Author Interview: Nancy Ohlin

I’m very excited to have Nancy Ohlin here on the blog as part of the Consent blog tour. Nancy is answering some questions about her latest novel today. Be sure to check the bottom of this post for links to the other tour stops. You can also enter my giveaway for a copy of Consent thanks to Simon & Schuster.

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

Nancy Ohlin (NO): I was writing stories from the time I was six or seven. My mom saved a bunch of “books” that I wrote (in Japanese, which is my native language) and illustrated with manga ­style princesses and cute, smiley pets.

In college, I majored in English and creative writing. In my late twenties, a publishing friend took a chance on me and hired me to ghostwrite for a popular children’s mystery series.  That led to more ghostwriting, and eventually, to writing my own novels under my own name.

After all these years, I’m still astonished and grateful that I actually get to tell stories for a living.

MP: What was the inspiration for Consent?

NO: I originally wanted to write a YA novel about sexual assault. I’d had a bad experience with a teacher in high school, and I needed to recycle that experience into something healing and helpful: a book, a cautionary tale.

But a few chapters into the first draft, my characters—the “bad guy” and the “victim”—kind of went rogue. They had their own ideas about where the story should go.  In the end, Consent became what it was meant to be: a complicated, no­-easy-­answers novel about a very important and very controversial subject. I’m hoping that it will spark a lot of debate and discussion.

MP: Bea is a reluctant piano prodigy at the beginning of the novel and her musicality is a big part of the story. Do you play the piano? Is this aspect of Bea’s character based at all on your own experience with music?

NO: I do play the piano, and for a while, I thought I was going to pursue a career as a musician. I started lessons in Japan at age five; after I moved to the U.S., I continued studying with my American grandmother, who was a piano teacher in Ohio, and with a concert pianist named Olga Kuehl.

But I wasn’t talented or committed enough to stay on that path, and besides, my true passion was writing. Still, classical music was and is a huge part of my life. Also, my son, who is the real musician in the family, is a piano performance major at Juilliard.

MP: Bea is a bit unreliable in certain aspects of her narration. Did you always plan for her to be a semi-unreliable narrator?

NO: Yes! Bea lies to herself and to the people around her because it keeps her from having to deal with difficult truths. So it made sense to me that she would lie—or try to lie—to the reader.

MP: One of the interesting things in Consent is the push and pull between what is perceived and what is true about Bea and Mr. Rossi’s relationship. How did you go about writing a story that operates in such a grey area?

NO: Having a semi­-unreliable narrator is part of that. The reader has to sift through Bea’s narrative and pick out the truths from the untruths, just as Bea has to figure out what’s real and what’s not about her relationship with Mr. Rossi.

Consent is all about grey areas—romantic grey areas, legal grey areas, moral grey areas.  In writing it, I had to make myself pull back from my characters and not judge them. My job was to tell their story, even if the story got very uncomfortable sometimes.

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

NO: I’m working on a bunch of things, including a mystery set in Alaska, a dystopian fantasy inspired by Chernobyl and Fukushima, and another, equally dark fantasy about monsters and medical procedures.  Also some chapter books for younger readers. Never a dull moment!

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

NO: I always tell aspiring authors the same thing I tell myself, which is: Just show up. Show up to your computer or notebook every day, even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, and put down some words. Also, stay with your page. Many writers have that experience where they sit down and type a couple of sentences, and they’re not sure where to go next … and so their minds start wandering, and pretty soon they’re berating themselves: This sucks, I can’t write, I’ll never be a writer. Just stay with your page. Stare down those awkward sentences. Make yourself write the next sentence and the sentence after that.  Have faith in the process, and in yourself.

As far as getting published goes: There are so many good websites about how to submit work to agents and editors. Some of my favorites include: Pub(lishing) Crawl ( and Fiction University (

Thank you for having me on your blog!

Thanks again to Nancy for this awesome interview.

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

You can also check out my review of Consent.

Author Interview #7: Sarah Beth Durst on The Girl Who Could Not Dream

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her latest middle grade novel, The Girl Who Could Not Dream. This book is a ton of fun. It’s about a girl whose family sells dreams, a monster named Monster, ninja bunnies, and more!

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Girl Who Could Not Dream?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Dreams.

I don’t mean that the story came to me in a dream — it didn’t. But once, I had this magnificent dream in which I was a dragonrider tasked with defending the planet against alien ninja robots… and then I forgot what happened.

You see, I have always had vivid dreams that slip away in the glare of the day’s light, and I’ve always wished I could bottle up those dreams to re-live later.

In THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, Sophie and her family own a dream shop where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams. Drink a bottle, and you’ll dream that dream.

So really, the inspiration was: I want my own dream shop!

 MP: Sophie is the youngest character you’ve had since your debut novel Into the Wild. How was it writing a younger middle grade novel again?

SBD: I love writing for all ages — there’s something wonderful and magical about each age group. Right now, for example, I’m working on an epic trilogy for adults and loving every second. It’s such an immersive experience. I’m also working on a picture book, and there’s a great joy to be found in playing with such precision of language.

The joy in writing for kids is that you can be both silly and sincere at the same time. You can write about a rainbow-pooping unicorn completely unironically. And you can write about firsts — the first time a character steps out on her own, the first time she encounters magic, the first time she learns to be strong, the first time she makes a new friend.

When you write about a twelve year old experiencing her first adventure, you get to feel and see and experience all those firsts with her.

MP: Sophie’s parents run a dream shop where they sell dreams (and nightmares!) to buyers of all kinds. If you could buy any dream, what would it be? Is there any dream you’d like to get rid of or sell to someone else?

SBD: I’d buy a dream that was like the books I love: fantasy. Give me a dragon or a talking wolf or an enchanted sword, and I’d be happy.

As for any dream I’d like to get rid of… you can take the boring ones. I could do without any more missing-the-train or can’t-find-the-bathroom dreams, thank you very much.

MP: As the title suggests, Sophie does not have dreams. If you had a choice would you want to give up dreaming?

SBD: Never! I often lie still in the morning trying to remember every second of my dream before it slips away. They fade so very fast!

MP: I love the cover of this novel because it does such a good job of bringing the characters from the story to life, especially Sophie’s best friend Monster. Where did he come from? Did you always know what he would look like?

SBD: The cover art was done by Andrea Femerstrand, and I think she did an absolutely fantastic job. Monster looks EXACTLY like I pictured him. I swear she scooped him right out of my brain. Those lemur eyes! And the golden tongue! She captured his attitude perfectly too.

Monster was born fully-formed in my imagination. I knew from the very first paragraph of the novel what he looked like, what he sounded like, and the fact that he really, really loves cupcakes.

Don’t tell my other characters, but he’s actually my favorite that I’ve ever written. I want my own Monster!

MP: Did you have a favorite dream creature to write about in this novel? (I’m especially partial to the ninja bunnies!)

SBD: Monster, obviously. And I love my ninja bunnies. The one who surprised me as I was writing, though, was Glitterhoof, the arrogant, rainbow-pooping unicorn. He trotted onto the page and insisted he play a role.

(It’s really disconcerting when characters do that, especially since I always write with an outline. But I’m happy to toss out the outline if my subconscious presents an option I like better. Writing a novel is often an exercise in trusting yourself. You have to believe in your own innate sense of story and character. It’s not always easy, but if you don’t, well, that’s often where writer’s block comes from. Trust yourself!)

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in The Girl Who Could Not Dream?

SBD: I am most excited for readers to meet Sophie and Monster. They became my friends as I was writing them, and I hope they’ll become readers’ friends too.

But if you want a specific scene… I think Monster and the chocolate milk.

MP: You have a lot of novels in the works. Can you tell us anything about your next projects? (Do you think you’ll ever return to Sophie and her family?)

SBD: Right now, I am working on an epic fantasy trilogy for adults. The first book is called THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, and it will come out in fall 2016 from Harper Voyager. It’s about bloodthirsty nature spirits and the women who can control them, and I’m so, so, so excited about it!

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 and Chasing Power.

If you want to know more about The Girl Who Could Not Dream be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview: Heather W. Petty on Lock & Mori

This summer I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty. As a fan of Sherlock Holmes in almost any form, you can imagine my excitement about this modern version where the main character is Moriarty. Needless to say, this book completely lived up to (and maybe even exceeded) my very high expectations and I am thrilled to have Heather here to talk a bit about the book and series today.

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

Heather Petty (HP): I was always a huge reader, but I never thought of writing myself until my high school English teacher, Author Terri Farley (Phantom Stallion series) read an assignment I’d turned in and basically told me I needed to be writing. So, I joined the school paper. Then, in college, when I was kind of over the Journalism thing, I applied for a fiction writing class with Author Susan Palwick, who later taught me one-on-one. She really helped me find my niche as a kidlit writer.

I joined SCBWI shortly after I graduated, and my very first critique (of a really horrible middle grade book) at a conference was from Ellen Hopkins, whose debut novel CRANK was coming out later that year (2004). (Crazy, right?) She was very patient with my rookie writer ways and encouraged me to keep going. But I had a baby the next year and floundered for a bit with my writing until Author Cynthia Cotten read one of my silly LiveJournal posts one night and told me I should be writing YA. She pointed me in the direction of authors like Melissa Marr, Charles de Lint, and Holly Black. I was especially taken by Holly Black’s Tithe series, and started writing my own YA within days of reading VALIANT.

I got my first agent in 2009 with an Urban Fantasy novel about faeries at summer camp, but the market was already shifting away from Paranormal/Urban Fantasy (Twilight craze) toward Dystopian (Hunger Games craze), and I had zero interest in writing Dystopian. So I wrote a lot of paranormal and urban fantasy that had zero chance of selling, but still taught me a lot about crafting novels. And right before my second agent decided to retire from the business, I came up with this idea about a female Moriarty meeting Sherlock Holmes in high school. It took me a while, but I finished the book and found my current agent (who is a rockstar goddess)…and she sold the book in fall of 2013.

MP: What was the inspiration for Lock & Mori? What drew you to Sherlock Holmes as source material?

HP: I read an article on nemesis relationships, where the writer mentioned offhand that everything we know about Moriarty is what Sherlock tells us. He’s the only one who meets Moriarty in the canon. Those kinds of gaps are like chocolate cake to writers. Pretty much any time I can ask the question “What if?” I get super excited. In this instance, I thought, what if Sherlock lied to Watson for some reason? What if he’d known Moriarty since they were kids? What if something that happened when they were kids is why they’re rivals as adults? The story kind of spiraled out from there.

MP: Working off the last question, in the original stories, Moriarty is a villain. Period. What drew you to Moriarty as your narrator and protagonist? How did you go about reframing a villain as the hero of her own story?

HP: The whole idea of taking the characters back to their teen years creates an opportunity to reverse engineer a master detective and master criminal to who they might have been before. And really, Sherlock has been analyzed and dissected over and over in almost every iteration, so I felt like the more unexplored path was to tell Moriarty’s story. It was also more freeing, because we know a lot less about Moriarty, so I was able to craft her character any way I wanted within very few canonical parameters.

That said, I also knew it would be a challenge, because she had to eventually become the villain, which meant she would have to have a personality that might be hard to connect with for some readers. It also meant that she’d start making decisions that aren’t what we’re used to seeing from heroes in books. So, I’m always walking the line of making her someone a reader can at least empathize with and staying true to the direction she needs to take.

Still, the idea of getting to create a female villain who uses her intelligence as a weapon instead of her sexuality was too great a lure to stay away.

MP: While we’re talking about characters, did you have a favorite character to write in Lock & Mori? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

HP: Probably Mycroft. He’s always been a favorite in Sherlock pastiches, so it was fun to craft a younger version for my own.

MP: Lock and Mori are often similar characters in terms of their interests and capabilities although they also have very different ideas about what is right and what is necessary. Do you see yourself more as a Lock or a Mori?

HP: I’m probably a mix of both. I tend to have an overactive sense of justice, but I don’t believe in the law as strictly as Lock does in the book. I’ve seen how the law can be manipulated by politics, institutional biases, and bigotry.

MP: Lock & Mori is set in modern London. Did you always know this story would be in a contemporary setting? How did you decide which locations to feature in the story? Do you have a favorite location of the ones you featured?

HP: I’m not really interested in writing a historical right now, so making the decision to pull the story into a contemporary timeline was pretty easy. The locations were mostly all within the neighborhood of Baker Street, where they live and go to school. Having Regent’s Park so close was an amazing resource, because there are so many different aspects to that park. But my favorite locations were those outside of the city, if I’m being honest. I’ve probably watched/read one too many mystery that takes place in a small English village to keep my characters housed in London for the entirety of any book.

MP: A big part of this novel is, of course, the mystery surrounding the murder in Regent’s Park. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

HP: I’ve always been a huge mystery fan, from when I was a kid. And I think after you’ve read your 3948598345th mystery novel, you kind of get a feel for it. But still, writing any mystery is intimidating, probably because I’m such a fan. So I read a lot, now as a writer, watching how my favorite mystery authors craft their clues and pace out their novels.

Sherlock mysteries are a little different, though, because the Sherlock canon is more “CSI: Victorian London” than a traditional whodunit. In fact, in a lot of the Sherlock stories, you know who did it pretty early on, the rest of the narrative is just about either how Sherlock figures it out (usually told to Watson after the fact either by Sherlock or by the criminal in his super-long confession speech) or how Sherlock lays a trap to prove who did it (followed by how he figured it out).

MP: Lock & Mori is the first book in a series. Do you have a set arc for Mori’s story?

HP: Yes. When you sell a series, you write a general synopsis of the following books. My arc shifted a bit as I wrote (and rewrote) the second book, but I have a pretty firm handle on how everything will play out from here. And I always knew how I wanted to end the whole series.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? (Semi-related: I’m dying to know if we’ll see Lestrade in this series.)

HP: If you mean book 2 of the Lock & Mori series, I can say that it’s written and I’m working on editing it now. No Lestrade in the series. Or, if he does magically appear, it’ll probably only be in passing. Because this is an origin story, I’m trying to preserve as much of how the canon plays out as possible.

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

HP: My biggest advice to writers isn’t very sexy or inspirational. Be willing to do the work.

We tend to have this romantic notion of what it means to be a novelist. I’ve met plenty of writers who just want the romance of typing out their novels, each word inspired by their own in-born creative genius, so that typing THE END means the book is ready to go to print. And that’s an awesome fantasy, but the reality is that the greatest novelists pour their hearts and souls onto the page, then go back and shred apart all of their favorite bits and cut out inspired passages altogether, then rework the entire middle, because nothing is sacred. You have to be willing to do the work if you really want to create something great. And you have to be willing to do it over and over again, because writing a book is a months long marathon, not something you do in an afternoon between solving crimes with your girlfriend. (Looking at you, Castle.)

Thanks again to Heather for this awesome interview.

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

You can also read my review of Lock & Mori here on the blog.

Author Interview: Erin Bowman on Vengeance Road

Erin Bowman is here today to talk about her latest novel Vengeance Road–a historical Western about lost gold, murder, and one girl’s quest for revenge.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Vengeance Road?

Erin Bowman (EB): Vengeance Road is inspired by the legend of the Lost Dutchman, which is a gold mine supposedly hidden in the Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix, Arizona. My husband (who has family in the area) was telling me about the legend one night and my muse exploded. I saw a girl out for revenge; so driven and stubborn in her need for vengeance that she willingly entangles herself in a gang’s quest for gold. (And yes, you guessed it: that gold lies deep within the Superstitions.)

MP: This book is set in 1877 in the Arizona territory. How did you choose this historical era? How did you find historical details and choose which ones to include in your story?

EB: Much of Lost Dutchman lore is tied to Jacob Waltz, a German immigrant who died in 1891 and supposedly provided maps to the mine to his caregiver. After his passing, knowledge of the mine became more public and the number of people entering the Superstitions in search of it increased. I wanted to set Kate’s story prior to this, mainly so that I could have her cross paths with Waltz, and in turn, become another “what if” piece of the Lost Dutchman legend.

I did a lot of research for this book, reading everything from books on cowboy culture and mining, to scouring historical atlases. Online archives available through museums, historical societies, and the US Historical Archives were also extremely helpful. As for what made it into Vengeance Road? Simply put, only the details that needed to be there and felt natural to Kate’s story. In a lot of ways, I think writing historical fiction is like writing fantasy. The writer needs to know All The Details in order to be sure the world makes sense and is fully realized, but if all those details went on the page, the reader would be bored and overwhelmed.

MP: Working off the last question, Vengeance Road features a mix of real and imagined (or no longer existing) locations as Kate tries to track down the men who murdered her father. Did any real locations help you envision Kate’s journey and the places she encounters along the way?

EB: Yes! I actually took a trip to Arizona and did some hiking in the Superstitions. I wanted to make sure I was really capturing the ferocity of the land. I had a notebook with me, and spent a lot of the hike jotting down notes about the flora and fauna, the sounds and smells, the oppressive heat, etc.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in Vengeance Road? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

EB: I always feel like I’m cheating when I answer questions like this with my main character, but I’m going to do it again! Kate is my favorite. She is so brave and independent (sometimes to a fault), and her character was so much fun to write. I especially love that while she’s just as tough at the end of the novel, she also emerges with a softer side, too. I’m really excited for readers to meet her.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more historical fiction from you?

EB: I hope so! I’m currently playing around with an idea for a Vengeance Road companion novel. It’s set ten years after VR, but features new main characters and a different storyline. Nothing’s official yet, but fingers crossed! And I have a bunch of other WIPs on my computer as well, ranging from contemporary to sci-fi!

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

EB: Dissect everything you read and watch. What do you love? What do you hate? Apply that to your own writing. And then, of course, the age-old advice: Read a lot and write a lot and don’t give up. Every writer faced his/her share of “no”s before getting published, and it only takes one “yes.”

Thanks again to Erin for taking time from her busy schedule to participate in this interview.

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

You can also read my review of Vengeance Road here on the blog.

Author Interview: Chelsey Philpot on Even in Paradise

Chelsey Philpot is here today to talk about her debut novel Even in Paradise. Reminiscent of Brideshead Revisited and The Great Gatsby, among others, Even in Paradise is a story about love, friendship and the moments that come together to shape a life.

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

Chelsey Philpot (CP): Getting from wanting to write to being a writer is not a glamorous trip. If I make it sound easy or quick, please know that I’m condensing the journey so as not to bore your readers with the minutiae of it all.

As a kid, I read voraciously and started keeping a journal, two things I still do today. I majored in English at Vassar College and later got a masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

After BU, I worked full-time as an editor, first, in Boston and then New York City. I wrote articles and book reviews before catching the subway in the morning and after work at night. I lived on coffee and take-away meals from the bodega on the corner.

When I made the decision to fully commit to writing Even in Paradise, my days started and ended in the dark at a small desk that looked out the back window of my Brooklyn walk-up. 

I was very lucky to sign with a fantastic agent who found a home for EIP at HarperCollins.

MP: Even in Paradise began life as a retelling of Brideshead Revisited. What drew you to this source material? Were there other inspirations at play?

CP: I fell in love with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited when I was studying abroad in Scotland. Waugh’s novel is about an aristocratic family and the outsider who falls in love with them all. Reflecting back, I think that what drew me to this book was that at its core it’s a coming-of-age story.

I deliberately reference a bunch of “boarding school novels,” such as John Knowles’s A Separate Peace and John Green’s Looking for Alaska. And EIP is very much a love letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. As for other influences, I’ve really loved having readers point them out to me.

MP: One of my favorite things about this novel is Charlotte’s narrative voice and the fact that she has no regrets about the events in the book. How did you go about capturing Charlotte’s voice? Did you always know she would remember the events of the novel fondly rather than with remorse?

CP: It took many, many drafts and a lot of conversations with my editor to hone Charlie’s voice. Her ability to look back on her time with the Buchanans without remorse is also demonstrated in how she approaches art. While some people might see past hurts as regrets and discarded items as junk, Charlie sees how her heartaches helped her grow and how old bottles, wire hangers, etc. can become art.

MP: Much of this story takes place at Charlotte and Julia’s boarding school. Did any real locations inspire St. Anne’s or any of  the other locations in the story?

CP: The settings in EIP are a mishmash of places I’ve been and places of my imagination. For example, all the dorms are named after colleges at Oxford University, where I spent the summer before my senior year. The St. Anne’s library is the gorgeous library at Vassar College, where I spent so much time as an undergraduate. And in high school (I went to a boarding school), we really did “borrow” lunch trays from the dining hall and use them for sledding. In fact, the wonderful woman who worked as the head chef while I was a student came to one of my readings. Turns out, she knew we took the trays but let us think otherwise because the excitement made the whole ordeal more fun.

MP: Charlotte spends a lot of the novel collecting mementos for significant memories. Is this trait one you have in common with your heroine? Do you have any special memento from your past that you can tell us about?

CP: I like to collect shells. I have a jar of them on my desk—right next to a menagerie of plastic and wooden animals. The shells have dates written on the inside to remind me when I collected each and the story/memory of that particular day.

A lot of Charlotte’s character is informed by the fact that she is an artist. How did you decide what kind of artist Charlotte would be? Did you always know that her artwork would play a large role in the story–particularly at the end?

CP: I am a total art geek. My idea of a perfect Saturday is one that begins at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and ends with a dance performance at the Institute of Contemporary Art. As of late, I’ve been particularly fascinated by found-art sculptures (the kind of works Charlotte creates). There’s just something so lovely about the idea that discarded and scarred objects can be transformed into art.

I knew one of Charlie’s works would play a role in the final chapter, because the sculpture, in a way, represents how she’s taken her memories (the good and the bad) and used them to make a beautiful life.

While this story is very much focused on Charlotte’s friendship with Julia, there is also a bit of a mystery involved. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

CP: Oh boy, I am very much a need-to-write-multiple-drafts-before-I-get-to-where-I-need-to-be writer. Thus, my not very exciting answer is that I honed the pacing of the mystery over the course of many, many drafts.

It was really important to me that the mystery had layers, meaning that if readers figured out what happened before the end, they would keep reading to uncover why it happened.

In Even in Paradise Charlotte begins to collect bottle caps with fun facts on them reminiscent of Snapple bottle cap facts. Do you have a favorite fact from a cap of your own?

CP: “Nantucket is not a part of Kentucky.” Found on a Nantucket Nectars bottle cap.

Can you tell us anything about your next project?

CP: Yes! Book two is currently in my editor’s hands. I’m not ready to say too much about it other than that this is the novel I very much had to write after Even in Paradise.

Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

CP: Really think about why you write. If it’s because you’ve already picked out a pen for the thousands of signings you’ll one day travel to or because you’ve finalize what stars are in the cast for the blockbuster film version of your first novel, these reasons won’t sustain you.

If you let it, writing can be a soul-crushing, heart-wrenching business. Successes are fleeting; criticisms are inevitable; and hard work is mandatory. Really, it’s the quieter joys (finding the perfect word, revisiting memories, getting a message from a fan) that make the hours of solitude and early mornings worth it.

Having a book published will not change your life—but writing, living bravely so you have experiences to write about, will. 

Thanks to Chelsey for taking the time to answer my questions!

For more information about Chelsey and her books you can also visit her website.

If you want to know more about Even in Paradise be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview: Claire Legrand on Winterspell

Back in February I read Claire Legrand’s YA debut Winterspell. I was completely drawn in by her dark, complex retelling of The Nutcracker. Since then, Winterspell has definitely been a book I keep thinking about–so much so that I knew I had to reach out to Claire about an interview. Today she’s here for a special Christmas in July interview all about Winterspell!

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

Claire Legrand (CL): First of all, thanks so much for interviewing me, Emma! Excited to talk to you today.

I wrote a lot as a kid, but I didn’t seriously start thinking about trying to get published until I was quite a bit older. Just after I graduated high school, I got this idea for a story and couldn’t stop thinking about it for two years. In 2006, while in college, I decided to change my major—and my life path. I had to write this story and try to get it published. I spent a couple of years fiddling with it and then started writing in earnest in 2008. I began querying in 2009 and met my current agent, Diana Fox, in 2010. She had seen my query and requested the manuscript, and though that particular project wasn’t ready yet, she liked my writing and wanted to see more from me. A few months after we met, I wrote The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and sent that manuscript to her. I also sent it to a few other agents, and I received a couple of offers of representation, including from Diana. I knew I got along well with Diana and that her vision for my career aligned with my own, so I signed with her, we sold Cavendish shortly thereafter, and now here we are, a few books later!

MP: What was the inspiration for Winterspell? What drew you to The Nutcracker as source material? Did you always know that Winterspell would be YA and/or skew older?

CL: The inspiration for Winterspell was the ballet itself. I’d grown up watching it every holiday season with my family, and it was one of those stories that stuck with me from a young age. I didn’t actually read the original fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann until much later in life, so I’d say Winterspell draws more directly upon the ballet than the fairy tale.

That being said, the Nutcracker production that I prefer above all others and have watched all my life—the Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker, premiered by the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 1983—is truer to the dark, weird spirit of the original fairy tale than any other production I’ve seen. So even before I read the original story, I was unknowingly drawn to the bizarreness of Hoffmann’s tale through this particular production.

I always knew Winterspell would skew older, yes. The above production, and the original fairy tale, both fall a bit on the disturbing side, featuring erotic undertones and grotesqueries that are common for a lot of the classic fairy tales. As I explored these underlying themes, I decided I wanted my take on the story to explore Clara’s sexual awakening—coming to terms with her body and herself as a powerful young woman, with the curse and journey of the Nutcracker prince himself being essential, sure, but ultimately secondary to Clara’s own story.

MP: This book is set in 1899 New York (with a somewhat altered history to accommodate the Concordia syndicate) and the fictional world of Cane. How did you choose this historical era? How did you find historical details and choose which ones to include in your story?

CL: As I said above, I wanted this story to ultimately be about Clara’s sexual awakening. So I thought an interesting way to frame that would be to begin the story in the Victorian era, a time of repressed sexuality, a time when women were kept powerless. Clara starts out feeling like a victim of her corrupt, male-dominated society. But then she goes on this wild journey through the kingdom of Cane, ruled by a force of a woman, and grows stronger through adversity and through the power of her own choices. Eventually she’s able to throw off the shackles of the oppressive environment in which she’s grown up.

I did a little bit of research into Victorian-era clothing and society, and into Tammany Hall, the political organization upon which Concordia is very loosely based, but I didn’t want to linger in New York, since I knew the bulk of the story would take place in Cane. The most important thing to me was establishing the atmosphere of Clara’s New York City—downtrodden and dreary, infected with corruption, and run by men who controlled Clara and kept her feeling powerless.

MP: Cane is a fascinating world that is equal parts bleak and wondrous. Did any real locations help you envision Cane? Did any pieces from The Nutcracker particularly help inform Cane?

CL: Thank you! I loved building Cane. This was one of my favorite parts of writing     Winterspell, because I let my imagination run wild.

Music was my main inspiration when crafting the world of Cane. I listened to the Underworld, Sucker Punch, Red Riding Hood, and The Book of Eli soundtracks constantly, as well as music by Björk and Lamb. I was also inspired by the look and feel of the Underworld movies themselves, and also, strangely enough, the Borg from Star         Trek. Early on in the brainstorming process, I wrote down a note that said, “Faeries = If    the Borg were hot and wore Alexander McQueen.” So that idea of these technologically-    enhanced beings ruled by a powerful queen very much informed my interpretation of     faeries. I enjoyed turning the typical lore inside out and making these faeries dependent on iron and machinery rather than repelled by it. Lucy Ruth Cummins, the brilliant art       director at Simon & Schuster who designed Winterspell’s cover and overall look, said        that when reading, she was reminded of Gotham from Tim Burton’s Batman movies (Clara’s NYC), Narnia (Cane’s wilderness), and The City of Lost Children (Cane’s urban     centers). That’s spot-on.

And, of course, the Nutcracker itself was a huge inspiration. I can’t begin to count how    many times I listened to the ballet score while working on Winterspell. I liked inserting   nods to the ballet in Winterspell, like the moment in the ballet when Clara kills the Mouse King by throwing her shoe at him. A moment in Winterspell echoes that…but with a          darker twist.

MP: Clara is a great heroine. One of my favorite things about her is that she is incredibly capable but also often very afraid (a binary that is often not acknowledged). How did you go about balancing those two very different aspects of Clara’s personality?

CL: I’m so glad to hear you say this! It was important to me that Clara be afraid and show fear, and even be ruled by fear—at the beginning of the book and even as the story      progressed. So often in YA novels, the protagonist barely acknowledges her fear or, if     she does acknowledge it, she manages to grit her teeth and go about her business without too much fuss. And that’s all well and good—people often rise to the occasion when faced with danger. But when I see characters do that, I can’t help but think I—and probably many others—wouldn’t be able to dismiss our fear so easily. I wanted to write a heroine that realistically struggled with fear. After all, she’s only 17! Do you remember being 17? I do. I was brave in some ways and really afraid in other ways. If I’d had to go on a             harrowing journey like Clara, I would have been scared out of my mind.

For me it’s much more fascinating to read about a character who struggles deeply with      her fear and insecurities and ends up overcoming them, rather than a character who can get past those hurdles with ease and flair. That’s fun, yeah, but not particularly          interesting. So when crafting Clara it was just about being real. This is a 17-year-old girl whose mother was killed, whose father is a drunk, who’s being manipulated by corrupt politicians and sexual predators, who’s been taught by society that she should stay silent   and submit to the will of men. Who wouldn’t be afraid and seriously messed up after all of that? Yeah, she’s angry. Yeah, she’s sick of being afraid. But acknowledging anger and overcoming fear isn’t an easy thing to do in real life, and it shouldn’t be easy in books, either.

MP: It’s impossible to discuss Winterspell without also discussing Nicholas (Clara’s ally for most of the story) and Anise (essentially the biggest villain in the story). Did you always know that Nicholas and Anise would play such large (and equally important) roles in the story?

CL: I always knew Nicholas would be important to Clara’s story. He’s the Nutcracker prince, after all! And I always knew that the primary antagonist would be the ballet’s Sugar Plum Fairy gone wrong. But it wasn’t until actually writing the book that I realized how these characters would be so ambiguous, full of both light and darkness. Nicholas isn’t the good, virtuous prince; and Anise is more than a power-hungry dictator. And as Clara discovers these nuances and deals with the consequences, she’s forced to make difficult choices that impact her own story and inform her tremendous growth from powerless to powerful.

MP: All of the characters here operate in grey areas with “good” and “bad” becoming extremely fluid. For that reason the idea of consent is incredibly important throughout the story as Clara chooses again and again who to align with. How did you go about writing a story where your main character is never entirely certain who she can trust?

CL: I addressed this a little in my answer above, so I’ll continue that train of thought by saying that this was one of the most challenging and most rewarding parts of writing     Winterspell. Clara is never quite sure who to trust—and frankly, neither was I. I had an    outline, but the story grew into something different as I actually wrote the book. Characters developed in interesting directions I hadn’t predicted. As the story evolved, I kept this one very important thing in mind: This is Clara’s story, and each choice she makes, each relationship she nurtures, each alliance she forges, every betrayal she engineers, should inform the development of her character—and I knew exactly the kind of powerful woman I wanted Clara to be by the book’s end. So keeping that in mind helped me navigate those ambiguous waters.

One of my favorite moments in the book comes in Part IV—when Clara makes this huge choice that could endanger her life and puts her at the mercy of someone else. At first you might think, “Wait, why is she doing this? She’s giving up control! She’s subjugating        herself to this person?!” But in fact I think this is a hugely empowering moment for Clara, because all the choices she’s made so far in the book have led her here, and she is the only one who can make this last, crucial choice. There’s an incredible power in that.

MP: While we’re talking about characters, did you have a favorite character to write in Winterspell? Is there any character you were particularly excited for readers to meet?

CL: Hands down, Anise was my favorite character to write. She’s a wild card. She’s    glamorous and unpredictable, sensual and sadistic. When writing one of her scenes, I always felt a little giddy, like, “Oh god what is this glorious monster going to do next?!” She’s the character I’m always most eager for readers to meet.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more YA titles from you?

CL: I just announced a new book releasing from Simon & Schuster in May 2016. It’s a middle grade novel called Some Kind of Happiness, about a girl named Finley who      creates an imaginary world to cope with her anxiety and depression. Writing that was a very personal experience, so I’m excited for readers to meet Finley and her complicated     family. I also have another upcoming project that I haven’t announced yet, so I can’t         share anything about it—which is such a tease, I know! But it’s maddening to keep things quiet for so long, so I can’t help myself with the teasing. Otherwise I might burst.

I definitely have more YA projects in mind—it’s just a matter of time!

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

CL: The #1 piece of advice I always give writers is to read, read, read—read a lot, and read widely. More than anything else, reading thoughtfully and analyzing what I read has   helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses, what I do well and what I could do better.

Thanks again to Claire for this fantastic interview.

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

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

Author Interview: Shanna Swendson on Rebel Mechanics

Shanna Swendson author phot (by Julian Noel)Rebel Mechanics has quickly become one of my favorite books. This alternate history novel blends elements of fantasy and steampunk to create an adventurous novel with romance, action and tons of fun. Today Shanna Swendson is here for to talk about her delightful latest novel.

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

Shanna Swendson (SS): I’ve always entertained myself by making up stories in my head. I was about twelve when I realized that if I wrote these stories down, I’d have a book. I think that was when I decided this was what I wanted to do when I grew up. I studied journalism in college with the idea that it would be a way to learn about writing while getting trained in something I could get a job in (since there aren’t really any “entry-level” novelist jobs). I started seriously writing — as in finishing a book instead of starting a lot of ideas — about a year after I finished college and sold my first book not long after that. I had a few romance novels published, then moved into fantasy with the Enchanted, Inc. series. Rebel Mechanics is my first novel for young adults, though a lot of teens have read my earlier books, as well.

MP: What was the inspiration for Rebel Mechanics?

SS: The idea of steampunk has appealed to me for a while because I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Victoriana. I love a good costume drama, and this is costume drama with a twist and a bit of adventure. I just didn’t have a story idea in mind, until one day when I was looking at my bookcase and saw a couple of books next to each other that gave me an “aha!” moment. My copy of Jane Eyre was next to a Madeleine Brent Gothic adventure/romance, and that was when I thought I needed to write a steampunk governess/spy story. Being a governess would be a great cover for spying on the upper class, and if the upper class had magical powers, that would give them an actual reason for being set apart from the rest of society. The rest kind of fell into place from there.

MP: Rebel Mechanics features elements of steampunk as seen with the actual Rebel Mechanics with more traditional fantasy in the form of the magic wielded by Magisters. What drew you to these two aspects of the story? How did you go about constructing the rules that would govern magic in this novel?

SS: Since I started with the idea of the upper class having magic, it seemed like the best way to fight against them would be with advanced technology, so the magic vs. technology tension is inherent in the premise. One thing I’ve wanted to see more of in the steampunk I’ve read is that influence of the technology on society rather than it just being part of the set design. I wanted to write a story about actual steampunks who were using technology to rebel against magic. As for creating the rules of magic, this is the third fantasy “universe” I’ve created, so making up magical systems is second nature. I start with what I need to have happen for the story to work, and then build it from there — and then force myself to stick to those rules even when they become inconvenient. The main thing I wanted in this magical system was for it to be detectable, so another magical person would know if magic was in use nearby. This kind of magic is mostly a power supply — kind of like electricity, only generated and channeled by people.

MP: This book is set in 1888 New York (with a very altered history because of the magisters). Why did you choose this historical era? How did you find historical details and choose which ones to include and/or alter in your story?

SS: Would it sound too shallow to say I chose it because I liked the clothes? Actually, I wanted to use Gilded Age New York as the setting because even in the real history that was an era of a vast gap between social classes. There were outrageously wealthy people living extremely extravagant lives, and there were horribly poor people crammed into tenements that would make even the slums of today look like luxury. There were times during that era when a revolution wouldn’t have been a huge surprise. At the same time, technology was starting to play a bigger role in daily life. It seemed like the perfect era to have a revolution brewing.

I did a ton of reading when I was researching this novel — about 60 books — and I have a binder full of notes I jotted while reading. I read about the social set of the Gilded Age, found a wonderful book full of photos of the Fifth Avenue mansions that no longer exist, and read some memoirs of people who lived in that era. I’d studied the work of tenement reformer Jacob Riis in journalism school and had his books, full of photos of slum life from not long after the time in which the book is set. I also did a lot of reading about the real American Revolution and found events that seemed to parallel situations either in the real world in the later time or in my story, and I found ways to move them around. I think I just mostly looked for details that gave me that “ooh, this could work!” tingle.
MP: Verity’s New York is a magical place (often literally!). Throughout the story she travels to many different areas of Manhattan. Did any actual locations inspire you while writing this story? How did you decide which locations to include in the story?

SS: Between business trips to New York and research trips I’ve done for other books, I’ve walked huge swaths of Manhattan and am pretty familiar with it. Central Park is one of my favorite places in the world, and I have to go there on every trip. The Victorian lampposts in the park seem to fit this era pretty well, and the park as a kind of front yard for the mansions across the street plays a role in the story. Most of the mansions there didn’t last long because that land is too valuable for a single-family home, but there are still a few that are now museums. There’s a stretch of Broadway south of Fourteenth Street that has always struck me as looking like something you’d expect to see in a Dickens novel, and so that’s a general area where I set a lot of the “downtown” scenes. I kept a map of the city and a historical atlas showing what was built when by my side when I was writing.

MP: Verity is a big reader of both classics and more contemporary novels in Rebel Mechanics. Did you always know reading would be a big part of her character? How did you decide which books and genres to include in your story?

SS: Being caught in between things is a big theme in the novel, and Verity’s choice of reading material plays into that. She’s been highly educated by a demanding professor father, so she’s well-versed in the classics, but at the same time, she’s a dreamer who needed an escape from a pretty drab life, so she turns to popular fiction. That makes her an interesting combination of very knowledgeable and very naive, but it also makes her game for jumping in and trying new things because she’d love to be a heroine like she’s read about in books. I suppose it was natural for me to write a reader like that because books are such a huge part of my life, and I’m just as prone to reading a classic as I am to reading the latest fantasy bestseller.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in Rebel Mechanics? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

SS: I pretty much love all of them. It’s hard to choose a favorite. I did end up really loving Henry. He was fun to write and turned out a little different than I initially planned, which sends the book into a slightly different direction that I ended up loving. I guess I like a man of mystery who can also be a bit of a geek.

MP: If you had to choose would you rather be a Rebel Mechanic or a Magister?

SS: I’m not sure I could choose! I might end up being like Verity and mediating between the two groups. I have to confess that I’m not very mechanically minded, so I’d be pretty useless as a Mechanic.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of Verity and Henry?

SS: I’m working on the third book of my contemporary fantasy Fairy Tale series, but I’m researching the second book in what I hope will be a Rebel Mechanics trilogy. I haven’t sent the publisher a proposal yet, so I suppose it depends on how well this book does before I’ll know if they want more books (so buy the book and tell all your friends!).

[MP: Seriously. Buy this book. I need more Verity and Henry in my life, people!]

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

SS: Becoming a published author requires a lot of perseverance. I started writing this book in the summer of 2010, and it’s only now coming to print. In between, there were a lot of revisions and rewrites, then a lot of rejections by publishers, and then after it sold there were even more rewrites. If I’d given up when it became difficult, the book wouldn’t have been published. So, power through even when you feel like giving up.

Thanks again to Shanna for this fantastic interview.

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

You can also read my review of Rebel Mechanics.