I am SO SO SO excited about Day 3 of the 8 Days of Chanukah giveaway, because it brings with it one of my very favorite people on the entire planet. Maggie Hall is my critique partner, cover designer, everything-else designer, confidant par excellence, and all-around lifemate, but more importantly to the rest of you, she’s the author of the incredibly fabulous international thrillogy that begins with her January 13, 2015 release, The Conspiracy of Us.
I sent Maggie a bajillion questions, and she answered some, and is giving away a an ARC (festively pictured). And, as with all the other giveaways, it’ll be accompanied by a relevant bookmark, in this case, a signed one for Under the Lights, by me, because she is so freaking talented, she designed the thing.
1. You have one of those incredibly rare publication stories people love to hate – selling your very first book, in a three-book deal, to a big six. But obviously it’s not as easy as it sounds! Upon reflection, what was the most challenging part of the process?
I think the most challenging part was that I was so early in my writing career, I was still learning a lot about the craft of writing and myself as a writer at the same time I was learning about being published, and edited, and all the rest. Of course, I’m still learning, and all writers will forever be learning, but I sometimes feel like the process might have been easier if I had a little more writing experience under my belt before being published. Not that I’m not thrilled it worked out as it did! I feel very lucky.
2. Your trilogy is so different from what’s already out there for teens. What inspired you to write international thrillers? And what can you tell us about yours?
Honestly, I just wanted to write what I want to read. I love-love-love international thrillers as a genre: Travel! Action! Life-or-death stakes! But though there are a ton of adult international thrillers (if you’re not familiar with the genre, think DaVinci Code and James Bond), it’s not a genre that has really crossed into YA much. I wished these kind of adventure novels existed in a space where they crossed over with what I love about YA (high emotional stakes in addition to physical, more time spent on characters, lots of kissing…) 🙂 and though there are some books that get close, there was nothing quite like what I was looking for, so I decided to write it.
So THE CONSPIRACY OF US is pretty much exactly what I want to read. Lots of danger and action. Lots of romance. Lots of travel and glamour. Really high personal and public stakes. And a conspiracy that I’ve always found fascinating.
3. You yourself are quite the world traveler! How have your travel experiences informed your writing and do you have a favorite location? What’s at the top of your travel wishlist?
My travel experiences have hugely informed my writing. The internet obviously has tons of resources for research, but there’s nothing quite like standing on the street exactly where your MC stands, looking up at the building she looks at in the book, and hearing what she hears, smelling what she smells…I think having visited the settings in the book really helped me envision the story going on there in a deeper way.
Two of my favorite cities are in CONSPIRACY: Paris and Istanbul! Paris almost seems like a copout, because who doesn’t love Paris? But I recently got to spend a month there really learning the city as both a tourist and a “local,” and I can’t wait to go back. There’s an energy to Paris that isn’t quite the same anywhere else.
And Istanbul is just such a rich city. It’s a city of contrasts and history, and at the time I visited, it was the first city I’d been to that wasn’t entirely in the “Western world” and the combination of that and the intense beauty of the city is almost overwhelming.
I’ve recently gotten to spend a lot of time in Asia and a little in North Africa, which were both high on my list, so I’d say now my next priority is South America! I’d really love to see Brazil and Argentina and Uruguay and Colombia and Chile…and all of it!
4. When you think of Thrillers, what/who is on your “Must-Read” list?
I read a lot of adult thrillers. I love James Rollins and Steve Berry—they’re my go-tos in terms of international thrillers these days. They do a great job combining history and conspiracy with adventure—it’s right up my alley! Of course, there doesn’t tend to be as much kissing in those books as I prefer…
5. I know you’re definitely a tough one to please when it comes to main characters. What traits make you love or hate a MC, and who stands out among your faves?
It’s true! I am really tough on characters, though I feel like I’ve relaxed my standards a little bit. I think I used to get annoyed when characters did things I myself thought were stupid. Maybe it’s that I’ve been writing more and have come to understand that even my characters don’t do everything I would do, or maybe it’s that I’ve come to see MCs as more human, but I feel like I’m okay with that now.
One caveat, though: I would say I understand and appreciate a larger variety of characters these days, but I still prefer to read about people I LIKE. I want to read characters I’d want to be friends with. I know that isn’t the case for every reader, and that’s okay! But it’s what I enjoy. So if an MC consistently makes decisions I think are so stupid I want to smack her every chapter, or if she’s just not a nice person, I get it, and understand her as a person! But she’s not going to be my favorite-ever character—I am not the audience for unlikable characters.
Karou from the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series stands out for me as one I like. She’s tough but vulnerable enough that I both connect with and admire her. I feel like some characters people love are almost too cool and badass for me—I couldn’t picture being that together at sixteen, so I don’t connect as much as I could. I like connecting. Like recently, one MC I’ve loved is Isla from Isla and the Happily Ever After. I found her so relatable. She’s her own person, not a pushover, not a badass, but also is so obviously a real teenager. Even when I wanted to smack her and tell her she was being an idiot, it was in such a real teenage way to me that I felt like we’d be friends.
So I guess the short version of that long answer is that if I’m going to spend many hours inside someone’s head and living their life, I prefer it to be someone I enjoy!
6. What do you do when you’re not writing future best sellers?
I travel a lot. As you (and probably many of your readers) know, I just spent a year traveling around the world with my husband. Before that I’d been a bunch of places, too, and it probably won’t be too long before I take off again—somehow I can never seem to stay in one place for too long!
I have also been doing a lot of design work lately—especially book covers. (I’ve done a few for this awesome YA/NA author named Dahlia Adler—ever heard of her?) So that’s been an exciting new direction for me.
Other than that…I drink a lot of wine, and do crafty stuff that involves spray painting things gold, and cook a bunch, and watch a lot of CW TV shows.
7. What’s on your TBR for 2015?
Oh wow. You don’t have enough space on this page for everything on my TBR list. Can I just say literally every 2015 debut? I may be biased, but holy crap is 2015 going to be a good year for books.
And then there are the books I’ve already had the privilege to read that are releasing in 2015, like Gina Ciocca’s LAST YEAR’S MISTAKE, Kim Liggett’s BLOOD AND SALT, Katie Stout’s HELLO, I LOVE YOU, Virginia Boecker’s THE WITCH HUNTER, Cat Doyle’s VENDETTA, and oh yeah, an awesome Hollywood contemp called UNDER THE LIGHTS. 😉 And so many more…I’m drowning in great books! I guess that’s a good problem to have.
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-conspiracy-of-us-maggie-hall/1119671351?ean=9780399166501
The giveaway for the ARC/bookmark is US only, because I’m not providing the ARC, but the book releases in less than a month, so if you’re international and you win, you’ll receive a finished copy via Book Depository instead!