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.

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The Possible: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What if life was all about letting go?”

Kaylee doesn’t remember much from when she was really young. She knows her biological mother is in jail but the details of her arrest for killing Kaylee’s brother and the trial are memories from another life.

Kaylee is happy now with her adoptive parents and her perfectly normal life. She’s a rising star on the school softball team and she is working on a plan to attract the attentions of her longtime crush. Simple.

Until a woman shows up at Kaylee’s house wanting to interview her for a podcast investigating Crystal.The Possible podcast is going to spend a season looking into the telekinesis claims that made Crystal a media sensation as a teen, her trial after her son’s death, and what she’s like now in prison.

Kaylee is desperate to be special. To be noticed. Being involved in the podcast seems like the perfect chance to see if maybe, just maybe, she might have some of Crystal’s powers. As the podcast starts to air Kaylee gets exactly what she wants. But she does’t count on the bitter taste of notoriety or the secrets that begin to surface when she looks into her own past in The Possible (2017) by Tara Altebrando.

In her latest thriller Altebrando taps into the wide popularity of investigative podcasts as she and her characters ask a simple question: “What if?”

Kaylee is a totally reliable narrator but she’s also eager to be swept away and believe that some of the hype surrounding Crystal, and by extension herself, might be true. Kaylee is athletic, a little self-centered, and striving for that elusive better, more popular, and generally more appealing version of herself. In trying to embrace telekinetic powers and familial connections that may or may not exist Kaylee realizes that she has to let go of what she wants other people to see when they look at her and focus on being herself in whatever form that takes.

The Possible is a tense, fast-paced story focusing squarely on Kaylee and the podcast. Most of the novel is narrated by Kaylee with pieces of the story being told in newspaper articles, podcast excerpts, and interview transcripts. While Kaylee reaches some conclusions for herself by the end of the story, the narrative stops short of actual answers leaving readers to decide the truth for themselves in this gripping story. Perfect for fans of psychological thrillers, true crime, and anyone who’s ever asked themselves “what if . . . ” Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Be sure to check out my interview with Tara!

The Leaving: A Review

The Leaving by Tara AltebrandoEleven years ago six kindergartners were taken from their school and disappeared without a trace. There have been movies and conspiracy theories but nothing close to the truth; no kind of resolution for the parents and siblings left behind.

Until now.

When five of the missing children come back they’re sixteen years old and healthy. They have no memory of what happened or where they’ve been held. They barely remember the lives they’re returning to. None of them remember the sixth victim, Max.

Scarlett returns to a mother she hardly knows and a life that doesn’t quite fit while Lucas finds a family that has moved on without him and threatens to shatter with his return. Avery remembers both Scarlett and Lucas as well as she remembers the day Max never came home. Now, eleven years later, she waits again for a brother who doesn’t return.

Everyone wants to know what happened. Scarlett, Lucas, and the others are desperate to fill in the gaps in their memories while Avery is grasping for some trace of her still-missing brother. All five of the returned children begin to find strange clues that seem to be leading them somewhere. But only Lucas and Scarlett–with Avery’s prodding–are willing to follow the clues wherever they may lead in The Leaving (2016) by Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando juggles three narrators and numerous plot lines over the course of this novel. The story alternates first person narrated chapters between Scarlett (whose narration includes unconventional formatting and patterned text), Lucas (whose barely-there memories surface as blocky black text), and Avery (who has the most conventional narration). All three of the narrators are white but from a variety of economic backgrounds which adds another dimension to their connected stories.

There is something inherently cruel about this premise which Altebrando explores with frightening detail. The prose here is sparse leaving details to the imagination that make the experiences of the kidnapped children all the more horrifying to imagine. There are no easy answers here and no clean resolution–something that gives The Leaving a lasting impact.

The Leaving is, ostensibly, a thriller. The novel is packed with suspense and razor-sharp tension in short chapters that build to a chilling conclusion. At the same time, this story is also a thoughtful character study. Who are we without our memories? Who can we become? Is a blank slate of a childhood that different from the gradual forgetting that comes as we grow older? Are the monsters we fear any less frightening if we don’t remember them?

The Leaving is an ambitious work of suspense that is atmospheric, eerie, and incredibly successful. A must read.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, False Memory by Dan Krokos,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Synchronized Reading Roundup: Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

This month Nicole and I read Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Here’s a rundown of all the posts I wrote up for the Synchronized Reading:

You can also head over to Nicole’s blog to see her posts:

Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #2: Vacation Destination Memories

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Roomies is written with emails between Elizabeth and Lauren with Lauren in San Francisco and Elizabeth in a beach town in New Jersey. So for our second Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about a memorable vacation. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I have not taken a lot of vacations that involve actually going places. I have been to visit family in New Jersey a couple of times. I have been to Disney World (which was glorious and fabulous and I want to go back right now). I went to Boston twice but don’t remember much of the first trip and the biggest memories of the second trip are going to the supermarket with my aunt and being shocked at how enormous it was.

In college I went on one spring break trip with my honors college to Montreal (this was before you needed a passport to get into Canada) where we saw the Notre Dame cathedral (church-like with a gift shop), went to the Musee de Beaux Art (amazing on every level and I wish I could have stayed longer), and ate poutine (*shudders*). Other things happened but aside from being cold all the time those were the highlights. Oh and I bought earrings shaped like Maple leaves.

I could talk about any of those vacations.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the trip I took to Los Angeles in 2006.

In 2006 I was a Senior Staff Writer for my college newspaper. I did not yet have my own column for book reviews but I did have a few articles I was really proud of among my clippings or whatever you call them.

That year through a series of weird luck, I was invited to attend a college newspaper conference with the editorial staff and a couple of other writers and photographers. It was totally bananas to be asked to go and totally cheap (I only paid airfare).

Now, as you all might have guessed, I tend to stay close to home. So I wasn’t sure about this whole flying cross-country thing. It was a weird time in the middle of a semester (which led to my having to redo a midterm for the first and only time in my live) and I had lost a lot of weight so none of my clothes fit particularly well (one of my souvenirs from this trip was a belt–no lie). But then my Aunt Linda and my mom and I were talking about it. And Linda said this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was something I’d be talking about for the rest of my life. And you know what? She was right.

I’m not even going to talk about the flights because they were miserable. Frankly, LA is a terrible city for people who don’t drive. It’s not a place I’d ever want to live. I’m not even sure I’d visit it again. But the trip was a lot of fun. (I recently reconnected with one of my roomies from this trip on Facebook and it was kind of nice seeing her photos of the trip were still online and still knowing there was proof out there that I was on it with her and everyone else.)

Somewhere I have an essay I wrote in my college memoir class about the saga that getting the Getty became. I have photos of the artwork and even brochures about the Courbet exhibit we went to see. It took hours but it was worth it. I would even brave LA again to visit that museum. I still have a keychain from there that I never use because I don’t want to break it.

I have pictures of the Hollywood sign and the walk of fame (there is so much walk of fame to walk) as well as pressed pennies somewhere from Universal Studio’s studio walk which probably has a different name in real life. Either way our hotel was near there and this walk would blast Nickelback’s “Photograph” all the time which has made it a song synonymous with that trip (in addition to being a personal favorite).

I don’t have a lot of the souvenirs I bought on that trip anymore. No crazy rhinestone baseball cap or fuzzy dice. No college newspaper t-shirt (it wore out). I’m not even in touch with a lot of people I went on the trip with although at the time we were all pals and had great fun (I did, anyway. I hope everyone else did too.) whether it was just me and my two roomies getting lost on our way to the Getty or the whole staff discussing favorite punctuation marks at the farewell dinner. All I really have left are some silly touristy keychains from the trip, photos of varying quality from my non-smartphone and the disposable cameras I had at the time and lots of memories which, it turns out, is more than enough.

Roomies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara AltebrandoElizabeth is counting the days until her freshman year of college starts. She is more than ready to leave her small life in New Jersey behind and start fresh and new in California even if her friends don’t quite understand her need for distance. After years and years as an only child with a single mother, Elizabeth is thrilled at the prospect of meeting–or more accurately emailing–her new roommate Lauren.

San Francisco native Lauren is much less excited to be sharing yet another room after years and years of sharing a room and a too-small house with her too many siblings. She wanted a single and she is counting days for a very different reason as she tries to imagine life when she is no longer a daily fixture in her own family.

What starts as an innocuous email about whether to buy a microwave or a mini-fridge turns into a series of emails that might lead to friendship and a few other insights during a summer filled with possibility in Roomies (2013) by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando and Zarr wrote this novel together, emailing each other chapters without any discussion of an overarching plot. Altebrando wrote Elizabeth’s chapters while Zarr wrote Lauren’s.

I commuted through college and I’ve never had a roommate. This book was very low on my radar despite the high profile authors. I hate to admit but I wouldn’t have even read it except Nicole needed a wingman for a signing. Then it become our second Synchronized Read. And I kind of loved it.

Roomies is a very alien world me–a story of people with siblings and plans to move away and lots of other things I did not do as a high school senior looking toward college. That said, it’s still totally evocative with a perfect balance of fun and depth.

Lauren and Elizabeth are two very different girls with different priorities yet their friendship that evolves through a series of emails is organic and ultimately completely believable. Although much of the novel involves emails it is also worth noting that this is not an epistolary novel. Each girl narrates a chapter where they happen to write an email (and read an email at some point).

The plot here isn’t action-packed or overly shocking. Roomies is very much grounded in the themes you would expect: moving forward, end-of-something-nostalgia, family. Happily instead of moving into the territory of melodrama or superficiality, Roomies remains a very down to earth read and a story with heart.

What really sets Roomies apart is the writing. Altebrando and Zarr’s styles mesh perfectly to create a seamless narrative with two unique but complementary stories. Both Elizabeth and Lauren are refreshingly frank and honest with themselves as much as with each other. While Lauren and Elizabeth aren’t always certain they want to be friends (or even roommates), they are definitely two heroines that readers are sure to love.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Roomies Synchronized Reading Post #1: Last Summers and First Steps

Synchronized Readings are a semi-regular feature The Book Bandit and I will be running together every few months.

Our current Synchronized Reading is Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Meditations on change and the last summer of high school are big parts of Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando. So for our first Synchronized Reading post on the book, Nicole and I decided to talk about our own summers before college. Be sure to stop at her blog to see what she has to say as well.

I commuted to college. My high school was four blocks away and my university of choice was only a half hour on the subway (except that one time I had to WALK there during the transit strike to take an Art History final but whatever).

I had been working since I was 17 and I kept the same job through college and grad school. Later when I was underemployed in a place of employ that wasn’t even close to my area of expertise, I would question that choice as I would question many others. At the time all I knew was work study jobs did not pay as well and did not involve working fun YA books every shift.

I don’t remember much from that summer.

I can probably tell you I did things with my high school friends in addition to the expected undying declarations of friendship. But, like the declarations of friendship, the memories didn’t stick.

I definitely spent time with my mom because I always do that (she’s excellent company). There would have been street fairs and other summer-y things. Mom and I definitely watched Big Brother that year because I never, ever miss a season. I might even have some movie ticket stubs from that summer.

But none of those memories are ones that jump out.

I can go on goodreads and tell you what books I read (which seems to have included several formative titles like Emma, The Eyre Affair, Alice I Think and Sender Unknown). That year was the first year I read a lot of YA. Previously I had read a combination of childrens/middle grade titles (some of which were YA crossovers), mysteries, and classics.

That all changed when I started working with the YA librarian at my first place of employ. At the time I didn’t think of her that way, but she was a formative influence for me as well–not just a coworker or a librarian but that rare amalgam of those things and whatever else makes someone a lasting influence. I don’t know if the seed was planted right that summer but I can say with certainty that working with Karyn in the YA section (and Susan Pope–a children’s librarian who literally gave me a foot in the door) started me on the path to becoming a librarian myself.

I attended that year’s summer reading party to “help” (and have fun) and I still have a couple of giveaway books I took that day as well as some really solid memories of decorating a pencil case that would come with me to my first day of college classes. (A miserable day where I was trapped in the wrong wing of the university building for a solid thirty minutes, knew absolutely no one and had not yet fine-tuned the commute to that easy-to-manage half hour.)

What I also have from that summer reading party are the gifts Karyn gave me as she moved to a new position and I moved in a less drastic way to college.

She gave me this magnet:

It still hangs on a shelf near my desk and it is a sentiment that I have tried to listen to more and more as I get older.

Karyn also gave me a spiral notebook with a beautiful inscription from her wishing me great things. And I still have it because nothing has seemed quite special enough to use it. I have a hard time filling notebooks but that’s a whole other story.

(I already emailed Karyn a few weeks ago to thank her for giving me that start and to tell her how much it meant to me then and still means to me now. If you have someone in your life who filled a similar capacity, tell them. Gratitude should never be a secret.)

I guess what I really took from that summer even if I didn’t know it quite as specifically then comes back to Karyn’s gift: Be Yourself.

New beginnings are always scary. I’ve had some bad ones and some extremely scary ones. But I’ve always done what I know makes sense for me. I’ve always tried to be true to who I want to be. And now, with things coming together in various ways, I’m finally able to say that all of those beginnings and endings are starting to make sense.