I am lucky enough to have been granted an interview with the amazing Sarah Epstein, author of the YA hit, Small Spaces and now, Deep Water. You can read my review of Small Spaces HERE. Thank you so much Sarah for your insightful answers.
Small Spaces and Deep Water are both thrilling mysteries. What draws you to writing this genre?
Unputdownable mysteries are some of my favourite stories to read, especially if they are suspenseful and full of twists and turns. I admire books that keep me guessing and turning pages, and I always wanted to craft stories like that myself, even when I was writing short stories as a teen. I see myself as an entertainer, and I think about my readers constantly as I’m writing, how I can keep them interested, how I can surprise them with some new information or a twist they didn’t see coming. This is what I find so satisfying about writing this genre and why all of my books will always be very plot-driven as well as character-driven.
These novels are also about people going missing. Was this motivated by any true events?
Neither Small Spaces or Deep Water was motivated by any particular true event, but certainly lots of different true crime stories I’ve read or heard about over the years helped me grow these fictional stories in my imagination. I pick up inspiration from everywhere, and sometimes a news article, podcast, conversation or true crime show sparks an idea, and then my imagination starts asking what-ifs. This is usually where the basis for one of my story ideas will come from, once my brain starts pondering questions and spring-boarding off in different directions. It’s at this point I start writing down notes that I can return to later so I don’t forget anything.
Both books are aimed at young adults. Why do you write for this category?
I never specifically decided I would write novels for young adults, but when I sat down and tried writing a novel-length manuscript for the first time, it was a teenager’s voice and story that came through in my writing. I think it’s because the last time I’d done a lot of fiction writing was when I was a teenager. So it’s like my brain picked up where I left off, and I found that a teenage protagonist’s voice came through very easily. But I do have some ideas for picture books, middle grade and adult fiction too, so I don’t think I’ll always exclusively write YA.
In Deep Water, Chloe is an extremely strong character. Is she modelled off anyone in real life?
I see a lot of myself in Chloe, but my kids would say it’s mostly just the bossy parts! She’s really modelled on friends I’ve had over the years who are loyal and curious and stand up for what they think is right. I always enjoy writing active characters over passive ones because they are out there making life interesting with their opinions, their flaws and their big hearts.
What was your favourite book series as a teenager?
I was a teenager in the mid-80s and early 90s, and I loved series like Sweet Valley High and The Baby-sitters Club. But I also enjoyed darker books too, like the teen horror novels by Christopher Pike. They weren’t a series as such, but there were a number of them released in quick succession, all similar in style and scare level. These were the three series I couldn’t get enough of, and I’m sad to say I donated them all when I moved out of my parents’ house in my early twenties. I wish I still had them!
Do you have any role models and why do they inspire you?
I don’t really have role models, but I’m definitely inspired by other YA and kidlit authors and illustrators all around me. It’s really hard dedicating so much time, effort and hard work into manuscripts and not knowing whether or not they will be published, or, if they are, whether or not they will be successful. I admire creators who are knocked down with rejections and then pick themselves up again to keep going. I find that really inspiring.
What did you do prior to becoming an author?
I studied design at university and worked as a graphic designer for twenty-five years. The last decade or so before my first book was published, I ran my own design business from home while I was being a mum to my two boys who are now teenagers. Writing manuscripts while also running my own business and bringing up kids was a very busy and challenging time, but it also made me very organised, time-efficient and determined. Now I write full-time, but I still create art for fun and use my design skills in creating promotional material for my books.
So, what’s next on the agenda; what do we have to look forward to?
I’m working on several projects at the moment, including more YA, ideas for a middle grade manuscript, and also some adult fiction. I have something I’m working on which you’ll hear more about later this year, but for now I’m being secretive to keep you in suspense!
Which do you prefer to complete first – the book or the movie?
I always prefer reading the book first because I don’t want a movie to spoil all the major plot points – it’s always so much more fun to read those and then see how a movie interprets the story and characters. The only time a movie has slightly influenced my reading of a book is when I saw information about who had been cast for the first Harry Potter movie, and I’d only just started reading the books. From then on I pictured the actors as I was reading each character, which I didn’t really mind because I loved the cast when the movie eventually came out.
Apart from transport, if you were stranded on a desert island and got to pick one thing to bring with you, what would it be and why?
It would have to be a solar-powered laptop so I could keep writing stories. I’d have so much quiet, uninterrupted writing time, I wouldn’t want it to go to waste!
Being Ambassador to the MS Readathon has been fun and I am grateful for the opportunity. I am excited to announce that I will be returning to the role for the fifth occasion.
Last year the Australian MS Readathon was launched at my school. I was proud to lead the charge to encourage more participation. For the first time, kids could review books on their website, just like I do. The Readathon was incredibly successful and as a result three times as many families can now enjoy special MS camps.
I have been doing the MS Readathon since I was in Kindy and there have been a lot of changes over the years. This week, Tash from MS Australia joined me for lunch to start planning our awesome 2019 program. I can’t wait to share our new plans and am looking forward to having more kids reading with me for such an important reason. But I wasn’t expecting a gift…
Tash presented me with an artwork, by Book Tees HQ. It suits my book-loving personality and couldn’t have been more fitting. I am so thankful and have found the perfect place for it.
I am very honoured that famous author, Adriana Mather is joining us today on my blog. She has written How to Hang a Witch which has landed itself a place on the New York Times bestseller list. It is one of my favourite books and you can find my review HERE. Thank you Adriana and to Walker Books Australia for helping to make this possible.
1. The main character, Sam is bullied. Have you been bullied before?
I’ve never experienced anything as bad as Sam. But yes, I’ve been bullied. I also once unknowingly participated in bullying. I was in elementary school and a group of kids were making fun of a boy for his appearance. Everyone was laughing, including the boy who was being made fun of. When I went home that day I told my mom about it and she said that was cruel. I told her she had it wrong, that it was just a big joke. And she said: “That boy may have laughed in front of all those people, but what if he went home and cried?” And I burst into tears. I hated the thought that I had laughed at him and I hadn’t told them to stop. So I never let that happen again. If I saw someone being bullied, I jumped in immediately and stood up for them.
2. Sam and Jaxon are great role models. Are they like anyone you know?
I’m so happy you think so! They aren’t like anyone in particular in my life. But Mrs. Meriwether is a bit like my mom.
3. You are a direct descendant of Cotton Mather who features in your book. If you met him right now, what would you ask and why?
I would ask him about his brother Nathanael Mather, who I’ve always been curious about and who was buried in Salem. Cotton wrote the epitaph on his gravestone that reads: “An aged person that had but seen nineteen winters in the world.”
Also, I would ask him what he learned from his life. From writing How to Hang a Witch, I came to realize that history repeats itself. But if we revisit history, question history, and discuss the mechanisms behind it, not only can we learn from it, but we can break the cycle.
4. You live in LA, but How to Hang a Witch is set in Salem. Did you go there to research your story?
Absolutely! Salem is one of my favourite places with its houses painted all black and its cobblestoned streets. You’ll find potions and spell books in lots of stores, and witch logos on cop cars. People dress up in gothic clothing and costumes year round and everyone says the town is super haunted. In fact people don’t ask you if you believe in ghosts, but rather when was the last time you saw one.
5. Did you study The Crucible by Arthur Miller at school, which is also set in Salem?
I did! We studied it and we saw the play.
6. When did you become interested in writing books?
In 2013 I broke my arm snowboarding – two plates, 12 screws later and I was couch-bound for two months. I’m a very active person, always taking on new projects. So when my arm was finally healed, I found myself in a strange spot – everything in my life was on hold and nothing was demanding my attention. For the first time in forever, I had open space before me.
And in that space, I had an idea for a screenplay. It involved my ancestor Cotton Mather who instigated the Salem Witch Trials, modern day Salem, and a mystery with an enigmatic ghost. But when I sat down, the screenplay wasn’t flowing. So I decided to try the story in long form. I never knew I wanted to write a book, but once I started, I never stopped.
7. What is your favourite age group to write for?
I truly love YA.
8. I heard that you are an actor. What kind of characters have you played?
I’ve played everything from absurdist comedy to someone dying of cancer. Acting is an adventure, but it’s also such an amazing way to put yourself in other people’s shoes and learn.
9. Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m working on a new series called The November Strategy that I’m super excited about, in which a girl named November is shipped off to a secret boarding school that boasts an eye-for-an-eye punishment system. When a student is found murdered, November is the main suspect.
10. What was your favourite book/series when you were in Year 7?
I loved The Belgariad and Lord of the Rings. The Golden Compass was out, but I didn’t know about it until years later. But I bet if I had it would have been one of my faves.
11. Apart from transport, if you were stranded on a desert island and got to pick one thing to bring with you, what would it be and why?
My pirate. When I first met my husband, I didn’t think he looked like a James so I started calling him Pirate instead. And what’s a desert island without a pirate?
My delight in The Medoran Chronicles began when I happened across Akarnae in the school library. You can read my review of it HERE. This fantasy/adventure series has continued to thrill readers with Raelia, Draekora and now, Graevale. Here is my Q&A with amazing author (drumroll please…) Lynette Noni.
1. I've been hooked on The Medoran Chronicles since Akarnae. What was your inspiration for the series?
A few years ago, I was experiencing a really bad reading slump, so I pretty much decided to write the book I wanted to read – and Akarnae was created!
2. Is Alex (the heroine) based on anyone from real life?
No – none of my characters are based on real people. I spend too much time with them in my head, so I think it would be a bit strange if they had counterparts in reality!
3. I've noticed that the storylines in The Medoran Chronicles have been getting darker. Is this because your readers following the series are growing older?
Not at all. I still have a lot of new readers discovering this series every day, many of whom start quite young. (The age range seems to be from about 8 years to 90 years, male and female from all different demographics, which is rather amazing!) The series is growing ‘darker’ because Alex herself is growing as a character, and the situations she finds herself in are declining – exponentially, in some cases. War is messy and brutal, and up until this point, it’s really only been on the horizon, not up close. There are some very difficult days ahead for Alex and her friends, that’s for sure!
4. I understand you have three books to be released this year. Are they all a continuation of The Medoran Chronicles? If not, what are they about?
Two of the books are part of The Medoran Chronicles – the fourth book in the series, Graevale, which releases on February 1st, and another book called We Three Heroes, which releases on September 1st and is three novellas about Alex’s best friends, Jordan, D.C., and Bear. The other book I have coming out in 2018 is called Whisper and it’s the first of a new YA series, releasing on May 1st. It’s comparable to Stranger Things meets Divergent and it’s about a girl who has been locked away in a secret government facility for two and half years and yet in that time, she hasn’t spoken a single word. The question is, why?
5. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m just about to finish an advanced copy of Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman – the final book in the Illuminae trilogy, due for release on March 14th.
6. Besides yourself, who is your favourite author?
I don’t have one!
7. What was your favourite book from when you were my age?
Hmm, you’re 12, right? I was obsessed with horses when I was your age, so I loved reading as many books in The Saddle Club and Thoroughbred series as I could get my hands on!
8. Do you have any tips for aspiring writers like me?
I have lots of tips! So many that I’ve actually written a heap of posts about everything from “How to write a book” to “How to get published” to “How to get past writer’s block” to just general “Top 10” tips. You can find all these and many more on my website: www.lynettenoni.com/writing-advice
9. What were you doing before you became an author?
I was working at a photography studio in their post-production department.
10. If you were stranded on a desert island and got to pick one thing to bring with you, what would it be and why?
A boat, so I could leave the island if I wanted. 😊