Author Interview: Winifred Conkling on Votes for Women!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see more about Winifred on her website.

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

Author Interview: Jen Doll on Unclaimed Baggage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see more about Jen on her website.

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

Author Interview: Joy McCullough on Blood Water Paint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can see more about Joy on her website.

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

Author Interview #2: Claire Legrand on Furyborn

Claire Legrand author photo Furyborn is poised to be one of the big books this summer as it launches a blockbuster YA fantasy trilogy for Sourcebooks Fire. Claire Legrand has been working on pieces of Furyborn and the larger Empirium trilogy for years often crediting this book as the book of her heart and one that set her on this path as an author. I’ve been waiting for a new YA from Claire since I read Winterspell back in 2015 and I’m so happy the time has finally come. Today Claire is here to talk a bit more about this powerhouse series starter.

Miss Print (MP): You’ve mentioned before that Furyborn is the book of your heart. What was the inspiration for Furyborn? What part of the story came to you first?

Claire Legrand (CL): Furyborn, and the entire Empirium Trilogy, is indeed the story of my heart! I first came up with the idea nearly fourteen years ago. I was eighteen years old and had just graduated from high school. While flying back from a family vacation, I was listening to Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and daydreaming. Suddenly my daydream showed me a young, beautiful woman–very powerful, but very sad, and surrounded by fire. She was about to make a choice that would change the world forever. I knew all of this within moments of first seeing her face.

After that initial vision, I started asking myself questions about this woman; What kind of power does she have? Why is she sad? Who loves her, and who hates her? Why is she surrounded by fire? Is she in the middle of a war? As I answered these questions, I began constructing the character of Rielle, and the rest of the story grew up around her.

MP: Working off the last question: This is a story that’s been part of your life for years. Can you talk about one thing that has stayed the same from the beginning? What is something that’s changed?

CL: The prologue of Furyborn has stayed virtually the same from the beginning, though originally it was told through two alternating POVs–Rielle and Garver Randell. Now the prologue is told entirely through the eyes of a different character, eight-year-old Simon. I still remember the day I sat down in the spare room of my mom’s house to begin writing the prologue, after years of daydreaming and brainstorming. I was so shaky and nervous, as though I were gearing up to confess my love to a serious crush.

One major thing that has changed from the original Furyborn draft is that the characters of Rielle, Audric, and Ludivine used to be children! My initial vision for the trilogy featured them as children in book one, and then teenagers in book two, after an eight-year time jump. While that was a fun experiment–and ended up being very helpful in terms of character development–it ultimately wasn’t the best structure for the story.

MP: The world of the Empirium trilogy is rich and filled with unique locations and its own mythology. Were aspects of this world inspired by real locations or mythos?

CL: Certain locations and languages were loosely inspired by real-world locations and languages. For example, Celdarian words are pseudo-French, and many Borsvall words are a blend of various Scandinavian languages. Having been raised Catholic, I also drew a lot of inspiration from the structure and iconography of the Catholic Church when constructing the elemental world religion featured throughout the trilogy.

MP: Furyborn follows Rielle as she comes into her powers and is forced to complete dangerous trials to prove herself to her kingdom and Eliana a mercenary living a thousand years later doing everything she can to survive and protect the people she cares about. One of them is destined to become a queen of light and salvation to save the world while the other will be a queen of blood and destruction, dooming her world. How did you go about balancing these two separate but connected plots? Your characters don’t have much choice in the matter but if you could choose, which queen would you be?

CL: By the time I started writing the current iteration of Furyborn, I’d spent a dozen years living in this world and getting to know the characters, so it actually wasn’t too difficult a challenge to balance the two storylines. I’d also written a few different drafts of the book, and each new draft helped me learn what worked and what didn’t work. When I sat down to write the current version, I’d so deeply internalized the rhythm of the alternating storylines that the draft unfolded relatively smoothly.

It’s interesting that you say Rielle and Eliana don’t have much choice in the matter, regarding which Queen they’ll be–the Sun Queen or the Blood Queen. A Queen of light or a Queen of darkness. One of the themes I explore in this trilogy is that there isn’t only light or only darkness in anyone. The choices facing my protagonists aren’t as black-and-white as the prophecy in Furyborn might suggest. That being said, I’m definitely a Sun Queen. Darkness makes me grumpy; I much prefer sunny days to cloudy ones. Plus, think of all the gold, glitter-spangled gowns one could wear as a Sun Queen. I can’t resist bling.

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

CL: I love writing all of my characters, but writing Rielle, Simon, and Corien has been (and continues to be) particularly entertaining. Rielle has been so fully, insistently herself since the moment I met her. She’s passionate and brash in ways I am not, so it’s exciting to step into her shoes and explore that. Simon is a man of many secrets, and is so deliciously snarky, which is always fun to write. And Corien is cruel and charismatic, full of contradictions. When he’s on the page, everything feels electric. I always feel wired after completing a Corien scene.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? What can readers expect in book two?

CL: After Furyborn, my next book is Sawkill Girls, a queer feminist horror novel for young adult readers. It’s about three girls who live on the island of Sawkill Rock, where girls have been disappearing for decades. There may or may not be something terrible and hungry living on the island, and it may or may not be kept secret by people who may or may not be complicit in a supernatural plot. Sawkill is scary and sexy and weird, and I’m so excited to share it with readers. It releases October 2, 2018 from Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins.

I just finished the first draft of Furyborn book two, and all I can say right now is this: brace yourselves. Book two is bigger, sexier, and scarier than book one. The story is expanding in ways that I think will be both unexpected and delightful to readers. I wish I could say more! But…not yet. I shall exercise restraint.

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 Furyborn here on the blog.

 

Author Interview (#11): Sarah Beth Durst on The Stone Girl’s Story

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst, one of my favorite authors, is back today to talk about her latest middle grade novel The Stone Girl’s Story which follows Mayka, a living girl made of stone, as she ventures far from home to find a way to help herself and her friends.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Stone Girl’s Story?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): I’m a terrible gardener.  Zero green thumb.  Plants see me coming, and they wither in self-defense, anticipating a horrible death from either too much or too little watering.  But I try.  And I’m always optimistic that next year, I’ll remember to weed/water/whatever often enough to have a lovely flower bed.

One spring, after hearing me talk all winter about flowers, my husband bought me a little stone rabbit for my garden, and I nestled it in between the daffodils.  But by the end of the summer, it was so buried in weeds that I couldn’t find it.  So I joked that it had hopped away to join its other stone friends…

That stone bunny became the inspiration for THE STONE GIRL’S STORY (and you’ll see him hopping around the first chapter as one of Mayka’s friends!).

Mayka is a girl made of living stone.  Forever twelve years old, she has outlasted the father who carved her and engraved her body with the stories that gave her life. But now the magical marks that animate her and her stone friends are fading, and she must leave her home for the first time to find help if she wants her story — and those of her friends — to continue.

At its heart, this is a story about stories — what stories shape who you are, who chooses the stories that define you, who tells the story of your life.

MP: Stone creatures in Mayka’s world are brought to life by markings carved into their bodies that describe various attributes and parts of their lives. If you were a stone creature, what are some markings you would want to include in your story?

SBD: I would want my markings to say how much I love stories — really, I think they’re as essential to life as air, water, and food — and how much I love to tell stories.  And I would want my markings to say how much I love my family.  Those are the two things that are most important to me: writing and my family.

Might also want to add a marking saying how fond I am of chocolate.

MP: Mayka leaves her home to find a new stonemason and gets to see the world beyond her mountain home for the first time. Reading this story I was struck by how vivid the locations and landscapes are as Mayka discovers them. Did any real locations inspire the places that Mayka visits?

SBD: Not intentionally, but the world does seep into you and then come out in your writing.  Things you think are beautiful, things you think are important, things that stick in your memory…  All of those things fertilize the soil of your imagination.

Mayka’s world is born of my imagination, but it’s shaped by my love of this world.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in The Stone Girl’s Story?

SBD: One of the best things about being a writer is being able to invite people into your worlds, your stories, and your imagination.  I can’t wait for readers to meet Mayka and her friends!  I am especially excited for readers to meet Si-Si, a little stone dragon that Mayka encounters on her quest.

I think all stories need at least one talking dragon.  :)

MP: This is a busy year for you with three novels coming out. Last year was equally jam-packed with your YA novel Drink, Slay, Love’s movie adaptation coming out and the release of your first picture book Roar and Sparkles Go to School. (I love that you literally write for all ages now!) With so many projects going on at once how do you balance everything? What does a typical writing day look like for you?

SBD: I write every day.  I know that doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful for keeping up the momentum of the story.  I don’t have a set time or consistent number of hours that I write each day — basically any time I have two hands free and am near my computer, I’m writing.

I typically work on one project at a time.  It takes me a couple days to switch between voices, styles, and worlds, so I prefer to work on one book for a few weeks/months (depending on where it is in the process) and then make the transition to another.

I also always like to know what I’m going to be writing next and will often start a new book on the same day that I finish the prior book.  I don’t like saying goodbye to characters that I’ve grown to love, so it helps if I can immediately say hello to new ones!

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

SBD: Yes!  My next book for adults comes out on May 15th: THE QUEEN OF SORROW, Book Three of The Queens of Renthia.  It’s the final book in my epic fantasy series about bloodthirsty spirits and the queens who can control them.  Very excited for readers to see how it all ends!

In December, my next YA book, FIRE AND HEIST, comes out.  It’s essentially Ocean’s Eleven with were-dragons.  I just posted the gorgeous new cover over on my website (www.sarahbethdurst.com/FireandHeist.htm).

And I’m currently in the middle of revising next year’s MG book (SPARK, about a girl and her lightning dragon) and adult book (THE DEEPEST BLUE, a standalone Renthia novel with a lot of sea monsters).

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

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

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

You can also check out our previous interviews discussing Sarah’s other novels here on the blog.

If you want to know more about The Stone Girl’s Story be sure to check out my  review.

Author Interview: Leslye Walton on The Price Guide to the Occult

Leslye Walton author photoThe Price Guide to the Occult is a haunting story about a strange island, magic, and the ties that bind people together–sometimes whether they like it or not. This story follows Nor as she tries to make sense of her own strange inheritance as a Blackburn daughter and get to the bottom of a price guide whose offers of magic with seemingly no limit is taking the world by storm. Today Leslye Walton is here to answer some of my questions about her latest novel.

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

Leslye Walton (LW): My path was fairly traditional, but it was a long one. I wrote my first novel, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, while in grad school. I submitted my manuscript to a few agencies, but I didn’t sign with my agent until a year later. Another year passed before we found the right publisher. I got really lucky though; I have the best agent in the world and the people at Candlewick Press have been amazing to work with.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Price Guide to the Occult?

LW: When I was brainstorming my next project, I took a trip up to the San Juan Islands. My car broke down, and I was told that I needed to wait a couple of days until the island’s sole mechanic returned from the mainland. So, as I waited for the mechanic to return, I soaked up as much of island life as I could–I saw the shore lit with bioluminescence, and the bright colors of the Northern Lights fill the sky. By the time I left, I knew this quirky place was going to be the setting of my next book.

MP: In this novel all of the Blackburn daughters have an affinity for a specific kind of magic–something the Blackburn women refer to a burden–that can range from healing to something similar to mind control. Keeping in mind that most magic in this world requires a price in the form of a sacrifice, what magical burden would you willingly accept?

LW: This is a tricky question! I would hope that I would accept some magical burden that could help make the lives of others better or easier in some way. But the part of me that struggles with anxiety finds the thought of that very stressful—I would make the worst superhero.

MP: This novel takes place on Anathema Island located in the Pacific Northwest. While the story focuses on Nor, it’s fair to say that the island is often as much of a character in the novel as it is a setting. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

LW: The setting absolutely came first, but Rona Blackburn, the matriarch of the Blackburn family, came quickly after. Anathema Island and Rona are essentially the foundation of the story, so I knew I needed to have both fleshed out before I could figure out the actual plot.

MP: Working off the last question, were any of the locations you mention in The Price Guide to the Occult inspired by actual places?

LW: They were inspired by the idea of places rather than actual places themselves. The shops along Meandering Lane are a mixture of the quirky occult shops, bakeries, and art co-ops that you can find all over the San Juan Islands.

MP: The Price Guide to the Occult is very focused on characters. Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? What about one you most resemble (or wish you did)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

LW: I hope that readers love Nor as much as I do. She’s incredibly strong, and a powerful witch, but she struggles with very real mental health issues that I think many young girls her age will relate to. I also really love Nor’s grandmother, Judd and her partner, Apothia. And I’m a big fan of Nor’s best friend, Savvy—and of course, Bijou, who was inspired by my own little ridiculous dog.

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

LW: I really love the scenes between Nor and her love interest, Reed. I hope readers enjoy their somewhat awkward banter as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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

LW: Most of my next projects are just whispers right now, but there are several of them that I’m excited about. I can say that I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of Nor, Savvy and everyone else. I definitely think we’ll return to Anathema Island sometime soon.

[MP: This is very exciting news!]

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

LW: Try not to worry about the kind of book you think you’re supposed to write, and write the kind of book you want to write. You can’t write everyone’s experience—write the book you need, trust that your words will find their intended audience, and allow other writers to do the same.

Thanks again to Leslye for this fantastic interview.

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

You can also read my review of The Price Guide to the Occult here on the blog.

Author Interview: McKelle George on Speak Easy, Speak Love

McKelle George author photoSpeak Easy, Speak Love is a delightful retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing set in 1920s New York. As soon as I heard about this witty retelling, I knew I wanted to read it. I’m happy to report that Speak Easy, Speak Love far exceeded by expectations and has turned into one of my favorite books of the year. Today McKelle George is to talk a little bit more about her writing and this book.

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

McKelle George (MG): I wrote a little in high school and my freshman year in college–but primarily fanfiction and roleplaying. I went to school on an art scholarship, actually, and had planned to study illustration. But then I went to live in Europe for a few years, and I knew I wanted to be a writer. I got home the summer of 2011 and I switched my major to English. I wrote four novels–and the fourth was Speak Easy, Speak Love–and otherwise my story was kind of typical, if a bit long. It took 9 months of actively trying to find an agent, we signed in 2014, then we revised my book, and about eleven months on submission to find my editor (December 2015). It was more stressful as it was actually happening, ha–but now here we are!

MP: What was the inspiration for Speak Easy, Speak Love? What made Shakespeare and the 1920s the thing you had to write?

MG: I was inspired to do a Shakespeare retelling after seeing some amazingly clever and innovative adaptations at the RSC [Royal Shakespeare Company] and the Globe in England. When I sat down to think of ways I could tackle my favorite play, Much Ado About Nothing, I thought instantly of the 1920s. The play is feminist in subtle ways and it offers two different kinds of womanhood in Hero and Beatrice, and the 1920s is a uniquely feminist decade. Women had just gotten the vote and the emergence of the flapper in the time after the Great War had all the right soil to explore those themes.

MP: As a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing, you started with a framework for a story going into this novel. How did you decide which original elements to keep and how did you decide what you wanted to change?

MG: This is a YA adaptation, so I knew they wouldn’t all end up married. I also had to consider the time period I was working in–what would be historically accurate and what wouldn’t. But honestly I kept as much as I could. I love the play. My book even keeps all the character names and everything. But I also had questions for Shakespeare, like: why on earth would Hero take Claudio back after all that? And what is Don John’s deal, why is he causing so many problems? And I tried to answer them in my own way.

MP: What is one thing you would go back in time to experience in the 1600s? What’s one thing you would love to see or do in the 1920s? What kind of person do you think you would have been in those times?

MG: A Shakespeare play, obviously–in the original globe theater. That would be awesome. And I would attend Texas Guinan’s 300 Club speakeasy in Manhattan. If I’d lived in the 1920s, I think I would have been a conglomeration of Benedick and Beatrice. Ben got all my writing ambitions, but I’d have to deal with being a girl and poor the same way Beatrice does.

MP: Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Who do you think you most resemble (or wish you resembled)? Anyone you’re especially excited for readers to meet?

MG: I answered this a little in the last question–I’m probably half-and-half of Beatrice and Benedick–but I actually very much enjoyed writing Maggie and John. There’s a lot less to go on as far as character goes in Much Ado, so I got to make up a lot. And I love the world they occupy: jazz and mobsters. I’m especially fond of John, and I hope readers like him (though I get why they might not, ha).

MP: Working off the last question, what was it like taking characters written in the 1600s and translating them to the 1900s? How did you drill down to the key personalities of your core characters?

MG: Many, many drafts. Unfortunately this is just how I write. I need lots of words and pages to discover who they are. Of course, I had a few markers to work off: Beatrice had to be wicked smart and unafraid to say what she felt. Benedick had to be able to go toe-to-toe with her. Prince had to be someone others trusted and relied on. But a lot of that was superficial, and it was through writing them that I discovered their motivations and fears.

MP: What is your favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

MG: There are three kissing scenes, and I am very fond of all of them.

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

MG: I’m working on a spooky, magical realism book that’s a retelling of The Tempest–as well as a dieselpunk reimagining of the Arthurian legend. They’re both very slowly killing me.

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

MG: Don’t give up, first of all. Settle in for the long haul. But also be gentle with yourself. At some point, your writing is going to disappoint you, or your work ethic might disappoint you. Whatever. Forgive yourself for the gap between the kind of writer you want to be and the kind of writer you are and keep going.

Thanks again to McKelle for this great interview!

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

You can also check out my review of Speak Easy, Speak Love.