Tell me 3 things about yourself.
I’m almost 6 feet tall. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 12. I’m pretty good in a street fight.
How did the idea of Ashes, Ashes come to you?
I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where all our technology counted for nothing. Where people faced devastating loss and terrifying climactic change, and had to struggle to survive on a daily basis. And I wondered if some people would try to build something better, and other people would cling to the way things used to be. And I thought a lot about different kinds of bravery, and the difficulty of making the right choices. And then I decided to make a 16-year old girl my hero and have her face her fears.
What was the best/hardest part of writing the book?
The best part was figuring out my main and secondary characters. I love writing out backgrounds and identifying personality traits so I can really imagine them as real people. I also wanted the Manhattan I re-imagined to ring true, so I studied lots of maps, and made sketches so that it made sense geographically. The hardest part was keeping the action and suspense high without it becoming too intense. I wanted the story to be a page-turner but I also wanted there to be moments of introspection and reflection. Short interludes where the reader could catch their breath, and places where I could develop my characters.
Who was your favorite character to write about?
It’s a toss-up between Grammalie Rose and Del. I mean, I love Lucy and Aidan too, and Sammy and Henry and Leo (obviously) but writing about an elderly woman was really fun. Grammalie has lived a long time. She’s fierce and sarcastic and she has an amazing spirit. And Del is interesting because she is strong-minded and loyal but conflicted too. I felt sorry for her having to make some really difficult choices when she knew they would not win her any friends.
Where does the word S’ans come from?
It’s actually a contraction of “Sitalans”, a word I adapted from the Hindu small pox Goddess Sitala Matan. People who were afflicted with small pox would pray to her.
I also thought it could be slang referring to sanatoriums which might have housed plague victims in the early days of the disease. And of course it makes you think of ‘insane’ as well which plays into people’s fears about the S’ans.
What was the most challenging part of writing Ashes, Ashes?
Writing is hard work. There’s no concealing that. It’s a grind to show up everyday and sit down and concentrate even when the words come slowly or not at all. When I am working on a book, I set myself minimum daily word count goals. It’s usually 1000 wpd but most of the time I exceed that. I’m telling you, some days I just want to type out the word ‘blah’ one thousand times and be done with it. But then–and they are rare enough to really feel magical- there are days when the words just flow and that makes it all worthwhile. The challenge is to keep going on those days when that doesn’t happen. I always find the middle section of the book difficult. And then even when you’re done, you’re not DONE. (One could say that you are never done but I won’t say that because it will bum out all the
aspiring writers). Because then comes revision, and again, and again, and again. I think that once you get over the hurdle of thinking that reaching the end of the first draft is the end, you can learn to enjoy revision. That’s where you really get to choose your words.
If you could invite 5 people to dinner (dead, alive, fact or fiction), who
would you invite?
Malcolm X, J.K. Rowling, Jesus, Suzanne Collins, and the warrior queen,
What are you working on right now? Please say there’s a sequel!
I definitely have more stories set in the same world as Ashes, Ashes. In fact, you can can read the first three chapters of a companion book Pocketful of Posies here. It gives you more backstory of Del and Aidan and Sammy and how they all met in the early days of the plague.
I just finished writing a neo-gothic horror YA set in a world of nightmares- INKERS- which is currently on submission with publishers.
Can I send you my book idea/screenplay/manuscript to be critiqued?
I’m sorry, but I don’t respond to individual requests. I already have several beta readers and critique partners with whom I exchange work.
How did you find your agent?
I queried a lot, I researched agents on the web where you can pretty much find answers to any questions you have, and in resource books. Here’s a great online source for agent questions: http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog and you can check my website links list for others including the blogs Editorial Ass (which is short for assistant), author Nicola Morgan’s excellent Help I Need a Publisher blog, Editorial Anonymous, Adventures in Children’s Publishing, and SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) for general information on how to query and submit material, as well as network with other writers.