Behind the Book – CROAK, Chapter #9


Behind the Book is an ongoing series wherein I tackle a new chapter of Croak each week and give you all of the secret, behind-the-scenes tidbits and trivia that went into writing it. For an archive of past chapters, click here. To read the spoilers, highlight the blank spaces marked with <<hi>>; proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read the entire book. Enjoy!

Chapter 9: The Edgaring

  • Sometimes I get asked about what kind of research went into writing these books, and besides the standard “Well, I had to look up a lot of ways people can be killed, so I bet the FBI is after me, ha ha!” there was also a bit that had to be done regarding the historical figures in the Afterlife. I didn’t go too in-depth with any of them–I did not, for instance, investigate whether Abraham Lincoln was a fan of refereeing arm-wrestling matches, though I like to think that he was. But since the town of Croak is located in New York and is responsible for any deaths that occur in the eastern third of the US, I had to make sure that any historical figures that I included did in fact die in the eastern third of the US. That ruled out a whole bunch of people that I might have otherwise included, especially celebrities–<<who do get to make a brief appearance in Scorch, when the crew visits DeMyse.>>
  • In earlier drafts, the fluffy white stuff in the Afterlife had a highly original name–Fluff–and the Grims were able to remove it from the Afterlife, set it up in the field, and play in it like snow. Look, not everything can be gold.
  • Edgar Allan Poe has lost his cravat. A cravat is a “a short, wide strip of fabric worn by men around the neck and tucked inside an open-necked shirt.” I was worried that no one would know what that is, so here I have supplied the definition. Phew! I feel better.
  • The whole explanation of the Afterlife used to be a lot longer and a lot more complicated, and made a whole hell of a lot less sense. I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times: thank heaven for editing.
  • Elysia is named after the Elysian Fields, a version of the afterlife in Greek mythology.

Got any questions about Chapter 9? Post them below!

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It is time for me to bust a move.

2014-07-09 16.37.29

I am moving. Yay!

Into a nice house with a big yard. Yay!

Nestled in the scenic, lovely Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts. Yay!

Which is far away from Boston. Yay?

And I don’t know anyone. yayy

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. I am excited about getting a bigger office where I can turn an entire wall into one gigantic dry erase board. I like that my dog will have a lot of space to run around. I will enjoy the peace and quiet and nature and farmlands. I will probably not enjoy getting stuck in traffic behind a tractor, but that comes with the territory and I’m okay with it.

I’m somewhat less okay with the not-living-near-a-major-city thing (and the lawn-care-maintenance-terror thing, but that’s a whole other blog post), since I’ve lived near a major city for the past thirteen years and this will be the first time in a while that I’ve ventured out into the countryside. I think I’ll love it, really I do, but I’m also so drawn to the energy and life of a city that I worry I’ll look out over the vast, rural expanses of snow in the dead of winter and suddenly decide that it would be a good idea to chop up my family with an axe.

(That was a jokey reference to The Shining. I do not have any intention of chopping up my family with an axe. Unless they use permanent marker on my dry erase wall, in which case I cannot be held responsible for any axe-related actions.)

As for not knowing anyone, that’s tricky, too. Writing is already pretty isolating. And even though dressing up the pets and playing Battledog Catlactica is a fun way to simulate healthy social interaction, it gets a little old after the tenth time Starbuck coughs up a hairball.

So I will have to go out and meet people. I am cautiously optimistic about this, even though I am naturally shy. Throw me into a room full of strangers and I will suddenly become exclusively enthralled by the onion dip. (More so than usual, as I am enthralled by dips of all kinds, all of the time.) And when I do open my mouth, strange and unacceptable things come pouring out, like that time I cornered Maggie Stiefvater and started raving about a dismembered kelpie penis. But this time, I am READY. To be CHARMING. And NOT WEIRD.

So Pioneer Valley: be my friend. I will invite you over to my house. I will present you with a festive array of dips. And I will let you draw on my dry erase wall, with the appropriate markers. OR YOU WILL GET AN AXE TO THE FACE.

(I think it’s going well!)

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Behind the Book – CROAK, Chapter #8


Behind the Book is an ongoing series wherein I tackle a new chapter of Croak each week and give you all of the secret, behind-the-scenes tidbits and trivia that went into writing it. For an archive of past chapters, click here. To read the spoilers, highlight the blank spaces marked with <<hi>>; proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read the entire series. Enjoy!

Chapter 8: The Smackening

  • Kilda is named after St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. I visited it when I was living there, but it didn’t have any special connection to me–I just liked the name, and thought it fit with her perky personality.
  • The hub was originally as folksy and vintage as the rest of the Bank, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of it being cooler and futuristic. With the Smacks and the jellyfish and everything that happens in there–why shouldn’t it look like CTU?
  • Why the jellyfish? I get asked this a lot. The jellyfish because they satisfied all of the requirements for what I deemed to be the perfect death-sensor: a living thing grounded in this world but with an extrasensory twist, that lives all over the world, that has existed for eons, and that fits with the creepy, ethereal aesthetic of the Grimsphere. Plus, there’s just something unknowable about jellyfish, isn’t there? What are they planning?
  • Smacks look like Macs. Because PUNS.
  • Driggs mentions that his previous partner decided to go to business school instead of sticking around and becoming a Senior Grim. I had a whole plan to bring this kid back in subsequent books and give him some sort of earth-shattering plot development, but that never happened. Sorry, dude. Although he does serve as a nice bit of <<foreshadowing, re: Ayjay’s fate.>>
  • The passage where Uncle Mort acts all nonchalant about Lex’s natural abilities is a good example of him knowing so much more than he lets on, but not saying anything. If you’ve read to the end of the series, you can tell here how many secrets he’s holding back.
  • Only one person has called me on this, but I’m going to bail myself out right now from any future mistake-finders: I am aware that there are no Boston Red Sox games that are played that early in the morning (11:54am). Except there actually is: the one that occurs on the same day as the Boston Marathon. It starts at 11am, allowing it to end with enough time for the crowd to leave the park and watch the runners go by. (I did both this year, and not surprisingly I found the marathon infinitely more enjoyable than the baseball game.) But the scene in the book takes place in the summer, not April. So I used a little bit of creative license here. Sorry, baseball.
  • Hey there, <<potted plant! See you again in Scorch, when you become a whole lot more important!>>

Got any questions about Chapter 8? Post them below!

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Interview with Diana Renn, author of LATITUDE ZERO – plus giveaway!

Remember back when I was an Apocalypsie, just a fresh-faced 2012 debut YA author with a song in my heart and a half-deflated balloon in my hand? Well, Diana Renn was too (probably without the balloon), and here we both still are, still publishin’ books. Her newest YA novel, LATITUDE ZERO, came out last month, and here she is to chat about bikes, condors, and Spongebob Squarepants.

LatitudeZero_JK_1P.inddGive us the LATITUDE ZERO spiel.

LATITUDE ZERO is a murder mystery involving bicycling culture. It starts out in New England, where 17-year-old Tessa Taylor “bandit rides” with her boyfriend on a cancer-fundraising bike race. She makes a bad decision and causes a crash that leads to the death of Ecuadorian cycling start Juan Carlos, a guy she happens to know through Jake. But clues emerge to suggest there may be more to Juan Carlos’s death than she first thought. Struggling with her own grief and guilt, she tries to get to the truth, and ends up investigating in Ecuador, going undercover as a bicycle advocacy volunteer. She’s soon in over her head, though, as the people behind Juan Carlos’s death are suddenly after her too.

Being as cryptic, spoiler-free, and out-of-context as you can, what is your favorite scene in the book?

I’m really proud of my bike crash scene. People who ride seriously have asked me if I was personally involved in such a crash. I’ve never been in a crash myself (yet!) so I’m glad that I was able to capture the adrenaline rush and fear and disorientation Tessa experiences when she goes down and surveys the aftermath.

Pick a character and tell me how you came up with their name.

Juan Carlos Macias-Leon is my Ecuadorian cycling star. I picked fairly common names for him, but he is most often referred to by his nickname, “el Condor,” which is the official bird of Ecuador. He’s earned this nickname because of his ability to attack hills — soaring up and flying down — and the grace with which he rides his bike. At one point Tessa compares el Condor to her boyfriend, Jake. Jake rides his bike like a machine, but el Condor rides the air.

DianaRenn_AuthorPhoto_1And now it’s time to blatantly steal from Inside the Actors Studio. What sound or noise do you love?

Softly brewing coffee. It makes me think of ideas percolating in my head. Though of course, when I sit down to work, I realize it really was just coffee.

What sound or noise do you hate?

The closing song for Sponge Bob Square Pants. I have a young son, and occasionally need to rely on the little yellow guy (Sponge Bob, that is) to occupy him when I’m under tight deadlines. The closing credits mean my writing time is up – usually just when I’m on a roll or about to solve a problem!

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I often wish I’d gone into film. I’d be a movie director. I love film, I tend to think and write visually, and as a result I sometimes have to remind myself not to over-describe when I write. I think the collaborative aspect of film production appeals to me too. That’s something I love about publishing, working creatively with a whole team.

Diana Renn writes contemporary mysteries for young adults. TOKYO HEIST (Viking/Penguin), an Indie Next Pick, was published in 2012, and her next novel from Viking , LATITUDE ZERO was released July 3, 2014. Diana has published numerous short stories and essays, and she is also the Fiction Editor at YARN (Young Adult Review Network), an award-winning online magazine featuring short-form writing for teens. Diana lives outside of Boston with her husband and young son. She is an avid cyclist.

Buy LATITUDE ZERO and TOKYO HEIST now on Amazon, and find Diana around the web on Facebook, Twitter, Sleuths Spies & Alibis, YARN (Young Adult Review Network), and her website.

But there’s more! Diana is giving away both a signed copy of LATITUDE ZERO plus a paperback of TOKYO HEIST! To enter, fill out the form below–and for a couple of added bonus entries, follow Diana on Twitter and/or like her on Facebook. Good luck!

Contest closed. Congrats to the winner, Ella M.!

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Behind the Book – CROAK, Chapter #7


Behind the Book is an ongoing series wherein I tackle a new chapter of Croak each week and give you all of the secret, behind-the-scenes tidbits and trivia that went into writing it. For an archive of past chapters, click here. To read the spoilers, highlight the blank spaces marked with <<hi>>; proceed at your own risk if you haven’t read the entire book. Enjoy!

Chapter 7: The Oreoing

  • Only seven chapters in, and we’re already getting into spoiler alert territory. First hint that <<Zara is the bad guy: Lex would get into trouble for wanting to pursue the murderer she saw, but that’s not why Zara is stopping her from bringing it up to Uncle Mort. Now that she’s seen Lex in action, she’s realized they share the same sort of vengeful tendencies, and that she might be able to lure Lex over to the dark side. >>
  • “Lex frowned, but lowered the sugar bowl she had readied.” I think in the first draft, she threw it anyway, shattering it against the wall. Lex used to be a lot more violent, if you can imagine it.
  • Additionally, once she and Driggs got up onto the roof, Lex originally threw her slice of pizza at him. It was pointed out to me that if she were really as hungry as she is, she wouldn’t be hurling her dinner off the roof like that. So I changed it, because pizza is indeed a sacred, holy thing. And should only be thrown onto roofs, not off them.
  • As mentioned in the previous chapter, the << Ghost Gum tree has a nest in it.>> It is mentioned again in this one. That’s because I knew I would be using it for something important in the next book, though I did not yet know what.
  • The deal with <<Driggs’s parents,>> however: I knew exactly. There’s a reason this whole conversation is so squirrelly. Only had to get through two more whole books to reveal why.
  • The real reason I made Driggs addicted to Oreos: <<so that he could be that much more devastated that he couldn’t eat them when he became a ghost. The Croak trilogy: brought to you by sadism.>>
  • I have yet to find a guy–and a teenage one at that–who will cop to loving Titanic. So I made one up instead. But there must be some of you out there! Reveal yourselves!

Got any questions about Chapter 7? Post them below!

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July Sharky Awards

In my ever-evolving quest to recognize the books that I read and enjoy (but without writing reviews (because I am terrible at that)), I give out awards that highlight some of my favorite things about the books I’ve read over the past month. And since my bookmark is a shark–a bookshark, if you will–I call them the Sharkys. Here we go.

Most Haunting
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, by Aimee Bender
I’d been meaning to read this one for years, but I couldn’t tell you why. I think I’d heard that it was good, but I don’t remember from who, and I didn’t know much about the story before I dove in. (Is there anyone else out there who prefers it that way? I hardly ever read book jackets or summaries before I start a book, so terrified am I of spoilers. I suppose in this sense, I literally do judge a book by its cover. I’M SUCH A CLICHÉ.) And I imagine that this book would not strike a chord with everyone, but man, with me it struck a chord that I didn’t know I needed struck. The story itself is a long, slow burn, with a small but jarring reveal at first (when the main character eats food, she can taste the emotions of the person who made it), then a second mystery that only reveals itself in tiny glimpses along the way. Likewise, my attitude towards it also changed in tiny increments as I went on: I first thought it was weird, boring, meh…then creepy, depressing, disturbing…and by the time I finished, it had graduated all the way to Haunting with a capital Letter. It even went so far as to unlock the Full Body Goosebumps Achievement with its very last line, a rare reading perk that I constantly covet. Good, good stuff.

Worst Time For A Flight Attendant To Make a Loud, Lengthy Announcement
During my reading of the last page of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Could you not see that I was having a meaningful literary moment, lady? I know the list of connecting flights was extensive, what about my needs? THEY DON’T START AND END WITH A BAG OF PEANUTS.

Best Epiphany Involving a Seemingly Pointless Mode of Transportation
The moving sidewalks in airports
…actually do come in handy when you have exactly one minute to get to that connecting flight gate that’s three minutes away that, okay, thankfully, the flight attendant announced ahead of time. They also function nicely as a super-fast runway show, displaying to all of the other fliers what a disgusting, high-speed mess of a traveler (and runner) you are.

Worst Reason to Tear Through An Airport Like A Rabid Bat
To catch a flight that will end up being delayed for another twenty minutes.
You know what’s fun? Taking a sweaty seat on an airplane, gulping down breath after breath of recirculated air, only to receive the announcement that the pilot hasn’t arrived yet from his connection. Pilots, it turns out, are too damn high and mighty to sprint down a moving sidewalk at speeds that would knock down a small child. Something about dignity, I guess?

Whatever. I stole the Skymall.

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