Author Interview (#2): Tessa Gratton on The Strange Maid

Tessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard has quickly become one of my favorite series. These books are smart, sharp and a perfect blend of myth and fantasy elements. After reading The Lost Sun, I was hooked. The Strange Maid came out earlier this year (you might remember Tessa’s wonderful guest post here about strong women that feature in the book) and Tessa is here today to talk about this latest installment in the series.

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

Tessa Gratton (TG): The Strange Maid grew out of the world of The United States of Asgard, so the answer to this is really about what inspired the world itself. For a more complete answer, here’s a link to the author’s note of the first book, The Lost Sun where I talk about that: http://tessagratton.tumblr.com/post/97224307338/the-lost-sun-authors-note

Briefly: I wanted to write stories about American religion, politics, and war, and realized that I could use an alternate US founded by Vikings and their gods like a giant metaphor to do that. Soren’s story from The Lost Sun is all about a young man who fights his berserker nature, a nature he thinks is dark and violent and dangerous (it is), who fights against what Odin Alfather stands for: madness, sacrifice, poetry, death. I wanted to write the second book about a person who embraces everything Soren fears and denies, and I wanted that person to be a girl. Girls are taught we can’t be violent and dangerous, we shouldn’t love those things or be drawn to them for their own sakes. We’re only allowed to fight for our children – like mother lions – not for ourselves or our rights or sexuality.

That’s how Signy was born. And she was so difficult to work with! But worth it.

MP: In addition to Signy, you mention the other Valkyrie throughout The Strange Maid. Did you always know that the valkryie (both present and long past) would play such important roles in this book’s plot?

TG: I knew I couldn’t write Signy’s story without using the Valkyrie. When I first started reading about Viking mythology (and Anglo-Saxon poetry, which is intrinsically linked to it), I was fascinated by two books: Woman as Hero in Old English Literature by Jane Chance and Beowulf’s Wealhtheow and the Valkyrie Tradition by Helen Damico. Both discussed women’s roles in epic poetry, as warriors, queens, goddesses, and many other things. I became a little obsessed with images of Valkyrie-like women in Old English literature, like Wealhtheow from Beowulf, who became Valtheow in The Strange Maid for pronunciation purposes. The Valkyrie were always part of Signy’s story – she always was some kind of Valkyrie figure – though in the 17 different drafts they played very different roles.

MP: The Strange Maid seamlessly integrates elements from Beowulf and references to the classic poem into the text. What drew you to this source material? How did you go about adapting elements to fit with your more modern Asgardian world?

TG: Oh! Well, thank you! I love Beowulf something fierce. It’s such a gorgeous, passionate, fantastical poem, with amazing heroes, monsters, magic, and morality. I translated it myself when I was in grad school about ten years ago, so was pretty familiar with it. I spent the summer of 2008 writing a historical novel from Wealhtheow’s point of view I loved the source so much – and stole a lot of that for The Strange Maid. (Like Unferth). It wasn’t actually very difficult to integrate because I’d been thinking about the themes and characters for so long it felt natural – I built the story around it instead of trying to shoe-horn it in.

MP: Signy is an original narrator who tells her story frankly and with a fair bit of poetry thrown in. How did you go about writing Signy to create her unique voice?

TG: It was a disaster. A messy, ferocious disaster. It took me 2.5 years to write and rewrite and rewrite. I blew 3 major publisher deadlines and drove 2 editors crazy. I think I was both too close to Signy and also not sure exactly what I wanted from her. Every time I detected even a whiff of something not true enough or raw enough in character or tone I scrapped it in order to dig deeper, with the help of my amazing editor.

I’m glad her voice seems to work for so many readers, because I worked excruciatingly hard for every word!

MP: This story features some overlap between The Lost Sun with characters like Soren turning up in this installment. The Strange Maid also has a timeline that overlaps with The Lost Sun. Did you always know these two stories would intersect in those ways?

TG: This series has always been built around Soren. He’s the narrator of book one, and though he won’t narrate anything else, he plays a major role in every story. I also knew a major part of Signy’s story was the troll massacre mentioned in The Lost Sun, but I did not know that it happened in the middle of Signy’s story instead of the very beginning. It was a surprise to me when I finally realized I had to start Signy months before the events of The Lost Sun in order to tell her story right.

MP: Is there any scene that you are particularly excited for readers to discover in this novel?

TG: My favorite scenes are all pretty spoilery, and all have to do with Signy and Ned Unferth “discussing” things. There are three conversations they have that have ALWAYS been in every draft of the book. Sometime they took place in different locations and at different times, with different contexts, but they always existed in some form. I’ll give you a line from each:

- “If I can have a prayer, this is it: may Signy Valborn never regret.”

- His eyes drift closed. “Finally.”

- “Make yourself deserve it; rise up to meet me if you want me.”

MP: This story again spans much of New Asgard, even bringing your characters into Canadia. Which was your favorite location to reimagine as it would be in the world of New Asgard?

TG: New Orleans, definitely. It’s one of my favorite cities, so I loved thinking about how it might be different (or the same) with a very different history of religion in the area. I liked playing with holidays and the layout, and especially using the cemeteries as set-pieces. I indulged myself by using the character Rathi, who loves history, to tell the reader a little bit about it.

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

TG: I’ve got some USAsgard novellas coming out this winter, first of all, and the third book in the series in May or June 2015. After that: I’m working on a few YA Fantasy stand alones right now. I need a break from working on a series!

Thanks again to Tessa Gratton for a great interview. You can also read my review of The Strange Maid 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: Mike Curato on Little Elliot, Big City

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Mike Curato_Author Photo credit Ruth ChanMike Curato is here today as part of the Little Elliot, Big City blog tour to talk about one of my favorite 2014 picture books. After the interview you can also comment on this post to enter a giveaway for some awesome Little Elliot goodies! (You can jump to the end to enter now but please come back to read!) For more details about Mike Curato be sure to stop by his website: MikeCurato.com. You can also find out more about Little Elliot at LittleElliotBigCity.com.

Miss Print (MP): You wrote and illustrated Little Elliot, Big City. Can you tell us about what your creative process for this picture book looked like? Do you start with the text or the artwork?

MC: The first two books both spawned from images. In fact, there was art before there was a story, and there were doodles of Elliot before there was art. I often jump back and forth between the two modes of writer and illustrator.

MP: In addition to a very special elephant, Little Elliot, Big City features some beautiful illustrations of New York City (including my mom’s favorite building the Flatiron Building!). Did you always know this story would take place in New York?

MC: Oh yes. I grew up outside of New York City, and I’ve always been enamored with its old grandeur. When I started working on finished art of Elliot years ago, it quickly became the backdrop. There was no question.

MP: Working off the last question: The cars and people in your illustrations make it pretty clear that your book is not set in present day New York. How did you decide what period to use as the backdrop for this story?

MC: I love the aesthetic and romance of the late ‘30s/early ‘40s: the cars, the buildings, the clothes. It’s also a time before TV and smartphones and internet. Things were slower, but I think more intentional.

MP: What was your favorite part of this story to illustrate? Which part was the hardest?

MC: I think my favorite piece is the one of Elliot staring in the bakery window, though I thoroughly enjoyed drawing (and researching) all the cupcakes throughout the book. The hardest was probably the scene of Elliot in the crowded subway. Also, Mouse’s trash can was quite time consuming with all of that garbage and twisted wire.

MP: What medium do you prefer to work with for your illustrations? How do you decide where to start with each illustration?

MC: Each piece is hand-drawn in pencil, scanned, and colored in Photoshop. I always start with very simple sketches with just enough information to communicate what is going on in the image. Once I narrow in on a composition that works, I gather my reference, and then it’s off to the races.

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

MC: I actually just finished the second book in the series, Little Elliot, Big Family, which comes out next Fall! It expands on Elliot’s friendship with Mouse, and has even more New York City scenes.

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

MC: Create what makes you happy. Create what you think is missing from the world that could make it better.

Thank you again to Mike for taking the time to chat with me!

Now here are the giveaway details:

Thanks to Mary Van Akin at Macmillan Kids, you can win a copy of Little Elliot, Big City, a coveted Little Elliot tote and some adorable Little Elliot stickers!

Giveaway is US only and open to any readers aged 13 or older. Giveaway will run from today to September 5. (Winner will be notified on September 6. If I don’t hear from the winner by September 7, I will pick another winner.)

Comment below telling me your favorite kind of cupcake to enter!

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You can also check out the other tour stops for even more Little Elliot fun:

Tuesday, August 26: Librarian in Cute Shoes | @utalaniz

Wednesday, August 27: Teach Mentor Texts | @mentortexts

Thursday, August 28 : Read. Write. Reflect. | @katsok

Friday, August 29: Kit Lit Frenzy | @alybee930

Saturday, August 30: Daddy Mojo | @daddymojo

Sunday, August 31: The Trifecta: Sharp Reads | @colbysharp / Connect. Read. | @mrschureads / Nerdy Book Club | @nerdybookclub

Monday, September 1: Miss Print | @miss_print

Author Interview (#2): Ame Dyckman on Tea Party Rules

Ame DyckmanAme Dyckman returns to the blog today to talk about her Ezra Jack Keats award winning sophomore picture book: Tea Party Rules.

Miss Print (MP): How did you come up with the idea for Tea Party Rules?

Ame Dyckman (AD): I’ve adored tea parties since I was very little, when I first heard of… ya know, that particularly mad one. I was (and am!) crazy about Michael Bond’s Paddington, which taught me a little bear could drop into my life at any moment. And I really, really love cookies. I think all these things rolled about in my brain for a bit, finally bumped into each other, and said, “Hey! Let’s write a story together!”

MP: Who came first in this story? The girl or the bear?

AD: Cub came first. If there were no one to desire the cookies, it wouldn’t matter if there were no cookies, right? (I think I read this in philosophy class. Or in a fortune cookie.)

MP: Which part of Tea Party Rules was your favorite to write? Which was the hardest?

AD: My favorite part to write was Cub’s interaction with the teddy bear he usurps at the girl’s backyard tea party. It was the hardest part to write, too. How much did Cub understand about his new acquaintance? What would his reaction be? And most importantly (always!), would kids get it/love it/laugh? My Super Agent (Scott Treimel) and genius Viking editor (Leila Sales) were a huge help with this.

MP: Was there a particular part that you were particularly excited to see illustrated?

AD: I couldn’t wait to see Cub dressed up and miserable in the girl’s tea party finery. (Sorry, Cub! Way to take one for the team!) Illustrator Extraordinaire K.G. Campbell captured this scene perfectly. I still laugh out loud every time I see it, and it’s a riot at book signings! The kids crack up when I crack up!

MP: Would you consider yourself more like Bear or more like the little girl?

AD: I used to be more like the little girl, especially when it came to the way I thought something should play out. I’d get an idea in my head, and be terribly disappointed when the reality wasn’t as fun as I imagined it to be. But lately, I think I’m more like Cub, willing to roll with things more—at least until I hit my breaking point. (Like when I see cookies I can’t have.)

MP: Ending with a hard-hitting question: What is your favorite kind of cookie? What would you want served at a tea party?

AD: I have an absolutely-can’t-resist-zero-willpower weakness for Oreos. (The scene where Cub gobbles the cookies? I think someone slipped K.G. footage of me with a package of Oreos!) But for a tea party, you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, especially homemade ones. They’re bliss-inducing and fantastic for sharing down to the last cookie—so long as each half has roughly the same number of chips!

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

AD: My next book, Wolfie the Bunny, hops into bookstores everywhere on February 17th. It’s the funny sibling story of a baby wolf adopted by a family of rabbits. Mama and Papa are thrilled with the new addition to the family, but daughter Dot is certain, “He’s going to eat us all up!” It’s adorably illustrated by the amazing Zachariah OHora. I’m over-the-moon to work with him and the fabulous folks at LB Kids, and can’t wait for everyone to meet Wolfie and the fam!

Thanks again to Ame Dyckman 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 Tea Party Rules check out my review!

Author Interview: Nova Ren Suma on Imaginary Girls

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 on The Lost

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 on Don’t Expect Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KM: Definitely!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Interview: Marie Rutkoski on The Winner’s Curse

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Marie Rutkoski. photo by Tobias Everke

Photo by Tobias Everke

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

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

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

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

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