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.

Author Interview: Martina Boone on Compulsion

Martina Boone author photoWhen I started Martina Boone’s debut novel, Compulsion, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Boone expertly blends elements of paranormal romance and Southern Gothic novels to create a unique mystery that is smart and engaging–complete with a vivid setting and complex supernatural elements. Compulsion has stayed with me since I finished reading it. I’m very excited to have Martina here to answer some questions about her Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. Persuasion, sequel to Compulsion, will be released on October 27, 2015.

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

Martina Boone (MB): My daughter has a learning disability, and when she was old enough that it wasn’t cool for Mom to keep reading to her, she stopped reading altogether. That also took away her interest in subjects that were primarily reading-based, like history. I was thrilled when she got hooked on YA paranormal series, and she and I discovered young adult literature together.

When I started writing, I wanted Compulsion and the other books in the trilogy to speak to teens who love genre books, because that’s what started my daughter reading and connected us both with young adult literature. My hope is that I’ve laced enough history within the story to also raise some curiosity about the past and how it connects to current issues, both global and personal, that today’s teens will ultimately face and need to solve.

MP: What was the inspiration for Compulsion?

MB: In part it was the story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney. At the age of seventeen in the early 18th century, Eliza ran three plantations for her father and founded the American indigo industry, which accounted for one-third of the total Carolina exports before the Revolutionary War. Not only did Eliza fascinate me, but I couldn’t figure out how she wasn’t in the history books. One of her relatives, Thomas Pinckney, was listed one of the passengers on the Loyal Jamaica, who by his own admission was a privateer. The Loyal Jamaica was also accused of piracy, and the truth is a bit shrouded in historical mystery. Eliza and Thomas became cornerstones of the trilogy, but only the groundwork for Eliza’s story is in Compulsion. We won’t meet her more directly until book three.

The other bit of inspiration was the Fire Carrier, the ancient spirit responsible for the magic at Watson Island. I had a dream about a burning sphere drifting through the Carolina woods at midnight, spilling flames out onto a river, and setting the water on fire. Researching what might account for that, I found the Cherokee legend of the Atsil-dihyegï, the Fire Carrier, which is said to be a spirit or a witch so dangerous that no one knows much about it. Searching old texts about the Cherokee, I discovered that the war priest who carried the sacred fire to accompany a war party was called the Fire Carrier, and I found a lot more fascinating mythology and history. That was when things started to come together.

MP: Compulsion is the first book in a trilogy. Do you have a set arc for Barrie’s story? Can you talk about about some of your vision for the series as a whole?

MB: Barrie has an enormous arc. She arrives at her family’s ancestral plantation as a terribly sheltered girl who experiences panic attacks. She is presented with a number of mysteries and her family gift for finding lost things compels her to begin investigating. Continuing to stir things up and fight for her convictions (and her own misconceptions)—despite her need for a home, acceptance, and her developing romance—forces her to re-examine her gift, her values, her own beliefs and how she sees others, and her responsibility to herself. It also places her in mortal danger, so she has to find her courage. As the series continues, it becomes too risky for her not to delve deeper and deeper in search of the truth of the magic at Watson Island, but at the same time, that investigation opens her up to more loss and danger.

MP:  Compulsion is an eerie Southern Gothic with quite a big mystery. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

MB: A lot of this trilogy is about the smoke and mirrors of story, bias, and perspective, the idea that both story and history are living entities that change according to the personal, cultural, and information lens through which we view them. Barrie arrives knowing nothing about Watson Island or her family’s history, and as she learns more, it constantly adjusts the lens through which she and others around her view themselves, their prejudices, and what they thought they knew. That made pacing a challenge, because I had to lay the groundwork for all three books within the first book. Simultaneously, working within the Southern Gothic framework over the course of a trilogy instead of a single book, I had to leave the characters room to grow morally in each book. Barrie starts with very limited knowledge, and Eight starts with the cultural misconceptions of someone raised in his environment. That meant starting with some mysteries and fallacies that won’t be resolved until the final book, where everything builds toward a Dan Brownish surprise based on both mythology and physics.

My solution was to give Barrie leeway at the beginning of the first book to stumble around, misunderstand things, get in trouble, and embroil herself in danger. Once she’s in danger as a result of her actions in book one, she’s never really out of danger through the other books. Each answer leads to new understanding, fresh questions, more danger, and higher and conflicting stakes.

MP: In addition to the mysteries surrounding Barrie’s family and the island’s founding, Compulsion also includes supernatural elements including a spirit called the Fire Carrier and other creatures called yunwi. Can you tell us more about these aspects of the story? Will they be explored further in the subsequent books in this trilogy?

MB: The story of the Fire Carrier and the yunwi (technically Yûñwï Tsunsdi), the Cherokee Little People, are the framework of the trilogy. The legend Cassie Colesworth tells Barrie and the different versions we get in each book are fictionalized, but there are many different Cherokee myths and folktales that I’m weaving together with some of the archeology, anthropology, and recent historical revelations about the huge numbers of enslaved Native Americans, the holocaust of indigenous peoples in North and South America through first contact with European diseases, and the importation of early slaves from the Congo. In addition I’m inspired by commonalities within broader folklore, mythology, and anthropology.

The Lowcountry area has a unique nexus between European, American Indian, and African American history, belief systems, cultures, and magical systems. The importance of that and how it came about is often overlooked. Very few people know that at the turn of the 18th century, 30 to 50 percent of the slaves in the Carolinas were American Indians, and most of those were women and children. Before 1720, far more enslaved Native Americans were exported to the West Indies through ports including Boston, Salem, New Orleans, and Charles Town (Charleston) than enslaved Africans were imported. American Indians built cities and served the households of the northern colonies, and helped scout, lay out, plant, and police the plantations of the south. The botanical and medicinal knowledge of both Native Americans and enslaved African Americans helped save colonists and enslaved populations alike from a variety of diseases. Culturally, all of that is tangled with Western views of magic and spiritualism.

As the trilogy unfolds, Barrie is under pressure to solve problems that leave her no choice but to uncover the true history of the plantations, the truth of the bargains her family made with the Fire Carrier, and why he and the yunwi are on the island. That in turn gives her present-day dangers to fight through to keep her family and her loved ones safe.

MP: The characters in this book, especially Barrie, have some great names. How did you go about finding the perfect name for each character?

MB: Thanks! : ) I often struggle with names, but the names for the main characters literally were a gift. They were simply there for me when I needed them, and they speak to both character and location. Barrie’s given name, Lombard, comes from the crooked street in San Francisco where she was raised, and all Barrie knows at first is that it’s a reminder from her mother not to trust crooked men. She only learns about her mother’s tragic, forbidden romance with her father when she arrives on Watson Island. Eight’s family has been naming firstborn males Charles for so long that they’ve long since slipped past Juniors and Seniors, but the nickname also speaks to the way Eight so often feels he’s seen as just one of many Beauforts instead of an individual.

Many of the last names come from historic families in the area or slight twists on the historical names. Eight’s family name, for example, comes from the town of Beaufort, South Carolina, which is a little south of my fictional island near the site of the 1514 landing of the Spanish explorer Pedro de Salaza, which established the encroachment of Europeans on Cherokee territory. That name, in turn, comes from Henry Somerset, Duke of Beaufort, one of the Lords Proprietors of the Carolina colony. The slave names in Persuasion come from various historical documents.

MP: Compulsion brings the island and Watson’s Landing to life practically making them characters in this story. Did any real locations help inspire these fictional places?

MB: Watson Island is loosely based on Edisto Island, SC, although I had to make quite a few changes to suit the story. The plantations are likewise inspired by plantations in the Charleston area, with the exception of Colesworth Place, which is a mixture of the slave cabins of Boone Hall and the ruined standing columns of Windsor in Georgia.

I have been very fortunate to work with Andrew Agha, an archeologist who has done digs on a number of Lowcountry plantations and lectures about quite a few of the elements in the trilogy. We’ve spent countless hours discussing the archeology, history, and anthropology of the area, and mapping and configuring the three plantations. Readers will be meeting some archeologists and embarking on a dig at Colesworth Place starting in Persuasion. Beyond that, Watson Island is a small town like many where I’ve spent a lot of time. In the best possible way, they draw you in and make you part of the fabric of the place, until you’ve sunk in so deep it makes it hard to leave. That’s a bit of the feeling I wanted to convey. Small Southern towns are very different places from big Southern cities. I hear my mother-in-law’s voice every time I write Pru’s dialogue.

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

MB: I love Eight and Aunt Pru. Mark completely stole my heart and became a much larger character than I intended him to be. But I have to say that I adore Barrie. She’s stubborn and loyal and determined, and because she’s starting in such a weak, sheltered place, she makes so many mistakes en route to becoming a strong person. The idea of allowing yourself to fail as a means of developing strength is something I wanted to pass on to my own daughter and to other teens who have a hard time seeing themselves in characters who start out more confidently.

As far as new characters? There are two I’m excited to introduce to readers in Persuasion. Berg, the Marine sniper turned archeology student, is smart, kind, and altogether swoony. But Obadiah, the conjurer/shaman fascinates me. I wanted to twist the trope of the “magical negro,” and Obadiah isn’t there to simply save the day. He’s integral to the mystery of the Fire Carrier overall, because his magic is integral to the way that belief systems outside our own have been viewed throughout history. I still don’t know whether he’s good or evil, which makes him a delightful surprise to write.

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

MB: I have an adult project that I can best describe as Rebecca meets Gone Girl meets Fifty Shades. As for YA, I’m vacillating between National Treasure meets Russian spies meets Percy Jackson in Washington D.C. and a paranormal thriller about experiments with different types of intelligence.

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

MB: Read widely, write as much as you can, and don’t be in a hurry. You can work on your first book for as long as you like, but once you’ve sold it, you have to turn the next one around in a few months. Your ability to experiment with craft has to take a backseat at that point, so if you rush to pub, you’re going to miss out on your best chance to learn at a comfortable pace.

Thanks again to Martina for a great interview.

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

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

Author and Illustrator Interview: Ame Dyckman and Zachariah OHora on Wolfie the Bunny

Ame DyckmanWolfie the Bunny is the delightful story of a baby wolf in bunny’s clothing and the way unconditional love for siblings can sometimes sneak up on a person (or a bunny in this case). Today write Ame Dyckman and illustrator Zachariah OHora are here to talk about the creative process behind this great picture book.

Scroll to the bottom for details about a very special Wolfie the Bunny giveaway too!

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for Wolfie the Bunny?

Ame Dyckman: WOLFIE was inspired by my daughter (“The Kid” of my Twitter stories), who was an ADORABLE toddler—EXCEPT when she was tired. Then she transformed into a tiny growling beast Husband Guy and I called The Wolf Baby. (We said it QUIETLY. So she wouldn’t hear and destroy us.) And that made me ask myself, “What if a REAL wolf baby went to live with a family of non-wolves? And what kind of non-wolves family would be funniest?” I’d always wanted to write a wolf-and-bunny story, and knew then this was the one.

Miss Print: The illustrations for Wolfie the Bunny could have gone in several directions. You chose to set Wolfie and his family in Brooklyn. What inspired that decision?

Zachariah OHora (ZO): At the same time I was sketching out Wolfie the Bunny, I was working on my next book “My Cousin Momo” (Dial, out June 2, 2015) that takes place in a very woodsy atmosphere. I wanted to do something that was the opposite of that. I also feel like far too many picture books have a suburban backdrop. When I realized that “The Carrot Patch” even sounds like a health food store, it all clicked when I thought about the Park Slope Co-op in my old neighborhood. And to be truthful, I like painting city scenes!

Miss Print: Ame, was there any part of Wolfie the Bunny that you were particularly excited to see once illustrated?

Ame: ALL OF IT! I was over-the-moon to see EVERYTHING–Zach’s first character sketches to the final endpapers and each bit in between! But my favorite spread is Wolfie’s first night with his new Bunny family, for the lines:

Wolfie slept through the night.
Dot did not.

Zach’s art for this spread is GENIUS! The humor, the sweet contented expression on Wolfie’s face, Dot’s oh-so-genuine kid perception of shadows being scarier than reality–this spread is SO much fun, SO well-done, and has sparked SO many great discussions from readers little to big!

WOLFIE SLEPT THROUGH THE NIGHTMiss Print: Zachariah, what was your favorite scene to illustrate in this book?

Zachariah: Ame’s text is so funny there are many parts of  the story I couldn’t wait to illustrate. One of the most fun was actually a last minute addition, and that was the spread where Dot and Wolfie are heading to the Carrot Patch and are greeted by the friendly but slow proprietor. And when I say slow, I mean, he’s a sloth. We’ve joked that if there was ever a sequel the sloth would still be sweeping and he would just be at the other end of the page.

MP: Can you both tell us what your creative process looked like for this book?

Ame: It was LONG-TERM percolation! I’d carried my wolf-adopted-by-bunnies idea around in my little pea brain for two whole years before I finally heard Dot Bunny say, “HE’S GOING TO EAT US ALL UP!” She piped up during a Mandatory Family Housecleaning Day when I was carrying a mountain of laundry upstairs. I told The Horde (Husband Guy, The Kid, and The Cat) I was folding towels. But really, I was typing. The first draft of what was then called WOLFIE AND DOT was finished an hour and a half later. The Horde was a bit grumpy I’d ditched on my part of our chores–until I read WOLFIE to them. They agreed they couldn’t have ignored Dot, either. She’s one PERSISTENT bunny!

Zachariah: First it was dialing in what Wolfie was going to look like. I draw lots of bunnies so I pretty much knew what Dot would look like. I put her in a red hoodie as a nod that this story was kind of an inverted/modern take on Little Red Riding Hood. Or at least it seemed that way to me. Initially I wanted to really exaggerate how toothy and wolf-like Wolfie was to further the joke that the parents were clueless. But he was a little too scary and maybe a little gangster. Bethany Strout (the editor) and Saho Fujii (the designer) were very good about reeling me in. Somewhere along the way I had the idea that if Wolfie was scary looking, he could be softened by the ridiculous act of putting him in bunny jammies. That helped but it was still overkill so I worked on a younger, cuter version of Wolfie which became the model for both the baby and toddler (but much bigger) version in the book. All the art is acrylic paint on paper.

Miss Print: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

Ame: I get to work with Zachariah OHora again! HORRIBLE BEAR!, our funny name-calling tale of accidents, tantrums, and apologies comes out next Spring from our fabulous WOLFIE THE BUNNY team at Little, Brown! I’m SO EXCITED for everybody to see Zach’s hysterical HORRIBLE BEAR! art! If you thought Dot Bunny’s scowl was a riot, you’ll adore his little redheaded girl shouting at poor befuddled Bear!

Zachariah: I’m finishing up a second book that Ame wrote called “Horrible Bear!” and it’s a fun and funny story too. I’m hoping that it’s one of many that we work on together! I’m also working on a book that takes place in my childhood library way up in Manchester, NH. It’s got monsters, waffles and a boy who has a brother that is also a bear.

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

Ame: Read as many books in your genre as you can, connect with your local SCBWI chapter (or come to Jersey! We adopt!) if you write kidlit, reward every little success with ice cream, get yourself a good Writing/Illustrating Buddy (quit grinnin’, Adam!) and DON’T EVER GIVE UP! (Or I’ll sic a persistent bunny on ya!) GOOD LUCK, EVERYBODY!

Zachariah: Do what you love. I’ve always loved kids books and drawing little cute animals, but it was years into my illustrating career before I let myself make that stuff for clients. But when I did, my career became a career. If you don’t love what you are doing, it’s not real and it’s not going to be good.

Get out in the world and research things. Experience things. The internet is great for reference but getting out in the world is far more inspiring and it’s there you will find your voice.

Thank you to Ame and Zach for this great interview!

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

You can find out more about Ame and her books here: http://amedyckman.com/home.html

You can find out more about Zachariah and his books here: http://zohora.com/

GIVEAWAY DETAILS!

Thanks to Ame I am giving away a signed copy of Wolfie the Bunny and a swag bag complete with bookmark, sticker, button, and squishy carrot.

Giveaway is open to any readers over the age of 13. US only.

Giveaway will run from midnight May 18, 2015 through May 22. Winner will be notified May 23. If I don’t hear back from the winner by May 24 I will pick a new winner from the entry pool.

ENTER HERE

I’m running the giveaway through a Rafflecopter giveaway. Details on how to enter can be found by clicking “enter” above!

Author Interview: Tiffany Schmidt

tiffanyschmidtTiffany Schmidt’s novel Hold Me Like a Breath has been on my radar since I first heard about it. A fairy tale retelling with organized crime and blackmarket organs? Obviously I was completely on board. Happily, Hold Me Like a Breath did not disappoint. In fact, it only made me even more excited about Tiffany’s Once Upon a Crime Family series. Tiffany is here today to talk a little more about this latest novel.

MP: What was the inspiration for Hold Me Like a Breath? What drew you to The Princess and the Pea as source material?

TS: I was fascinated by The Princess and the Pea when I was a child. It was one of my favorite stories in my big book of fairy tales. BUT, I always felt like it inspired more questions than answers: why was the princess alone in the woods, what happened to her family, why is it important that she bruises, etc, etc. So many questions that my parents had to ban it as a bedtime story since it got me so riled up just when they wanted me to settle down and sleep.

All these years later, Hold Me Like a Breath is my attempt to answer those questions.

MP: Working off the last question, when did you know organized crime and organ trafficking were parts of this story?

TS: Right away I knew this would be a crime family novel. As soon as I decided I wanted to write a modernized version of The Princess and the Pea, I knew I wouldn’t be including royal families and that I wanted to situate the ‘princess’ in a crime family instead.

The idea of organ trafficking took a bit longer to settle on. I knew I wanted the morality of the crime families to be ambiguous – I want them to be criminal and dark, but also create some good in the world. There are many, many shades of gray in the Landlow Family’s morality—which made writing their story all the more fun.

MP: Penelope has an autoimmune disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura or ITP. What kind of research was involved in getting Penelope’s symptoms and treatments just right?

TS: ITP has such a range of manifestations and treatments, that there really isn’t any single way of getting it ‘just right’—because every patient’s experiences with the disorder and the way they manage treatment varied widely. I spent a lot of time researching, asking questions on patient forums and via email, and getting in touch with doctors who specialize in treating ITP and other platelet disorders.

And once I had a fix on the way the disorder is typically handled, I wrote Penny counter to this. Penny’s treatment of ITP is more conservative than the typical for an ITP patient. Since money and access to medical care aren’t an obstacle for her parents, they’ve gone with a very cautious treatment plan.

The Landlow’s choice of treatment methods is a testament to how fragile they see her. This, plus their rule that no one is allowed to touch her, say much more about their dangerous lifestyle and overprotective attitudes, than they do about Penny’s actual health.

MP: Penelope loves New York City even before she sees it. How did you decide what parts of the city to highlight in Hold Me Like a Breath? Which real locations were you excited to include?

TS: The energy of New York City and its unpredictable chaos are the perfect counterpoint to Penny’s tedious and controlled life on her family’s estate. I have maps and maps I made to keep locations straight when I was planning that aspect of Hold Me. I even walked some of the routes she takes when she and Char meander through the city.

But of all the New York locations I included in Hold Me, I had the most fun planning the scenes in the American Museum of Natural History. When I went to research this, I brought my family and we met up with my editor and the assistant at my literary agency. We made a day of it, had lunch (Shake Shack!), visited a few Central Park playgrounds, and then explored the museum—taking all sorts of pictures and chatting up potential settings for a few key scenes. I recently visited again and it was surreal to stand in parts of the museum and have lines from the book running through my head. I kept turning around and expecting to see Penny or Char behind me.

MP: In addition to a fairy tale retelling this story has a bit of romance and a lot of mystery. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

TS: Penny’s world is so small at the beginning of the book. She’s confined to her family’s estate and has no real friends or confidants outside of the Landlow crime family. She makes a joke early in the novel that if she was allowed to go to school she’d meet other people, and maybe then she’d have a crush on someone other than her brother’s best friend. Because like Penny’s only friend is her nurse, the only boy she could possibly swoon over is the only one she knows—Carter’s best friend.

Penny needs her world to grow. She needs to meet people, talk to them. She needs to find her own limits and define herself.

There’s that relationship advice that’s often quoted “You can’t love someone else until you love yourself.” I’d add that in Penny’s case, she can’t love someone else until she knows herself. The pacing of the book and the romances matches the speed of her self-discovery. Incremental and slow at places, but dramatic and all at once in others. Fearful and hesitant at times, and courageous and reckless at others.

It’s a fairy tale retelling, so of course I got to play with the idea of love at first sight—but I spin it on its head a little—just like Penny’s boy next store isn’t actually boy-next-door-ish, her love at first sight, isn’t actually first sight. I also loved toying with the idea of secret identities but true selves.

MP: The characters in this book, including Penelope, have some great names. How did you go about finding the perfect name for each character?

TS: Penelope à Penelo-pea > Princess and the Pea

Garrett sounds a lot like “garrote” > he’s been raised to be a weapon

Magnolia Grace > This name reflects her parents’ expectations for her to be beautiful and feminine. > Maggie revels in smashing out of the boxes people would like to put her in or the limits they’ve set for her.

Char > *shrug* He sizzles :)

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in Hold Me Like a Breath? Is there any character you are particularly excited for readers to meet?

TS: Oh, geez. This is a hard question. Hmm. I’m going to say Penny’s brother, Carter, is my favorite character.

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

TS: I’m about to start copyedits on book two of the Once Upon a Crime Family series, Break Me Like a Promise. This book picks up a couple months after Hold Me Like a Breath ends and is told from the point of view of the daughter of a different crime family: Magnolia Vickers.

It’s about Maggie dealing with the fallout of [redacted] and trying to [redacted]. Realizing she’s 100% wrong about [redacted] and maybe, just maybe [redacted, redacted, redacted].

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

TS: Find a community. Writing is such a solitary process—just you, your computer, and the voices in your head. It’s so important to have people to support you along the way. Join a critique group—doesn’t matter if it meets online or in person—but these people will cheer your successes, offer advice during your murky middles, and pep talks during the endless waiting that surrounds ALL parts of publishing. Critique partners or writing friends are like outsourcing your sanity. They’ll hold your hand and pick you back up—unsnarl messy plots and find ways to build bridges over pot holes. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. I hope I never have to find out! <3

Thanks again to Tiffany for a great interview.

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

You can also read my review of Hold Me Like a Breath here on the blog.

Author Interview: Kat Ellis on Blackfin Sky

Kat Ellis author photoKat Ellis’ debut novel Blackfin Sky was an unexpected reading gem when I discovered it in 2014. It’s a book I’ve thought of often, and fondly, since reading it as I remember the evocative setting and the quirky characters. It’s also one I hope, you will consider picking up as well. I’m thrilled to have Kat here today to talk about her debut novel.

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

Kat Ellis (KE): I enjoyed writing all through school, but didn’t really think about becoming an author until I was in my mid-twenties. So, I decided – very much on a whim – to write a book.

Naturally, I put in zero research, sat glued to my laptop for three months with my hands hardening into lightning-claws, until I finally had the crappiest of crap drafts to show for it. At that point I realized I’d need to do a lot better than that if I wanted to snag the attention of a literary agent and publisher, so I started reading books about how to write a good novel, and researching the process of publishing.

MP: What was the inspiration for Blackfin Sky?

KE: The starting point of the story – that Skylar Rousseau has drowned and been buried for three months when she shows up at school as though nothing has happened – snaked its way into my brain of its own accord. I liked the idea, and was looking for a genre-shift (up to that point I’d been working mostly on sci-fi and fantasy stories) so I decided to run with it, and build a story around how Skylar could possibly have reappeared.

I then got horribly stuck. I had ideas about how it might have happened, and why she might not remember it, but nothing seemed like the right solution for the plot. I was stuck in this rut when I went on a family outing to the traveling circus which comes to my town every summer. It was there, sitting in the stands, that I figured out the rest of what happened to Skylar during those missing months.

MP: One of the best things in Blackfin Sky is that the town of Blackfin is so very evocative. Did you look to any real locations while creating this fictional town?

KE: I love taking photographs, and when I’m not writing, I’m usually out photographing the local landmarks and creepifying them for my Tumblr. There are a number of places I photographed when I was thinking of locations to fit the story, including a centuries-old cemetery, a Victorian pier, a ruined chapel in the woods… all over the North Wales landscape, basically. And one of my neighbors, whosegarden backs onto mine, has a shed with a rusting weathervane perched on top of it (it’s possible I might have spent a minute or two staring at it through my kitchen window).

MP: Do you–or did yo ever–live in a town like Blackfin? If not, would would want to?

KE: My town isn’t all that much like Blackfin, but I think a number of places I spent time while I was growing up definitely influenced me when I wrote it. In particular, when I was little I used to go and stay with my grandmother in a tiny village surrounded by hills, in her old stone house overlooking thevillage cemetery. I used to love playing there, and never understood why people thought cemeteries were creepy.

That said, even I think Blackfin is pretty weird, and I probably wouldn’t want to live there.

MP: Without getting into spoilers, we learn that Sky and some of the other residents in Blackfin have unique talents or abilities. If you could, what special talent or ability would you want to have?

KE: Literary osmosis! If I could somehow instantly upload books into my head, or download them from my brain onto the page, that would be absolutely amazing. I say this as I’m staring down the barrel ofa TBR pile that could tip over and bury me at any second, and more stories to write than I will ever have time to finish.

MP: Blackfin Sky includes quite a few revelations for Sky and her family over the course of the novel. How did you lay out the pacing of this story? How did you decide when to reveal key details to the reader?

KE: A few people have told me Blackfin Sky is like a giant jigsaw, with lots of tiny pieces that all lock together by the end. (I love this comparison, by the way.) Truthfully, I had to write it out in layers. First came the main plot arc, then I wove in a subplot thread, then another, and another… It got messy at times. That was where having fantastic critique partners, editors, and an agent came in veryhandy!

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

KE: I can! Breaker is my next book, and it will be released Spring 2016 from Running Press Teen.

Breaker is about Kyle, a serial killer’s son who enrolls in a new school after his father is executed, and finds himself drawn to a girl in his class – only to discover she is the daughter of his father’s last victim.

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

KE: Read as much as you possibly can. Books in the genre/area you want to write, books outside that genre/area, books and articles on writing craft, and about the publishing industry. Find other writers who will give you feedback on your work. Do the same for them. Practice writing until you hate words, then practice until you love them again.

Thanks again to Kat for a great interview.

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

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

Author Interview: Emery Lord on The Start of Me and You

Emery Lord made a splash in 2014 with her debut novel Open Road Summer. She’s here today to talk about her second novel, The Start of Me and You. My review will be posting tomorrow, but let me tell you I loved The Start of Me and You even more than Open Road Summer and I am beyond thrilled to have Emery here to answer some questions about it!

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

Emery Lord (EM): Sure! I majored in English Lit and started writing fiction more seriously after college. (I say “more seriously” but I just mean I was carving out time for it seriously. The actual writing was fun!) I signed with my agent 2 or 3 years into writing for real and sold Open Road Summer in 2012.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Start of Me and You?

EM: Man, this is self-centered, but…largely, my own teen years. I wanted to write about a suburb that is kind of generic but still yours & home, a group of friends that is kind of nebulous- people coming and going/groups overlapping, and I wanted to make the most realistic decisions possible in the story, even if they were cringe-worthy. I wanted to write about boys who aren’t suave or perfect…just human, with good qualities and flaws and a lot of kindness too. Beyond that, when I started writing, I was trying to come back to myself after a really intense grieving experience. It’s so strange- I think I talked myself through it via Paige. Like, I couldn’t figure out how to be okay in my own life, but I could somehow float outside of it and guide this fictional character.

MP: Readers learn early on that Paige is a big reader and TV watcher. Do you have any (current or past) favorite books and TV shows that you can share with us?

EM: Well, I’m obviously deeply entrenched in Arrow right now, haha. I never used to watch much TV at all, but I’ve grown to really love it post-college. I particularly love Friday Night Lights & Parenthood (surprise surprise, shows that are committed to realism). A few favorite books of all time that I get VERY nerdy about: Looking for Alibrandi, Fair & Tender Ladies, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Alice McKinley series. I’m also a huge fan of many short stories & their writers- Amy Hempel, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jennifer Egan, Lorrie Moore. Like, I will geek out if I find people who want to talk about these stories.

MP: To start her junior year off right, Paige make a plan which includes joining a new club. For Paige that ends up being Quiz Bowl. What clubs were you a part of in high school? If you could do it again, what clubs would you join?

EM: I was in marching band, jazz band, show choir and theater. As an adult, I actually hate doing anything performative, haha! So if I could do it again, I’d found a feminist/social justice club a la Morgan in The Start of Me and You.

MP: Do you have any specialized knowledge that would be useful in a quiz competition?

EM: I can hold my own with the literary canon, state capitals, art and music. I will always win Friends trivia and always lose sports trivia.

MP: Paige is a great narrator and one of my favorite characters. But she also has a great supporting cast in this novel. Is there any character you’re especially excited for readers to meet? Did you have a favorite (or hardest) character to write about?

EM: Thanks! I think the hardest wasn’t a specific character but writing a cast that big/trying to get their individuality and voices across. I really loved exploring Tessa and trying to figure out how to show this girl who is disillusioned and bored but still loving and engaged in other ways.

MP: One of my favorite things about The Start of Me and You is that it’s a really smart book. Paige and Max both have great vocabularies–which they use with each other. Was there any word that you were particularly eager to incorporate into their conversations?

EM: Thank you! I (embarrassingly) keep index cards when I run across a new word in an article or book to quiz myself on them. With Paige and Max, it was less about the specific words and more about the particular…comfort of finding someone who literally speaks your language.

MP: Without getting into spoiler territory, Max and Paige also talk a bit about Pride and Prejudice so I have to ask: Do you see yourself as a Jane or an Elizabeth? Thoughts on Bingley and Darcy?

EM: Ha, you know, I felt like P&P was everywhere when I started working on this book, and I kept wondering why everyone fixates on Elizabeth and Darcy, when Jane and Bingley have this really interesting pas de deux of miscommunication and undertone and longing. That being said, I don’t know which I am, actually! As much as I crush on brooders (Darcy), the truth is I go for the sweet-to-the-core ones.

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

EM: It’s called When We Collided, and it’s a summer love story told in dual POV. I tried to tell a story of lives that look like mine and my friends: where there are sometimes mental health struggles and therapists and medication, but also- truly- so much happiness. It is my favorite thing I’ve ever written.

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

EM: This is going to sound like a cop-out, but I swear I mean it. My advice is: take all writing advice with a grain of salt. Some people may have 2k a day goals, get up early to write, do NaNoWriMo, purge manuscripts of all adverbs, plot extensively, don’t plot at all, repeat “show don’t tell” as if it’s gospel. You don’t have to do any of those things. You can try them; maybe they’ll work and that’s great! But you gotta find the way that works for YOU. Beyond that, to quote Conan: work hard, be kind.

Thanks again to Emery for a great interview.

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

You can also read my reviews of Open Road Summer and The Start of Me and You here on the blog!