Wednesday, July 15, 2015
INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE LINKA, AUTHOR OF A GIRL CALLED FEARLESS / A GIRL UNDONE
I recently got my hands on A GIRL UNDONE and was so impressed, I had to chat with the author, Catherine Linka:
Having never tackled a series myself, what was your process? How do you decide on the proper dividing point for action? Do you outline two books at the onset of writing? Were both books finished at the point at which the series was acquired? Or did you write the second book once you’d found a publisher?
Well, I bumbled though my process, because I didn’t intend to write a sequel, but St. Martins insisted when they bought A Girl Called Fearless. After saying yes, I was slammed with writer’s block.
Several characters had unfinished business, so I started thinking about what needed to be resolved. Then at a retreat with the Plot Whisperer Martha Alderson, I realized that since Avie was on the run in A Girl Called Fearless, she had to be caught in A Girl Undone, because that was the worst thing that could happen, and she’d be forced to face her nemesis.
But my biggest obstacle was identifying Avie’s emotional journey. Avie says, “I am fearless,” at the end of book one, so where could she go from there? Then I realized Avie had to go from being intent on her survival to sacrificing herself for the good of others.
While I haven’t written a series, I am in the midst of tackling the sequel to one of my YAs. I know firsthand what a balancing act it is to filter in backstory without relying on the dreaded info dump. What techniques did you rely on to provide backstory in book two? How much backstory was necessary?
Ugh. It’s so hard to know how much backstory is enough. A Girl Undone begins two days after A Girl Called Fearless which helped limit the amount of filling in that was needed. I tried to get the reader engaged immediately with my main character, Avie using the high stakes threat of the police looking for her. Bringing Luke back in the first chapter meant that he and Avie could catch the reader up as they caught each other up.
I like to deliver backstory in dribbles and focus on the dangers of the moment, so I kept asking myself: what key pieces of information does the reader need NOW to understand what is going on in the scene and to get why the characters are acting the way they are. And it’s good my critique partners for A Girl Undone had a long break after reading A Girl Called Fearless, because they reminded me of what they’d forgotten.
Do you feel your prior experience as a YA book buyer gives you special insight into what your readership wants from a novel? (I don’t feel as though I can ever turn off the writer in me—even when I’m reading a book for enjoyment. Do you ever get to turn off the bookseller inside you? Do you look at your own work the same way you looked at work as a bookseller?)
Oh, my gosh. As part of my job, I ran a teen board, so for seven years I listened to kids complain about sequels—how the main character changed in the second book in a way they didn’t like, or how the love triangle was getting annoying, or how the first book was amazing, but the third was boring. I realized fans set the bar really high, and I had to work my butt off to satisfy them.
Even though I know what’s “commercial” doesn’t mean I write for that. In fact, I didn’t submit a number of manuscripts, because I knew they weren’t commercial. I write because I love to write, and I write what interests me.
What are you reading now?
It’s a memoir by a hummingbird rescuer in LA. We have tons of hummingbirds in our neighborhood and I’m fascinated by them.
I love that you speak on girl power. Your protagonist Avie is the perfect symbol of girl power—what a hero! Having seen how you approach the subject of girl power in your fiction, I’m curious: how do you approach it as a speaker?
I want kids to know they do not have to be ninjas or superheroes to be amazing. We love these characters, but I try to get across to kids that it isn’t martial arts training or weapons skills that makes a girl a kickass chick—it’s the will to not give up—even when you’ve fallen down or messed up or been the victim of something awful. Surviving makes you a survivor and that is powerful. I want kids to know they have power inside them they may not realize they have, because it hasn’t been tested yet.
As authors, I know we both cringe at the idea of book banning. In what ways have you spoken regarding book banning? Have you ever stood in defense of specific works that were in the process of being banned?
I think our librarian friends are on the frontlines in that fight. As a bookseller, I’ve set up displays for Banned Book Week and advised a Girl Scout for her Gold Award project on book banning, but I can’t claim to be a hero.
What I love about your series is that it’s set in the future, but the themes are reflective of today’s world. How did the idea for this series begin—was it born from a headline? Current events? Personal observation?
It was born from frustration with the futuristic stories I was reading, because the characters and situations felt less and less real. I thought I’d play with what I thought would really happen to a regular girl if a pandemic changed the US.
How much research was involved in putting the series together?
Not that much, actually. I’m a news junkie, so I’d already been following stories about women’s issues around the world. But I had to research how to shoot a gun, and how survivalists live and think when I wrote A Girl Called Fearless. I even went to shooting range to fire a Glock and a semi-automatic. Research like this makes you wonder if you’re on a Homeland Security watch list.
Congrats on the series being developed for TV! How did that happen? Are you involved at all in writing and developing the story for television?
I live in LA, so a friend connected me to an agent, and to my shock, he loved A Girl Called Fearless. I’ve consulted on the pilot script, and if the series sells, then I will continue to consult. It’s fun to think about, but nothing’s guaranteed in Hollywood.
As a dog lover, I have to ask: Did you get that puppy?
Yes. Carter (named after John Carter of Mars) is a 15 week old yellow lab, and he’s as athletic and determined as his namesake. He could be the next ruler of Mars!