Five Questions: Molly Booth

saving-hamlet-molly-booth-2Molly Booth is adorable. A cute, pixie haircut, glasses, and a huge, beautiful smile. And she’s a damn fine writer too. Her debut novel, Saving Hamlet, was just published in November. It’s funny as hell, smart, and has Shakespeare! What’s not to love?

In Saving Hamlet we meet Emma, a high school student who has recently shed her jock persona in favor of a drama geek. She is the stage manager of her school’s production of Hamlet and things aren’t going well. The lead is struggling with his lines, Ophelia is being a prima donna, and the director (her secret crush) is not, well, being directional. And then one night Emma accidentally falls through the stage trapdoor and finds herself in the basement of the Globe Theater in London. In the sixteenth century. Emma has to find a way back home and glean enough information from her experience with the Globe’s theatrical company to make her own high school show a success.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

The original idea for Saving Hamlet came when I was a sophomore at Marlboro College, taking a fiction workshop and a Shakespeare course at the same time. My professor, Paul Nelsen, taught us about Shakespeare’s backstage and history, and it was so exciting! So many plays at once, barely any rehearsal time, lightning-paced theater. I’d been a stage manager in high school and for part of college, so reading about the Globe and the Chamberlain’s Men was thrilling. I came up with a short story idea to have a teenager travel back in time there, and get to work with Shakespeare. I started writing Emma (my main character), and her challenges and voice helped shape the story, which eventually became Saving Hamlet.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

A bit of both! I write one draft without a whole lot of plotting, then I do a long outline before the next one. Some chapters I go in knowing what needs to happen, sometimes I write until I figure it out, and then go back and revise. I think part of what’s exciting (and terrifying) for me about writing is that you don’t know how it’s all going to happen before you do it. Maybe once I’ve written 10 or 20 books I’ll know ahead of time, but I doubt it!

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I grew up reading Meg Cabot and Tamora Pierce, and I do think some of how I write was formed by their (far superior) clear prose, humor, and character development. In recent years, I’ve also turned to Rainbow Rowell when looking for inspiration — she writes so fearlessly, and her books give me courage.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Sometimes! If I do, it’s almost always instrumental electronic music. I wrote Saving Hamlet to the Social Network soundtrack and deadmau5, and for Nothing Happened, I’ve been writing with Ratatat in the background. I usually listen to musicals, alternative rock/pop, and Taylor Swift, so the electronic thing is definitely a weird writing phenomenon for me.

5. What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading Hag-Seed  by Margaret Atwood, a retelling of The Tempest, as well as finishing The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman. I also just finished my friend Dana Langer’s truly wonderful middle grade novel, Siren Sisters, which I cannot recommend enough!

Molly Booth

Molly Booth

Molly Booth is a freelance writer, youth theatre director, and graduate student at UMass Boston. She writes YA books about Shakespeare and feelings. Her first novel Saving Hamlet, is out now from Disney Hyperion. Her second, Nothing Happened will be coming spring 2018. She lives in Boston, and has almost too many pets. Almost. For more, find her on twitter @mollygbooth, and visit her website: www.mollybooth.com

Saving Hamlet was probably my favorite YA read of 2016. You’ll laugh out loud, I promise.

Get your copy here:

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Five Questions – Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I’m a little bit giddy about this one, I must confess. I met Nathan Hill at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November and even took his class on X-Ray writing, which was fantastic. He lives in Naples like me and I was delighted to find out we had friends in common. So I asked him on a whim if he would participate and he said yes!

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is kind of a big deal. His book, The Nix, was on the NYT Bestseller list and made quite a few “Best Books of the Year” lists for 2016 as well. The Nix is about a college English professor whose estranged mother is arrested for throwing rocks at a controversial conservative politician. In order to fulfill his obligation to his publisher,  Samuel decides to write a tell-all about his mother and her political activist past. But in order to get the dirt he has to go see her, and he hasn’t spoken to her since she walked out on the family when he was just a kid.

This book is packed with so much – the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riots that ensued, Norwegian urban legends, a violin prodigy love interest, gaming culture and a very special freak named Pwnage who is a master at the fictional Elfscape. Plus add in a cheating college student who turns the tables on Samuel and leads to an academic investigation, and I didn’t even mention the tangent on feminine hygiene advertising from the 60s. Sound crazy? It is, but somehow it works into an interesting dissection of the relationship between mother and son.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

I had just moved to New York City in the summer of 2004, and one of the things that happened during my first month there was that the Republicans held their presidential nominating convention at Madison Square Garden. And people were coming in from all over the country to protest it. So I went into Manhattan and watched all the hubbub. And one of the things that I kept hearing in the run-up to the 2004 convention—from the talking head cable news type people—was that it was going to be the most contentious since the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. That’s how I was originally drawn to the subject. It gave me the idea to do a book about two generations of protest: a mother who attend the one in ‘68, and her son who attended the one in ’04.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Definitely a “pantser.” I began writing the book in 2004 and I didn’t make an outline until like 2011. I had no idea where the story was going. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a plot. I had a basic situation and two characters (Samuel and Faye, who for years were named “the boy” and “the mother”), and so the writing I was doing was more like exploration. I wasn’t writing to describe things that happened. I was writing to discover them. Which is much slower. And yes, I hopped around a lot, even after I had an outline and a plot, there were whole sections of the novel that I skipped because, frankly, I didn’t think I was good enough yet to write them. I remember noting in my journal: “This will be very hard.” Then when I came back to those sections a year or so later, I realized that I’d learned how to write them. Writing the novel taught me how to write the novel, if that makes sense.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

My favorite authors are the ones who are able to burrow deep into the psychology of a character, whose prose sounds like the brain-voice of a character from the inside. David Foster Wallace does this. So does Virginia Woolf. I like to think that fiction is the best invention we have to understand what it would feel like to be somebody else, and so I especially enjoy authors who are committed to that kind of writing.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I do listen to music, but it can’t have words or too much dynamic range (the sudden jolts of energy in a symphony, for example, would be too distracting). I find myself most drawn to quiet pieces for piano or cello. I highly recommend “The Chopin Variations” by Chad Lawson, or the Bach cello suites performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m reading some nonfiction that I suppose is “research” for the next novel. Also a few editors have asked me to blurb some books that are coming out later this year, so I’m reading those. And I’ve been delighted to read my fellow Knopf debut authors: in particular, Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter and Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing were amazing books.

Nathan Hill, y’all. His book was the best adult fiction I read last year. Get your copy here:

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Five Questions: Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

Nickel by Robert Wilder

I met Robert Wilder at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference last November. If you remember I volunteered for the event and was the lucky person who ran trips to and from the airport. Rob was one of the folks I carted around, and he was great to talk to.  I look forward to seeing him again someday.

Rob has previously written several books of humorous essays, but Nickel is his first foray into Young Adult literature. Coy is an adorkable teenage boy with a mother in rehab and a slightly inept stepfather. His lifeline is his best friend, the 80’s obsessed Monroe. But when she comes down with a serious and indefinable illness Coy is left to fend for himself in the cruel high school landscape.

Wilder really hit the awkward, nerdy teenager on the spot. Coy digs right into your heart and won’t let go. Nickel is both painful and ultimately hopeful as we follow his lows (a surprise birthday party with almost no attendees) and highs (meeting Avree, a girl he thinks is out of his league). Told with a keen understanding of the teenage mind, Nickel is a funny and authentic read from an author to watch.

FIVE QUESTIONS

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

NICKEL is a tribute to the quiet, odd kids I’ve enjoyed teaching over my twenty-five years in the classroom. My inspiration for the novel began with all the essays, stories, poems and journal entries I’ve read by the quirky kids, a series of interior voices few others had access to. I then combined those voices with a dash of my son London and my younger self to form Coy, the narrator.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

My early drafts are purely exploratory. I start with a voice or idea or event and then follow it, not worrying about anything (or showing anyone) until I have a full draft. Then I start again since I hopefully know what the novel’s intentions are. Somewhere along the line, I’ll tape butcher paper up on my kitchen walls and sketch the overall plot, scenes, or character arcs, but not until I have at least two full drafts under my belt.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

Style? I’m not sure but for NICKEL, I read Lorrie Moore, Antonya Nelson, JD Salinger, Sarah Shun Lien-Bynum, Augusten Burroughs and others.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Nothing with lyrics. Mostly jazz while I’m writing, but when I’m in the car or taking a break I listen to all different types of music. The characters of Coy and Monroe in NICKEL are obsessed with the 1980s, so I reacquainted myself (rather loudly) with Foreigner, Bad Company, AC/DC, The Smiths.

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Nicholson Baker’s Substitute and Anne Valente’s Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down; I’m in the middle of Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton; and The Odd Woman and The City by Vivian Gornick is up next.

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder

Robert Wilder is the author of a novel, NICKEL (Leaf Storm Press), and two critically acclaimed essay collections, Tales From The Teachers’ Lounge and Daddy Needs A Drink, both published by Delacorte Press.

A teacher for twenty-five years, Wilder has earned numerous awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Innovations in Reading Prize by the National Book Foundation. He has published essays in NewsweekDetails, SalonParentingCreative Nonfiction, plus numerous anthologies and has been a commentator for NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Thanks for playing along Rob! Go get this book, you’re going to love it.

Get your copy of Nickel here:

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Five Questions: Lawrence Tabak

in-real-lifeWelcome to my weekly author interview. This week I talked to Lawrence Tabak who wrote the great gaming novel In Real Life.

Fifteen-year-old math prodigy Seth Gordon knows exactly what he wants to do with his life—play video games. Every spare minute is devoted to honing his skills at Starfare, the world’s most popular computer game. His goal: South Korea, where the top pros are rich and famous. But the best players train all day, while Seth has school and a job and divorced parents who agree on only one thing: “Get off that damn computer.” Plus there’s a new distraction named Hannah, an aspiring photographer who actually seems to understand his obsession.

While Seth mopes about his tournament results and mixed signals from Hannah, Team Anaconda, one of the leading Korean pro squads, sees something special. Before he knows it, it’s goodbye Kansas, goodbye Hannah, and hello to the strange new world of Korea. But the reality is more complicated than the fantasy, as he faces cultural shock, disgruntled teammates, and giant pots of sour-smelling kimchi.

What happens next surprises Seth. Slowly, he comes to make new friends, and discovers what might be a breakthrough, mathematical solution to the challenges of Starcraft. Delving deeper into the formulas takes him in an unexpected direction, one that might just give him a new focus—and reunite him with Hannah.

THE FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

When my second son was in middle school he rather suddenly decided that there were no longer any books of interest. Keep in mind this is within the confines of a house where bookshelves are everywhere and space on shelves is short. His main interest at the time was video gaming so after some back and forth he reluctantly agreed he’d give a book about a video gamer a shot. We tried the local bookstores without much luck — while there were a few very good science fiction type books that centered on gaming (Ender’s Game, for example) we couldn’t find a contemporary novel about kids obsessed with console controllers or mouse clicking. I was surprised, since in my experience, gaming was central to the lives of young boys. We could find any number of books about young basketball players, young football players, young hockey and tennis players. But not one about gamers. This was at a time when professional gaming was beginning to emerge domestically, and was already well established in South Korea. So I decided to write that book.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I don’t work with a written outline, but do spend considerable mental energy laying out the general course of a book before I start. I once read a profile of best-seller thriller writer Harlan Corben in which he describes spending months lying around, dreaming up his intricate plots, which he finally pens in a frenzy of writing. I haven’t achieved this sort of mental discipline, but do tend to write fast once I get into a project. That said, I find that my storylines tend to twist and turn in composition as events fall into place in a way which seem more true to satisfying fiction than life.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

I’ve been drawn to writing about younger protagonists more than writing for younger readers. As such, I’ve been most impressed with YA writers whose seem to be seeking to write the best possible books about young adults without tempering their composition for accessibility — what is sometimes called literary YA writing. The best of these writers are producing fine novels — not just fine novels that are geared for younger readers. Examples include A.S. King, Gayle Forman, and John Green. I’m also been knocked out by some modern writers when they delve into the lives and minds of younger protagonists. I’m thinking of the teenage Theodore and his dissolute friend Boris living as virtual orphans in the ruins of suburban Las Vegas in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Or the story Victory Lap which opens George Saunders’ collection Tenth of December. In a book I’m reading currently, Nathan Hill does an amazing job of capturing the passion and intensity of the emotional lives of eleven-year-olds in The Nix.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I often write with music on my headset, particularly since I like to work in semi-public places (coffee shops, libraries, student unions). I will usually just leave my song list on random, since once I get into the writing I’m not consciously aware of what songs are playing.

5. What are you reading right now?

I often have a couple books going at once. I’ve currently set everything aside to finish The Nix, a riveting 2016 novel by Nathan Hill. As I’ve mentioned, the sections devoted to his characters’ younger years are particularly stunning, as well as harrowing. It’s also a novel rich in political relevance, as it bounces back and forth between naive anti-war protestors in 1968 to a contemporary crisis involving a modern demogogic politician. I’ve got a bookmark in a just-translated volume of stories by Israeli Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, A City in Its Fullness, all set in the small Ukrainian city where he had spent his youth. And another bookmark in The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt’s story of how a 15th century book hunter found the last extant manuscript of a Roman poem by Lucretius, On The Nature of Things, and in doing so, helped trigger the Renaissance.

 

lawrence-tabakLawrence Tabak started out on Candy Land but soon hit the harder stuff (Pong, Tron, SimAnt). His first job was playing knock hockey with ten-year-olds as a playground supervisor in Dubuque, Iowa. He graduated to jobs in pizza assembly and door-to-door solicitation before settling into a series of tennis jobs in Iowa, California, New Jersey and Kansas. Most recently he’s worked in the marketing communications side of finance in Kansas City and Madison, Wis. His freelance writing has appeared in numerous national magazines and journals including Fast Company, Salon.com and The Atlantic Monthly. He and his wife have raised two game-obsessed boys, mostly in Wisconsin. Among their accomplishments are stints on the pro-gaming squads of SK Gaming and Fnatic and helping launch the live-streaming gaming site, Twitch.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Lawrence! If you have a teen who is obsessed with video games this is the perfect read. Watch for great new things to come from this author.

Get In Real Life here:     Barnes and Noble               Amazon

Five Questions: Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Snowed by Maria Alexander

Welcome to my next author interview! This week I am talking with Maria Alexander, the author of the amazing YA horror novel Snowed.

Charity Jones is a 16-year-old engineering genius who’s much-bullied for being biracial and a skeptic at her conservative school in Oak County, California. Everything changes when Charity’s social worker mother brings home a sweet teen runaway named Aidan to foster for the holidays. Matched in every way, Charity and Aidan quickly fall in love. But it seems he’s not the only new arrival: Charity soon finds the brutally slain corpse of her worst bully and she gets hard, haunting evidence that the killer is stalking Oak County. As she and her Skeptics Club investigate this death and others, they find at every turn the mystery only grows darker and more deadly. One thing’s for certain: there’s a bloody battle coming this holiday season that will change their lives – and human history – forever. Will they be ready?

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea?

Many years ago, on a miserable November night, I was feeling especially Grinchy as I was driving home from an awful, long-distance job. I’d always had a tempestuous relationship with Christmas. So when an instrumental version of “Carol of the Bells” came on the radio, it struck me as the darkest piece I’d ever heard. I’d just read Neil Gaiman’s “Nicholas Was,” which already had me in a myth-twisting mood. By the time I got home, I had a new story in my head, and all I had to do was sit and write. “Coming Home” was the result: a wicked flash fiction piece that was part social commentary, part bah-humbug, and completely surprising. I shared it with Neil, and he said, “This is the story I should have written.” That floored me, of course, but I knew I’d done something different.

It was published a dozen times and stolen even more before it was produced as a one-act play by Women in Theater in Los Angeles, and even adapted to podcast by Pseudopod.org. But I knew it had potential to be a bigger work. I didn’t really figure out how to adapt it to novel, though, until late 2012.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser?

I come from a screenwriting background. So, structure is very important to me, which means I outline. When I started Snowed, I thought I was writing this sweet magical romance. But something terrible fell out of nowhere at the end of Chapter 5 – something I hadn’t anticipated but it felt right. (If you’ve read the book, you know what that is.) That’s when I realized I was actually writing something very dark. I went back and totally revised the outline. I’m working on the sequel, Inversion. The first draft only took three months because I knew the broad strokes and all the characters. So, I don’t always need a thorough outline to write, but I do need to know the big moments.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style?

It’s changed a lot since I switched to YA. It used to be authors like Caitlin Kiernan, Clive Barker and Tim Powers. Now I’m not so sure, although a couple of readers have said the Snowed is reminiscent of Joe Hill, who I love. I’d say that Philip Pullman has been and will always be a big influence on anything I write for younger audiences, as His Dark Materials had a major impact on me. And I read a lot of what my friend Nancy Holder writes, so no doubt she’s in there, as well.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

Usually, and especially when I’m thinking about story, but never anything with lyrics unless it’s in another language. Just movie soundtracks, ambient, and classical music.

5. What are you reading right now?

A lot of stuff people are offering for Bram Stoker Awards consideration, actually — everything from horror poetry to novellas. But I’m really excited to dig into Gretchen McNeil’s newest book, I’m Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even if it’s not particularly dark. We met this year in San Diego at an event we were both signing at. She’s going to be the YA Guest of Honor at StokerCon 2017, and I look forward to spending time with her again.

 

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander

Maria Alexander is the award-winning author of Mr. Wicker, numerous short stories, and two poetry collections. Her nonfiction is used in curriculum at Champlain University. Her debut YA novel, Snowed, from Raw Dog Screaming Press is being called “one heck of a page turner” by adults and “kick-ass” by teens. For more information, visit her website.

Thanks so much for your time, Maria! Seriously, you need to read this book. Charity Jones is whip-smart and sassy. I wish I had known her in high school. Go and get your copy here:

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Happy Book Birthday, Dana Langer!

siren-sisters

Welcome to my very first author interview! I plan on introducing you to a new author each week and asking them the same five questions. And to kick things off, I bring you Dana Langer, debut author of the middle grade novel Siren Sisters, which is out TODAY! Congratulations Dana! I am so excited for you!

Lolly Salt has three beautiful sisters. When they’re not in school or running their small town’s diner, they’re secretly luring ships to their doom from the cliffs of Starbridge Cove, Maine. With alluring voices that twelve-year-old Lolly has yet to grow into (not that she wants to anyway) the Salt sisters do the work mandated by the Sea Witch, a glamorously frightening figure determined to keep the girls under her control. With their mother dead after a mysterious car accident, and their father drowning in grief, the sisters carry on with their lives and duties until a local sea captain gets suspicious about the shipwrecks.

On the day before her birthday, Lolly watches in helpless horror as her sisters are lured themselves by curse-reversing fishermen–and suddenly it’s up to her and her best friend Jason to rescue the sirens of Starbridge Cove.

Dana Langer

Dana Langer

Dana is a teaches Creative Writing and English to high school students and recently moved from New York City to Ramsey, NJ.

FIVE QUESTIONS:

1. What was the original seed idea for your book? Did it start with a character, a situation, or an idea? 

The first image I ever had in my head of this book (which isn’t an image that made into the final version, actually) was a group of sisters scavenging items from a shipwreck, and one of them not participating, wandering away and doing cartwheels instead.

2. What is your writing process? Are you an outliner or a pantser? 

I start with images and pieces of dialogue floating around in my head. And sometimes a setting or myth that interests me. I try to think how they can all fit together. Then I write down all these scenes and conversations and try to impose some kind of chronological structure on them that I hope eventually becomes a plot. I like to restrict the time-frame of the story in order to keep from getting too lost, like “This all has to take place over the course of one week. Go!” My first drafts are usually too short and contain a lot of uninterrupted dialog. In revising, I tend to need to add more.

3. Who are the writers which most influence your writing style? 

My adviser in college was Jayne Anne Phillips, who is an incredible author and person. One of our other professors, Jill McCorkle, once referred to her, with a very charming southern accent, as “The Queen of the Line Edit.” She made me pay attention to the rhythm and meaning of every sentence. In terms of current middle grade authors, I re-read Doll Bones (Holly Black), Rules for Stealing Stars (Corey Ann Haydu), Akata Witch (Nnedi Okorafor), and a lot of Claire Legrand’s books while I was writing Siren Sisters.

4. Do you listen to music when you write? 

I don’t listen to music while writing, but I do listen to it while thinking about and planning the story, especially while driving to work. Some of my own creative writing students recently made me a playlist of music they thought I’d like, and it’s pretty perfect. Elliot Smith, The Velvet Underground, Bon Iver… It’s like they read my mind.

5. What are you reading right now? 

I’m just finishing Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein), which I loved. I’m also reading The Turner House (Angela Flournoy) in order to teach it this semester, and I’m about to start The Secret Horses of Briar Hill (Megan Shepherd).

A big thank you to Dana Langer for taking the time to talk to me! Now that I know you are dying to read Siren Sisters, or can think of a middle schooler who would love this, you can buy it here:

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