Author Interview: Corey Ann Haydu on The Careful Undressing of Love

coreyannhayduCorey Ann Haydu is one of the smartest, most thoughtful authors I’ve had the pleasure to get to know through both her books and her online persona (by which I mean Twitter). Life By Committee remains one of the most personally important books I’ve read so I was, of course, pretty excited when I heard Corey had a new YA novel coming out. The Careful Undressing of Love is a haunting story about self-preservation, magic, and the dangerous bonds of friendship and love. I read this book in early January and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I’m delighted to have Corey here today to answer some questions about her latest YA novel.

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

Corey Ann Haydu (CAH): I was always a big journaler and someone who loved writing, but for a long time it was my secondary passion. I was originally an actress and about five years out of college realized I was on the wrong path. I quit acting and took an internship with a literary agency that happened to represent children’s literature. It had never occurred to me to write YA and MG, but I fell in love while working that job. I eventually went to grad school for writing for children and was lucky to sell my first book, OCD LOVE STORY, at that time. It’s been an interesting journey since then, with a LOT of ups and downs, but I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to work with people who support me growing and taking on new challenges in my work. THE CAREFUL UNDRESSING OF LOVE is really representative of that– it is a project that pushed me and I learned from and I’m so pleased that even though publishing can be very rocky, I’ve been able to explore new, complicated ideas like this one.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Careful Undressing of Love?

CAH: When I was younger, a woman working at a bakery took one look at me and told me I’d be a “heartbreaker”. She sounded angry when she said it, and I really internalized the moment. I carried that feeling with me and I wondered what it would be like if a proclamation like that was taken very literally. As I got further into the idea, it became clear it was a place where I could really explore the roles girls play and the impossible expectations we put on them. I was also influenced by 9/11 and the experience of living in New York City during the terrible period of time. I wasn’t interested in writing about that experience in particular, but I felt I could draw on some of those memories and some of the feelings that time brought up for me.

MP: Unlike your previous YA novels, this one is not a straight contemporary. Instead, The Careful Undressing of Love includes elements of (possible) magic on the shortest street in Brooklyn and an eerie alternate history for New York City–both of which work to create a very distinct sense of place. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

CAH: They actually really happened in tandem. When I started working on this story I had just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and after nine years in Manhattan that was a HUGE change for me. I was really inspired by that move, so it was natural for me to use that inspiration for this story. I can’t start writing anything at all without a setting, so the story didn’t come into focus until I decided where it would be set.

MP: A lot of Lorna’s development as a character centers on the growing rift between Lorna and her friends. There’s a question of belief as Lorna moves between doubt and fear about the curse. How did you go about integrating these threads into the novel while keeping the story focused on your plot and characters rather than any specific answers (for Lorna or for readers)?

CAH: I think this book was really written in layers. I wrote SO many drafts of it  over the years that I was able to uncover many different elements through all those drafts. I had to play with how much belief or lack of belief was in the story, and honestly different drafts had different choices. Lorna’s journey with belief was one of the hardest things to pin down, and I had to get to know her very intimately before figuring out what made sense for her as a character. With so much of this book, it was only through making mistakes that I learned what would actually work for the story I wanted to tell. Sometimes you have to enter the story from a lot of different angles before you find the right starting point.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love features the poem “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy at the beginning of the book (and the title also references a line in the poem of course). At what point did you connect this poem to your novel? How did the title come about?

CAH: I have to give credit to my amazing editor, Andrew Karre, for so much of this novel, and that includes the title. I had written Lorna’s father as a poetry-loving man and at one point Andrew asked me what poems he might have had in his collection. I loved the question and built a list that included “Valentine” as one of his favorite poems. As soon as we both read the poem a few times, we knew the title was in there. It’s got so many beautiful, unusual lines that really speak to what I wanted to explore.

MP: Were any of the locations you mention in The Careful Undressing of Love inspired by actual places? (I ask this after doing some online searches to confirm that Devonairre Street isn’t a real feature of Brooklyn because it felt so real!)

CAH: I’m so glad Devonairre felt real! It feels real to me at this point too. The neighborhood in general was inspired a little bit by South Slope. Bistro is based a little bit on a bistro I love in the East Village, Jules. the bakery is based a little on a coffee place I used to go every single morning for the most incredible chocolate croissants I’d ever eaten. It was called Parco. And Julia’s was loosely based on a coffee house turned bar in Cobble Hill that I wrote a lot of the book in.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love is very focused on characters. 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?

CAH: I tend to write main characters who feel somewhat close to me, so I would say Lorna is the closest to me. But there’s a bit of me in every character. Delilah was probably my favorite to write because she goes on a huge journey and that’s always exciting to tackle. I love her playfulness with language and I think her experience of grief is unique. I also really loved writing Angelika, because you so rarely get to write an older character in YA. It took me a long time to get a handle on her, but when I did– after watching a documentary about someone who cultivated a real devotion and belief from his followers– it was thrilling.

MP: I can’t say too much because it’s near the end, but one of my absolute favorite scenes in your book includes the line “When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.” Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

CAH: There’s a scene with a male teacher at school that I’m really proud of. In many of my books there are scenes where I let the main characters really experience the flawed humanity of the adults around them. I enjoy writing those scenes, because they feel real to me. I’m not interested in perfect characters or perfect authority figures or perfect love or anything perfect really. And I think the scene with the male teacher at school encompasses a lot of what the book is about– fear and grief and gender roles and sexuality and the unfairness of being a girl in the world.

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

CAH: My next book THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE comes out in June. It’s a MG project that I’m very excited about. It’s about a girl named Clover and her best friend Danny. When Danny gets a mysterious illness, Clover takes it on herself to figure out how to fix him. It’s also a book that straddles the line between realism and magic.

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

CAH: The best advice is always to keep going. There will be rejections. I never got a piece published in my high school literary magazine. I got rejected the first time I applied to my college’s creative writing workshop. I get rejected still, we all do! So you have to find the love and the joy in the midst of that, and not give up, Keep going, keep challenging yourself, and try to locate the joy as best you can.

Thanks again to Corey for this great interview!

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

You can also check out my review of The Careful Undressing of Love.

Author Interview #3: Tessa Gratton on The Apple Throne

Tessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard is one of my favorite series and one I wish more people could find. The series concluded in 2015 with The Apple Throne. Tessa is here today to talk about this final installment in the series.

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

Tessa Gratton (TG): The first draft of THE LOST SUN was from Astrid’s point of view. About a third of the way in I realized I was telling Soren’s story and that the part of Astrid’s I was most interested in begins at the very end of that book. So really, the inspiration for TAT was part of my original inspiration for the entire series: Astrid was the very first character I created to live in the United States of Asgard. I wanted to explore religion and politics in an America founded by Vikings and their gods, so I needed a character involved in both. That was Astrid, because she has faith in a religion that seems faithless, and is very invested in making her country stronger and better. As a prophet, she has the power to do that, just like her mother did. She was, in essence, born for both religion and politics in the US of Asgard.

When I got to actually developing the Apple Throne, my core inspiration was the question: how does a human girl exist when she’s been made into a goddess, but is still just herself, with her same desires and loves and fears?

MP: You chose to self-publish The Apple Throne when the series was cancelled by its original publisher. What has it been like handling the publishing side of things on your own?

TG: Terrible. LOL. I was not made, personality-wise, for self-publishing. I am a writer, and that’s all I’m interested in, not the important tasks of marketing and choosing design and hiring copy editors and figuring out formatting and all the ins and outs of Kindle/Createspace/iBooks, etc etc etc. I just want to tell my stories and argue on Twitter.

MP: As part of that shift to self-publishing, you also reissued the entire series with new covers. Can you talk a bit about the redesign? Do you have a favorite new cover or an element you were excited to add to any of the new covers?

TG: YES! The covers were the only fun part of self-publishing. I worked with Saundra Mitchell who is wonderful. She was tireless in her quest to find exactly what I was looking for—or in a few cases, exactly what I didn’t even know I needed!

I have never been a fan of the original hardcover design for The Lost Sun. My publisher and I went around and around and finally it was time to just settle or move the publication date. (There was a lot going on at the time, including the Penguin-Random House merger that led to a shake-up in all the people I was working with.) However, I talked with my agent and the agency’s digital marketing person, and we decided it would be best to not deviate TOO far from the original hardcovers, so that The Apple Throne matched them in essence, though we hoped to eventually redesign the whole series (which we did!).

My favorite is probably The Lost Sun, though I think The Apple Throne is the most beautiful. But I never got to see Soren on the cover, despite the face originally on the hardback. Saundra and I spent hours and hours looking for images of young men who could be Soren that I could afford to buy the rights to. So although he’s not perfect (the model is not of Samoan descent like Soren), he is so close in looks and haunted berserker attitude it gives me a feeling of triumph to look at that cover.

MP: I loved Astrid’s growth over the course of this novel. In The Lost Sun Astrid is a very confident character. She understands her place in the world as a prophet and she knows how to work within that role to accomplish what she needs and wants to accomplish. In The Apple Throne a lot of that is lost to Astrid as she is no longer a prophet but Idun of the Apples. How did you go about channeling that change in her character and giving voice to this new aspect of Astrid’s life?

TG: I think this kind of change is something many people deal with—I have myself. It’s that thing where you think you get what you wanted, and it turns out to change everything. The goal you’ve worked toward and the choices you make add up to something amazing, but so far beyond and different from what you expected it feels like the world is upside down. With Astrid, that’s very literal: she’s lost herself *literally* except in the memories of a very few people. Her name and purpose have been changed, and she chose that, but there are unforeseen consequences. I thought through the layers of emotional and physical ramifications as I worked, developing her trajectory alongside developing the metaphor and character arcs I wanted to play with. I wanted her to rediscover herself, and take the parts of herself she knew and the parts that were new to her and merge them. This was about Astrid staying true to herself and her choices, while at the same time meeting new challenges to continue making the world better—which was always her goal. So in a lot of ways it was a post-teen story, a story about becoming an adult.

Plus, like you said, Astrid has always been confident, so really all I had to do was take that confidence away and help her find it again. That’s what we frequently ask ourselves as writers: what is the worst thing I can take away from this character? And that becomes the challenge/conflict.

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

TG: Oh, wow. Any of the scenes when Astrid’s world and Signy’s collide. They’re both so powerful, I loved having them together so I could watch and create sparks, and try to find ways for their power to complement each other and also challenge each other. Soren is great, a wonderful cinnamon roll, but really he’s a vehicle for exploring a lot of powerful women in this series.

MP: The Apple Throne strikes a great balance between new characters and familiar favorites from the other books in the series. Which character are you excited for readers to meet in this book? Favorite character from the series?

TG: Thank you! In this book I think I’m most interested in people meeting Sune Rask, and Amon along with him. I love writing their dialogue and exploring their very long, fraught relationship.

Glory is probably my favorite in the whole series. The Fenris Wolf, destined to devour the sun and end the world as teenaged girl? MY HEART. Her novella Glory’s Teeth was a dream to write. Falling into her world and voice and desires was like my desert after all the difficulties of writing Signy’s story. (I love Signy, but our relationship is even more fraught than Sune and Amon’s.)

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

TG: YES! I have two new books coming in 2018: THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR from Tor. It’s my adult fantasy debut, a retelling of King Lear full of sisters, betrayal, magic, murder, feminism, and love. The other is SLAUGHTER MOON, a standalone YA from McElderry, about toxic masculinity, a magical forest, sacrifice, and witches.

Thanks again to Tessa for another great interview and always being up to chat with me on the blog. You can also read my review of The Apple Throne here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books.

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

Author Interview #2: Leah Konen on The Romantics

After reading and loving Leah’s sophomore novel, I was very happy to pick up an advance copy of her third novel, The Romantics, at BEA this year. The Romantics is a new direction for Konen and an excellent choice for anyone who is a fan of romantic comedies (or even a reluctant convert like the novel’s protagonist Gael). I’m thrilled to have Leah back for her second interview here to talk about her latest novel.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Romantics?

LK: I wanted to explore love in all its forms—from romantic to familial to friendship—and there seemed like no better way to do that than from the perspective of Love. Additionally, my deep love of romantic comedies didn’t hurt.

MP: The Romantics is narrated by Love, a self-described non-corporeal entity. Although Love tells the story in a distinct narrative voice (not to mention plays a key role), readers never actually see Love. What was it like writing a story where the narrator is removed from the story in that way? If love were to adopt a human form for a while, what would they look like?

LK: If Love were to adopt a human form, she (or he) would probably be like me, at least in the case of this book. I took my own experience of dating extensively in New York City, plus the experience of being in a five-year relationship with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), as well as anecdotes from friends, and pulled it all into little observations on love and relationships. They’re not by any means perfect or exhaustive, but through Love’s asides and footnotes, I wanted to show the different ways people love each other, the amazing things we feel when we first fall in love, and the positive impact healthy relationships can have on people’s lives.

MP: Like your previous novel, The Last Time We Were Us, The Romantics is set in North Carolina where the Cantina is the site of some important moments including hot sauce theft and a really awkward meeting between Gael and his ex. How did you decide what real locations to feature in this novel?

LK: Unlike in The Last Time We Were Us, which is set in a fictional composite town in North Carolina, The Romantics is set in a very real one that just happens to be where I went to college. To the best of my ability, I chose places that were near and dear to me during those years (and that are still around). Don’t tell Cosmic Cantina, but I may or may not have stolen bottles of hot sauce on occasion.

MP: The Romantics is your second 2016 release (congratulations!). What has it been like having two books coming out so close together? Did your time working on both novels overlap?

LK: Not only did my time working on both novels overlap, but I was also planning a Brooklyn wedding through all of it—it’s a good thing they were both romance books, because I was certainly in the right headspace for it. Needless to say, 2016 has been quite a year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a bit calmer next year.

MP: The Romantics is your third novel and features a male protagonist–unlucky-in-love Gael. Was getting into Gael’s head any different from writing your earlier novels with female protagonists? Do you share Gael’s enthusiasm and taste when it comes to movies?

LK: I didn’t really approach Gael any differently than any of my characters, but writing through his perspective did make me think about traditional gender roles and how they’re portrayed, particularly in YA. I think a lot of boys and men are far more sensitive than society tells them they should be, and I really enjoyed portraying a non-macho dude. Plus, it was fun to turn some of the romantic comedy tropes on their heads by having a guy take on the traditional romantic role.

Re: movies, I do share his enthusiasm, particularly for Hitchcock, who is my favorite director. His obsession with seventies dramas like Serpico is a nod to my husband’s faves.

MP: During the novel Love describes (via footnotes) various types of people including Romantics, Cynics, Drifters, Serial Monogamists and more. How would Love classify you?

LK: Definitely a Cynic, but I’ve taken on more Romantic tendencies since meeting my husband (cheesy, I know, but true!).

MP: Since The Romantics celebrates love in all its forms, I have to ask: What is your favorite romantic movie or book?

LK: Pride and Prejudice!

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

LK: Yes, it’s about two teens who meet on an Amtrak train in a snowstorm and the whirlwind night they spend together when the train breaks down. It’s inspired by It Happened One Night, one of my favorite romantic comedy movies.

Thanks again to Leah for this fantastic interview.

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

You can also check out my review of The Romantics.

Author Interview: Isabel Bandeira on Bookishly Ever After

imageIsabel Bandeira is the generally charming author of Bookishly Ever After, the first book in a romantic contemporary series. I was pleasantly surprised by this funny and delightful novel and have loved chatting with Isabel on Twitter and following her numerous interests on Instagram. I am, obviously, thrilled to have her here today talking about her debut novel.

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

Isabel Bandeira (IB): I’ve wanted to be a writer my whole life, even before I knew what writers were. My mom even has these embarrassing little “books” I made when I was very little because I loved books so much, I wanted so much to make my own. Unfortunately, when I was a senior in high school, bad advice from a really well-known kidlit author made me believe if I went to college for engineering, I’d never be a published author, so I gave up on my dream.

I remember, a decade later, looking at some of the stories I wrote in high school and crying because I thought I’d never write like that again.

Writing for fan RPGs and fanfiction helped me remember how much I loved writing, but I still didn’t believe I’d be able to do anything more than post little stories online and in fanzines. Then, in 2012, I traveled an hour an a half (straight from a skating competition, sweaty, sparkly, and all!) to go to one of Amy Plum’s booksignings. Meeting (translate: fangirling like crazy fangirl) her and hearing her talk about her writing process really inspired me to try again, and that feeling was solidified when, a few weeks later, I met Meg Cabot. Writers were real, nice people who worked really hard for their dreams. There wasn’t some magic formula behind it, like that writer in high school made me believe.

MP: What was the inspiration for Bookishly Ever After?

IB: I was writing a short scene for a no-kiss bloghop and had this image pop into my head of a bookish girl channeling her favorite heroines to impress a boy camp counselor. Although I hadn’t been planning on writing a contemporary at the time, the story really stuck with me, and when I was at a writing retreat and was given the prompt: “Your character falls in love at first sight,” this character came back to me full force and wouldn’t let me go (I honest to goodness giggled the whole time while writing that scene and a good chunk of it survived edits to become the beginning of Bookishly). I wrote Bookishly for fun while working on other books.

MP: In Bookishly Ever After Phoebe turns to her beloved YA novels when she needs advice on how to deal with a boy potentially having a crush on her. Excerpts from these books are included in your novel as Phoebe references them for tips and tricks (with understandably mixed results). Were any of the book excerpts you wrote inspired by actual novels? Or if you can’t answer that, can you share some of your current favorites?

IB: The answer is sort-of? When I outlined all of the books and characters mentioned in Bookishly, I tried to slip in some of the more common tropes I saw in a lot of the paranormal YA at the time. The “Golden” series, especially, showcased a lot of these tropes, from a feisty redheaded heroine destined to save the world to “insert paranormal creature of the month here” leprechaun love interest Aedan (his name was originally Liam, but there were so many Liams in YA at the time of publication that my editors suggested that I change it just because it would have been overkill).

It’s really hard to narrow down all my faves, especially since I love both contemporary and all variations of fantasy, from paranormal to classic fantasy. I love funny/fun writers like Meg Cabot, K.C. Held, Rahul Kanakia, Jen Malone, and Leah Rae Miller (and I haven’t even started talking MG awesomeness like Casey Lyall, Gail Nall, and Brooks Benjamin), and swoon over books by Jodi Meadows and Aprilynne Pike. Since it’s inktober (draw an ink drawing a day and post it!) at the moment, I’m craving a reread of Amanda Sun’s INK, and my dive into the wonderfully French superhero cartoon Miraculous Ladybug has me rereading Amy Plum’s Revenants series again.

MP: Phoebe is a self-proclaimed geek and proud of it. She knits, is part of the school band, and although she isn’t conventionally popular she has a tight group of friends. Would you have fit in with Phoebe’s group in high school? Can you tell me a bit about Teen Issy?

IB: Teen Issy was a geeky flute-playing, book-reading and -writing sciencelete who took science tests for fun and loved wearing homemade Star Trek t-shirts. I came to school an hour early for the “early classes” so I could take both art and band in addition to all my regular classes. I even was a letterwoman… in Academic Challenge (other schools might call it quiz bowl, with teams and buzzers and all that jazz). I’d like to hope Phoebe and her friends would have liked teen me.

While writing Bookishly, I was very conscious of making sure I reflected the kind of high school I remembered, where people of all types hung out together, cheerleaders and football players also took AP classes, and most people flew in this limbo space between super popular and outcasts. I remember early mod AP English where everyone traded chocolate covered espresso beans while someone gushed about cosplaying Princess Serenity from Sailor Moon at our prom. My friends and I were unapologetically geeky and loved it.

Teen Issy was also INCREDIBLY oblivious about boys. I realized someone I had been crushing on had tried to ask me to the prom and that I had turned him down without even knowing it… four years after the fact. *pats past self on the head comfortingly* Em would have had a field day with teen me.

MP: Were any places in Bookishly Ever After inspired by actual locations you have visited?

IB: Yes! Lambertfield and its surroundings were modeled after parts of Camden and Burlington counties in Southern New Jersey, and the camp is a mish-mosh of camps Ockanickon and Inawendiwin in Burlington county. I love the barrens, from the smell of the cedar water to shaking the sugar sand out of my shoes after a walk in the woods.

Dev’s description of his grandfather’s plantation was after a friend’s farm in Maharashtra state in India, which I visited a few years ago. It’s just as lovely and magical as he describes.

MP: In addition to being a novelist, you are an engineer in your day job. Not to mention being an archer, figure skater, and artist. How do you balance all of these interests? What does a typical writing day look like for you? What about a typical work day?

IB: I’m really tired all the time!!!

Just kidding. I did give up a lot of things, like lots of TV time, going to the movies, or socializing with coworkers at lunchtime in order to do everything I do, but it’s been worth the sacrifice.

The thing I love about skating and archery (and ballet, before my injuries made me give it up) are that I need to focus when I’m doing these sports, letting my brain “turn off” about writing and my day job. When I skate, it’s all about the music and making sure my body is in the right position to jump, spin, or do footwork, and archery is all about the target and controlling my position. Because I do these for fun, my only competition in either sport is just me, and since there’s no pressure to go to the Olympics (hahahahahaha), they’re both places where I can celebrate little successes without stressing over goals. I make time for all of these, my family, and art because I know that a healthy me can’t revolve around work or writing or computer screens.

A typical weekday starts at 5am–I wake up, get ready for work, and then either answer emails or write (sometimes at the coffee shop on the way to my day job). I have an hour commute, so if I’m working on a plot or revisions, I sometimes voice record my thoughts while driving in to work. If I don’t have work meetings at lunchtime, I’ll either write or answer email/social media, though lately I’ve also been sketching because I’m taking part in inktober. After work, I eat dinner and then either write or fall asleep on the sofa.

Weekends have more writing squeezed in between family time and my skating lessons.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? (Any chance of a full Mirror House novel down the line?)

IB: We’re finishing up edits on DRAMATICALLY EVER AFTER, and book 3 of the Ever After series is on my to-do list to finish. I have a fun “procrastination book” I’m working on right now just for me, but I don’t know if that will ever see print–right now, it’s just for fun.

All of those books in BEA had to be outlined in full and properly researched so I could keep track of their plots and make them read as believable, so it’s not impossible. I’d love to write Phoebe’s books if there’s enough interest for them! Marissa and Cyril were a lot of fun to write, and I loved all the old Victorian superstitions I learned while researching facts for that “series.”

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

IB: Don’t be afraid of rejection and don’t be afraid of hard work, because writing is definitely work. Take care of your instrument–if you type or handwrite, let your hands rest and wear supports if you need them. If you voice dictate, take care of your voice. Get away from your writing once in a while and live in the world. Read, play, and recharge. And remember, what works for me might not work for you, so take all writing advice with that in mind.

Thanks again to Isabel for taking the time to answer my questions and being generally pleasant and lovely at BEA this summer.

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

You can also check out my review of Bookishly Ever After.

Author Interview: Destiny Soria on Iron Cast

When I heard about Pique Week I knew I wanted to be involved. Amulet has a great season including some of most-anticipated Fall 2016 releases. Iron Cast is a historical fantasy set in 1919 Boston where certain people have a blood condition–known has hemopathy–where they can create illusions with art. This fast-paced mystery is a completely evocative and thrilling read and one of my favorite reads this month. I’m thrilled to have Destiny answering some of my questions for Pique Week!

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

Destiny Soria (DS): I’ve been writing ever since I was seven or eight years old. In middle school and high school, I started writing Ella Enchanted fan fiction. Gradually, I worked up the courage to write original stories. I finished a few novels over the years (all of them terrible), but finally the year after I graduated college, I finished a draft of a novel that I was truly proud of. I queried the old fashioned way and after a few months signed with my lovely agent, Taylor. That first manuscript was on submission for a long time, and finally I had to reconcile myself with the fact that it probably wasn’t going to sell. While trying to distract myself from that disappointment, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and hit the 50k goal. That was the first draft of Iron Cast.

MP: What was the inspiration for Iron Cast?

DS: My inspiration came from a variety of different sources. I loved the idea of a magic system based in creativity, and I was obsessed with vintage mugshots of grifters and mobsters from the 1920s. And more than anything, I wanted to write a book about two best friends who meant everything to each other.

MP: In Iron Cast Ada can use her violin (or her voice) as songsmith to make people feel whatever emotions she projects and Corinne can create wordsmith illusions by reciting from poetry or other texts. They are just two types of hemopaths. If you lived in the world of Iron Cast would you want to be a hemopath? If so, what kind?

DS: They have their share of troubles, but who could say no to the mystery and glamor of being a hemopath? I already have an overabundance of poems rattling around in my brain, so I think I’d make a pretty good wordsmith. I’d probably just use my talent to convince people I had a pet dinosaur or something though.

MP: Were any locations in Iron Cast inspired by actual places? What kind of research went into bringing your version of 1919 Boston to life in your novel?

DS: Actually, yes! The Mythic Theatre plays a semi-important role in the novel, and it’s based on an old theatre in my hometown of Birmingham, AL called the Lyric. The theatre was sitting vacant for a long time, and I was always strangely enchanted by its derelict presence. They actually just refurbished and reopened it, which is amazing. As for other research, to be honest, I spent a lot of time just stalking through google maps, trying to make sure I had the location of big landmarks right (I had never been to Boston when I wrote it). I also found a detailed map of Boston from 1917 that was invaluable to me.

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project? (Any chance of a full Mirror House novel down the line?)

DS: I’m working on a YA fantasy right now. I can’t offer any details at the moment, but hopefully soon!

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

DS: Trust your critique partners implicitly. But trust yourself more.

Thanks again to Nicole Brinkley at Pique Beyond for setting this up and thanks to Destiny Soria for answering my questions.

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

You can also check out my review of Iron Cast.

Abrams Books’ launched a new YA website called Pique Beyond! Pique is all about going beyond the book. Not only do they highlight exclusive excerpts and quotes from new and upcoming books, but they peel back the cover and show us the behind-the-scenes stuff: how books are made, what the authors were thinking, and how it all comes together. This week, they’re highlighting all of their newest titles, and let me tell you, they look amazing. Visit the site today at piquebeyond.com or follow them on Twitter and Instagram at @piquebeyond!

Author Interview: Jeff Zentner on The Serpent King

Jeff Zentner’s debut novel The Serpent King made a splash earlier this year. His meditative novel about three friends contemplating the end of high school and what comes next is a quiet and empowering read. As soon as I finished it, I knew Jeff would be the perfect author to ask on the blog for an interview. Happily, he’s here today answering some of my questions.

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

Jeff Zentner (JZ): I started my creative life as a musician, but I switched to writing after I was inspired by my work with Tennessee Teen Rock Camp and Southern Girls Rock Camp to create art for young people. At that point, I was too old to make the sort of music marketed to young adults (and plus I had no idea how), but I wasn’t too old to write the sort of books marketed to young adults.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Serpent King?

JZ: I was actually inspired by two songs that I had written in the past, that I thought had more of a story behind them than I told in the song. I thought about writing a novel about either of them, but in the end I combined them into the same one.

MP: The Serpent King alternates narration between Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Did you always plan on this structure for the novel? Who was your favorite character to write? Who was the hardest?

JZ: I did always plan this structure because I could have written a whole novel about each of those characters, but my impatience led me to cram them all into the same book. So that I wouldn’t give anyone short shrift, though, I gave them each a point of view. Lydia was my favorite to write and the hardest because her experience was so far outside my own and because she’s smarter than me. It’s hard to write a character who’s smarter than you.

MP: Were any locations in The Serpent King inspired by real locations you have visited?

JZ: The town of Forrestville is inspired by Sparta, Tennessee. The column where they spend Friday nights was inspired by a column I used to go to where I grew up.

MP: In addition to being a novelist, you are also a musician–a trait you share with Dill. Did you always know that music would play such a large role in this novel? How did your experience as a musician and songwriter translate to your writing a prose novel?

JZ: I had a feeling that as I transitioned from music to writing, I would need a novel or two where music played a heavy role, to sort of ease me away from music into writing. My experience as a musician and songwriter led me to really consider atmosphere, imagery, and the way words rang on the page like notes.

MP: Since Lydia spends so much of the novel styling Dill, I have to ask: Favorite piece of clothing or fashion accessory?

JZ: Lately I’ve taken to wearing bandanas like ascots, inspired by some of the looks on the show Narcos. I have some really beautiful old bandanas that I’ve had since high school and they’re so perfectly soft. I’m sure I look ridiculous but I don’t care because I’m doing my own thing and I’m doing something different from the crowd.

MP: In The Serpent King, Travis convinces Lydia and Dill that they should write something down in a public place as a kind of legacy. What would you write?

JZ: I would write a line from The Serpent King: If you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things.

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

JZ: My second book, Goodbye Days, comes out in March 2017. It’s about a young man struggling with grief and guilt in the wake of the deaths of his three best friends–deaths he may have caused by texting them while they were driving. As part of his grieving process, he embarks on a series of “goodbye days” where he spends one last day with his friends’ families, to say goodbye.

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 The Serpent King.

Author Interview #8: Sarah Beth Durst on The Queen of Blood

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my long-time favorite authors to read. She is also one of my favorite authors to interview here on the blog. Today Sarah is talking with me about her latest novel, The Queen of Blood which starts her adult fantasy trilogy, The Queens of Renthia.

The Queen of Blood is a fascinating high fantasy novel set in a world filled with nature spirits who control everything from the change of the seasons to the wind and rain. They also hate humans setting up a dangerous and uneasy balance between these spirits and humanity–particularly the women who use their magic to bind and control the spirits as Queens of Renthia’s various lands.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Queen of Blood?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I fell over at a writing retreat.

Seriously, that was it. I can trace the moment that this book was born to a single moment of supreme klutziness. I’d just arrived at a writing retreat and was walking up to an adorable little cabin in the woods, where I’d be writing for the weekend, and I was looking up at the trees (and not down at my feet) and I tripped and fell on my face. Cut my lip. When I sat down to brainstorm an idea for my next novel, I looked out at the trees, tasted a bit of blood, and… boom, inspiration! Bloodthirsty nature spirits.

THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is the first book in an epic fantasy series from Harper Voyager called THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA, and it’s set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. Only certain women–queens–can control them and keep them from killing all humans.

MP: The Queen of Blood is the start of your Queens of Renthia trilogy. In your acknowledgments you mentioned that your editor is the person who initially suggested that Daleina’s story start the trilogy. Can you talk a bit about that? How did you go about plotting the series? Did you know the arc of all of the books before you began?

SBD: After that somewhat-painful brainstorming session, I wrote about 90 pages of a novel about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power who doesn’t want to use it, for fear she’ll die an early death and leave her children motherless. (A very reasonable fear in Renthia!) I sent it to my agent, who sent it to David Pomerico at Harper Voyager. He said, “This is great, but I have a question…  Can this be book two?” And I said, “Sure!”

I am so grateful to him for that idea, because now that THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is written, I can’t imagine the series starting any other way.

Because I’d already written such a large chunk of book two, I had a very clear idea of where I wanted book one to go. The best part of this was that it made the writing process very smooth. The worst part was that since I knew the fate of all the characters, I ended up falling in love with characters that I knew couldn’t survive!

MP: Renthia is home to a few lands. The Queen of Blood focuses on Aratay where locals live in trees grown and shaped by their Queen with help from the spirits. What kind of research went into bringing Aratay to life? Where did you begin imagining this part of Renthia?

SBD: Renthia is a world filled with the extremes of nature: towering trees, endless glaciers, sky-piercing mountains. THE QUEEN OF BLOOD is set in the forests of Aratay, which is a land filled with massive taller-than-Sequoia trees. The people live in houses grown from the trees themselves, halfway up the trunks. Villages are connected by bridges and ziplines.

Writing this world was such an immersive experience. Every day when I sat down at my laptop, it felt like stepping through a portal.

I love worldbuilding. Always have. As a kid, I used to spend hours drawing maps of imaginary lands. The key is to start with a single decision (in this case, to populate the world with a plethora of very powerful and very active nature spirits) and then follow it through until you’ve played out all the logical implications. It will often cascade into a series of decisions that build on one another until you suddenly have a brand new world, ready to explore.

MP: This book plays out on a grand scale with a story that spans years and a stage the encompasses much of Aratay. How did you go about planning for so many moving parts? How did you decide where and when key plot points should occur?

SBD: I always outline. I don’t always follow the outline, but I do always outline. And for these novels, I’ve actually been color-coding my outlines to make sure that all the storylines are balanced and progressing forward. I also always do one late-stage revision that’s purely technical, making sure all the information is seeded at appropriate intervals and making sure there aren’t any continuity issues.

Revising a novel is a bit like playing with a tapestry–you tug on one string and then see how it all weaves together. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of the whole writing process.

MP: Daleina is a great heroine. I really love that she has to work for everything in this story. She isn’t always the strongest or the most powerful but she makes up for it with ingenuity and heart. Daleina knows early on that her road to becoming Queen will not be as easy as it is for others, but she still has the requisite ambition to want to become an Heir or even Queen. How did you go about balancing these aspects of Daleina’s personality?

SBD: I wanted a hero who wasn’t a Chosen One. It’s not Daleina’s destiny to be a hero. She should be living a quiet life in a village, most likely as the local hedgewitch. But she wants to do more than that–she wants to protect her family and save her world. Noble goals, even though she doesn’t have the innate talent or skill to back it up. She has to work and work hard to even be on the same playing field as others.

I wanted to write a character whose true “magic” is her determination. She’s an ordinary person who tries to do extraordinary things.

MP: A big part of becoming a Candidate (and eventually an Heir or even Queen) is being able to control spirits. During her training, Daleina has to learn how to control all types of spirits though she seems to have the most fun with an ermine-like Air Spirit. If you were in Renthia, which type of spirit would be your favorite? Which would you least want to meet?

SBD: Definitely Daleina’s air spirit! I picture him as looking like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  Except this Falcor would most likely try to kill me . . .

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

SBD: The next twelve months will be the busiest of my writing life! In April, I have the release of my next kids book, JOURNEY ACROSS THE HIDDEN ISLANDS, about two princesses, a winged lion, and a whole lot of monsters. In June, my very first picture book comes out. It’s called ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, and it’s about dragons on the first day of school. And in July, the second book in THE QUEENS OF RENTHIA series, THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, comes out — this is the book I mentioned earlier, the one I started writing before THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, about a queen in danger and a woodswoman with immense power.  Also in early 2017, my YA novel DRINK SLAY LOVE will premiere as a TV movie on Lifetime!  I’m ridiculously excited about all of this!  And I’m not expecting to sleep very much…  :)

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, Drink, Slay, Love, Vessel, Conjured, The Lost, Chasing Power, and The Girl Who Could Not Dream.

If you want to know more about The Queen of Blood be sure to check out my  review.