Author Interview (#3): Gabrielle Zevin on In the Age of Love and Chocolate

Gabrielle ZevinGabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series has been one of the rare series that I followed closely as it published. It also has a very special place in my heart for many reasons including my love for the series, fondness for the author, and the fact that these books saw me through some really difficult moments in my own life. I truly can’t overstate how special these books are.

Gabrielle is here today to talk about the final book in the trilogy, In the Age of Love and Chocolate, as well as the conclusion of the series in general.

***Because this interview focuses on the final book in a series, it may have some spoilers for books 1 and 2***

Miss Print (MP): This series has undergone a few changes since we last spoke about Because It Is My Blood and All These Things I’ve Done. Can you tell us anything about the decision to shift Birthright from a four book series to a trilogy?

Gabrielle Zevin (GZ): This isn’t a pretty answer, but I’ll give you a candid one. The decision to shift from four books to three was in part determined by the fact that the series hasn’t been as popular as my publisher (and I!) hoped it would be. I made the decision to shift to three books pretty much as soon as the first book came out in September 2011. The readership is passionate, but small, and seems to mainly consist of strong, loner types, not unlike Anya Balanchine herself. However, the events that were going to happen in In the Age of Love and Chocolate are very similar to my conception of book three even when it was a four book series. And book four, when there was going to be one, was always going to push the series in a different direction. I could at some point decide to write a book four if the fortunes changed for the series. However, and perhaps I should have led with this, I feel like Anya’s story is emotionally resolved by the end of the third book. She has learned what she needed to learn. She has “come of age.” And the first three books of the series, when taken together, are a bildungsroman. (Also, the sentence formed by the three titles can safely have a period.) What I feel about the three books as they stand is that they form the complete Anya Balanchine story. They form a novel about her, but there are perhaps loose ends left in the world (and the other characters of the world) that I could explore at a later time. On a side note, I almost wish I’d written all three books at once and had just published a standalone 1,000-page novel called Anya Balanchine.

MP: Working off the last question: In condensing a projected four book story arc into three did you end up losing scenes? How did you go about making this transition?

GZ: On some level, I think I was wrong to ever think this WAS a four book series. This series is about a character, not a world or a high concept premise. (I’ve probably said this about a million times since the first book came out, but it’s true.) This is about a character growing up and becoming a woman. In a way, even if the books had been wildly popular, publishing the fourth book wouldn’t make any sense for the publisher, because it would be an adult novel. I mean, YA novels don’t tend to be about characters in their 20s and 30s and beyond. (Frankly, the third book, in terms of its themes and storyline, is probably an adult novel already!) I would love to see Anya as a mother, as a widow, as a grandmother like Nana even. So, no, I didn’t particularly lose scenes because I had to rethink the whole thing. The ideas I lost don’t particularly feel like losses because they wouldn’t make sense in the series as it exists. But yes, you might for instance notice, that Anya and Win are on the verge of making a trip to Russia at the end of ITAOLAC – that was definitely something that was going to happen.

I keep circling around your question a bit. And I’m still not sure that I’ve answered it. Something I want to say is that Anya’s journey is not unlike mine in writing the series. She starts off thinking her life will be one way – recall that she wants to be a Crime Scene Investigator in book one! But life happens, and she learns to make the best of the situation she finds herself in. Perhaps, this is adulthood: getting some things and living without others.

MP: Over the years these books have also had a few title changes. In the Age of Love and Chocolate was initially going to be called In the Days of Death and Chocolate. What prompted the title change?

GZ: By the time I went to write the third book of the series, the first book had already come out, and the reception, as I already mentioned, had been somewhat disappointing. When I started writing the third book, I was in a dark place and that came through in every decision I made for Anya. In the Days of Death and Chocolate was filled with darkness and poison. I made a lot of decisions in it that were transgressive (and perhaps even interesting), but didn’t necessarily honor the characters or the foundation I’d built in the previous two books. I suppose I almost wanted to punish Anya. The original third book was almost out of copy editing when I began to have a recurring sense of anxiety. I dreamt of Anya and began to fantasize that I was seeing her places. I wanted to avoid her because I felt she was angry with me. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I called my editor and I cried a little and I decided to write the book again. I threw out all but one section. The only prose that’s the same from In the Days of Death and Chocolate is a couple paragraphs of the Yuji Ono storyline. Once I began to write the book again, I realized that the major theme of the new version was what it means to love someone as a flawed adult versus as a “perfect” teenager. Thus, In The Days of Death and Chocolate became In the Age of Love and Chocolate. Series are typically written at such a fast pace that there’s no time to pull a move like that. I was fortunate that my publisher was supportive. On a side note, I feel certain that some of the things I did to Anya in the original book three would shock (and possibly appall) you!

MP: Given all of this upheaval, it seems like the book itself went through a lot of change itself. Is there anything you’re particularly happy to have fixed or otherwise changed in the final version of In the Age of Love and Chocolate? Is there anything you’re sorry readers won’t be able to see?

GZ: I mentioned that the previous version of the third book was rather transgressive. In rewriting the last book, I began to think that the most transgressive thing would be to write a “dystopia” (and I think we’ve already discussed my problems with that word) that was hopeful. So, no there isn’t much I miss. And in a way, writing that other version was enormously helpful. I learned things about the characters in going down that road, and some of those things definitely inflected and deepened the relationships of the final book. But to answer your question: Through a series of unusual circumstances, Nana appeared in the original third book, and I miss that a little. And there was a storyline with Mr. Delacroix that I had grown a bit attached to. But I don’t truly miss either of these elements, because I believe they both transformed into something better.

MP: I have never made a secret of my love for Yuji Ono or Mr. Delacroix or Anya herself in my reviews of  these books. As I read this final installment, I was especially struck by the evolving relationships and dynamics Anya has not just with the obvious suspects like Win or Natty but also with these not-always central characters like Yuji and Mr. Delacroix. Anya, in fact, grows a lot in terms of her relationships and interactions throughout the story. Was this a character change you always knew would be in store for Anya?

GZ: Thank you, and no you haven’t! Yuji Ono and Mr. Delacroix are some of my favorite characters to write, too.

I had always known Mr. Delacroix would be important. In my initial conception of the story, I wanted to play with the idea of what a “parent” is in a love story with teenagers. Parents so often come off as simple, mustache-twirling villains. I knew that he would go from Anya’s enemy to her friend by the end of the story. I thought it was a good lesson for a teen reader (or an adult reader) – the idea that enemies can become allies can become friends and that life is long.

And I loved writing Yuji Ono. I wanted to write a love story that was about something other than romantic love. And – I think we’ve spoken of this before – it was a goal of mine in the series to depict cultures outside of America. So often series seem to depict America, but don’t imagine the world outside of it. I want my readers, and particularly my young readers, to get a sense of how very large the world is. It was the same reason I sent Anya to Mexico (and to the Marquez family) in the second book.

One last thing I’ll say. I think there’s a great deal that can be learned from the people we consider to be antagonists in our lives.

MP: There is a lot of talk about this series being “dystopian” which isn’t quite accurate for a few reasons although the story does start in the future and, in some ways, it is not the best version of the future. Can you talk a bit about how you feel about the dystopian label here? Did it influence your choices in writing this final book in the series?

GZ: Yes, the dystopia label bothered me the entire time. I asked my publisher not to refer to it that way, and I think they tried to honor my request. But it was too late. 2011, the year ATTID came out, was the year of the dystopia! “Chocolate is illegal” was what got emphasized, because that was the simplest thing to sell and to talk about. But for me that was never the heart of the story. The reason the dystopia label bothered me was because it made readers expect a certain thing from the series, and the series didn’t end up being like that thing they were expecting. I think those who disliked the books often disliked it for that reason — a gap between what the cover suggested (recall that the hardcover of the first book had a jacket that mentioned the paper and water scarcities, chocolate and caffeine being illegal, and the year 2083). It is a Dickensian family saga. It’s, as I’ve said many times before, a book about characters, more than it ever was about the world.

However, my difficulties with the dystopia label didn’t particularly influence the third book. I had to disregard everything outside of the story and the characters. I particularly thought about the characters a lot, and that was what was really important in approaching the third book. Something that occurred to me: characters don’t ever know they are living in a dystopia. For them, it is just the world.

I did have some fun with the word “dystopia” in the book however. At one point, I think Anya tells Natty that she’s the only person she loves in this whole lousy dystopia, or something like that.

MP: This series has always made clever use of its futuristic setting (the series, for readers who aren’t aware yet, starts in 2083) by reinventing familiar places notably including the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. In the Age of Love and Chocolate once again brings Anya to some new and slightly familiar areas. How did you decide what to reinvent this time around? Throughout the series do you have a favorite location that Anya visits?

MP: Your question just made me remember something I cut! At one point in the original third book, Anya finds the head of the Statue of Liberty. Someone had stored and saved it.

I knew the most important locations in the third book would be the places where Anya opens nightclubs, and as I conceived of the book, I kind of kept thinking what landmark might I reinvent as a club? I like Leo’s club at Alacatraz and the Dark Room at the NYPL, of course. I’m also partial to the brief trip Anya and Theo take to Hershey, Pennsylvania. I liked Anya getting to experience chocolate from a different perspective. For the third book, I’d say my favorite location is not a retrofitting at all. I loved writing Anya’s trip to the farm in Niskayuna. It’s probably my favorite part of the whole series.

MP: Another fun thing about this series is that, because paper is scarce and books are rare, Anya references a lot of classic books. Dickens and Austen are two that are quick to spot in the text, however it seems that an entirely different book was your inspiration for this series. Can you tell us a bit about that and how you decided which books to reference in the story?

GZ: I’m not sure that this book had one primary reference, but I thought a lot about stories where the love takes a long time to work itself out. I’m thinking of Persuasion (probably my favorite Austen novel) and Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Anne of the Island (the third Anne Shirley book). A theme of all these books is what it really means to love someone over time and through many obstacles. I thought about what it was to love someone even when you are certain that things can never work out, when love is beyond hope. I thought about what it was to love someone when they were no longer physically perfect, too. To answer your question: most of the references you’ll find in the third book, I chose for thematic resonance more than anything else.

MP: Now that the Birthright series has ended, can you tell us anything about your next project?

GZ: I have a book out for adults right now called The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. It’s very different from the Anya Balanchine books, but in an odd way, I know I would never have written it if I hadn’t written Anya first. Anyway, the new book is about a curmudgeonly bookseller who finds a baby in a bookstore.

MP: I want to end on an up note saying that I really appreciated the determination with which Anya faced her challenges and also the hopefulness that can be found throughout In the Age of Love and Chocolate. I was proud of Anya’s changing outlook and I loved the continuing theme of moving forward–especially Mr. Delacroix’s pronouncement to Anya that “We are where we are.” Since that has become one of my favorite quotes it only seemed appropriate to ask if you had any quotes or thoughts you returned to when looking for encouragement or optimism.

GZ: Thank you. I like this question very much. Maybe I’ll refer you back to the epigraph of In the Age of Love and Chocolate, which is excerpted from the poem “Sweetness” by Stephen Dunn. Simply put, the poem is about how we get through tragedy, and it’s one of my favorites: “Often a sweetness comes/ as if on loan, stays just long enough/ to make sense of what it means to be alive,/ then returns to its dark/ source. As for me, I don’t care/ where it’s been, or what bitter road/ it’s traveled/ to come so far, to taste so good.”

Thank you again to Gabrielle for taking the time to answer all of my questions so eloquently here. (Thank you also to her for being so kind when my email ate the original answers and I had to ask her to resend them!)

For more information about Gabrielle and her writing you can also visit her website.

If you want to know more about In the Age of Love and Chocolate be sure to check out my review.

You can also see my reviews of All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood as well as reading my first and second interviews with Gabrielle.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows about hardships and sacrifice. She also knows, better than most, that sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

Now eighteen and working closely with one of her former enemies, Anya is on the verge of opening a nightclub specializing in medicinal cacao–the first attempt to circumvent the laws that have made chocolate illegal in the United States for years. With that victory so close, Anya is also forced to accept the things she has lost in her efforts to legitimize the family business–namely the boy she loved, Win Delacroix.

Just as Anya begins to taste professional success, her personal life begins to fall apart. In order to make her way through, Anya will have to seek out old friends and enemies as she makes her way in this dangerous world where  chocolate is illegal and family means everything in In the Age of Love and Chocolate (2013) by Gabrielle Zevin.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate is the final book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood. The book itself is also broken into two parts: The Age of Chocolate and The Age of Love which, as you might have guessed, illustrate the shifting focuses of the story as well as Anya’s shifting priorities.

It’s hard to talk about the conclusion of a series without giving away too much about the story (or about the books  that came before). What I can tell you is that while this ending wasn’t always the one I expected or wanted for Anya, it is the only conclusion that makes sense for her as a character. It is the only one that could be truly satisfying after moving through the series.

Anya remains the smart, steady heroine she always was in In the Age of Love and Chocolate but her growth here is even more apparent as Anya negotiates the murky waters of adulthood and the chocolate business. Anya stumbles, she makes mistakes, but she always learns and she always tries again. She is a refreshingly strong, self-sufficient heroine and one that I am sad to leave behind as this wonderful series comes to an end.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Check back tomorrow for my interview with the author!

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes a girl needs to lose.”

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle ZevinIn a different life, in a different story, she might have been named Nataliya or Natasha. She might have lived in Russia her whole life and never even thought of Brooklyn or yearbooks or cameras.

But in this life, in this story, her name is Naomi. She was adopted by a couple in Brooklyn and–although she won’t remember it for a while–she does think about yearbooks and cameras.

It starts with a coin toss. If Naomi had picked tails she never would have gone back for the camera. She wouldn’t have tripped on the stairs and hit her head. There would have been no ambulance and no amnesia. Naomi would remember her boyfriend and whatever it was they had in common. She’d remember the lives her parents have been living. She would remember her best friend Will and why he calls her Chief and keeps making her mix tapes.

But Naomi picked heads in Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2007) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Broken into parts titled “I Was,” “I Am,” and “I Will,” Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a nuanced, thoughtful story. With Naomi’s amnesia at the center of the plot, this book asks interesting questions on the ties that hold a family together and what happens when the context that makes two people friends (or more) is suddenly taken away.

Elements of music, photography, and book design theory all add an artistic feel to this story that will hold special appeal for creative readers. Zevin’s writing is as sharp and insightful as ever while Naomi finds herself all over again during the course of the novel. With a keen focus on Naomi’s relationships as well as her romances, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a delightful ode to friendships as well as an unexpected love story.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Author/Book inspired Haiku

I’m participating in a blog tour for Truth or Dare this month. One of the dares I had to complete on Twitter was a haiku for my favorite book.

This was a no brainer: Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright Series.

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle ZevinBecause It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Here’s the as yet untitled haiku:

A distant future

with flaws, grey areas and

chocolate danger

Zevin saw it online and gave it her stamp of approval. (We also had a nice chat because she is the absolute best.)

Anyway, I propose a challenge for you, dear readers:

What author or book would warrant a haiku tribute from you?

To go a step further: Why not write it up and share it in the comments?

12 for 2012

It was incredibly hard to pick just twelve books for this list. (Even limiting myself to just 2012 publications was difficult as I read so many wonderful books this year.) My original list included 19 titles–all of which I did really enjoy. But, there can be only twelve (until 2013 anyway!) so, without further ado here are . . .

My Twelve Most Favorite books from 2012 (in alphabetical order):

  1. The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken: In addition to being one of my favorite books from 2012, this was also one of my most anticipated. I’m so excited that it’s finally out so everyone can start talking about it with me!
  2. The Diviners by Libba Bray: 1920s mystery/thriller with supernatural elements and romance set in New York City? There was never a chance of this one being less than a favorite for me.
  3. The Selection by Kiera Cass: One of the most surprising books I read this year. I went into it expecting something silly and unsatisfying. I got a nuanced and unlikely blend of The Bachelor TV show and The Hunger Games. I still can’t pinpoint the details but everything about this one just makes me very happy when I think about it.
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: Another very anticipated title. Cath Crowley can do no wrong in my view. Filled with references to modern art, musings on love, multiple viewpoints, poetry and such beautiful writing. If I could bottle how I felt after finishing this book, I’d be rich.
  5. Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst: I love Sarah Beth Durst and was so happy to hear about this one. A fantasy with gods and goddesses, storytellers, tricksters, magic and a mysterious journey! And a book that manages to turn the original story upside down without ruining everything and a love rhombus? Trust me, it’s as fabulous as it sounds. (And bonus points for the diverse cast!)
  6. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: As a reader I grew up on high fantasies. With a complex world filled with subtle language and politics (and dragons) all its own, this one fits right in with the fantasies of my childhood. The writing is beautiful and the story is exciting but I think my favorite part was Seraphina’s journey throughout the story as she learned: “We were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.”
  7. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers: Regular readers will know of my love affair with Robin’s series for younger readers: Nathaniel Fludd: Beastologist. So when I heard she was writing a YA series I was all over it even when the series premise did not sound like my usual fare. (Assasin nuns? In Brittany? In 1485?) I was so wrong to worry. With wild machinations, a protagonist who questions authority and nods to familiar mythology by another name, this one had everything I want in a book.
  8. For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund: This book (along with #12) are probably the books of BEA 2012. Aside from being much anticipated, this one completely blew me away. A post-apocalyptic retelling of Persuasion with sci-fi elements is bound to be cool. I was so pleasantly surprised when I found it was also simply stunning.
  9. Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan: A gothic tale that flips gender roles, riffs on imaginary friends, and features a plucky girl reporter? And it’s by Sarah Rees Brennan? Enough said.
  10. The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski: I went into this one knowing nothing about the book itself or its author beyond the basics. Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I found a book about parallel universes, alternate history, and family all wrapped up in a wish by the author to write a novel similar to Pride and Prejudice with “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and art as continued motifs. Be still my heart.
  11. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: It’s not The Scorpio Races but very little is. In a lot of ways this is a quiet start to a series but I’m so in for the rest of the quartet and learning more about Blue and Gansey. So. In.
  12. Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin: There are few authors I love as much as Gabrielle Zevin (and not just because she recognizes me at signings sometimes!) and few series that excite me as much as her Birthright books. There is, in fact, so much I like about this series that it’s hard to distill my thoughts on this second installment for my list except to say I love the backdrop almost as much as I appreciate that the series features a romance without being about a romance.

You can also find my list on Pinterest if you want to see all of the lovely covers.

Honorable Mentions (the books that didn’t make my main list but have kept me thinking all year):

  • Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson: This might be the last book I finish in 2012. I put off reading it for a long time because I didn’t know what to expect and I think I was afraid it wouldn’t be what I wanted. But it was everything I wanted. Dimensional and beautiful and so much more than a retelling.
  • Frost by Marianna Baer: This one was a lot of fun and I’m still very sorry it didn’t go all the way in last year’s Cybils. Alas. While it doesn’t quite stand up to a really close reading it is a lot of fun with spooky twists around every corner.
  • The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: I hardly know where to start with this one. This book completely snuck up on me but with steampunk elements and a Victorian setting it’s not surprising that it became an instant favorite.
  • Fracture by Megan Miranda: Every time I think about giving away my copy I look at the writing and realize I can’t. I loved this one and because of it’s Les Mis references I’ve been thinking about it a lot with all of the Les Miserables movie trailers turning up on TV.
  • Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood: Such a fun read! I’m so excited for the sequel and love seeing Jessica on Twitter. Definitely a deceptive cover for a book with a lot of depth. And feminism! And alternate history!
  • Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg: Eulberg is always aces in my book. Taking this one off my main list was an agonizing decision which is why it needed an honorable mention. In terms of personal moments this was also a big one since I got to interview Elizabeth Eulberg, one of my favorite authors (and imaginary BFF *cough*) about this title–and hopefully it won’t be the last time!
  • The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This one was a fun fast read but it really got me thinking. I feel like with lists like this there is always a bias favoring books read later in the year because, well, it’s easier to remember recent reads. That said this is one of the most effervescent books I’ve read (not just in 2012). It also easily has one of my favorite covers of 2012.

Buzzworthy Titles (the ones everyone else is talking about):

  • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore: After having problems with the earlier books in the series, I’m still pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one (and Giddon–though that is probably much less surprising).
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: I still haven’t read it! I know, I know. But every time I try to pick it up I remember at least one character is probably doomed and I just cant do it. Soon.
  • Cinder by Marissa Meyer: Honestly I read this so long ago I forgot it was a 2012 title! I enjoyed it and I love the attention it’s getting but I’m honestly a bit surprised it had enough staying power to maintain this level of attention from its pub date to the end of the year. Then again, it’s a Cinderella retelling with cyborgs and aliens–why wouldn’t people still be talking about it?!

Author Interview (#2): Gabrielle Zevin on Because It Is My Blood

It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series. All These Things I’ve Done was one of my favorite books from 2011 and the second book in the series, Because It Is My Blood, was one of my most anticipated books for 2012 (and key to one of my favorite BEA 2012 moments).

I was lucky enough to interview Gabrielle Zevin about All These Things I’ve Done last year. After finishing Because It Is My Blood I saw there was still a lot to talk about where Anya and her story were concerned. Happily, Gabrielle is here to answer some of my questions about her latest novel Because It Is My Blood.

If you want more preliminary information about Gabrielle and the start of her Birthright series, you can also check out our earlier interview.

***Because this interview focuses on the second book in a series, it may have some minor spoilers for All These Things I’ve Done.***

Miss Print (MP): Because It Is My Blood is the second book in your Birthright series following All These Things I’ve Done. The last time we talked about All These Things I’ve Done this book’s working title was All The Kingdoms In The World. Can you tell us anything about why the title changed?

Gabrielle Zevin (GZ): While I liked ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD as a working title and on an intellectual level, I had always worried that it wasn’t expressive enough of Anya’s dilemma in the novel — that is to say, the extent to which she can’t escape her birthright no matter how far she tries to run from it.  But the main reason it changed is because I had a better concept for titling the whole series! I was talking to my editor about the title and I said to her, “Wouldn’t it be cool if all the titles of the series together formed a crazy run-on sentence synopsis of the book?” So you have half the sentence now: All these things I’ve done/because it is my blood… It’s spine poetry basically.

MP: Because It Is My Blood picks up soon after All These Things I’ve Done and continues some of the same plot threads as Anya continues to struggle with the disparity between who she is and who she would like to be. How did you keep this story unique while bringing up recurring themes from the first book in your Birthright series?

GZ: I had two major goals going into the second book. The first was that I wanted Anya to travel far from home. I wanted her to see a place other than America. I wanted her to get a sense of the life beyond New York City. I think it’s hard to find yourself when you are surrounded by the same people you’ve known your entire life. So, in a sense, everything — her hair, her boyfriend, her identity, and literally the clothes off her back — are stripped from her. The second was that I wanted Anya to have a Big Idea. This might seem like a small thing but I so often see female main characters in YA who never come up with anything. The girls are chosen; the girls have special skills (magic, beauty); the girls have friends that have big ideas. I wanted Anya to have an idea that came from her own unique set of experiences. I wanted Anya to use her brain creatively to try to improve her situation.

Another thing I think that makes the story feel different than the last one is that I wanted to write a protagonist who truly got older. Anya is seventeen in the second book. She quotes her father less. She is more questioning of her faith. By the third book, she is a full-fledged grown woman and her voice reflects that.

MP: Once again Anya makes her way through a New York City that is hauntingly familiar but also very different from the one we know today. Of the locations we’ve seen thus far in All These Things I’ve Done and this book, have you had a favorite to feature?

GZ: The Rose Reading Room at the NYPL’s main branch, of course! But it’s probably too much of a spoiler to say what happens to it. (I’m sure you can imagine how important this location is to book three.)

MP: Working off the last question, which location has been your favorite to reinvent in Anya’s New York?

GZ: Other than the NYPL and the Metropolitan Museum, I loved writing Liberty Children’s Reformatory, the former home of the Statue of Liberty. I had a lot of fun writing Anya’s… Um, let’s just say departure from Liberty.

MP: One of the interesting things about this series is the narrative structure. Although Anya narrates her own story, she does so at a remove with the benefit of hindsight and often retrospection in the form of parenthetical asides and comments directed to the reader. As a writer, how did you go about structuring Anya’s story? How did you decide when to share different details both of the story as it happened and as Anya reflects on her own story?

GZ: Anya Balanchine is not a reader and she does not come from a society that cares about reading. I had a sense that the only books she read were the ones her nana  or Imogen read, or the ones she had to read for school. Her idea of storytelling is a bit old-fashioned. In the third book, readers will find out where Anya is telling the story from and why she is telling it at all. As she gains in confidence as a writer however, Anya resorts to less formal trickery. By the third book, her writing will become more modern and more fluid. My idea had always been that the prose would mature with her.

In terms of structure? In a certain way, all narrators, not just Anya, tell their stories postmortem to the events of the story. In Birthright, the challenge has been to write a narrator who knows everything (who is definitely retrospective) but still has a voice that reflects her various ages throughout the story. This dilemma, along with the narrative asides and chapter titles, requires me to know everything about the story in advance. There is very little I’m discovering as I write in this story.

MP: While Anya does visit new places and meet new people in Because It Is My Blood, many familiar faces from book one also feature. With these returning characters we see many dramatic changes in circumstance and, in some cases, attitude and behavior. Can we expect as many surprises and upsets from the latter half of the series?

GZ: Yes. I think actually readers will be shocked about the story. A frustrating thing about writing a series is that people sometimes assume you are telling one type of story when you are really telling a different type of story. Book three will take us to even more foreign countries. (Japan and more!)  And we will see Anya in ways we have never seen her before. The only thing I would say is that this is ANYA’S STORY, not ANYA AND WIN’S STORY.

MP: Many of the characters in this series, including Anya herself, operate in grey areas with what Charles Delacroix calls a “flexible attitude toward the law.” As such it isn’t always easy to identify the heroes and villains of the story although it does make for some exciting characters. Which characters were the most fun to write this time around? Were any harder to write as Anya’s opinion of them changed?

GZ: Yes, you’re right to identify this. Anya is not an unreliable narrator, but she tells things and sees things from her point of view as we all do. I love writing villains because I don’t think of them as villains. No one ever thinks that they are truly a villain. Everyone has their reasons. I love writing Charles Delacroix. I love him more than his son. I love him because he is a good man who wants to do good things but he is operating in a system that is corrupt, which forces him to be corrupt. Anya will learn to appreciate his motivations even more as the series continues.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? What’s in store for Anya in book three?

GZ: Book three Anya is a grown up as I mentioned before. Hers is not a love story or at least not the love story that people probably think it is. Starting on page one, important people will die and the body count only grows from there.

Thanks again to Gabrielle for taking the time to answer all of my questions so eloquently here.

For more information about Gabrielle and her writing you can also visit her website.

If you want to know more about Because It Is My Blood be sure to check out my review.

Thanks to Esther Bochner at Macmillan Audio I also have a clip to share from the audiobook of Because It Is My Blood: You can listen to the clip on my website.

Because It Is My Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**As the second in a series, this book (and the review) may contain spoilers for All These Things I’ve Done. You have been warned.**

Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows firsthand that being the presumptive heir to an illegal chocolate empire comes with its fair share of complications. After a turbulent year filled with futile attempts to move beyond her criminal reputation and date a truly ill-advised boy–all while caring for her brother and sister–Anya is hoping that the start of autumn and her release from Liberty Children’s Facility will bring with it calmer times.

Unfortunately, nothing about Anya’s life after Liberty is calm. Her criminal record makes attending (not to mention finishing) high school nearly impossible.

Her little sister Natty has grown up during Anya’s time away. Scarlet, her best friend, seems closer than ever to her odious boyfriend Gable. And Win? The boy who made Anya want to give up almost everything her family stood for seems to have a new love.

Anya isn’t sure where she fits into this world where everything and everyone has moved on without her except that she hopes it has nothing to do with her extended family. Or chocolate.

Unfortunately, as ever, Anya’s wants are overlooked as she is drawn back into the Balanchine’s world of crime, chocolate and intrigue. Taken away from the city and the people that she loves, Anya will have to decide what price she is willing to pay for safety and who she truly wants to be in Because It Is My Blood (2012) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Because It Is My Blood is the second book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done.

As exciting as Because It Is My Blood can be, this novel’s strength is in its focus on Anya. She is still impetuous and often acts rashly. But she is also circumspect and calculating–as is fitting of a mafiya princess, even a reluctant one.

While Anya struggles with familiar questions about her family and her identity, Zevin keeps the story original with her surprising turns and Anya’s wry, eloquent narration. Readers will also notice Anya’s continued growth as she moves out from her dead father’s shadow (and advice) to begin making her own decisions.

Zevin also continues to delicately build Anya’s world in Because It Is My Blood with some tantalizing hints of what readers can expect in the latter half of this series. As our heroine moves beyond the island of Manhattan, Zevin develops the politics of 2083 that surround a country where chocolate is illegal and many other items are in short supply.

Because It Is My Blood proves that Anya still has more to learn and even more tricks up her sleeve making this book another absorbing installment in an already gripping series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Thanks to Esther Bochner at Macmillan Audio I also have a clip to share from the audiobook of Because It Is My Blood: You can listen to the clip on my website.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Gabrielle Zevin!

Also be sure to check out the cool trailer.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012