I had the pleasure of interviewing the 2015 Penguin Teen on Tour authors at the NOVA Teen Book Festival. The five wonderful authors are: Morgan Rhodes (Gathering Darkness, book 3 of the Falling Kingdoms series), Rachel Hawkins (Miss Mayhem, sequel to Rebel Belle), Seth Fishman (The Dark Water, sequel to The Well’s End), Maggie Hall (The Conspiracy of Us) and Jessica Khoury (Kalahari).
As you’ll be able to tell from their answers, they are a lot of fun and I highly recommend you go see them on tour if they’ll be near you!
Lauren Wengrovitz (LW): What 5 words would you use to describe your book?
Morgan Rhodes (MR): Falling Kingdoms is Game of Thrones meets Gossip Girl.
Rachel Hawkins (RH): Homecoming queen turned superhero.
Maggie Hall (MH): YA Da Vinci code plus kissing
Seth Fishman (SF): Quarantine with deadly virus. Or hidden well with all sorts of other things.
Jessica Khoury (JK): Safari gone wrong, freaky science.
LW: Which of your characters do you most relate to most and why?
JK: In Kalahari, I relate most to Avani. She’s Canadian and she’s one of the teens who comes for the safari. She is very book-smart. She’s read a lot of books, she knows a lot about the animals and the environment they’re in, but when it comes to actually surviving and the practical application of that knowledge, she’s useless. So that would probably be me. I’d be like, “Well I read about this in a book, but I have no idea what to do next.”
MR: I have four main characters and my answer changes from time to time. I’m going to go with Prince Magnus today, because I’ve been feeling very sarcastic this week and he’s very misunderstood. And he’s also really hot ( ;) from Morgan)
RH: I’d probably identify most with David Stark in the Rebel Belle books because he works on his school newspaper, I was on my school yearbook, he can be very sarcastic. I can’t relate to my main character because she’s a debutante and homecoming queen. I also had terrible fashion sense in high school, as does David. I don’t think I ever wore plaid pants though, I don’t think I ever went that far. Somebody made me an action figure with him wearing the plaid pants and it was the happiest day of my life. I cried all over her in the bookstore because it was the nicest thing anyone has ever done.
MH: Today I’ll say Stellan. There are many reasons I don’t relate to him whatsoever but he does tend to call out the other when they’re doing dumb things. I feel like its me as the author being like, “You idiots! Obviously that’s not what that means. What are you doing?” and I think that’s him being the voice of reason occasionally, which is weird for that character.
SF: I would say Rob. Rob is sort if the geeky, want-to-be-cool friend, who is not impressed by many people’s stuff but he’s there for the ride and very loyal.
LW: What is your biggest struggle when it comes to writing; how do you overcome it?
SF: For me, it’s time and finding a good amount of time to sit down and write it. I have a lot of issues while writing, but I firmly believe that if I had the time to sit down and face them, I’d be able to overcome them always, so for me it’s finding time to write.
MR: For me, it’s procrastination. I’m a terrible procrastinator, but luckily I can write really fast to make up for it. I spend so much time on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, and then again, and I check my email and literally three hours go by and I’m like, “I guess I should probably write something.”
RH: I’m the same way. I always say the hardest part for me is just opening the document. Once I’ve opened the document, I’m good to go, I’ll work on it, it will happen. It’s procrastination. I like to think of it, instead of us being lazy, it’s like a weird strain of perfectionism. In my head, its perfect so as soon as I open it up and start working on it, I’m going to ruin it, so I’ll just let it be the book in my head for a while (lots of agreement from the other authors).
MH: I do that same thing but I think in a little different way. I have a hard time making decisions in life and also in writing. This trilogy is very complicated and there are a million ways everything could go so I have a really hard time deciding on one and putting everything else to the side. I will procrastinate for a really long time before deciding which direction to actually go in.
JK: For me, it’s focusing on the one project I need to be working on at that moment, because as soon as I inevitably begin a book, I don’t want to write that one anymore, I want to write the next idea, so pushing those other characters out of my mind, and that plot and that world, I have to be like “I have to work on this one, not the other one” and not cheat (though sometimes I do). Focusing on one novel at a time is hard for me because my mind goes everywhere.
LW: If you could have dinner with any character from one of your books, who would it be?
MR: Well I know I wouldn’t have dinner with King Gaias because he might poison me. I would have dinner with Princess Cleo because she has the best small talk about meaningless, rambling things, and gossip. Lots of gossip.
RH: I would have dinner with the aunts in Rebel Belle. She has three great-aunts, who are actually [based on me]—I have five great aunts, which is funny because my editor was like, “Can we get some more southern things like a wacky family?” and I was like, “How dare you? That is stereotypical.” But I actually have all of those people in my family. So the aunts because it’s going to be a lot of really good food.
MH: Can I just say Stellan again?
SF: I would say, this is a bit spoilery, but I would say Arcos, who is a book two character who is someone who has a lot of years behind him and a lot of knowledge of what’s going on in the world, and he’d be able to tell me many mysteries if he was a real thing.
JK: I think it would be fun to have dinner with Harriet from Origin. She’s this British scientist who comes to the Amazon rainforest to work at the compound where the main character Pia is raised, and she’s very sarcastic and confident, has lots of fun stories, and she’s kind of the person I want to be. A lot of people think I wrote her to be me because she has red hair, but it’s more like I wrote her to be the person I wish I was, because she’s very cool and I would learn a lot from her and we’d have fun together. And she’s British.
LW: If a zombie epidemic happened, which of your characters would survive and how?
RH: Harper from Rebel Belle would definitely survive. She has superpowers and she’s faster than normal and stronger than normal. Harper for sure. She could take them out with a high-heel to the eye.
MR: The magic helps, so I’m going to go with Princess Lucia. I think the rest of the characters would last quite a long time but they would eventually be eaten.
JK: I would say Pia from Origin because she’s immortal and indestructible, can’t get sick, can’t die but I feel like that’s cheating, so I’ll go with Sarah from Kalahari because she has a lot of survival know-how, she know how to survive in the wilderness, how to find food, how to deal with wild animals. So with her we could just disappear into the woods and nobody would ever find us.
SF: I feel like we’re pretty close to a zombie apocalypse in my books anyways, so I feel like everyone who’s survived would survive, except for maybe Odessa in book one. But Odessa in book two would survive. As soon as they get to the well, everyone will survive.
MH: I’m pretty sure most of mine would survive. They’re all pretty well-trained and kill people anyway.
LW: What was your favorite book as a teenager? Did that have any influence on your writing?
SF: Definitely. The one that sounds like a bit of a cheat but definitely influenced me the most is The Lord of the Rings series. I read those all the time, again, and again, and again. The fantasy and imagination aspect really came from those books and everything stemmed from them and they’re still some of my favorite stuff. Cheatine, but that’s my answer.
RH: As a teenager, for years I read a steady diet of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and romance novels, so I feel like that had to have sunk into my writer DNA so now I really like books where there are monsters and people who might kill you but also there’s kissing. So I definitely think those three things were an influence.
MR: I read a lot more adult books then than I do now. The series that influenced me to write in that genre, which I wrote under my other name, was L.J. Smith’s The Night World. I really loved that. They were just small, back when YAs were 50,000 words and I was like “I can do this! Oh wait, it has to be twice that now.”
JK: The books that influenced me the most as a young reader were the Lloyd Alexander Westmark trilogy and the Chronicles of Prydain and the Brian Jacques Redwall series. The first novel I wrote, I was 13, it was a terrible novel, but it started out as Redwall fan-fiction. All the characters were squirrels and otters and then I changed them to people. I gave it to one of my friends to critique and he’s like, “This sounds a lot like Redwall.” It was bad but I learned a lot. Bryan Jacques and Lloyd Alexander are my two biggest influences.
MH: I also read a lot more adult books. When I was a teenager, I feel like I was kind of a book snow. I only read serious things. I didn’t think it was cool to read… but luckily I grew out of that and I read John Grisham and all of these thrillers and stuff like that when I got a little older. I never read YA until much more recently. I never read L.J. Smith as a teenager. I was never into fantasy so I never read young people’s literature when I was a young person. I’m really glad I do now and I wish I had at that age. I also as a teenager did not know I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t write at all at that time, and I kind of wish I had but I didn’t. So what influenced me was just that I was always reading and learning what I liked and didn’t, but I don’t think anything directly influenced what I write now.
LW: Increasing the amount of diversity in YA books is a big discussion right now. Is this something you’ve taken into account while writing or brainstorming?
MH: I feel like I don’t specifically go in saying, “I am going to put X, Y, Z characters into my book” because I want I want it to be diverse, but I feel like it’s as I’m plotting, it’s just like looking around and in the world there are many different types of people and I feel like that just comes in organically, like “Oh yes, he’s gay” and that’s just how it is because that’s just how the world is. I don’t feel like I’ve inserted characters specifically.
RH: I feel like I don’t sit down and plan that I’m going to put it in, but if you’re going to reflect the world accurately, you need to.
MR: I’m on Tumblr a lot and I see a lot of call for diversity so its made me more conscious of this, so its definitely top of my mind when I’m plotting a book.
JK: It’s definitely brought more to my awareness. It was something I was doing, like in Origin, many of the characters are Amazonian natives, but now I’ve loved seeing this movement and the changes its created and the way its brought this issue to the forefront. Generally when I finish a book and I go back, it’s one of the things I look for: “Am I being true to diversity here?” There are so many great things that have come out of this and I hope it continues to gather steam.
SF: I agree. I don’t think what’s going to solve the problem is just the present writers changing the race of a character. I think that what really matters is that there are writers of different race that are able to put their genuine, true experiences into their characters, because I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable writing from a number of different perspectives if I didn’t feel like I had a true voice for that. I would really love to see the authentic originators be involved in the process.
To celebrate the recent release of their books, we get to give away a copy of Gathering Darkness, book 3 of the Falling Kingdoms series, Miss Mayhem, sequel to Rebel Belle, The Dark Water, sequel to The Well’s End, The Conspiracy of Us, and Kalahari. One winner will win a copy of all of these books thanks to Penguin Teen! Please enter in the contest below:
I’ll also be reviewing Kalahari by Jessica Khoury later today so be sure to check that out once the post goes up. Spoiler: I couldn’t put it down!