Published by 47North
Published on April 12th 2016
Genres: Dystopia, Science Fiction
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In the wake of a devastating plague, two communities emerge as bastions of survival. One is called the City, and its people scrabble for scraps in the wasteland. The other, New Charity, enjoys the bounty of its hydroelectric dam and refuses City denizens so much as a drop of precious water. When City-dweller Cressyda inherits her father’s ranch within New Charity, she becomes intent on opening the dam to all—no matter the cost.
But when Syd reunites with her old best friend, Casandra, a born seer and religious acolyte, she realizes that her plans could destroy the fragile lives they’ve built in order to survive. What’s more, the strange magic securing the dam’s operations could prove deadly if disturbed. Yet when Syd discovers evidence that her father might have been murdered, she is more determined than ever to exact revenge on New Charity’s corrupt.
Pitted against Cas, as well as her own family, Syd must decide how to secure the survival of both settlements without tipping them over the brink to utter annihilation. In this intense and emotional reimagining of the Trojan War epic, two women clash when loyalty, identity, community, and family are all put to the ultimate test.
Which do you find the hardest to write, the first or the last line of your novels? Why?
I usually know the ending of my books before I start writing, so the first line is always a lot more difficult for me, personally. Starting a novel is fraught with perilous decisions – ones I loathe committing to, such as: point of view, point of view characters, tense, tone, when to enter the action, and the list goes on. I frequently rewrite the beginning several times trying to get these choices just right, so as to do justice to the voice(s) I’m trying to channel.
Perhaps this says something about my character: it’s hard for me to start things, but once I get going I’m like a charging bull. All kidding aside, the beginning is where we, as writers, ask the reader to accompany us, so it’s not as if these decisions aren’t important. Of course, the ending is crucial too, as it’s where we, as writers, ask readers to remember us. Perhaps I still feel more confident asking the second question than the first. But with each story, each essay, each book, it becomes easier to say, “Please join me on this adventure.”
Which comes first in your writing process, the title, or the content of you story? (Do you always know what your book’s title is going to be?)
I always start with a working title – usually some sort of image or even a song lyric, something that gets me thinking big picture. These titles never last. Usually I go through two or three titles by the time I pass things on to the publisher.
Letters to Zell, my first novel – a satirical, epistolary fairy tale placing readers inside Rapunzel’s mailbox as the Grimm princesses’ report their happily ever afterlives– started life as a manuscript called After. I workshopped chapters pretty frequently at the beginning of the book’s life and people would always ask, “Is the whole book really in letters?” and “Is Rapunzel going to write back?” So, tongue firmly in cheek, I renamed it “Letters TO Zell” and the title ended up sticking, though somewhere the emphasis was, wisely, dropped.
New Charity Blues was originally named Home at Last, after the Steely Dan song of the same name. The song references Odysseus’ reticence to return to Greece after being away so long. I thought it was a lovely theme song for my heroine Syd, who faces the same push and pull once ensconced in her comfortable hometown, away from the discomforts of her ruined City.
But. The publisher didn’t love the name, and so we all spent time with the original Greek narratives, Shakespeare, and contemporary works to find an alternative. We must have gone through three or four weeks of back and forth ideas before the valiant Ben-from-Marketing came up with the perfect fit.
Let’s talk character names. How do you go about selecting names for characters in your book? Do the names you pick have any significance to you, or do you ever feel inspired by a name?
Names are very significant for me. I do a lot of research on the meaning of names before I start a book, and will change a character’s name if it conveys some meaning I don’t intend, unless I’m pinned into a name by a storyline. In New Charity Blues, I played a lot with anagrams and reusing letters from the names of the parallel characters in the Greek narrative.
Christening characters is usually the second thing I’ll do after I have a concept. Names say a lot about a person, or maybe that’s just me projecting my own thoughts and wants onto others, but regardless, even if readers don’t notice, I want there to be intent in all of my decisions, including the names of my characters.
How do you plot your books, do you write it down on paper/index cards/etc, or do you write on the fly? Do you ever find that your plot changes as you write, or does it stay pretty close to how you planned it?
I’m not quite a “seat-of-my pantser,” but I’m close. Typically I’ll come up with a concept, then characters, and finally sit down to make a plot “list.” I’m not implying this list is any sort of respectable outline: In structure, it’s typically broken into sections, often dictated by some arbitrary, yet related theme – seasons, elements, time, or an odd number of parts (usually three, five, or seven). I jot down the plot points I want to accomplish in each section, then write experimentally using those touchstones. The list is helpful if I get stuck; I can jump to another part then build a bridge between finished pieces later, if need be.
My plots do tend to change a lot, so said list gets scribbled out and rewritten, erased and red-penned. Sometimes, things can’t happen organically the way a writer originally envisions. Other times the only material you have left to build one of those plot bridges are old, sun-bleached Popsicle sticks. Not that I’m ever very upset when this happens – I’m pretty flexible when it comes to art imitating life. No matter how vexing the narrative obstacle, I always feels like a mad scientist when I finally solve the problem, and it’s worth it to come out of the other end of the tunnel. The dog and I celebrate with peanut butter.
What’s in your “Author Survival Kit”? (Pens, Caffeine, iPods, Prozac?)
When I travel, I take instant coffee. It’s always in my purse, even when I’m home — as if here in Seattle it’s even physically possible to stray over a mile from a Starbucks. But I’ve been stuck in hotels where it has come in handy. I also always have a wide variety of pens: black, blue, red, pink, calligraphy, metallic. Sure, the lady at the bank looks at you funny when you riffle through them, but one never knows what kind of pen a spontaneous situation will call for. I come by this habit genetically, born from a long line of pen collectors (aka hoarders). I also carry music (iPod and/or iPhone) and headphones with me, as music is an important part of my process and general sanity. There are small Moleskines stashed all over the house, car, and purse for notes. Oh, and usually stashes of dog bones for my number one assistant, Dutch the Spoiled Olde English Bulldogge.
Do you have a favorite place to write? Tell us about it!
I work from home, which is quite a luxury. My favorite place to write depends on the time of day, really. In the mornings, the dog and I usually have some playtime in the guest room, so I end up editing, catching up on email, and sharing my cereal with her on the guest bed. We’re in the office most afternoons, which is bright blue and filled with all my favorite colorful things – books, posters, toys, gifts, scarves, stupid hats. I have a red office chair and a fairly good ergonomic setup, which is important because I injured my neck a couple years ago and have had residual pain in my right arm and hand since. In the evenings, if I’m still working, I’m doing so from a club chair in our library/TV Room. I’m big on multi-tasking, so if Adam (my wonderful other half) is playing a video game or watching something I don’t care about, I’ll spend time with him physically, but often catch up on blogs, social media, and other less intensive tasks. I also like to write in dark bars, sticky counters and all.
If you could use 3 words to describe your books, what would they be?
What are the top 3 things on your bucket list?
- Visiting the Ice Hotel in Sweden.
- Sailing to Antarctica.
- Mud bathing in Iceland.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
This is really hard. I think some manner of Thai rice noodles. (Random, but I really love noodles.)
What is something you never leave home without?
A bottle of sparkling water. Seriously, it’s beginning to rival coffee on my addiction scale. Well, coffee and noodles.
What are the last 3 books you enjoyed reading?
I tend to binge on books outside of the genre I’m writing in (anything and everything from nonfiction to poetry). I’ve recently read and enjoyed:
- Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin: This is a story of a down and out personal assistant in LA, a place dear to me since I did my college years there. Her voice is so enjoyable, she could have been writing about damp laundry, but the story itself – coming of age, boundaries between mothers and daughters, pleasure and pain of adult friendships – is a wonderful surprise.
- The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock: A debut novel, this is a really tender story of a group of girls growing up in Alaska (another favorite cold place). She delves into myriad coming-of-age issues in a beautifully nuanced way over several points of view. I really enjoyed the story, the distinct voices, and the deep dedication/love of place conveyed.
- This is the Water by Yannick Murphy: I fell in love with Murphy’s second novel, The Call, and picked her third book up because I was such a fan. I love authors who successfully play with structure and she is a master. This is the Water is written in second person, which is awfully hard to do well – particularly over the span of a novel. But she combines the intense self-awareness of a flawed narrator (remember, that narrator is you) and combines it with the plot of a thriller. It works and works well.
What are 3 words you’d use to describe yourself?
Do you have a favorite hobby/pastime?
Right now, I’d probably say playing the piano, which I’ve been doing since I was seven, though I dabble with dance classes and cooking and crossword puzzles. Music allows me another artistic outlet, and I love being able to put my own personality into the piano, whether it’s an interpretation of someone else’s music or even noodling (noodles!) around with my own compositions.
Do you have a hidden talent? If so, what is it?
I can sing the entirety of the Jumbone commercial on demand.
This or That?
Sunrise or Sunset?
Sunset! I’m naturally an evening/night person and the colors are always so much more dramatic at night. Growing up, our house was on a hill facing west, and I took hundreds of pictures trying to capture that simple, daily magic.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee, coffee, coffee. I started drinking it at 12, so I’m pretty set in my ways lo these many years later. We drink Café Vita here at home, for those keeping track.
Hot or Cold?
I’d much rather be cold (see childhood in Montana & bucket list above, for reference). You can always put more sweaters on, but you can only take so much off. Now that we live in Seattle, I’m a heat wimp. Over 72 degrees? I’ll be complaining.
PC or Mac?
My first computer (age 10) was an Apple II GS. I’ve had Macs ever since. I’ve had to use PCs for work, but I’ve never actually owned one.
By Land, or by sea?
There’s nothing better than a good road trip. I still drive back and forth to Montana from Seattle a couple times a year. For me, there’s something cathartic in the journey – allowing me to feel emptied out and filled up at the same time.
Half-empty or Half-full?
I’m a half-full kind of lady most of the time. Unless we’re talking coffee: If the coffee cup is not full, it might as well be empty.
Autumn or Spring?
Autumn is the perfect season with its cooler nights and shorter days. You can also start wearing sweaters again. I love sweaters.
Summer or Winter?
Winter, but only because Summer is hot and contains a lot of that yellow, blinding ball in the sky. I burn and peel and squint. It’s no good at all. Winter here in Seattle is milder than where I grew up, so we get a lot of rain, which is conducive to writing and drinking warm things like coffee. Have I mentioned I like coffee?
E-book or Print Book? (Preferred reading)
Mostly I’ve moved to e-books, though the transition was a hard one for me and included a lot of kicking and screaming. I still prefer to read poetry in print and I buy most of my friends’ books in print, just so that I can see them. E-books are so much nicer for traveling, or for folks like me, who are always reading more than one book at a time. No matter what mood I’m in, I’m never at a loss for something to read. My take on the choice is that as long as people are reading, I don’t care what they’re reading on, even though I’ll always, always love and cherish print books, too.
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