Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Interview with Mary G. Thompson, author of Evil Fairies Love Hair

Today it’s my pleasure to interview fellow Enchanted Inkpot member, Mary G. Thompson, about her latest novel, EVIL FAIRIES LOVE HAIR!

Here’s a brief description:
What if you could get your fondest wish? You could be gorgeous, brilliant, a star athlete, or a great singer, or you could put a hex on your worst enemy. And all you have to do is raise a flock of two-inch-tall fairies. Easy, right?
            Ali learns this the hard way when her flock starter fairies get to work. Raising them means feeding them, and what they eat is hair. Lots and lots of human hair.
            Where to get the hair is Ali’s first challenge. What about the beauty salon? Easy, right? . . .
            Before long, Ali’s friends, classmates, teachers, sister, and parents are entangled with the evil fairies, who have their own grandiose and sinister agenda. It’s up to Ali to overcome these magical troublemakers and set things right.

Hi Mary! First, let me tell you how much I loved EVIL FAIRIES LOVE HAIR! What a unique spin on fairy lore.  We have seen many types of fairies in children’s literature, but none like this one! The fairies were deliciously evil, yucky and hysterical – and I don’t think I’ve ever used those words to describe the same thing before! Where did you come up with the idea of these sneaky, hair loving fairies praying on the deepest hopes and wishes of children?

Like most of my ideas, the fairies sort of popped into existence out of nowhere. I was on the subway one night and the title “Evil Fairies Love Hair” popped into my mind. I wrote the opening scene in my notebook on the way home. The idea of growing fairies by feeding them hair seemed perfectly natural to me, and who wouldn’t do it for their fondest wish? I’d probably do it for nothing.

I would too! And I love the title by the way!  

I was immediately captivated by the richly painted fairy world, with all of its rules – including a contract and a rule book!  How did you create this fairy society?  What was your world building process like?

Well, being evil, the fairies had to have a scheming leader, in this case, the pompous and self-aggrandizing Bunniumpton, who likes to be called “Grand Miss Coiffure.” But I liked the idea that even though the fairies have magic, they don’t really control anything about the magical world. They are subject to rules just as much as the kids are, and the rules of the magical world are mysterious and nonsensical to us mortals. I wanted to create a world in which nobody can ever truly get the upper hand. If you think you have things under control, you will be humorously knocked off your pedestal. The adults have no idea what the kids are doing, the kids have no idea what the fairies are really doing, and the fairies are doing magic they don’t fully understand. So my world building was all about ensuring that everyone had just enough information so that all the right things could go wrong. The whole world is saying, “don’t take yourselves too seriously.”

I loved Ali, the protagonist, and I’m sure readers will easily relate to her and her insecurities. Who hasn’t lived in a shadow of a star sibling or friend?  And Michael was such a great contrast to her. All of the characters were so well developed.  Which character in the novel do you relate to the most?  And which one was the hardest to write?

It would be hard to deny that Ali is sort of based on me. Everyone who knows me exclaims that the cover looks exactly like me! Unlike Ali, I never had a problem with my grades, but my fondest wish would be to be smarter. You can never be smart enough, in my opinion. I wouldn’t say any of the characters were hard to write. Maybe the perfect little girl who torments Bunny. I hated her too!

In this book nothing as it seems.  The good kids aren’t really as good as you think, and the bad kids aren’t really as bad as you (and the adults!) think, and the adults that are supposed to be keeping an eye on the kids are clueless. There are so many twists and turns, and yet it is such a funny story.  I laughed out loud many times while reading this!  Was it hard to keep track of it all and weave the fantasy, humor and exciting plot together?

I wouldn’t really say it was hard. Humor, if it works, just sort of happens in the flow of things. Most of the adults’ cluelessness and the plot twists came from what seemed funny to me and what made me laugh. 

I loved watching Ali learn that she had to rely on herself and her own cleverness to foil the evil fairy plot. To me, the real magic occurs when she believes in herself.  This is far from a preachy book, but is there something in particular you would like readers to take away from the novel?

The truth is, I just want people to laugh. Yeah, believe in yourself, don’t believe magical creatures, be true to your friends … but mostly, laugh!

Well, I certainly laughed while reading the book, and I’m sure everyone else will, too! As the story progressed, the kids in the book re-evaluated what a wish is worth, what the price is, and if they really wanted their wish to come true.  The book explores the idea of careful what you wish for – you just might get it.  If those evil fairies gave you one wish, what would it be?

If I had to stick to the fairies’ list of options, I’d wish to be smarter. Like Ali says in the book, don’t go wasting your wish on a hex! If you’re smart, you can find a way to get all your other wishes.

Very good advice! What are you working on now? (if you feel comfortable sharing that)

I have many irons in the fire. Watch this space!

We will! Thanks so much, Mary!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Interview with Rosamund Hodge, author of Cruel Beauty

I am thrilled to welcome to the Inkpot Rosamund Hodge, whose debut YA fantasy CRUEL BEAUTY was released earlier this year. I am completely in love with this spectacular book. If you like fairy tale retellings, complicated heroines, unique worldbuilding, or tough romances, this book is for you. (Even if you don't, it might still be for you. It's that good!)

Cruel Beauty read to me like a re-telling mash-up of Bluebeard, Persephone, and possibly some other fairy tales as well. Did you plan it that way? If so, which legend was the spark that started the story?

Oh, yes, the mash-up was completely intentional—crazy potpourri is one of my favorite styles of writing—and the spark was realizing how some of the legends were connected.

True confession time: when I was a child, I actually was not a big fan of Beauty and the Beast. I liked it just fine, but it felt like nothing special to me. (Heresy, I know.) What I did love was the Greco-Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche. Briefly—an oracle tells the king he has to sacrifice his daughter to a “monster.” But the daughter, Psyche, isn’t devoured by a beast as she expects; instead, the wind carries her to a strange palace with invisible servants who tell her that she is a bride. And every night her husband comes to visit her—but he forbids her to see his face. When her jealous sisters persuade her light a candle anyway, she discovers that he’s Cupid, the god of love. But because she broke his command, he becomes a prisoner of his mother Venus, and Psyche must complete a series of impossible tasks—ultimately going to the Underworld—in order to free him.

As much as I loved the story of Cupid and Psyche, I never planned to write a retelling of it. In a way, it felt too perfect: what could I add? Then a few years ago, I read the fairy tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is basically a half-and-half mix of Beauty and the Beast with Cupid and Psyche. (The girl marries a polar bear, who turns out to be an enchanted prince trying to escape the princess of trolls.) Suddenly I realized that all three stories were the same story, working itself out in different ways. That was when Beauty and the Beast became truly interesting to me, and that was the birth of Cruel Beauty.

I didn't even realize East of the Sun, West of the Moon was in there! That's another of my favorite fairy tales.

The world-building in Cruel Beauty is really unique (side note: seriously, everyone, you will not find anything like it anywhere). Its basis, though, is ancient Greece. How did you decide to base your world there? What kind of research did you do?

This is going to sound terrible, but I didn’t actually do much research. That’s because the world-building in Cruel Beauty isn’t intellectual so much as aesthetic. It’s an alternate Earth, but it isn’t the kind has a rigorously worked-out alternate history (like in Kate Elliot’s marvellous Cold Magic, for instance). Instead, the purpose of the world-building is to provide an appropriate atmosphere for the story. 

I knew the world had to be vaguely Greco-Roman, because of the Cupid and Psyche elements. But I also knew that it had to be vaguely Victorian, because Cruel Beauty is a mad, passionate melodrama, and you can’t do that properly without corsets and brooding Victorian houses. So I just threw all those elements in a blender. My “research” was basically a core dump of all the Greco-Roman material I had absorbed through a childhood obsession with mythology and a high school/college career that spent a lot of time on the Classics.

It doesn't sound terrible at all - it sounds refreshing! I tend to agree that the primary purpose of world-building is to serve the story. (And by the way, I've heard Megan Whalen Turner say more or less the same thing...)

I absolutely love your fierce main character. How did you manage to write a character simultaneously so full of hatred and so likable?

That’s kind of a funny question to me, because when I was writing Cruel Beauty, I actually tried very hard not to make Nyx too likable, and I ended up breaking my original outline to do it! But I did still want her to be sympathetic, and I guess the main thing I did was try to make her aware of when she was being hateful. I ended up drawing a lot on my own teenaged experience when writing her. I had a very happy childhood and my parents hardly ever sold me to demon princes. But I did have a bad temper, so I had a lot of experience with being furious while knowing I had no right to be furious. Back then, I would have loved to read about a heroine who struggled with her anger the way I did. So I tried to create that with Nyx. 

I think you did a great job. I also love the character of the sister, especially the way my perception of her changed throughout the novel. Any insight into her?

I have issues with the “sweet young innocent” character archetype. It used to be that a lot of authors and readers idolized them because they were too preciously good for this world. (Think of almost any 19th century novel.) Now a lot of authors and readers seem to hate them because they’re too stupid and weak for this world. (Think of how most people talk about Fanny Price in Mansfield Park.) 

I dislike both approaches, because they both assume that being innocent and kind means you have no interior life. You’re just a symbol, either of purity or stupidity, and either way you’re not a person. And that’s pernicious nonsense. Being innocent and sheltered does not make you less of a person. It also doesn’t mean you escaped psychological damage, or that you have no capacity for darkness.

So when I wrote Nyx’s sister Astraia, I wanted to create a character who was not only innocent in many ways, but who had been treated by her family as the precious, sacred innocent to be preserved at all costs—and who had been damaged by that protection almost as much as Nyx was damaged by trying to give it. 

Finally, I know you're working on a new book -- are there any hints about it you can share?

The new book is called Crimson Bound, and I just finished edits on it last week! It’s not connected to Cruel Beauty at all, except that it’s another fairy tale fusion. In this case, it’s inspired by Little Red Riding Hood and The Girl With No Hands. The heroine is a girl who trained all her life to fight the dark magic overtaking her world, only to end up bound to it instead. Then she gets one last chance to fight back.

I can't wait! Thank you so for a fascinating interview.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Shamelessness

Well, Inkpot fans, it's officially summer!  That means hot days, reading by the pool, and a whole new batch of shameless news from your favorite Inkpot writers!

National Book Award winner William Alexander has a new book out and GHOULISH SONG is already racking up some award nominations of its own: it's a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature!

Speaking of new books coming out, P.J. Hoover's new book TUT: THE STORY OF MY IMMORTAL LIFE (Starscape/Macmillan, September 16, 2014) got an awesome Kirkus review!  Here's my favorite line:
"the tension between Tut and creepy Horemheb is a well-placed and -paced plot driver.  A pyramid history buffs and fantasy fans will delight in excavating."

Not done yet!  Elizabeth Bird released her Newbery/Caldecott 2015: The Summer Prediction Edition and you might just recognize #5 on the list: THE GREENGLASS HOUSE by Kate Milford!

And last but very much not least, Laurisa White Reyes has a new book coming out this week! CONTACT, a YA thriller about a girl who uploads people's psyches with a single touch, comes out on June 23rd with Hallowed Ink Press. It will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble & Indiebound.

I can tell you personally - this book is amazing.

And that's it!  Go grab your favorite book and enjoy the summer sunshine.  I'll be back soon with more!

Monday, June 2, 2014

TOTW: Beginnings, Middles, & Ends

"Which part of a book is hardest to write: the beginning, middle, or end?"

I was on a panel at Wellesley Books a few months ago, and when the events coordinator asked this question, I thought the answers would be boringly uniform. Obviously, the middle is the hardest part to write!

But apparently that's just me. For some writers, it's the beginning -- especially in fantasy, where you need to establish your world while avoiding the dread inof-dump. For others, it's the ending, which has to satisfy the reader -- and which will establish their lasting impression of the book. Or, yes, the middle, where you have to connect that beginning and end while keeping all the strands of the characters, plot, and world-building straight. (Or twisting them exactly the way you want!)

How about you? Which is hardest for you to write? (And don't say, "All of them." It may be true, but it's still cheating!)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Cabinet of Curiosities: the Curators Speak

The Cabinet of Curiosities is a disturbing little project helmed by four curators: Stefan Bachmann, Claire Legrand, Emma Trevayne, and me, Katherine Catmull. Each week on our web page, we post the stories—the unsettling, creepy, or quite terrifying stories—of some of the objects in our Cabinet of  . . . well, curiosities is a pleasanter word than horrors. 

A collection of those stories, entitled The Cabinet of Curiosities: 36 Tales Brief & Sinister, was published yesterday by Green Willow/HarperCollins. It includes
eight never-before-seen tales and other new material, as well as cover and illustrations—awful ones, in the best sense—by Alexander Jansson

Both Kirkus and Publishers Weekly have awarded it stars, which we keep chained in a little silver birdcage under the stairwell.

To celebrate the book’s publication, I’ve roused my three fellow curators from their magnifying glasses and blood-smeared notebooks to answer a few questions. Also, see the conclusion of the interview for some astounding news.

Curator Catmull: How did this Cabinet business, in which one of us posts a story every week, begin? I know, of course. I am pretending I don’t for dramatic effect. 

Curator Trevayne: I was boiling my bones on a beach in Mexico when the idea of our collection came to me. Naturally, such an endeavor is best not attempted alone, so I quickly recruited the others for assistance. "Assistance" in this case meaning I found three people far more talented than myself and relaxed with a giant chocolate cake as they scurried around making the place neat and tidy and altogether more wonderful than I ever could have imagined on my own.

Stefan Bachmann
Curator Bachmann: I was terribly flattered to be asked to join this intrepid group of curators, as I had been known to shriek ecstatically about their writings at unsuspecting bookstore patrons long before they had any idea who I was, or that we would be embarking on these adventures together. I continue to be pleased by this fortuitous development almost every day, even when chasing nasty, pointy-toothed stories in Siberia.

Curator Legrand: In the fall of 2012, Curator Trevayne approached me asking if I would care to join her and Stefan Bachmann in a new and exciting venture--the telling of short stories for those souls--either young or young at heart--who crave tales of the strange and unsettling. I had read and thoroughly enjoyed Curator Bachmann's first book, The Peculiar, and had had a peek at an early draft of Curator Trevayne's Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, and knew them both to be utterly talented. And I, of course, was eager to stretch my writing skills in new directions. So it took me no time at all to agree to join them--and I'm so glad I did.

Curator Catmull: And I was invited when—after careful calculations checked via abacus and a rusty, steam-powered computing machine—the other three determined that each month contains four weeks. They have been unable to shake me since, and I plan to die in the Cabinet, though not for several weeks at least, unless I miscalculate while animating these carved onyx cobras. 

Which brings me to my next question. Which is more fun—collecting the Cabinet objects, or writing about them? 

I’ll begin: for me, crawling on my belly through a nest of fire ants to reach a cursed goblet rumored to turn any beverage it contains into a flesh-devouring acid is considerably more enjoyable than writing. What about you?

Curator Trevayne: Being a person who quite likes comfortable cushions and readily-available cake, I should likely say that sitting in my rooms and writing the stories is more enjoyable, but I simply cannot deny the allure of visiting peculiar circuses, wandering bizarre museums, or riding the skeleton train to
Emma Trevayne
the sound of their violins. Those skeletons--how we danced and danced! It is always a relief to return home with all my fingers and toes (the former make eating cake that much easier) but also always a delight when I am called away on another escapade.

Curator Bachmann: I am a rather timid soul in essence if not generally in practice, and I do so prefer scribbling in the silent corners of my house to visiting deserted hollows at midnight or ripping out beating hearts, which alas, one is practically forced to do if one is curious (because what is a heart, really, and what dwells within it, pounding its little fists day in and day out as if it wants to escape?)

Curator Legrand: As much as I enjoy fighting my way through scorpion-ridden catacombs and running for my life through medieval villages overrun with goblins (did you know that we Curators can travel through not only time but also universes?), I must say that, for me, the writing of my stories is the most enjoyable thing. For often, when I am writing, I am happily ensconced in the Red Room at the Cabinet itself, which is my favorite writing spot. Sandwiched between the Bottomless Pit and the fairies' mortuary, the Red Room is...well, I shan't tell you why it is such a deep shade of crimson, nor why the air inside it is so pungent. Perhaps you will visit us someday and discover why for yourself.

Curator Catmull: Please tell us the collecting adventure associated with one of the stories in this book.

Curator Trevayne: Oh, what a great many grand adventures I've had in search of curiosities for the Cabinet, it is difficult to choose just one. However, what comes to mind is the strange incident detailed in "Spidersong." Having traveled quite far and wide for our dear collection, it was strange indeed to happen upon one very nearly on my doorstep. However, there I was, walking through a lovely forest with my dog, and I heard the oddest, most beautiful music. Being a music lover, I naturally followed it, only to run screaming in horror when I discovered its terrifying source--for though I am, as I said, a music lover, I most positively do not have the same affection for our eight-legged, er, friends. I fled home, dog at my heels, and immediately transcribed the tale.

Curator Bachmann: For years, I had been hearing whispers of a little house, small as a doll's, that could rush about on clickety spider legs; I could not have anticipated the difficulty of finding it, however. Its owner had it hidden away, walled up under a staircase. People always try to hide their wicked pasts, but it is we curators’ job to find them. We always do, eventually. And then we take great pleasure in publishing them in children's books for all to read.

Claire Legrand
Curator Legrand: To write about the silver-haired, pug-nosed girl called Quicksilver, I had to journey to the far north, and wander through many icy, underground labyrinths, to which I unhappily lost several digits. (Luckily, Curator Bachmann is a skilled brewer of tonics, and managed to concoct one for the re-growing of maimed body parts right before I returned home from that trip, largely digit-less.) There, I found a stranger hiding in the city hall of a hidden settlement far beneath the Arctic seas. The stranger had vibrant red hair and flaky white skin, but I could not tell if it was a man or a woman. It wore a strange necklace that vibrated with power. To obtain this fascinating artifact, I had to beat the stranger in a game of Nine Lives (which has nothing to do with cats, but rather with testing the skillset of the underground city's resurrectionist). It was a close game, but I eventually bested the stranger--I suspect not through my own virtue, but rather because the stranger, I think, was tired of bearing such a burden.

Curator Catmull: Obviously, we all share our Cabinet living quarters. But many are unaware that our individual rooms are—while contained within the Cabinet—located in entirely different cities. 

For example, my Cabinet rooms are located in Austin, Texas, a rather dry and dusty place where, in every single attic, mournful ghosts sing in harmony to the sound of lonesome guitars. I often wonder why it’s called “the live music capital of the world” when the dead musicians so very much outnumber us.

Curator Trevayne: My Cabinet rooms are located in London, England, a city filled with so many age-old mysteries it is rather difficult to believe someone didn't invent it for a story. Kings and paupers are buried here, as is an entire river which rushes, unseen, far below the streets. On quiet days, in the right places, you can hear it whispering...*

*I hasten to point out that this is, in fact, actually true.

Curator Bachmann: My own room is located in alpine Switzerland, surrounded by copious numbers of mountains and cheese, obviously, and with a lovely view of rolling pastures and a barn. The house that room belongs to is an old one, filled with new things, and sagging under the weight of all the many people who have walked through it over the centuries. There is a loose step on the front stairs, which I am convinced holds secret treasures, or at the very least a skeleton. There is a locked box in the basement that was there when we arrived and has never been opened. My room is under eaves, and was once the servant's quarters, and sometimes I am quite sure they never left, but have simply moved into the walls. . . .

Curator Legrand:  My Cabinet quarters are in a very old place called Princeton, New Jersey, where intellectuals who are very proud of their intellect attend classes and conduct research in an ancient university. I do believe the students think me odd whenever I go into town for supplies, for I can't seem to leave the Cabinet without taking some of it back with me. And Curating as we do is, of course, not something one can learn from a textbook.

Katherine Catmull
Q. Curatorial tale-spinning is not confined to the Cabinet. I myself am the author of Summer and Birdthe story of two sisters who wander into a land where a Puppeteer swallows birds alive, and where the earth and sky clash together like jaws—you know, that sort of thing. I am revising an even uncannier book right now, but on that topic I can say no more. What about the rest of you?

Curator Trevayne: I am the author of two novels about very strange music (Coda and Chorus, both available now), and one about a boy, a magical doorway, an evil sorcerer, a slightly mad Lady, and a clockwork bird (Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times, also available now). My next book, about maltreated faeries, will be available in 2015.

Curator Bachmann: My latest book is called The Whatnot and is the companion and concluding volume to The Peculiar. It concerns a brave girl with twig-hair fighting her way through a dreary and dangerous faerie world, desperate to return to the Victorian England she was stolen from. Furthermore, it concerns a boy with an eye that can see into a dying country, moving prisons, a woman with a porcelain face, cottages that are bigger on the inside than on the out, and one very nasty king. There are other books coming later, different sorts of books, about adolescents instead of children, about terror in deep places and running in the dark, but those are a long way off yet.

Curator Legrand: I have three other books either already out in the world or soon to be released. One is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, about a practically perfect twelve-year-old girl who must face off against a nefarious headmistress to rescue her friend from an orphanage that is not what it seems. One is The Year of Shadows, about a lonely girl who must work with a group of friendly ghosts to save her father's failing orchestra--if, that is, some not-so-friendly ghosts don't first destroy her. The next is a book for young adult readers called Winterspell, and is a dark, romantic fantasy re-telling of the classic ballet The Nutcracker. 

ASTOUNDING NEWS. To celebrate the publication of The Cabinet of Curiosities, we are releasing a series of podcasts, in which each week one of the Curators reads one of his or her own stories. The podcast includes deliciously disturbing music composed and performed by Curator Stefan Bachmann himself, whose talents are almost injudiciously cornucopian. The first podcast, in which Curator Claire Legrand reads her unsettling tale “The Tin Man’s Price,” is available now--or you can subscribe to the entire series at iTunes.