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What to Read in Litchfield Prison: Dana Reinhardt on "We Are the Goldens"

WeAreTheGoldensI'm a big fan of the show Orange is the New Black, and it's been interesting to see the commentary on binge-watching since the long-awaited second season released.  Many readers can relate to this experience, it's basically the same thing as when you "just-one-more-chapter" yourself into finishing a book that's sucked you in, even if it's 4 a.m. and you have to work the next day. 

I recently had the unique experience of binge-reading Dana Reinhardt's book, We Are the Goldens (one of our Best Young Adult Books of June), and also binge-watching Season 2 of Orange is the New Black, where I was very pleasantly surprised to see the same book I'd just burned through, being read on the show by no less than the maven of Litchfield prison herself (that would be Red). 

I wanted to find out if Reinhardt was already a fan of Orange is the New Black, and what it was like to see her book on the T.V. show everyone's talking about.  Here's what I found out about these questions and more:

Q: For a reader just learning about your book, tell me about We Are the Goldens

Dana Reinhardt: We Are The Goldens is about two sisters, Nell and Layla, who are extraordinarily close, and it’s about what happens when that sort of closeness is threatened, as it inevitably will be, by individual choices. It’s written in the form of a confessional from Nell directly to Layla as she struggles with whether to keep her sister’s secrets. It’s about kids of privilege growing up with overly trusting and distracted parents. It’s about inchoate morality. It’s about the blurry lines between love and friendship. And it’s one big (slightly twisted) love letter to the city of San Francisco.

Q: The book is shown on the new season of Orange is the New Black – were you already a fan of the show?  What did that feel like, to see your new book in that context?

Dana Reinhardt: I’m a huge fan of the show. I think it’s some of the smartest writing on television. The characters are so complex and I love the way as a viewer you get to know them before you really know them, that is, before you know who they are outside of the microcosm of the prison system and what set of circumstances led them there. Seeing Red, the grand dame of Litchfield, reading my book was an absolute thrill, particularly as that moment arrived on our screens just as the debate blew up about whether adults should be embarrassed to read YA literature. Clearly Red is not embarrassed. Nor are the many other OITNB characters shown with YA novels in their hands.

Q: What do you think makes We Are the Goldens such a good crossover adult read?

Dana Reinhardt: I see most young adult fiction, especially realistic young adult fiction simply as coming of age literature, and who doesn’t love a good coming of age story? I know I do. But this book in particular works for the adult reader because it raises some questions about parents and teachers and the environments we trust our children to that maybe aren’t simple to answer. I didn’t want to write a black and white story, and though I know some young readers will see it that way, I don’t think adult readers will.

Q: You’ve said that To Kill a Mockingbird is your favorite book – were you a teenager when you read it, and was it assigned reading?

Dana Reinhardt: I don’t remember what grade I was in when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe 9th? I know I didn’t come to it on my own, because left to my own devices I’d have just re-read a Judy Blume book for the thousandth time. But whenever it was that I was assigned that book, my sense of the world forever shifted. It moved me on every level and I remember thinking: this is a perfect book. I go back to it every 10 years or so, often with a sense of trepidation. What if it isn’t as good as I remember? What if it isn’t perfect? It is. And it is.

Q: What are you reading now and how do you decide what to read next?

Dana Reinhardt: I often read several books at once. Usually I’m listening to something on audio while I take my daily walk in Golden Gate Park with the dog. Sometimes I choose silence, if I need to work out a plot point in whatever I’m currently writing, but most often I listen to YA. I find that most YA lends itself well to audio and it’s where I do the vast majority of my YA “reading”. Right now I’m listening to Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which is wonderfully complex. As far as books that I hold in my hands, I know I’m a little late to the party, but I just recently discovered Tana French. I’m not generally a reader of mysteries or detective novels so I resisted her for a long time, but finally enough people I know and trust pushed hard enough and all I can say is… Whoa. She is a gorgeous writer. I’m also currently re-reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, her companion books on grief and loss and aging. They are the sorts of books to which you will want to return as, inescapably, their themes will impact your life in some way. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

 

Brad Meltzer is Obsessed with "Ordinary People Changing the World"

RosaBrad Meltzer is a shape-shifter and, apparently, the guy doesn't sleep. Known mainly for the bestselling thrillers he's been writing since his twenties--starting with his 1997 debut, The Tenth Justice--he also writes comic books, screenplays, and hosts his own History Channel show, Brad Meltzer's Decoded.

More recently, he's shouldered the laudable task of inspiring kids--his, and ours. Meltzer's first such efforts--Heroes for my Daughter and Heroes for my Son--led to this year's Ordinary People Changing the World series, the latest of which is I Am Rosa Parks, on sale this week.

The "I Am..." books depict heroic Americans during their childhoods, as regular boys and girls. The first two, Amelia Earhart and Abraham Lincoln, will be followed by Albert Einstein (September) and Jackie Robinson (January).

At BookExpo America in New York last month, we spoke with Meltzer about his own childhood heroes, his love of story, his paranoia, and his radical belief that "a reality TV show bimbo is not a hero." (And if you don't like my interview, check out one of the best book trailers I've seen, featuring Meltzer's family and friends trash-talking him.)

Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy on the Rise of Craft Beer

Craft-BeerIn the tumultuous early ‘80s, Steve Hindy was an AP correspondent in the Middle East--in the heart of the action when the Iraqi army when they invaded Iran, abducted in Lebanon (and lucky to escape with his life, while the people with him were tortured and killed), and sitting behind Egyptian president Anwar Sadat when he and 11 others were assassinated at a parade. During his time in Cairo, Hindy met American diplomats who had learned to brew beer while they were posted in Saudi Arabia. When his wife insisted they move back to Brooklyn, he talked their downstairs neighbor, Tom Potter, into leaving his banking career and starting the Brooklyn Brewery.

After 50 years of post-Prohibition industrialization of American beer, a few microbreweries had started popping up again the ‘70s, but it wasn’t until the ‘80s that it really got underway. Even then, Americans used to swilling Budweiser, Miller, and Coors had yet to develop a taste for craft beer--Hindy remembers early customers spitting out their Brooklyn Lager, saying it was too bitter. Since then, the craft brewery industry has exploded, with more than 2,700 capturing 10 percent of the dollar share of the U.S. market.

At Seattle’s Brave Horse Tavern, I talked with Hindy and George Hancock (cofounder and owner of the Phoenix Ale Brewery) about the story Hindy tells in The Craft Beer Revolution—the pioneers and mavericks who brewed the new craft beer movement, their David-and-Goliath fights against industrial brewers, and pleasures of putting your heart into beer. 

 

Michael Koryta, on his "Warped and Twisted Mind"

KorytaHe might seem like a nice enough guy. A clean-cut young college professor type or the guy who coaches your kid’s t-ball team. But Michael Koryta possesses a self-proclaimed "warped and twisted mind" that's capable of creating some very creepy characters and some very brutal scenes, which help make his new novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, his best yet.

The story of a boy on the run from two assassins--and a wildfire--this is Koryta's tenth novel, which seems impossible for a guy who probably still gets carded buying beer. In this interview, taped at last month’s Book Expo America in New York, Koryta and I discussed his mentors and idols (names like Connelly, Lehane, and Koontz), his next book (it starts with a corpse in a cave) and, of course, his deceptively twisted mind. Despite the boy scout looks, Koryta seems to keep getting darker, more curious about the nature of menace in the world, and, therefore, better.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is an Amazon Editors’ Summer Reading pick and a Best Book of the Month in mystery, thriller and suspense.

 

YA Wednesday: Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski Talk Heroines and Books They Can't Live Without

RuinRising300 WinnersCurse300Leigh Bardugo and Marie Rutkoski are two of my recent favorites authors of YA fiction.  Rutkoski's first book of her new trilogy, The Winner's Curse was a Best Book of the Month in March, and I'm trying to be patient waiting for the next one...  On Tuesday (6/17), Bardugo wrapped up her Grisha trilogy (I loved the first two books, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm) with the finale Ruin and Rising.  And, just so you know, it's fantastic. 

Both authors have written brilliant heroines and created big, satisfying worlds for their readers.  Below, you'll see what they have to say about both, and the soundtrack they would pair with their books.  We also find out the book they couldn't live without (both hedge their bets, which I can totally relate to...).

Q: What qualities in your heroines do you most admire? What do you most relate to?

Leigh Bardugo: That's a tough question. I guess I admire Alina's courage and resilience a great deal, but I think I respect her honesty the most. She is very much herself even when she doesn't think that's the person people want to see. I suppose I relate most to her sense of humor. Even when things are at their worst, Alina can still laugh at herself. Marie, I loved Kestrel's intelligence, but also that it wasn't a kind of singular intelligence—it was only part of who she was and what she valued. 

Marie Rutkoski: For my part, Leigh, I loved that Alina never forgot where she came from. She’s presented with some very seductive things—power, luxury, attractive young men—but to me she’s always the girl who rubs a scar on her hand and knows exactly where she got it, and how.

Kestrel is very smart, even cunning. Sometimes she’s capable of manipulation. But what I admire most is her kindness. She means well. She senses other people’s limits and respects them. And she’s kind in a very old sense of the word (“kind” means “alike”; it has the same origin as the word “kin”—i.e., “family”). She tries to understand other people’s perspective. In other words, Kestrel is empathetic. I try to be, too.

Q: World-building is a huge part of what makes both of your books so great. What would you like/dislike about living in the worlds you created?

Leigh Bardugo: Dislike? The looming threat of imminent death comes to mind. I'm also not sure how I'd feel about eating roasted lynx or cuckoo. Ravka is a tough place to live if you're not of a particular class, but even if you are, it's a country in the midst of tremendous upheaval. So it's hard for me to imagine sleeping well at night. But I would love to attend the Winter Fete at the Grand Palace, or see the Grisha in their workshops, or spend an afternoon aboard one of Sturmhond's ships.

Marie Rutkoski: Um, can I spend an evening aboard Sturmhond’s ship? I would like that very much, thanks.

I wouldn’t mind living in Herran well before the invasion. It was a place that revered the arts. I confess: I’m kind of arty.

But living in Kestrel’s time and place would be very difficult. Her people are constantly at war, are very good at it, and enslave the populations they conquer. Living in a society that practices slavery would be abhorrent. And even if I weren’t a soldier, I would find it hard to live in such a militaristic society.

Q: If your book/series had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?

Leigh Bardugo: Placebo's cover of "Running Up That Hill" by Kate Bush is basically the Darkling's theme song as far as I'm concerned. "Cosmic Love" by Florence + the Machine, "I Will Come" by Alpha Rev, "Mountain Sound" by Of Monsters and Men, "Stubborn Love" by the Lumineers, "Sorcerer" by Stevie Nicks, and "Polegnala e Todora (Love Song)" from Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.  Also, nothing would ever get written without Ludovico Einaudi.

Marie Rutkoski: “Sigh No More” by Mumford & Sons, “Bloodbuzz Ohio” by The National, “Half Light II (No Celebration)” by Arcade Fire, “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn, “A+E” by Goldfrapp, “Limit to Your Love” by James Blake, “If It’s True” by Anaïs Mitchell featuring Justin Vernon and Greg Brown, “Green” by Brendan James (but a live, acoustic version a friend gave me that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. I suspect it’s bootlegged. I don’t care for the original recorded version).

The song I listened to a lot while writing the sequel to The Winner’s Curse is Florence + the Machine’s cover of “Take Care.”

Q: What book do you own that you couldn’t live without, and why?

Marie Rutkoski: This question makes me wish I had a precious first edition or a book passed down through generations of my family. The book I most enjoy rereading is Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; I tend to read it when I’m sick. Makes me feel lots better. But if we’re talking about one book that I’m going to be reading over and over again for the rest of my life, I’d have to go with the collected works of Shakespeare, since he’s a big reason why I’m a writer, and because I know I can reread anything of his and never get bored. But that’s a cheating sort of answer.

Leigh Bardugo: It's a strategic sort of answer. Pride and Prejudice is a big comfort read for me too. (Weirdly, when I was a kid, my comfort read was Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Maybe because high school was basically prison.) I think I'm going to waffle and go with either Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles (in which case I also need a great dictionary and maybe an OED) or the complete Harry Potter.

Q:  What was the best piece of advice you ever got?  And from whom?

Marie Rutkoski: A friend of mine, Jeremiah, who died much too young, said that it’s best to accept people at face value. Believe what they say. A former adviser in graduate school, James Shapiro, when I was working on my dissertation, said, “People just want to hear a good story. What’s your story?” That’s true for writing--even academic stuff, which I sometimes do--but also for life. If you listen and look, you’ll see that people are telling stories all the time: through gossip, memories, images, songs. And Matthew Arnold, in a poem, said, “Ah, love, let us be true / To one another!” That might be the best advice.

Leigh Bardugo: That answer makes me so sad that we're not touring again together. (Anyone reading this should know that Marie Rutkoski is a lovely person to be stuck in an airport with.) The best life advice I ever got was probably from Frank Herbert's Dune. That book is all about adapting and preparation. Also, vengeance. But the words that come to me most often, particularly with respect to writing, is by Yeats: "Be secret and exult, / Because of all things known / That is most difficult."

Deborah Madison Imagines the Future of Food--and Her Masterpiece, Circa 2030

Veg-CookingI met Deborah Madison for lunch in Seattle the day after her third James Beard Award win--this time for Vegetable Literacy, an elegant compendium of edible plant families. But her current tour was devoted to the sequel to her first Beard winner, The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

The book's original incarnation (published in 1998) was a tour de force, with over 400,000 copies in print--including one stained, margin-scribbled copy that guided me through the first years in my own kitchen. But in recent years, we've seen such a dramatic expansion of vegetarian food choices, while tastes have become more adventurous and the appetite for simple, delicious vegetarian recipes has become so voracious that Madison decided it was time to give her classic a thoroughly modern revamp.

The result? A meatless masterpiece with 200 more recipes--over 1,600 in all.

Gone are soy milk and unhealthy oils like canola. New and old recipes incorporate newly available ingredients like non-dairy beverages, ghee, coconut oil, and ancient grains like spelt and a wider variety of quinoa. A slimmed down stir-fry section makes room for more simple sautes. And she calls out the healthier options you can find at now-ubiquitous farmers' markets. (See more about these changes in Madison's interview with The Washington Post.)

Madison and I are both ardent gardeners, so over lunch we inevitably talked about how changes in weather patterns will impact what and how we eat (and grow) in the near future.

I came away wondering what kinds of changes Madison would imagine making to a third edition of the book, if she revised it again in 2030, so I asked. Her answer is equal parts sobering and hopeful.  -- Mari

__________________________________________________________________________________

Drought, climate change, genetic engineering, nanoparticles in our food—these are things that worry me. I lose sleep over them. 

I think it will get increasingly difficult to truly nourish ourselves, even if we don't eat corporate food. That won't be enough, because what won’t be sullied? I also fear that the USDA Organic label, already disappointing, will mean even less--although I hope that's not the case, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure it's not. In short, I don’t feel hugely optimistic about the world of food 15 years hence.

But there will be some things to welcome, like the return of common sense, the sharing of meals, and probably smaller portions, as there might not be such a crazy abundance. I suspect grain will have changed to some extent, with more farmers growing pre-modern wheat varieties. That's starting to happen now, and that's good. But this better wheat, like all foods, will cost more and be less reliably available.

The upside of that is that we’ll have to learn to really value, care for, and be grateful for our food. We'll have to be willing to spend more time with it, not rushing home to cook up just the tender, fast-cooking parts of meats and vegetables. This will be hard on working families with low-wage jobs, and those who can provide food for themselves by cooking or gardening will be the privileged ones. I hope that there will be more cooking in the schools and more opportunities for kids to cook, so that they can take charge of their health and their lives and those of their siblings and parents.

If I were updating Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone in 15 years, it would be a different book. It wouldn't be just vegetarian, for one. I think the quality of most plant foods will be so much lower—with the exception of that raised by those relatively few farmers who really know how to grow their soil—that meat will be necessary. But by meat, I don't mean supermarket chops and steaks, but better-raised, more wholesome and nutritious animals. Except for the wealthy, meat will be an occasional food, served in small portions (a good idea that’s already been explored), and it will include eating offal—the nourishing foods we've cast aside for so long. We'll be using bones to make stocks and broths.

Continue reading "Deborah Madison Imagines the Future of Food--and Her Masterpiece, Circa 2030" »

Hillary's "Hard Choices" & More Big Political Memoirs

Hard-ChoicesFew windows into politics offer more revealing views than memoirs (despite their inevitable spin). This year has already brought a few blockbusters--most recently, Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance has been a runaway best-seller with glowing reviews since it came out in April, and Timothy Geithner's Stress Test has elicited its own chorus of cheers (and boos).

Now, on June 10, the year's biggest political memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton's Hard Choices, is being officially released. We all got a sneak peek at its most intriguing revelations via a much-publicized story originating with CBS News after some lucky staffer found it in a bookstore last Thursday--a week after Politico published the chapter on the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya. So we already know its big headlines and many of its most tantalizing quotes; some have even already dismissed the book as playing it too safe. A dearth of full-on bombshells is hardly a surprise from any politician gearing up for a potential presidential run, but Hard Choices plays it far less safe than her previous memoir, Living History, in which the biggest "revelation" was that Bill's betrayal (and his subsequent lies) were "the most devastating, shocking and hurtful experience of my life."

While Living History succeeded most soundly in humanizing Hillary, Hard Choices has to clear a higher bar: making the case that she will be the most capable, decisive, and globally experienced candidate in the 2016 presidential election.

If Hard Choices whets your appetite for memoirs on political life, keep an eye out for these potential blockbusters, coming this summer and fall. Coincidentally, most of these memoirs lean left, but Conservatives can look forward to two major memoirs in early 2015: Ross Perot: My Life and Bella's Gift by Rick and Karen Santorum.

 

PolMem-CuomoAll Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life by Andrew Cuomo (Coming August 19): New York governor Cuomo's memoir arrives amid growing rumors of a 2016 presidential bid. Key details have yet to be revealed, but an early Library Journal review reports that "this memoir will discuss not just politics but family and duty, setbacks and successes, as Cuomo considers what his zigzag trajectory has taught him." 

 

 

 

PolMem-DavisForgetting to Be Afraid by Wendy Davis (Coming September 2): Her 11-hour filibuster in the Texas Senate against abortion regulations made Wendy Davis a household name across the country--and a viable candidate in Texas's gubernatorial race, challenging Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. Blue Rider Press describes her memoir as "A deeply personal memoir by one of the country’s brightest political stars,” while The Dallas Morning News speculates that it will give her and opportunity to "respond to disclosures about flaws in the original campaign version of her life story from teen-age mother to Harvard Law School grad." Releasing just weeks before the election, the book has the potential to sway some votes--though it will undoubtedly stay closely on-message.

 

PolMem-GilliOff the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World by Kirsten Gillibrand (Coming September 9): Kirsten Gillibrand was a young corporate lawyer when she heard Hillary Rodham Clinton deliver this tough-love message: “Decisions are being made every day in Washington, and if you are not part of those decisions, you might not like what they decide, and you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.” Fourteen years later, she succeeded Clinton as senator from New York. Off the Sidelines is her rallying cry to other women to make room in busy lives to help drive meaningful change. She shares her story of being a pregnant woman in Congress, making sacrifices as a working mother, and drawing on a strong support network. But it goes beyond the personal and offers a “a playbook for women who want to step up, whether in Congress or the boardroom or the local PTA.”

 

PolMem-PanettaWorthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace by Leon Panetta (Coming October 7): His 50-year career has spanned roles as Army intelligence officer, member of Congress, Clinton budget czar and White House chief of staff, and a period of “retirement” to establish the Panetta Institute before a return to political life in 2009 as director of the CIA. Credited with “moving it back to the vital center of America’s war against Al Quaeda” and overseeing the campaign that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, Panetta went on to become U.S. Secretary of Defense. Worthy Fights is billed as “a testament to a lost kind of political leadership, which favors progress and duty to country over partisanship.” There will be much he can't reveal, but with no elections on the horizon, Panetta's memoir should be more candid than most. We predict it will be one of fall's biggest books.

 

PolMem-GnarrGnarr: How I Became the Mayor of a Large City in Iceland and Changed the World by Jón Gnarr (Coming September 1): When Iceland’s financial meltdown precipitated the world-wide economic collapse and ignited widespread protests, Icelandic comedian and radio host Jón Gnarr founded the satirical Best Party and ran a joke campaign for major of its capitol city, Reykjavík. When it won in a landslide, Gnarr proposed a coalition government (excluding anyone who hadn’t yet watched all five seasons of The Wire). His story of going from crank calling the White House to working with international leaders is a refreshingly funny break from politics as usual.

 

 

YA Wednesday: "The Fault in Our Stars" Movie Exclusive

TFIOS_300 TFIOS_MTISo, last week was Book Expo America, the giant tradeshow in New York that consists of authors, books, and events that bring booksellers and authors together.  One of these events was a special screening of The Fault in Our Stars movie.

I'm a huge fan of this book so I had my concerns, but they were needless. The movie was fantastic, as was the soundtrack--something I hadn't even thought about (and could have gone horribly wrong...). Swedish hip hop? Um, yeah! 

Before the lights went down, author John Green told the audience how happy he is with the team at Fox 2000, the cast (seriously star-studded!), and the resulting film.  After the movie, a Q&A session moderated by Lev Grossman included one of the producers, the screenplay writers, the director, John Green, the president of Fox 2000, and Nat Wolff (who plays Isaac in the movie). As they answered questions and joked about how The Fault in Our Stars became a cinematic reality, it was obvious that there is a lot of affection amongst this group, for each other and the story they set out to tell. 

Exclusive photos of John Green on the set during filming:

Green on set
Green with Shailene Woodley
Green and Laura Dern
Green talking to Laura Dern

On the way into the theater, we were given popcorn, sodas, and a packet of tissues with The Fault In Our Stars covers (the original, and the one with movie art) printed on them.  If you haven't read this book yet (and I hope you will) please know that there is a lot of laughter mixed with the tears.  And for me the tears are good tears, born of the characters tugging my heart strings and how much Green's story makes me appreciate family, friendship, and that truly-madly-deeply feeling of falling in love. Yes, I'm a total sap, but I dare you not to be moved by this book.

Green on set
Before the movie
Green and Laura Dern
After the movie

 

What's next for John Green on the big screen? Paper Towns is set for release in 2015 with the same screenwriters and producers, starring Nat Wolff (Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars) as Quentin Jacobsen. Fingers crossed that it's as faithful an adaptation as this one.

 

Our Editors' Picks for the Best Summer Reading

The official first day of summer may be a few weeks away, but as far as we're concerned, Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer reading season, and we can't wait to tell you about our picks for this summer's most thrilling, romantic, and engrossing new books! We're talking about the kind of books that'll make you long for a cross-country plane ride, lazy Sunday mornings (after reading waaaaay too late the night before), and endless hours at the beach with nothing to do but relax and inhale pages.

Everyone has their own idea of great summer reading, but we've tried to make it easier to find yours by rounding up the biggest blockbusters, our picks for the best new paperbacks and beach reads, and our favorites for kids and teens.

We can't resist making a passionate pitch for our personal favorites, the ones we're telling all our friends to read. Watch us do our best to describe why they're so awesome (in 30 seconds or less), and scroll down to see the full list.

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YA Wednesday: Faeries and Falconers

Falconer250One of my favorite YA books this month is Elizabeth May's debut novel, The Falconer, the first book in a planned trilogy. A mash-up of a Victorian setting, faerie fantasy, and steampunk, I fell right into the world May created.  Her protagonist, Aileana, is a young woman straining against the rituals and requirements befitting a Victorian lady of her standing while she would much prefer crafting new inventions, many designed for her primary activity: hunting faeries and other nasty creatures surfacing from beneath the city.  There is suspense, romance (a bit of a love triangle), and Scottish lore in abundance and I can't wait for the next book. 

Best-selling author Jennifer Armentrout (her latest novel is the edge-of-your-seat thriller, Don't Look Back) interviewed Elizabeth May for Omni and got the scoop on faeries (good or bad?), living in present day Scotland, and more.

Jennifer Armentrout: Lady Aileana is a faerie killer? I thought fairies were good? Tell me more about the evil fairies!

Elizabeth May: Yesss! I love talking about faery lore! Friendly faeries are really a result of the Disneyfication of certain stories, so they’ve gotten a lot of great PR during the last century. The Falconer follows traditional Scottish lore, in which faeries are considered to be dangerous creatures that people should avoid at all costs. Some are considered “friendlier” and they help humans from time to time, but are still both temperamental and capable of a great deal of harm. The majority of faeries in Scottish lore tend to be considered evil; they slaughter on a whim, kidnap the helpless (including children and babies) and are capable of cursing people.

“Faeries” in stories were really something like a genus that consisted of a number of species, and all supernatural creatures in Scottish lore were considered fae. So there were faeries that were like vampires, werewolves, demons, spirits . . . and people wore charms to protect themselves from these creatures, and sometimes left offerings to appease them. Faeries were believed to be quick to anger, and their wrath capable of a great deal of destruction. These are the types of stories and ideas I kept in mind when I came up with The Falconer. I wanted to write about the types of faeries people felt the need to ward themselves against.

Jennifer Armentrout: You were born in the US but you live in Scotland now. How has living in Scotland influenced you as a reader and writer? What are some of the differences between Americans and Scots?

Elizabeth May: I’ve lived in Scotland for years now, so it’s definitely influenced me a great deal.  I grew up in a not-so-safe city in Southern California, amid a concrete expanse with very little green space and smoggy, brown air. When I moved to Scotland, it was completely different.  Though I still live in a city (Edinburgh), the atmosphere and the buildings have character and atmosphere that feels so much like something out of an urban fantasy novel. If you walk in the dark during late hours in Edinburgh, it feels very eerie, very haunted and sometimes even empty.

When I moved here I definitely noticed myself appreciating setting and sense of place more. The smells and seasons and changing from day into night. At first because it was all unfamiliar, and then later because it really affects the way the city and landscape looks and feels: from bright and friendly to grey and foreboding.  A lot of Scotland is like that. I start to notice when certain types of flowers bloom to cover the countryside, and how different the light is in summer and winter. Living here has given me the ability to travel all over the country – from the Highlands to the Isles – and take in the differences in landscape. There’s certainly a mood to Scottish cities and the country’s rural landscape that is inspiring for fiction.

As for differences: many, many, many. But I suppose the most immediate difference – at least for me – is how easy it is to strike up a conversation with people here. I’m a socially anxious person by nature, so I find it very difficult to meet new people, and yet I’ve had hours long conversations with strangers in pubs. No awkwardness, no contact info exchanged afterward. Just a bit of banter and a goodbye at the end.

JA:  You’ve gone from modeling for YA SciFi book covers to an author photo on the flap. How did become a cover model? I’ll bet you have good stories to share.

EM: It all started by chance. I used to have a really active and popular photography account on Deviantart, and a cover designer for Harlequin Australia saw my photos and messaged me about possibly using one for a cover. Honestly, I got so many weird messages through DA that I had no idea if she was legit. So I just forwarded her message on to the agent who handles my photos, and she followed through with buying the license for it. And that was my first cover. From there the covers just snowballed: a few more that year, then a dozen more the year after...I’ve been on almost one hundred covers internationally by now. Some of them I’ve seen and some I haven’t. I think the best part is when I end up on the repackaged covers for books I grew up reading, or on covers for authors I admire. I still get a fangirl thrill!Falconer_LJ_Smith_Cover

I read L.J. Smith as a teen, so I pretty much died when I found out I was on the cover of this one. One of my other photos (not of me) ended up on the Volume Three, as well. So exciting!

JA: Aileana and her mom are the original makers. How did you research inventing and tinkering? What’s your favorite invention in The Falconer?

EM: It was difficult to research certain inventions in the world of The Falconer, because they either don’t exist (the stitchers), or they’re still in the design stages (the lightning gun), or they’re beyond my knowledge of technical know-how (pretty much all of them, to be honest). Next to the historical information, the inventions took up a great deal of my reading time. Mainly, I started with a general idea of what I wanted and then researched accordingly.

For example, the lightning pistol Aileana uses was something I had in mind before I researched. But I wanted to have a general sense of how something like that would work (because Aileana would know exactly how it would work), so I looked into a lot of prototype ideas on the internet for lightning pistol designs. For other inventions, I merged ideas. Like with Aileana’s flying machine (which was definitely my favourite), which was a combination of Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for ornithopters and steam powered vehicles of the Victorian age.

Facloner_da_vincis_ornithopter This is the original da Vinci design, which was a single person ornithopter. It was the primary inspiration for Aileana’s flying machine.

I do have to say: researching for the inventions was so fun! I’m sure I’m on a government watch list for my searches (“how to make a flame thrower”!), but I learned a lot to make the technical aspects sound authentic.

JA: How would you have fared with all of the social restrictions on a young lady in Victorian Scotland?

EM: If modern me were suddenly plunked down into Victorian-era Scotland, I’d probably find it very difficult to adapt. The restrictions put on upper class unmarried ladies are so removed from contemporary Scottish society that my habits would probably be considered really uncouth and vulgar. But if I were brought up in the 19th century, maybe I would have bucked against certain societal expectations. Plenty of women in the Victorian-era challenged traditional women’s roles, and I like to think that if I were raised then, I would have been one of them.

JA: What books were your favorites as a tween and teen? What influence did they have on your writing?

EM: I grew up reading such a wide range of books in different genres. I loved fantasy novels by Garth Nyx, Charles de Lint, Mercedes Lackey, Anne Bishop, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Science fiction by Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Ray Bradbury. Historical romance novels by Julia Quinn and Georgette Heyer. I had a huge collection of books growing up; I went to the library every weekend and picked up new things to read. I’ve tried bits of everything, and I honestly believe that accounts for my habit of genre mashing. I had a review in Starburst Magazine that referred to The Falconer as “a Scottish-monster-hunting-steampunk-adventure-romance.” When I read that, it really struck me for the first time that instead of writing books in separate, distinct genres that I enjoy, I’ve formed a habit of spinning them together in my writing.

JA: Who would you cast in the movie version of The Falconer?

EM: I don’t really think of any actors when I write, but I loved Rose Leslie in Game of Thrones, and I think she would make a fantastic Aileana!

JA: As a debut author, what’s surprised you about the process of publishing?

EM: Definitely what an emotional journey it is. I wrote a lot of manuscripts before The Falconer that never made it to publication, so I never went through the long process of cleaning them up and watching them change for publication. The Falconer went through so many different incarnations, so it was rewarding to see how different the final, complete draft is compared to the first one I ever wrote. Being invested in a single work for that long . . . it’s a really emotional thing for me to see it finally completed for people to read.

JA: How excited were you when you saw the cover of The Falconer?

EM: So excited! I’ve been blessed with great cover work for The Falconer that really brings out Aileana’s character and the feel of the book. I literally gasped aloud when I saw the cover. It was that perfect.

JA: I’m on the edge of my seat for the next novel in The Falconer series! How much of the trilogy is planned, and how much happens as you’re writing?

EM: Thank you! :D Such a great question! The largest plot points have been planned since I started working on The Falconer. I always imagined Aileana’s story would take place over three books, so I mapped out the major events in each book, as well as the final book’s ending, so I have a general sense of where I’m going. From there, the events in each book follow a very fluid outline. I know where I want the stories to go, and even have certain scenes plotted, but how I get there and how the scenes play out are very spontaneous. Working this way gives me an equal sense of structure and seeing how the characters guide me.

 Thank you so much for the lovely interview! It’s been wonderful!

Omnivoracious™ Contributors

July 2014

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