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Before we dive in with Elizabeth's gorgeously illustrated interview, let's get caught up with the others.

Rachel Hartman and Stephanie Kuehn on CHARM & STRANGE.

Corey Whaley and Carrie Mesrobian talk SEX AND VIOLENCE.

BellEpoque_MORRIS

Onto BELLE EPOQUE! I loved this delicious dip into late 19th C. Paris, and its absolutely irresistible tour guide. With sharp-eyed Maude Pinchon, a professional "beauty foil," you'll travel from steaming laundry to artist-filled coffee houses, to the most rarefied society ballrooms. Watching Maude find her way, navigating society at all levels, and discovering her true passions along the way, was simply delightful. A satisfying comeuppance and Maude's own transformation only add to the sophistication of this terrific debut novel. Well done, Elizabeth!

Eliza_headshot_crop

--First, give us the vital stats on BELLE EPOQUE. What was the inspiration for the novel? How long did it take to write? Was this truly your first book, or are there secret manuscripts lurking in desk drawers or dark closets?

BELLE EPOQUE was inspired by a short story by Emile Zola. The story is about an agency of ugly women who are rented out, essentially as props, to society ladies to make them appear more beautiful. Fascinating and horrifying, it seemed completely relevant to today’s world. It was a light-bulb moment for me, the idea of expanding this into a young adult novel. 

It took me about a year and half to write the first draft. And yes, BELLE EPOQUE was definitely my first novel. (See my publication story below!)


--Everyone loves to hear great stories about The Call! Would you share yours? How did you hear about your Morris Award nomination? Were you familiar with the award? How familiar were you with your fellow finalists’ work?

I had missed a call from New York. I was a bit groggy and sleep-deprived that morning (I have a young baby). There was a message from my editor, Krista Marino telling me I was a Morris finalist. I was completely astonished and delighted. I also remember feeling happy for my main character, Maude. As a wallflower, she doesn’t seek the limelight, naturally. So this was a nice moment for both of us!

As for the other finalists, I’m in a debut group with Cat, Steph and Evan. I had already read Blackbirds (wonderfully dark and eerie historical fiction). I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Bird’s Advice. Next up is Charm & Strange, which I’ve heard amazing things about. Hopefully I can read Sex and Violence on the flight to Philly. I’m really looking forward to meeting these other authors in person. It will be such a treat to be at ALA midwinter.


-- Can you describe your path to publication? What can readers expect next from you?

My path to publication was pretty much like winning the lottery. I met my editor at a writing conference where she bought BELLE EPOQUE after reading the first couple of chapters. All I had written at that point were those opening pages. It was both incredible and terrifying for me!

Currently I’m at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles. I’m extremely excited about this new book. Stay tuned…

--You have another interesting career as a feature film editor. I’m curious to know how (or if) that craft has influenced your novel writing process. Are you naturally efficient, or do you leave a lot on the cutting room floor?

The craft of film editing definitely taught me about story and structure. In the same way that writing is rewriting, with editing you also keep playing around with a scene until you are immersed in the story and the edits are invisible. Editing has also made me comfortable with killing my darlings. As an editor you slave away on whole scenes that eventually end up getting cut, but the pace of the film as a whole benefits. I think it’s the same with writing novels.

Working in film has also influenced how I research and how I write. For example I approached BELLE EPOQUE a bit like a film production. Pasted over my office walls were visuals for locations, sets and costumes. Also I listened to different film scores for each chapter. I find that music adds instant emotion to what I’m writing and submerges me in the world of my novel.

I had a brilliant experience making the book trailer for BELLE EPOQUE with my VFX/animator husband. I was able to find my dream actors (even though I felt a bit like Durandeau at the casting session!). During the filming it really felt as though Maude and Isabelle had walked off the page and come to life.

Girls_trailer
A still from the trailer for Belle Epoque

--Tell us a little about your experience being a first-time novelist. Has it been what you expected? Any wisdom or insights or surprises to share about the joys or challenges of life during and after the first book?

I didn’t realize how attached I would become to my characters, to the point where I didn’t want to let them go and finish the novel. Maybe part of this reluctance came from the fear of sharing the book with a wider audience. After selling BELLE EPOQUE so early on, the only way I was able to complete the novel was by pretending it was just for me.

Once a book is published I was surprised by how it has this life outside of you, the writer. Once it’s out in the world, it really is set free and delightful connections can be made with complete strangers. It’s quite a privilege in that way.

I suppose the only wisdom I can share about writing a book is to let go of the result. I know we’ve all heard this at writing conferences but it’s true – the writing is the only thing you can control.


--And finally: How much do you love librarians?

I’m extremely grateful to librarians – they have really smiled on Belle Epoque. And beyond my book, the work they do is invaluable. They can unlock the passion for reading. How magical is that! I hope to mingle with many of them at ALA midwinter.

Thank you Elizabeth! This was fun.


Before we dive in with Elizabeth's gorgeously illustrated interview, let's get caught up with the others.

Rachel Hartman and Stephanie Kuehn on CHARM & STRANGE.

Corey Whaley and Carrie Mesrobian talk SEX AND VIOLENCE.



Inline image 2

Onto BELLE EPOQUE! I loved this delicious dip into late 19th C. Paris, and its absolutely irresistible tour guide. With sharp-eyed Maude Pinchon, a professional "beauty foil," you'll travel from steaming laundry to artist-filled coffee houses, to the most rarefied society ballrooms. Watching Maude find her way, navigating society at all levels, and discovering her true passions along the way, was simply delightful. A satisfying comeuppance and Maude's own transformation only add to the sophistication of this terrific debut novel. Well done, Elizabeth!

Inline image 1

--First, give us the vital stats on BELLE EPOQUE. What was the inspiration for the novel? How long did it take to write? Was this truly your first book, or are there secret manuscripts lurking in desk drawers or dark closets?

BELLE EPOQUE was inspired by a short story by Emile Zola. The story is about an agency of ugly women who are rented out, essentially as props, to society ladies to make them appear more beautiful. Fascinating and horrifying, it seemed completely relevant to today’s world. It was a light-bulb moment for me, the idea of expanding this into a young adult novel. 

It took me about a year and half to write the first draft. And yes, BELLE EPOQUE was definitely my first novel. (See my publication story below!)


--Everyone loves to hear great stories about The Call! Would you share yours? How did you hear about your Morris Award nomination? Were you familiar with the award? How familiar were you with your fellow finalists’ work?

I had missed a call from New York. I was a bit groggy and sleep-deprived that morning (I have a young baby). There was a message from my editor, Krista Marino telling me I was a Morris finalist. I was completely astonished and delighted. I also remember feeling happy for my main character, Maude. As a wallflower, she doesn’t seek the limelight, naturally. So this was a nice moment for both of us!

As for the other finalists, I’m in a debut group with Cat, Steph and Evan. I had already read Blackbirds (wonderfully dark and eerie historical fiction). I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Bird’s Advice. Next up is Charm & Strange, which I’ve heard amazing things about. Hopefully I can read Sex and Violence on the flight to Philly. I’m really looking forward to meeting these other authors in person. It will be such a treat to be at ALA midwinter.

-- Can you describe your path to publication? What can readers expect next from you?

My path to publication was pretty much like winning the lottery. I met my editor at a writing conference where she bought BELLE EPOQUE after reading the first couple of chapters. All I had written at that point were those opening pages. It was both incredible and terrifying for me!

Currently I’m at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles. I’m extremely excited about this new book. Stay tuned…

--You have another interesting career as a feature film editor. I’m curious to know how (or if) that craft has influenced your novel writing process. Are you naturally efficient, or do you leave a lot on the cutting room floor?

The craft of film editing definitely taught me about story and structure. In the same way that writing is rewriting, with editing you also keep playing around with a scene until you are immersed in the story and the edits are invisible. Editing has also made me comfortable with killing my darlings. As an editor you slave away on whole scenes that eventually end up getting cut, but the pace of the film as a whole benefits. I think it’s the same with writing novels.

Working in film has also influenced how I research and how I write. For example I approached BELLE EPOQUE a bit like a film production. Pasted over my office walls were visuals for locations, sets and costumes. Also I listened to different film scores for each chapter. I find that music adds instant emotion to what I’m writing and submerges me in the world of my novel.

I had a brilliant experience making the book trailer for BELLE EPOQUE with my VFX/animator husband. I was able to find my dream actors (even though I felt a bit like Durandeau at the casting session!). During the filming it really felt as though Maude and Isabelle had walked off the page and come to life.

Inline image 3

--Tell us a little about your experience being a first-time novelist. Has it been what you expected? Any wisdom or insights or surprises to share about the joys or challenges of life during and after the first book?

I didn’t realize how attached I would become to my characters, to the point where I didn’t want to let them go and finish the novel. Maybe part of this reluctance came from the fear of sharing the book with a wider audience. After selling BELLE EPOQUE so early on, the only way I was able to complete the novel was by pretending it was just for me.

Once a book is published I was surprised by how it has this life outside of you, the writer. Once it’s out in the world, it really is set free and delightful connections can be made with complete strangers. It’s quite a privilege in that way.

I suppose the only wisdom I can share about writing a book is to let go of the result. I know we’ve all heard this at writing conferences but it’s true – the writing is the only thing you can control.


--And finally: How much do you love librarians?

I’m extremely grateful to librarians – they have really smiled on Belle Epoque. And beyond my book, the work they do is invaluable. They can unlock the passion for reading. How magical is that! I hope to mingle with many of them at ALA midwinter.

Thank you Elizabeth! This was fun.


Morris fans, be sure to check out Blythe Woolston's interview with Evan Roskos, too!



I am so excited to kick off (is there a kickoff in the middle of a football game? Bad metaphor!) my part of our annual Morris Award interview series with Cat Winters, author of the spooky-cool In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a chilling and suprising ghost story set in World War I-slash-Influenza Pandemic era San Diego. Visit Cat at her website.

From YALSA: In the Shadow of Blackbirds written by Cat Winters, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

At the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, WWI, and the Spiritualism movement, outspoken Mary Shelley Black is adrift in a fear-ravaged San Diego. While her childhood friend Stephen challenges her heart, his antagonistic spirit-photographer brother, Julius, represents everything her scientific mind abhors. When the unthinkable happens, how will Mary Shelley endure the unbearable losses, not to mention the evolution of her supernatural abilities?

Everybody, welcome Cat Winters!

--First, give us the vital stats on IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS. What was the inspiration for the novel? How long did it take to write? Was this truly your first book, or are there secret manuscripts lurking in desk drawers or dark closets?

Various moments in my life served as inspiration for this novel:

At the age of 12, I watched a TV show about two girls in England who fooled the world into believing they had photographed fairies during the heartbreaking years of WWI.


When I was 22, I taught ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT to a high school English class and became fascinated by WWI propaganda posters and the struggles of everyday soldiers who gave their bodies and their minds to the war.

Later in my 20s, I read the 1997 SMITHSONIAN magazine article “The Man Who Believed in Fairies” by Tom Huntington and discovered the strange, sad history of Spiritualism, which led me to further investigate the WWI time period and stumble upon the 1918 Spanish influenza.

I started writing IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS when I was 38 years old, after spending close to fifteen years unsuccessfully trying to sell adult fiction manuscripts. My agent had tried with all her might to sell my latest attempt at publication—a contemporary suburban satire involving a vampire—and a few publishers told her they were only interested in paranormal tales if they were historical. That’s when I said, “You know, for a long time I’ve wanted to write a book involving Spiritualism in 1918 America.” The characters and the central plot for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS emerged as soon as we discussed the possibility of me making a switch to writing YA fiction. We sold the book to Amulet Books/Abrams one month after my 40th birthday—2 years after I started writing the novel, 17 years after I first started seriously writing for publication, and 28 years after I learned about that WWI fairy photograph hoax.

--Everyone loves to hear great stories about The Call! Would you share yours? How did you hear about your Morris Award nomination? Were you familiar with the award? How familiar were you with your fellow finalists’ work?

My publicist at Abrams sent me an email with the news just seconds before I needed to head out the door to pick up my son from his elementary school. My phone kept buzzing with congratulatory messages when I was out fetching him, and right as I sat down to write everyone back, my son announced that we had a backed-up toilet. Therefore, the very first thing I had to do after excitedly writing to my agent, my editor, and other Abrams staff was to grab a plunger! Definitely a humbling way to learn about a major award nomination.

I had certainly heard of the Morris Award and knew it was as prestigious as the Printz and the Newbery and entailed one of those gorgeous seals that draws me to book covers, but I admit, I’d never stopped to figure out which award went to which type of book. I’m unbelievably thrilled that IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS was selected for this debut YA honor because (1) turning to YA fiction saved me from an extremely long streak of disappointments as an author and (2) I belong to a 2013 kidlit debut author group called The Lucky 13s and already knew three of the four other finalists. I read (and adored!) Elizabeth Ross’s BELLE EPOQUE about six months before it was published, and now I’m working on reading the other finalists’ books.

-- Can you describe your path to publication and your writing process? Has anything changed for you since your first sale? What's coming next?

As I mentioned, my path to publication was a loooong one. I signed with my first literary agent way back in 1998, when I was trying to sell an adult historical fiction novel. We were told historical fiction was a dead genre, so I tried my hand at a contemporary novel, which my agent didn’t really like. We parted ways, and then I eventually signed with my current agent, Barbara Poelle, in 2007. I started working on IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS in the fall of 2009, and Barbara sent it out to publishers in 2011. That sale went relatively swiftly, which was a wonderful, jaw-dropping surprise for an author who’s received too many rejection letters to count (I seriously don’t remember how many “this just isn’t for us” messages I’ve received from publishers throughout the years).

It’s hard to pinpoint my writing process. Typically, an idea pops into my head, I mull it over for a while, conduct research, and then I sit down to write. First chapters usually come easily for me, and then the rest of the first draft is a longer process filled with ups and downs. Revisions are my favorite stage—that’s when I feel like I’m putting meat on the book’s bones. I have two kids, so I do the bulk of my writing when they’re at school or at nighttime.

Aside from the elation and relief of at long last becoming a published novelist, life didn’t change tremendously until the starred reviews for IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS started arriving and people began noticing the book. At that point, Amulet Books picked up my second historical YA novel, THE CURE FOR DREAMING, a 1900-set tale involving hypnotism and the women’s rights movement (coming Fall 2014).

Also in the works is the paperback edition of IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS (Amulet Books/Fall 2014), a short story in the YA horror anthology SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS (Dial/Fall 2015), and THE UNINVITED, an adult historical/paranormal novel (William Morrow, date TBA).

--You also write fiction for adults. Can you talk about the differences (if there are any!) in writing for the two different audiences? How do you decide what’s YA and what’s adult?

When I decided to write IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS for a teen audience, I was a little nervous about how far and dark I could go. During all those years of trying to get published in the adult fiction market, publishers were always telling me my work was a little too dark or too quirky or just too hard to market because it encompassed multiple genres. To my surprise and delight, everyone pushed me to go further and darker when I switched to YA, and I let all my inhibitions fly out the window.

Recently, an editor at William Morrow asked my agent if I’d be interested in writing an adult manuscript set in 1918. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I’d be allowed the same freedoms I’ve been given with YA fiction. I submitted an opening chapter involving a brutal murder and a genre-bending synopsis to see if I could get away with another Cat Winters-style historical novel, and the editor made an offer on the book less than two weeks later.

So, I don’t think at this point there’s a tremendous difference in writing YA versus adult fiction, aside from the age of the protagonists. I don’t sugarcoat anything for either audience.  

--Tell us a little about your experience being a first-time novelist. Has it been what you expected? Any wisdom or insights or surprises to share about the joys or challenges of life during and after the first book?

What surprised me the most was the fact that a book’s success doesn’t have to be measured within the first month of publication. I had heard that after three months, if a book isn’t selling spectacularly, it’s pulled off the shelves and forgotten. My book has never been a NEW YORK TIMES bestseller or anything along those lines, but there was a slow build that just seems to be getting stronger and stronger all the time. First of all, not all trade reviews arrive right when the book is published—some show up months afterward and help keep the momentum going. Foreign rights sales don’t always happen right away either, which I didn’t realize. Just in the past few weeks, eight months after the English-language release date, I sold rights to the Czech Republic and Hungary, my first non-English rights sales.

If you’re a first-time novelist with a new book deal, my advice would be don’t panic and remember to enjoy the ride. Everyone will tell you to spend as much time as possible on social media and to blow your entire advance on marketing, but I suggest putting your greatest amount of time and energy into writing the best books possible. Yes, you will need to participate in promotions for the book, but the writing and editing stages are where the bulk of your energies should lie.

Also, it’s perfectly normal to experience a postpartum depression-type of stage in the weeks following a book’s publication. We build up publication dates in our head and expect the world to change when they arrive. There will be celebrations and unbelievable joy, but there will also be a sensation of “Was that it???” Use that time to regroup and write your next project. Pour your angst and all those other confusing emotions into your manuscripts instead of comparing your experiences to those of other authors.



--And finally: How much do you love librarians?

Librarians are priceless jewels to me. Like most authors, libraries and bookstores have always been some of my favorite places in the world, but my love for librarians has grown even stronger since IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS came along. Librarians helped me with research for the book, and they’ve shown an unbelievable amount of love for the novel ever since I signed advance reading copies at last year’s ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. I didn’t realize how powerful librarians were in the world of YA literature, but their support has most definitely changed my entire life. I’m grateful for every single one of them.

Thank you!

All the best,

Cat

Morris Award Interview Season is upon us! For the next few weeks, as is our tradition here at Mirth & Matter, we the Previous Winners have the honor of introducing this year's Finalists to you. Here is our upcoming Morris Award Interview schedule (and links)! Don't forget to stop by and help welcome everyone to the family!

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets
Thurs, Jan 9: Blythe Woolston interviews Evan Roskos

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds
Mon, Jan 13: I'll interview Cat Winters, right here on Mirth & Matter

Sex & Violence
Thurs, Jan 16: John Corey Whaley interviews Carrie Mesrobian

Charm & Strange
Mon, Jan 20: Rachel Hartman interviews Stephanie Kuehn

Belle Epoque
Thurs, Jan 23: We'll be back here at M&M again with Elizabeth Ross

It's been another fantastic year for debut novelists, and we hope you'll all stop by and show our Finalists a little love. Happy Awards Season, everyone!

They're two days early! Historically, YALSA has announced the William C. Morris Award finalists on the first Friday in December, but this year they're getting a head start on the party. Congratulations to all of this year's nominees, and stay tuned for our traditional Morris Award celebration here on Mirth & Matter!

From YALSA:

YALSA selected five books as finalists for the 2014 William C. Morris Award, which honors a book written for young adults by a previously unpublished author. YALSA will name the 2014 award winner at the Youth Media Awards at 8 a.m. ET on January 27 during ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.

The 2014 finalists are:

Charm & StrangeCharm & Strange written by Stephanie Kuehn, published by St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, a division of Macmillan.

Drew, also known as “Win,” has been isolated in a New Hampshire boarding school since he was 12. Though he excels at both academics and athletics, he is concealing a horrific secret that has driven him to the brink of madness. With the help of his friends, can Win confront the beast within him before it’s too late?

Sex & Violence written by Carrie Mesrobian, published by Carolrhoda LAB, an imprint of Lerner Publishing Group. Sex & Violence

Evan Carter bounces from school to school—he has no friends and views girls as nothing more than a means to sexual release. When a brutal attack leaves him physically and mentally broken, Evan must evaluate what matters in his life and learn how to “accept responsibility, but not blame.”

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad PoetsDr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets written by Evan Roskos, published by Houghton Mifflin, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

James has a lot on his plate: strained relationships, a fractured family, and an all-consuming anxiety. He deals with depression by hugging trees, “yawp”-ing at the world like his idol Walt Whitman, and conversing with his imaginary therapist—a pigeon named Dr. Bird.

Belle Epoque written by Elizabeth Ross, published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Belle Epoque

When Maude Pichon moved to Paris, she never dreamed she would end up working for the Durandeau Agency as a “repoussoir”—a foil for society’s elite who believe a plain face alongside them makes them look more beautiful. A countess hires Maude as a companion for her daughter, Isabelle, but as the girls’ friendship grows, Maude finds herself torn between her integrity and her livelihood.

In the Shadow of BlackbirdsIn the Shadow of Blackbirds written by Cat Winters, published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS.

At the height of the Spanish flu pandemic, WWI, and the Spiritualism movement, outspoken Mary Shelley Black is adrift in a fear-ravaged San Diego. While her childhood friend Stephen challenges her heart, his antagonistic spirit-photographer brother, Julius, represents everything her scientific mind abhors. When the unthinkable happens, how will Mary Shelley endure the unbearable losses, not to mention the evolution of her supernatural abilities?

Excited about the finalists? Be sure to participate in our Morris/Nonfiction Reading Challenge, which begins next week!


Winners of the 2013 William C. Morris Award for a Young Adult Debut!



(Why yes, I did just run upstairs and slap a gold seal on my copy & take a photo of it. 'Cause I CAN. Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh...)

This is the first fantasy novel since A Curse Dark as Gold to win the Morris, and I'm a little bit excited about that.

And congratulations as well to this year's four amazing finalists, and their beautiful, beautiful silver medals:




And remember that you can read our interviews with Hannah Barnaby, Emily M. Danforth, Sophie Crockett, and Rachel Hartman by clicking here.

View the complete list of American Library Association Youth Media Award winners and honorees here.

Huzzah and cheers for all the honored books and authors!!

This week, in addition to all the Morris Award festivities, I had the opportunity to interview one of my alltime favorite authors, James P. Blaylock, for the sci-fi/pop culture blog borg.com... and I'm excited to share that interview with my readers here, as well. Enjoy!

Steampunk dirigible

Resident young adult novelist and borg.com contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce has been a fan of James Blaylock since stumbling across a copy of The Paper Grail in her college library. When borg.com was offered an early look at The Aylesford Skull,
the latest installment in Blaylock’s steampunk series about gentleman
explorer Langdon St. Ives–and an interview with the author–she literally
jumped at the chance. And there may also have been some fangirl
squealing. Welcome to borg.com, Jim!

ECB:
First, let’s talk a little about “steampunk.” How would you define
the term, and especially how your works fit into the genre? What do you
make of the current craze of non-literary steampunk
“lifestyle”–costumes, conventions, etc.?

JPB:
This is a complicated question, but I’ll give it a shot. I’m not crazy
about defining the term at all closely. Definitions are best left to
reviewers and critics; writers shouldn’t have anything to do with them.
Most Steampunk is Victorian, but if that were a requirement, then Tim
Powers’s early novels don’t qualify. The Anubis Gates,
which is pre-Victorian (George III, if I’m not mistaken) is obviously a
seminal Steampunk novel and one of the best ever written. His recent Hide Me Among the Graves
is Victorian, but there aren’t many Steampunk trappings in it, and he
certainly didn’t write it with the idea that he was producing Steampunk.
Definitions seem to me to be immaterial at best. With apologies to a
number of contemporary writers, I can’t quite say how The Aylesford Skull
fits into the genre, because I don’t read very much contemporary
science fiction and fantasy. I’m not anxious to know anything about
requisite genre contrivances. That being said, I’ve always been a fan
of dirigibles. I remember very clearly my mother and I walking several
blocks from our home in Lakewood, California, to look at a Goodyear
blimp when I was four or five years old. I grew up dreaming about that
blimp. It’s not surprising that my first Steampunk novel (written years
before K.W. Jeter coined the term) featured a dirigible. I put it in
there because the story wanted a dirigible and because I wanted a
dirigible. Along those same lines, my father kept a small keg on his
workbench at home that was full of all manner of small metallic and
wooden pieces of this and that, which he pitched into the keg instead of
into the trash. As a child I spent a heap of time sorting through it,
picking out clock gears and other likely looking oddments, sorting them,
and arranging and rearranging them on the bench top. There was no
purpose in it. I simply liked the look of a gear. Clockwork somethings
were bound to find their way into my stories. I find that it’s
impossible for me to write anything if I’m wondering what the audience
wants or expects, and so for the sake of my writing I can’t think in
terms of genre expectations. It’s also impossible for me to write
without loading up the story with the things that I want,
including dirigibles, gears, fog-shrouded streets, squids, leaf-like
fish and other magical things. I hope that makes sense.

AylesfordSkull cover

One last thing in that regard: reviewers often refer to my novel The Digging Leviathan
as Steampunk, or as having Steampunk “tropes” or a Steampunk attitude.
In fact it’s set in the Los Angeles of the late 1950s, or at least an
imagined Los Angeles. Reviewers seem to be saying the same thing about
my novel Zeuglodon, which is set in northern California in what seems to be the same out-of-time world in which The Digging Leviathan
is set. Readers with a fixed idea of Steampunk might be slightly
mystified, I think, if they were to read those two books after reading
such a review. Perhaps it’s enough to say that they have Steampunk
“sensibilities.” I like that very well, because it’s sufficiently
foggy, and it inflates the definition of Steampunk to the point at which
the term threatens to lose its shape entirely. As for the non-literary
Steampunk lifestyle, I love it. I marvel at the whole lot of it. I’m
far too introverted to wear costumes, although I wore an Edwardian
tuxedo on my wedding day (or so it was described by the rental company).
I’m a big fan of Steampunk jewelry. I buy into so-called Steampunk
philosophy. Also, I’m attracted to the idea that Steampunk aficionados
aren’t merely being theatrical, but that they’re in fact creating a
Steampunk world within our own world in which they can exist. I wonder
whether the Steampunk craze will reach some kind of critical mass, and
such a thing will come true: one day we’ll walk out the front door and
there’ll be a dirigible hovering overhead and someone wearing a beaver
hat tootling past on a steam-driven octopus velocipede. I’d open a
bottle of champagne.

Langdon St Ives 2

ECB:
After several novels set in modern-day California, you’ve recently
revisited Victorian England with a flurry of stories, novellas, and
books featuring Langdon St. Ives and crew. Were these tales always
brewing, or did you wake up one day and think, “I really miss Jack
Owlesby?”

JPB: They were always brewing,
actually. I intended to write more Victoriana, and I’ve never stopped
reading it. I had of course written The Digging Leviathan, a southern California book, before I wrote Homunculus, and then I went back to California for Land of Dreams and The Last Coin.
So I’ve been fairly thoroughly mired in California all along, which
isn’t surprising, since I grew up here and love the place despite
overpopulation and the rise of the hideous shopping mall culture. (I
drive past shopping malls with my eyes closed, other drivers swerving
out of the way, shouting at me.) Anyway, in the late 1980s I got caught
up in writing novels set in California, and didn’t surface for a long
time, literarily speaking. My brother-in-law, some time in the early
part of this century gave me a copy of James Norman Hall’s Doctor Dogbody’s Leg,
tall tales set during the Napoleonic wars. I found myself reading and
rereading the stories, and it occurred to me that I was hankering to
write more Victoriana. What resulted was a short novel titled “The Ebb Tide
(title stolen from Stevenson) that was published by Subterranean Press.
That was the first of what is turning out to be a sort of series, and
it led in time to other short novels – novelinis – including “The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs,” the recently completed “The Pagan Goddess,” and also to the much lengthier The Aylesford Skull. I’ve got another Steampunk novel in the works. Doctor Dogbody’s Leg turned out to be a sort of infection.

Langdon St Ives

ECB: The Aylesford Skull
is a great Dickensian tangle of mystery, romance, revenge drama, ghost
story, and rip-roaring adventure. How did the plot emerge from all its
various influences? The dark story at the heart of the novel–Dr.
Narbondo’s fiendish plot to use the skull of his murdered (by him)
brother as a sort of doorway to the afterlife, and beyond–depends
heavily on backstory. How much of this have you always known, and how
much was developed for Aylesford?

JPB: Virtually all of it was invented for The Aylesford Skull,
which meant a heap of research and the synthesis and paring away of the
impossible amount of stuff that came from the research. The one thing
that had been waiting in my mind was the idea of the lamps. I’ve long
been a fan of Japanese (or Chinese) magic mirrors, and I’d had a
strange, plotted, luminous dream about a magic mirror-type lamp that
cast mysterious, signifying images on the wall of an old house. I’m
probably not done with lamps. Also, for years I’ve been fascinated and
generally creeped out by Auden’s poem “As I Walked Out One Evening,” especially…

The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

I’m
probably not done with lanes to the land of the dead, either (which of
us are?) which I meddled with in a couple of short stories a few years
back: “Home Before Dark” and “Small Houses.” (Sorry for the sudden morbid fit. I’ll try to chat about unicorns in the next question.)

Sad unicorn

ECB: Somehow, I find the characters and situations in The Aylesford Skull less, for want of a better term, zany than what we see in books like The Paper Grail, The Last Coin, and All the Bells on Earth
(which, by the way, has permanently ruined “I Saw Three Ships” for me,
thank you very much.). How do they compare in your mind–are they all
part of one strange continuum, or is there just a certain level of
disbelief we’re better able to suspend when the setting is so obviously
not our everyday world? (And did I actually ask you a question?)

JPB:
There’s a question in there somewhere, which, alas, doesn’t call for a
discussion of unicorns. The books seem to me to be part of one strange
continuum, and in fact The Digging Leviathan, The Paper Grail, the St. Ives books, and Zeuglodon
seem to be literally connected. The more connections that develop, the
happier I am, although most readers, I think, wouldn’t necessarily see
the connections. As the plot of The Aylesford Skull
slowly came into focus, I became convinced that zaniness had to
abdicate. The problems that the principal characters faced were ruinous
in too many ways. Failure would lead to some variety of
emotional/spiritual death, from which there’d be no recovery. Zaniness
of any variety would simply have been wrong. “The Pagan Goddess,” my
most recent endeavor, is a different variety of thing. I’d be happy if
people found it amusing, despite the severed heads and the bloody piracy
and the dead cow.

Langdon St Ives 3

ECB:
Let’s talk a bit about your work with young writers. You’re currently
the director of the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Orange County
High School of the Arts. As a writer, what’s that like?

JPB:
I’ve been a teacher for almost exactly as long as I’ve been a
professional writer. I started teaching composition at a local
community college right about the time that I sold “Red Planet” to Unearth
magazine. So I’ve always worn two hats, so to speak. In 2001 I was
hired to put together the Creative Writing Conservatory for the Orange
County High School of the Arts (now more simply the Orange County School
of the Arts, or OCSA). I talked the boss into hiring Tim Powers as a
consultant, and the two of us created a curriculum. I hired teachers
and we opened with 40 students who spent three hours after school every
day reading and writing. Tim stayed on to teach poetry and novel
writing. I agreed to teach short story writing and to direct the
conservatory. We’re both still there after twelve years. Tim drives an
hour each way to work. We’ve got ten teachers in the conservatory, all
of them publishing writers as well as teachers, and 160 students from
four local counties who audition to get in. Last year the school
accepted just about 400 new students out of nearly 4,000 applicants.
Most of the students are considerably smarter than I am, although I
pretend otherwise. Not long ago a student asked me, “Which translation
of Proust do you prefer?” “The good one,” I replied, and then pretended
that my cell phone was vibrating and that I had to take the call. The
students tend to go off to Harvard and Berkeley and Stanford and other
high-flying universities. Many begin publishing while they’re students
at the high school. It’s really extraordinary. There’s a lot of debate
over whether people can be taught to write, with something to be said
for arguments on both sides. One thing I know, however, is that if we
can encourage the natural enthusiasm of young readers and writers,
they’ll continue to read and write, and the more they read and write,
the better writers they’ll become. That’s enough for me. The whole
thing has been an exceptionally cool experience.

ECB: Thanks for being with us at borg.com today, Jim!

JPB: Thanks!

***

This interview is part of the The Aylesford Skull Swashbuckling Blog Tour
celebrating the release of James P. Blaylock’s first full-length
steampunk novel in twenty years. For the opportunity to win a limited
edition of The Aylesford Skull in a jacketed, signed hardcover with a unique jacket design, just tweet “I would like a limited edition of the The Aylesford Skull @TitanBooks #Blaylock”.

Blaylock deluxe cover

Details about The Limited Edition (available Feb 2013):

750 signed and numbered editions: Jacketed,
cloth-bound hardcover with ribbon; Signed by James P. Blaylock;
Exclusive foreword by K.W. Jeter and introduction by Tim Powers.

26 signed and lettered editions: As above encased in a custom-made traycase.

Be the first to find out when The Aylesford Skull (Limited Edition) is available, by signing up to the Titan Books mailing list here.


Today I'm excited to host our fourth and final installment in this year's annual Morris Award interview series, with my conversation with Seraphina author Rachel Hartman! (Unfortunately, despite multiple efforts and the kind assistance of Morris Award committee chair Joy Kim, we were unable to reach Laura Buzo, author of Love and Other Perishable Items).


Seraphina written by Rachel Hartman, published by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

When the death of a royal prince threatens the fragile peace between humans and dragons in Goredd, court musician Seraphina is drawn into the murder investigation. But even as she aids Prince Lucian in his mission to uncover the murderer, Seraphina conceals a dangerous secret of her own—her half-human, half-dragon heritage.

Welcome, Rachel Hartman!

First, give us the vital stats on SERAPHINA. What was the inspiration for the novel? How long did it take to write? Was this truly your first book, or are there secret manuscripts lurking in desk drawers or dark closets?

I drew my inspiration for SERAPHINA from many different sources, but the first seed of an idea came to me when I was a young thing of thirty and my parents got divorced. In the course of processing that grief, a question kept popping into my head: what if you married someone with a terrible secret, but you didn’t learn what it was until they were dead? (Full disclosure: my mother is not a dragon) That was Seraphina’s parents’ dilemma, in a nutshell, and everything else grew from there.

I had a baby in the house and could only really write during naps. Then he stopped napping. I started getting up at stupid o’clock in the morning. It took me three and a half years to write the first draft. I rewrote it on spec for a prospective agent. I divided it in two and rewrote it again for my editor. That editor left the publisher; my agent helped me find a new publisher, and I rewrote the book again for a new editor. I did three complete rewrites, each with a different plot, so if you want to count unpublished versions, the current incarnation of SERAPHINA is my fourth novel by that name.

From the start of that first draft to publication took a bit over nine years. It came out the day after my fortieth birthday.



--As a reader, I was particularly fascinated by Seraphina's mental garden of grotesques. What a unique idea that spun so beautifully into the plot! Can you tell us a little about how that came about?

It was inspired in part by an ancient mnemonic device called a “memory palace”. In Greek and Roman antiquity, this was a strategy for memorizing long lists. What you’d do is first memorize the floor plan of a large building with many sequential rooms. Then, to remember the items on your list – a grocery list, say – you would walk through the palace and put one item in each room sequentially. It helps, supposedly, to create an arresting visual image to go with it, so if there’s milk on the list, maybe the room is drowning in milk, and if there’s bread, it’s so huge you can bounce on it. Once you’ve placed everything that was on your list, then you go to the store and walk through the palace again, in your imagination, and see all your items in sequence. Apparently this really does work, although I’ve never had the patience to try it myself.

What fascinates me particuarly about the memory palace is the idea that the mind could have a geography, specific places and landmarks that you can go visit. That is, in fact, very much how I experience my own mind, full of not just places but characters as well. Maybe Seraphina’s half-dragon mind is just a writer’s mind after all.


--Tell us a little about the experience of being a first-time novelist.  Has it been what you expected? Any wisdom or insights or surprises to share about the joys or challenges of life during and after the first book?

The biggest challenge, and it’s ongoing, is settling down and getting the second book done. I love that people love the first one, don’t get me wrong, but I also experience that as pressure, as something to live up to, and it’s hard for me to write under pressure. I’m not someone who thrives on it; I tend to want to hide in a hole.

I have been so deeply moved by people’s response to the first book, though. I think everyone who loves books has had the experience of feeling like a book was written just for us. An author who’s never met me seems somehow to have reached into my brain, understood me better than I understand myself, and turned my reality into art. What a profound joy to hear from readers who’ve had that kind of experience with SERAPHINA. I’ve read reviews, gotten e-mails, and even received hugs from readers saying, “You wrote this book just for me!” And they’re absolutely right. I did.

--And finally: How much do you love librarians?

Lots and lots! There has never been a time in my life when I did not have librarian friends. I used to draw comic books and travel to comic cons, and it was always amazing to me how many comic book artists and writers are either married to librarians or were once librarians themselves. I’ve played D&D and been in writing groups with librarians. The written word has no faster friend or stauncher ally, and I’m so pleased librarians have embraced SERAPHINA as they have.

***

Rachel, and all the nominees, thanks for stopping by! And special thanks to our co-hosts, Blythe Woolston and John Corey Whaley. The Morris Award, and all the other ALA Youth Media Awards, will be announced next Monday, January 28, by live telecast. Stay tuned, and best of luck to all the finalists!


Today we bring you Blythe Woolston's interview with Wonder Show author Hannah Barnaby!


Wonder Show written by Hannah Barnaby, published by Published by Houghton Mifflin, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers.

Stories come easily to motherless Portia, and a good thing, too. They sustain her when her father leaves her and when her aunt abandons her to the ghastly McGreavey Home for Wayward Girls. When she escapes, they win her a place with Mosco’s Traveling Wonder Show, where she hopes to find her father again somehow, where “freak,” “normal” and “family” mean something altogether different—and where Portia begins to take charge of her own story.

Click here for their conversation!


Today John Corey Whaley interviews Emily Danforth on her Morris Award-nominated debut, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. Corey is last year's winner for Where Things Come Back, and we're delighted to have him back!


The Miseducation of Cameron Post written by emily m. danforth, published by Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

On the same day that 12-year-old Cameron kisses her best friend, Irene,
her parents are killed in a car accident. Nearly crushed with guilt,
Cameron spends the next several years in self-imposed gay-movie therapy
with her VCR or drinking and smoking pot with her track- and swim-team
friends, gradually coming to terms with her sexuality. It’s not easy
being gay in rural 1990s Montana, and it’s harder still when your aunt
drags you to an evangelical church every weekend—where you meet the girl
of your dreams
.

Check out their conversation here!

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