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.

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.