Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

A WINDOW INTO YA: Q + A with 3 2015 “WHITE PINE” NOMINEES (Part 1)

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Susan Hughes

Welcome to November’s kid lit blog! A few weeks ago, the Ontario Library Association announced its list of book nominations for the wonderful Forest of Tree awards. What happens next? Kids and adults — about 1/4 million of them! — across the province begin to voraciously read the books in the categories that interest them. In April they cast their vote for their favourites. In May, the winners are announced at an exciting two-day festival in Toronto and at other locations around Ontario.

Three of the 10 nominated books for the 2015 White Pine nominees for YA fiction are Tag Along by Tom Ryan, The Opposite of Geek by Ria Voros, and Rush by Eve Silver — and the three authors have agreed to answer some questions for me about writing YA.

First, the introductions:
Tom Ryan, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has written four books for young readers. Find more information about Tom and his books at www.tomwrotethat.com.

Ria Voros is the author of award nominated YA and middle grade books. She lives in Nanaimo, BC and can be found online at www.riavoros.com and at her blog, www.forkandfiction.com.

National bestselling author Eve Silver has written three novels for young adults and 13 novels for adults. She lives with her gamer husband and sons, two dogs, and a ball python named Ragnar sometimes in Canada but often in worlds she dreams up.

And now, let’s get to it!

SUSAN:

Tom and Eve, did your novels begin with an idea about character, plot, or setting?

TOM:

I’ve always loved books with multiple main characters, and I wanted to take a crack at writing a story that followed a few protagonists over the course of one evening. I also knew that I wanted one of them to be openly gay and proud of it, as opposed to the closeted protagonist in my first book, Way To Go. When Roemi, out and proud, jumped into my mind almost fully formed, I knew I had something. His story practically told itself, and the rest of the characters developed from there.

EVE:

Rush had a number of inspirations and start points. Gaming and gamer culture played a role. I don’t consider myself a gamer. My first system and games, Donkey Kong Country on Super Nintendo with the mineshaft and the treetops and the saw blades was a blast. But I’m more of a game spectator than a gamer. My husband and sons are gamers, and my role is more observer than player. I sit on the couch watching these games unfold and I guess I absorb term and concepts. I decided I needed to write a book that incorporated gaming.

At the same time, both writer pal Morgan Rhodes and my agent Robin said, “Aliens,” when I ran a couple of possibilities past them, so I laughed and said, “Aliens it is.” I combined aliens, gaming, high stakes, action and romance with a heroine haunted by grief and depression, a girl who feels the needs to always be in control forced to become part of a team in order to survive. And Rush was born.

SUSAN:

Ria, what about you? How did your idea for The Opposite of Geek begin? When you decide it would be a series of poems — and why?

RIA:

I write poetry as well as prose, so a verse novel was natural for me because I love the idea of smashing the two together to see what comes of it. From the start, I wanted the book to be about poetry — how it can enhance a long narrative as well as how poetry can affect the reader’s (and the main character, Gretchen’s) relationship with the story. That was where the initial idea came from: I wanted to write a verse novel about how poetry helps us reflect on and discover our identity and how it can be therapeutic. In that sense, the book started with a concept, not a specific plot or character.

SUSAN:

Did each of you map out your whole story, beginning to end, and then follow through on your outline — or do you find your plot and characters evolve as you write?

TOM:

Tag Along had a more complicated structure than anything else I’d ever written. Instead of one main protagonist, there are four, and chapters alternate between their perspectives. Since the four story-lines weave together as the evening, and the story, progresses, it was important to do some serious plotting before I started writing. A lot of stuff changed as I moved between drafts, but that initial road map was crucial to keeping the train on the tracks.

RIA:

I try to be really organized and write outlines and notes on characters because it makes me feel more in control, but at some point the writing usually goes in a new direction and I need to just go with it. Generally I have a fair idea of what’s going to happen for the first half, but after that it gets murky. And the end is always a blackout until I get there. I think I knew when I started what was going to happen to James (no spoilers here), but not how Gretchen would deal with it.

EVE:

I’m what is known as a “pantser” — I write by the seat of my pants. I don’t outline or plot everything out in advance. I’ve tried various methods for plotting, planning and outlining and none work well for me. I’ve discovered that I have to just let the process work as it does, which means opening a document and starting to type. Usually, I don’t even know the characters’ names when I start. Rush was actually an exception to the rule. I knew the characters would be pulled into the game, that they would fight aliens to save mankind, that Miki was a Kendo champion and that her mom had recently died of cancer. For me, that was a lot more going in than I usually have.

I knew right from the start that Rush was just the beginning. My gut was telling me this story was too big for just one book.

SUSAN:

Each of you have written for age groups other than teens. What would you say the main difference is when you’re writing for teens? When you’re writing, how much do you keep the eventual reader of your story in mind?

TOM:

Whether I’m writing for younger kids, adults, or teens, everything hinges on the story and the characters. The biggest distinction when writing for different age groups is that the main characters tend to reflect the age of the audience I’m looking for. Beyond that, I don’t think my writing changes all that much. I try to just get out of the way and let the story happen.

RIA:

I need to explore dark and difficult issues no matter the age of the audience. Both the The Opposite of Geek and my middle grade book, Nobody’s Dog, deal with the subject of death, for example. But there is a certain edge to YA that I think is important to reflect the stretching and exploring of that time in life, and I find I can go deeper into the darkness when I write YA. In fact, in some ways, teens go deeper than adults, so there are fascinating possibilities for a writer there.

EVE:

I pour everything I have into every story I write and aim to write the best book I can. I aim for compelling characters and tight plots. I’d say the one special consideration I kept forefront in my thoughts as I wrote this series for teens was to keep adult perspective from creeping into the story.



End of Part I
Stay tuned to Open Book to hear the end of Susan's conversation with Tom, Ria and Eve!

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