I’m pleased to welcome Class of 2k9 author Joy Preble to the blog for an interview today. Joy is on a whirlwind tour of the kidlitosphere, promoting her debut title, Dreaming Anastasia. Be sure to check out my review of her book, and comment on the review post for a chance to win a copy of Dreaming Anastasia. Welcome to Shelf Elf Joy!
If you had two sentences in which to sell Dreaming Anastasia to a teen reader, how would you describe your book?
Sixteen year old Anne bumps into handsome and mysterious Ethan and suddenly she’s got powers she doesn’t understand, a history altering mission she may not want, and a growing attraction to this blue-eyed stranger. Add in some determined bad guys, Baba Yaga the witch and Anastasia Romanov – not quite so dead, it seems – and much wackiness ensues.
Your novel is an amazingly complex story, with fairy tale/ fantasy/ historical/ contemporary elements all woven together. As I was reading, I wondered two things. First, how did you come up with such a creative, complicated genre-bending idea? Second what was your writing process? Did you do a lot of outlining to keep all the plot threads straight?
I really had to laugh at this question. Okay, I didn’t laugh. But the initial truth is that this is what comes of writing a debut novel. You don’t always know you’re doing something really spiffy like genre-bending. And then when you realize mid-way through that what you’ve done is attempt multiple genres with three alternating narrators in first person, you’re too far gone to go back! Even my agent at the time continued to re-define how she pitched the project. I think we were initially calling it urban fantasy until we decided that maybe it wasn’t really that, exactly. But it was definitely, in retrospect, kind of risky. Is this literary? Is it commercial? The good part was that I was such a novice that I didn’t know enough to be afraid! I just kept writing. The idea of Anne bumping into Ethan and getting super powers and being given the task of saving Anastasia came first. Which of course led to the alternate history aspects. The folkloric elements got woven in after that. Honestly, now I ask myself, what could I have been thinking? But that’s the beauty of the muse. Sometimes it just gives you a story and you have to brave enough to go for it. And yes, eventually, I did keep bullet point outlines and reams of notes, both handwritten and in the form of comments on Word documents. As you say, it was a lot to keep straight. I was also blessed with an amazing copy edit team at Sourcebooks who dug in fearlessly near the end to make sure that everything tracked. That part was also fun for me, because here is this group of people who’ve read your every word so obsessively that they can actually say, “You know, this contradicts something on page 15. You need to check it.”
What aspect of your novel are you most proud of?
That’s not a question anyone has asked me before, so thanks! I guess if I had to pick just one aspect, I’d say that I’m proud of creating more than one strong female character. I would say that’s a commonality in most of what I write – a consciousness that I want my female characters to meet the adversity of their situations with an inner-strength, even when they don’t know what the heck they’re doing. Anne may have no clue what to do with these powers she suddenly has, but she’s going to dig deep and try to figure it out. And I hope readers get that.
How much of a Russian history and culture buff were you prior to writing Dreaming Anastasia?
When I was about thirteen, I read Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra, this great biography of the Romanovs and their assassination and the whole Rasputin thing. It was such a huge, tragic tale! My maternal grandmother was from Russia, so I suppose that factored into my interest as well. But once I’d dug into all that, I was hooked. In college, I read more actual Russian literature – Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekov. It was always so over the top dramatic. So much cold. So much suffering. So much vodka consumption! All those names and diminutives, like how Mikhail becomes Misha. I just ate it up. The fairy tale part came later, though, when I was writing Dreaming Anastasia. Collections of Russian fairy tales by Aleksandr Afanas’ev – it’s amazing stuff and very different from Grimm’s or Disney, obviously. Much less obviously moral. Much more eh, you didn’t expect that little sucker, did you?
Your best cure for writer’s block?
Do something else for awhile. Go for a walk. Go to the movies. My mind usually opens up again if I’m actively not asking it to.
What do you do to fill up your inspiration reserve?
One of the best things for me is talking with other writers, either with my critique group or at SCBWI events, or with my Class of 2k9 pals. Hanging with my family always gives me a boost. And travel – any time I get to go some place new, I’m always inspired. Interestingly, even though it’s somewhat stressful to teach full time and write full time and now promote full time, the fact that professionally speaking, I’ve never left high school also inspires me. I mean when you work in an environment where – as happened a couple of years ago – one of your students dashes into the classroom, pulls up his shirt and shouts, “Look! I got my nipples pierced last night!” and then proceeds to show everyone the video of it on his cell phone, you don’t have to search very far for inspiration.
Top 3 books for teens?
Tough one! How could I pick just three? But if you insist, I will say that everyone should read at least one book by Laurie Halse Anderson, one by Sarah Dessen, and one by John Greene. But we are in a golden age of YA lit. It’s really impossible to narrow it down.
In your opinion, what would be the greatest compliment you could receive from a reader who has just finished Dreaming Anastasia?
That it didn’t suck. Okay, beyond that, anyone who can tell me why they enjoyed a favorite character or who felt that I’d done Anastasia justice with my version of her would make me happy. And if someone told me they could relate to my portrayals of loss and second chances, that would make me happy, too.
It seemed like the ending of Dreaming Anastasia left things open for more stories about Anne and Ethan. Can readers expect a sequel? If yes, how about a few non-spoilerish hints? If not, then could you tell us a bit about what’s next for you?
I do hope I get to write a sequel. I actually designed the novel as the first of a trilogy. I don’t have a definite answer for you beyond that, so stay posted to my blog. But yes, there’s more in store – at least in my head – for Anne and Ethan. Let’s just say that I definitely want to heat up the romance aspect and that Anne’s power might not have disappeared… Plus I’d love to let you know what’s been going on with Baba Yaga and Viktor. And I’d like to bring Tess back. And there’s this malevolent creature called a rusalka…So we will see. Additionally, I have written a couple of other novels between 2007 when Dreaming Anastasia sold and now and I’m hoping to have more news to share on those eventually, too. Oh the secrets and mysteries of the publishing world!
Thank you for being here Joy! Enjoy the rest of your tour!
Joy is going so many places for her tour, it would take me a long time to link to them all. Here is a selection of her upcoming stops this month:
Dreaming Anastasia is published by Jabberwocky, an imprint of Sourcebooks.