginary Girls. Details here!

Author Interview (#5): Sarah Beth Durst

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her latest novel The Lost and answer some questions about it. The Lost hits shelves today so be sure to stop by a bookstore or a your local library to pick up a copy of  this story that explores what happens to lost things. And lost people.

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

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I had the idea while I was waiting at a traffic light. My blinker was on to turn left, and I remember thinking, “What if I went straight? Just drove straight and didn’t stop?”

That’s what Lauren does. Instead of going to work and waiting to hear the results of her mother’s latest medical test, she just drives straight. And drives and drives until she runs out of gas in Lost, a town full of only lost things and lost people.

MP: The Lost is your first book written with an adult audience in mind (as opposed to YA) with a 27-year-old heroine. Did you always know that Lauren would be an older character? When you conceived of this story did you always know it would be adult?

SBD: Yes, I knew from the beginning. I needed my protagonist to be old enough to have seen her dreams wither. I wanted her to feel empty and lost — and for that, I felt she had to be an adult.

MP: The Lost is also part of your first trilogy. Did you always know this book would be the first of three? Did you have a set arc in mind for Lauren throughout the series when you started?

SBD:I’d originally envisioned it as a standalone, but very early on in the process (before I even wrote the first draft), my editor and I realized that there’s more story to tell and more world to explore. Now, I can’t imagine it ever being just one book.

I did have an arc in mind for the entire trilogy, but the story changed significantly once I started writing. I love working like that: have a map but be willing to veer off it if a better road pops up.

MP: Working off the last question, has writing The Lost as part of a trilogy changed your writing process?

SBD: From here on in, I’m going to always keep a list of character details, like eye color and names of friends/parents/etc. With one book, it’s possible to hold all the details in your head at the same time. Three books… definitely trickier.

MP: Despite being an imagined place, Lost feels very real. Did any actual locations or experiences inspire your vision of Lost?

SBD:No particular place. But I pictured it very clearly, and it feels very real to me.

One of the most wonderful things about writing a trilogy was that I got to be in Lauren’s world for three whole books. I really fell in love with that quirky, creepy town.

MP: What are some things you would hope to find in Lost?

SBD:I’d love to find some lost masterpieces, like the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum.

MP: What are some things you would bring to Lost if you knew you were heading that way?

SBD: The key thing with Lost isn’t that it’s full of lost things… It’s that it’s ONLY full of lost things. So the stuff that people need, use, and treasure is rare. You have to make do with half-eaten sandwiches, stray potato chips, and a lot of socks.

If I were heading to Lost, I wouldn’t worry about bringing books like I usually do (because there are always tons of lost library books in Lost). I would, though, bring my own toothbrush, clean underwear, and fresh batteries. (You can always barter working batteries for food.)

MP: Lauren has a white streak in her hair while she debates the best color choice. What color would you dye your hair?

SBD: Deep purple. But I’m afraid that with all my ridiculous curls, I’d look like a clown. Maybe someday…

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project or what to expect in The Found?

SBD: Lauren’s adventures will continue in THE MISSING in December and then THE FOUND in April. You can expect to learn a lot more about the Missing Man, the void, and what else is out there, hidden in the dust…

Before that, in October, my next YA novel will be out.   It’s called CHASING POWER, and it’s about a girl with telekinesis and a boy who can teleport (and who lies as easily as he travels).

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, Vessel and Conjured.

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

Author Interview Kathy McCullough

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

Winners-Curse-blogtour-banner

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

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

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

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.