Five Questions: Catherine Egan

Julia can be unseen. She has the ability to “step back” into a shadowy place that renders her invisible to most people. It comes in handy when one is a spy. And Julia has been sent to Mrs. Och’s house to find out who is locked in the basement and what they are doing there.

Julia and her brother Dek have been on their own since their father disappeared and their mother was drowned for being a witch. Spira City is a cutthroat place where you live and die by your wits, and fortunately Julia is more clever than most.

But when things take a turn for the unusual at Mrs. Och’s house Julia is faced with a conundrum–should she do her job as she has been paid to do, or listen to her conscience?

JULIA VANISHES and JULIA DEFIANT are the first two books in the Witch’s Child trilogy, and I devoured them both. Julia is such a complex and likable heroine–funny, warm, and yet a little more ruthless than is good for her. I loved watching her character develop through the course of these two books, and I am waiting rather impatiently for the third, which Catherine says is slated to be released June of 2018.

I can’t mention all the characters, but I will tell you there is one named Pia, who is frightening, strong, devilishly quick, and rather ruthless herself. Julia finds her repulsive and yet oddly magnetic, like a tragedy from which she can’t look away.

I can’t tell you enough how much I loved these two books. Julia is such a complex character, and I found myself swallowed whole by the story. I aspire to write books as thoroughly good as these.

Here are Catherine’s five questions:

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

I don’t think I can pinpoint a single seed – every story is the result of a few seeds that manage to connect. I can identify three main “seeds” that turned into JULIA VANISHES.

The most obvious seed was just the idea – I don’t know from where, really – of a spy who can step out of sight, so she’s there but unseen, though not fully invisible either. Another seed was connecting this vanishing spy to the world-building of a failed book. I’d written close to two hundred pages of a book about witches before giving it up, but when I decided to write a spy story, I returned to that disaster of a half-written book for salvage. I pulled out the entire setting and a number of side characters, like the fanatical, witch-hunting prime minister, Agoston Horthy, the fiercely protective witch Bianka and her magical little boy, and my favorite character, Pia, a villain I knew I had to use somewhere.

The third seed was a kind of daydream-image of a girl in a nightgown creeping through a dark house, picking a lock, and entering a room full of books. That became my first chapter. Julia herself emerged as soon as I began to write, and pulled the whole story along after her.

I always imagine my stories will be fun, rollicking thrillers, and they always come out much darker than I intend. After a friend pointed out that most of my characters have lost either a parent or a child, I had to acknowledge that I plant my story-seeds in the ever-fertile soil of my worst nightmares.

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

I’m an outliner through and through. I can’t even start to write until I have a thorough, chapter-by-chapter outline. In the process of drafting, of course, I do diverge from my outline, but whenever that happens I panic and I have to stop and remake the outline to fit with the new direction the book is taking. This happens several times over the course of a couple of drafts, so maybe I’m really part pantser masquerading as an outliner. I do use my outline as kind of a crutch. I envy the faith and courage required to just leap into a story without a plan and see what you emerge with at the end.

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

Style is probably the hardest thing to trace back to particular influences, and also the hardest thing to change about one’s writing, I think. I desperately admire a kind of spare and flawless prose – think Kazuo Ishiguro – that I couldn’t dream of emulating.

I’m sure everything I read creeps into my writing one way or another, but when trying to think about influence, it’s easiest to think about late childhood / early teen reads, when I first began to think of writing as a craft. For the first time I wasn’t just absorbed by a good story – I was recognizing good writing.

The two books that leap to mind immediately are Louise Fitzhugh’s THE LONG SECRET, which was a revelation about writing complicated shades-of-grey characters, and how seeing a character from different perspectives changes everything (Harriet from HARRIET THE SPY is a central character, but she is mostly seen from Beth Ellen’s point of view), and Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE, also a master class in character, voice, and giving the reader what they need instead of what they want.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

No! When my children were smaller I wrote with all kinds of noise in the background, but now I prefer silence whenever possible.

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished THE BOOK OF DUST – for fans of Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS, it doesn’t disappoint – and now I’m reading Carmen Maria Machado’s riveting short stories, HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES.

 

Catherine Egan is:

My books: JULIA DEFIANT, JULIA VANISHES, Shade & Sorceress, The Unmaking, Bone, Fog, Ash & Star
My blog: bycatherineegan.wordpress.com
My superpowers: high-kicking, list-making, simultaneously holding two opposing opinions
My weaknesses: fear of flying, over-thinking and then making bad decisions, excessive list-making
My allies: my made-for-walking-in black boots, Mick, the English Language
My enemies: decaf, low blood sugar, the passage of time
My mission: the coexistence of ambivalence and joy.

Five Questions: Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor

It’s one hundred years in the future, and New York is still the center of civilization, but with wicked cool new technology. Contact lenses can make calls and show your social media feed, cars are replaced by self-driving machines, and the tallest building in town is now 1000 stories tall: complete with schools, shops, parks, and houses–there is literally no need to go outside. Why would you want to?

Some things never change, however, and the wealthy still live extravagantly on the upper floors, teens still party and experiment with sex and drugs, and the course of true love still doesn’t run straight.

The Thousandth Floor and its sequel The Dazzling Heights follows a group of teens as they try to navigate their way to adulthood. Avery is the golden child, genetically modified to be gorgeous and smart. Her friends Eris, Leda and Cord all go to an exclusive school “Up Tower,” while Rylin and Watt, kids from the lower floors stumble into their orbit of parties, expensive clothes, and killer digs.

The Dazzling Heights

But things aren’t as perfect as they appear on the surface. Many secrets and troubles exist between the different players and someone ends up getting hurt. Will the others keep the secret, perhaps the deadliest secret of all?

Katharine McGee has put together a tale that is at once gleaming with polish and raw and authentic. I would pitch it as Gossip Girl of the 22nd century, and it really is a glossy read filled with lifestyles of the young and rich and the all-too-real troubles of a teen from any age: substance abuse, bullying, sex, and forbidden love. I really enjoyed these both and look forward to the next in the continuing series. Here are Katharine’s five questions:

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

I lived in Manhattan for five years after I graduated from college, working as an editor of young adult fiction. This was back when the dystopian craze was all the rage, series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. I couldn’t stop thinking about those books, wondering what it said about us as a society that we were obsessed with such bleak, dark visions of the future. What would the future look like if, instead of destroying the world, we actually got things right—if each generation left the world better than they found it? I wanted to write a non-dystopian young adult novel set in the future, but hadn’t quite figured out what would look like.

Then I read an article about a concept called “vertical urbanization”: the idea that cities in the future will grow increasingly tall until they become massive skyscrapers. The idea captured my imagination. I mentioned it to my boss at work, who said the phrase “the thousandth floor,” and I knew I had my title right there! 🙂

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

I’m an outliner through and through! I couldn’t survive without an outline, especially since I’m dealing with five different narrators, whose stories all intersect in complicated ways. One of my old writing professors called this the domino effect: if you change one thing that happens to one character, it creates a ripple that extends through all the stories. So before I write I spend a lot of time on my chapter-by-chapter outline. It inevitably changes along the way, but that’s just part of the process.

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

My favorite series of all time is still Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—there’s really nothing else like it, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t yet read it. I’m also very into George R.R. Martin lately, in no small part because of the way he so deftly handles his various narrators, killing off characters and then cycling in new ones, all while still maintaining a heart-pounding sense of urgency. I’ve been trying to do something a bit like that with The Thousandth Floor!

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I’m one of those people who needs silence to write! Somehow my brain has trouble sorting through the prose, especially dialogue, when there’s music on. It’s like my brain can’t process the words of the music and then also come up with new words at the same time! So I’m not very good at getting work done in cafés: I mostly work in my home office, or occasionally in a library. But I do play music between scenes to take my mind off things!

5. What are you reading right now?

I just finished Kendare Blake’s One Dark Throne, which is the second in a fantastic fantasy series set in a world where three princess sisters have to kill each other, and the one who lives will become the queen! I’m also reading Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver, an adult historical fiction/fantasy about the rise of early modern Europe. It’s one of those epic, sprawling stories that builds an incredible and intricate world, so I’ve been savoring it.

Katharine McGee

Katharine McGee is originally from Houston, Texas. She studied English and French literature at Princeton University and has an MBA from Stanford. It was during her years in New York, working as an editor by day and writing by night, that she began a manuscript about life in a futuristic skyscraper. The Thousandth Floor is her first novel. She currently lives in Houston with her husband. Check out her website at katharinemcgee.com.

Chelsea Sedoti: Five Questions

Hawthorn Creely is the true essence of awkward. She doesn’t interact well with her peers, she is the total opposite of her golden jock older brother, and she always says the wrong thing. She might be a little self-absorbed too, but she’s too busy thinking about how awkward she is to notice.

But then Lizzie Lovett, a girl who graduated with her brother disappears on a camping trip and Hawthorn’s focus narrows to a point. What happened? Did her boyfriend have anything to do with it? Obsessively following the story, Hawthorn decides to do her own snooping around, including finding out more about Lizzie’s boyfriend and what he might know.

Chelsea Sedoti writes a fascinating tale of obsession, mystery, and danger. Hawthorn gets tangled in a web of her own making and must learn some hard lessons to extricate herself. The marvelous thing about this book is that even though there is darkness and despair there is also humor and light. Sedoti does a beautiful job of balancing the two.

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

Several years ago, I saw an article in the newspaper about a missing girl. Though I didn’t know her, I became oddly interested in the case. I started following it closely, checking daily for updates. After a few weeks of this, I stopped and asked myself why I was so obsessed with the missing girl. I didn’t have an answer, but decided I should pull back a little bit.

But the incident made me think about putting a character in the same situation. A teenage girl who gets wrapped up in a disappearance that has nothing to do with her. Only this girl wouldn’t know when to stop. She would let herself get drawn in to the disappearance more and more.

And just like that, the main character in THE HUNDRED LIES OF LIZZIE LOVETT was born. The rest of the story followed.

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

I tend to fall somewhere in between plotting and pantsing.

If I begin without knowing where the book is heading, I get lost along the way. It’s not fun to realize halfway through that a good portion of your story doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, if I know every single thing that’s going to happen in a book, the writing process becomes much less exciting. I miss out on the moments where the characters surprise me.

So before I start writing, I know how the book begins, I know how it ends, and I know the key moments that happen along the way. Beyond that, I just wait and see where the story and characters take me.

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

My favorite writer is John Irving, and he’s been influencing my writing since I was a teenager. That might seem odd—he writes literary books for adults, I write strange books for teenagers. But my favorite thing about his writing has always been how he blends comedy and tragedy. Life is never entirely dark or entirely light. Most of the time it falls somewhere in the middle. And sometimes humor is the only way to get through tough situations. This is something I’ve tried to emulate in my own books.

4. Do you listen to music when you write?

I generally don’t listen to music when I write. I get very influenced by the mood of music. So, if I were trying to write a lighthearted scene and a gloomy song came on, it would completely change the tone of the story. Rather than always trying to match the music to what I’m working on at the moment, I opt to write in silence.

5. What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading DARE MIGHTY THINGS by Heather Kaczynski, an upcoming science fiction book about a competition to join a mysterious space expedition.

Chelsea Sedoti

Chelsea Sedoti fell in love with writing at a young age after discovering that making up stories was more fun than doing her school work (her teachers didn’t always appreciate this.) In an effort to avoid getting a “real” job, Chelsea explored careers as a balloon twister, filmmaker, and paranormal investigator. Eventually she realized that her true passion is writing about flawed teenagers who are also afraid of growing up. When she’s not at the computer, Chelsea spends her time exploring abandoned buildings, eating junk food at roadside diners, and trying to befriend every animal in the world. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada where she avoids casinos, but loves roaming the Mojave Desert.

Music and Writing

Music and writing copy

Last week I wrote about my writing process but  I neglected to mention the type of environment in which I like to write best. In our library at home (yes, we have a library) we have a blue Queen Anne chair that is also a recliner. I like to sit in that with my feet up with my laptop and and tap tap tap away.

I also require total silence. An sculptor friend of mine and I were talking about this the other day and he says he needs silence too. He pointed to his head and said, “This is all the noise you need right here.” I totally agree.

However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think there is an intersection of inspiration between music and words as both are different mediums in storytelling. I can’t tell you how many short stories or vignettes I’ve written based on songs. I don’t know the way your brain works, but I think for a lot of people listening to music conjures pictures in their heads.  And words can do the same thing.

And it can work in the opposite direction too. Lots of songwriters have based songs on stories they’ve read. On The Sounds of Silence album by Simon and Garfunkel Paul Simon wrote the song “Richard Cory” based on the poem by E.A. Robinson of the same name. There are countless examples of artists taking inspiration from each other to create something new and that’s an amazing thing to witness. It’s even more amazing when it happens to you.

The current novel on which I am working has a soundtrack, for sure. I just can’t listen to it while I’m pounding out the words on the computer. But I did put a playlist together and I listen to it whenever I can. It’s amazing how listening to a particular song and thinking about a particular character can give me an idea on how to fix a problem with a plot point, or how to add a new facet to their personality.

When I was constructing this playlist I first started out with my characters and tried to find a song that best fit their personality. Some are bang on, some I am still searching for the perfect anthem. But then after the “character sketch” songs, I put in songs that represent scenes or events I know are going to be in the story. And it isn’t a rigid playlist at all. As I’m listening and something doesn’t feel right, I’ll take it out and put something new in to try it out.  It’s always evolving and growing along with the story in my head.

Here is the current playlist with which I am working:

  1. “Lightning Crashes” by Live (Throwing Copper)
  2. “Homesick” by Soul Asylum (Grave Dancer’s Union)
  3. “Girlfriend” by Avril Lavigne (The Best Damn Thing)
  4. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul (Collective Soul)
  5. “Easy Target” by Blink-182 (Blink-182)
  6. “Creep” by Radiohead (Pablo Honey)
  7. “Rock n’ Roll Lifestyle” by Cake (Motorcade of Generosity)
  8. “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry (One of the Boys)
  9. “What is Love” by Haddaway (What is Love)
  10. “Enter Sandman” by Metallica (Metallica)
  11. “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed (Immortalized)
  12. “My Immortal” by Evanescence (Fallen)
  13. “Song 2” by Blur (Blur)
  14. “Pain” by Jimmy Eat World (Futures)
  15. “Starlight” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  16. “She Loves You” by the Beatles (1)
  17. “Invincible” by Muse (Black Holes & Revelations)
  18. “Run to the Water” by Live (The Distance to Here)
  19. “Song for the Asking” by Simon & Garfunkel (Bridge over Troubled Water)
  20. “Whispers in the Dark” by Mumford & Sons (Babel)

Tracks 1-6 are character sketches. Everything else is situational. While I know you can’t deduce my story from these songs, you can’t deny there is a story in each one of them. There is a little movie in your head when you listen. When I put it all together that little movie becomes the novel I am writing.