So, you can guess I was pretty excited when she agreed to do an interview with me in celebration of Banished's release today--and even more so when she sweetened things by turning this into an interview and a giveaway! That's right, Sophie's going to be mailing one lucky reader their very own copy of Banished! (Color me a little bit jealous ;) Not really though, I'm getting my copy soon.)
Sophie Littlefield grew up in central Missouri and lived in Chicago after college before settling in San Francisco with her family. Also the author of a crime fiction series (A Bad Day for Sorryand its follow-up), Banished, out October 12 from Delacorte Press is her first YA novel.
You've already written a crime fiction series (A Bad Day for Sorry & A Bad Day for Pretty:), what made you decide to write a paranormal YA?
I always knew I wanted to write paranormal – or more specifically, supernatural fiction, possibly with horror elements. I am a big fan of Stephen King, and also Joe Hill (who happens to be his son) – and I love the work of female horror authors Alex Sokoloff and Laura Benedict.
As for writing for a younger audience, my agent made the suggestion several years ago. I have teenagers of my own, so the idea was very appealing to me. I had already been reading young adult fiction because I wanted to know what interested my kids, and I had an idea that I thought would work. Also, I have very strong memories of my own high school years and I wanted to see if I could capture the emotions and concerns of that time.
Any news on how many books are going to be in either the BAD DAY or BANISHED series and when they'll be out?
The third “BAD DAY” book is called A BAD DAY FOR SCANDAL, and it will be out in June of 2011. A fourth book will come out a year later, and I hope it will be followed by further adventures!
As for BANISHED, the sequel is titled UNFORSAKEN and it will be out in the fall of 2011. I have signed with Delacorte to do two more young adult paranormal novels after that, but we have not talked yet about what they will be. (My editor is on maternity leave, so she has other things on her mind right now!) I have so many ideas that I don’t know where to start! I am hoping to find out from my readers what interests them, what they like about my series so far, and what directions they see my characters or stories taking.
Can you share any other news about upcoming books?
Yes. I’m very excited about a third series which will debut next March from Harlequin Luna. It’s a trilogy about a postapocalyptic world where a young woman searches for her missing daughter while struggling to survive. It’s for an adult audience, and it has some mature themes and scenes, but I think at the heart of it are some similarities with BANISHED – a young woman who is discovering that she is stronger than she realized.
When you write, do you like to plan/plot things out or write as you go?
I have tried to write detailed outlines before starting a new book, but I rarely stick to my plan. My stories take me in unexpected directions and I end up far from where I started. So now I usually start with an idea and a character, and let it grow from there.
Now that Diane Sawyer off GMA, if you were going to be on one of the morning shows to talk about your books, who would you want to interview you?
(note: Stella does mention/notice Diane Sawyer quite a bit in the first Bad Day book (I haven't read the second yet) so I thought it might be fun for a question.)
Ha, you must know how much Stella admires Diane! J I’ve been a fan of Oprah forever, though, and I really admire her for promoting reading. I’d love a tough interview from her – I think she could ask me questions that I’ve never considered before.
How well do you think Hailey and Stella could work together against a common foe? Or do you think they could?
Now that’s a question I have never been asked before! It’s kind of an interesting idea, too, because both characters are sort of based on me – so it would be like my mature self teaming up with my younger self. I would say that it ought to work out pretty well. Stella’s very maternal, just like I am; she would probably be drawn to Hailey because Hailey really needs some strong woman in her life both as a maternal figure and an example. And while Hailey is quite serious – and her situation is dire – I like thinking that as time goes on there would be some room for humor in her life, for good-spirited fun.
If they were in partnership with a common goal, they would each have something to contribute: Stella’s tough and inventive, and she’s also passionate about defending the innocent. But Hailey’s got more power than she ever imagined, and as she learns who she really is, she’s bolder about going after what she wants. One thing that unites them is that neither one is a whiner – I can’t stand whiners! – so they would both give 100%. And when the job was done, maybe Stella could encourage Hailey to relax a little and just enjoy being a kid.
Without spoiling too much since we haven't read Banished (yet!) what was your favorite scene to write? What about the most challenging?
I loved writing the scene where Hailey first finds clues to her past. At first, these clues – a list of names, a photo, a necklace – don’t mean anything to her, but she is still drawn to them. I remember feeling the same way when I was younger and happened across beautiful old things whose stories were long forgotten. I used to go to the flea market in my home town and search through old letters, old quilts, jewelry, imagining who owned the objects and where they might have traveled. Even then I was inventing stories in my mind.
I have more trouble with the action scenes. I love reading thrillers, but I’m still learning how to set and maintain the fast pace that they require. I turn to my brother, who is a thriller writer, and several other writer friends for help when I’m writing these parts of the book. I’m really grateful to them for their help – without them I would have a much harder time.
Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?
Yes! I’ll paraphrase a bit of advice from my website, because I believe in it passionately:
Write as often as you can – every day if you can manage it. You will never make yourself a worse writer by practicing your craft, and your skills have a way of increasing without you noticing it. And don’t listen to criticism. That includes criticism from your friends, your parents, even—perhaps most especially—your teachers. Write what works for you, and then do it some more. When it feels like you are taking a risk, you are on the right path. Trust me, and trust yourself, that your stories are exactly the right ones for you to tell, no matter what anyone else says.
Do you have any favorite new YA authors or novels? What/who are they?
There are so many wonderful young adult authors! Recently, I’ve enjoyed Holly Black, Carrie Ryan, and Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. All of them use language beautifully in addition to telling suspenseful and gripping stories.
If you had to put one of your characters (major or minor-minor) in charge of your life for a week, which would it be?
There’s a character in my Stella Hardesty series named Jelloman Nunn. He’s a middle-aged biker guy, an old friend of Stella’s – kind of a brother figure. On the surface he doesn’t look like much: he lives in a crazy patched-up house, watches football and drinks beer and fixes motorcycles. He has an on-again, off-again relationship with his girlfriend and is prone to pranks and illicit entertainment. But what I love about him is that he truly understands the importance of balance – he knows how to work hard and how to enjoy life. I think I could learn a lot from him! If he ran my life, I’d probably be spending more evenings having fun with my kids and friends, and fewer working late into the night.
If somehow you're still not sure that you just have to read Banished, here is an excerpt for you to read (another excerpt is on Sophie Littlefield's YA website here):
When I got home, Rascal bounded across the yard to meet me. He was part blue tick, part beagle, part something else. Gram got him from one of her customers after some stray got through a fence and impregnated a prize hound. Gram’s customer was going to drown the whole litter, but Gram took a shine to Rascal. For a while, anyway - she got tired of him when he wasn’t a puppy any more.
He nuzzled my hand, then slipped in the front door and went straight to Chub, who was sitting in front of an open kitchen cabinet, playing with the pots and pans while the lids rolled around on the floor.
“Russo!” Chub exclaimed, clapping his hands and throwing his arms around Rascal.
“Russo” was one of Chub’s better words. He called me “Hayee,” and he could say “wah” for water, and “chah” for chair. Other things he had his own special names for, sounds that had nothing to do with the actual word, like “shoshah” for flower and “bobbo” for truck. Most of the time, he didn’t make words at all, just hummed, sounds rising and falling like a song only he could hear.
I knew that there was something wrong with Chub. I tried to figure it out by doing research on the internet, but there were so many causes of developmental delays, I didn’t even know where to start. I knew that eventually the social workers were going to demand he get tested, but I wasn’t anxious for that day to arrive because I was afraid they’d put him in some group home for kids like him. And I didn’t want him to go. Ever. Besides Rascal, he was all I had to love.
When Chub first came to live with us, Gram changed. She spent time with him every day, murmuring softly to him while I did the chores, holding up toys and flash cards and trying to get him to talk. Those were good days. If Chub did something new, if he crawled toward Gram or reached for the shiny blocks she held up, she felt like celebrating; she turned off the TV and didn’t drink as much and even complimented me on whatever I made for dinner.
But when he had a bad day, when he wouldn’t repeat the sounds she made, or ate dirt from the yard, Gram seemed to sink a little lower in her chair. As I got more and more attached to Chub, I realized that Gram saw him as a project, an experiment. And when she couldn’t fix what was wrong with him, she lost interest.
Within a couple of months, she was back to spending her days in the chair, watching TV and smoking. She began drinking earlier in the day and barely paid any attention to Chub at all, but she kept cashing the checks the state sent for his care, and he became mine to look after just like Rascal had.
“You git my cigarettes?” Gram wheezed from her chair. She asked me that every time I came home from the grocery, as though I’d ever forget. She went through a pack and a half a day, and I handed her the four packs of Marlboro 100s along with the receipt and a few coins. The cigarettes cost almost half what I’d spent at the grocery, but I knew better than to suggest Gram cut back. The one and only time I tried she’d slapped my face so fast and hard it took my breath away.
Gram was mean, but she was also weak and sick most of the time, so I could stay out of her way if I tried. She woke up in the morning coughing up nasty stuff and spitting into the sink, and she fell asleep drunk in the chair most nights. She ordered me around like a servant. I didn’t mind the housework so much—I had kind of a thing about keeping the house clean, and I would have done it even if she didn’t tell me to. And she paid me, even if it was a fraction of minimum wage.
I unpacked the rest of my groceries and got to work making sloppy joes. Sautéing the frozen peppers and onions, the ground beef, stirring in the tomato sauce—I’d done it a thousand times before, but it still brought me a sense of calm, especially with Chub playing at my feet and Rascal dozing in the corner of the kitchen where I kept a stack of old blankets for him to sleep on.
Gram, laughing at something Tyra Banks said on her show, farted loudly and I thought for the thousandth time how glad I would be when Chub and I left this house for good. I knew you weren’t supposed to feel that way about your grandmother. Grandparents were supposed to be overprotective and hopelessly out of touch, but you were still supposed to love them. They were supposed to listen to your troubles and offer you advice from all their years of experience.
“Something weird happened at school today,” I said as I mixed the ketchup and onion soup mix into the skillet. Gram had never given me a single piece of advice worth remembering, and as I started to speak I already knew it was a mistake, but I had to talk to someone about Milla. “Milla Swanson got hurt in gym.”
“Uh huh,” Gram said, without taking her eyes off the television.
“I mean, like hurt pretty bad. I think she was unconscious for a while. A head injury.”
“But I…well, I think I might have. Um. The thing is, I just wanted to help, you know? Because Ms. Turnbull went to call and – ”
“What did you say?”
Gram’s voice, sharp and shrill, startled me and I set the spatula into the pan and looked at her. To my surprise she was struggling to push herself out of the chair, grunting with the effort.
“Just that Milla fell off the vault and hit her head.” I went to help Gram, and she seized my hands and pulled herself up, her back cracking.
“Was there blood? Skin cut? Bone showing? What did you do?”
Gram’s questions had an edge to them, an urgency I never heard from her, and I wondered what she knew that I didn’t.
“It wasn’t really any big deal. Just a bump.”
“You said she was unconscious.” There was excitement and accusation in her voice, and her eyes were bright and intent for once.
“Well, maybe for a minute.”
“And you touched her?”
“On her head?”
“Well, yes, I mean, first her hands and then, I guess, mostly on her hair.”
“What did you say?”
“What did I say?”
“It’s not a hard question, Hailey. What did you say when you were touching her?”
“I didn’t – I don’t know. I mean I might have said her name, and something like ‘don’t worry’ or ‘it’s going to be okay’ – I really don’t remember.”
But as I answered Gram something stirred in my mind. There had been…something. A strange soundtrack, whispered nonsense syllables, barely audible over the rushing of my blood.
“That’s all? You didn’t say anything else?”
“No. Nothing else.” I was a little frightened by Gram’s intensity, especially when she closed one of her claw-like hands around my forearm, one long fingernail digging into my flesh.
“Have you done this before, Hailey?” she asked, leaning close enough to me that I could smell her breath, a foul combination of cigarettes and rot. I had to resist the urge to pull my arm away from her.
Her burning eyes searched mine, and I felt like she was looking for signs that I was telling the truth – and for something else as well, something I couldn’t understand. We stood that way for what seemed like a long time, and I felt fear unwind inside my gut, fear that fed on my confusion and the high emotions of the day.
“I think you know,” Gram finally hissed, squeezing my arm with a strength that surprised me. “You know what you done. All this time I been waitin’ on you, I finally gave up, and now you gone and done it.”
I yanked away from her, my heart pounding hard. “Dinner’s going to burn,” I mumbled, and I picked up the spatula and stirred the mixture on the stove, my face hot in the rising steam.
I could sense Gram standing behind me watching. She was scariest when she was thinking. I’d rather have her hit me or yell at me any day than stare at me like that, when I didn’t have a clue what she was thinking about.
“It don’t change nothin’,” she muttered, so softly I almost didn’t hear her.
By the time I dared to turn and look, she had shuffled back to her chair, and her eyes were half closed as she watched a lawn care commercial. I made three plates of food and got Chub set up at the table with a paper napkin and a glass of chocolate milk. I took Gram her plate and a fresh beer and set it on her TV tray. She barely grunted a response, but I kept an eye on her as Chub and I ate our dinner. She ate carelessly, bits of ground beef falling to the tray or the floor, where Rascal would find them later. After a while she rubbed her napkin across her mouth and tossed it on top of her half-eaten dinner, and I breathed easier, hoping she’d forgotten the confusing conversation.
While I did the dishes she muttered to herself, now and then raising her voice as though she was having a conversation with someone. I was passing by her chair on my way to put Chub down when she shot out her gnarled, yellow-nailed hand and grabbed my wrist.
“You know you’re the future, Hailey,” she said, lips twisted in a grin that revealed the gaps where she’d lost teeth. “You’re the one who’s gonna carry on the legacy.”
So, now that you're sufficiently anxious to read Banished either head on out to your local bookstore and pick up a copy, order one from Amazon or another online retailer, check your library . . . or enter my contest (really, please do--some of the Near-to-My-Birthday-Awesome-Books are starting to release and this is one of them and I not only got to interview the author, but I get to give one away, too):
Runs through next Tuesday October 19 at 11pm Eastern (this one's shorter so that no one has to hold off to long on getting Banished).
Open to non PO Boxes (I'll have one open to you again someday) addresses in the US and Canada.
enter through the form below (or here)