Interview: Shirley Vernick
Current Mood: awake
Current Song: Sister by Andrew Belle
While I was watching the trailer for Shirley Vernick's latest book, The Black Butterfly, two regular customers wandered into the bookstore and asked what I was watching. I showed them the video and told them I was preparing to interview the author. They immediately wanted to know the author's identity and the book's premise. Then they contributed interview questions, which I've marked with our initials so you know who's who. LW is me, Little Willow; JY is the one with the cool yellow high-tops; RF is not R.F. Simpson from Singin' in the Rain, but I'll have to ask her the next time she comes in if she likes that film as much as I do! In the meantime, let's learn about the ghosts and hosts behind Shirley Vernick's brand-new YA novel, The Black Butterfly...
Question from JY: Do you feel any emotional connection to your main character?
Yes! Like Penny, I felt like an outsider during high school, and I didn’t know how to break in. I mean, a complete body and personality transplant might have done the trick, but otherwise, no clue. Other traits Penny and I share: love of new foods, a bit of a wisecracking sense of humor, and a fear of flying in puddle-jumpers.
JY: What inspired you to set the story in Maine?
I wanted to put Penny way out of her comfort zone - and in a place she couldn’t easily run away from. So once I plucked her out of her familiar urban surroundings, a tiny island off the coast of frozen Maine seemed like the perfect place to plop her down.
RF: How did you come up with your title?
The Black Butterfly is the name of the inn where Penny is staying during the story. I selected the name because I like its contrasting qualities. I associate butterflies with lightness and warmth, while I connect the color black with the dark of winter and of supernatural beings. The story combines these attributes in ways I think readers will find compelling.
RF & LW: How did you come up with your character names?
I spend a lot of time picking out my characters' names. I’m not scientific about it; it just has to feel right. So Penny is a name I’ve always liked, and I know a bunch of Georges who are great guys. Rita seemed to fit for an older woman from another country. Bubbles - Blanche - is named in honor of my own mom. I found the name Blue on a list of early 20th-century names, and that timing is pertinent to his character.
RF: What prompted you to make it a love triangle?
The characters made me do it! Seriously. I put the characters together in an inn, each with their own personality, backstory and desires, and they demanded it.
LW: What's your favorite ghost story?
Charles Dickens' "The Signal Man" creeps me out in a deliciously eerie way. It's not just that there’s a ghost, it’s that the ghost presages terrible accidents, and you never know who’s going to be the next victim. It's real sleep-with-the-lights-on stuff.
LW: What's the key to plotting a suspenseful tale?
Start with characters that readers care about. Put them in danger of abruptly losing something significant. Add obstacles but also allow progress, so readers won't know what to expect next. Keep the stakes high, and keep the possibilities open - you don't want readers to know how it's going to end until it actually ends.
LW: What's the story behind the snow globe in the trailer?
First of all, I love snow globes. More to the point, the snow globe in the trailer symbolizes the happy, cozy side of winter and the holidays: home (however you define that), family, friends, and the security those things bring. This stands in sharp contrast to many of the things Penny encounters this winter: strange surroundings, isolation and danger.
JY: Would you ever write a sequel or prequel to The Black Butterfly?
I’d love to write a sequel - picking up the following summer when the characters reconvene at the inn during high tourist season.
LW: You posted on your Twitter that you treated yourself to a Miyazaki film festival. Which one is your favorite?
Wait, I can only pick one? Then I’d have to say Kiki’s Delivery Service. It’s a wonderful animation about a teenage witch who, as part of her training, must live alone for one year. She leaves her village for the big city, where she supports herself by starting a delivery service - after all, what’s a flying broom for, right? Along the way, she learns about herself, discovers new worlds, and meets a boy.
Check out my previous interviews with Shirley Vernick from 2011 and 2013.