Author Interview: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Sorrow

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors and one of the busiest. Last year she published her latest standalone middle grade The Stone Girl’s Story and Fire and Heist a new standalone YA featuring were-dragons. She also wrapped up her first trilogy written for adults with The Queen of Sorrow. Today Sarah is to talk with me a bit more about the series.

Miss Print (MP): The Queen of Sorrow concludes the arc of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. Did the framework for this story and its focus shift between when you first started drafting the series and when you began writing this installment?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): There’s an episode of the Flash where Captain Cold explains the Four Rules of Planning: “Make the plan, execute the plan, expect the plan to go off the rails, throw away the plan.”  And that describes my writing process.

Before I began writing The Queens of Renthia trilogy, I planned out all three novels.  But then when I sank into the actual stories…

You have to trust your instincts when you write.  Trust your characters.  Trust your story.  In some cases, this takes you down a path that follows a nice, neat outline, but sometimes the best discoveries happen when you veer off that path.  So I try to allow myself the flexibility to veer.

For example, the character of Garnah, the sociopathic poison-maker, didn’t exist when I first outlined the trilogy.  She popped up while I was writing, and I fell so in love with her that she became an important character.

MP: The Queen of Sorrow shows readers several new parts of Renthia including quick snapshots of the other queens in neighboring kingdoms. How did you decide what scenes to use to show readers these new areas? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: Renthia is a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits who want to kill all humans.  (Not exactly a very safe tourist destination.)  It’s also a world of extreme beauty, thanks to those out-of-control spirits: towering Lothlorien-like trees, mountains that pierce the sky, endless glaciers…  In THE QUEEN OF SORROW, we’re mostly in the forests of Aratay and the mountains of Semo.  But I also had the chance to show glimpses of the other countries.  They’re brief scenes, but I spent a ton of time daydreaming about what those other places were like, who their queens were, and how they survived.

In particular, I can’t wait for readers to see Belene, a string of islands built on the bones of long-dead leviathans.  It’s the setting for my next book, THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone epic fantasy set in the world of Renthia.

MP: For the past few years you have had several fantastic books out each year (which I love because it’s more books for me to recommend to my readers!) across a variety of ages and fantasy sub-genres. How do you balance working on two projects so close together? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I tend to sink into a world when I write, so I prefer to work on one project at a time.  Typically, I’ll spend a couple months working on my next book for adults, hand it off to my editor, and then transition to working on my next book for kids, hand it off to that editor, and so on.

On days where I have to think about two worlds at once, I eat a lot of chocolate.

I do try to write every day.  I know this doesn’t work for every writer, but for me, it helps maintain momentum.  And quite simply, it makes me happy!

Depending on what stage of writing/revision I’m at, I often set daily goals (a scene, a chapter, etc.), but I don’t have set hours that I write– I just try to write as much as possible between all the little things in life that need taking care of.

MP: Working from the last question, this year you’ll be publishing The Deepest Blue–another adult fantasy novel set in Renthia, this time in the island kingdom of Baleen. When did you realize that you had more stories to tell in Renthia? How will this story be similar to (or defer from) your other books set in this world?

SBD: While I was writing book one of The Queens of Renthia, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I sketched out a map: trees, mountains, fields, glaciers, a few islands to the south… and I immediately started wondering about them.  So when the chance came along to write a brand-new story set in another part of Renthia, I jumped on it.

THE DEEPEST BLUE is about Mayara, one of Belene’s fearless oyster divers, who is about to marry the love of her life when an unnatural storm hits her island.  To save her family, Mayara reveals that she has the power to control spirits — and when the storm ends, the queen’s soldiers come for her and send her, along with other women of power, to an island filled with bloodthirsty spirits.  Whoever survives will be named heirs to the queen.

So, new story, new characters, new land.  And a lot of sea monsters!

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next projects? What can readers look forward to from you in 2019?

SBD: THE DEEPEST BLUE comes out from Harper Voyager on March 19th.  And my next book for kids, SPARK, comes out from Clarion Books / HMH on May 14th.  It’s about a girl and her storm beast (a.k.a. a lightning dragon) and how even the quietest voice can change the world.  I’m ridiculously excited about both books and can’t wait for readers to meet Mayara (my oyster diver) and Mina (my storm guardian)!

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 read my review of The Queen of Sorrow here on the blog.

Author Interview: Jeff Zentner on Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee

Jeff Zentner author photoJeff Zentner’s new novel Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is  a story about big dreams, big chances, and the mediocre results we sometimes end up with as a result. It is also a laugh-out-loud funny ode to friendship, creativity, and horror movies. This book totally snuck up on me and is fast becoming one of my favorite novels of the year. I’m very excited to have Jeff back today answering some of my questions.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee?

Jeff Zentner: One night, three years ago, I came home on a Saturday night and turned on the TV and started channel surfing. I never do this because I have a Netflix queue a mile long. I came to the Nashville public access station and it was playing a low budget horror movie. This was very strange. I kept watching, fascinated. The movie then cut to these two young women dressed in horror garb, named Marlena Midnite and Robyn Graves. They were the hosts of a syndicated public access show out of Davenport, Iowa called Midnite Mausoleum. I was fascinated. It was so goofy and fun and sweet. It got me thinking about who hosts these kinds of shows. I immediately started thinking up an idea about two young women who host their own public access creature feature.

MP: This novel alternates between Josie and Delia’s narrations. Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest?

JZ: I loved them equally. I loved writing Josie’s sense of humor, because it’s closest to my own. And I loved writing Delia’s sense of poetry about the world, because it’s closest to my own. I loved writing the relationship between Delia and her mother and the relationship between Josie and Lawson.

MP: Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is your third novel. It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read and a bit of a departure from your previous novels which were much heavier stories. Did this shift in tone require a shift in your writing process? How did you go about channeling the quirkiness and humor to tell this story?

JZ: It did require a shift. I love very lyrical, poetic writing. But that sort of writing often comes at the cost of humor, so there wasn’t as much room for this kind of writing as in past books. As for channeling the humor, I love to joke around. It was just a matter of storing up humorous observations and insights and putting them in Josie and Delia’s mouths.

MP: How do you fit writing into your daily routine between working full time and other obligations? What does a typical writing day (or writing session) look like for you? Where are your favorite places to write?

JZ: I have a pretty intense and demanding day job, so I really have to fit writing into the cracks. I do 80 percent or so of my drafting on my iPhone with my right thumb on the bus to and from work. It’s not my favorite place to write, but it’s where I do most of my writing. My favorite place to write is my writing studio at home. I have a room devoted to it that’s full of favorite books, letters I’ve gotten from fans, scented candles, cool vintage bookshelves and typewriters, and my vintage pulp paperback collection. It smells like heaven. It’s so cozy and wonderful. I’ve never before lived in a house with a room devoted solely to work and creativity and it’s wonderful.

MP: So far, all of your novels exist in the same world with a few references (and even characters) traveling between books. Can you tell me anything about your next project? Can readers expect more connections between your novels?

JZ: My fourth novel is about two young people from small town East Tennessee who get scholarships to an elite northeastern prep school. As readers may (or may not) recall, Nana Betsy from Goodbye Days is from East Tennessee, and it turns out that my main character in this fourth book is her grandnephew. She has a small, but pivotal role in the new book. Also, if it survives the edit, there’s another really fun cameo from an important figure in the Zentnerverse!

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

You can see more about Jeff and his books on his website.

You can also check out my review of Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee.

Author Interview: Tiffany Schmidt on Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy

Tiffany Schmidt author photoBookish Boyfriends is filled with books, humor, and romance all framed around retellings of classic novels. The first installment, A Date With Darcy, follows Merrilee as she starts her sophomore year at Reginald R. Hero High School and discovers that, much to her surprise, the boys at this school might actually be better than her book boyfriends.

I really enjoyed this one and The Boy Next Story is one of my most anticipated sequels coming out in 2019. Today Tiffany Schmidt is here to answer some questions about her new series.

Miss Print (MP): Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy is the first book in your ongoing series. What was the inspiration for the series in general? What was the inspiration for this specific installment?

Tiffany Schmidt (TS): I’ve always been bookish. Even before I could sound out words and read to myself, I’d lug books to my parents and older sister and beg them to read to me. I’ve always wanted to live in the worlds between covers: the Hundred Acres Woods and Narnia and Hogwarts and Uriel and Klickitat Street. The idea for the Bookish Boyfriends series came from that love of stories and my desire to write myself into them. For A Date with Darcy, I specifically wanted to play around with my mis-reading of Romeo & Juliet as a romance when I was young, and also my deep, deep love of all things Austen and Pride and Prejudice. (Mr. Darcy fangirl forever!)

MP: This series blends contemporary romance with loose retellings of classic stories. A Date With Darcy features elements from Romeo and Juliet as well as Pride and Prejudice while The Boy Next Story promises hints of Little Women. How did you decide which stories to draw from for inspiration?

TS: The mentor texts for each of the Bookish Boyfriends novels was a book that was significant for me during my teenage reading years. As a misguided, quixotic middle schooler, I thought Romeo was dreamy. A year later I met my one true love in Mr. Darcy. And Little Women is a book I’ve returned to so many times over the years—seeing my own sister and myself in the March girls. There are so many books that impacted my life as a reader, and it’s such a joy to play with them within the Bookish Boyfriends world.

MP: Merrilee’s English teacher promises to help students find their story and guides Merrilee in particular to a book with life changing consequences. If you had to pick one book that had that kind of impact on you, which would it be?

TS: One book? Man, you’re asking the tough questions—and since there are MANY books that have impacted me, I’m pretty sure I give a different answer to this question each time I’m asked. Today I’m choosing Superfudge by Judy Blume as well as the Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary. I read these in second grade and so identified with young Farley Drexel Hatcher and Ramona Geraldine Quimby and their ability to accidentally get into trouble. The difference between their intentions and the outcomes of their actions resonated so strongly—and it still does. My eight year old twins are reading these books now, and it’s amazing to me how it’s been decades since I read them and I still remember them so vividly. I keep accidentally spoiling things for them. Whoops!

MP: Congratulations on signing on to write more books in this series! Did you always know that you wanted this world to expand to follow multiple characters? How much did you know about the world and the story (or stories) that you wanted to tell when you first started drafting?

TS: I had always hoped to write more Bookish Boyfriends novels, so I’d optimistically planned for it and typed with crossed-fingers. It was never a guarantee, so I am feeling grateful and blessed for the chance to share books three (Eliza’s story- aka, Talk Nerdy to Me) and four (Huck’s story aka Get a Clue). Eliza especially was a character who has demanded her own story from the very first page of book one, so it’s been percolating in my mind for quite a while. Even now, while I’m drafting book four, I’m keeping lists and notes about potential extensions and plots for more characters. I can’t imagine that I’ll ever get sick of writing these books, so as long as they find a readership, I’ll happily keep going

MP: Do you have a favorite character to write in Bookish Boyfriends? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

TS: I’m not going to lie, I had worried that no narrator would top Merrilee because she’s so effervescent and fun to write. But then I started Rory’s story and fell deeply in love with her little sister voice. Rory’s friend Huck was a bit of a surprise. While he has a tiny cameo in book 1 (props if you’ve spotted it!) readers truly meet him early in book two. He was a character that was instantly strong and clear in my head and who would’ve taken over if I hadn’t reined him in. Huck’s become the narrator of book four, Get a Clue, which I’ve only just begun drafting. I’ve got high hopes that he’ll be a reader favorite, because he’s certainly one of mine.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? What can readers expect in The Boy Next Story?

TS: The Boy Next Story is about sisters and first loves and finding your own identity outside of others’ expectations or the roles you’ve been assigned within family dynamics. It’s about unrequited love, and art class, and yoga, and Harry Potter, and kombucha, and fresh starts, and math class. And what happens when you outgrow your first crush, but maybe don’t outgrow the boy. And Little Women.

Thanks again to Tiffany for a great interview.

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

You can also read my review of Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy here on the blog.

Author Interview #3: Roshani Chokshi on The Gilded Wolves

Roshani Chokshi author photo, credit: Aman SharmaThe Gilded Wolves is a sweeping story set in a complex world filled with magic and intrigue. This historical fantasy is part mystery and all adventure as Séverin and his team work to pull off a world-changing heist and make their own way in the world. Lush settings, vibrant characters, action, and a few hints of romance blend together perfectly. I was lucky enough to read The Gilded Wolves in August before reviewing it for School Library Journal. Since then, I have been completely obsessed. I’m so excited to have Rosh here today for an interview about this new series starter.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Gilded Wolves? Where did you start with this project?

Roshani Chokshi (RC): Silly as it might sound, The Gilded Wolves inspiration came from my intense (and slightly embarrassing) love for National Treasure and Tomb Raider. As I started writing the book, it took on a life of its own! I started writing this project in early 2016. It was just a wee seedling of a story, but it quickly expanded in scope.

MP: The Gilded Wolves is set in Paris in 1889. While the presence of Babel Fragments and the Order has altered quite a few things in this world, much of your setting is still filled with historical detail. What kind of research went into creating this world? What setting details were you most excited to develop?

RC: There was a lot of research. I could wax poetic about the fascinating history of ice manufacturing for…days. And yet, all that research went into ONE SENTENCE in the story that I eventually took out!!!! WHY GODS WHY. For me, the most exciting setting details were the parties…I love parties. I love a glamorous, well-thought out party with a fabulous theme. And I like to know what’s happening in the corners of the party. You know, where all the good gossip starts ;)

MP: The Gilded Wolves follows multiple characters as Séverin works with his team to pull off a seemingly impossible heist.  Which character was the most fun to write? Who was the hardest to write? Who are you especially excited for readers to meet?

RC: Hypnos was the most fun to write, and Zofia was the hardest to write. For Hypnos, I knew who he would be, but not how he would arrive at that point. For Zofia, I respected from the beginning that her thought process as someone on the spectrum followed a different set of guidelines. I am so appreciative of the help from my sensitivity readers for helping me not only get into her head, but also represent her thought process in a way that (hopefully) resonates with similar readers. I’m most excited for readers to meet Enrique, who is the kind of character my Filipina mother has been bugging me to write for the last five years. He’s that nerdy friend who would send you articles from The Guardian/The Economist and ask you over drinks what you thought about them because omgggghistorynewswowwhatislife. Lol.

MP: In your novel some people can channel power from Babel Fragments as Forgers with abilities that range from shaping plants into wondrous arrangements to building technological devices or even controlling minds. What kind of Forger would you want to be?

RC: I would loveeee to have a Forging affinity for matter, specifically silk. Enchanted dresses?! Yes please.

MP: The Gilded Wolves is the start of a series. How did you go about plotting a story that would take place over multiple books? How much did you know about the way you wanted the series to play out when you started writing this first part of the story?

RC: To be very honest, this story changed so much in the telling. I thought it would be LIGHT. It…it is not. I thought it would be the kind of fantasy you could consume in your sleep, and it’s not. In fact, it’s treacherous DNF material for the first 30% and, frankly, that’s the way the story needed to be told. It was (is) genuinely the best I could do at the skill-level I possessed at the time I finished…that’s many conditions, but, as a writer who sincerely believes in growing with each book, I know that’s a personal best. I hope that for readers who push through those first 50 pages, that they find something worth loving.

MP: I always love when you share updates on your writing and revision process on your Instagram. In addition to already working on the second book in this series, you are also working on the second book in your middle grade series which started with Aru Shah and the End of Time. How do you balance working on two projects so close together? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

RC: Oh, I’m so glad! Usually, I worry that I’m just a rambling fiend because balancing projects is…tough. To say the least. I think the only way that I can manage it is if both books are in different stages. As in, one is in draft and the other is in revision, but they can’t be one thing at the same time or I’d go bananas. O_O For me, a typical writing day is telling my computer it won’t get the best of me, entering fierce negotiations with my cat that the keyboard is not an avant garde bed, and dithering around aimlessly until I panic from looking at the time and word vomit into Scrivener. Very glamorous, I know. My best writing is in revisions, when I wake up super early, and pretend the world (and twitterverse) is asleep…and then I tinker with sentences. I dream up plot points that will never be in the story; flashbacks I’ll never include…just to understand the fictional person I’m dealing with. And that’s when I fall back in love with an idea.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? (Or your ongoing ones!)

RC: If anyone takes a glance at my Instagram or Twitter, it’s no secret that I’m toying with a Santa Claus origin story. It sounds ridiculous, I know. But beyond the humor of tackling something like that, I’m someone who suffers from really bad seasonal affective disorder. I love how in most cultures, there’s a midwinter figure, someone who inspires joy and generosity and stories…someone mythical who necessitates warmth at a time when all is dark. I think that’s why I’m interested in their origins, beyond, of course, getting to write a totally scandalous title >:)

Thanks again to Rosh for taking the time to talk with me.

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

You can also read my review of The Gilded Wolves here on the blog.

Author Interview: Winifred Conkling on Votes for Women!

Winifred Conkling author photoVotes for Women! American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot is a page-turning read about the womens suffrage movement in the United States. It’s well-researched, thorough, nuanced, and completely engrossing–in other words, everything I look for in nonfiction. Today I have Winifred here to share a bit more about this book and her process.

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

Winifred Conkling (WC): I’ve always loved sitting at my desk, writing stories. I was the nerdy kid in third grade who typed up a 10-page report when the assignment was to write a three-paragraph paper. I loved seeing the words on the page and feeling satisfaction when an assignment was finished. I studied journalism in college, then worked at several newspapers and magazines. When I had children, I started writing adult nonfiction (and doing a lot of ghostwriting). I changed lanes again in 2009 when I went back to school to get an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts in a program for Writing for Children and Young Adults. I now see myself as a children’s book author, although I can make no promises about what may come next.

MP: What was the inspiration for Votes for Women? What drew you to this subject?

WC: So often the inspiration for one book has a link to a previous project. In this case, my inspiration for Votes for Women! came from my 2016 book Radioactive! How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World. In my research for that book, I learned that women in France did not get the right to vote until 1945. Yes, 1945!! That got me to thinking about suffrage in the United States. I knew that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in the United States in 1920, less than 100 years ago. Most people don’t know much about women’s suffrage – and they should, now more than ever.

MP: What kind of research did you do while writing this book? Was there any information you discovered but were unable to include in the book?

WC: I love researching a new book. For this project I visited Seneca Falls and got to sit inside the church where the first women’s rights conference was held in 1848. It was also great fun to track down the photographs of the movement – from the early images of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to the 20th century photos of the Silent Sentinels standing in front of the White House. There’s nothing like an old photograph to transport you to another place and time.

MP: What does a typical writing day look like for you?

WC: I’m really not a “typical day” kind of person. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. When I’m energized about a project and in the hard-core drafting phase, I’ll work for 10 or 12 hours a day. I even think about writing problems overnight, and sometimes I’ll wake up with a new idea or solution. During this more creative part of preparing a manuscript, I tend to neglect my daily responsibilities, although the dog always reminds me when it’s time for me to feed her. After I wrap up a draft, I say hello to my husband and children and catch up on the chores I’ve avoided. And then I start the cycle over again.

MP: What part of this story was the most difficult to write? Do you have a favorite section?

WC: That hardest part to write was a period in the late 19th century that historians aptly referred to as the “doldrums.” Frankly, not much happened in the suffrage movement. I spent a lot of energy trying to figure out how to make something boring more compelling. In the end, I summarized what happened and moved on to the more interesting bits.

I suppose the most fascinating part to write was the section about Alice Paul and suffragists who were jailed for standing in front of the White House holding protest banners. The conditions in the prisons were appalling, so the women began a hunger strike. In response, some of them were force fed by having feeding tubes shoved down their throats or into their nostrils. When Alice Paul continued to refuse food, she was taken to an insane asylum. It’s hard to believe that this happened in the United States of America just one hundred years ago.

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

WC: I’m going to respectfully dodge the question. I’m in the early stages of a couple of projects. I find that when I’m working on a new idea, I don’t like talking about it too much. I can only discuss the parts that I’ve got down on paper. Otherwise, my excitement comes out in conversation rather than on the page.

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

WC: If an idea is interesting to you, it will be interesting to someone else. Dig in and follow your curiosity. Research, write, rewrite – then rewrite again. (That’s the unfortunate truth of the matter – writers spend a lot more time rewriting than writing.) There are so many fascinating stories that need to be told. Get busy!

Thanks again to Winifred for for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

You can see more about Winifred on her website.

You can also read my review of Votes for Women! here on the blog.

Author Interview: Jen Doll on Unclaimed Baggage

author photo of Jen Doll, credit: Sarah ShatzUnclaimed Baggage follows three teens–outspoken feminist Doris, new girl Nell, and football star Grant–over the course of the summer as they each find an unlikely job sorting and selling other people’s lost luggage at Unclaimed Baggage. It’s the breezy, funny, and ultimately moving unlikely friends story you’ve been waiting for. Today I’m very happy to have Jen Doll on the blog talking a bit more about her debut YA novel.

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

Jen Doll (JD): I was one of those kids who always wanted to be a writer. Like, ALWAYS. When I was little I would create books out of paper that I’d staple together and draw on. Eventually I moved up to spiral-bound notebooks, where I’d write stories, generally with kind of a magical bent. (I wrote a lot about an inch-tall human who could spy on people and get away with everything; I loved books like The Borrowers and The Littles, so, whoops, I kinda stole the concept! Uncool, young me.)

At one point, I told my dad I wanted to be a writer (it was kind of obvious). He’s very practical and was worried about me making a living, and I listened to his concerns and then was like, OK, I’ll be a librarian! Of course, being a librarian is a very important job and it takes a lot of training, and what I really wanted was simply to be surrounded by books, and to write them myself. Which, after going to college and then working in magazine publishing, I started to do again, first just as a hobby. I wrote fiction in my writers’ groups as I transitioned to journalism as a career. I worked at the Village Voice and The Atlantic as a staff writer, and in 2014 I published my memoir about going to weddings, Save the Date. But all along I wanted to write fiction, in particular, a YA novel; I read so much YA, I truly loved it, and I even started writing about it for The Atlantic. I started Unclaimed Baggage back in 2015, I think?… Books take a while! Which is a really good thing, because good things take time.

MP: What was the inspiration for Unclaimed Baggage? How did growing up in Alabama inform your writing of this novel?

JD: It informs it hugely, which is not to say that the town in Unclaimed is the same exact town I grew up in. I took bits and pieces of things, like the Unclaimed Baggage store outpost we had there when I was growing up (in Decatur; the main one is still in Scottsboro), and the great barbecue, and the wave pool and waterpark and balloon festival. But the town in Unclaimed is a lot smaller than Decatur, and the people aren’t based on anyone I knew … except maybe myself.

When I was in fifth grade, my parents moved us from Downers Grove, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, to Decatur. It was a huge social and cultural transition, and for a long time I struggled to fit in. That feeling, and how we all possess it in some way — no matter whether you’ve grown up in a place or just moved to it, no matter where you are in life — is what informs each of my characters and the book itself. We’re all trying to find our place. Friendships, letting in other humans, and being there for them in return, help you get there.

MP: Unclaimed Baggage alternates chapters between Doris, Nell, and Grant’s first person narration. How did you go about creating their three different voices? Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? What about one you most resemble (or wish you did)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

JD: They were all there from the beginning, which is the sort of thing writers say I think but it’s TRUE. Doris was such a strong voice, she was the one I started with: I had this idea of a character in a small town who just felt like she wasn’t like all the rest. (That definitely comes from me.) Grant is the football star who suddenly isn’t, and I wanted to explore what that means, how it feels to have a fall from grace, and also what it feels like to have a problem—with Grant, it’s drinking—that you don’t know how to cope with. While I’ve never played football, I’ve certainly been in Grant’s place of feeling like the insides and outsides don’t exactly match. And Nell is the new girl in town, straight from the suburbs of Chicago. She’s had to leave her pretty great life and friends and boyfriend behind back North, and she’s annoyed that parents get to make those sorts of calls that totally disrupt teenage lives, without even really asking. (Been there, too!) I loved writing all three of them, as well as secondary characters, even Chassie, the mean girl. Real people are complicated, neither one thing nor the other, and I wanted to show this in all of my characters, who aren’t stereotypes or archetypes but, hopefully, people you can relate to and understand and recognize. (Except maybe one or two of the really rotten ones.)

I wish I was as smart and resourceful as Doris. I don’t know how to put up a tent, either.

I can’t wait for readers to meet a character who comes at the end of the book, who might himself not be YA, but who has a kind of YA heart.

MP: Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

JD: There is a particular scene when Grant, Doris, and Nell first really start to let their guards down around each other and become friends. I think it’s hilarious, and I hope readers do, too!

I also really loved writing the suitcase secret. I will leave that at that!

MP: In addition to writing this novel you have published a memoir (Save the Date: The Occasional Mortifications of a Serial Wedding Guest) and written for written for The Atlantic, The New York Times Book Review, and The Week among others. What was it like shifting from writing nonfiction to fiction? What is your writing process like?

JD: My writing process varies day to day and depends on what my first priority is, like if I have a big freelance deadline, that’s what I’m working on, and maybe that’s all I’m working on. Or, if I have a novel or book deadline, that’s what I’m going to have to do then. I’m always changing gears and distracting myself because when something’s due I’ll get really inspired about another project.

I dream of a time when I can get up and work 4 hours on a book, have a nice lunch and walk with the dog, and then do journalistic writing in the afternoon, or something like that. But there is never enough time, and I’m just not organized enough, so really I’m just like WHAT DO I NEED TO DO NEXT, OK, GO! The thing is, I think having all of these varied projects keeps them all interesting and exciting. If I’ve had a break from one, I can’t wait to go back to it! And they all inform each other. Writing is writing.

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

JD: I have another YA novel that’s in the works, also with FSG … it’s too early to talk much about, but it definitely involves friendship between two characters who you might not think have much in common but actually do. And it’s set in a coastal town during the summer, so think beachy/watery/sunshiney vibes. Thematically, it’s about what we see—and what we think we see—and how those things aren’t always the same.

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

JD: Keep writing. The only way to not write a book is to not write. The rest … well, if you keep going, it’s the only way it can come. Even published authors struggle, and think what they’re doing is silly or stupid and that no one is going to read it. Keep going! Also listen to the voices and think about the stories you keep hearing over and over again (even and especially the ones in your own head)… they’re trying to tell you something. Put it on a page.

Thanks again to Jen for for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

You can see more about Jen on her website.

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

Author Interview: Joy McCullough on Blood Water Paint

Joy McCullough author photoBlood Water Paint is a powerful verse novel about Artemisia Gentileschi. The verse novel follows the start of Artemisia’s career–a path that would eventually lead to her being known as one of the most talented Italian artists of her time–and her historic rape trial. Today I’m very happy to have Joy McCullough on the blog talking a bit more about her debut YA novel.

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

Joy McCullough (JM): I began as a playwright, studying theater in college and writing and teaching playwriting for many years. I still work as a playwright, but around nine years ago, I began writing middle grade fiction. The shift was partly as a parent, maintaining a career in the theater is very difficult—so many late nights out—and also because I was reading middle grade books aloud for hours a day to my first child, and became really immersed in this mode of storytelling.

I had to write a lot of books before I got my debut deal, though. I wrote five books before I got my first agent. Five books went on submission to editors before my debut deal. Blood Water Paint is the tenth novel I wrote.

So basically, I kept writing, and I kept putting my work out there.

MP: What was the inspiration for Blood Water Paint? What drew you to Artemesia Gentileschi as a subject?

JM: I discovered Artemisia many moons ago as a passing reference in a Margaret Atwood novel. I’d never heard of her, so I went searching. When I learned about Artemisia Gentileschi’s story, I was outraged I hadn’t heard of her before. The transcripts from her rapist’s trial still exist, and I read those with horror over how much hasn’t changed in how we treat women and sexual violence. I wrote the story as a play first, which had a long development process, but when the play was produced in 2015, I started thinking about it as a YA novel when I found myself hoping teenagers would come to see the play.

MP: This novel started life as a play. Did you always know that it would eventually translate into a verse novel? What changes did you make during the adaptation process? What stayed the same?

JM: No, when I first wrote the play, I had no intention of ever writing fiction. I didn’t think I could. And when I began writing fiction, I had no intention of writing in verse. I didn’t think I could. (Do you sense a theme?)

I spent many years working on Blood/Water/Paint, the play. So I knew the story and characters inside and out. I thought. But a play is all dialogue and action. It’s extremely external. The internal is up to the actors. And verse is extremely internal, and usually has minimal dialogue. So that was a huge shift for me. In a way it was wonderful. I thought I knew all there was to know about Artemisia. And suddenly I was looking at the story from inside her head in a very different way than I ever had before. But it was also a challenge, for sure.

One major change is that in the play, we also see Artemisia when she’s older, as a mother teaching her own daughter to paint. Artemisia’s own mother isn’t a part of the play. In the book, I found that motherhood piece by giving Judith and Susanna’s story to her mother.

MP: What part of this story was the most difficult to write? Do you have a favorite piece?

JM: I’ve written this story over so many years (I wrote the play in 2001) that I’m not even sure what was the most difficult to write at this point. Though if it’s difficult to read, it was probably difficult to write. And I think my favorite parts are when Artemisia is drawing strength from Judith and Susanna at various points.

MP: Did you refer to any of Gentileschi’s paintings while writing Blood Water Paint? Do you have a favorite piece by her?

JM: The two paintings that play a major part in the book are Susanna and the Elders, and Judith Slaying Holofernes. I also reference her Madonna and Child. But the book takes place in the earliest years of her career and she went on to paint many more masterpieces. One I particularly love that I didn’t get to feature in the book because she painted it later is her Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting.

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

JM: Yes! My next YA with Dutton was recently announced and it centers on the legendary 15th century knight Marguerite de Bressieux. It blends verse and prose, as well as present and past.

I’ve also got a middle grade contemporary novel called A Field Guide to Getting Lost coming from Simon & Schuster in 2020. It’s about two kids whose single parents are dating each other and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

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

JM: My first advice is find your people! It can be overwhelming at first if you’re brand new, but if a mega-introvert like me can do it, you can too. Reach out to people at the same stage of the journey as you are. Find them wherever you are most comfortable, be a good friend and critique partner to them, and you will find a support system that will sustain you through the ups and downs!

Also, I’ll say I do my best work when I let go of the anxiety of whether something will fit into the market or other people will like it, etc. When I simply write because I’ve found a story that’s grabbed me by the throat, with no thought to whether it will “succeed”, I’ve not only written the things I’m proudest of, but also as it happens, achieved some conventional measures of success with them.

Thanks again to Joy for for taking the time to answer some of my questions.

You can see more about Joy on her website.

You can also read my review of Blood Water Paint here on the blog.