Author Interview #2: Susan Juby on The Fashion Committee

susanjubyI have been a fan of Susan Juby’s books since I read her debut novel in 2004. After falling in love with Susan’s writing all over again in The Truth Commission, I was thrilled to hear The Fashion Committee would return to the world of Green Pastures. I’m happy to have Susan back for another interview about The Fashion Committee.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Fashion Committee? When did you know that you had more stories to tell about Green Pastures?

Susan Juby (SJ): There were three distinct inspirations for The Fashion Committee. One came from a story told to me by a woman who used to be a drug dealer. One night she was in a drug house and when she was looking for a bathroom she opened a door and found a preteen girl in a preternaturally tidy and nicely decorated bedroom. The girl was sitting at her desk, quietly doing her homework. The girl and her room were as orderly and calm as the rest of the house was disordered and dangerous. That image stuck with me and made me think about how some kids can transcend brutal home lives.

The second inspiration was my own history as a fashion college drop-out. I wanted to be a costume designer for film and TV, but lacked the discipline and single-minded focus that seemed to be required. (I lacked quite a few other things as well.) I was both alarmed and envious that some of the students didn’t think about anything except fashion.

The third inspiration was a This American Life story called Three Miles. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/550/three-miles It’s about kids in an underfunded public school who go on a tour of an expensive private school. When I was younger I struggled with class resentment, even though I lived in a place where most everybody was working class. It would have blown my mind and not in a good way if I’d been taken on a tour of a school catering to super wealthy kids. I still struggle with the systemic unfairness that limits the opportunities for low income kids in North America.  Before I finished The Truth Commission, which is set at the same school, I already knew I wanted to write about aspiring fashion designers.

MP: The Fashion Committee is written in dual narrative with entries from Charlie Dean and John Smith-Thomas in their respective fashion diaries over the course of the competition. Interestingly, despite their competing together and going to school together, Charlie and John have very little overlap within the pages of this book. How did you go about organizing their two stories to become the plot of one novel? How did you balance having two first person narrators with such distinct personalities and styles?

SJ: I wanted their different perspectives on the contest and the act of designing clothes to act almost as a conversation about fashion. What’s wonderful about it? What’s problematic? Is it a legitimate and serious art form? Their worlds wouldn’t intersect much because they are not likely to be friends but I imagined that their observations of each other would be quite revealing. The two of them helped me to sort out some of my feelings about fashion. Charlie allowed me to explore the costs and benefits of true artistic obsession and John’s experiences let me think about how good people sometimes betray people they love and how self-righteous anger can be a trap. John is a less extreme and less stylized (and stylish!) character than Charlie, so his voice took longer to develop.

MP: This book all comes down to perspective and perception. Charlie grapples with the choices she has to make to pursue her dreams and ambitions while navigating the turbulence inherent to her father’s addiction. John, meanwhile, has to let go a lot of his own biases and unpack his privilege as he tries to reconcile his own self-perception with a newfound desire to be more. One of my favorite quotes is from John as he begins to realize this and says, “It was beginning to occur to me that I was a little too in love with stereotypes and preconceptions.” Did you always know that Charlie and John would have these multifaceted personalities and secrets? How did you handle layering that into their narratives?

SJ: My understanding of Charlie and John deepened with each draft and I kept my mind open to multiple possibilities in each scene as they progressed through the application process and created their designs for the fashion show. They surprised me at every turn. It’s not a terribly efficient way to work, but I’m a believer in letting the characters lead the way.

MP: This book isn’t your first foray into fashion or art school in your writing or in your life. What was your favorite thing about your time in design school? Did you do any hands on research with fashion design or metalwork for this book?

SJ: It was thrilling to learn some new drafting or sewing technique. When I attended fashion design school I was having quite a few personal problems. It was my first time away from my small town and I was living in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Unfortunately, I brought all my problems with me and developed some new ones. I ended up dropping out of school after six months. Not long after I left I learned that I’d won an award from the Costume Society of Ontario for one of my designs. I was gratified, but it felt bittersweet too. I could have been a contender!

For research, I read many books on fashion design, fashion theory, fashion history, and haute couture techniques. I visited the Manus x Machina fashion exhibit at The Met for inspiration. That was mind blowing. I also took a couple of metalworking classes and interviewed artists who work with metal. The research for this book was thoroughly enjoyable.

MP: Charlie and John each have to design a piece of clothing for the fashion competition. What would you have designed if you were in the competition? What are some things that would feature on your mood board?

SJ: I loved the period in 19th century fashion sometimes referred to as the Extravagant Period so I would likely have done something over the top. Huge crinolines, feathers. Completely impractical. My mood board would be full of photos of waterfalls, sheer cliffs and black birds resting on bare branches.

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

SJ: I’m working on a new comedic crime novel for adults (and young adults who like that sort of thing) and a deeply bizarre picture book.

Thanks again to Susan for this awesome interview.

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

You can also check out my review of The Fashion Committee.

Week in Review: May 20

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

This week I (re)reviewed the entire Queen’s Thief series to celebrate the release of book five (Thick as Thieves) because why not. I also finished Vincent and Theo which was excellent.

I was not at my best this week. It was very hot and many things went wrong. Our stove broke and had to be replaced, we had to get a new microwave, lots of things had to be returned. BUT things are all fixed at this point and everything seems to be on a more even keel now.

I also went to a fun book event with Nicole.Estelle put it together in Stories BK with Mike Lowery and Tom Booth talking about their work as authors and illustrators. Tom and Mike were very funny and Stories is a super cute book store. Fun was had by all.

Oh and I cut my hair.

If you you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my May Reading Tracker.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Let’s talk in the comments.

Thick As Thieves: A Review

Kamet is a slave but he is also poised to become one of the most powerful men in the Mede Empire thanks to his master Nahuseresh’s close relationship with the Emperor. While he knows the limitations of his life as a secretary and slave, Kamet is ambitious and eager for the chance to help shape the Empire and wield his influence–a future that is almost certainly within reach until one whispered conversation changes everything.

No longer safe in his position, or even in his city, Kamet embarks on a journey that will take him farther than he once thought possible. Traveling across the country and away from the seat of the Mede Empire, Kamet finds an unlikely ally in an Attolian soldier far from home and discovers that sometimes choice and freedom can be much more important than power or influence in Thick as Thieves (2017) by Megan Whalen Turner.

To call this book my most anticipated 2017 release would be a gross understatement. When I found out I was reviewing this book for School Library Journal (and thus getting to read it early as an ARC) I screamed and scared one of my coworkers. This series has gotten under my skin and been part of my life for almost two decades (the first book in the series, The Thief, just had its twentieth anniversary). I am so happy this series still has the love it deserves and that the series is not only in print but reissued this year (with new covers!) so that new people can discover it and love it as much as I do.

Turner returns to the world of Eugenides and her Queen’s Thief series in this fifth installment which moves beyond the familiar borders of the countries of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis. Thick as Thieves is filled with characters readers will learn to love and want to return to again and again including several from earlier books in the series.

Kamet is analytical and pragmatic–traits which come across completely in his first person narration. He brings a fresh perspective to familiar places and people while expanding the world of this series with his knowledge of Mede culture and mythology including the wayward gods, Immakuk and Ennikar.

Turner expertly negotiates Kamet’s complicated feelings about his enslavement. Intellectually Kamet knows he lacks freedom. He knows his position as a slave is vulnerable in an empire that has a singular fear of its slave population. At the same time, Kamet allows himself to be blinded by his own ambitions and his narrow view of the world. Kamet’s journey from a circumspect and scholarly secretary to a man in control of his own fate is immensely satisfying as is the way Kamet’s story intertwines with other pieces of the series and helps smaller plot points come into focus.

This whip-smart book works equally well as an introduction for readers just discovering Turner’s characters and as a way to move the series forward to what promises to be a stirring conclusion for long-time fans. Thick as Thieves is a dazzling adventure and a truly charming story of unlikely friends. A must for fantasy readers seeking titles rich with intrigue and politics. Cannot recommend this book or this series highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the April 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

A Conspiracy of Kings: A (Reread) Review

Sophos has always known that he is too soft and too scholarly to be a proper heir to his uncle the king of Sounis. When he is exiled to the island of Letnos after parting ways with the magus and a thief who proved too clever for his own good, Sophos is free to spend his days reading poetry and contemplating philosophy even if it is in the company of an odious tutor.

All of that changes the moment Letnos is attacked and Sophos is abducted. Hidden away and rendered unrecognizable, Sophos has a chance to turn away from his responsibilities as Sounis’ heir.

It is not easy to become a king. But it turns out it’s even harder to forsake your own country. Navigating the murky waters of friendship and sovereignty, Sophos will have to decide if old friends can become new allies and whether or not honor, or freedom for that matter, have anything to do with ruling a country in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) by Megan Whalen Turner.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth book in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series and continues Sophos’ story–a character first introduced as one of Gen’s travel companions back in The Thief. Sophos narrates this novel in the first person. Throughout most of the novel he is talking to someone as he relates the story of what brought him all the way to Attolia after a dangerous journey across Sounis. The second person is a hard tense to negotiate but it works well here and realizing who Sophos is talking to is a revelation in itself.

Perception always plays a role in Turner’s books and A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. The manipulations here are even more subtle as Sophos tries to fit the present Eugenides as king of Attolia with his memories of Gen the thief. In addition to that, Sophos’ own self-perception also comes into play with a fascinating character study through his narration.

Sophos is a guileless character and he is very aware of his limitations throughout the story. He is sensitive, he blushes at the drop of a hat, he is not an experienced swordsman, the list goes on. Because of this, Sophos’ narration is refreshingly forthright and direct. Sophos is quick to explain his internal struggles and even some of his shortcomings as he tries to come to terms with the shocking reality that he is responsible for the fate of an entire country. Of course, that only tells part of the story as Sophos fails to notice the ways in which he himself has changed and grown on his journey to becoming a king in his own right.

Much of this series focuses on Eugenides’ journey from boy to man and by extension from his path from man to king. A Conspiracy of Kings is a slightly different story as Sophos acknowledges not only that he is a king but also that he might have been meant to be king all along.

This book has my favorite ending of the entire series. I love the dialogue that concludes this story and I especially enjoy tracing the path of Sophos and Gen’s friendship as they begin to meet each other on equal footing. A Conspiracy of Kings is another arresting story filled with evocative prose and characters that are guaranteed to resonate.

If you enjoy A Conspiracy of Kings, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of AttoliaThe King of Attolia and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The King of Attolia: A (Reread) Review

It is not easy to become the king of a country already fond of its queen, especially for a foreigner who kidnapped that queen and may or may not have forced her hand in the matter of their marriage. How can any man truly become a king when no one sees him as a sovereign? Not that it matters. With such tenuous foundations, sovereignty is not enough to ensure loyalty anyway.

Being the Thief of Eddis was always enough for Eugenides. He didn’t want to become King of Attolia. He didn’t want the crown at all. He wanted the queen. Even more wondrous, Attolia wanted him. But one cannot marry a queen without becoming a king.

Their marriage will not be an easy one. Each move will require careful calculation. Especially when a rash young guard is dragged into the middle of the kingdom’s political machinations.

Much like Gen himself, Costis wants nothing to do with the royal court or Eugenides’ efforts to avoid all royal responsibility. And yet the more time he spends with the young king the more Costis understands all that Gen has lost in his pursuit of the throne–and what made the sacrifice worthwhile. Together these unlikely allies might even teach the Attolian court a thing or two about what it takes to be a true king in The King of Attolia (2006) by Megan Whalen Turner.

I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite book in this series–it’s a bit like asking a person to pick their favorite arm or leg–but some of my favorite scenes from the series are in The King of Attolia. Going into this book I, like most fans of Turner’s series, already know and love Gen. Which makes it all the more satisfying to watch as Eugenides performs for and ultimately wins over all of Attolia.

This book is written in third person with shifting perspectives. Most of the story is told through a close focus on Costis, a young soldier in Attolia’s royal guard. Readers learn about Gen’s changed circumstances through Costis’ eyes. In this way, it is easy to see how little the country thinks of their new king and also, thanks to moments from Gen and Attolia’s perspectives, how greatly they underestimate his cunning and his ingenuity.

Attolia and Eugenides are one of the most fascinating couples in literature. Nothing about them quite makes sense. Attolia is older and even taller–she embodies her title and position so much that it feels strange to refer to her by her given name, Irene. She is brutal and demands attention. Eugenides is small, like all good thieves, and abhors attention and the trappings that come with being in the public eye. Since the loss of his hand he has had to create a new persona–one that often capitalizes on selling himself short (and only partly on really not wanting to be a king). Watching the two of them balance all of the fraught history between them and what it means to be royalty as well as newly married is fascinating and made me fall in love with both Attolia and Gen all over again.

Costis’ perspective also breathes some new life into this story filled with familiar characters. Both he and Gen have a lot of growing up to do in this story as each young man begins to grasp his true place in the world. The King of Attolia is a slow burn of a story filled with satisfying reveals, wonderful moments, and truly memorable characters. Richly told and expertly written, The King of Attolia is another fine installment in this marvelous series.

If you enjoy The King of Attolia, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Queen of Attolia: A (Reread) Review

It is not easy to be the queen of a country anxious to have a king, especially when sovereignty is not enough to ensure obedience let alone loyalty. Attolia knows this better than most as she has struggled to keep hold of her throne amidst conniving barons and uneasy alliances.

Attolia knows the appearance she cultivates for her subjects–the hardened ruler without compassion or remorse. She knows that the longer she wears that mask the harder it is to be anything else.

Eugenides has spent years watching the queen of Attolia from afar as he taunts her with baubles left by her bedside and repeated thefts from her palace. What draws Eugenides back to Attolia is anyone’s guess, but return he does. Again and again.

When Eugenides is caught one too many times stealing from Attolia, he pays the ultimate price. Finding himself caught in the middle of a war he wants no part of, Eugenides does what he always does: he plans to steal what he needs to remedy the situation. But in the wake of a horrible loss and feelings he can scarcely fathom, Gen isn’t sure if he will be able to steal the peace Eddis needs to survive in The Queen of Attolia (2000) by Megan Whalen Turner.

I always tell people that they have to read The Thief and The Queen of Attolia when I recommend this series. This book represents a dramatic shift in tone and style as Turner expands Eugenides’ world and moves the story in a darker direction. This book functions as a standalone story and can be read outside of the series but it works best read in order particularly to see how much Eugenides has grown and changed since book one. The Queen of Attolia also lays the groundwork for most of book three (and even hints at book four) as the threat of Mede invasion is made more overt.

This book is written in third person and shifts perspective. In this way readers are at a remove from Eugenides first as he recovers from the loss of his hand and later as he plans what will come next. This choice allows for more powerful reveals as, once again, Gen finds ways to shock and amaze. This technique also allows for a stark contrast between Attolia as she presents herself to the world and Irene, the young woman who has had to harden herself to become the queen Attolia expects her to be.

Turner delivers a haunting tale of broken people trying to understand what it means to be whole when the damage has already been done and, no matter what else might follow, completely irreparable. Unbelievably this leads to one of  the most enduring and powerful love stories I’ve ever read. The Queen of Attolia is a compelling story of political intrigue, old gods, cunning, and above all the lengths people go to for love. Not to be missed.

If you enjoy The Queen of Attolia, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Thief: A (Reread) Review

Gen can steal anything. As he is quick to tell  anyone who will listen. Or he could before he was arrested after successfully stealing Sounis’ royal seal (and unsuccessfully boasting about it).

Gen doesn’t know long he’s been in prison. Time is hard to measure based on circuits around his small cell. Certainly long enough to lose much of his strength and for sores from his shackles to begin to fester.

The achingly monotonous routine is broken when the king’s scholar, the magus, recruits Gen for a hunt of sorts. The magus knows the location of an ancient and valuable treasure that could change the balance of power between Sounis and Eddis in Sounis’ favor. The magus thinks Gen is the perfect tool to steal the object away. But like any good thief, Gen has secrets and plans of his own in The Thief (1996) by Megan Whalen Turner.

It’s hard to talk about this series without talking about myself. Eugenides and these books have been part of my life for more than a decade now; they’re in my blood and they are part of why I see the world the way I do and who I am in ways that are not always easy to explain.

In 2000 my mother did freelance data entry for HarperCollins where she could bring home free books (for me) including a lot of the books that I now think of as formative to who I have become. One of those books was The Queen of Attolia. I read it on its own and years later when I started working in my local library, I discovered The Thief and realized that I had read the second book in a series.

The Thief received a Newbery Honor in 1997 and, along with the rest of Turner’s Queen’s Thief novels, has garnered a faithful following and classic status among fantasy readers. Turner creates a world inspired by visits to Greece as well as the culture and pantheon of gods found in Ancient Greece. Using these bones Turner then develops the world further with a unique language and naming conventions, geography, and technology over a wide span of history (including clocks, pens, and maps) leading to parallels to the technologically advanced ancient Byzantines.

The Thief introduces readers to Eugenides, a thief, in this first-person narration where Gen is ostensibly relating exactly what happened after his arrest in Sounis. It is only as the story progresses that it becomes obvious that Gen is keeping secrets not just from the magus but from readers as well.

As Gen, the magus, and his retinue begin their journey Turner’s skills as a writer shine. Evocative descriptions bring the land of Sounis (and later pieces of Attolia and Eddis) to life. Gen’s razor sharp observations and cutting language paint his companions in stark detail while also chronicling his journey with a perfect mix of humor and annoyance.

Eugenides is an ingenious and clever  thief, of course, but also unbelievably sympathetic and unique. His fierce intelligence, skills of deception, and keen grasp of the powers of language and presentation are all key aspects of his personality. They are also, because he guards his secrets so closely, things readers only begin to understand about Eugenides as The Thief nears its conclusion and it becomes obvious that Gen is always at least five steps ahead of everyone and always holding all of the cards.

The Thief presents a memorable cast of brilliant characters who will later populate the rest of Turner’s novels including royalty, spies, soldiers, and even gods. This story also lays groundwork for one of the most carefully plotted and intricate series I have ever read. Even seventeen years after I first read The Thief, even after re-reading it twice more, this novel manages to surprise and impress me with new details to discover and old memories to cherish.

If you enjoy The Thief, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Queen of Attolia, The King of Attolia, A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater