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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Inside the Writer’s Notebook

For the month of September I’m interviewing fellow members of the fabulous group The Apocalypsies, new YA authors such as myself whose books will debut in 2012. Starting the lineup is Elizabeth Norris. Her YA fantasy UNRAVELING (Balzer+Bray April 2012) is an action-packed thriller that explores the secrets of life and death, fate, and the end of the world as we know it.

Intrigued? So am I. Let’s pick her brain!

So tell us a bit about your book. What is it about your story that makes it stand out?
 UNRAVELING is about Janelle Tenner, a seventeen-year-old girl who, two days before her junior year, is hit by a pickup truck and killed—as in blinding light, her life flashing before her, then nothing. Except the next thing she knows, she's opening her eyes to find Ben Michaels, a loner from her high school whom Janelle has never talked to, leaning over her. And though it isn’t possible, she knows with every fiber of her being that Ben has brought her back to life.

But her revival, and Ben’s possible role in it, is only the first of the puzzles that Janelle must solve. While snooping in her FBI-agent father’s files for clues about her accident, she uncovers a clock that seems to be counting down to something—but to what? And when someone close to Janelle is killed, she can no longer deny what’s right in front of her: Everything that’s happened—the accident, the countdown clock, Ben’s sudden appearance in her life—points to the end of life as she knows it. As the clock ticks down, she realizes that if she wants to put a stop to the end of the world, she’s needs to uncover Ben’s secrets—and keep from falling in love with him in the process.

As for standing out, the novel is by definition, a thriller. The stakes are the end of the world, the kind where there wouldn’t be post-apocalyptic life at all, and there’s a ticking clock hanging over the characters from the beginning. But it’s also a romance and science fiction. And hopefully it’s a book anyone can read, a book that just happens to have teenage characters.

What inspired you to write this particular story? What was the ‘ah-ha’ moment?
The idea came to me a year ago after a particularly heartbreaking argument with the guy I’d fallen for—a guy who lived in a completely different city. There was so much I loved about him, but any possibility of us seemed so doomed. And that got me thinking of star-crossed romance, of how it feels to know you’re falling in love with someone who’s not ever going to be a part of your world. Though UNRAVELING is a thriller, at the heart of it, is a star-crossed romance.

How much of YOU is put into your characters?
Janelle has a lot of me in her. She talks a lot like me and some of her bad habits are mine. But she’s also things I’m not. I wish I was as smart and as tough as she is. But most of my characters are composites of traits that come directly from people I know—or people I’ve met in passing. It wasn’t ever intentional, but I read the book now and see glimpses of different people in each character and can’t help think “I hope they like that.”

A large aspect of writing YA and MG books is to be relatable to teens. Provide five adjectives to describe your high school experience.
My own high school experience was horrifying. I literally woke up with dread every single day I had to go to school. It was terrible.

1. Horrible
2. Dreadful
3. Terrible
4. Cringe-worthy
5. Lonely

But surprisingly enough I graduated college and decided to teach high school, but for some reason I loved it. I had so many moments I look back on and can say “I made a difference” which sounds clichéd but in reality, it’s just not.

In your opinion, what is the BIGGEST misconception about kids/ teenagers?
In a lot of ways, they’re a lot more intelligent and mature than people give them credit for. Sure, they make mistakes, but I’ve met teenagers who are carrying the weight of their whole family around with them, teenagers who are more adult at 15 than I am even now.

Okay, this is the speed round of random questions, what people are dying to know about you, or maybe just me:
  • What’s your favorite mythical creature and why? Dragons, because they can breathe fire and fly.
  • If you had a super power, what would it be and why? Flight, because it seems so freeing.
  • Are you left-handed or right-handed? Right.
  • Do you write free-hand or type it out on the computer? Both.
  • What is your favorite word in the English language? Sporadic.
  • What is your favorite curse word? I use the F-word entirely too much.

Anyone who has put pen to paper would agree that writing is not as easy as it looks. Who was the most influential person in your writing career?
Brenda Hall, my tenth grade English teacher. I loved books when I was a kid. I read through them like crazy, and then during middle school I somehow lost that. I remember reading spark notes instead of the actual book in eighth and ninth grade. And then Mrs. Hall reminded me why I loved to read. Instead of books being about the right or wrong answer on a quiz, we just talked about them. We had actual discussions, and related them to things in our own lives. I remember every book I read with her class—I fell in love with reading all over again.

In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about writing?
I have a really hard time focusing on one thing. I like to flit back and forth between different ideas based on what mood I’m in, which means I have a lot of manuscripts unfinished and in pieces.

Many writers have experienced query rejections. How did you cope?
I didn’t. I met an agent when I was a teenager at a conference and she was terse and I was overly sensitive so I quit. Then I wrote for years and never showed anyone anything, until a friend of mine who was interning at an agency coaxed me into his writing workshop and then told his agent friends about my manuscript. Janet Reid said, “I want to read that” and I said, “Um, okay.”

What advice do you have for young writers and those starting the writing journey?
Write for you. Do it because it’s what you think about when you wake up, when you’re supposed to be doing other things, and when you go to sleep. Write because you need to. And write a lot. You’re never going to write something that everyone loves—it’s more important to write something that you love yourself.

Good advice and an interesting book concept! I wish you the best of luck! UNRAVELING hits bookstores April 2012. To learn more about Elizabeth Norris and her debut novel check out her BLOG  or follow her on Twitter.
Look out for my interview with Claire Legrand, author of the middle grade fantasy THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, which I’ll post next week!



  1. Great interview Jaime and Liz! Ooh, I love a good star-crossed romantic thriller...*happy sigh* Can't wait to read UNRAVELING! :D

  2. Oh, Liz, I feel for your teenage self! I did not like high school either, and now I teach high school English. But it's so different with perspective! UNRAVELING sounds like one of those heartbreaking romances I will adore. Can't wait! And great interview, Jaime. Fun questions!

  3. Awesome interview, Jaime! Love these questions.

    And Liz, I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I can't wait to read this.




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