Interview with Tara Gilboy, author of “Unwritten” (out on October 16th)

I was lucky enough to have been approved for an ARC of Unwritten by Tara Gilboy, a middle grade novel about a girl who has been taken out of a story into our real world and is trying to find out more about the world she comes from and especially about the author who wrote her in the story in the first place.

What I like about “books about books” is that there’s a lot of potential for reflections about fiction, about characters’ agency, about why we read and why we write stories. This book did just that, on top of an intriguing and sometimes a little dark plot.

I want to thank author Tara Gilboy so much for agreeing to this interview, and thank you to Jolly Fish Press for sending me the ARC through Netgalley!

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Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Gracie Freeman is living a normal life, but she is haunted by the fact that she is actually a character from a story, an unpublished fairy tale she’s never read. When she was a baby, her parents learned that she was supposed to die in the story, and with the help of a magic book, took her out of the story, and into the outside world, where she could be safe.

But Gracie longs to know what the story says about her. Despite her mother’s warnings, Gracie seeks out the story’s author, setting in motion a chain of events that draws herself, her mother, and other former storybook characters back into the forgotten tale. Inside the story, Gracie struggles to navigate the blurred boundary between who she really is and the surprising things the author wrote about her. As the story moves toward its deadly climax, Gracie realizes she’ll have to face a dark truth and figure out her own fairy tale ending.

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Silvia: How would you pitch your story to someone who hasn’t read the blurb?

Tara Gilboy: Thank you so much for having me today! Unwritten is a middle grade novel about a girl who lives in the real world but is actually a fairy tale character whose parents took her out of the story-world when she was a baby, so she could escape the fate of what was written about her. When she seeks out the story’s author, that fate – and the story’s villain — soon catch up with her.

S: Tell us a little bit about the main characters of Unwritten.

TG: The main character of Unwritten is Gracie, and she is a flawed character, which is perhaps why I love her so much. She can be stubborn, and she has a bit of a temper, but she’s also passionate and determined. When her mom refuses to tell her about the story written about her, she takes matters into her own hands. Walter is also a character from the story Gracie was born in. He is quieter than Gracie, and a bit kinder and more insightful, but he can also be stubborn in his own way. He’s less willing to believe in the “magic” of the story world, and is always looking for a scientific explanation. But I think he helps keep Gracie grounded. Both characters are fiercely loyal to one another.

S: What inspired you to write “a story within a story”, so to speak?

TG: You know, it’s interesting, because the idea for this novel didn’t start with it being a “story within a story.” It started with the idea of being on the run from someone. I kept having this recurring dream about being forced to flee in the middle of the night, and packing all my things in the car before some sort of supernatural entity caught up with me. I started playing around with this idea and doing some freewriting about shaping it into a story. What would these characters be running from? That idea kind of gradually evolved into the “story within a story,” which quickly became much more complicated than I had anticipated, with questions about fate and free will. I always smile to myself when readers mention the book being short and simple because there were many, many drafts that were extremely long and confusing while I figured this stuff out.

S: This is your debut. Have you always wanted to become a writer?

TG: Oh, yes, for as long as I can remember. I’ve wanted to write pretty much since I learned to read, and I still have some of the stories I wrote in elementary school. My mom recently gave me a letter I wrote to a publisher when I was in third grade, asking if I could write books for their series. (Apparently she never mailed it!) Unfortunately, until I was in my twenties, I had never actually met a writer, and so writing started to seem like this kind of “impossible dream.” Then in college, I took some creative writing classes, published a couple short stories, and worked as an editor at a literary journal, and I realized: “Hey, I can really do this!”

S: Do your characters sometimes take their destiny on their own hands or do you always have complete control over what you write?

TG: Oh my goodness, my characters ALWAYS take their destiny in their own hands. I am horrible at outlining because if I plan out everything in the story ahead of time, when I sit down to write, everything feels a bit “forced,” as if I am trying to make my characters do things that don’t feel natural for them. I actually just wrote a scene the other day, where at the end of it, a character had done something that took me completely by surprise, and when I had finished the scene, I kind of sat there thinking “Wow. I had no idea that was going to happen when I sat down to write.” But it took the story in a new and wonderful direction I had not anticipated, and was much better than what I had initially planned.

S: What are your favorite stories to read about? How do they inspire you in your own work?

TG: I feel like this changes all the time depending on my mood. Sometimes I go through periods where I am reading a lot of historical fiction, or ghost stories, or classics, or fantasy…. One thing that is consistent, though, is that middle grade and young adult are my absolute favorite books to read – I rarely read adult novels anymore. I feel like in middle grade and young adult novels, the stories are condensed into their essential elements – there’s no room to let the story digress and go off on tangents – so the focus is on telling a good story, which is something that is really important to me. I always start off my writing day by reading: reading books I love keeps me inspired. I’m working on another fantasy right now and reading a lot of Harry Potter to keep myself inspired. I think JK Rowling is a genius at both developing character and creating exciting plots.

S: How did your experiences as a writer influence you when writing the character of Gertrude Winters?

TG: Gertrude’s character is interesting to me because I was so reluctant to bring her into the book in a major way, and I’m not sure why. My critique partners kept telling me in draft after draft that I needed to reveal more of who she is and explain why she had written the story she did. I think in the initial drafts, I really didn’t know why Gertrude wrote the story, or perhaps I was hesitant to really start examining my own creative process through her. I think in some ways Gertrude’s writing process is really an exaggeration of the writing process of many writers. We all kind of “write behind our backs,” so to speak, where we draw on things in our own lives, or repeatedly explore themes that are important to us, sometimes subconsciously. My critique partners have pointed out that a lot of my work explores relationships between mothers and daughters, something that I never set out to do intentionally, but comes up again and again in my writing. Gertrude, I think, takes this tendency even further, basing her characters on people she knows, and drawing on her own experiences in a huge way as she shapes her stories. And, of course, one thing that I have in common with Gertrude is that I love writing villains – they are such interesting characters!

S: I think the way you talked about heroes and villains in this book was brilliant. What do you hope your young readers take away from it?

TG: Thank you so much! This idea of heroes and villains is something that evolved in later drafts, and it is SO important to me. I am so concerned lately by this kind of “call out culture” that is so prevalent on social media right now. Any time someone makes a mistake, or does or says something bad, that mistake can immediately be made public, and more and more, I’ve been seeing people labeled as either “good” or “bad,” without compassion or consideration for “why” the person might have done the things they did. Everyone makes mistakes – we don’t say or do the right things all the time, but the important thing is being able to learn from those mistakes, move on, and try to do better next time. People are so much more complex than the labels we ascribe to them. Heroes often do bad things, and villains are capable of doing good. I hope readers will be inspired from my book to offer compassion and forgiveness when others make mistakes, and consider the whole person, rather than simply the mistake.

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#T5W: Auto-Buy SFF Authors

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

April 11: Auto-Buy Scifi and Fantasy Authors – Booktube SFF Awards Babble Crossover Topic! 
— This month’s crossover topic is your auto-buy authors that write SFF.

Victoria Schwab: granted I’ve only read Shades of Magic and Vicious (because I have commitment issues and also I’m a mood reader), I’m still going to buy all her books, both the ones already out and the upcoming ones.

Leigh Bardugo: I already own everything by her and have read all of it except The Language of Thorns (but I have my beautiful hardcover that I look at when I’m feeling sad). I will definitely buy everything she writes, no matter what genre.

Jay Kristoff: granted I haven’t read his early work and I’m probably not going to, I fell in love with Nevernight and Godsgrave, and of course I love The Illuminae Files, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to check out everything he writes. I am aware that he’s used some problematic things in his books here and there and I also don’t always agree with his online behavior, but if I have to choose only one problematic favorite to stan for the rest of my life, it’ll be him (unless he does something truly unforgivable, then I’m returning my stan card).

Rick Riordan: listen. I’m still getting through all his books so this is both a case of retroactive auto-buy and future auto-buy if that makes sense. I’m not totally sure if he counts as fantasy author but hey, mythology is kind of fantasy okay.

Elise Kova: I really love her ability to create new words and concepts. Sometimes I might not like the executions of the romantic tropes or stuff like that, but so far I’ve read (or partially read) all of her series and there isn’t one world that’s similar to another and they all blow my mind in their originality. So I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep buying her books.

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Who are your auto-buy SFF authors? What makes you say, “I’m going to have to buy everything this author writes”?

#T5W: Authors You’d Want To Write Like

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

November 29th: Authors You’d Want to Write Like
–In honor of NaNo wrapping up, discuss some authors you’d like to write like. Whether its their writing style, what genre they write in, or how many books they manage to churn out a year!

C.S. Pacat

I’m going to admit that I didn’t fall in love with her writing until somewhere around book two in the Captive Prince trilogy. I think it took me a while because her style is just so exquisit and different from everything I was reading around that time, but when I finally started to get used to it I couldn’t get enough of it. I fell in love with it even more upon rereading the first time and now every time I reread her trilogy I find new things that I love, but my absolute favorite is the way she uses dialogue and characters interactions in a way that makes the reader work for it.

That’s what can be confusing at first, especially if you’re used to authors spoonfeeding you with overly described facial expressions and describing the tone in which every sentence is said (not naming names but I’m side-eyeing a few very popular authors). No, Pacat doesn’t do that, and Captive Prince sometimes really feels like an interactive reading experience to me because you’re almost always left filling the blank and giving your own interpretation of a sentence or of a character. That can be something that not every reader wants but it worked for me and most of all it means that every time I reread I discover something new about the characters.

Her writing style was also my very first lesson in writing and the reason I started to write in the first place. I learned so much from just reading her novels and I’m so thankful for her.

Victoria Schwab

When I read my first Schwab book I remember thinking, This looks so effortless. The hardest part about writing is finding the way to convey something, at least for me (something that’s even harder if you’re trying to do it in your second language), but Schwab’s writing has just a way of…reaching the reader. See, it’s really hard to explain myself, but when I say it looks effortless I’m aware that there’s a ton of work behind it. It’s just that you never feel it in the finished product, and that takes so much skill it’s just incredible.

Another way I wish I could be like her is how productive she is. I don’t know how she manages to do half the things she does and I so wish that were me.

Holly Black

When you fall in love with an author’s writing style you either read every book they’ve written or you keep stalling after you read the first one because what if the others aren’t as good? The second case is me with Holly Black – after reading The Darkest Part of the Forest I still haven’t found it in me to read anything else because that book is literal writing perfection and I don’t know if even the author herself can top that. It’s just all so atmospheric and magical and I wish she got more recognition in the book community.

Laini Taylor 

There is nothing I can say to do justice to her writing style. It’s the kind of writing that leaves you gasping for air because what you’ve just read cannot possibly have been written by a human. Her books are to be read in complete silence or over relaxing classical music on a Sunday afternoon with tea and cookies, and that’s a fact.

Elise Kova

I love the fantasy worlds she comes up with, the magic systems, the characters, everything really. I’m not particularly creative in that sense and if I tried to write my own fantasy it would literally just be a copy of some other fantasy’s world, but everything she writes feels so new in that sense.

I also love how she doesn’t shy away from writing about horrible things, even in her YA series. Some of the stuff in Air Awakens is just brutal and it hurts so much as a reader but also I can’t help but admire Elise and wish I could be as badass.

Last but not least I wish I could write as much and as fast as she does. She’s truly incredible in that regard and reading her newsletter where she shows the writing progress on all her different projects is so humbling.


Do you write? Who are the writers you’d want to write like, or that you admire the most?

FENCE by C.S. Pacat & Johanna the Mad – Why You Should Be Excited For It

Hello there! Let’s postpone The Talk about me technically still being on blog hiatus (it’ll end soon though, I promise!) for another time, because today I am so excited to talk about a new upcoming comic by quite literally my favorite author ever, C.S. Pacat, and Johanna the Mad, an amazing artist whose fanworks have always left me speechless.

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The cast of Fence. From left to right: Nicholas, Seiji, Harvard, Aiden, Jesse, Dante, Bobby

Particularly I want to talk about the importance it will have in the queer community. I fully believe that the comparison with Yuri!!! On Ice and other queer-positive works like Check, Please! is 100% accurate.

Why am I saying this with such confidence when I obviously haven’t read it yet, since it comes out in November? Two reasons:

⚔ I fully trust C.S. Pacat to stay true to her words and deliver

“something that’s very joyously and unabashedly queer. That’s very important to me.”
(source)


Knowing her and knowing her previous work and the other fictional works (like Y!!!OI) that she enjoys, I know that she isn’t just saying that in order to appeal to a certain audience. This is something that might have been scary to publish one year ago, when the queer world hadn’t been quite literally shaken by Yuri!!! On Ice yet. But now we know that the (queer and not queer) world is ready for something that doesn’t have to justify itself in order to exist. Not only won’t there be any queerbaiting, there won’t be “sad gays” either.

⚔ This premise brings me to my second point. A comic is something that will appeal to readers and non-readers alike. We in the bookish community sometimes tend to forget that there are many people who don’t read as much as we do, and that’s fine. Many of those people are teens that maybe are more into anime and manga, and they’ll be given access to something that might -might!- eventually draw them into the bookish world. Even more importantly, these are young people who more often than not are just coming to terms with their sexuality. These are teens and young adults who have been at best queerbaited by shows like Free! and Haikyuu!!, and at worse they’ve been shown that if you’re queer you are someone expendable, someone who will die before the straights can find a solution to a zombie-riddled world or you’re simply there to allow a straight narrative to reach its positive outcome, or you’re there to be the gay stereotype that the audience will laugh at.
This won’t happen with Fence. (Young) people will have a positive queer representation like they’ve had in Yuri!!! On Ice, and being queer won’t be the main subject of the work. They’ll be shown that you don’t have to only be your sexuality, you can be an athlete, you can be anything and be queer and be valid and if you don’t understand the importance of that then maybe it’s really time for you to think about your straight privilege.

Now, focusing on the rest of what we know so far, this story will have amazing characterization. Again, you ask, how do you know this? Because that’s what Pacat does. And if you haven’t read Captive Prince and you don’t trust me on my word, read this:

I’m working with a really great épée coach in Australia to choreograph all the fight scenes. And I’ve been working with him on the fencing characterization of each boy, so they’ll all have different strengths and weaknesses that will evolve throughout the narrative.


…in “Fence,” especially because I was so invested in the accuracy of the fencing, there’s no smudging allowed.
(source)


These are NOT the words of someone who doesn’t think their characters through. The characters’ personalities will reflect in the way they fence and act outside of fencing, like in all the best sports anime/manga/fiction.

This is already so clear from just a raw of one page alone:

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“But will it be diverse?” you ask. Yeah!

…having a diverse cast was very important to me. When you’re writing heroic narratives it’s very important to make sure that you have a story where everyone can feel as though they can be a hero.
(source)

 

Because this is a comic, obviously another really important thing to look forward to is the art. Johanna the Mad is an amazing artist (see pictures above) who has more than once impressed me (and many others, including C.S. Pacat) with her art.

Something else I find amazing is that both writer and artist come from the online world. They not only know the community they’re addressing, they’re fully part of it and that is one more reason to trust them.

So really the question is, what’s there NOT to look forward to? (the answer is: everything about this comic should make you as excited as I am)

And more importantly, is it November yet?

#T5W: Authors I Want to Read More From

Top Five Wednesday is a book meme that Lainey started and I discovered through the lovely Samantha‘s videos. If you’re interested you can join the goodreads group to get the topics for each week.

This week’s topic:

April 26th: Authors You Want to Read More From
–Talk about some authors that you’ve only read one or a few books from, and you NEED to read more!

Okay but this topic is so hard??? How can you choose five or even ten authors?? I personally can’t do that and that’s why I’m cheating and having two separate lists :’)

 

AUTHORS I’VE ALREADY READ EVERYTHING BY:

C.S. Pacat
Her Captive Prince trilogy is my favorite series of all time so it’s only fair that I want to check out whatever she will come up with next! I think she’s currently working on a fantasy YA (as well as the final Captive Prince short story) and I really can’t wait to read more from her. I love her characters and the emotion she creates more than the writing style, but I do think that her style fit CP perfectly. Also, I like it more every time I reread it so there’s really nothing I don’t like about this author.

Nora Sakavic
I think I’ll be happy if her next work is even just half as intense as The Foxhole Court is. If we talk about the writing, it’s not very lyrical or anything, but her stories aren’t that at all anyway. But I freaking loved it. It’s so simple and yet every word has meaning – I’m telling you I never skipped a single word in that trilogy, even when she’s describing things like characters washing the dishes or things like that. I don’t know how she does it but I can’t get enough of her.

Madeline Miller
I’ll probably never read The Song of Achilles again because I can’t handle the feels one more time, but I’ll definitely be reading everything she writes next, especially given that I love Greek mythology (her next work is an Odyssey retelling from Circe’s PoV!)

Leigh Bardugo
I don’t think her writing style is very peculiar or different from other authors, but I think her strengths are the characters, the banter and the plot. She already announced a couple of books both in and out of the Grisha-verse and I’m highly anticipating all of them.

Elise Kova
Her ability to create fantasy worlds with real characters is amazing! I know she has a contemporary book or series in the works so I’m definitely curious to read that once she’s done with her two current fantasy series.

AUTHORS I STILL DIDN’T READ EVERYTHING BY:

V.E. Schwab
I’ve only read her Shades of Magic series and I completely fell in love with both the characters, the world and the writing style. She has so many books out and I’ll slowly be checking them all out.

Laini Taylor
Her writing style is amazing and I can’t wait to read Strange the Dreamer! I’m just waiting to be out of my reading slump because I don’t want to ruin my reading experience.

Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle made me fall in love with her writing and her characters, but I somehow still didn’t check out her previous works! I don’t know if it’s my fear of being disappointed but I think I’ll rather check out her future works and then slowly try to read what she published before TRC.

Rainbow Rowell
I’ve only read Fangirl and Carry On but I loved them and I especially enjoyed her writing style. She has so many other books out so I really don’t know where to start from – if you have any suggestions let me know!

Austin Chant
I’ve only read Peter Darling by him and it was such a great surprise! I will check out his previous books but most of all I’m curious to read his next works (he mentioned one of his next stories has to do with ice skaters so – aehm – I just have to!)


What are some authors that you are just dying to read more from?