Author Interview: McKelle George on Speak Easy, Speak Love

Speak 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.

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Author Interview: Jennifer Mathieu on Moxie

Jennifer Mathieu’s latest novel started receiving a lot of attention well before publication when it was optioned by Amy Poehler. Since then Moxie has only gotten bigger and rightfully so. Moxie follows Vivian, a girl growing up in small town Texas, who is sick of the sexism and harassment at her high school. Inspired by her mother’s Riot Grrrl zines, Viv decides to start one of her own to fight back and start her own feminist revolution. If you haven’t heard of this book yet, get ready for it later this month because this book is a winner and possibly my favorite book of the year. Today Jennifer is here on the blog to talk a little more about this fantastic novel.

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

Jennifer Mathieu (JM): Well, I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I wrote books and poems for fun. In 5th grade I won my first writing contest at my school with my book Mystery at Grandma’s.  In high school I edited my school paper and I majored in journalism in college because I thought being a reporter would be one way to be able to write for a living.  It turns out that reporting wasn’t for me, but being an English teacher definitely was. I made the career switch to teaching in my late 20s and I started to read the young adult novels my own students were reading. I thought I might be good at writing such stories myself. My first two young adult novels were good enough to get me an agent but they never sold. My third novel, The Truth About Alice, was my first book to sell, and it was published in 2014. I’ve been really fortunate to be with my publisher Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press since then, and Moxie is my fourth book.

MP: What was the inspiration for Moxie?

JM: I was hunting around for my next idea. I like to and have written about my interests and even my obsessions – small towns, cults, high school gossip, etc. – and I was contemplating other interests of mine that I hadn’t tackled yet. Feminism and Riot Grrrl came to mind. At first I thought about writing a Riot Grrrl novel actually set in the 90s, but I wanted to write a book set in contemporary life, and I wanted to revisit the Riot Grrrl movement through a modern lens. I was sitting on my couch in my den texting with my friend, book blogger Kate Sowa, and the basic plot for Moxie just came to me in a rush. I texted it to her and she was so excited I knew I had something!

MP: Vivian picks the name for her zine after the term “moxie” comes up in a conversation with her grandmother. Which begs the question: What does moxie mean to you?

JM: Moxie to me means guts, gumption, strength and spunk. The word bossy gets thrown around all the time for strong girls, but I’d love to replace it with the word moxie. Plus it has a retro appeal which I love!

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?

JM: Oh, it’s impossible to choose! I love all the girls. I think maybe I have a soft spot for Lucy Hernandez, the new girl in town. She is brave and also vulnerable. I was probably most like Vivian in high school, scared to make waves and really wanting to fit in, but with a sense in my gut that all was not well in my sexist high school. I’m just eager for readers to meet all of the characters.

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

JM: I can’t give too much away, but the big climactic scene at the end of the book was my favorite scene to write and actually the scene I wrote first! I can’t wait for readers to discover it, and I’ve had a few early readers tell me they teared up reading it. I love the Valentines Day scene between two characters at school and the surprise Vivian receives on Valentines Day. That scene was so fun and romantic to write.

MP: During Moxie Vivian initially plans a few signs of solidarity and a protest to fight the school’s unequal dress code in the zine. From there the movement gains a life of its own as other girls take the lead. Can you talk a bit about your vision for the Moxie movement in this novel and how you went about making it inclusive while staying focused on the core plot?

JM: To me, it was very important that the movement was leaderless so that all girls could claim the Moxie title for themselves. The Riot Grrrls tried to be leaderless in a lot of ways, but it was hard because the mainstream media wanted to name leaders and highlight certain women or bands. By making Moxie truly anonymous, anyone could take it on, and it also allowed for girls from different backgrounds, including different races, to take on Moxie as their own. I’m a white author and Riot Grrrl was a predominantly white movement, and I wanted Moxie to feel like it could belong to every girl. As for staying on the core plot, well, I know it’s corny, but I let the characters talk to me and tell me what they wanted to do. It really does happen! Somehow it all came together.

MP: Speaking of the zine and protests, what was your favorite Moxie moment to write in this book?

JM: I’m repeating myself, but definitely my favorite scene, the climactic scene at the end of the novel. As I mentioned, I wrote this scene first which is unusual for me. I typically write in a linear fashion. But this scene just wouldn’t get out of my head, so I wrote it first as I was pitching the book to my editor. I wrote it in a coffee shop down the street from my house and I felt like perhaps like this was something special! I hope I’m right!

MP: One of the things I love about Moxie is the sense of solidarity that the zine fosters both for the characters in the novel and for readers. Some of that support has been obvious in the book’s hashtag (#moxiegirlsfightback) after Kirkus published their review of this title. Can you talk a bit about what the pre-publication support/reception has been like for Moxie?

JM: I have been completely overwhelmed in the best way possible by how many early readers or just people who are excited for the book have had my back and have expressed support for Vivian and her friends. It all started to snowball when Amy Poehler’s production company optioned the book for film and the book wasn’t even out yet! That was mind-blowing. And the UK edition was picked up for the Zoella Book Club, so it’s actually already out in the UK, and I’ve been getting the kindest, most generous emails from readers there. And I’ve hired a former student to run the Moxie Tumblr (moxiegirlsfightback.com) and that’s been building steam, too. It’s just been this coming together of all these different people eager to support this feminist message. I’ve heard many women and girls say given the current administration and the last presidential election, the book feels especially timely. I’m so grateful for their support and hope I don’t let them down!

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

JM: Sure! I am working on my fifth book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. It’s in the very early stages and I don’t have a release date for it yet or a title. It’s based on a very eerie, very sad episode of This American Life that has been haunting me since my editor first told me to listen to it. It’s about a teenage brother and sister being raised by their abusive mother on an island off the Texas Gulf Coast. It’s set in the 80s and it’s about lies, love, taking risks, and saying goodbye.

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

JM: I always offer the same three pieces of advice – read widely and never apologize for what you read, write often and don’t expect it to be perfect – just write! – and put your phone away often and observe the world. Writers have to be good spies. Put your phones away and observe the rhythm of life that surrounds you. Overhear conversations. Dream up worlds inside your neighbors’ houses. Build your imagination muscle.

Thanks again to Jennifer for this great interview!

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

You can also check out my review of Moxie.

Author Interview #10: Sarah Beth Durst on The Reluctant Queen

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is one of my favorite authors. It’s hard to pick just one of her books to have as my absolute favorite but I have to say The Reluctant Queen might be it. This book is the second in Sarah’s award winning Queens of Renthnia series which starts with The Queen of Blood. Today Sarah is here for our tenth interview to talk a little more about The Reluctant Queen.

Miss Print (MP): When we last talked about The Queen of Blood you explained that the Queens of Renthia series originally started with The Reluctant Queen as the first book before you made a switch and started the series with Daleina’s path to the throne. What was it like going back to this story after shifting the beginning in that way? Did The Reluctant Queen have any big changes because of the shift?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): Starting with book two, then creating book one, and then returning to book two made for a surprisingly fantastic writing experience.  It was nothing I could have planned or predicted, but it turned out to be the best thing for me.

The entire time I was working on THE QUEEN OF BLOOD, I had the story for THE RELUCTANT QUEEN churning in the back of my mind.  So when it was time to write book two, I knew the world, the story, and the characters so well that it felt like coming home.

Well, “home” if home were a massive forest with cities high up in the trees and tons of bloodthirsty nature spirits eager to destroy humanity…

MP: As its title suggests, this story focuses on a woman who doesn’t want to be queen. Naelin is very powerful and, as one character describes her, “deeply committed to living a forgettable life” and never attracting the attention of the spirits. Naelin’s lack of ambition and focus on her family is often in stark contrast to Daleina’s own position as Queen and her deliberate choices to take up that role. If you were in Renthia, whose path would you be more likely to understand and follow yourself?

SBD: I love writing about brave heroes like Daleina — she’s not particularly powerful (in fact, she’s at best a mediocre student, lacking the innate talent and skill of her classmates), but she’s determined to protect her family and save her world anyway.

I do consider myself to be determined (being a writer requires a certain amount of pig-headed stubbornness), but I’m not very brave.  Daleina ziplines all around her forest and faces down vicious spirits.  I, on the other hand, can’t even handle a nice, placid bike ride without being terrified, and I’m afraid of skunks.

So I’d probably chose Naelin’s path.

Actually, I agree with many of Naelin’s life choices.  She has immense power but chooses not to use it out of a (very, very reasonable) fear that she’ll leave her children motherless.

MP: The Reluctant Queen shows readers several new parts of Aratay including a much more in-depth view of the palace in Mittriel. What was your favorite room or place to showcase in this book? Which are you most excited for readers to discover?

SBD: My favorite room is the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions, even though Daleina isn’t as fond of it as I am:

Carved into the top of the palace tree, the Chamber of the Queen’s Champions was known far and wide as a marvel. It was said to have been created by one hundred tree spirits, working together under the command of a long-ago queen, in a mere instant. It was enclosed by arches of curled wood—living wood with leaves that whispered together when the wind blew. Sunlight poured into the center of the chamber, illuminating the queen’s throne in a perfect star pattern. The champions’ chairs circled it, each chair alive, budded from the tree. Higher than the surrounding trees, the only way to reach the chamber without using spirits was to climb the stairs that spiraled up from the palace on the outside of the tree’s vast trunk.

 

It was indisputably impressive, but today Queen Daleina hated it. She also hated the nameless long-ago queen who’d thought it was a grand idea to construct so many stairs.

MP: Since Renthia is filled with spirits that want to kill humans, we have already seen a lot of them by the time this book starts. What struck me while reading about the spirits is how unique they are. What inspired your vision for the spirits in Renthia? How do you make sure they are all distinct?

SBD: I wish I could tell you I’ve developed some fancy, professional-sounding writerly technique for creating the spirits… but honestly, I just try to make them as awesome as I can.  My personal favorite is an air spirit that is essentially a giant ermine with bat wings.  It looks kind of like Falcor from The Neverending Story.  (That’s the spirit on the cover of THE RELUCTANT QUEEN.  The cover artist is the amazing Stephan Martiniere.)

MP: In this book readers meet new characters like Naelin and her children Erian and Llor while also learning more about some of the familiar characters from book one including Daleina’s sister Arin, Healer Hamon, and Champion Ven. This book features quite a few more perspective shifts as the story unfolds from several points of view. Did you always know that this series would feature multiple perspectives? How did you go about balancing that aspect of your storytelling in your outlines and drafts?

SBD: That’s one of my favorite things about writing epic fantasy.  I love deciding whose turn it is to tell the story.  It feels like conducting an orchestra.

Mostly, I chose the POV character based on who is most affected by the upcoming scene, but I also color-code my outline to make sure that all characters have the appropriate amount of screen-time and that everyone has enough time to complete their character arc.

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

SBD: Right now, I’m working on my next middle-grade novel.  It’s called THE STONE GIRL’S STORY, and it’s about a girl made of stone, forever twelve years old, who has outlasted the father who carved her and gave her life.  But now the magical marks that animate her are fading, and she must leave home and find help, if she wants her story to continue.  It will be out in spring 2018 from HMH/Clarion Books.  I’m so excited about it!

Thanks so much for interviewing me!

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

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

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

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

COMICS EXTRAVAGANZA: A Q&A with Scott Westerfeld

I’m excited to be part of First Second’s Comics Extravaganza Blog Tour!

All week you can follow the blog tour (click to see the full schedule) for interviews with authors talking about their own comics, what they love about the genre, and more.

Today I’m hosting a Q&A with Scott Westerfeld, author of Spill Zone. Scott Westerfeld is the author of the worldwide bestselling Uglies series and the Locus Award–winning Leviathan series, and is co-author of the Zeroes trilogy. His other novels include the New York Times bestseller AfterworldsThe Last Days,Peeps, So Yesterday, and the Midnighters trilogy.

Tell us your first memory of reading a comic or graphic novel.
Scott Westerfeld (ST): My first little-kid comics were Casper the Friendly Ghost. He’s the ultimate visual character, thanks to the weird physics of his incorporeal body. I don’t think you could do those gentle but highly disconcerting sight-gags in any other medium. (If you don’t know what I mean, google “Casper Ghost Physics.”)
What’s your favorite comic or graphic novel, and what do you love about it?
ST: I love all deconstructions of comics, so I was tempted to say The Boys or something gritty like that. But really, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the best self-aware meta-comic going right now. The writing and art are crisp and sharp, the perfect combination of sweet and knowing.
Tell us a little about your latest graphic novel. 
ST: Spill Zone is set three years after a strange event destroyed the hometown of 20-year-old Addison Merritt. Nobody knows what the Spill even was, but it took her parents and left her little sister silent. (Except for psychic conversations with a creepy doll.) Now Addison supports them both by sneaking into the Zone to take photographs, which sell as a mysterious, voyeuristic outsider art. And then one of her collectors offers her a million dollars to bring more than photographs out of the Zone. (My elevator pitch: Stranger Things with motorcycles.)
What comic or graphic novel are you reading now? 
ST: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui. An amazing immigrant family memoir, stretching from the bloody division of Viet Nam to blue-sky California in only a few decades. An amazing look at how history imprints itself across generations.
Remember, check out the other tour stops for more interviews. I’ll leave you with some more information about Spill Zone:
SPILL ZONE
by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

Three years ago an event destroyed the small city of Poughkeepsie, forever changing reality within its borders. Uncanny manifestations and lethal dangers now await anyone who enters the Spill Zone.

The Spill claimed Addison’s parents and scarred her little sister, Lexa, who hasn’t spoken since. Addison provides for her sister by photographing the Zone’s twisted attractions on illicit midnight rides. Art collectors pay top dollar for these bizarre images, but getting close enough for the perfect shot can mean death—or worse.

When an eccentric collector makes a million-dollar offer, Addison breaks her own hard-learned rules of survival and ventures farther than she has ever dared. Within the Spill Zone, Hell awaits—and it seems to be calling Addison’s name.

Author Interview: Tara Altebrando on The Possible

Tara Altebrando is the author of several young adult and middle grade books including thoughtful contemporaries like The Best Night Of Your (Pathetic) Life and gripping thrillers like The Leaving. Her latest novel, The Possible, explores the growing popularity of investigative podcasts and what may or may not be a case of genuine telekinesis. I’m happy to have Tara on the blog today for our interview.

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

Tara Altebrando (TA): I’ve been writing since I was young and actually started out writing for grown-ups. But about ten years ago YA exploded in new ways and I shifted to writing for teens and have never looked back. What’s fun about the books I’m writing now (The Leaving, The Possible…and two more to come) is that the YA psychological thriller zone is a new space for me. It feels like a mid-career rebirth.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Possible?

TA: I’ve always been fascinated with telekinesis and telekinesis stories. Matilda. Escape to Witch Mountain. Carrie. Even Bewitched! And when the podcast “Serial” started I became obsessed with it and thought it would be fun to write a YA novel that featured a podcast that everyone was listening to. Everything grew from there.

MP: The Possible podcast features heavily in this book and you include some scenes about production and even transcribed audio clips that Kaylee listens to during the novel. Are you a podcast fan yourself? Do you have any that you would recommend or any that you listened to while writing and researching The Possible?

TA: I am a fan of podcasts for sure, particularly ones with a true crime bent. I loved Serial and binge-listened to In the Dark and S-Town. I love My Favorite Murder in a big way. I also listened to a bunch of episodes of The Paranormal Podcast when writing The Possible. The interview with Uri Geller, who started the whole spoon bending party trend in the seventies, is especially fascinating.

MP: A lot of the tension of this story comes from Kaylee and the reader not being sure what’s true about Kaylee’s biological mother and what’s been fabricated. How did you work out the pacing of this story and decide when to reveal (or not reveal) key details to readers to maintain the tight narrative?

TA: There is a lot of trial and error with regard to reveals in drafts when writing these kinds of suspense stories. It’s a real hat trick to know how long you can withhold something from a reader or character before it strains believability or patience. I’m still learning.

MP: Kaylee has a lot of “what if” moments in this story as she considers whether or not she may have inherited Crystal’s telekinetic powers. Have you ever had similar “what if” moments? How did you decide which situations would be used to question Kaylee’s presence (or possible lack) of telekinetic powers?

TA: I haven’t had any moments in my life where I thought I had telekinetic powers, no. I think we all have moments where we think maybe we’re psychic, though. Like you think about someone for the first time in ages and they call you right then…that kind of thing. For Kaylee and the book I just wanted a handful of really creepy and ambiguous scenes that could really be interpreted two ways: either she clearly had a hand in what happened, or she didn’t. I like the idea of throwing it back on the reader, making them question what they believe.

MP: Given the choice, would you want telekinetic powers?

TA: I would! And I would be sure to use my powers for good and not evil. Like I’d put the laundry away with my mind and deliver healthy snacks to my children without having to lift a finger. In my fantasies, I see telekinetic me walking down the aisles of the grocery store, filling my cart with my mind; I see the vacuum running around the house while I’m taking a bath. I’m so glamorous, right?

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

TA: My next book is called The Opposite of Here. It’s a Hitchcock-inspired YA thriller set on a cruise ship. Basically, a girl on the cruise meets this amazing guy the first night and then he seems to disappear into thin air. Where could he have gone? 

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

TA: Just to read widely and write what excites you.

Thank you to Tara for taking the time to answer my questions!

You can find out more about Tara and her books at her website: www.taraaltebrando.com

You can also find my review of The Possible here on the blog.

Author Interview #2: Susan Juby on The Fashion Committee

susanjubyI have been a fan of Susan Juby’s books since I read her debut novel in 2004. After falling in love with Susan’s writing all over again in The Truth Commission, I was thrilled to hear The Fashion Committee would return to the world of Green Pastures. I’m happy to have Susan back for another interview about The Fashion Committee.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Fashion Committee? When did you know that you had more stories to tell about Green Pastures?

Susan Juby (SJ): There were three distinct inspirations for The Fashion Committee. One came from a story told to me by a woman who used to be a drug dealer. One night she was in a drug house and when she was looking for a bathroom she opened a door and found a preteen girl in a preternaturally tidy and nicely decorated bedroom. The girl was sitting at her desk, quietly doing her homework. The girl and her room were as orderly and calm as the rest of the house was disordered and dangerous. That image stuck with me and made me think about how some kids can transcend brutal home lives.

The second inspiration was my own history as a fashion college drop-out. I wanted to be a costume designer for film and TV, but lacked the discipline and single-minded focus that seemed to be required. (I lacked quite a few other things as well.) I was both alarmed and envious that some of the students didn’t think about anything except fashion.

The third inspiration was a This American Life story called Three Miles. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/550/three-miles It’s about kids in an underfunded public school who go on a tour of an expensive private school. When I was younger I struggled with class resentment, even though I lived in a place where most everybody was working class. It would have blown my mind and not in a good way if I’d been taken on a tour of a school catering to super wealthy kids. I still struggle with the systemic unfairness that limits the opportunities for low income kids in North America.  Before I finished The Truth Commission, which is set at the same school, I already knew I wanted to write about aspiring fashion designers.

MP: The Fashion Committee is written in dual narrative with entries from Charlie Dean and John Smith-Thomas in their respective fashion diaries over the course of the competition. Interestingly, despite their competing together and going to school together, Charlie and John have very little overlap within the pages of this book. How did you go about organizing their two stories to become the plot of one novel? How did you balance having two first person narrators with such distinct personalities and styles?

SJ: I wanted their different perspectives on the contest and the act of designing clothes to act almost as a conversation about fashion. What’s wonderful about it? What’s problematic? Is it a legitimate and serious art form? Their worlds wouldn’t intersect much because they are not likely to be friends but I imagined that their observations of each other would be quite revealing. The two of them helped me to sort out some of my feelings about fashion. Charlie allowed me to explore the costs and benefits of true artistic obsession and John’s experiences let me think about how good people sometimes betray people they love and how self-righteous anger can be a trap. John is a less extreme and less stylized (and stylish!) character than Charlie, so his voice took longer to develop.

MP: This book all comes down to perspective and perception. Charlie grapples with the choices she has to make to pursue her dreams and ambitions while navigating the turbulence inherent to her father’s addiction. John, meanwhile, has to let go a lot of his own biases and unpack his privilege as he tries to reconcile his own self-perception with a newfound desire to be more. One of my favorite quotes is from John as he begins to realize this and says, “It was beginning to occur to me that I was a little too in love with stereotypes and preconceptions.” Did you always know that Charlie and John would have these multifaceted personalities and secrets? How did you handle layering that into their narratives?

SJ: My understanding of Charlie and John deepened with each draft and I kept my mind open to multiple possibilities in each scene as they progressed through the application process and created their designs for the fashion show. They surprised me at every turn. It’s not a terribly efficient way to work, but I’m a believer in letting the characters lead the way.

MP: This book isn’t your first foray into fashion or art school in your writing or in your life. What was your favorite thing about your time in design school? Did you do any hands on research with fashion design or metalwork for this book?

SJ: It was thrilling to learn some new drafting or sewing technique. When I attended fashion design school I was having quite a few personal problems. It was my first time away from my small town and I was living in Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Unfortunately, I brought all my problems with me and developed some new ones. I ended up dropping out of school after six months. Not long after I left I learned that I’d won an award from the Costume Society of Ontario for one of my designs. I was gratified, but it felt bittersweet too. I could have been a contender!

For research, I read many books on fashion design, fashion theory, fashion history, and haute couture techniques. I visited the Manus x Machina fashion exhibit at The Met for inspiration. That was mind blowing. I also took a couple of metalworking classes and interviewed artists who work with metal. The research for this book was thoroughly enjoyable.

MP: Charlie and John each have to design a piece of clothing for the fashion competition. What would you have designed if you were in the competition? What are some things that would feature on your mood board?

SJ: I loved the period in 19th century fashion sometimes referred to as the Extravagant Period so I would likely have done something over the top. Huge crinolines, feathers. Completely impractical. My mood board would be full of photos of waterfalls, sheer cliffs and black birds resting on bare branches.

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

SJ: I’m working on a new comedic crime novel for adults (and young adults who like that sort of thing) and a deeply bizarre picture book.

Thanks again to Susan for this awesome interview.

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

You can also check out my review of The Fashion Committee.

Author Interview #9: Sarah Beth Durst on Journey Across the Hidden Islands

Sarah Beth Durst author photoSarah Beth Durst is here today to talk about her newest middle grade novel, Journey Across the Hidden Islands. This book is a rollicking adventures about twin princesses who have to set out to save their home from a dangerous threat. There are dragons, flying lions, sword fights and lots more.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for Journey Across the Hidden Islands?

Sarah Beth Durst (SBD): One day I said to my husband, “I want to write a book with a winged lion.”

He said, “Great! Um, anything else?”

“Winged lion,” I said.

“Don’t you need, I don’t know, a plot? Characters?”

“Winged lion.”

“Um, okay. Have fun.”

And that’s how this book was born. Everything else–the islands protected by a magical barrier, the monsters that hunt in the sea and sky, the sister princesses, the journey to the dragon–grew from that one solitary idea.

 MP: Your story starts with Ji-Lin who is training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard while her twin sister, Seika, stays at the palace learning everything she needs to know as the emperor’s heir. What was it like writing this story with two “main” characters? Which sister do you most resemble? If you had a choice would you rather train to be an imperial guard or an emperor?

SBD: The trick to writing two protagonists is that you need to fall in love with both of them. You can’t secretly favor one over the other. Both of them have to carry equal weight in your heart if they’re to shoulder equal halves of the story.

As for me personally… I love imagining I’m like Ji-Lin, fearlessly riding my flying lion to battle monsters. But in reality, I’m more like Seika, better at diffusing battles through words than winning them with swords.

Besides, I’d probably get airsick on a flying lion.

MP: What kind of research and thought process did you use to imagine the Hundred Islands of Himitsu? Were any of the places (and islands) in the story inspired by actual locations?

SBD: I drew my initial inspiration from feudal Japan and Renaissance Italy, specifically Venice. I emptied out those sections of the library, took copious notes, and then put it all away so that the Hundred Islands of Himitsu could grow into its own fantasy land from its birth in that real-world soil. As it developed, a lot of Italy fell by the wayside, though you can still spot traces of it (for example, the gondolas in the imperial city), and new imagined elements blossomed.

It was important to me both that my new world be primarily inspired by a place and time that wasn’t medieval Europe and also that it develop into a distinct fantasy land that isn’t a carbon copy of this world.

MP: In addition to her sister Li-Jin’s companion throughout the novel is Alejan–a winged lion. At what point in your drafting/writing process did Alejan and the other winged lions show up? If you had to choose would you rather hang out with a dragon or a winged lion?

SBD: The winged lions were there from the start. Everyone else joined the party later.

Before writing this book, I would have said I’d rather hang out with a dragon. But now… I want to meet a winged lion! They’ve got it all: the flying, the soft fur, and the personality.

MP: Which scene are you especially excited for readers to get to in Journey Across the Hidden Islands?

SBD: Whenever my husband reads one of my books, he insists on going into the other room, because otherwise I’ll just sit there and stare at him while he reads, watching his reactions. I am so, so, so excited for readers to journey with Ji-Lin and Seika! I can’t wait for them to meet Alejan and Kirro, to flee from the koji, and to see the islands… Okay, I guess that means my answer is “all the scenes.” Basically, I just want to sit and stare at everyone and watch them read. :)

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

SBD: Yes! My first picture book, ROAR AND SPARKLES GO TO SCHOOL, comes out from Running Press Kids in June. It’s about a little dragon named Roar who is worried about his first day of school, and it’s illustrated by the fantastic Ben Whitehouse.

And then THE RELUCTANT QUEEN, Book Two of the Queens of Renthia, comes out from Harper Voyager in July. It’s an epic fantasy for adults set in a world filled with bloodthirsty nature spirits. I am having the best time writing these books! I’m currently working on book three, which will complete this story arc.

If you’re interested, there’s a bunch more info on my website: www.sarahbethdurst.com

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 my previous interviews with Sarah and reviews of her books.