Give us a quick summary of your book, The Last Ghost, the first book in your Young Adult fantasy series?
Christian Orland is dead, and everyone in his life is doing their best to understand what happened.
Especially Woe, the sixteenth Fatality, who knows that she was assigned the wrong case when she stopped his heart, but also knew she had to do it, or risk being destroyed herself. Woe only handles expected death, and not many people expect to die in an accident. However, not many people have the history of Christian Orland. That history is now tormenting his brother Noah, the keeper of all of Christian’s dangerous secrets, his childhood friend Ellery, who he once swore he would love “until he died,” and his girlfriend Melissa, who can’t understand why she is the only person not haunted by ghosts.
Together, the most important people in Christian’s life and death must work to restore order from the chaos his death caused in the lives of those who loved him, and in realms he could not imagine, before free will is lost forever.
Woe, the main character of the book, is described as the sixteenth Fatality. Can you share with us the origin and inspiration for the character?
I was thinking about how we view Death as the grim reaper sort of archetype, and started thinking about what if that trope was entirely undermined, what would that look like? Which is how I developed Woe:what if death was a doll-like teenage girl, who liked humans? What would she be confused by?
Your novel deals heavily with death and dark secrets. Was this a difficult subject matter for you, or did it come naturally?
When I was younger I lost some people I cared about very suddenly and unexpectedly, and I found it was hard for me to feel comforted. I think of the Toni Morrison quote, "If there's a book you really want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” I wanted to write that book about when a young person dies tragically, it feels so unnatural, that even death itself thinks there was some kind of mistake.
That said, I wrote the book to be comforting, so I think it would be much more difficult to write a horror novel with similar themes.
You’ve been described as an author of smart books for teens. What do you consider “smart” for teens and kids?
I think as “smart” for teens and kids means complex. For instance, villains don’t usually think they are a villain, so I think teens are drawn towards books where the bad guys have their own motivations and good guys sometimes make questionable choices. I also think that by smart I mean that the central mystery might not be who-dunnit. The reader might know who dunnit the entire time, but the mystery is the why. In The Last Ghost, Christian dies on the first page, so it is not a big reveal that he died. It’s everything else that you learn about him that is the mystery.
Your book will be available October 1st from 50/50 Press. How did you decide to publish your book through a small press? What have the benefits been for you?
One of the biggest benefits from working a small press is I get a lot of personal attention and support from my editor, and retain a lot of control. Even though, contractually, I don’t have final say on the cover, I felt like I did, where he really listened to my concerns and designed around my vision.
I feel like publishing is very complicated, and it was helpful for me to have someone else understand distribution systems etc. so I could focus on the book itself, but also have someone small enough to allow me to retain some editorial control over the story.
I also got to know some of the other authors with 50/50 Press, and they are all amazing, so it was helpful to have their support as well.
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
Ten years. I initially contemplated the story in college, and then it took another year to write and another nine to edit and publish. But I worked on other projects during that time, including writing a different novel. But yes, I would advise writers to keep at it.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book?
Copy-editing. I like revising. I think revising makes a work so much stronger, but I find copy-editing difficult. It is amazing how many times an it becomes an is. Word actually have an accessibility tool where it reads aloud for you, and I have found that to be very helpful for copy editing. Being able to hear the error as opposed to look for it makes a big difference.
What other books and authors inspire you?
I think in the beginning of one of Phillip Pullman’s books, he thanks every other author, and I feel a bit like that sometimes. I do give a lot of credit to C.S. Lewis with Narnia, when he says, “all children have a made-up world, but for Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, theirs was real,” and I was like, well then I need a world.
I love magic, so I am inspired by any stories with magic in them with incredible world building—Harry Potter, Children of Blood and Bone, Cassanadra Clare etc.
I also love elegantly crafted sentences—Virginia Woolf, Jen Brooks, Emily St. John Mandel all fall into this category.
Why do you feel so many readers of all ages feel the pull to read Young Adult Fantasy novels?
I think of the things that is special about YA is that the characters feel things very intensely. They also have very adult relationships and problems, but are still young enough to be trying to figure out who they are, and to make some mistakes. For fantasy, I think it’s a metaphor. Vampires might not be real (I think), but the situation of being involved with someone who is not good for you is.
Also, not for nothing, I think some of the most talented authors are writing in this genre, and people want to hear a beautifully crafted, well told story.
Are any characters in your book based on people you know in real life?
No, and I am very thankful for that!
Can you share with us a bit about your writing process?
I do not write every day. I wish I did, but I do not. I try to make time two to three times a week. I try to put on music that I think my characters would listen to, or that remind me of them, and then I try to write down at least 1,000 words in a sitting.
I also outline by hand. I type the stories on a computer, but when I’m trying to develop the arc of events, I find that is easier with a pen.
What is the first book that made you cry?
Bridge to Terabithia. Unforgivably sad. My whole class was pretty traumatized by Where the Red Fern Grows, but I STILL can’t get over a Bridge to Terabithia.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Netflix. I wrote the first draft of this novel in a few months, before I had netflix. I wrote the first draft of my second novel over two years, in which I also watched six seasons of Gilmore Girls, and nine seasons of One Tree Hill, so I probably could have written a third if I spent less time in Stars Hollow and Tree Hill, NC.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
To stop using the word aspiring. I didn’t call myself an author until I had a book contract in hand, and that is something I regret. If you wrote a book, you are an author, and a writer, and try to get as many eyes on it as possible. I was so selective with who I showed my writing to, or who I even told I was writing a book, and I realize now that if you do publish, a lot of people will read it, so all the better to show it to people now to make it as strong as possible.
What is your favorite book to recommend to others?
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I was so surprised by how much I wanted to share that book with other people.