Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Interview with Nancy Werlin, Author of IMPOSSIBLE

We're delighted to welcome Nancy Werlin to the Inkpot today! A gifted writer and teacher, Nancy has won many awards, including an Edgar and a National Book Award honor. Her first YA fantasy novel, IMPOSSIBLE, was a New York Times bestseller.  She’s here today to talk about the sequel to IMPOSSIBLE, a wonderful new novel about the Scarborough family: UNTHINKABLE (Penguin/Dial, September 2013). 

Fenella was the first Scarborough girl to be cursed, hundreds of years ago, and she has been trapped in the faerie realm ever since, forced to watch generations of daughters try to break this same faerie curse that has enslaved them all. But now Fenella’s descendant, Lucy, has accomplished the impossible and broken the curse, so why is Fenella still trapped in Faerie?

In her desperation, Fenella makes a deal with the faerie queen: If she can accomplish three acts of destruction, she will be free, at last, to die.  What she doesn't realize is that these acts must be aimed at her own family and if she fails, the consequences will be dire, for all of the Scarborough girls.

How can she possibly choose to hurt her own cherished family not to mention the new man whom she’s surprised to find herself falling in love with? But if she doesn’t go through with the tasks, how will she manage to save her dear ones?

Hi, Nancy! Can you tell us what inspired you to write this companion novel to IMPOSSIBLE?

I kept thinking about the Scarborough Girls in IMPOSSIBLE and especially the first one, Fenella. To write about her meant a prequel, yet there was no way that a prequel could end well, since Fenella's history was already set. Then I thought: What if the prequel were also a sequel, set in modern times? What is Fenella had not only a past, but a future? 

Writing a character who must climb out of her own despair was so compelling. There was nothing wrong with Lucy Scarborough except the curse on her family; Lucy fights for her future because she believes in it and in herself. 

But Fenella is dark to Lucy's light. She looks inside and sees emptiness. She looks ahead and sees nothing. The nature of the suicide is to be blind. 

But I knew Fenella should not throw away her life. It is precious. She is precious. 

I wanted Fenella to learn to throw her arms open to her future. To embrace the miracle of life. This is not an easy road for a suicidal person. But it is not impossible. And the first step
as the Faerie Queen knows in Chapter 1 is simply being forced to engage with life in all its messiness and unfairness, in all its love and possibility. 

At the start of UNTHINKABLE, Fenella is deeply isolated, and part of what’s so gripping about this book is watching her grapple with the many new relationships she forms in her new life – with the Scarborough-Markowitz-Greenfield clan, with Walker Dobrez, even with Ryland the cat.  Which relationship did you most enjoy writing about? Which one was the most challenging?

I need to feel what my character feels, in order to write. Fenella is tortured. She needs desperately to maintain her distance from Lucy, Zach, and the Markowitzes; she needs not to love them; so that she can save them and end herself. Rough going. It was especially difficult to write the scene when Fenella tries to seduce Zach, in order to destroy his and Lucy's marriage. 

But I will add that, for a writer, it is also extremely rewarding to dare such scenes, to write what I need to write. 

There were delightful scenes, too, such as the ones with Fenella and Walker Dobrez she is shocked to be attracted to him, because isn't she dead inside? Also, there is cynical Ryland, a nasty faerie prince in disguise as a cat. He snipes at Fenella in her head -- and she dresses him in baby's clothes, including a sunbonnet. 

Finally, there is Minnie Scarborough, who we meet only in Fenella's memories. Minnie is a Scarborough Girl who studied nursing after the American Civil War, and was the first feminist that Fenella ever met. I was so relieved to discover that Fenella had loved and been loved by Minnie ... that her heart had not been entirely desolate for four hundred years. 

Fenella Scarborough was born 400 years ago, but for most of that time she’s been a captive, kept far away from mortals – until UNTHINKABLE begins and she’s sent to present-day Massachusetts.  I loved being able to look at the world through Fenella’s eyes—and to see her respond to the possibilities she now has as a 21st-century American woman.  Did writing the book make you appreciate those possibilities, too?

This question reminds me of an incident from when I was in college. A dreamy classmate asked several of us: "If you could choose any period of history in which to live, which would it be?" 

I didn't have to think twice: "No woman in her right mind would ever want to live in the past!" 

Fenella emerges into a world where she can be herself in a way that was not possible in the 17th century. She surprised even me when she climbed into a truck and wanted to drive it and then to look under the hood and then to invent an engine! She discovers that her curiosity and her interests and her ambition cannot be repressed, not once she is forced to engage with the world. 

We humans are resilient, even when we don't want to be. 

(Credit: Jerry Bauer)
Can you talk a bit about the process of writing UNTHINKABLE?  How much revision did you need to do?  And how did you know when you were done?

The first drafts went slowly, as I tried to figure out the tasks of destruction and how Fenella would handle them, and also to keep the complicated relationships and plot strands straight. I spent a long time working on my first three chapters, set in Faerie. Then, in the rest of the book, there were so many characters and I had to figure out who needed to be emphasized when and who needed to be cut. There were long talks with my draft readers and some late discoveries such as the realization that Fenella was deeply afraid of Lucy's baby, and those feelings related to her having failed her own daughter that needed to be worked into the plot. 

It was laborious, but I knew I was done when about a year after my initial deadline I felt a great big internal YES as I read.

I am so proud of this difficult book.  

What is your favorite scene?

Ah, easy! Fenella is a healthy 17th century woman, and she is as straightforward as Shakespeare in her sexuality. Her love scene with Walker is the first full sex scene I've ever written in a novel, and I loved writing it. 

Thanks so much for talking about the process of writing UNTHINKABLE, Nancy! We're glad you stopped by.

Interview by Amy Butler Greenfield, who was on her way to a history Ph.D. when she gave into temptation and became a novelist. Now an award-winning writer, she lives with her family in England, where she eats chocolate, bakes cakes, and plots mischief.  Her most recent book is the YA historical fantasy CHANTRESS (McElderry / S&S, 2013).  You can find her at


  1. Great interview. Am now even more intrigued and excited to read this book than I was before!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview, Vicky!

  2. Thanks, Vicky. (Love seeing you here!) I hope that you'll enjoy it. I adore my brave Fenella.

  3. I am really looking forward to reading UNTHINKABLE! Fenella sounds like a great character!

  4. I'm so grateful for this interview--I'd never caught up with IMPOSSIBLE, and now I know I need to read both books. Also grateful to hear you gave yourself the time to do this right, Nancy... very inspiring.

  5. Hi, Ellen. Yes, I missed my deadline.... once upon a time that would have horrified me. (It still horrifies me, but a rush-job is more horrifying.) I am a fan of SMALL PERSON WITH WINGS!


Have your say...