Friday, May 8, 2015

Sugar ~ A Conversation with Deirdre Riordan Hall

A Conversation with 
Deirdre Riordan Hall

Q: You’ve written some New Adult novels, but this is your first YA novel.  What would you say the differences are?  And in writing YA, do you attempt to recall your own high school experience, or how do you do your research?  

A: My writing journey hasn’t followed my publication path in that I wrote several young adult manuscripts before New Adult, but took an indie detour when I realized I’d written a novel with a protagonist that had already graduated college, but didn’t quite fit into women's fiction. When I discovered NA is a category, I carried out a six-book series. It was a lot of fun, but YA fiction is my literary home. I find it’s a magical world, even when exploring contemporary topics. There’s a rich dichotomy to explore in YA: innocence and vulnerability, courage and doubt, friendship and independence just to name a few. My friend and fellow author Cheyanne Young summed up YA like this, “You’re only a young adult once and you get to be a grown up forever after that.” While New Adult and Young Adult might deal with similar themes, the characters in the latter are younger, lending more flexibility and possibility as far as the stakes and consequences for go. My other favorite thing about YA is oftentimes the characters get to experience things for the first time, and for a reader, we get to see it through fresh eyes, experiencing it alongside them.

In writing, I draw loosely from my own experiences, along with stories I've been told, snapshots and lives I imagine people living when I pass them on the street or see them eating alone in a restaurant. My writing process involves creating a tapestry from seemingly random fragments of life, as observed and imagined, and weaving them into a compelling story.  

Q: Sugar faces many challenges in the book – she has an abusive family, she’s bullied at school, she’s obese – what is it about her nature that keeps her going despite all the odds against her?  

A: One of my favorite lines in the book answers this question:

Sugar’s at church, sitting in the pew just after mass. She prays for her grandparents, then her parents and brothers, and finally wants to say something for herself, but isn’t sure what. The scene concludes with this:

“I mull on this not knowing week after week, but then silence my thoughts when I feel like I skirt the dangerous edge of wishing for a change.”

Sugar does face many challenges and this innate, burgeoning well of hope is what keeps her going and not giving up. She isn’t necessarily aware of her tenacity, but it’s there, just under the surface and about ready to overflow. It’s strong in her and I believe the same is true for each of us.

Q: As a reader, it’s hard to find anything to like about Sugar’s mother and brother.  What was it like writing those characters?  Do you see anything redemptive in either of them?  

A: Ugh. I know! Mama and Skunk are deplorable. At the time, writing their scenes was a battle, minus actual swords and arrows, because that’s what they’re primed for. I had to focus on the impact their words and actions were having on Sugar so I would be able to eventually flip it and give her the opportunity to come back with the opportunity for a win. Otherwise, I would have gotten caught up in making them softer for her sake, when it was necessary and real for them to be as awful as they were to demonstrate the intensity of the impact they had on her.

I believe if Mama and Skunk were of the mind to change and redeem themselves they could, but as it stands, they perceive the world’s officers lining up the troops against them, preparing to wage a war, causing them to operate from a defensive place, leaving little room for love in their lives.

Q: Sugar lives in a dead-end town somewhere unspecified in New Hampshire.  Why did you decide not to name her town?  Are there any parallels to where you grew up?  

A: The notion of home is one of the central themes I explore in my writing and in my own life, so it was important for the place Sugar lived to outwardly reflect the broken parts of her inner world. I didn’t name the town on purpose, because I felt like the absence of a specific location shined the spotlight on the characters more brightly. The location is stationary while the general population are the ones who shape and create the vibe there. Although the setting is broadly NH, I wanted it to feel like the reader could be walking down the street with Sugar or shopping at Old Town and being heckled or reminded of how dysfunctional her family was.

Just as some of residents of the town make Sugar’s life as unpleasant as possible, Even comes along and sheds an entirely new light on her experience, so in a sense, who she aligned with influenced how she experienced an area. It’s like a two-way street.

There are some similarities to a variety of places I’ve lived (I moved around a lot when I was younger) but the dead-end town is mostly based off the combination of two real locations in New England.
Q: Your main character is half Puerto Rican, half Polish – different ethnicities than your own.  How did you go about understanding the culture she came from?  

A: Writing about culture and people outside my own is a challenging and delicate process. I chose Polish for Mama’s background because it’s authentic to various places in New England, having a real rooted quality in the region. On the other hand, people who aren’t white don’t make up a considerable portion of the semi-fictitious population in the relatively rural New Hampshire town, so that helped create the contrast relevant to Sugar’s experience.

Growing up, there were a few Puerto Rican tías (aunties) in one neighborhood where I lived who I like to think looked after me when I needed looking after, making sure I ate a plate of rice, beans, and chicken by the day’s end. Later, in high school, I interned at a community center serving the Spanish-speaking population. I have an affinity for the culture, the language, and the warmth I’ve been shown. I wouldn’t go so far as saying I understand the culture, but I hope the portrayal in Sugar reflects my positive experience of both the Latin and Mexican communities.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your novel?

A: I would like readers to find Sugar in a little pocket of their hearts and minds where they hear her whisper the question: what would happen if we all concentrated on the things we like (or love) about ourselves? Along with that, my hope is for all of us to find more hope in the parts of our lives that feel shadowed and confusing.

Also, of course I hope readers simply enjoy the story.

Q: By the end of the book, what advice do you think Sugar gives to young women? And how would it have changed if she’d been asked at the beginning of her story?  
A: By the end of the book, I think Sugar would have two things to say to young women, one would be: go for it! Whatever your dreams are or if they're just starting to take shape, follow the thread, see where they go; don’t settle for less than whatever makes you sparkle. Secondly, I really like this question because it ties into the (r)evolution Sugar experiences in her relationship to her body. In the beginning, Sugar’s suffocating under the “traditional female ideal” of beauty. Meanwhile her mother contributes to warping her perception of who she is, inside and out. As she distances herself from the mixed messages, she gets closer to herself, eventually learning to love who she is, including her curves. So the second bit of advice Sugar might share would be to: define beauty for yourself never mind what everyone else says or thinks. How to do that? Look in the mirror, the person you see in the reflection, that's beauty.

Q: What other YA fiction do you like to read?  

A: I enjoy both contemporary and fantasy YA. On my wooden and e-book shelves you’ll find titles ranging from indies like Autumn Doughton and hybrids like Jessica Park to bestsellers like Jandy Nelson and Maggie Stiefvater. I just discovered Heather Demetrios and I’'m on my second read of her novel, I’ll Meet you There; it’s comfort and courage rolled into one beautifully told story about love, war, and listening to that little voice that insists you go out there and live your best life, despite the obstacles.

Q: What’s next for Deirdre Riordan Hall?

A: I’m pretty stoked about the now and the next. I’ve recently signed with Skyscape for another YA contemporary titled, Pearl. I’m super excited to dig in and breathe life into this story. I’ll be working with the same group of editors as I did with SUGAR and it’s one of those delights that’s on my top ten list.

In surfing, they say the best surfer is always the person out there having the most fun. I’d like to modify this to apply to writing: The writer having the most fun is writing from the heart, even when it (or the hands) ache. Since the inception of SUGAR, I’ve written several more novels and have another manuscript halfway done. So the question is what’s next? Writing of course!

Amazon ~ Order SUGAR here

Monday, April 6, 2015

Author Spotlight ~ Mary Lawrence

Author Spotlight

Mary Lawrence

Mary Lawrence is the author of the Bianca Goddard Mysteries, a new series set in Tudor London. The series launches with THE ALCHEMIST'S DAUGHTER, which Kensington will publish on April 28, 2015. 

Mary grew up in southern Indiana, The daughter of a surgeon and nurse and the youngest of four children. Encouraged to pursue a career in healthcare, Mary attended Butler University in Indianapolis, majoring in chemistry and zoology, Her senior year, she transferred to a specialized program at Indiana University and graduated with a degree in cytotechnology. 

Her first job was the hospital of Portland, Maine and expect for the brief stint in graduate school at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Mary has made Maine her home, 

Mary began writing whole working at hospitals and being a single parent to her son. She taught herself book indexing and supplemented her income freelancing for the University of Maine and Globe Pequot Presses. Her nonfiction had been published in The Boston Book Review and Portland Monthly

In 2007, a life-long love of gardening led Mary and her husband to purchase seven acres of land west of Portland, Together they built a reproduction saltbox and are now growing a variety of unusual fruit and berries for local bed and breakfasts. They have plans to launch a line of artisanal jams featuring their unique crops. 

When not farming or writing, Mary works part-time in cytology outside of Boston, 

In the year 1543 of King Henry VIII’s turbulent reign, the daughter of a notorious alchemist finds herself suspected of cold-blooded murder…
Bianca Goddard employs her knowledge of herbs and medicinal plants to concoct remedies for the disease-riddled poor in London’s squalid Southwark slum. But when her friend Jolyn comes to her complaining of severe stomach pains, Bianca’s prescription seems to kill her on the spot. Recovering from her shock, Bianca suspects Jolyn may have been poisoned beforecoming to her—but the local constable is not so easily convinced.
To clear her name and keep her neck free of the gallows, Bianca must apply her knowledge of the healing arts to deduce exactly how her friend was murdered and by whom—before she herself falls victim to a similar fate…

Amazon-The Alchemists Daughter  ~ Follow link to find out more about book, 

** Information was provided by Mary Lawrence publisher.** 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A conversation with ~ ATTICA LOCKE~ Author of Pleasantville ~Screenwriter of hit tv series on FOX - Empire.

This Q & A conversation was not conducted by Two Women and a Book Review. It was provided and given to us by the Publisher and so we wanted to share it with all of you and we encourage you to go get her book. Pre-order now, set to release April 21st!

Attica Locke is also a Screenwriter for hit series on FOX called Empire.

Q: PLEASANTVILLE is a sequel  to your first novel, Black Water Rising, in that you return to Houston and your morally conflicted character Jay Porter. Why did you want to explore his storyline further, and what was it like to pick up the thread fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising?   

A: I actually strongly resisted the idea of doing a sequel. In fact, I was often shocked when readers would tell me they felt Jay's story at the end of Black Water Rising wasn't over. It wasn't so much that another Jay Porter story came to me as another story about Houston and its dirty politics came to me. And even then I resisted telling " another Jay Porter story." I was afraid that readers would expect it to be just like the first book. But the more I sat with the story, the more I knew that Jay Porter was the character to guide the reader through this thorny political drama because of its themes around race and politics and where those two collide.

It was actually quite moving about Jay as an older man, When we meet him in Pleasantville there have been huge changes in his personal life. The more life he's lived, the more he seems like a real person to me. It was also interesting to write about a city that had changed a lot in fifteen years, but was fundamentally still its same barbecue-and-big-hair self.

Q:  People outside of the Houston area may not have heard of Pleasantville or know its significance. What can you tell us about he town, and why did you focus your story there?

A: I didn't know about Pleasantville. During my father's mayoral run, I went to a candidate forum in Pleasantville, a neighborhood northeast of downtown Houston. At the it was a little worse-for-the-wear, a middle class neighborhood that had seen better days and so I couldn't understand why all of the candidates for mayor and for the other offices as well were going out there to drink punch in a community center and woo voters, Then I learned about the history of the neighborhood. In 1949, two Jewish developers came up with the idea to build a planned community for Negroes with money. It was one of the first kind in the nation. Doctors, teachers, and engineers moved in, many of them buying homes for the first time. The neighborhood also inadvertently changed political landscape of the city and state. Though they had to fight for it, Pleasantville residents eventually got a new elementary school built in their neighborhood in the early 1950's, which gave them a place to vote and their own voting precinct. Pleasantville has always had a culture of high civic engagement. They have swung many a local race. Folks out there vote. And the candidates always come a'courtin'. The quote that opens the novel is from the Houston Chronicle: "Any politician worth his salt knows the road to elected offices goes through Pleasantville."

Q: Your father ran for Houston mayor, and you worked on his campaign. What about Houston politics do you find unusual or surprising?

A: I don't know that Houston politics are so unusual. I think what I found most surprising abohe whole experience of seeing politics up close is how dirty it is. And the smaller the race, the dirtier it is. I will say that because Houston is such a "small" big town, there's A LOT of backstage drama going om. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody owes someone a favor. There's the political race you see on the news or read in the paper, but there's a whole other soap opera playing out that people don't see.

Q: Your protagonist Jay Porter is an average guy, working hard enough to get by and take care of his family. In PLEASANTVILLE, as in Black Water Rising, he has to rise to the occasion when thrust into an extraordinary situation with circumstances beyond his control. How did you get into the head of your character? What does he mean to you?

A: When i wrote Black Water Rising, I more personally identified with Jay. So I never saw him as a make character. He was just like me. But I feel more distance with this book, like he's a dear, dear friend whom I love and want everyone else to understand. I love him like family.

Q: Your novels, while thrillers that are meant to entertain, are exploring complex and thorny issues of race and politics in America. Can you elaborate on your aspirations with your fiction?

A: I am highly interested in chronicling the complications and contradictions of race in America on either side of the civil rights movement, which is the era in which I was born and am living, and highlighting pockets of history that to me are not "black" but simply Americans.

Q: You are a screenwriter turned novelist who now is back in the writers' room on the hit drama Empire. What is that experience like? How has novel writing influenced how you write for the screen? And is there any scoop you can share with what's next for the Lyon family?

A: I can safely say there will be more drama.

Q: Do you have any plans for your next book? Will we see Jay Porter again?

A: I don't immediately have plans for another book at this moment. Though I'm always floating a handful of ideas in my head. And I'm sure Jay will come around again.