bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Jo Knowles, author of the award winning YA novel, Living with Jackie Chan.

 

knowles-seeyouatharrysI’ve read that, in planning your novels, you’re immediately aware of your characters’ emotional story arcs and note which will be the strongest emotions in each scene. Fans and critics alike have said that your books, including See You at Harry’s, are incredibly moving. Why do you think you’re so attuned to your readership’s emotional responses and able to create such emotionally complex characters and situations? How emotionally involved do you become with your characters when you’re writing?

Oh, that’s a really hard question! I guess the stories I want to tell have always come from a very emotional place to begin with. Usually it’s a troubling feeling that first stirs the story up in my heart. I live with the idea for a long time. It’s like finding the piece to a huge jigsaw puzzle.  You have no idea what the rest of the picture looks like, but there’s something about the piece you have that calls to you to find the other pieces to discover the bigger picture and it becomes almost an obsession until you do. I become extremely attached to the people I’m writing about and feel a huge responsibility to help them find their way, so I guess in that sense I am very emotionally involved.

Your award-winning novel, Living with Jackie Chan, tells the story of Josh (who we first met in Jumping off Swings) a high-school senior who is coming to terms with the fact that he has fathered a child. Can you tell us about the process of writing this story and what challenges you faced dealing with this confronting subject?

After Jumping Off Swings was published, I began to hear from readers who would write to me and ask, “Is Josh going to be OK?” and I always struggled with how to answer because I really didn’t know. I think the question rooted itself in my heart and I began to think deeply about what might have happened to Josh. We leave him so lost and alone at the end of Swings; I suppose that wasn’t really fair of me. Slowly, I began to imagine a life for Josh beyond those pages. We leave him when he’s about to go off to live with his uncle. Who would his uncle be? I was trying to imagine that when one night I went to watch my husband and son test for a belt in Karate. I hadn’t met their instructor yet but when he came bounding in the room, full of life and encouragement (especially toward my son), I thought, HE’S THE ONE! This is the uncle Josh needs. As soon as I knew who Larry was, the story just flowed out of me. I really didn’t feel like there were challenges in confronting the subject. If anything, I was eager to explore it, as so often the boy’s point of view is lacking in literature about teen pregnancy.

Jo_KnowlesJo, I’ve read that you try to read a novel a week, and that you’d recommend this activity for aspiring writers. Do you keep a list of the books you’ve read? What have been some of your all-time favourites, and why? What are you reading right now, and what’s next on your to-read list?

I do try to keep this up though sometimes it’s very hard, especially when I’m teaching. I used to keep track of the books I read on GoodReads and LibraryThing, but I admit I’ve really fallen behind. I recently read a book that will be coming out in March called Lighting The World, by Merle Drown, which is a very raw and gritty exploration of a boy on the edge and also Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, which is a graphic novel memoir. Both are just really honest about the ugly spaces, and people I suppose, that occupy our lives. I really appreciated the bravery in that, but also the kindness and understanding given to even the less likable people. Everyone has a story and a reason for why they are the way they are, and I always appreciate when authors acknowledge that and give us a glimpse of those lives, too.

Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Oh gosh, I can’t choose. They all burn in different ways! I think my big goal in writing is to shine light on dark places. The dark truths that are part of all of our lives. If we could only admit that they are there, confront them, we’d come a long way to preventing them in the first place. I think the more we do this, the less alone so many readers will feel.

 

 

Jo Knowles is the author of Jumping Off Swings and its sequel, Living with Jackie Chan, as well as See You at Harry’s. She lives in Vermont with her family.



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Garth Nix about Clariel for the Escape Club.

 

Garth 2014Set approximately 600 years before the birth of Sabriel, Clariel is the highly anticipated prequel to the first book of your Old Kingdom trilogy. What’s it like writing a prequel, and what have been some of your favourites from literary history?

A prequel often gives you more freedom than a sequel, particularly if you set it far enough back that any difference in the world or setting can be explained by the passage of time. An interesting thing for me was having to go back and re-read my earlier novels and notes, and I discovered I had forgotten a great deal, but I had also set up things I needed without ever knowing that I would. The mystery of the writing subconscious . . .

As for favourite prequels, the only one I can immediately think of is The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis, which in a personal ordering of the Narnia novels would be near the top. Apart from that, few spring to mind!

Clariel explores both sorcery and magic. Can you tell us a bit about Clariel’s hidden powers? And have those themes always intrigued you?

The Old Kingdom books are in general heavily about Charter magic, ordered and structured magic cast by visualising and drawing upon symbols that define and describe the universe; and Free magic, a raw sorcery that is directed by will alone. In CLARIEL, I have gone more into the nature of Free Magic and Free Magic entities, exploring this aspect of the world in greater detail. I have always been interested in myth, legend, belief and superstition; all those things are basic building blocks for a fantasy writer to develop magic. I guess I have always been interested in the use, misuse, and cost of power in general, magic being a subset of this.

Nix_ClarielYou’re heading off on a long book tour of the U.S and U.K this month. What do you like most about book tours, and can you share some funny and/or interesting anecdotes from your past experiences?

The best parts are the events themselves, visiting bookshops, meeting the staff, meeting readers. Even after all this time I still find it kind of amazing that real people read my books! What’s not to like about talking about books (not necessarily my own) with other booklovers?

The worst parts are the travelling. I’d love to be able to open a door at the back of one bookshop and step out in front of the next bookshop halfway across the world. Like all authors who have been in the business a long time, I have done my share of mortifying book events, where there are few people, the books aren’t there or other things go wrong.

And then there are the travel complications, like arriving at midnight in a snowstorm to be told by the hotel clerk that “We have your reservations, which were and are confirmed, but we have no rooms.” I left the publicist to sort out that metaphysical conundrum and fell asleep in the lobby. Eventually, a half-painted room with the painter’s ladder still in there was found. By that stage I didn’t care!

You’ve answered this question before, but we wonder if it’s changed: Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

The character that is burning brightest right at this moment is Lady Godiva because I am finishing an overdue story for the anthology CRANKY LADIES OF HISTORY where she is the main character, and I have only left writing that to answer these questions and in a few minutes I will go back. Of course, she is not exactly the character from the well-known legend . . .



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Paul Weston as part of her HAZE book tour.

 

 

paula-weston1. The last time we spoke with you, you’d just released book 1 of The Rephaim, Shadows. Can you tell us a bit about the journey so far and what we can expect from book 2, Haze?

Of course – and thanks for having me again. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can tell you that Haze has a couple of fairly significant plot developments from a series perspective. It picks up a few days after the end of Shadows, and a few things happen early on that set Gaby on a collision course with the Outcasts.

This instalment is primarily driven by Gaby’s search for her brother, Jude, but it also focuses on her own soul-searching about who she used to be, and what that means for who she is now – and how that affects her relationships with everyone else.

She learns more about the Outcasts, and she and Rafa discover a new threat that changes everything for the Rephaim. There are more twists, more swordfights and more heated moments between Gaby and Rafa (romantic and antagonistic!). And you might have heard there’s a bit of a cliffhanger…

 

weston_haze2.   Paula, The Rephaim series includes a number of supernatural creatures, including (half) angels and demons! If you could be any of these creatures for a day, which would you choose and why?

Out of that choice, I’d have to say I’d choose to be one of the Rephaim (half angel). Mostly because of their ability to ‘shift’ (be anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye), which would make travelling so much easier and less expensive! They can also look after themselves in a fight. The downside is the whole ‘why do we exist’ dilemma, and the possibility that they have to fulfill some epic destiny to atone for the sins of their fathers.

 


3. You’ve told us how much you enjoyed creating Rafa’s character and how much fun he’s been to write. Well, we know what a huge hit he’s been with your female fans, in particular. Why do you think he’s so appealing, and did you base him on anyone from reality?

Ha – no, he’s not based on anyone in reality. I’d like to think Rafa appeals to readers because there are a few layers to him, and he shows different sides of himself with each book. I wanted to introduce him as a typical bad boy/smartass and then peel back the layers to show why he acts and reacts the way he does. Yes he can be a bit of a dick at times, but there are reasons why he responds to Gaby so erratically. He has a long and complicated history with her but because she doesn’t remember it, she treats him differently, which confuses the hell out of him. I like keeping him off balance. I also like the fact he’s a brutally efficient fighter, because it makes it interesting when he can’t solve a problem with his fists or a sword. Over the four books of the series, his growth curve is almost as big as Gaby’s.

 

4. Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why? (We’ve asked you this one before, and you said it was Rafa. Has that changed? If not, who’s next in line?)

Rafa is still fun to write (as are all the characters, actually), but now that I’m deeper into the series I can’t escape that Gaby definitely burns brightest for me. It’s not just that I’m viewing the world and the story through her eyes – it’s also because so many of her questions and reactions reflect my own.

Thanks for the great questions!



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Kate Gordon on the release of her new book.

 

 

 

SONY DSCClementine Darcy, the central character of your new book, Writing Clementine, is experiencing a range of problems that teens tend to face: winning the acceptance of peers, a tricky home life, needing someone to talk to in the midst of people who seem too busy to listen. Where did the inspiration for Clem come from initially, and what was being a teenager like for you?

Being a teenager was a world of extremes, as it is for most people, as it is for Clementine! I had beautiful friends – friends who are still my best mates today. We had sleepovers, watched trashy rom coms, ate Top Deck chocolate, danced to bad nineties pop and laughed until we cried. I’ll always look back on those times with extreme fondness. On the other hand, I suffered from shocking body image, had rotten health at times, went through some pretty bad bullying experiences and some nasty experiences with boys, like the ones Clementine experiences. I also never felt like I fit in anywhere. I always felt awkward and uncomfortable and shy and wrong. All. The. Time. All of this was my inspiration for Clem. She is more me than any other character in any of my books. So it’s a bit terrifying releasing her into the world and hoping people like her!

2. In the book, Clem’s philosophy teacher, Ms Hiller, sets the class an intriguing writing task that seems uninteresting at first, but which Clem really begins to embrace. Through Clem’s entries, she is able to explore her own identity; and, at the same time, your readers gain insight into her motivations and concerns. What are some of your favourite epistolary novels, and has writing always been in your blood?

Oh gosh, too many! I love The Perks of Being a Wallflower so much it hurts. I also love Jaclyn Moriarty’s novels in The Ashbury/Brookfield series. JD Salinger had some great epistolary stories too, which I loved growing up, and I’m an enormous fan of Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow’s Joel and Cat Set the Story Straight. And Bridget Jones. Always and forever Bridget Jones. Writing is as much a part of me as reading is. I’m ninety percent human, ten percent book, I think. And I’ve always thought of writing as penning letters to myself, so it’s interesting you put these two questions together!

gordon_writing clementine3. Kate, since we caught up, you’ve welcomed a little bundle of joy into the world, in the form of your lovely little daughter. (Congrats!) How has being a mum changed your writing activity, if at all, and which books and stories from your own childhood are you looking forward to sharing with your little girl?

I’ve always had to write around other commitments. I worked full-time writing my first novels and had to squeeze in bursts of creativity between hours behind the counter. It’s no different now, other than, while I could shut my mind off from work, I’m never not thinking about Tiger. It also means I take it all a bit less seriously, because she is my focus. That said, I am desperate to keep doing it because I want to show Tiges that you can do anything you dream of, if you work hard enough. I can’t wait to read Roald Dahl with her, and Tamora Pierce, and Thomas Hardy, when she’s older. There is not one book I don’t want to share with her.

4. Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

They’re all my favourites. I’ve heard writers say that their characters are their babies or their friends. Mine are all pieces of me – like the Horcruxes in Harry Potter! They’re all fragments of my soul. But I always love the most recent one the best. And Clementine does hold a special place in my heart, for her bravery, her fragility, her wisdom, and her humour. She is the best parts of me!

 



bec2012_TNBec Stafford interviews Tricia Sullivan about her upcoming young adult novel, Shadowboxer.

 

 

 

sullivan_ShadowboxerShadowboxer incorporates fantasy, martial arts, and crime. Could you tell us a bit about your inspiration for writing this novel and how you became interested in martial arts more generally?

I started with martial arts at 13 because I wanted to be allowed out of the house by my overprotective father!  Initially, I studied Okinawan Goju-ryu karate, but they kicked me out for insubordination! I then bounced around trying different things until many years later I met Steve Morris, who eventually became my partner. He had been experimenting with anything-goes fighting since he ran a big London club in the 1970s, and it was in his small private class that I got my ass handed to me and found out karate is a pretty useless training method for fighting. I threw away everything I knew and started over. Never looked back.

Because I was running Steve’s website for years, I got exposed to the MMA culture and I saw the obstacles women face in training and fighting—it’s a tough, tough sport and women have been discouraged from fighting. In the early years most of the women in MMA who got media attention were ring girls. In the martial arts, women are encouraged to do traditional forms or no-contact sparring, or we’re fobbed off with ‘self-defence’ which is usually really ill-conceived stuff. I got more and more interested in women not as students or disciples (or victims) but as fighters. That’s what switches me on.

I probably channelled a lot of my wishful thinking into Jade. When I started Shadowboxer, I was having babies and breastfeeding. I was full of oxytocin and doing all the nurturing stuff you do with small children, but some part of me wanted to write about an angry young woman who fought. Realistically. Not Buffy, not superpowers, not kung-fu gymnastics or mystical trickery—but real fighting. That’s where Jade comes from.

trish pic wallI’ve read that you’re passionate about the status of women in the SF world, Tricia. What are 3 pieces of advice you’d give an upcoming female SF writer?

1) Be you. Seriously. Don’t try to imitate or live up to anyone’s expectation of what your work is supposed to look like.

2.) Keep your writing and editing processes separate. Don’t judge when you’re writing. Write when you’re writing. Judge when you’re editing. When you’re writing, let it out freely.

3)  Do the work. Do it with passion and commitment. You might be tempted to over-listen to online talk about industry politics or marketing/sales; there are some fascinating conversations. New opportunities are beginning to appear for women. But if you want to take advantage, you have got to have the chops. So no matter what happens, good or bad, keep working. Because in the end, your work is all you have, both as an artefact and as a process. The more you work, the more capable you will become, and this brings an internal power that the world can’t give you and the world can’t take away.

As well as being an acclaimed SF writer, you write fantasy under the pseudonym Valery Leith and are mum to 3 children. What’s it like juggling your many roles, and have your work habits changed much over the years?

I wrote the fantasy novels before I had children, so time wasn’t a problem back then. Right now I’m on a degree program in physics, and I write in the spaces around that.

I think what happens is that you learn to adapt. I wrote my first novel in five months of weekends while working full-time teaching middle school in New York City. I thought that was hard, until I found myself writing in one-hour-a-day slots around a very difficult baby, and then two more babies, with sleep deprivation, and isolation, and lack of money. That went on for years.

I won’t lie: it was tough, and I know that my writing suffered because there was so little of me to go round. That said, I now know how hard I can work, and it’s harder than I thought possible! Writing is really a psychological game you play with yourself. It took me a long time to develop confidence and to understand how to get the best out of myself. After twenty years, I’m finally starting to feel like I might know what I’m doing.  A little.

Which of your fictional characters Burns Brightest in your mind and why?

Jade is my favourite character that I’ve ever  written. Inside she’s hurting, and she’s unsure, and she feels things acutely, but she keeps up this hard exterior because that’s the only way she knows how to survive. She has this wordless fire burning in her all the time, driving her on even when the situation she’s in seems impossible. I love that about her.

 

 



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