Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s books have received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal, been featured in the New York Times and Washington Post, been nominated and won multiple prestigious awards, and appeared on numerous Best Books lists.

Red Widow is her first spy novel, the logical marriage of her love of storytelling with her 30+ year career in intelligence. As an intelligence officer, Katsu worked at several federal agencies as a senior analyst where she advised policymakers and military commanders on issues of national security. The last third of her government career was spent in emerging technologies and technology forecasting. She was also a senior technology policy analyst for the RAND Corporation and continues as an independent consultant and technology futurist, advising clients in government and private industry.

Katsu also writes novels that combine historical fiction with supernatural and horror elements. The Hunger (2018), a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party, was named one of NPR’s 100 favorite horror stories, was on numerous Best Books of the Year lists, and continues to be honored as a new classic in horror. Her first book, The Taker (2011), was named one of the top ten debut novels of 2011 by Booklist. Katsu has relocated from the Washington, DC area to the mountains of West Virginia, where she lives with her musician husband Bruce and their two dogs, Nick and Ash.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

This book is a huge departure, going from fantasy and historical fiction to a spy thriller but also because this is the first one that is not “The [Noun]”. Old habits die hard: the working title had been The Widow but my publisher had put out Fiona Barton’s bestseller by the same title not too long previously. We then kicked around many titles, none of which seemed to fit. The publisher came up with Red Widow and immediately we knew it was the one. After you’ve read it, you’ll see that it applies in two ways. Plus, if it puts people in mind of Red Sparrow, I won’t complain.

What's in a name?

I usually put a lot of effort into character’s names, trying to come up with ones that give insight into the character’s personalities. For Red Widow, I went in the opposite direction. People who do clandestine work are not supposed to stand out. I wanted names that would blend in. Case officers are supposed to be forgettable, even, and while Lyndsey would use a false name during actual operations, I wanted to show that these extraordinary people who do extraordinary work often appear, on the surface, to be quite unassuming.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very! I did not intend to go into intelligence work when I was young. I wanted to be a writer. That was my intention. And I would not have been able to write this book without having spent a lot of time in the intelligence business.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are easy for me, endings hard. When I start, I usually have an idea where the ending needs to go but don’t know the specifics. Many times,
the last third of a book changes quite a bit after the first or second draft. The real work for me always seems to be in revision.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

In Red Widow, there’s a bit of me in both Lyndsey and Theresa Warner. There has to be: my view of the intelligence business, and particularly what it’s like for a woman, is drawn from my personal experience. You see a lot in thirty years; plus, as an analyst, assessing and drawing conclusions is my business. I’ve come to a lot of conclusions about what it means to spend a lifetime in the field, whether it’s a good bargain, and used it in writing this book.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

For previous books such as The Taker or The Deep, there were movies that influenced my vision. For Red Widow, I draw on any of the more famous spy movies, no James Bond or Jason Bourne. The FX TV series The Americans was an influence in terms of the smart tone, and the fact that the female agent was extremely tough and extremely professional, not the way women are too often portrayed in spy films and TV.
Visit Alma Katsu's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Taker.

My Book, The Movie: The Hunger.

The Page 69 Test: The Hunger.

The Page 69 Test: The Deep.

The Page 69 Test: Red Widow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Carrie Seim

Carrie Seim is the creator of the best-selling adventure series The Flying Flamingo Sisters and author of Horse Girl, her new middle-grade novel for Penguin Workshop. She served as a staff writer for several Nickelodeon comedy variety shows and has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, McSweeney’s and Architectural Digest. Her essays in awkwardness are featured in the book Mortified: Love is a Battlefield.

My Q&A with Seim about Horse Girl:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I conjured the title Horse Girl (in the middle of a canoe on the Long Island Sound, in fact) long before I sorted out any inkling of a plot — the title conveys so much in just two brief words. They crackle with so many pop-culture references. Is the main character a misunderstood misfit? A young woman harnessing new power over her changing life? Before even flipping to the first page, I hope readers will eagerly anticipate a story that’s deeply funny and also brave, about a girl who’s definitively awkward yet unsinkable. All from the title alone.

What's in a name?

My protagonist, Willa — aka Wills — is named after Willa Cather, the most famous author from Nebraska, where I’m from and where the novel is set. The horse-tagonist, Clyde Lee, is named for a real Clydesdale-Thoroughbred lesson horse my sister used to ride at a stable in Omaha. He was a gentle giant who was wonderful with kids, but also extremely stubborn. Many of the funny horse antics in the book — including him trying to toss his rider when he was ready to eat dinner — are inspired by Clyde.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not surprised at all! The older sister in Horse Girl, Kay, is completely informed by my teenage self. Like Kay, I also loved trivia, show choir, Spanish verbs, piano, snowflake fractals, the history of Norse gods — and I was deathly allergic to horses. (Even though I loved them dearly, I sneezed my way through horse camp.) It was such fun to cast myself as the villain (or at least pseudo-villain) in this story. Wills, meanwhile, is completely inspired by my younger sister Lindsay. One of my favorite scenes in the book, where the two sisters are arguing through opposite ends of a laundry chute, is completely lifted from real life. My teenage self would circle this novel at the top of her book-order form!

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes! [see above]

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings — no question! I come from the improv comedy world, where you dive headlong into an empty stage with absolute trust that you and your scene partners will create a captivating story — out of thin air — that will delight your audience. It’s that whole “leap and the net will appear” mentality. So I have a lot of practice coming up with fearless beginnings on the spot. I wrote the first chapter of Horse Girl like a fever dream — it poured out of me, almost like a comedy sketch. The ending however — let’s just say it almost made me quit writing altogether! I was desperate for it to be surprising yet satisfying, and true to the humor and angst in the rest of the story. A tall order, indeed. It was a daunting task, but I think (hope?) I pulled it off.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Horse Girl was inspired most directly by my sister — the O.G. horse girl in my life. The novel is really a love letter to her. Beyond that, the horse-girl pop-culture canon is so fertile. I turned to everything from National Velvet to My Little Pony and the cult-favorite film Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken. As children, my sister and I would record Olympic show jumping events on our VCR and play them over and over again until the VHS tape practically melted. I also drew comedic inspiration from the genius animated characters Tina Belcher in Bob’s Burgers and Missy from Big Mouth, both of whom have rich interior lives centered around imaginary horses. And of course Mean Girls was a huge inspiration for the intricate web of female friendships (or frenemy-ships) in the stable.
Visit Carrie Seim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 26, 2021

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye

Nicola DeRobertis-Theye was an Emerging Writing Fellow at the New York Center for Fiction, and her work has been published in Agni, Electric Literature, and LitHub. A graduate of UC Berkeley, she received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she was the fiction editor of its literary magazine Ecotone. She is a native of Oakland, CA and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

DeRobertis-Theye's new novel is The Vietri Project.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

It sums up the whole book; moreover it was the only title I ever considered, the title from the earliest days, and no one, from my agent to my publisher, ever suggested changing it, which I think is a mark of success. At first, The Vietri Project refers to the project in the bookstore where my narrator works, of assembling large and mysterious book orders for a signor Vietri, in Rome. Later, when she is traveling and decides to look him up, it becomes her search for the facts of his life, for what answers he might be able to give her about how she should live her own.

What's in a name?

My narrator’s name is Gabriele, named after her Italian grandfather. It’s a boy’s name in Italy but reads as very feminine to Americans, and I tried to include other names like that where I could, like her male cousin Andrea. I wanted to use names which were feminine in one context and masculine in another to suggest a breaking down of assumed categories, especially as they relate to one’s identity. I also used the name Vietri from the very beginning, it carried associations with two very different towns in Italy (Vietri sul Mare and Vietri di Potenza), and etymologically could be broken down to mean “three lives”, which is also accurate to the life story my narrator uncovers.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not very, I think. The things that mean the most to me—travel, books, wondering how to be a good person in the world, are all there.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings, absolutely. The first chapter of this novel stayed mostly unchanged from the very beginning, while the ending was originally the penultimate chapter. In early drafts there was one further chapter, but eventually, it made more emotional sense to end where it did. But the question of how it would end—would she find Vietri, or not?—wasn’t one I knew the answer to while writing, and the mystery kept me interested as well.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I do. Though I am quite different in terms of personality and family history from Gabriele, there were enough similarities that early in the book I had her make two choices I have never done: to order a diet coke, and to cheat on her boyfriend. I felt like that gave me enough psychic distance from her early on to let her develop into her own character.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I think the biggest thing that affects what I’m writing is the setting, a sense of place. The other thing is history: I wanted this book to also function as a guide to the last 100 years of Italian history. But movies, music, art, they all feed the creative soup that the writing comes out of.
Visit Nicola DeRobertis-Theye's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Vietri Project.

The Page 69 Test: The Vietri Project.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Jess Montgomery

Jess Montgomery is the author of the Kinship Historical Mysteries. Under her given name, she is a newspaper columnist, focusing on the literary life, authors and events of her native Dayton, Ohio for the Dayton Daily News. Her first novel in the Kinship Historical Mystery series garnered awards even before publication: Montgomery County (Ohio) Arts & Cultural District (MCAD) Artist Opportunity Grant (2018); Individual Excellence Award (2016) in Literary Arts from Ohio Arts Council; John E. Nance Writer in Residence at Thurber House (Columbus, Ohio) in 2014.

The Stills is Montgomery's third novel in the Kinship series.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Though it’s two short words, The Stills works on two levels to bring readers into my novel. The Stills is set in 1927 in the Appalachian area of Ohio (the southeastern corner). Of course, 1927 is a little over halfway through the United States’ experiment with Prohibition. My series focuses on Sheriff Lily Ross, inspired by Ohio’s true first female sheriff. In my first two novels featuring Sheriff Lily, Prohibition—and moonshining and bootlegging—are in the background of the stories, occasionally brought in as minor plot points. In The Stills, bootlegging comes to the forefront, forming a main part of the plot. Lily faces off against George Vogel, a big-time bootlegger, inspired by the real-life crime boss George Remus. She can no longer think of violations of Prohibition as simply being a continuation of backwoods moonshining that has been going on for generations. George is bringing big crime—and big danger—to the heart of Lily’s county, and not long after he arrives, people start to die. She forms a wary alliance with a Bureau of Prohibition agent, as well as people in her community, to confront him.

But Lily is also still slowly coming to terms with her grief over losing her husband, Daniel, in the first novel in the series (The Widows). Other characters, too, must pause and consider how events around them impact them at their deepest level. So The Stills also refers to those quiet, still moments we all have—sometimes by choice, and sometimes as they’re foisted on us—to reflect on our situation, our beliefs, our place in the world.

The Stills also refers to extreme illness, which forces us to be still, and of course death, the final ‘stilling’ we all experience.

What's in a name?

The novels are set in fictional Bronwyn County. Kinship is the county seat. Kinship is more than a place name; kinship is also how Lily solves crimes and manages to balance her work and personal life—kinship with family, friends, and neighbors.

Each Kinship novel is dual narrated by Lily, who as sheriff and thus the detective who solves the mystery in each book, and another member of the Kinship community (thus continuing the “kinship” theme.)

In The Stills, Fiona—the wife of Lily’s nemesis George Vogel and a former Kinship resident—is the other narrator. Here I will confess that I named Fiona after the character Fiona on the television show Supernatural, which was and is a guilty pleasure for me. My Fiona and the Supernatural Fiona have only in common that they are women who are in situations where, to retain control over their lives and safety for the people they most love, they must be wily and even manipulative.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

In some ways, not surprised at all. My family of origin—all my ancestors going back many generations—is from Appalachia. I was part of the first generation born outside of Appalachia, but our trips when I was a kid was “going on down home,” meaning to my Grandma Lou’s little house in Eastern Kentucky. When I was in high school, I wrote a musical play inspired by the ballads I’d learned from my kin. So I think I would probably just smile that all these years later, I still love writing from that heritage.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I always have a sense of the ending, sometimes quite specifically, so I have something to write toward. Beginnings are much harder for me, and I end up revising them over and over, to finally get them right (I hope).

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I actually see myself in all my characters, or at least try to put a bit of myself in each character. This is true even for the “bad guys.” I think we all (well, except for the tiny percent of humans who are actual sociopaths, but so far, I don’t write about those particular types of characters) have the capacity for joy, gratitude, love, remorse, but also jealousy, fear, hate and so on. So when I’m writing about my characters, I think about what most drives them. If it’s jealousy or fear, such as with my “bad” guys, I look at moments in my own life where I’ve experienced those feelings, and then I try to plunk what that was like into my character, and exaggerate that attribute.
Visit Jess Montgomery's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Widows.

The Page 69 Test: The Hollows.

The Page 69 Test: The Stills.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 22, 2021

Tanya Boteju

photo credit: Greg Ehlers
Tanya Boteju is an English teacher and writer living on unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, Canada). She completed her English and Education degrees at the University of British Columbia, then spent time in New York attaining her Master of Arts through Columbia University’s Teachers College. Most recently, Boteju received a Creative Writing Certificate through Simon Fraser University’s Writer’s Studio. Her writing life has mostly consisted of teaching writing for the past eighteen years in Vancouver, where she has continually been inspired by the brilliant young people in her midst.

Her novel, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens (2019), was named an Indie Top 10 Pick of the Summer by the American Booksellers Association, a starred review on Shelf Awareness, a Barnes & Noble best YA book of May, a Best Teen Book of 2019 by Indigo, and a Rainbow List selection for 2020. Her short story “Floating” appears in the anthology Out Now (2020).

Boteju’s new YA novel is Bruised.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Bruised started out as a working title, and for a while, my publisher was keen to see it changed to something else because they were worried it would bring up connotations of child abuse. However, as the novel came to its conclusion and we began to develop the cover art for the book, we all decided that Bruised would work out after all because the cover art made it clear that bruising was connected to roller derby.

It’s a very literal title, I suppose. Daya uses actual bruising in so many ways—to protect and punish herself, and to prove how strong she is. Bruising is also a significant side-effect of playing roller derby! Bruising felt like a strong anchor for me as I wrote the book, though—to always bring me back to why Daya does it, and how that physical sensation and the following feelings she experiences reflect her inner conflict.

What's in a name?

I think of some names more than others. A lot of the time, a name just comes to me and I go with it. For instance, there’s not a lot of meaning behind Daya’s name. I liked the sound of it, chose it early on, and then just got attached to it. The fact that it’s not a very Sri Lankan name (Daya’s family is from Sri Lanka) ended up fitting well with her father’s desire for Daya to fit into ‘Canadian society’ (whatever that means), though.

But for Daya’s parents, I wanted specifically Sri Lankan names—Sunita and Nihal—because I wanted Sri Lanka to be centered in the scenes where they appear.

Mostly, though, I can’t say names play a big role for me in creating meaning!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think my teen self would be shocked I’ve written two novels, period. But in particular with this novel, I guess she’d be surprised by how important queerness and diverse representation is in my books. I was an insular kid and not out as queer to myself back then—the idea that I would be so out that I could actually write books where queerness is normal and awesome would have thrown me for a loop for sure.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings harder because satisfying the story and reader in a believable way is just plain challenging, but I would also say that both beginnings and endings are a trust exercise for me. When I begin writing a book, I spend a lot of time with my characters first, then start writing the story. As I write the book, I try to follow the characters wherever they’re leading me—I trust the story will evolve as it needs to.

With Daya’s ending, I don’t think I knew it would end with her and her parents. I thought it would end somehow with her and her roller derby team—maybe a big match or win or loss or something like that. The ending became a much quieter, softer moment, though, and as soon as I wrote it, I knew it was exactly what it needed to be.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

With my first novel, the protagonist, Nima, overlapped with my own life and personality in a few ways—I also felt awkward, out of place, and insecure as a teen, and we both prefer books and dogs to most people. She’s also queer and brown and becomes a drag performer as a way into community and self-expression.

With Daya, my protagonist in Bruised, we are much different in that she’s tough and a physical risk-taker in a way that I definitely am not. But some of her dynamics with her parents certainly hold echoes of my own—we both have immigrant parents from Sri Lanka who worked their butts off to provide for their families. Her mom is the glue and real strength in the family, like so many of the women in my own.

So far, my main characters have had connections to me and my life, but we’ll see if that continues. My secondary characters are mostly complete fictions with a few sprinkles of traits from people I know!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Drag! Drag inspired much of Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens—both my experience as a drag performer as well as other drag performers I know and have seen. Similarly, roller derby inspired much of Bruised, so I guess to date, my writing has been largely inspired by really cool subcultures and communities.

My interest and commitment to equity and justice drives my writing, too. In both my teaching life and writing life, I try to keep aware and educated about how to represent various groups of people in responsible ways. I want readers to see themselves in the books I write, with all the complications and complexities of being fully human.

And teaching! Teaching writing and learning from my students’ writing, behaviors, and ideas influences my writing in a huge way. I’m not sure I could write the way I do about teenagers if I didn’t teach them.
Visit Tanya Boteju's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Melissa Ginsburg

Melissa Ginsburg is the author of the novels The House Uptown and Sunset City, the poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost, and two poetry chapbooks, Arbor and Double Blind. A second poetry collection, Doll Apollo, will be published in 2022 by LSU Press, and the poetry chapbook Apollo is forthcoming in June from Condensery Press. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Guernica, Kenyon Review, Fence, Southwest Review, and other magazines. Originally from Houston, Texas, Ginsburg studied poetry at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She is Associate Professor of Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Mississippi. She lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with two dogs, eleven chickens, and the writer Chris Offutt.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The House Uptown takes place in Uptown New Orleans in a house that has been in Lane's family for generations. It's not just the setting of the novel; it's also a physical embodiment of family history, memory, and past mistakes that circle back to affect Lane and her granddaughter Ava in the present. Fourteen-year-old Ava has recently lost her mother, and searches for her mother's presence in the house where she grew up. The past is alive here, and the living, in their grief, haunt the place like ghosts. We decided on The House Uptown because it is the focus of the characters' obsessions and the site of all the drama driving the book.

I wanted to highlight New Orleans in the title--another potential idea that we ended up discarding was Crescent, after one of New Orleans's many nicknames, Crescent City. We also considered Survived By, which I still think is a catchy title for a crime novel, just not this one.

What's in a name?

Lane's name comes from my family; it's a rough translation from the French of my mother's maiden name, Allee. My grandmother, whose Uptown house was the inspiration for this book, was called Jake and my aunt was named Dale. Though Lane is not based on the women in my family, her name is a kind of homage in this book about mothers, daughters, and various dubious inheritances.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I usually think endings are harder, but that was not the case with this book. I always knew from a plot standpoint what would happen to the characters in the end--the decisions they made would lead to inevitable conclusions. One of the reasons I write fiction is to explore the way people inadvertently hurt those they love. Decisions which seem harmless at the time can end up reverberating in unexpected ways. Figuring out the right beginning of the book was more of a struggle. The House Uptown moves around in time, and includes scenes from the 1990s as well as today. The last thing I wrote was the prologue. It's set twenty years in the past, on the night of a terrible accident which puts everyone at risk, even decades later.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see myself in all the characters. Lane is an artist who is frustrated by the narrow expectations of Southern womanhood, and loses patience with everything that gets in the way of her paintings--I can certainly relate to all that! Her assistant Oliver is funny and sarcastic, a bit prickly, but underneath that he is devoted to the people he loves and is quite vulnerable emotionally. He is prone to making bad decisions, and I relate to him most of all. Ava is the farthest away from me--she's wholesome and sincere, from a small town in the midwest, and she believes in the concepts of right and wrong in a way I never did. But she's also grieving the death of her mother and is quite alone in the world, and I was able to connect with her character through those emotions. I feel a great deal of affection for each of the people in The House Uptown. They basically mean well, even when they are behaving badly, which is often!

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

British crime shows are a big influence on my writing. I love the darkness and intimacy of shows like Vera, Scott & Bailey, and Happy Valley, which center complicated women and a deep understanding of place, landscape, and culture.
Visit Melissa Ginsburg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Mark Edward Langley

Mark Edward Langley was instilled with a love for the American West by his father at a young age. After visiting it throughout adulthood, his connection to the land became irrevocable. After spending almost thirty years working for someone else, he retired and began to focus on writing.

Langley's latest Arthur Nakai mystery is Death Waits in the Dark.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I like the titles of my novels to be something that catches the prospective readers eye and gives them a glimpse into what the story is about. For example, Path of the Dead; Death Waits in the Dark, When Silence Screams. All are tell-tale as to the story’s direction. They help grab the readers attention and put them in the frame of mind to understand the story before they even read the inside flap.

What's in a name?

The protagonists name in my series is Arthur Nakai. I wanted it to be a strong name befitting a man with his background. And there was no real ulterior motive or clever design to it. It was simply the first name of a Navajo friend of mine that I worked with and my favorite Native American flute player, R. Carlos Nakai. But when it came to creating a location for Arthur and his wife to live, I envisioned White Mesa, New Mexico. My readers love that 98% of the locations are real in my books, but the other 2% are there so I can have as much creative license as possible. The fictional area where Arthur’s home and business—White Mesa Outfitters—is located is just north of one of my favorite places, Farmington, New Mexico. I love that area, and it’s close to Shiprock, Kirtland and Bloomfield and all the other locations in my books. When a reader reads my books, I can take them on a journey down the roads I have driven and to the places I have been … they only have to figure out which is which.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think he would see how I have developed over the course of them and be amazed. He would love the stories, the eclectic and memorable mix of characters, the graphic descriptions of the beautiful New Mexican landscape and get lost in the case needing to be solved.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Oh, I definitely find it harder to write beginnings rather than the endings. In my first book, Path of the Dead, I changed the beginning numerous times until I finally found my voice and the story took flight. Then, about seven chapters in, I wrote the ending. At that point I knew where I was heading; I just had to get there. In Death Waits in the Dark, I changed the beginning three times before settling on the scene-setting opening paragraph. And in When Silence Screams, my book due out this August, I struggled with how it should open. Should be with what turned out to be the better placed second chapter or should it be the different, more unnerving, chapter it became? I went with the later and the whole narrative began to take shape and drive the story into a whole new, terrifying direction.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

When a writer creates their characters, I believe they must draw from within. They always say, “Write what you know.” And what better person do you know than yourself. You draw from personal experience, that way you feel all the emotions concerning what you are writing about; you let your characters react as they should based on what your reactions may have been as well as what drives them to think and act as they do. If a writer can’t pull from his or her past, there is no feeling to their writing … just words strung together.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I would have to say movies and TV by far; sometimes music—certain songs that evoke certain emotions or memories—and current events that are concerning to the Navajo people. I don’t beat the reader over the head with what I believe; I share several viewpoints and give them the freedom to make up their own mind.
Visit Mark Edward Langley's website.

My Book, The Movie: Death Waits in the Dark.

Coffee with a Canine: Mark Edward Langley & Lady Cora.

The Page 69 Test: Death Waits in the Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Emma Stonex

Emma Stonex is a novelist and The Lamplighters is her debut under her own name; she is the author of several books written under a pseudonym. Before becoming a writer, she worked as an editor at a major publishing house. She lives in Bristol with her husband and two young daughters.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I hit on The Lamplighters while writing the first draft, and knew I’d fight to keep it if it was ever up for debate (my publishers liked it too, so that was lucky!). Traditionally, lamplighters were employed to tend streetlights, not lighthouses, but my reason for choosing the word was twofold. First, ‘The Lamplighter’ is the title of a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island, who belonged to the Stevenson family of lighthouse engineers. (You can imagine how out of place a fiction writer might have felt in a clan of straight-talking builders.) This felt like a perfect fit. Second, I just love the word ‘lamplight’ – it has an evocative, inviting feel, a soft rhythm brimming with warmth and hope, but also mystery. The Lamplighters is based on the real-life disappearance of three lighthouse keepers from a remote Scottish island in 1900, whose fates to this day are still unknown. I wanted to convey to the reader a sense of the romance and allure of lighthouses, but also their potential for darkness and secrecy.

What’s in a name?

I’ll choose my fictional lighthouse, the Maiden Rock, fifteen miles off the south coast of Cornwall. It felt important to come up with my own lighthouse, so as not to trespass too closely into history, but it was difficult to decide on her name. I say ‘her’, because of the female gendering common in nautical spheres, and also because, in a way, I wanted the lighthouse to be one of the women. Certainly, that’s how the keepers’ wives in the novel see her – as another woman, a mistress of sorts, who has taken their husbands away to a fortress in the middle of the sea. The word ‘maiden’ also conjures a sense of the inaugural, and in the novel’s world she is one of the first lighthouses to be built: two attempts in hostile seas were washed away, with her wick finally being lit in the 1890s.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I think The Lamplighters would make sense to her. I’ve always been drawn to the dark side of life, the mysterious, even the supernatural. Ghost stories have always sent a shiver up my spine, and at boarding school we used to swap spooky tales after lights-out. The sea, too, has always been in my heart: I’ve always wanted to write about the sea. So, my teenage self would probably – hopefully – feel it’s where I was always headed. I certainly see it that way now.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I decided early on how I wanted to answer the mystery of the missing lighthouse keepers. I don’t want to give anything away here, but my interpretation of events – and the resolution I offer – definitely shaped the book from the start. For that reason, I found it easier to write my ending. Beginnings can be difficult because they need to achieve so many things simultaneously: to set up the story and characters, establish the pace, resist giving too much information at once, but at the same time just enough to reel the reader in. I always have to rewrite my beginnings.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Yes, I do, some more than others. There are parts of me in all the characters in The Lamplighters: I think it’s hard for an author to disassociate herself completely with any of her players. Of the men, there’s most of me in Arthur, the Principal Keeper of the Maiden Rock: he’s sensitive and introspective and loves reading and nature. His wife, Helen, is the woman with whom I most identify – she misses Arthur when he’s away on the lighthouse, but she is all right on her own; she can stand on her own two feet and doesn’t need him next to her in order to live her life.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Walking in the wild, particularly by the sea. While researching The Lamplighters, I stayed in converted keepers’ cottages in Devon, right on the headland, with only the ocean for company – that was hugely inspiring. I also listened to a lot of 70s music to get into the feel of the period, things like King Crimson and Pink Floyd.
Follow Emma Stonex on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Alexandra Oliva

photo: Folrev Photography
Born and raised in upstate New York, Alexandra Oliva is the author of The Last One. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, dog, and young son.

Oliva's new novel is Forget Me Not.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

At its core, Forget Me Not is about memory: the memories we cling to and the memories we can’t escape. My working title for the book was Remember This, but in talking titles with my publishing team, we realized that not only did a near-future thriller need a punchier title, but the real heart of the novel was less about the things we want to remember than it was about the things—and people—we are unable to forget. It was a subtle but important shift in tone that I think the title Forget Me Not captures beautifully. So I would say the title does a good bit of work, especially when combined with the creepily stunning cover art.

What's in a name?

My main character grew up without a name in a walled-off rural property. After she breaks out of the property and emerges into the modern world at the age of twelve, she chooses her own name: Linda Russell. The choice is intentionally bland on my part. As a writer, I’m especially interested in contradiction, and I loved the idea of a woman who has such a strange, creepy background—and who is absolutely hounded by strangers on social media because of that background—having a mundane name that practically begs people not to notice her.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very! When I was young, I was obsessed with overt genre novels; it was a rare book set in the real world that could hold my attention, and I don’t think I ever wrote anything that wasn’t clearly science-fiction or fantasy unless it was for a school assignment. Forget Me Not definitely has roots in my love of genre—it’s set a few years in the future and includes a high-fantasy virtual reality game that I had way too much fun writing, but it’s also very much grounded in real life and my own experiences. I think teenager-me would be a little annoyed that it wasn’t set in space or a medieval-inspired fantasy realm, but I also think she would be proud of the quality of the prose and how I pulled off some of the plot twists.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are much, much harder for me to write than endings. With Forget Me Not, I knew the last line of the novel years before I actually wrote it. Finally getting to type those words felt like a reward for making it that far. Conversely, it took me at least a year to really find my footing in the novel; I kept starting it in the wrong time and place. Even once I got going, it took me a bunch of rounds of revision to get the pacing right—this story has a lot of plot elements, and it was a challenge to figure out how to introduce them all in an intriguing-but-not-overwhelming manner. The ending, on the other hand, pretty much just flowed.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My main character, Linda, is rooted in my socially anxious side. A lot of the discomfort she feels moving through the world is just a mild exaggeration of how I usually feel. Conversely, the character whose appearance in the story disrupts her life, a computer scientist named Anvi, is a much more outgoing and seemingly confident woman, and she is rooted in my more gregarious side. They’re both fully realized, complex characters in their own right, of course, but I really enjoyed embracing these seemingly incompatible sides of my own personality, rooting a character in each, and then moving them toward each other over the course of the story—Linda finding her confidence, Anvi revealing her insecurities.
Visit Alexandra Oliva's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last One.

Coffee with a Canine: Alexandra Oliva & Codex.

The Page 69 Test: Forget Me Not.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 12, 2021

Lisa Fipps

Lisa Fipps is a graduate of Ball State University, award-winning former journalist, current director of marketing for a public library (where she won the Sara Laughlin marketing award), and an author of middle-grade books. Starfish is her debut novel. She’s working on her next novel and several others. Fipps currently lives in Indiana and lived in Texas.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The title of my middle-grade novel in verse, Starfish, doesn’t take readers into the story; it piques their curiosity, makes them wonder what it’s about. The title coupled with the gorgeous cover illustration (I absolutely love it) of a girl in a swimming pool lets them know the book is not about the star-shaped sea creature. It’s about a girl. And then they wonder what a girl has in common with a starfish. A good title gets your attention and starts making you think about what’s inside the book. Gets you to read that first page. I used to be a journalist, a writer and an editor. I have lots of practice when it comes to summarizing a story in a catchy or interesting way. One of my favorite headlines, which helped me win a headline portfolio award and made the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, was “Court Upholds Butt Search for Crack.” I usually know from the get-go what a title will be. Just as a journalist can suggest a headline but the copydesk has the final say because of the font size needed based on page placement, an author can suggest a title, but the final decision is left up to the publisher. Fortunately, my editor loved it as well. Readers say once they’ve read Starfish, it’s the perfect title.

What's in a name?

The name of the protagonist in Starfish is Eliana Elizabeth Montgomery-Hofstein. She’s from a mixed-faith family. She’s Christian and Jewish. Eliana is a Hebrew name, meaning God has answered. I chose that name because Ellie’s crying out in so many ways. She’s crying out for people to stop being mean to her. For the pain to stop. Readers can see she’s metaphorically out in the ocean, nearly drowning in the sea of the emotions that comes with relentless bullying: pain, anger, shame, fear, internalized self-hatred, etc. The reader sees her flailing, barely keeping her head above water. But as the author, I knew all of that was all just external conflict. Writers know the real conflict that a protagonist is struggling with and must overcome is internal. Ellie’s actually crying out because there’s a far deeper, darker ocean she’s nearly drowning in; inside she knows she has intrinsic value and worth and yet the world keeps telling her she doesn’t have it – until and unless she loses weight. She cried out. God answered. Character names are important. They can give you insight into their heritage, personality, and more. Some writers are great with coming up with creative, playful names. That’s not me. I lean toward deeper meanings. I like that added layer of depth.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I wrote Starfish because it was the book I needed when I was a kid. From as far back as I can remember, I was always reading, writing, drawing, and listening to music. I always wanted to write books. So teenage Lisa wouldn’t be surprised I wrote a book. She wouldn’t even be surprised I wrote this book. She’d be surprised how honest I was with myself and the readers. Because of various traumatic childhood experiences, Little Lisa/Teenage Lisa were very guarded. And she’d be proud of me for doing the emotional work of facing all that happened to me and doing the writing work of getting it on paper, published, and into people’s hands.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I don’t find it hard to write the beginning of a book or the end. Middles are the hard part. I always know where I want to start and end. Getting from that beginning to that end without getting bogged down in the process – what a lot of industry experts call the mushy middle – is the hard part. When revising, I, like most writers, used to always start on page 1. But then I attended a workshop with Stephen Roxburgh, former senior vice president and publisher of Books for Young Readers at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He gave me some sage advice: Don’t always start on page one; change it up. Today, I might start revising on page 77. Tomorrow on page 29. The next day on page 150. I just randomly scroll down to a page and start from there. The reason why most authors’ work is so good at the beginning but then you get bored by page 100 is because they tend to start every revision on page 1. The beginnings are polished to diamond status Endings are a close second because writers want that final moment to be memorable. Middles are the key. Master your middles.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Not everything that happens to Ellie happened to me as a kid, but a version of everything that happens to Ellie happened to me. So, I very much see a lot of me in Ellie. Personality-wise, Ellie and I rely on humor a lot, we’re both empaths, and we both hate injustice. There’s a lot of Dr. Wood in me as well. I’m always trying to figure out why people do and say things, and why I do and say things. What people say and do – what I say and do – doesn’t matter to me as much as the why. Knowing the why gives you the key to understanding others and yourself. Then you can better communicate with others. And you can change or accept yourself – or both, whatever is needed – to be who you’re meant to be, who you want to be. I’m deeply introspective. Can you tell?

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Art and music influence my writing because they inspire me. When I’m developing a character, I figure out what music they’d listen to and then play it while I write. On my website, you’ll find the songs I listened to when writing Starfish. The main one was "Brave" by Sara Bareilles.
You can be the outcast
or be the backlash of somebody's lack of love,
or you can start speaking up.
Nothing's gonna hurt you the way that words do
when they settle 'neath your skin. …
Say what you wanna say
and let the words fall out.
Honestly, I wanna see you be brave.
The lyrics get me. Get Ellie. Watching the video is even better because the people literally starfish. Symbols also influence and inspire my writing. For example, next to my desk I have a hibiscus carving hanging above framed quotes about writing. The hibiscus is a symbol of the Rose of Sharon tree I use to sit under while I wrote and drew as a child. One of the quotes is “Nothing haunts us like the things we don’t say” by Mitch Albom. Most everything in my home is a symbol of something. Reminders.
Visit Lisa Fipps's website.

My Book, The Movie: Starfish.

The Page 69 Test: Starfish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Marj Charlier

Marj Charlier began her writing career at daily and mid-size newspapers before joining the Wall Street Journal as a staff reporter. After twenty years in journalism, she pursued her MBA and began a second career in corporate finance. While she has published ten novels, The Rebel Nun is her first historical novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The first title I worked with was The Rebel Nun of the Merovingian Kingdom, thinking I needed to make it clear that this was a historical novel set in Gaul in the early Middle Ages. But most people don’t know the Merovingians from a hole in the wall, and it’s a name that’s hard to pronounce. My husband suggested cutting it to The Rebel Nun. I think it carries a lot of water because it immediately flags the central conflict of the book. It’s about a nun who does not behave like she is expected to behave. It’s about nun versus church. And The Rebel Nun is an oxymoron that sparks curiosity: Why does she rebel? What does she rebel against? Besides, a literary agent once told me he thought it would make a fine tattoo.

What's in a name?

Clotild is a simplification of the name of my character, a real nun who is variously referred to as

Chlotilde, Chlotield, Chrododield, Chrodield, and Chrodechilde in different versions of history. I wanted to retain the Old World character of the name, but also make it easy to read, pronounce and remember. I wanted a strong name, one that could represent a heroine with moxie and intelligence.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all. When I was 14 or 15, I read DesirĂ©e by Annemarie Selinko, about Napoleon’s first love (perhaps wife) who becomes a queen of Sweden. It sparked an interest in European history and strong heroines. I think my teenage self would be delighted with The Rebel Nun.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings. By the time I’m at the end, I know what has to happen. At the beginning, I’m never sure what is the most effective and captivating way to pull the reader into the story. In the case of the Rebel Nun, I had jumpstarted it by composing a prologue—which some literary “experts” suggest is a cop-out for a person who doesn’t know where to start. Before I sent the novel to my agent, I removed the prologue. Right away, my agent called me and said, “I think this needs a prologue.” She was amazed at how fast I turned it out! In this case, putting Clotild into a future where she could see what other people had written about her, gave her an incentive to tell her story, and to correct the historical record. And it gave her a personality and an attitude that set the stage for the novel.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I have no experience at being anyone but myself. As much research as a historical novelist can do, we still have only our own internal dialogue and perspective on the world to draw from. So, yes. Clotild is as I would have been, had I been born in the sixth century: rebellious but a little reluctant to take risks. Independent, driven to succeed, and yet wary of my motivation. Am I doing this for others or to serve my own ambition? Clotild asks herself. I think I’ve heard that before.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

First, my own 67-year search for an efficacious dogma or philosophy that I can subscribe to has influenced how I portray women in my novels—how they think their way through the challenges, opportunities, grief and joy in their lives. Clotild faces her ambivalence about Christianity and her doubts about her mother’s religion as she seeks to find her own path and personal philosophy. Second, I worked as a journalist for twenty years, which affected what I think is a story and how I work with crucial elements of story: character, conflict, action, dialogue, pacing, and rhythm. It made me a plot- and character-driven writer, and a reader impatient with plodding prose and plotless literary novels.
Visit Marj Charlier's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Rebel Nun.

The Page 69 Test: The Rebel Nun.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 8, 2021

James Brabazon

James Brabazon is an author, frontline-journalist and documentary filmmaker. Based in the UK, he has travelled to over 70 countries – investigating, filming and directing in the world's most hostile environments. He is the author of the international bestseller My Friend the Mercenary, a memoir recounting his experiences of the Liberian civil war and the Equatorial Guinea coup plot; and the Max McLean series of spy thrillers The Break Line and Arkhangel (UK) / All Fall Down (USA).

My Q&A with Brabazon:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Well, this is a novel with two titles! All Fall Down in the US and Arkhangel in the UK. All Fall Down was the original working title – and it does exactly what it says on the tin… Max McLean, the Irish spy-assassin protagonist, has gone on the run after a routine hit on a terrorist goes disastrously wrong. Hunted at every turn, Max pushes the body count higher in ever more desperate efforts to escape his pursuers. But as he begins to understand what’s at stake, he realises it’s not just people who are falling down, but, potentially, Britain and America, too. Embroiled in a power game way above his head, he needs to make sense of the only clue he has to what’s unfolding and why: a single $100 bill, with a cryptic note written on it.

Arkhangel came much later. First and foremost, it’s the name of the village in Russia where Max’s forebears hailed… but as the action unfolds, it’s clear that there is more than one archangel in play in Max’s destiny.

What's in a name?

I chose Max McLean because it has such intense, personal meaning for me. My son is a Max – and I wanted him to be able to read stories about derring-do that he could both identify with and also learn from. Max McLean is a flawed hero – but he knows it, and under the macho, killer exterior beats the heart of a thinking, feeling, deeply conflicted man. In All Fall Down as in Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur, real men are men of tears.

McLean is a nod to the legendary British soldier-spy Fitzroy Maclean to whom I was introduced in 1991, and whose memoir Eastern Approaches is a classic account of diplomacy, war and subterfuge during WW2. Said to be an inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond, Fitzroy Maclean was the real deal!

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not at all! I grew up reading adventure stories and spy thrillers. Sometimes it feels as if I was storing all those plots and twists and turns up in a great mental library – which have finally been unleashed on to the page, mixed with the experiences of the adult me working as a war reporter.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Strangely enough, I start writing a novel with two very clear ideas in my mind: how it starts and how it ends. Those two ideas are well developed before I put pen to paper, and they hardly change at all. The wild ride is getting from A to B! I have no idea of how I’m going to get there… Max McLean takes me along for the ride, surprising me as we lurch from near miss to revelation. Plotting it all out in advance would be so boring I couldn’t face it. I write to discover what I have to say.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

Despite the fact that Max and I are both Anglo-Irish, I see very little similarity indeed. Although I’ve seen my fair share of the horrors of war, I did so as an observer, not as a combatant. Perhaps the real similarity between me and Max McLean is that we have both been profoundly affected by our experience of conflict – and that we both like drinking whiskey.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Primarily, nearly 25 years working as a war reporter. It’s not true to say that I’ve covered more wars than I can remember – you never forget going to war – but I have to think carefully not to miss any out. Lots of the conflicts I went to cover are well-known: Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Colombia, some less so, like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, and others were just downright obscure, like the Maoist insurgency in Chhattisgarh in eastern India.

Many of the people I filmed and lived with were downright unsavoury to say the least. For weeks, sometimes months at a time, I relied on murderers to keep me alive. In Liberia, rebel soldiers fed me, chatted with me like friends around the camp fire – and then the next day I would watch them execute prisoners.

It was only once I began to write novels that I could really begin to assimilate those experiences. In fact, much to my surprise, it turned out that war reporting had given me some unexpected gifts as an author. First was the fact that I’ve met the most extraordinary cast of characters over the years whose stories for one reason or another I could never tell for television, but aspects of whom can come alive on the pages of a novel; second – I have filmed thousands of hours of interviews. That means I’m a professional listener – and that for years I’ve had to study the ticks and quirks of how people actually speak versus how people are made to look as if they speak… which makes writing dialogue a lot more straightforward. But finally, and perhaps most importantly, reporting on war isn’t only about soldiers and guns, it’s about people. The stories of the people I met weave their way through everything I write. I try to be true to my experience – with perhaps one twist: in war I have seen the triumph of the human spirit, but I have also seen all too often the triumph of evil men. In fiction I allow myself one luxury: the good guys always win. The trick is working out who they are.
Visit James Brabazon's website.

My Book, The Movie: All Fall Down.

The Page 69 Test: All Fall Down.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Bethany Mangle

Bethany Mangle writes young adult contemporary fiction because she refuses to ever grow up. She graduated from Hood College and George Washington University with degrees that have nothing to do with writing. Although she currently lives in Mississippi, Mangle has called many different states home. When she isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading, baking questionable cakes, or spoiling her dog.

Mangle’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of publications, including Maudlin House and The Citron Review.

Prepped is Mangle's debut novel.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I think the title Prepped gives readers some clue that the story will center around preparation, though not necessarily to the extent of doomsday prepping as a lifestyle. I like that it’s short and direct, since that reflects the same no-frills values held by many of the preppers.

What's in a name?

I don’t generally choose names for any particular reason. There are a few exceptions. Roy, for example, is a nod to Roy Mustang from Fullmetal Alchemist, my favorite TV show. I also saw a lot of parallels between the two of them in terms of personality.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find it harder to write endings because I like to leave things fairly open-ended in my novels. It’s a tough balance of wanting to wrap things up in a satisfying way without having to necessarily put a neat bow on it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I can see myself reflected in almost all of my characters. I’m not sure that I could write them as completely separate. I’ve had friends tell me that they read certain jokes or bits of dialogue in my voice, and that’s totally on point.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I draw a lot of inspiration from music as a whole. When I’m writing, I pick a song that helps me connect with the mood of the story. I listen to that song on repeat the entire time I’m drafting. It’s funny because I don’t even always like the song or the band. It’s all about how it makes me feel in relation to the project.
Visit Bethany Mangle's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Jack Heath

Jack Heath is the author of several books, including the Danger series, the Fero Files, the Ashley Arthur series, the Agent Six of Hearts series, the Liars series, and The Mysterious World of Cosentino series. He lives in Darwin, Australia.

Heath's new book is The Missing Passenger, the sequel to The Truth App.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I'm trying not to overthink it. The Missing Passenger was first published in Australia as No Survivors, but that title was deemed too dark in the midst of a pandemic. But both titles express the premise, sort of - a plane crashes into a house, and while looking for survivors, the hero discovers that the plane is empty. The pilot and all the passengers have vanished. Hopefully both titles make readers curious enough to pick up the book.

What's in a name?

Jarli was originally a First Nations character. During the editing process, the publisher suggested that those aspects felt artificial, stapled on - like token diversity rather than sincere. They were right, so I removed the explicit references to this aspect of Jarli's background. But I wanted to keep his name, because he felt inseparable from it. Jarli means river in an Indigenous language.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

Astonished. Firstly, the book revolves around a smartphone app that can basically read minds - and smartphones and apps were unimaginable when I was a teenager (although the book I was writing at the time did refer to "digiphones"). Secondly, I knew I'd be a writer, but I expected to be writing for adults. I take children's literature much more seriously now than I did when I was an actual child.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are much harder than beginnings. You have so much freedom - you can start anywhere, but your book only works if you arrive at the correct destination. I revised the ending of The Missing Passenger several times to get the right feel. Whereas the beginning, the plane smashing into Doug's house, remains almost exactly how I put it down on day one.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There's an aspect of wish fulfillment in my characters. I'd love to have Jarli's courage, or Bess's charm. Sometimes my female characters are autobiographical - swapping the gender stops readers from noticing how much the character resembles me - but not in this book.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I always loved Lost, particularly the pilot episode. When I sat down to write the two plane scenes in The Missing Passenger, my goal was to make them both as intense as that show.
Visit Jack Heath's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Truth App.

The Page 69 Test: The Missing Passenger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Mark Wheaton

Born in Texas, Mark Wheaton worked in a computer factory before getting his start as a writer for such movie magazines as Total Film, Fangoria, Shivers, SFX and several others. After leaving journalism, Wheaton worked as a writer for video games, comic books, and movies, including writing scripts for New Line, Sony, Universal, Miramax, HBO, A&E, Syfy, Legende, Disney Channel, and others while working with filmmakers such as Sam Raimi, Michael Bay, Steven Soderbergh, George Tillman, Gavin O'Connor, Janusz Kaminski, and Clark Johnson.

Wheaton's new novel is The Quake Cities.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Hopefully the whole thing? My hope is that when you read the title, The Quake Cities, you imagine multiple cities where earthquakes have become so prevalent they warrant such a collective description. I’m hoping it evokes high adventure in a sci-fi setting and draws anyone seeking such a story right in.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

I hope not at all or, at least, that they'd enjoy it. Some of my favorite stories as a kid were the serializations of John Christopher’s post- apocalyptic series, The Tripods, with art from Frank Bolle that were in the old Boys Life magazine. It was very cliffhanger-driven with their heroes up against impossible odds trying to re-order society following a cataclysm (in Christopher’s case, an alien invasion). I’d hope I’d grow up to write the kinds of things I loved to read myself. I was also a nut for Anne McCaffrey’s Dinosaur Planet books at that age which I hope to emulate in some minor way here as well.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Hard question. Both change quite a bit to service the other, I find. I write draft after draft, yanking one side of a story up while lowering another. I’ll get to an ending I really find satisfying, as I feel I landed on with Quake Cities, and adjust everything before to fit. I like how Agatha Christie worked. She’d write a mystery with no idea who committed the crime. Finish the draft off once she determined the single least likely and most satisfying villain. Then go back and rewrite the thing to bolster that. But I’m not married to anything. I’ve ripped out the beginning of my current work-in-progress half a dozen times now while the ending has stayed relatively the same. The opposite held true for my previous sci-fi book, Emily Eternal.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I see parts of myself in the main character of Quake or, at least, would aspire to be like her. She’s an accidental hero unlike her rough and tumble comrade-in-arms, Este, but has a pretty straight-forward morality when it comes to the big picture. In our time of plagues and political upheaval, it feels downright revolutionary to say that if one person doesn’t matter then no one does. That people are not numbers. Are not statistics. And that this is something worth fighting for. Alice believes this and so do I.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Pre-COVID, a life spent in disaster areas has certainly influenced this book. I grew up in Houston, Texas where hurricanes arrive in the late summer like clockwork with increasing fury. Now that I’m in Los Angeles, earthquakes are common enough but it’s the annual wildfires that are far more disruptive to life now. Understanding that the wealthy and resourced don’t care as much about climate change because they won’t be as affected by the great migrations to come having seen that in action here in California as well as in Texas, certainly impacted the writing of Quake.
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The Page 69 Test: Emily Eternal.

The Page 69 Test: The Quake Cities.

--Marshal Zeringue