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.

Author Interview #2: Estelle Laure on But Then I Came Back

Estelle Laure’s debut novel blew me away last year. I’ve been waiting for the release of her followup novel But Then I Came Back ever since. But Then I Came Back is set shortly after This Raging Light but follows Eden, Lucille’s best friend. But Then I Came Back is a story about love and friendship, moving on, and letting go. It’s also what Estelle is here to talk with me about today.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for But Then I Came Back?

Estelle Laure (EL): While I was writing my second book one of my best friends my whole life committed suicide. I was trying to write a different book and it wouldn’t come together because I was preoccupied thinking about questions of life and death and making an argument for choosing to live even though life is so hard sometimes. I finally gave into the fact that this was the story that was really needing to be written by me just then, and that’s when it really took on life.

MP: But Then I Came Back is set in the same world as your debut novel but focuses on Eden’s recovery after she wakes up from her coma. Did you always know you would write a companion to your debut novel? How did writing about a place and characters you’ve encountered before influence your writing process?

EL: It takes me a long time to find out about characters and their backgrounds and motivations. I’m talking years. I’m always envious of people who can come up with them so quickly. Then, once I have them I get pretty invested and it’s hard for me to let them go. As This Raging Light was coming out, I got a lot of positive feedback about Eden. People wanted to know more about her. Having had the accident in This Raging Light it provided a natural place for a story to begin. It was really fun for me to explore the way we view other people and then when we’re really in their skin there’s a whole other thing going on, meaning even if life looks easy for them, they have their own challenges and insecurities to deal with. No one gets off easy. As far as writing process, I suppose it saved me some time having to discover characters, although there were so many new ones here I still had a lot to do!

MP: In your debut, This Raging Light, Lucille has some magical moments but they are all based in reality complete with natural explanations. Eden, by contrast, experiences something like an afterlife during her coma and begins seeing magical flowers everywhere after she wakes up. Not to mention her connection to Jaz–another comatose girl in the hospital. What was it like incorporating these fantastical elements into your otherwise contemporary/realistic novel?

EL: I LOVE magical realism for its freedom of expression. I would say there have been some things I couldn’t explain in my own life. Let’s say I think of reality as being on a spectrum, Life can be totally magical and connected and filled with signs if you’re open to it. I’m not insane I promise, and I have never hallucinated anything, but I found it quite natural to incorporate more magic into an otherwise realistic setting. I just considered it on the far side of reality, rather than the recognizable grit of Lucille’s life.

MP: After she wakes up, Eden starts a long road to recovery with physical therapy, talking to a therapist, and getting back into routine things like school or ballet. She also starts reading about near death experiences and some anecdotes about it are included in the book. What kind of research went into writing all of these things? What books did you read? Who did you talk to?

EL: I put out a general call on social media for anyone who had experienced an NDE. I was shocked at how many people responded. I had email exchanges, met for coffees, had a few phone calls, and got a lot of interesting answers. I got a little obsessed actually and read books and a bunch of articles, plus talked to a couple of doctors who had worked with coma patients. The book that I found most fascinating was Proof of Heaven. It’s a controversial one, but I liked it for putting some kind of structure to Jaz’s experience in the hospital. I didn’t want to be held responsible for making claims about the afterlife, but people consistently felt there was something, and I felt comfortable enough to put that out there.

MP: Eden is a tough talker and uses bravado to hide a lot of her vulnerability. She is also passionate about ballet and an avid reader who collects quotes. In our previous interview you said you’d like to think of yourself as similar to Eden. Do you have any of these things in common with her?

EL: I am NOT a ballet dancer (I wish you could see the blooper dancing reel in my head right now). I think I liked having a graceful character because that’s so not me. But I do read a ton and collect quotes. I like my wisdom distilled in ways I could never say it. And I think I used to use bravado that way until I talked to a therapist who told me being defended was weak, not strong, and that vulnerability and honesty were the strongest stance. I never forgot that and it changed my way of being. So maybe I was more Eden as a teenager than I am now.

MP: What was your favorite scene to write in this novel? Which seen or character are you most excited for readers to encounter?

EL: My favorite scene and the one that still gives me goosebumps every time I read it is when Eden jumps out of the plane. It’s so short, but it gets me every time. It’s when she is the most free and for me, who is deathly afraid of heights, even reading it gives me that falling, out-of-control feeling. I think I’m partial to Gigi as a character, actually. Though she isn’t in the book that much, she is based on my grandmother’s best friend, a woman from Martinique named George, who read cards and talked to ghosts. She completely fascinated me when I was little, and this is my way of letting some of her eccentric magic stay here on this earth even though she’s gone.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of the characters here?

EL: I think I’m done with Cherryville, actually. I feel complete there. I’m working on another magical book now and I’m afraid I can’t share much except that it’s still YA and is the book I’m writing for all the badass ladies in my life. I am totally letting loose in this one and it feels so good.

Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.

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

You can also check out my review of But Then I Came Back.

Author Interview #2: Roshani Chokshi on A Crown of Wishes

Remember last year when I read The Star-Touched Queen early to review it for School Library Journal? I loved it so much that I requested the privilege to review Chokshi’s follow up and companion to her debut novel, A Crown of Wishes. Rosh once again completely floored me with her vivid imagery, complex characters, and thrilling story. I am thrilled to have Roshani Chokshi here again today to talk about her fantastic new novel A Crown of Wishes.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for A Crown of Wishes?

Roshani Chokshi (RC): I always wanted to tell Gauri’s story ever since she walked onto the pages in The Star-Touched Queen. Both female characters have such different experiences in their childhood (reviled vs. revered) and this affects their sense of responsibility as they grow older. I wanted Gauri to push back on everything that seemed to come so easily to her. And I really wanted to address how our relationships with our childhood stories change over time :) Plus, any opportunity I can get to wax poetic about the Night Bazaar and talk about food in the Otherworld is always a YES.

MP: Like your debut, A Crown of Wishes is filled with memorable characters. Is there anyone you are especially excited for readers to meet? Did you always plan to write a companion novel about Maya’s sister Gauri?

RC: Thank you!!! Yes. I’m very excited for readers to meet Aasha. I loved writing her character so much because she’s got so much heart. I also really liked how her relationship with Gauri grew from one of convenience to actual friendship.

MP: In this novel you write from multiple viewpoints as Gauri and Vikram compete in the Tournament of Wishes. What was it like writing a linear narrative with multiple points of view? Did shifting from one narrator to multiple narrators change your writing process compared to writing The Star-Touched Queen?

RC: Omg it was so harrowing…there were days when I would just walk away from my laptop in tears because I felt like their voices were *just* out of reach and I couldn’t grasp them. But once I sat down, and really thought about who they were and why they wanted certain things, the narration became a lot more easier and genuinely enjoyable. It changed my writing process too by making me a lot more aware of characters interacting with worldbuilding. I think it made me a better writer too because it required a level of character engagement that wasn’t as present in TSTQ.

MP: Time to gush about two of my favorite characters: While Gauri is often impetuous and fierce, Vikram is more measured and thoughtful. Like Maya these two are unapologetic about their ambitions and self-aware enough to acknowledge their potential. They both negotiate the various facets of their personalities and how they present themselves both in person and through story to make the most of being underestimated throughout the narrative. Did you always know that story would play a big part in this story? How did you go about making perception, particularly with Gauri, a key part of the plot?

RC: I always knew this would be a story about stories :) To me, it felt like the most fitting end for the TSTQ universe. Maya’s story is also about perception, and Gauri’s story is about the consequences of perception. But it was challenging not to make it too on the nose, and for my characters to be reflective without being too…plodding, I guess? One of the things that allowed me to bring perception to the forefront was building that foundation of Gauri’s love of stories in The Star-Touched Queen. I could pull on those examples to explain how what she sees in A CROWN OF WISHES is filtered through two experiences: past and present, whimsy and wariness.

MP: You once again feature elements from Hindu mythology in this novel including a lot of new characters. How did you decide which myths to reference for characters in this story? Did you have a favorite character to write in this novel? Which character would you say you most resemble? 

RC: Growing up, one of my favorite stories was about the vetala and Vikramaditya, which directly inspired the characters of Vikram and, surprise, the vetala! I also drew a lot on tales from the Ramayana, as opposed to tales of the Mahabharata which had more of a presence in TSTQ. For the myths in this duology, I chose based on a gut reaction to the story. They read so personal to me because they were the tales I heard most growing up and that lingered in my head long after I heard them. My favorite character to write in this story was the vetala! I think my readers can tell that I have a soft spot for monsters with strange senses of humor…

As for the character I most resemble. Inwardly, I am Kamala. Outwardly, I hope we share zero characteristics.

MP: In A Crown of Wishes you expand the world that you introduced in The Star-Touched Queen as your characters visit familiar locations like Bharata and the Night Bazaar and new locations like Bharata’s neighboring kingdom Ujijain and the Otherworld kingdom of Alaka. Did any real locations help you envision these places? Did you turn to any specific myths for inspiration?

RC: Real locations that inspired me were the Red Fort in Agra (India), the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul (Turkey), and the nightlife of St. Tropez in France (lol…). The Red Fort is a beautifullll palace that made me wonder who had walked through those halls. I loved the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul for its riotous colors and the beautiful fragrances that unfurled around every corner. And as for the slight chaos and sinister beautiful people, I had to include a touch of St. Tropez. During the witching hour when the club lights are strobing, and someone turns on a smoke machine, it’s not altogether clear who is human. And who isn’t…

Mythologically, Alaka is a real place. And I had a lot of fun researching tales about mischievous yakshas and yakshinis to get the story right!

MP: Did you have a favorite scene to write in A Crown of Wishes or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

RC: I think one of my favorite scenes is with the Serpent King and the seven brides. To me, that’s a true lesson in perception. Because it’s not so much about the images before you, but how they make someone feel. *dun dun dun*

MP: Can you share anything about your next project?

RC: I’m currently working on THE GILDED WOLVES! I really love anything that has to do with secret societies, occult objects and vague heist-y feels, so this story set during La Belle Epoque in France is basically ALL of my favorite things. Expect tons of romance and intrigue, over-the-top glamour (you know I can’t help myself…) and horrible secrets lurking beneath all that beauty…

Thanks again to Roshani for this great interview.

A Crown of Wishes releases next week but thanks to Alex at Macmillan Audio you can listen to a clip from the audiobook right now at this link: https://soundcloud.com/ macaudio-2/a-crown-of-wishes- by-roshani-chokshi-audiobook- excerpt

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

You can also check out my review of A Crown of Wishes.

Author Interview: Corey Ann Haydu on The Careful Undressing of Love

coreyannhayduCorey Ann Haydu is one of the smartest, most thoughtful authors I’ve had the pleasure to get to know through both her books and her online persona (by which I mean Twitter). Life By Committee remains one of the most personally important books I’ve read so I was, of course, pretty excited when I heard Corey had a new YA novel coming out. The Careful Undressing of Love is a haunting story about self-preservation, magic, and the dangerous bonds of friendship and love. I read this book in early January and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. I’m delighted to have Corey here today to answer some questions about her latest YA novel.

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

Corey Ann Haydu (CAH): I was always a big journaler and someone who loved writing, but for a long time it was my secondary passion. I was originally an actress and about five years out of college realized I was on the wrong path. I quit acting and took an internship with a literary agency that happened to represent children’s literature. It had never occurred to me to write YA and MG, but I fell in love while working that job. I eventually went to grad school for writing for children and was lucky to sell my first book, OCD LOVE STORY, at that time. It’s been an interesting journey since then, with a LOT of ups and downs, but I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to work with people who support me growing and taking on new challenges in my work. THE CAREFUL UNDRESSING OF LOVE is really representative of that– it is a project that pushed me and I learned from and I’m so pleased that even though publishing can be very rocky, I’ve been able to explore new, complicated ideas like this one.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Careful Undressing of Love?

CAH: When I was younger, a woman working at a bakery took one look at me and told me I’d be a “heartbreaker”. She sounded angry when she said it, and I really internalized the moment. I carried that feeling with me and I wondered what it would be like if a proclamation like that was taken very literally. As I got further into the idea, it became clear it was a place where I could really explore the roles girls play and the impossible expectations we put on them. I was also influenced by 9/11 and the experience of living in New York City during the terrible period of time. I wasn’t interested in writing about that experience in particular, but I felt I could draw on some of those memories and some of the feelings that time brought up for me.

MP: Unlike your previous YA novels, this one is not a straight contemporary. Instead, The Careful Undressing of Love includes elements of (possible) magic on the shortest street in Brooklyn and an eerie alternate history for New York City–both of which work to create a very distinct sense of place. Which came first during your drafting: the setting or the story?

CAH: They actually really happened in tandem. When I started working on this story I had just moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and after nine years in Manhattan that was a HUGE change for me. I was really inspired by that move, so it was natural for me to use that inspiration for this story. I can’t start writing anything at all without a setting, so the story didn’t come into focus until I decided where it would be set.

MP: A lot of Lorna’s development as a character centers on the growing rift between Lorna and her friends. There’s a question of belief as Lorna moves between doubt and fear about the curse. How did you go about integrating these threads into the novel while keeping the story focused on your plot and characters rather than any specific answers (for Lorna or for readers)?

CAH: I think this book was really written in layers. I wrote SO many drafts of it  over the years that I was able to uncover many different elements through all those drafts. I had to play with how much belief or lack of belief was in the story, and honestly different drafts had different choices. Lorna’s journey with belief was one of the hardest things to pin down, and I had to get to know her very intimately before figuring out what made sense for her as a character. With so much of this book, it was only through making mistakes that I learned what would actually work for the story I wanted to tell. Sometimes you have to enter the story from a lot of different angles before you find the right starting point.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love features the poem “Valentine” by Carol Ann Duffy at the beginning of the book (and the title also references a line in the poem of course). At what point did you connect this poem to your novel? How did the title come about?

CAH: I have to give credit to my amazing editor, Andrew Karre, for so much of this novel, and that includes the title. I had written Lorna’s father as a poetry-loving man and at one point Andrew asked me what poems he might have had in his collection. I loved the question and built a list that included “Valentine” as one of his favorite poems. As soon as we both read the poem a few times, we knew the title was in there. It’s got so many beautiful, unusual lines that really speak to what I wanted to explore.

MP: Were any of the locations you mention in The Careful Undressing of Love inspired by actual places? (I ask this after doing some online searches to confirm that Devonairre Street isn’t a real feature of Brooklyn because it felt so real!)

CAH: I’m so glad Devonairre felt real! It feels real to me at this point too. The neighborhood in general was inspired a little bit by South Slope. Bistro is based a little bit on a bistro I love in the East Village, Jules. the bakery is based a little on a coffee place I used to go every single morning for the most incredible chocolate croissants I’d ever eaten. It was called Parco. And Julia’s was loosely based on a coffee house turned bar in Cobble Hill that I wrote a lot of the book in.

MP: The Careful Undressing of Love 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?

CAH: I tend to write main characters who feel somewhat close to me, so I would say Lorna is the closest to me. But there’s a bit of me in every character. Delilah was probably my favorite to write because she goes on a huge journey and that’s always exciting to tackle. I love her playfulness with language and I think her experience of grief is unique. I also really loved writing Angelika, because you so rarely get to write an older character in YA. It took me a long time to get a handle on her, but when I did– after watching a documentary about someone who cultivated a real devotion and belief from his followers– it was thrilling.

MP: I can’t say too much because it’s near the end, but one of my absolute favorite scenes in your book includes the line “When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.” Do you have a favorite scene or a scene you are excited for readers to discover?

CAH: There’s a scene with a male teacher at school that I’m really proud of. In many of my books there are scenes where I let the main characters really experience the flawed humanity of the adults around them. I enjoy writing those scenes, because they feel real to me. I’m not interested in perfect characters or perfect authority figures or perfect love or anything perfect really. And I think the scene with the male teacher at school encompasses a lot of what the book is about– fear and grief and gender roles and sexuality and the unfairness of being a girl in the world.

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

CAH: My next book THE SOMEDAY SUITCASE comes out in June. It’s a MG project that I’m very excited about. It’s about a girl named Clover and her best friend Danny. When Danny gets a mysterious illness, Clover takes it on herself to figure out how to fix him. It’s also a book that straddles the line between realism and magic.

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

CAH: The best advice is always to keep going. There will be rejections. I never got a piece published in my high school literary magazine. I got rejected the first time I applied to my college’s creative writing workshop. I get rejected still, we all do! So you have to find the love and the joy in the midst of that, and not give up, Keep going, keep challenging yourself, and try to locate the joy as best you can.

Thanks again to Corey for this great interview!

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

You can also check out my review of The Careful Undressing of Love.

Author Interview #3: Tessa Gratton on The Apple Throne

Tessa Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard is one of my favorite series and one I wish more people could find. The series concluded in 2015 with The Apple Throne. Tessa is here today to talk about this final installment in the series.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Apple Throne?

Tessa Gratton (TG): The first draft of THE LOST SUN was from Astrid’s point of view. About a third of the way in I realized I was telling Soren’s story and that the part of Astrid’s I was most interested in begins at the very end of that book. So really, the inspiration for TAT was part of my original inspiration for the entire series: Astrid was the very first character I created to live in the United States of Asgard. I wanted to explore religion and politics in an America founded by Vikings and their gods, so I needed a character involved in both. That was Astrid, because she has faith in a religion that seems faithless, and is very invested in making her country stronger and better. As a prophet, she has the power to do that, just like her mother did. She was, in essence, born for both religion and politics in the US of Asgard.

When I got to actually developing the Apple Throne, my core inspiration was the question: how does a human girl exist when she’s been made into a goddess, but is still just herself, with her same desires and loves and fears?

MP: You chose to self-publish The Apple Throne when the series was cancelled by its original publisher. What has it been like handling the publishing side of things on your own?

TG: Terrible. LOL. I was not made, personality-wise, for self-publishing. I am a writer, and that’s all I’m interested in, not the important tasks of marketing and choosing design and hiring copy editors and figuring out formatting and all the ins and outs of Kindle/Createspace/iBooks, etc etc etc. I just want to tell my stories and argue on Twitter.

MP: As part of that shift to self-publishing, you also reissued the entire series with new covers. Can you talk a bit about the redesign? Do you have a favorite new cover or an element you were excited to add to any of the new covers?

TG: YES! The covers were the only fun part of self-publishing. I worked with Saundra Mitchell who is wonderful. She was tireless in her quest to find exactly what I was looking for—or in a few cases, exactly what I didn’t even know I needed!

I have never been a fan of the original hardcover design for The Lost Sun. My publisher and I went around and around and finally it was time to just settle or move the publication date. (There was a lot going on at the time, including the Penguin-Random House merger that led to a shake-up in all the people I was working with.) However, I talked with my agent and the agency’s digital marketing person, and we decided it would be best to not deviate TOO far from the original hardcovers, so that The Apple Throne matched them in essence, though we hoped to eventually redesign the whole series (which we did!).

My favorite is probably The Lost Sun, though I think The Apple Throne is the most beautiful. But I never got to see Soren on the cover, despite the face originally on the hardback. Saundra and I spent hours and hours looking for images of young men who could be Soren that I could afford to buy the rights to. So although he’s not perfect (the model is not of Samoan descent like Soren), he is so close in looks and haunted berserker attitude it gives me a feeling of triumph to look at that cover.

MP: I loved Astrid’s growth over the course of this novel. In The Lost Sun Astrid is a very confident character. She understands her place in the world as a prophet and she knows how to work within that role to accomplish what she needs and wants to accomplish. In The Apple Throne a lot of that is lost to Astrid as she is no longer a prophet but Idun of the Apples. How did you go about channeling that change in her character and giving voice to this new aspect of Astrid’s life?

TG: I think this kind of change is something many people deal with—I have myself. It’s that thing where you think you get what you wanted, and it turns out to change everything. The goal you’ve worked toward and the choices you make add up to something amazing, but so far beyond and different from what you expected it feels like the world is upside down. With Astrid, that’s very literal: she’s lost herself *literally* except in the memories of a very few people. Her name and purpose have been changed, and she chose that, but there are unforeseen consequences. I thought through the layers of emotional and physical ramifications as I worked, developing her trajectory alongside developing the metaphor and character arcs I wanted to play with. I wanted her to rediscover herself, and take the parts of herself she knew and the parts that were new to her and merge them. This was about Astrid staying true to herself and her choices, while at the same time meeting new challenges to continue making the world better—which was always her goal. So in a lot of ways it was a post-teen story, a story about becoming an adult.

Plus, like you said, Astrid has always been confident, so really all I had to do was take that confidence away and help her find it again. That’s what we frequently ask ourselves as writers: what is the worst thing I can take away from this character? And that becomes the challenge/conflict.

MP: Is there any scene that you are particularly excited for readers to discover in this novel?

TG: Oh, wow. Any of the scenes when Astrid’s world and Signy’s collide. They’re both so powerful, I loved having them together so I could watch and create sparks, and try to find ways for their power to complement each other and also challenge each other. Soren is great, a wonderful cinnamon roll, but really he’s a vehicle for exploring a lot of powerful women in this series.

MP: The Apple Throne strikes a great balance between new characters and familiar favorites from the other books in the series. Which character are you excited for readers to meet in this book? Favorite character from the series?

TG: Thank you! In this book I think I’m most interested in people meeting Sune Rask, and Amon along with him. I love writing their dialogue and exploring their very long, fraught relationship.

Glory is probably my favorite in the whole series. The Fenris Wolf, destined to devour the sun and end the world as teenaged girl? MY HEART. Her novella Glory’s Teeth was a dream to write. Falling into her world and voice and desires was like my desert after all the difficulties of writing Signy’s story. (I love Signy, but our relationship is even more fraught than Sune and Amon’s.)

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

TG: YES! I have two new books coming in 2018: THE QUEENS OF INNIS LEAR from Tor. It’s my adult fantasy debut, a retelling of King Lear full of sisters, betrayal, magic, murder, feminism, and love. The other is SLAUGHTER MOON, a standalone YA from McElderry, about toxic masculinity, a magical forest, sacrifice, and witches.

Thanks again to Tessa for another great interview and always being up to chat with me on the blog. You can also read my review of The Apple Throne here on the blog and visit Tessa Gratton’s website for more info about her and her books.

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!