Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Amy Huntley

If you saw my post from yesterday, you'll know that I had nothing but good things to say about The Everafter. I was thrilled when the author, Amy Huntley, agreed to an interview for the blog.

As a first time author, what was it like for you to write, submit, and get your book published?

While I was writing the book, I didn’t even know I was a first time author. I’d played around with writing other novels, but when I was writing The Everafter, I thought it might have a good chance of selling. Still, I didn’t know whether it would or not, so I didn’t consider myself a first time author while I was writing it. Submitting it was a painful process. I began by trying to get an agent—something that took me a year to do. I got a lucky break along the way and an agent recommended my manuscript to another literary agency—who took it! I’ve been so excited to work with Adams Literary ever since. It took such a long time to get an agent, I wasn’t prepared for how quickly the book sold. Within a week of the time my agent sent it out, we had a deal. That was pretty heady stuff—but confusing, too, because I didn’t really know my way around the publishing world.

What drew you to write a ghost story-mystery-romance for teenagers? Was it easy to pack all of those "genres" into one book?

I stumbled onto the idea of this book when several of my fellow teachers were complaining about things they’d lost and one said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if all those lost things turned up after you were dead?” I knew I was going to be playing with that concept, and I knew that how the protagonist died was going to be a mystery, but I never really thought of the book as a “mystery” novel. I never really thought of it as a romance, either, although I realized the romance played a heavy role in the story. Nor would I have classified the book as a ghost story because I think of those as being scary, and about people who’ve come back from the dead and hang out in times that occur after their death. So packing all those genres into one book wasn’t really hard—it was just what happened when I set out to tell a story about a girl experiencing the ultimate change and transition through her death.

The story is a bit chaotic with its vignettes of Maddy's life. How did you keep everything straight and making sense to Maddy's development?

While writing the rough draft, I didn’t actually do anything to help myself with that. I just sort of let things happen in the story and made Maddy’s development as a spirit the focus of the plot structure. When I reached the revision stage, I started paying more attention to how all the pieces were fitting together in relation to each other. I made a chart that listed each vignette, along with Maddy’s age, what she learned about the mystery of her death (if anything) and what she learned about her life and development as a spirit. That made it easier for me to see if all the various characters were showing up often enough, if all strands of the mystery were equally shown, if all the stages of Maddy’s life were there, and if the vignettes truly built on her own understanding of her life but also her maturation as a spirit. That chart was especially helpful whenever I decided I needed to move a vignette’s location in the narrative. Every time I moved one, I often had to shift Maddy’s emotional revelations from one vignette to another because those needed to build on each other just like the mystery of her death did.

It was interesting to read certain characters and events through Maddy's eyes, especially the ones that directly influenced her death. How difficult was it to keep that a mystery until the end while still giving Maddy clues?

Because of the structure of this book, it wasn’t all that hard, actually. I was able to reorder events any time I wanted to build the suspense. That’s not to say it was easy to do that. But still, it could be done. Once I was done with the clues about how Maddy died, I could focus my attention on some sequences that allowed Maddy to make contact with other spirits and use them to help her find her way to the one moment where she could see how she’d died.

What inspired you to use Emily Dickinson's poetry?

I’ve always liked Dickinson’s poetry—more because I’m touched by the issues she addresses in it than because of the techniques she uses as a writer.

Her poetry is so often focused on death, that within the first three pages of drafting The Everafter, I’d thought about her, and wondered if there was a place for her in my story. I started hunting through her poetry and found several poems that seemed appropriate to the book. Then, as the narrative progressed, I narrowed down that list and started incorporating. In some cases, a poem even helped shape the direction I moved the text in, but mostly it was the other way around.

What do you hope readers will gain from reading The Everafter?

This book isn’t actually about death to me. While I was writing it, I tried to explore particular moments in Maddy’s life where growth, change and transition were painful for her. Her death was supposed to be a metaphor for all the change and transition life brings us in general. We don’t stay the same person all our lives, and that’s okay—even good. We can make choices about what parts of who we are that we’ll take with us into the next stages of our life, and that’s what Maddy’s doing. I hope readers realize that we have those choices, that it’s okay to remain attached to parts of ourselves and who we have been, and also okay to leave some of those behind as we venture into new times in our lives.

Do you often lose things like Maddy did in her life?

All. The. Time. That’s probably why I was drawn to this story concept from the moment I heard another teacher’s off hand comment about lost objects. Not only do I frequently lose things, I get very attached to them, too. I can become attached to a pencil, or a particular hair clip. Things that on the surface seem not to be of all that much consequence, things that are easily replaced. This kind of attachment makes the loss of these objects feel so much more significant than it should. I found it incredibly easy, after all my experiences feeling the loss of mundane things, to create moments in Maddy’s life where something small became linked with emotionally charged every day moments.

If you could put your name on any book ever written, claiming it as your own work, what book would you choose?

Wow. This is tough. There are a lot of books that I’ve loved, that have touched me in so many different ways. When I think back to my childhood, I realize what a profound impact books like The Boxcar Children, and From Anna, and Winnie-the-Pooh had. So I want to choose one of those. But then I start thinking about the way I was influenced by books I read in upper elementary, and middle school and high school…and before you know it, the list is a mile long for contenders of “Had a Great Influence.” My students once asked me what my favorite book was. I told them I could only narrow down to my top 100 favorite books, and the list could go no lower than that. So one book I’d put my name to? Tough. Really tough. Besides, part of the beauty of all those books—for me—is that they were written by someone other than me! Those authors brought their unique understandings of the world to me, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to disrupt the positive energy they put into the universe. So I’m going to have to say—there isn’t one!
My thanks, again, go to Amy Huntley. I look forward to working with her in the future and reading more that she has to offer!
Until next time, go read something good!
~ Vilate

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