Interview: Alyson Noël
Current Mood: thirsty
Current Song: Crazy as Me by Alison Krauss & Union Station
Once upon a time, a young girl named Alyson wanted to be a princess. Then she wanted to be a mermaid. Then she wanted to be an writer.
Now all grown up, she's a bestselling author, happily writing novels for teens and adults, planning future stories, and visiting her beloved beaches. Today, Alyson Noël is dipping her toes in the waters here at Bildungsroman.
Your newest endeavor, the fantasy series The Immortals, is a departure from the contemporary fiction for which you are known. Have you always wanted to write something otherworldly? How or when did the idea strike you?
I’ve been a fan of all things paranormal since I was a kid, Casper the Friendly Ghost was my favorite cartoon, so I’m actually kind of surprised it took me so long to venture into the genre. But after going through a period of intense grief a few years back, where I lost three people I loved in five months and then nearly lost my husband to leukemia (he’s in full remission now!), well, I was really struggling to make sense of it all—how I could still feel a bond with loved ones even after they were gone, and all of the big life questions like: life and death, mortality and immortality, and how our society sort of chases this idea of the fountain of youth by striving to stay young and fit forever—and yet, what would happen if we really could achieve it? What would it mean for us, our loved ones, society in general? All of which lead to the ideas behind these books. I did tons of research—reading books on mediums, psychics, ghosts, near death experiences, reincarnation, chakras, crystals, etc. I took a three-day seminar with world famous medium, James Van Praagh, and went under hypnosis with bestselling author, Dr. Brian Weiss in a past-life regression—all of which fed into Ever and Damen’s story.
Would you rather be immortal or have the ability to travel through time?
Time travel, please! Since I pretty much suck at goodbyes, immortality would be a tough gig for me. You constantly lose your friends and loved ones, and I think it would be really painful. Though time travel would be awesome! I could check out all of that gorgeous Italian Renaissance art as it’s being created—party with the flappers in the Roaring 20s—and let loose my inner hippie at Woodstock (the first one!)—I mean, how cool would that be?!
Very cool. I'd rather time travel as well. I'll see you at F. Scott Fitzgerald's little get-together later - or would that be earlier?
Do you believe in ghosts? Are there any ghosts whose visits you wouldn't mind?
Well, I definitely believe that the soul is eternal, and have experienced my share of unexplainable phenomenon, so yes, I’ve no doubt that some form of energy “lives on.” Though I don’t really need anyone to pay me a visit. I hope my loved ones are too busy having fun on the other side to bother with that!
Did you always intend to have Ever's story unfold over the course of three books? Was it outlined and/or sold as a trilogy, or did the future tales come about as a result of the first book's inspiration (personally - you were moved to write more about her) or (professionally) its bestselling success?
Well, it’s actually going to be six books now!
But no, when I first started writing it, around the same time I wrote SAVING ZOE, I didn’t really envision anything past the initial book. But then I was still finding my way through the story, still fleshing out the characters and the world. Then I put it aside to write CRUEL SUMMER, and when I returned to it, the story kept growing bigger and bigger and that’s when I realized it would encompass at least two books—and sold it in a two book deal to St. Martin’s Press. But, as I was writing BLUE MOON I realized I was going to need a few more books to take it where I really want it to go, so we added three more books before EVERMORE was even released. Then as I was finishing up the third book in the series, SHADOWLAND, I realized it would take one more to finish it properly, so we’ve just added a sixth book to the series!
Every time I see the title for book two - Blue Moon, which was just released earlier this month - I start singing the song. Do the other books in the series has titles I can sing? . . . or release dates?
I’d love to hear you sing SHADOWLAND! Oh, SHADOWLAND!! Though the lyrics aren’t as catchy as Blue Moon! SHADOWLAND is scheduled to drop on January 5th, 2010. As for books 4, 5, and 6, well, they remain untitled as of yet, but they will all be released in 2010/11.
Your first published novel for teens was Faking 19. That was followed by Art Geeks & Prom Queens, the cover of which had a similar look to it, as did some of your subsequent YA releases. Was there an intent to make them look similar, for marketability and recognition?
As for whether or not there was a branding attempt with the earlier covers—probably. The marketing and art departments are pretty much genius, and I’m thrilled with all the covers they’ve given me.
The Immortals covers also look lovely side-by-side (and I appreciate the fact that the graphic designers for the covers of Evermore and North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley made them look different, whether or not they were aware of the other's release!) How much say do you have in your book covers?
With the IMMORTALS series, there’s definitely an attempt at cohesiveness, so that each book will look like part of the whole. And while I’m always asked for my input, I usually just end up mumbling stuff about significant items or symbols found in the story, colors I like, the mood they might want to invoke, and then the artists translate that gibberish and come up with something wonderful every time! I just got a sneak peek at the SHADOWLAND cover and I have to say it’s my favorite one yet! I can’t wait til I can share it!
The protagonists in Cruel Summer and Laguna Cove travel to some lovely beaches. What are your favorite places?
I love the beach. And like the characters in LAGUNA COVE, I live in Laguna Beach and like Colby in CRUEL SUMMER, I used to live on a Greek island, having spent seven years on Mykonos, so it was fun to draw on those experiences when writing the books.
I’ve been an avid traveler ever since I took a solo trip to London just after high school, and though I’ve traveled a ton both on my own and as a flight attendant, there’s still so much more to see! I haven’t made it to Turkey yet, and I’d really like to go there, Australia, Asia, and India are also on the list! The most exotic place I’ve been so far was Marrakech. We arrived in the medina at twilight, and the main square was filled with snake charmers, veiled women, and the smell of spices. A guy arrived with a wheel barrow which he tossed our luggage into, then led us on a chase through a winding maze of nameless, narrow, dirt streets until arriving at a small non descript door that opened to the most beautiful oasis I’d ever seen. What started like a scene out of Indiana Jones turned into the most romantic evening where we were served a seven course dinner in our own private, candle lit, courtyard—I really hope to repeat that someday!
Several of your books employ an epistolary element, thanks to leading characters who keep some type of journal: Saving Zoe had a diary; Cruel Summer contained letters and blog entries; Kiss & Blog also blogged, obviously. You have a blog and other social networking sites. Do you keep a private, handwritten journal?
I used to keep a journal when I was younger, it was a great way to make sense of a pretty tough childhood/adolescence, which is probably why I’ve allowed my characters to utilize it too. But then one day I realized that I might die someday, which would result in people going through my stuff, which would result in them reading my most private thoughts—and that was too horrifying to consider and so I destroyed them. They are no more. And I don’t really miss them. Well, maybe a little. But only sometimes. For the most part, no.
What's your favorite form of communication?
As for communication, well, I’m all about the ease and economy of e-mailing. It’s quick, easy, and direct—I can barely remember life before it!
I’ve got sort of a phone phobia. I screen my calls like crazy and rarely bother to answer it, as my friends will attest to!
I screen my calls too. Your first adult novel, Fly Me to the Moon, was partially inspired by your own work as a flight attendant. Did this, coupled with the fact that the book was for an older audience, make it more or less difficult than writing your YA novels?
Surprisingly more difficult. Even though I’m obviously much closer in age to Hailey in FLY ME TO THE MOON, than to Ever in BLUE MOON, the YA voice is the one that comes natural. I’m still very connected to that time in my life and I draw from it heavily. And I have to admit that I never really feel like a grown up, more like a person who just happened to end up with a husband, a mortgage, and advancing birthdays, while everything else feels the same!
Do you have any other adult novels or anthology work/short stories planned? Will your next work-in-progress find you exploring other fantasy realms, or returning to contemporary fiction?
Well, I’m pretty busy with the final three books in THE IMMORTALS series, and I’m also slated to write a short story for the KISSES FROM HELL anthology, that I think is publishing in Fall 2010, and I’ve agreed to write a new series starring Riley (Ever’s ghostly sister) set to debut in Fall 2010 that will publish concurrently with the final IMMORTALS books . . . after that, I’ve got lots of ideas so we’ll see where it leads!
What are your ten favorite books?
Well, it’s an ever-changing list, but here’s this week’s version!
1 - Catcher in the Rye
2 - Wuthering Heights
3 - Franny and Zooey
4 - Breakfast at Tiffany’s
5 - Rebecca
6 - Jane Eyre
7 - High Fidelity
8 - The Lovely Bones
9 - Shutter Island
Visit Alyson at http://www.alysonnoel.com