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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Interview with Steph Bowe, author of 'All This Could End'

I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Steph Bowe's new book All This Could End and I really, thoroughly enjoyed it! So, of course, I had many questions to ask the young (young!) author about her process, playlist and meeting Melina Marchetta! 
Without further ado, I give you - Steph Bowe! 

Q: How long did it take you to write ‘All This Could End’, from first idea to final manuscript?
About two-and-a-half years! This one took a lot longer than my first, and I was working on it on and off (and also being distracted by various other ideas I had).

Q: Are you a plotter or a ‘pantser’? – That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally?
I have a general idea of the characters, a few different events, and usually the beginning and the end in mind before I start writing, but apart from that I don't do any planning at all. I like having the freedom to make it up as I go along and let the story evolve. I don't always end up where I think I will end up, but if I don't have a vague ending in mind, I end up going off on tangents because I'm not sure what I'm working towards.

Q: Where do story ideas generally start for you? Do you first think of the character, theme, ending? Or is it just a free-fall?
It depends on the story! Sometimes I have a very clear idea of a character, other times I will just have the idea for the first scene. There are lots of tiny little ideas that all stew in my head for months and join up into a story before I start writing, so sometimes it's hard to say where it originally began.

Q: What’s your writing routine? How do you start your writing day?
I don't really have one! I generally write in the evenings, and generally I'll read through what I've written most recently to get back into the flow of the novel. I've tried to get rid of all of my 'I have to do this before I can write' things - I used to have to have a cup of tea and a piece of toast and the right music or absolute silence and a specific hat on. But not really the hat. Now the writing routine is to sit down and write, no excuses.

Q: ‘All This Could End’ is about a bank-robbing family who actually conduct rather quaint old-school ‘holds-ups’, as opposed to cyber-crime. What sort of research did you do for the novel?
I did a fair bit of reading (on the internet. I am ashamed) to figure out basic logistics and bank layout and where one might get a gun in this country. If the police ever check my google search history I am in trouble.

Q: You have one of the best opening-lines of any book: “Nina Pretty holds the gun to the boy’s head, her other arm around his neck. Her balaclava itches.” – do beginnings come easily for you? How many drafts did it take until you nailed that great opener? 
The first line of the novel is the first line I wrote! (And it was only slightly changed during edits.) Beginnings are the easiest for me! I write lots of beginnings that never end up turning into finished books. Coming up with interesting ways to start is easy, figuring outthe rest of the plot and keeping a reader interested for two-hundred pages or so is harder.

Q: Were you writing ‘All This Could End’ with a soundtrack in mind? Could you list some songs you were inspired by, or attached to certain scenes (nothing by ‘Swedish Lesbian Town’, please)
I don't have any songs attached to particular scenes, but I can tell you which songs I was listening to a lot while writing: 
re:Stacks - Bon Iver, but really the entire For Emma Forever Ago album
Golden Brown - The Stranglers
Boy Don't Cry - The Cure
A New England - Billy Bragg
From St Kilda To Kings Cross - Paul Kelly
Grand Canyon - The Magnetic Fields
Cold War - The Morning Benders
Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear
Ghosts Of York - As Tall As Lions
40 Day Dream - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
The Cold Acre - Augie March, but really also everything Augie March have ever recorded (usually best for wistful scenes)

Q: I feel like you really flip gender-stereotypes on their head. It’s encapsulated in the title of ‘Girl Saves Boy’, and in ‘All This Could End’ it’s Nina who is the gun-wielding bank robber, and her friend/hostage Spence is the shy-guy word-enthusiast. What do you find so appealing about these boy/girl dynamics? And are you writing them as an antidote to the gender-relationship stereotypes that tend to populate YA?
I don't do it on purpose, but I think it's really sad how often the exact same gender roles come up in YA, and I don't feel like they're at all representative of what people are like in reality - the girls don't all have to be vulnerable and self-loathing, and the boys all self-assured and masculine and angry. It's quite odd. I like to write characters that are just individuals rather than genders, and I hope that people can find themselves in my stories. I identify a lot more with Spencer than with Nina, but people tend to assume I'm the female main character. I think when you write characters that conform to strict gender roles, it's just lazy. They lack depth. (I also hate the tendency for YA writers to make every character breathtakingly beautiful. People can be loveable for reasons other than beauty! Many, many reasons! But that's another thing entirely.)

Q: I love that you’re a YA author who reads and loves YA. So often you’ll read interviews with authors who say they don’t actually read other YA books, apart from their own. So, are you thrilled when you get to meet fellow YA authors? Who were you most excited to meet?
Meeting other authors is amazing and surreal, especially when I've loved their novels for years! I was really terribly excited to meet lots of authors, but meeting Melina Marchetta (and then appearing on TV with her, John Marsden and Morris Gleitzman) was definitely a highlight. 
Q: The Australian YA scene is quite revered around the world – and our contemporary novels are particularly popular. What draws you to writing in the contemporary/romance genre, and what is it about the Aussie young adult book scene that’s so appealing to international readers?
I like stories set in the real world, or a world like ours. I do love other genres, but I'm so heavily inspired by contemporary YA that it made sense for me to write it myself. I think Australian YA novels tend to be less formulaic and really genuine, and I think that's what appeals to readers - there is a realness and lack of pretentiousness about them.

Q: I loved a recent blog you wrote, called ‘Why is it so hard to be a writer and read?’ in which you talk about the pitfalls of being a reading-writer. What are some books that you’ve read and wish you’d written yourself? Are there any books you’ve banned yourself from reading because afterwards you try to mimic that authors’ style?
I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor just before writing the post, which I thought was pretty magical. I wish I could write like Cath Crowley or Melina Marchetta or John Green. When I'm really focusing on writing, I try not to read novels in my genre at all (sometimes I'll ban fiction entirely for a few weeks!) because it is so easy to get distracted and caught up in other stories.

Q: What are you currently working on – and when can readers expect it to hit shelves?
It is too early-days for me to tell yet! I hate to jinx a story by talking about it too much. I promise I will be talking about the new novel all the time, as soon as I've finished it. (I will tell you it's another contemporary YA, though...)

Q: What advice do you have for budding young writers?
Write a lot, read a lot and don't let anyone discourage you! Enjoying writing is the most important thing, so don't worry about writing stories that are perfect when you first start out. If you do want to be published, know that it is absolutely possible!

'All This Could End' by Steph Bowe

Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

What’s the craziest thing your mum has asked you to do? 

Nina doesn’t have a conventional family. Her family robs banks—even she and her twelve-year-old brother Tom are in on the act now. Sophia, Nina’s mother, keeps chasing the thrill: ‘Anyway, their money’s insured!’ she says. 

After yet another move and another new school, Nina is fed up and wants things to change. This time she’s made a friend she’s determined to keep: Spencer loves weird words and will talk to her about almost anything. His mother has just left home with a man who looks like a body-builder vampire, and his father and sister have stopped talking. 

Spencer and Nina both need each other as their families fall apart, but Nina is on the run and doesn’t know if she will ever see Spencer again. Steph Bowe, author ofGirl Saves Boy, once again explores the hearts and minds of teenagers in a novel full of drama, laughter and characters with strange and wonderful ways.

Some parents help their kids with math homework. Most have spouted parental proverbs like “Mind your Ps and Qs” or “Respect your elders.” 

This is not the way of the Pretty family.

For Nina and her little brother Tom, homework is pickpocketing for big bucks. Motherly maxims include “Trust no one” and “Scout the place.”

Because the Pretty family are bank-robbers. Old-school, hold-em-up style bank-robbers. Nina is, unwillingly, following in her mother’s footsteps and has been robbing since she was twelve-years-old and able to spray-paint surveillance cameras. Now that’s Tom’s job, and Nina is deemed old enough to wield a gun alongside her mother and father.

But while Tom is still thrilled by the life of crime and has no qualms with moving town every four months or so, Nina is decidedly sick of it all. She plans to escape from her parents’ criminality, just as soon as she’s old enough.

In the meantime, her father has taken a new teaching job and the family are moving once again. Except this time something changes. Nina meets Birdie and Spencer – two completely opposite best friends who draw Nina into their orbit. Birdie is extravagant and fearless, with a serious penchant for bassists. Spence is a shy word-enthusiast, who can talk to Nina about absolutely everything – including his parents’ crumbling marriage.

But Spencer’s father is also the local bank manager.

And this life of crime just got a whole lot more complicated.

‘All This Could End’ is the new novel from Australian young adult author, Steph Bowe.

This novel has one of the most suckering beginnings of any book; “Nina Pretty holds the gun to the boy’s head, her other arm around his neck. Her balaclava itches.” Of course I was captivated from that line onwards, and Stephe Bowe delivered on a first-chapter cliff-hanger with a rather fun and quirky contemporary novel. 

Spence and Nina alternate in point-of-view chapters, which backtrack from the moment of a bank-robbery that’s suddenly veered off course to their first meeting. In Nina’s chapters we also get carried back to the beginning of her crime-sprees, when she was just twelve-years-old.

The story about the Pretty family of bank-robbers is a great hook. And the old-school, hold-up style is explained rather eloquently by Nina’s mother, Sophia; 

‘A bank hold-up is outdated. It’s almost quaint! It was happening in the eighties. It’s something they think only desperate, unprepared people do. Bank theft is all online stuff now,’ Sophia had lectured them a few weeks earlier, through a mouthful of parmigiana made by Paul. She waved her fork about to emphasise her point. ‘Has the element of surprise every time.’ 

This also goes a long way to hinting at Sophia’s entire outlook on her crime-life, which began when she was a child herself. Sophia has rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the criminality aspect of bank-robbing, she treats it like a bizarre hobby full of retro nostalgia. She burns through their stolen money too quickly, and revels in the adrenaline rush. 

And as much as this is a novel centred on a quirky ‘bank-robbing’ plot, the real heart of ‘All This Could End’ stems from the family dramas playing out between Spence and Nina. 

For Spence, it’s coming to terms with his parent’s clearly fraught marriage that’s on the brink. He has a best friend called Birdie, who’s all eclectic-larger-than-life awesomeness, but for the real heart-to-hearts he grows to rely on Nina and they develop this lovely, blossoming bond.

For Nina, it’s this feeling like her family is suffocating her and she needs to break away – to stand on her own two feet. There’s a hint of ‘Running on Empty’ with this aspect of Nina’s home life, and I found it really intriguing that although she’s talking about feeling smothered by her crime family, this feeling of needing to break away from the nest is one many young readers will relate to.

Right now Nina feels as if happiness is just a story people tell, rather than something that actually happens. Because it’s not happening for her.

If I have any complaints about the book, it’s that Bowe occasionally strays into ‘show, don’t tell’ territory and there were some revelations that I felt I could have got to myself, without her laying them out for me;

It didn’t occur to her until years later that someone who was truly good, who truly loved her children, would not put them in such a situation. But then again, it’s a miracle Nina ever reached a place in her mind where she could realise that at all. 

This is a charmingly quirky novel about family, criminality and independence. 


Sunday, February 24, 2013

'This Is Where I Leave You' by Jonathan Tropper

From the BLURB:

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.

Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.

As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.

‘Shiva’ is the Jewish ritual of mourning for seven ("shiva") days after the burial of an immediate relative. 

The funeral is the first day of shiva, following that the deceased’s family sit in their home to receive mourners and remember the dead. Mirrors are covered, because vanity has no place in grief. Mourners bring food for the family, because it is a sign of love and respect. 

At the end of shiva, the family of mourners are meant to walk around the block to shake off their grief and remind them what waits for them outside the house of mourning. 

Shiva is often used as a distraction from the loss, and for mourners to openly experience their grief together with friends and family. 

For the Foxman family sitting shiva will be a distraction from their individually catastrophic lives.

Judd Foxman recently found his wife of 10 years in bed with his boss. They had been separated for eight weeks when he heard that his father finally lost a two-year battle with cancer, and his dying wish was that his family find religion in his death when he never had faith in life. Just as Judd leaves to bury his father, his (ex?)wife lobs one more grenade at him – she’s pregnant.

Paul Foxman is the eldest sibling. He blames Judd for a terrible accident in their youth that cost him his baseball career. Paul’s wife, Alice, is desperate to conceive but her fertility frustrations are starting to have adverse affects on her personality. 

Wendy Foxman lives in California with her three children and asshole husband who has his blackberry permanently glued to his ear and treats his kids like strangers. 

Phillip Foxman was his parent’s happy accident – a child born ten years apart from his siblings. He is the coddled baby who never owns up for his numerous mistakes. He has bought his therapist-turned-engaged-to-be-engaged-fiancée along to shiva.

Then there’s Hillary Foxman – matriarch and bestselling author of a many times reprinted parenting manual. Of course, because she is a much celebrated child-guru, all of her children are utterly screwed up and have not been together under the same roof in years.

If the Foxman family can survive seven days together, it will be a bloody miracle.

‘This is Where I Leave You’ was the 2009 New York Times bestseller from contemporary novelist, Jonathan Tropper.

I have a secret reading weapon, and his name is Jonathan Tropper. No, seriously. Whenever I get myself into a reading-rut he saves me. When I can only read one page and retain nothing before my eyes start to strain and the Facebook newsfeed calls to me. When I buy numerous $2.99 Kindle eBooks that are horrendously trashy and the reading equivalent of cotton-candy. When I pick up, read the blurb, put down, pick up and read the first page of every book in my TBR pile . . . Jonathan Tropper saves me. 

Tropper is my fail-safe. He has written six books in his illustrious career, and so far three of them have saved me from reading-ruts, and I've got the other three tucked away for safekeeping. In 2007 it was ‘The Book of Joe’. The reading-rut of 09’ was saved by ‘How To Talk To A Widower’. I don’t know what it is about the guy, but I pick up one of his books and I’m instantly invested. I like to think of Tropper as the anti-Nicholas Sparks. If Sparks is puppies and unicorns and book-to-film adaptations tailor-made for Miley Cyrus then Tropper is the opposite of that – he writes witty, warts and all, hit-rock-bottom and laugh-out-loud damaged characters that I love/pity/fear because I find a little too much of myself in them. And he’s funny. My God! Belly-aching laughs amid truly awful circumstances – reading a Jonathan Tropper book is like trying to suppress a giggle at a funeral, which I guess is an especially apt description for this book. 

Y’know how most plots are structured so that the protagonist hits rock bottom somewhere in the middle, so that the second half of the book can be them clawing their way back to the top (or at least reach a happy middling?) Well, for protagonist Judd Foxman it’s more about starting out at rock bottom, and then finding new and delicious ways to claw even deeper underground. When the book opens, Judd is informed of his father’s passing. It’s not that much of a surprise, since the man was slowly dying from cancer these past two years. But Judd only lost his wife eight weeks ago, after walking in on her and his alpha-boss, Wade, going at it (and then discovering they’d been going at it for a year). Now his mum informs him that his dad’s dying wish was for all the Foxman children to come together and sit shiva, and be together for seven consecutive days to say goodbye to him.

So, Judd has to face his family in the midst of his pitying new loneliness. But then his wife, Jen, turns up to also inform him that she’s pregnant. 

Stuck in his childhood home with his dysfunctional family, all of whom have their own crises their playing out amongst greeting mourners, is not a great way to recover from heartbreak and the looming years of middle-aged loneliness ahead of you. But there’s also the fact that nearly all the Foxman children are harbouring secret, and not so secret, resentments against one another that are bound to come bubbling to the surface.

It’s no wonder that Judd starts having nightmares about his dead father in which he sports a prosthetic leg and has sex with his recently reconnected childhood crush, Penny Moore: 

It’s like Stephen King is writing my dreams in to Penthouse Forum. 

While Judd starts coming to terms with his father’s death, he’s also suffocating from the hatred he feels towards his cheating wife (who he still loves) and the life they built together, now crumbled. He thinks back over infinitesimal details of their romance, as well as the larger obstacles they weren’t able to overcome; 

That’s the problem with college kids. I blame Hollywood for skewing their perspective. Life is just a big romantic comedy to them, and if you meet cute, happily-ever-after is a foregone conclusion. So there we were, the pretty blond girl milking her very slight congenital limp in order to seem damaged and more interesting, and the nervous boy with the ridiculous hair trying so hard to be clever, the two of us hypnotized by the syncopated rhythms of our furiously beating hearts and throbbing loins. That stupid, desperate, horny kid I was, standing obliviously on the fault line of his embryonic love, when really, what he should have been doing was running for his life.

Judd, like all of Tropper’s characters, is not an entirely likeable man. Just because he’s the lovelorn underdog in this saga, will not make readers predisposed to like him. He has flaws, and becomes selfish in his grief, thinking that a wounded heart makes him less culpable when dealing with other people’s feelings. But the very fact that he’s a prickly, depressed, sucker-in-love is a reason in itself to root for him, even as you shake your head and admonish him. 

Case in point: Judd reconnecting with his high school crush (and best friend), Penny Moore. Penny is stuck in her home town, and when she starts hanging out with Judd again she makes reference to being on medication, having a sick mother and just generally expecting people to treat her badly because it's happened so often in the past. But does Judd care to get to the root of Penny's problems, or even ask her to extrapolate on them? No. Because he's so caught up in his own misery, and can't really see Penny beyond being a healing-balm for him in his time of need. That's some sucky behaviour, right there. But I defy anyone not to recognize a bit of themselves in Judd's miserable selfishness - when our own worlds are imploding, empathy and compassion for others pretty much goes out the window.

Actually, all of the Foxman children are hard to stomach at times. Tropper has most definitely cut them all from the same cloth – and they vary in their likability and levels of selfish, prickliness and ability to trample hearts left and right. But they’re a fun bunch to read about because they’re so absurdly messy in their lives. But what it comes down to is this; they’re family. Love them, hate them, resent the hell out of them . . . these people come together for seven days and are reminded that they were integral to one another’s lives at one point or another. Slowly they drift back together, they reconnect and reform in the wake of tragedy and the book is a very lovely and different sort of romance for essentially being more about the love between families than the romantic love that can so easily shatter. 

I’m kind of thrilled to discover that Tropper has adapted ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ into a film – and the likes of Jason Bateman, Zac Efron and Goldie Hawn have already signed up for the still up-in-the-air project. I think this could be an absurdly brilliant movie, since it has been left in Tropper’s screenwriting hands (he’s had recent success with the crazy TV show ‘Banshee’ – which is nothing like any book he has ever written but still amazing!)

I want to see this movie made because ‘This Is Where I Leave You’ is the road less travelled when it comes to grief and romance. It’s warts-and-all, witty, sad and frustrating for the imperfections depicted in both life and characters. You can keep your Nicholas Sparks honey-hued tales of love and redemption and good-guys getting the girl in the end and books that can be summarized perfectly into one-word movie taglines and posters of guys (Duhamel, Gosling, Tatum) doing that head-cradle-kiss thing. You can keep all that – because those stories don’t pull me out of reading-ruts. Only Tropper can do that.

... and, for the record, if I was going to get a head-cradle-kiss I'd much prefer Jason Bateman over Channing Tatum.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

'Wanderlove' by Kirsten Hubbard

From the BLURB:

It all begins with a stupid question:
Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria's a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan's a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they've got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can't run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

But all that's hugely unlikely -- with the exception of mosquito bites and sunburn. And yet even experienced travelers are still afraid. 

Nothing has gone as planned for Bria. She isn’t going to the college of her dreams, her perfect boyfriend dumped her and nobody seems to notice she hasn’t drawn anything in months. She has lost all passion for life, and art, and now she needs a change.

When she sees a travel brochure for Central America, she jumps at the chance for a change-of-pace and scenery. An adventure may be just what Bria needs to recapture her passion, find her independence and move on from whatever has got her life stalled.

Except the Global Vagabonds are an anesthetized travel experience, experienced mostly from the comfort of a bus seat – and Bria’s trip to Central America feels wrapped in cotton-wool, until she meets Starling.

Starling is a proper backpacker – she wears a million rings, has crumpled-cool clothes and an easy swagger. Bria is at once captivated and jealous. But when she bumps into Starling for a second time, fate starts playing a hand . . . and when she meets Starling’s wanderlusting brother, Rowan, Bria can’t turn back and instead takes the duo up on their offer to go on a real backpacking adventure.

‘Wanderlove’ was the 2012 stand-alone young adult novel from Kirsten Hubbard.

I have travelled a lot in my life, but never by myself and nothing that could be constituted as ‘roughing it’. Truth be told, I don’t think I’m brave enough to travel by myself; but I envy those who do. So reading ‘Wanderlove’ is a wonderful indulgence, particularly for having a narrator like Bria who has great trepidations about travelling alone and not fitting the backpacker ‘look’. I completely sympathised with her, and fell into this story and Central American along with her. . . 

I remember watching  a great documentary a few years ago called ‘A Map for Saturday’, which follows this 20-something New York TV producer who packs up his apartment, quits his job and goes backpacking for a year. He takes a hand-held camera with him, and interviews fellow backpackers and makes diary-entry videos of himself. It was a great doco, for exploring the gamut of traveller emotions and lifestyle – from the loneliness of solo-travel, to the beauty of fleeting friendships, the weariness of the exotic (“oh, another waterfall” one backpacker deadpanned) and the moment when you know it’s time to come home – and then the oddity of coming back to a routine, and trying to explain to people where you went and what you saw. I feel like Hubbard captured that kaleidoscope of vagabond life in this book, and in the two primary characters of Bria and Rowan.

Throughout the book Bria talks about this sadness that has settled over her – it’s linked to her break-up with a boy called Toby and her uncharacteristic disinterest in art. Her going to Central America is meant to jump-start her life again, and stop her from thinking on Toby. Rowan, meanwhile, has been travelling solo for a while now . . . and it’s as though he’s running from something. Both he and Starling allude to a time when he wasn’t so trustworthy, when he went off the rails. When Starling is called back to her job, leaving Bria and Rowan to explore together, the two of them start picking each other apart to get to the centre of what Bria is running away from, and Rowan is trying to avoid turning back into. 

I will say this isn’t a book you read for the characters and romance – they’re great, don’t get me wrong – Bria was a wonderful narrator and Rowan a charismatic love interest. But they pale in comparison to Hubbard’s travel writing – her details of exotic locales and people, immersing Bria in a different culture and appreciating a change of scenery; 

What everyone forgets -- even me -- is the people who actually live here. In places like Central America, I mean. Southeast Asia. India. Africa. Millions, even billions, of people, who live out their whole lives in these places -- the places so many people like us fear. Think about it: they ride chicken buses to work every day. Their clothes are always damp. Their whole lives, they never escape the dust and the heat. But they deal with all these discomforts. They have to. 
So why can't travellers? If we've got the means to get here, we owe it to the country we're visiting not to treat it like an amusement park, sanitized for our comfort. It's insulting to the people who live here. People just trying to have the best lives they can, with the hands they've been dealt.

Hubbard herself is clearly a traveller – because she writes eloquently about respecting a culture, immersing yourself in a place and leaving Western prejudice behind. A few times along the way Bria and Rowan meet cringe-worthy stereotypes: the yobbo blokes out to have a piss-up, the giggling girls who want an overseas hook-up. I loved reading about these fleeting traveller characters, because Rowan puts them in their place and discerns that they’re not real backpackers – they may have wanderlust, but to know wanderlove (like he does) it’s a completely different attitude. But Bria also points out that Starling and Rowan are themselves stereotypes – with their many bracelets, ugly backpacker sandals and effortlessly cool grubby attire. I really think Hubbard captured the many faces of backpackers in this novel, as seen through Bria’s eyes and in the drawings she produces along the way. 

This is another of those perfect New Adult books - caught between young adult and adult - for exploring that time when we've left high school behind, and the great expanse of adulthood and 'real life' is opening (terrifyingly) before us. Many young people now choose Gap years, their own 'walkabout', before buckling down for all those terrible adult things like studying and job-hunting. There's a lot in 'Wanderlove' for young adults and twenty-something readers to connect with, as Bria literally takes herself away to find herself.

Like I said, I’m not a backpacker or a terribly adventurous ‘roughing-it’ traveller, much to my chagrin. But I really felt like I was living that life vicariously through ‘Wanderlove’, and Hubbard’s conjuring this otherworld with Bria at the narrative helm. This is a beautiful ‘New Adult’ book – about searching for independence and finding yourself, in the middle of nowhere. 


Monday, February 18, 2013

Interview with Melina Marchetta

I’m a 2013 columnist for Kill Your Darlings, writing about all things children’s and young adult. And this month, my column was Melina Marchetta-centric. Thanks to the lovely people at Penguin Books Australia, I was able to shoot off some pertinent questions . . .  my KYD column focused on the ‘Jellicoe Road’ movie adaptation, but I actually asked a few more questions that had to be cut-down for word-length. 
So, here is the Melina Marchetta Q&A in its entirety. 
And a very big thank you to the incredible Ms Marchetta for taking the time to answer my very detailed (some would say, long-winded) questions! 

Q: First of all; what can you tell us about the ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ movie adaptation? I know you’d been writing the script for three years, and you’ve recently mentioned that Sue Taylor is onboard as producer and Kate Woods as director. What other little tid-bits can you reveal about the movie’s status? 

There’s probably very little I can tell you except to say that we have sent it to an actress who could possibly be Taylor Markham and that the ball doesn’t really start rolling until we cast her and Jonah Griggs. From a production side, Goalpost films are also on board. They recently had the success of The Sapphires, which was such a wonderful film. We’ve also got US producers involved so it’s definitely happening, but there’s a lot of waiting for the right people and we’re not interested in making this film without the right people. Kate Woods is coming from LA to stay with me next week so it will be a Jellicoe talk fest for the whole ten days while I show her every single film/TV or image of actors and actresses that I’ve taped or downloaded or saved.

Q: I read somewhere that you started writing a version of ‘Jellicoe’ back in 1993. It went through a few transformations, but always there was Taylor Markham (and a boy in a tree?). It’s amazing that you’ve had this story for some 19 years, and that Taylor is the character that’s been with you the longest. Is there going to be some catharsis in bringing this book to the big screen? Will you finally feel like Taylor is untethered, or do you think there’s still more to ‘Jellicoe’ and you’re not quite done with this fertile setting just yet?

I let go of Jellicoe the novel once it found its audience. That probably didn’t happen until it won the Printz in the US, but it was such a liberating feeling knowing that the novel was out in the world being read. With the script it’s different because it’s been such a long process, as film always is. I’m really proud of this film script and watching it one day on the big screen will truly be an emotional experience for so many reasons.  I say often that there will be some scenes that I won’t be able to watch. And yes, I’ll be finished with Taylor. But in saying that, I’m not finished with the setting. Cathy Randall (who originally was going to direct Jellicoe) and I are working on a TV production with Joanna Werner and Sue Taylor that is set in Jellicoe’s “fertile setting”. An isolated boarding school is the perfect place to let your imagination run wild. Whenever we pitch it, we say we want it to be West Wing for teenagers; fast smart dialogue and really complicated lives, with a lot of heart and not a lot of schmaltz.

Q: You’ve been experiencing beginnings and endings for these last few years. This year, of course, your ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ trilogy came to a close with the wonderful ‘Quintana of Charyn’, and three years ago you picked up Taylor Markham’s story again and started adapting the book, which was first published in 2006. I’m curious if you did any sort of writerly ritual to say goodbye to the world of Skuldenore (for the time being?) and if your characters always stay with you and talk to you, long after their books have hit the shelves?

The last thing I ever do with one of my novels is I listen to it.  The Froi and Quintana audio versions read by Grant Cartwright and produced by Bolinda Audio have been great for that. It’s almost as if I need someone to read my story back to me. I never ever think my characters are real people, but I do miss them.  I miss them being in my head when I wake up at 3am, and trust me, those Lumaterans and Charynites were such big personalities to have in my head.  I think the hardest characters to let go of, though, were the Finch-Mackees from The Piper’s Son.  I still miss their dark humour and their fierceness. And for the record, I’d be wrong to say I’m finished with characters. Tom Mackee made a fool of me in that way and so did Froi.  The only characters I won’t write about ever again are the Alibrandi lot and that has much to do with the fact that my grandmothers were both alive when I was writing Nonna Katia and I don’t want her getting any older.

Q: There’s actually quite a correlation between ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ and the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’. Your fantasy series is about people who are exiled from their homeland. While the contemporary ‘Jellicoe’ is about a displacement of a different kind, in Taylor Markham whose trying to piece together the puzzle of her past to understand who she is. Also interesting that ‘Jellicoe’ is based in a rural boarding school – filled with children who are separated from their homes and families. And they’re both, in a way, about what happens after tragedy – how people cope in its wake. Did you find that writing the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ alongside the ‘Jellicoe’ script helped inform both works, that one had influence over the other and vice-versa? 

No, although I do love your connections. For me, Finnikin of the Rock came after Jellicoe because of the world building of Jellicoe and the descriptive language and the sometimes-surreal nature of that world.  I don’t think I could have jumped from the style of Francesca to the fantasy novels.  I actually think that The Lumatere Chronicles are more related to Looking For Alibrandi. All those novels are about displacement and Diasporas and the loss of language within generations of family and they’re about homeland and identity.

Q: I was lucky enough to attend your Melbourne Writers Festival event in August, held in the ACMI building and jam-packed with school kids. There was a great atmosphere from the audience that day, and many questions were asked about the ‘Jellicoe’ movie adaptation. I got the sense that all your young fans are very patient for the movie to come along, and very trusting in your vision for the adaptation. Do you feel that acceptance/eagerness from your fans? What has been the response from your fanbase (both here, and in America) where the ‘Jellicoe’ movie is concerned? 

The thing I love about working with Sue Taylor is how respectful she is of the readers’ passion for this novel, and she knows that it will be the readership that generates the interest for this project. It will be the readers who will get those who haven’t read Jellicoe to come along and watch the film.  What will be unavoidable is disappointing readers who have a set idea of what Taylor and Jonah and everyone look like.  What I discovered from Alibrandi was that it didn’t matter what I imagined everyone looking like.  It mattered that we cast the right actors and in Alibrandi, we certainly did. Nothing is certain in the casting of this film except that Chaz Santangelo who is Italian and indigenous will be played by an indigenous actor. And that I really want the cast to reflect the diversity of the novel, especially the present day kids in the story.  I’ll say it over and over again; the lack of cultural diversity in Australian TV shows and films is extremely weak. It’s what makes me so proud of Alibrandi and it’s what I’m loving so much about Redfern Now.

Friday, February 15, 2013

'The Girl Who Fell From the Sky' by Heidi Durrow

From the BLURB:

This debut novel tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish mother and a black G.I. who becomes the sole survivor of a family tragedy. With her strict African American grandmother as her new guardian, Rachel moves to a mostly black community, where her light brown skin, blue eyes, and beauty bring mixed attention her way. Growing up in the 1980s, she learns to swallow her overwhelming grief and confronts her identity as a biracial young woman in a world that wants to see her as either black or white. 

In the tradition of Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, here is a portrait of a young girl - and society's ideas of race, class, and beauty.

There is Rachael with one good ear, her mother’s blue eyes and papa’s mocha skin. She is the new girl, moving from Chicago to go and live with Grandma in Oregon, her father’s mother. Since going to live with Grandma and her pretty Aunt Loretta, Rachael has not spoken about her mother, Mor. She has not spoken Danish words, or about why her father has not come from her. She is the new girl, this is her new life, and she has to bottle her real self inside.

There is Jamie, who thought the boy was a bird flying down below his window. But later, Jamie understands that it was no bird he saw, but a family – a mama, and her three babies, all falling from the sky. And when reporters ask Jamie what he saw, he gives them a new name, ‘Brick’, and says he saw a man on that rooftop. 

Laronne worked with Nella, and knows that the woman loved her babies. Maybe she’d made some bad decisions – leaving her army husband in Europe and running off to Chicago with that red-headed white man. But, deep down, Laronne knows that Nella loved those babies and it must have been foul-play that took them to that rooftop. Foul-play and a small miracle that saved the little girl. 

‘The Girl Who Fell From The Sky’ was the 2010 debut novel by Heidi Durrow.

I started reading this book, and kept thinking of the Stanley J. Forman photograph, ‘Fire on Marlborough Street.’ 

It’s a frighteningly beautiful photo – a mother and her child leaping from their burning building - but sad when you research and discover that the woman pictured did not survive, but her child did. And while the circumstances between that falling and the one Durrow depicts in her debut are vastly different, they both raise questions about the surviving child . . .

What’s frustrating about ‘The Girl Who Fell From the Sky’ is that the supposed act of filicide that triggers the story is not the focus throughout the whole book. In fact, there were times when I thought Durrow paid a disservice to her wonderful character of Rachael by not concentrating more on her fall from a rooftop. Instead, the novel delves into deeper explorations of hereditary addiction, race, class and burgeoning sexuality. 

The book is told in alternating chapters from different points-of-view, sometimes in present-day (1980’s America) and sometimes backpedalling to before and after the fall. A huge concentration in the book is Rachel moving from Chicago to a black community in Oregon – where her differences and skin colour make her a target for jealous girls and curious stares when she goes out with her dark-skinned Aunt Loretta and Grandma. 

Rachel’s father was an African-American GI stationed in Europe, where he met Nella, a Danish girl. Through tumultuous years they began a family and succumbed to alcoholism, until Nella left with another man, taking her children to Chicago while Roger sunk lower into his addictions. In Chicago, Nella and the children battled poverty and the ugly racism still present in American culture – where everyone cares about ‘black’ and ‘white’ and Nella feels unable to shield her babies from racial slurs and a disapproving society.

Durrow writers with a lovely cadence and lyricism – some of her sentences are just sublime; 

This is the picture I want to remember: Grandma looks something like pride. Like a whistle about to blow.

And she really excels at poking the bruise of racial identity that digs beyond ‘black’ and ‘white’ but has Rachel questioning what kind of black she is, and where her Danish background fits into her identity; 

Jesse Jackson wants us to be African-American now. I don’t know if this is a good idea. I don’t know any black people who have ever been to Africa. It’s like calling me Danish-American even though I've never been to Denmark. But at least I speak Danish. I don’t know a single black person who speaks Swahili or any of those other African things they speak. Then there’s page 173: “Wherever he goes, the Negro remains a Negro.” That makes me think of how the other black girls think I want to be white. They call me an Oreo. I don’t want to be white. Sometimes I want to go back to being what I was. I want to be nothing. 

I did enjoy the first-half of the book, which reads as a coming-of-age interspersed with mystery, as both Laronne and Brick continually think on the deaths of Nella and her children, and their own curious involvement in the aftermath. But Part II of the story begins at page 176 of this 264-page book, and everything after is a bit of a dud.

I was hoping that as eleven-year-old Rachel grew into a sixteen-year-old lonely, confused girl she would dig deeper into the event that changed her life and killed nearly all of her family (and caused her Pa to never return). A discovered newspaper clipping suggests that she will follow clues to the terrible day . . . but Durrow doesn’t lead us there. Instead she keeps veering back to discussion of racial identity; again and again and again. And while this was powerful in the first-half of the novel, further ostracizing Rachel when she leaves everything she knows behind to go and live with a Grandmother who never makes mention of Mor . . . by the second-half, I wanted a meatier exploration. I wanted to know how a survivor of filicide continues to live with love in her heart for that mother.  

I felt like Rachel never acknowledged the deaths in the novel that so informed her life and loneliness. Half-way through another death occurs that is so random and strange, that it wasn’t until the words were laid out on the page that I even realized this character’s passing – because there’s an odd time-leap, and nobody seems to acknowledge the death terribly.

The second-half of the novel also delves into what an attractive girl Rachel is, how all the boys are chasing her and the girls hating her. This, again, could have been a more interesting exploration if there wasn’t the far more epic topic of her mother’s death and killing to gnaw at the reader, constantly making us wish that Durrow would go there, to that dark place. . . 

As it is, the novel’s end leads us towards outlandish coincidences that feel written for plot’s sake than any sort of realism that has, up until that point, been adhered to. Rachel’s eventual acknowledgement of the ‘falling’ reads rushed and hollow for coming so close to the end, and after far too much time was spent on lengthy explorations into her racial identity. 

Look, I really enjoyed reading this book and looked forward to cracking it open for my train-ride home. But I feel like lots of my enjoyment came from anticipating and dreading when Durrow would poke at a bigger bruise than racial-identity . . . when she would lead Rachel to question her mother’s love and motive, and how she lives loving her and knowing what she did. But Durrow, for all her lyrical words, never takes Rachel or the reader to that difficult place, and as a result the novel lacks something vital. 

I would read another novel by Heidi Durrow, but only with the hope that she develops into a tougher writer. 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

'The Indigo Spell' Bloodlines #3 by Richelle Mead

 Received from the Publisher 

From the BLURB:

Sydney Sage is an Alchemist, one of a group of humans who dabble in magic and serve to bridge the worlds of humans and vampires. They protect vampire secrets - and human lives.

In the aftermath of a forbidden moment that rocked Sydney to her core, she struggles to draw the line between her Alchemist teachings and what her heart is urging her to do. Then she finally tracks down the elusive, enigmatic Marcus Finch – a former Alchemist who the organisation denies exists, and who lives in shadows, on the run. With Marcus's help, Sydney realises that the group she's been loyal to her whole life has been hiding the truth from her. Is it possible that her golden lily tattoo might have more power over her than she thinks?

As she struggles to come to terms with what that might mean, Sydney is compelled to use her growing magical powers to track down an evil magic user who is targeting powerful young witches. Using magic goes against everything she always thought she believed, but she realises that her only hope is to embrace her special blood – or else she might be next.

Forging her own way is harder than Sydney ever dreamed. Maybe by turning off her brain – and following her heart – she'll be able to finally figure out where she belongs.

** This review contains spoilers of previous books in the ‘Bloodlines’ series and all other ‘Vampire Academy’ novels **

‘The Indigo Spell’ is the third book in Richelle Mead’s ‘Vampire Academy’ spin-off series, ‘Bloodlines’. 

I have not been the biggest fan of this series. I was decidedly “meh” about the first book, and then ‘The Golden Lily’ pulled an abysmal two-star rating from me (the lowest rating of any Richelle Mead book I've ever read!). So when I went into this third book, I was competing against past disappointments and reading prejudices. Furthermore, ‘Indigo Spell’ is being released amidst much hype about the movie adaptation of Mead’s highly-popular ‘Vampire Academy’ series – so I've been thinking about how great those books were, what a kick-butt protagonist Rose was and how my love of that series will be reignited with this movie. 

So, know that it is no small feat that with all that baggage working against ‘The Indigo Spell’. . . I come away from this third book with a smile on my face and a feeling that this series has been reinvigorated. And I say for the first time, that I am on-board with the ‘Bloodlines’ series. Hallelujah. Amen. Praise! And on with the review. . . 

First off – the mystery at the heart of this book is superb. Alchemist Sydney Sage has been tutored in magic by her teacher, Ms. Terwilliger since she arrived at the boarding school. But when ‘Indigo Spell’ begins, Terwilliger has an odd request to make of Sydney – namely that she helps find her sister, Veronica, before she hurts any more magical young women. You see, while Veronica is ten years older than Ms Terwilliger, she looks decades younger because she has been draining young women of their magic and youth – leaving them human husks. And – Sydney being an attractive, young magic-user – she is also potentially in danger. I loved this mystery storyline, it had echoes of Elizabeth Báthory but more than anything it was a well-paced mystery and great ‘whodunit’. With both ‘Bloodlines’ and ‘The Golden Lily’, I feel like I could only recount vague details of the ‘mystery’ plots woven throughout those books – but the hunt for Terwilliger’s sister was written on solid ground, kept me guessing and most importantly advanced Sydney’s story and further complicated her Alchemist life by immersing her deeper into forbidden magic territory. Brilliant! 

I also enjoyed another mystery plot that runs concurrent to Terwilliger's sister - and that concerns a rogue called Marcus Finch. I will give nothing away - save to say, this was another intrigue that adds layers and complications to Sydney's life and I think will prove a ticking time-bomb in the future. But, my lips are sealed.

Now, Adrian has always worked for me as a character – I never really had complaints about him, per se, in either ‘Bloodlines’ or ‘The Golden Lily’ (he even moped amusingly). What didn’t work for me was his sudden romantic interest (and then love!) for the decidedly dull Sydney Sage. I just did not get it – especially when Mead indicated timeline by saying Adrian and Rose had only been over for three months when he moved from ‘depression’ to new ‘obsession’ with Sydney. 

With that in mind . . . the Sydney/Adrian romance clicked for me in ‘Indigo Spell’. In the previous two books, it kinda felt like an arranged marriage – Adrian had to be the hero of any VA spin-off, so he was just gonna wind up with whichever female protagonist Mead chose to write about anyway . . . and for two books Sydney/Adrian felt forced. But I finally *get* them in this book – it just became clear to me that with Sydney, Adrian has someone to protect and she needs him. I never felt like Rose needed him – sure, he was fun and cute, but for the serious life-and-death stuff she was either self-reliant, or running to Dimitri. Adrian was never anyone’s first choice for help . . . until Sydney. I get it now. 

I also like that Adrian at least addresses his sudden switcheroo from Rose to Sydney. And, in typical Adrian fashion, he brings the snark and wit to his romantic declaration; 

“Nothing will get you anywhere with me,” I exclaimed. 
“I don’t know about that.” He put on an introspective look that was both unexpected and intriguing. “You’re not as much of a lost cause as she was. I mean, with her, I had to overcome her deep, epic love with a Russian warlord. You and I just have to overcome hundred of years’ worth of deeply ingrained prejudice and taboo between our two races. Easy.”

Adrian feels more like Adrian in ‘Indigo Spell’. I can’t quite put my finger on it – and maybe it is down to him being in ‘romantic’ mode once again, but he seemed to bring the zingers in this book. I appreciated this quite a bit;

Adrian shook his head, still smiling. “I've said over and over, I'd do anything for you. I just keep hoping it’ll be something like, ‘Adrian, let’s go hot tubbing’ or ‘Adrian, take me out for fondue.’” 
“Well, sometimes we have to–did you just say fondue?” Sometimes it was impossible to follow Adrian’s train of thought. “Why in the world would I ever say that?” 
He shrugged. “I like fondue.” 

I will also say that for the first time, I have finished a ‘Bloodlines’ book excited for the next one. The ending is good, and that’s all I’m saying.

Now, just because I've got stuff to gush about, doesn’t mean the ‘Bloodlines’ series is magically perfect. No. Complaints I've had since book #1 still abound. 

Jill. Jill, Jill, Jill, Jill, Jill. Ohhhhh . . .  how I hate the girl (which is the only way I know she’s related to Lissa – that I hate them both fairly equally must mean they share DNA). Can I just say; when rumours of a VA spin-off first whispered across the internet, I was rather excited by everyone speculating that Jill would be our new protagonist. I thought she would be a rather great new narrator because, in theory, Jill is an interesting character with plenty of potential. She’s the love-child of a deceased monarch, half-sister to the reigning queen and at the centre of a potential political assassination. She could have been a pretty great narrator with an impressive story arc. In reality; she is God-awful.

So far, Jill’s storyline in the previous two books has centred on a wacky love-triangle and ambitions to become a catalogue model. Erm – are you serious?! What I really crave for Jill is a confrontation with Lissa – I want them to address the fact that Eric Dragomir cheated on Lissa’s mother, resulting in Jill and thereby wrecking her rose-tinted memories of their happy marriage (never mind that it’s a double-edged sword, since Jill’s existence allows Lissa to be queen). But Sydney frequently shuttles this elephant-in-the-room under the carpet by saying it’s too dangerous for Jill and Lissa to meet, Lissa hasn’t reached out to her – yadda, yadda, yadda. Excuses, excuses, excuses. Instead, Mead has given Jill a storyline based around a new love triangle (groan!) between herself, Eddie and Angeline. This is a plot point even Sydney admits sounds like a Shakespearean comedy – what it is, is a farcical failure – and all their scenes end up feeling a little ‘Sweet Valley High’ because they deviate so far from the vampire-world and just read like eye-rolling teen melodrama. 

Though I’m loathe to see Lissa return, I think her presence is needed to make a richer character out of Jill. Even if it’s just a meeting between the two of them that entails Lissa making her dislike of Jill known, and saying that she’s a means to her throne and nothing more (I can totally picture Lissa saying this, because in my mind she has always been villain-adjacent) – at least that would be a launching pad for an interesting character development for Jill. If there’s two more books in the ‘Bloodlines’ series, then something has seriously got to be done with this character – especially when her very existence is the central reason for the ‘Bloodlines’ spin-off series!

Overall though; put me on the ‘Bloodlines’ bandwagon, cause ‘Indigo Spell’ managed to hook me when the first two books in this spin-off couldn’t do it. Nothing is perfect, but I feel like Richelle Mead is finding a great balance now in merging the old with the new – I’m excited for where the story is heading, but I’m thrilled that the old Adrian is back. ‘The Indigo Spell’ is a book of thrilling, heart-palpitating, swoon-worthy magic. 


Friday, February 8, 2013

Interview with Ilona Andrews

Y'know, I love being a blogger. I really, really, really do.

Case in point - I was recently drooling over the cover art for 7th 'Kate Daniels'  book, 'Magic Rises' and reciting a typical mantra of "hurry up July, hurry up!" when I got this wacky idea to shoot off an email to Ilona Andrews. I just wanted to ask them some questions, you see. I wanted to pick their brain. Between waiting for 'Magic Rises' ... I just thought I'd ease some of my rabid fan-girl anticipating by shooting off some questions to the authors. 

So I emailed them. 

But I know they have crazy deadlines. And I'd really much rather that they concentrate on writing their amazing stories than answering my rabid reader questions. And they must get a heap of fan-mail every single day, and to answer every single one would result in carpal tunnel and would, again, take them away from their writing. 

I did not expect them to write back to me. I just figured I'd try it to say I'd tried.

... But then I got a reply.


... And this is why I love being a blogger - because now I get to share their answers with you.


Q: Are you ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’, respectively? That is, do you meticulously plot your novel before writing, or do you ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ and let the story evolve naturally? And did you have to change your plotting/pantsing ways to suit each other?

A:  No we plot everything out, well at least the beginning and end.  Usually while floating in the pool and drinking yummy beer.  We know how it starts and how we want it to end, the rest is getting it there.

Q: And to the actual nuts and bolts of duo-writing – is writing a book together a case of someone writing chapter one, and then handballing chapter two off to the other person? Or do you write together line-by-line?

A:  We sit in the same room, our desktops about five feet apart.  I do a lot of the plotting & male voice, especially Curran.  Ilona will usually do a scene then send it to me and I add or change whatever I  think needs and send it back.  Other times we just talk it out.  If it gets in the book, we both went had our hands in it.

Q: Kate and Curran’s infamous romance has sort of become an urban fantasy bookish legend – you certainly set a high benchmark for tension & snark, and ‘will they or won’t they?’ romance. How did you handle the building tension – both between Kate and Curran, and from fans wanting them to get together – I imagine you must have received many rabid fan emails demanding satisfaction, now!

A:  We didn't want them to fall into bed together in the first book.  We wanted it to be as realistic or believable as it could be, given the circumstances.  Our fans are great and I don't recall any negative emails.

Q: I think you write some of the best action scenes – sometimes books so filled with action can demand skim-reading, but with ‘Kate Daniels’ and ‘The Edge’, I’m gripping the cover in my hands and my heart is racing with every sword-swipe and body-slam. What sort of research do you do to ensure your fight scenes are so gloriously detailed and riveting?

A:  Thanks, we both have some martial training.  Ilona has taken some self defense & classes in Russian schools.  My background is in wrestling, Judo, Ju Jitsu and some Army training.  We also enjoy watching cheesy martial arts movies.  When we do the action or fighting scenes we actually physically go through it to see if it makes sense, if we need more people we will recruit the kids.  As far as research, we highly recommend "Meditations on Violence" and "Facing Violence" by Rory Miller.  The tv show "Human Weapon" is also great.

Q: Which has been the hardest ‘Kate Daniels’ book to write so far, and why?

A:  Probably the first because we had no idea what we were doing and when we got a deal the totality of our edits was "cut it by a third."  Didn't matter what, we just had to make it shorter.  We had to go through it carefully, almost line by line, and find stuff we could take out, without changing the story.

Q: I loved the ‘Magic Tests’ young adult short story in the anthology ‘An Apple for the Creature’. It was great to read Julie apart from Kate and the pack, and by reading about her on her own we were able to see how much she’s grown over the books/years. Are you now contemplating writing a Julie YA spin-off series? And, if so, would Derek feature prominently?

A:  We've talked about it.  We would like to write an older Julie, maybe a love triangle between her, Derek and Ascanio.  Lately though, my money is on the dragon guy.  We're not YA writers though, and it might not work as well as we'd like.

Q: You gave readers Andrea and Raphael’s incredible story with ‘Gunmetal Magic’. How long have you known that this couple would get their own world-book? And did you ever anticipate fan’s level of adoration for these secondary characters?

A)  Andrea and Raphael probably since Magic Burns.  Jim and Dali came later.  We wanted to sort of hint at it before Hexed and Magic Dreams.  No not really,  we are always surprised at how enthusiastic and supportive our fans are.  They are great.  

Q: As to the end of the ‘Kate Daniels’ series … do you have an end in sight? Is there a finale ‘plan’ already in place that you’re writing towards?

A:  Hmmm, well originally it was only going to be the seven books and the two spinoffs, or set in Kate Daniels worlds books.  However, I am only allowed to hint at new and exciting things to come, as our agent Nancy put it.  We do certainly have an end game.  We know how we want the series to end.  That said, if people still wanted to read the books, we would still write them.  We just don't want to drag it out until people get sick of it.  I hope that makes sense.

Thank you so much for replying, Ilona Andrews.

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