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Interview: Joy Preble

May 24th, 2014 (06:00 am)
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Last year, I got acquainted with author Joy Preble when I redesigned her website. In 2013, she was preparing for the release of her book The Sweet Dead Life, a YA novel about a girl and her not-so-angelic brother, who becomes her guardian angel. Now, there's a sequel, The A-Word, which was released just this month. Pull up a chair, put on your wings, and check out my exclusive interview with Joy Preble.

Congratulations on the release of The A-Word! Did you always plan to write a sequel to The Sweet Dead Life, or was that initially supposed to be just one book?

Good question! Initially, this was definitely going to be a one-off. But the initial reaction to the project from both the publisher as well as some TV/movie types was so strong that my editor said, "Let's develop the world. Where could we go from here?" So although nothing further has come (yet) of the pie in the sky movie stuff, we did find that there was a lot more to Jenna and Casey's story. So I was able to know that as I finished The Sweet Dead Life and seed in some material that would allow me to advance the story in The A-Word. Plus, I love the heck out of Jenna! She is honestly the most fun to write of any character I've ever come up with. I never seem to have a problem channeling her voice. I could write Jenna for the rest of my writing career!

How did the original story, The Sweet Dead Life, come to be?

The original story actually came as an idea from Dan Ehrenhaft, my editor at Soho Press. We'd worked together briefly at Sourcebooks (publisher of my Dreaming Anastasia series) and our story telling sensibilities are very compatible. He basically presented me with a two sentence thumbnail idea: Mysteriously ill girl's stoner brother comes back from a fatal car accident as her guardian angel and together they unravel a big mystery. And he said, "I think you could totally write this." To which I replied, "Yes." Because my philosophy in the publishing world is that for the most part when asked to do a book you always say, "yes." After that, I wrote about 20 sample pages and told him that the story was going to take place in the suburbs of Houston, Texas. I expected him to balk, but he was cool with it. And of course since we'd worked together before, we already knew it would be both serious and comic. We argued a bit about the title (his original suggestion was Plop, which is seriously the WORST title I have ever heard. But we had envisioned this as Fallen meets Veronica Mars meets Pineapple Express, so it sort of fits), but mostly we were completely compatible about where the story was going.

In what ways, if any, does the relationship between Jenna and Casey resemble your relationship with your siblings?

Thanks for noticing that I am indeed writing a sibling story here! Jenna and Casey aren't very much like my brother and me personally, but what I do find myself mining is the idea of siblings in general. Jenna really loves Casey and Casey really loves Jenna (in a good way, not a creepy Flowers in the Attic way!) and their relationship definitely drives the story. I am always gratified when reviewers comment on this and for the most part every reviewer who mentions it finds their relationship not only sweet but also very authentic. You know, growing up, I didn't really have a lot of rules. My parents were older than most of my friends' parents and honestly the only thing they wanted from me was to 'take care of your brother.' In retrospect, they really let us run almost completely at our own discretion. By today's standards where parents (including myself) hover so much, it's actually kind of shocking that they'd just let me take my brother to Cubs' games and amusement parks and biking for hours at a time or whatever. Essentially, it was like a training ground for writing YA novels: my parents were largely absent from most of my daily existence. So I do find that this kind of odd tension does inform the story a great deal. Casey and Jenna are largely on their own and Jenna even more so in The A-Word. I find it not only fun to write but also sort of fun and therapeutic!

Your trilogy of Anastasia books draw from historical events and figures. What draws you to the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia?

I have been hugely fascinated by Anastasia Romanov since about 7th grade when I read the biography Nicholas and Alexandra. The Romanov story is so enormously tragic that I just couldn't get enough of it! Pretty people on the wrong side of history; creepy sexual predator with enormous possibly supernatural powers bad guy Rasputin; Russia, which in general is enormous and dramatic and filled with this grand folklore; and Anastasia herself, because she was this beautiful and vivacious teenager who was gunned down before she could live her life. It is no surprise that she creeped into my fiction. (Along with genre fiction and my overall adoration of all stories Whedonesque.) Which resulted in a girl who thinks she's ordinary but who collides with a handsome, temporarily immortal hottie and learns that she is actually SPECIAL and can save the princess Anastasia who happens to be held captive by the Russian witch Baba Yaga. Uh, yeah. For those who haven't read yet, it's a trilogy, and it's complete now, so I would love you to dig in! It's definitely a genre-blending project and while it's not as well-known as some other YA fairy tale retellings (which it is in part), it has a small but very devoted fan base!

Would you ever write a story influenced by something that happened to your family, your relatives, in a time before you lived?

Yup! My Russian grandmother actually influenced some of the above, although only because she was gloriously unhappy. She was also a pretty unmotherly mother and some of her antics have definitely influenced a lot of what I write, including next year's book, Finding Paris.

Can you tell us more about Finding Paris?

Finding Paris comes out from Balzer and Bray on April 21st, 2015. I think the cover is almost ready but it isn't yet as I type this. It's my first non-paranormal YA and is a contemporary road trip/mystery/sister story that was inspired by something that happened to me on a road trip from Dallas to Houston. It's dark and twisty and there's a cute boy named Max and some very dark secrets and a narrator named Leo, whose full name is Leonora. It starts in Vegas, heads to LA, and ends somewhere else entirely. For now, that's what I'll tell you.

Which authors and artists have influenced you as a writer?

So many! But some of my top influences include: Libba Bray, Emily Lockhart, Maggie Stiefvater, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I've yet to visit Texas, which is your stomping ground. Tell me about a place that I simply must see there.

Austin. Definitely. Pretty much everything about it, including but not limited to the Congress Street bats and the food trucks and the music scene.

Houston, because I live here. And it's actually the 4th largest city in the US. Plus we have NASA. And shockingly good restaurants. And the best guac ever. Plus the Livestock and Rodeo every March. Come for that.

Dallas. And all the Kennedy assassination sites. There's even an X on the street where he was shot. It's creepy and sad and I avoided seeing it for years.

Barbecue in general. Look it up. Pick a few. I just ate lunch at City Market in Luling on the way home from the TLA conference in San Antonio with author Kristin Rae. It's so trippy, this smoke-filled bbq pit and all this meat! No plates, just butcher paper. It's like cave man eating. This primal thing.

The fake Eiffel Tower in Paris, Texas. It has a red cowboy hat. Also, this may be a slight spoiler for one of my books.

That's a small start. It's a big state.

What are your ten favorite books of all time?

Geez! 10? I have like a million. And the list changes frequently. But 10 that will probably stick around for a long time: The Great Gatsby, Little Women, A Wrinkle in Time, The World According to Garp, Outlander, Fault in Our Stars, Half Magic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Hunger Games, and MORE YA BOOKS THAN I CAN NAME!

The Sweet Dead Life was released on May 13th. The official book launch was held in Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston. The book is available in stores and online internationally!

Click here to check out Joy Preble's website.

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