What We Harvest: A Q&A with Ann Fraistat

We may be a bunch of scaredy-cats but even we couldn’t resist Ann Fraistat’s fantastic debut, What We Harvest! We loved it so much, we invited Ann over to answer a few questions.

Q&A with Ann Fraistat

Tell us a bit about What We Harvest! What inspired you?

What We Harvest is feminist YA folk horror about an idyllic small town being devoured by a mysterious blight – one that infects not only crops, but animals and people, too. And, more importantly, it’s about Wren, the sixteen-year-old girl fighting to save her farm and family against avalanching odds. Nature has turned against her community, disease devastates her neighbors and comes for her own family, and the American dream she once believed in has turned to ash in her hands. Still, Wren strives to unearth her town’s deep-buried rot, and to rebuild a healthier future.

The deeper themes came from the reality we’ve lived with over the past several years. But this specific story? Honestly, I was between projects at the time. Deeply burned out. And an image from a dream stuck with me: this glimmering field of rainbow-colored wheat. I sat down to explore it as a freewriting exercise, which started as a paragraph and eventually snowballed into an entire book.

I think it flowed so organically because, as it turned out, this was the story I needed to hear. All of it. The horror. The beauty. The endless grit of its characters, and the innate hope to be found in that perseverance.

Now, I hope this story can give readers what they need, too.

How weird was it writing a book about a spreading disease during a pandemic? Did what was happening in real life change the way you approached the plot?

Honestly, weird. Really weird. I actually drafted What We Harvest in 2019, pre-COVID. So, by the time I was editing this book in the fall of 2020, it was a much eerier experience.

In the first chapter, Wren is exposed to the quicksilver blight because of confusion over government-issued guidelines. She doesn’t realize she needs to be wearing a mask while working with infected plants – and that was baked into this book from the start. The first draft had also already incorporated the quarantine in Hollow’s End, and so many moments that now land more intimately than I could’ve anticipated: the grief that comes with lost opportunities for togetherness, the terror of testing positive, and the temptation to downplay the likelihood of infection (not only by the person experiencing symptoms, but also by their surrounding loved ones).

So, yes, freakily enough, most of the major resonances with our real-life pandemic were in place from draft one. But COVID-19 did give me a clearer picture of what the day-to-day details might look like, those mounting little inconveniences that add up to a life and routine we no longer recognize. The signs taped to the windows in our own apartment complex’s lobby, scribbled over with ever-changing updates to hours and masking requirements, inspired a line about What We Harvest’s abandoned Main Street shops. The sudden switch to remote learning made me more fully appreciate how tough it would be for kids like Wren and Derek to be quarantined from their school across the bridge and to have to take their finals online – especially given the disastrous Wi-Fi of Hollow’s End, a rural and remote peninsula.

However, one thing I’m thankful for is that the quicksilver blight, a molten metal rot, is a very different beast from COVID-19. And I hope the splashier genre elements, and the inherent distance from reality they provide, offers a safer space for readers who need a catharsis without directly confronting personal experiences from the last couple of years.

What are some speculative fiction novels you love?

*takes incredibly deep breath* In alphabetical order: A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow; A Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix; Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis; Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power; Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft; Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters; House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland;  Mexican Gothic by Silvia Morena-Garcia; Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand; Small Favors by Erin A. Craig; The Dead and the Dark by Courtney Gould; The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson; When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Maria McLemore . . . I am going to physically restrain myself now.

The book has real Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibes. And that movie has famously been read as a parable for near everything. Was the “blight” in your book inspired by any real-world social issues?

Oh, definitely! But, like the body snatchers in Invasion, the quicksilver blight isn’t meant to neatly map to one specific issue. To throw another horror movie into the mix, are you familiar with the concept behind Ju-On: The Grudge? The monster there is a literal curse, one created when a person dies in the throes of extreme rage or sorrow. An emotion made manifest. Similarly, the blight represents embodied sin. Past sin. Buried sin – which can only stay buried so long. The kind which will consume us all, unless we take the time to understand and address it.

The blight is meant to suggest that the sins of the past are still very much with us in the present. Racism, inequity, pollution, to name a few. And the book at large invites us to examine: what is the price of our own dreams, and who is paying it? Have we taken the time to root out the blight in our own soil? Are we doomed to plant our futures on poisoned ground?  How do we do better and move forward?

What We Harvest is not without a few gory sequences: how do you decide what to “show” and what to “tell” in terms of blood and guts?

Agh, this is such a fine line! Somebody’s “meh, not scary” is another person’s “whoa, way too much!” For me, the most gruesome horror is in the details. The super intense close-ups. Ultimately, I try to return to the question: what serves the story? Does this detail create a meaningful emotional response for the character observing it? If so, I’ll try to show it.

But I have sometimes softened descriptions based on collective feedback from beta readers and critique partners. In terms of what is or isn’t too intense, it’s helpful to get the opinion of people who spend less time playing around in fictional nightmare-worlds!

It’s also a very funny book at times – what do you feel is the relationship between horror and humor?

Oh, I’m so glad you asked this! Not sure people expect this from a YA horror author, but my roots are in comic playwriting. So, I love comedy. And, in fact, as the mastermind Jordan Peele has discussed at greater length with greater words: comedy and horror are more alike than they seem. They both rely on the suspense of not knowing what comes next, they both provoke visceral bodily responses, and they both speak in hyperbole – exaggerating an aspect or two of reality in order to point at deeper truths.

People sometimes dismiss humor as creating distance between a fictional world and its audience, but when used well, I believe it’s actually an invaluable bonding opportunity. Nothing opens people’s hearts like humor. It can allow an audience to feel more deeply for characters and their stories, not less.

For me, the only trick of blending horror and humor is making sure to place jokes in the right spots, so the scares stay scary. Otherwise, I’d say they’re a perfect marriage!

What’s your number one piece of writing advice (either that you give people or that you’ve received)?

Embrace your inner weirdo. Which is really just a more fun way to say: don’t self-censor. I spend a lot of time battling perfectionism and that adorable inner voice that likes to question the worth of what I create. While drafting, I wondered many times if this book, with its iridescent wheat and molten metal blight, was too strange. But those turned out to be elements that so many people connect to! Precisely because, yep, they are strange.

What are you working on next?

My upcoming book is another standalone YA horror/supernatural thriller. It’s a mental health recovery story set against the backdrop of a haunted house, full of seances and mysterious masks, and crawling with bugs and blue roses. Very excited to share more about that soon!

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

So, at the height of the pandemic, my husband and I embarked on a crusade to discover the best ever chocolate chip cookie recipe. We were planning to try out a bunch. Then we made Doubletree’s and stopped right there. Because they were perfect.

We’ve been making them (probably way too often) ever since: https://newsroom.hilton.com/static-doubletree-reveals-cookie-recipe.htm.

Credit: Doubletree Hilton

Incidentally, I also discovered during the pandemic that I’m gluten-intolerant, but you can make this recipe gluten-free by subbing the flour out for: 1.25 cup oat flour, 1 cup of one-to-one gluten-free flour blend (I recommend Better Batter!).

Thanks for joining us, Ann! What We Harvest is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore. And keep an eye out for an Instagram Live with Ann in April!

What We Harvest
By Ann Fraistat
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593382165 | Delacorte Press
Wren owes everything she has to her hometown, Hollow’s End, a centuries-old, picture-perfect slice of America. Tourists travel miles to marvel at its miracle crops, including the shimmering, iridescent wheat of Wren’s family’s farm. At least, they did. Until five months ago. That’s when the Quicksilver blight first surfaced, poisoning the farms of Hollow’s End one by one. It began by consuming the crops, thick silver sludge bleeding from the earth. Next were the animals. Infected livestock and wild creatures staggered off into the woods by day – only to return at night, their eyes fogged white, leering from the trees. Then the blight came for the neighbors. Wren is among the last locals standing, and the blight has finally come for her, too. Now the only one she can turn to is her ex, Derek, the last person she wants to call. They haven’t spoken in months, but Wren and Derek still have one thing in common: Hollow’s End means everything to them. Only, there’s much they don’t know about their hometown and its celebrated miracle crops. And they’re about to discover that miracles aren’t free. Their ancestors have an awful lot to pay for, and Wren and Derek are the only ones left to settle old debts.

Ann Fraistat: website | twitter | instagram

Finding Her Edge: A Q&A with Jennifer Iacopelli

When we heard Jennifer Iacopelli’s  latest book, Finding Her Edge, was a retelling of one of our fave Jane Austen novels, we had to know more. Read on for our Q&A with Jennifer!

Q&A with Jennifer Iacopelli

Tell us a bit about Finding Her Edge! What inspired you?

Finding Her Edge is a story about a young ice dancer, Adriana Russo, who comes from a legendary figure skating family. I drew my inspiration from two places. First, during the 2018 Olympics when all the media attention was on Virtue and Moir, the Canadian ice dancers and everyone insisted that they were together romantically, even when they kept denying it (and it turns out they weren’t!). I wanted to explore the potential toxicity of something like that happening, especially to younger skaters who maybe don’t quite have the same control over their careers as those two did!

Second, my favorite book is Jane Austen’s Persuasion and I’ve always wanted to do a retelling and there was something about the hierarchy of figure skating and that world that really lent itself to the foundations of that story and the strict hierarchy of Regency England!

Who is your favorite ice dancer/figure skater?

My all time favorite figure skater is Michelle Kwan. I regularly go back to watch her programs from years past. She’s just a few years older than me, so I feel like she’s inspired me for decades now! More recently, I’ve become such a fan of Nathan Chen. His brilliant skates in Beijing notwithstanding, his story is amazing and his comeback after all that pressure was put on him in 2018 to win, was seriously mind blowing!

Michelle Kwan in action.

You follow Persuasion quite closely, did you ever feel tempted to change or update some of the story beats?

I didn’t! It all seemed to fit really well and Persuasion isn’t nearly as popular as Austen’s other novels, so I felt like it made sense to stick with the plot as much as possible, despite it being pretty disguised by the ice dance of it all. If I’d been working on a Pride and Prejudice or Emma retelling, I probably would have messed with the story beats quite a bit more.

Break the Fall is about a gymnast, Finding Her Edge is about an ice dancer – what sport will you write about next?

We’ll see! For my next full length novel, I have a few ideas, but right now it looks like I might be headed to the world of ballet. And I just finished working on a short story for my upcoming anthology co-edited with Dahlia Adler about fastpitch softball!

Related: are you athletic? What’s your favorite sport?

I am decently athletic, mostly because I have good hand-eye coordination. I played sports in high school, but nothing at a super high level. My favorite sport of all time is baseball and I miss it so much right now it hurts!

If you could write a modern version of any other classic novel, what would it be? What genre would you rewrite it as?

I’ve always wanted to write an updated version of  William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair because it’s so juicy and delicious. Becky Sharpe is such a delightfully awful main character and I think it would play very, very well with a contemporary audience, but I also think it would have to be an adult novel to hit the right tone.

A scene from the 2007 adaptation of Persuasion.

What’s your number one piece of writing advice (either that you give people or that you’ve received)?

Always and forever, write the thing that you want to read. It will keep you motivated and you’re guaranteed to write something that at least one person in the world wants on their bookshelf (and if there’s one, there are many, many more!)

What are you working on next?

Right now I’m playing around with a few ideas. The first, that ballet story I mentioned earlier and I’ve got this super fun idea for a contemporary YA about a rock band, but that’s very much just a nugget of an idea that needs time to marinate.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

Right now, I’d be absolutely lost without my sandwich press. I bought a super cheap one and it makes the most perfect grilled cheese, brown and crispy on the outside and very melty on the inside!

Thanks for joining us, Jennifer! Finding Her Edge is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

Finding Her Edge
By Jennifer Iacopelli
304 Pages | Ages 12+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780593350362 | Razorbill
Adriana Russo is figure skating royalty. With gold-medalist parents, and her older sister headed to the Olympics, all she wants is to live up to the family name and stand atop the ice dance podium at the Junior World Championships. But fame doesn’t always mean fortune, and their legendary skating rink is struggling under the weight of her dad’s lavish lifestyle. The only thing keeping it afloat is a deal to host the rest of the Junior Worlds team before they leave for France. That means training on the same ice as her first crush, Freddie, the partner she left when her growth spurt outpaced his. For the past two years, he’s barely acknowledged her existence, and she can’t even blame him for it. When the family’s finances take another unexpected hit, losing the rink seems inevitable until her partner, Brayden, suggests they let the world believe what many have suspected: that their intense chemistry isn’t contained to the ice. Fans and sponsors alike take the bait, but keeping up the charade is harder than she ever imagined. And training alongside Freddie makes it worse, especially when pretending with Brayden starts to feel very real. As the biggest competition of her life draws closer and her family’s legacy hangs in the balance, Adriana is caught between her past and present, between the golden future she’s worked so hard for, and the one she gave up long ago.

Also by Jennifer Iacopelli:

Break the Fall
By Jennifer Iacopelli
336 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780593114193 | Razorbill
Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics. A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world. The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most – but not all the gymnasts are as supportive. With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world? Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?

Jennifer Iacopelli: website | twitter | instagram

Both Sides Now: A Q&A with Peyton Thomas

Peyton Thomas just released his adorable and thought-provoking debut, Both Sides Now, and we’re so excited – it’s one of our #Penguin10 titles this fall! Peyton graciously dropped by the blog to answer some questions, so read on!

Q&A with Peyton Thomas

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Debate was my life in high school. I sacrificed a lot of weekends to arguing with total strangers. I traveled all over Canada for competitions, meeting kids from across the country, and sometimes from far beyond its borders, and yelling at them. I’m grateful for those experiences. They opened my mind, introduced me to new viewpoints, and made me a more empathetic and thoughtful person.

So I love debate, but I’m very wary of bad actors abusing it. There is, in particular, a trend of right-wingers hollering “debate me, bro!” at any marginalized person who asks to be left alone, please. Trans people are especially vulnerable to this kind of bad-faith bullying. I began to wonder: When is debate helpful? How is it abused? Is there a point where an intellectual exercise becomes a very real threat to a person’s well-being? Setting my story on the high school debate circuit allowed me to engage very literally with these questions.

How similar are you and Finch? Did you put any of your personality into other characters? Which character is the most “you”?

I’ve seen many a reviewer describe Both Sides Now as #OwnVoices – which is very funny, because Finch is the polar-whole-entire-opposite of my high school self! I didn’t come out until my mid-twenties; Finch figured it out in middle school. I was raised with a very conservative religious outlook, while Finch is pretty progressive. And I went to an all-girls’ school, which meant no hunks like Jonah roaming around. I spent a lot of time being quite sure that I liked boys, but less sure where I came down on girls – the exact opposite of Finch’s dilemma.

Maybe this is the best way to put it: Finch is the person I wish I’d been when I was younger. He’s just so sure of himself, in ways that I never was.

We do have a fair bit in common, though. We’re both on the shy side, but we still love a good argument. We’re hopeless romantics, although we’d never actually admit it. And we’re doing constant battle with our perfectionist streaks.

Ari Schechter is closer to who I was in high school. She’s questioning the worldview she grew up with, probing the gap between who she is and who her parents would like her to be. She’s very ambitious, but she’s vulnerable, too, in ways she doesn’t even realize. Can she be a jerk? Yes. But she can be so much more than that.

Did you ever have to debate heavy/personal topics in school? How difficult was it for you to get into Finch’s headspace to argue against his (and your) identity?

I spend a lot of time in Finch’s headspace, truth be told. I probably debate someone about my transness once a day. Many a trans person finds themselves constantly forced to justify their every decision – to their family, their friends, their never-ending supply of online trolls, whoever. We’re not always debating in a formal setting, like Finch, with a podium and a timekeeper, and a panel of judges. But we’re never really off the clock, either. It can be really exhausting.

And yet, there’s a reason we come back to these debates, time and time again: we want to win hearts, change minds; we know debate can do that. When I struggled, in high school, with a debate resolution, it was usually something that went against my religious and political beliefs. Abortion, maybe. Gay marriage. The wall that Israel built in the West Bank. I didn’t realize I could be wrong about these issues until I debated them.

Who would you cast as your characters in a movie adaptation?

Miles McKenna plays Finch on the cover of Both Sides Now, so he’s the obvious choice. The musician Cavetown also looks a lot like Finch. Oh, and my friend Tom Phelan, who was one of the first trans boys to play one on TV – as a teenager, he’d have been Finch from Central Casting. He’s a little too old to play Finch now, and way too punk rock. Alas.

This is your debut novel (congrats!) – what advice do you have for budding writers?

Hilary Mantel is one of my favorite authors. People like to ask her if she writes every day, or if she just waits for inspiration to strike. Her answer? “Of course I write every day, what do you think I am, some kind of hobbyist?” I regret to report that, in my experience, this is the only way to do it. Every day. Period. End of.

Before I became a full-time author of fiction, I wrote scripts for video games. That job was the first time I’d ever made a capital-L Living off of writing. It was also the first time I’d ever been required to write 10,000 words a week if I wanted to keep my job. Was it a grind? God, yes. Did it teach me how to meet my deadlines whether I felt ~inspired~ or not? Also yes.

So that’s my very simple advice. Get into a daily writing habit. Weekdays, weekends, holidays. Do it for fifteen minutes, or ten, or five. Come back to it, again and again, no matter how inspired you’re feeling. And see how sharp, vivid, alive your writing gets. Live for it.

What other LGBTQIA+ books/authors would you recommend for fans of Both Sides Now?

We’re in a real boom of books by trans men about trans men! Both Sides Now shares a debut year with The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitszimons, Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee, and May the Best Man Win by Z.R. Ellor, all of which I highly recommend.

I’d like to suggest, also, that my readers check out books by and about trans women. There seem to be fewer of these in YA, which is a real shame. Meredith Russo’s YA novel If I Was Your Girl is lovely, and I really loved Canadian author Hazel Jane Plante’s Little Blue Encyclopedia (for Vivian) – which isn’t YA, but probably won’t scandalize anyone in that age bracket. Kai Cheng Thom – also Canadian! – writes a lot of excellent non-fiction, including an advice column for Xtra that my readers should check out.

You write music reviews for Pitchfork and other outlets. What are some artists/songs you’re currently obsessed with?

I’m going to take this opportunity to be very sneaky and cryptic and embed my writing playlist for the next book I’m working on. https://tidal.com/browse/playlist/f033d1a0-f3fb-424c-9e30-251cb9bb6f39

Can any of you bright sparks piece together the plot based on the contents of this list? Let’s find out.

What are you working on now?

When I’m not reviewing Peppa Pig for Pitchfork, I’m working on a second book. Two hints, in addition to the playlist I linked above:

  1. The working title is “Two Slow Dancers”.
  2. You already know the characters.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe for peanut-butter pie. It takes ten minutes to make, and it’s ambrosial.

Thanks for joining us, Peyton! Both Sides Now is available now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

Did you miss Peyton’s launch at Glad Day Bookshop? Catch up on our Instagram or YouTube (includes captions):

And for our Canadian friends, you have until Tuesday, August 31 to enter this giveaway for a chance to win a copy of Both Sides Now!

Both Sides Now
By Peyton Thomas
300 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780735269750 | Penguin Teen Canada
There’s only one thing standing between Finch Kelly and a full-blown case of high school senioritis: the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Taking home the gold would not only be the pinnacle of Finch’s debating career, but the perfect way to launch himself into his next chapter: college in Washington, DC, and a history-making career as the first trans congressman. What could possibly go wrong? Well, for starters, Finch could develop a teeny tiny crush on his very attractive, very taken, and very gay debate partner, Jonah. Never mind that Finch has never considered whether he’s interested in more than just girls. And that dream of college in DC? Finch hasn’t exactly been accepted anywhere yet, let alone received the full-ride scholarship he’ll need to make this dream a reality. Worst of all, though, is this year’s topic for Nationals: transgender rights. If he wants to cinch the gold, and get into college, Finch might have to argue against his own humanity. People say there are two sides to every argument. But, as Finch is about to discover, some things – like who you are and who you love – are not up for debate.

Peyton Thomas: website | twitter

The Silver Blonde: A Q&A with Elizabeth Ross

Are you a classic film buff? Then you’ll love The Silver Blonde, the new historical mystery from Elizabeth Ross, set in 1940s Hollywood. Elizabeth graciously dropped by our blog to answer some questions:

Q&A with Elizabeth Ross

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

The Silver Blonde is a noir mystery set in post-war Los Angeles. I was inspired by my love of old Hollywood films, particularly the noir classics of the 40s and 50s – as well as my experience working in LA as a film editor. I thought it would be interesting to explores the themes common in film noir – deceit, alienation, complicity – and apply them to a YA character.

Who would you cast as your characters in a movie adaptation?

That’s a tough one to answer. When I was writing the novel I did have inspiration pictures of actors – but they were all from the classic Hollywood era. I thought of Clara as a young Ingrid Berman, natural but with poise and intelligence. I found a great shot of a young Jack Kerouac for Gil. Babe Bannon is a composite of Barbara Stanwyck for her acting chops and guts, Lauren Bacall for her husky voice and glamor, and Veronica Lake for her incredible hair.

What kind of research did you do to write The Silver Blonde? What’s the best/most interesting/weirdest thing you learned while researching?

I did a ton of research. One of the coolest things I got to do was visit the old nitrate vaults at Paramount studios. An editor friend who was working on the lot arranged the tour. When we were standing in that narrow vault she commented that it looked like a place you might find a dead body. That chance remark was a flash of inspiration and by the end of the first chapter, Clara does indeed find a dead body in the film vaults. Also during my research I was able to attend some screenings of nitrate film prints. When you think how we consume media nowadays – on a phone or tablet – seeing a nitrate print projected up on the big screen with an audience of film buffs, I was transported. I could understand why movie stars in the classic era had such allure and star power.

How was writing The Silver Blonde different than writing Belle Epoque? Do you have any writing advice you learned during the process (or writing advice in general)?

Both books were very different experiences. I have a theory that with each book you have to relearn how to write a novel – how to write that novel. With Belle Epoque I began writing with my plain Jane character, Maude, front and center. Having her clear voice in my head made the story come easier. With The Silver Blonde it was more of a concept – film noir – and it took time to find my main characters and their histories. I spent a lot of time researching and I had a couple of false starts, but ultimately unlocking the key to this novel I found to be more rewarding as it was hard-fought. The story took me to places I hadn’t imagined when I started out. It was an intense creative journey and it tested me as a writer. Advice: please yourself, you are the first reader. Try and turn off your inner critic and ideas of perfectionism.

The Silver Blonde is set in 1946 Hollywood. What’s your favorite Hollywood film from (or about) that era?

In the novel I include a filmography of some the films mentioned in the book including Hitchcock’s Notorious, starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant – such a great pairing. One of my favourite noir films is Gilda, starring the dazzling Rita Hayworth. Another superb film from this era – about the industry of Hollywood – is Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.

Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in “Notorious”.

The book is something of a mystery, too. What’s the trickiest thing about writing a compelling mystery?

Mystery was a new genre for me. What makes it challenging is that you’re writing two stories: the story on the page as the characters uncover clues and solve the puzzle; and the story off screen – what really happened. Nailing down the structure and sequence of events, as well as solving logic problems can be tricky. But when you do figure something out, it’s as thrilling as it is for your main character making the discovery.

Who are some of your favorite historical fiction authors?

I adore Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. How does she pull off that incredible story structure – it’s such a feat of storytelling. I’m currently reading Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, it’s totally bewitching. And at the top of my TBR pile is Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a TV screenplay adaptation of Belle Epoque. It’s still very much in the development stage. . .but stay tuned! And on the book front, I tend to write about places that are important to me. I spent time in Paris and Montreal, both of which provided inspiration for Belle Epoque; and of course living and working in LA inspired The Silver Blonde. I grew up in Scotland so I know there’s a Scottish story I need to tell. . . .

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

The Criterion channel. I haven’t gone to a movie theatre in over a year, so I have been devouring the treasure trove of classic and foreign films on Criterion. Recently I watched some amazing Japanese noir films – in particular High and Low by Kurosawa, starring the incredible Toshiro Mifune.

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! The Silver Blonde is out now, make sure you pick it up from your favorite bookstore!

The Silver Blonde
By Elizabeth Ross
400 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9780385741484 | Delacorte BFYR
Hollywood, 1946. The war is over, and eighteen-year-old Clara Berg spends her days shelving reels as a vault girl at Silver Pacific Studios, with all her dreams pinned on getting a break in film editing. That and a real date with handsome yet unpredictable screenwriter Gil. But when she returns a reel of film to storage one night, Clara stumbles across the authosumlifeless body of a woman in Vault 5. The costume, the makeup, the ash-blond hair are unmistakable – it has to be Babe Bannon, A-list star. And it looks like murder. Suddenly Clara’s world is in free-fall, her future in movies upended – not to mention that her refugee parents are planning to return to Germany and don’t want her to set foot on the studio lot again. As the Silver Blonde murder ignites Tinseltown, rumors and accusations swirl. The studio wants a quick solve, but the facts of the case keep shifting. Nothing is what it seems – not even the victim. Clara finds herself drawn, inevitably, to the murder investigation, and the dark side of Hollywood. But how far is she willing to go to find the truth?

Also by Elizabeth Ross:

Belle Epoque
By Elizabeth Ross
352 Pages | Ages 12+ | Paperback
ISBN 9780385741477 | Ember
When Maude Pichon runs away from provincial Brittany to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Desperate for work, she answers an unusual ad. The Durandeau Agency provides its clients with a unique service – the beauty foil. Hire a plain friend and become instantly more attractive. Monsieur Durandeau has made a fortune from wealthy socialites, and when the Countess Dubern needs a companion for her headstrong daughter, Isabelle, Maude is deemed the perfect adornment of plainness. Isabelle has no idea her new “friend” is the hired help, and Maude’s very existence among the aristocracy hinges on her keeping the truth a secret. Yet the more she learns about Isabelle, the more her loyalty is tested. And the longer her deception continues, the more she has to lose.

Elizabeth Ross: website | twitter | instagram

Off the Record: A Q&A with Camryn Garrett

We’re honored to have a guest post from the incredible Camryn Garrett today! Camryn is the author of Full Disclosure and the new Off the Record, both of which deal with heavy topics (HIV and #MeToo, respectively) and they’re well worth the read. Keep scrolling to hear a bit from Camryn herself!

Q&A with Camryn Garrett

Tell us a little bit about the book! What inspired you?

Off the Record is about a teen journalist named Josie who wins a contest to cover a press tour for a new movie, but while on her journey, she discovers a sexual assault scandal and must decide whether or not to use her voice to try to expose it.

As for what inspired me, I had really been wanting to write something about a teen journalist because I had that experience. With MeToo all over the news, I had been thinking about those stories and the way they were reported. There was a lot of emphasis put on the survivors who came out with stories first, but even when other celebrities, like Gwenyth Paltrow, shared their stories, they all seemed to be white. There were women like Salma Hayek and Lupita Nyong’o who also had Weinstein stories, but to me, they were reported almost as an afterthought. I wanted that to be addressed in the story; is it because there are less WOC who have been abused? Because they’re uncomfortable speaking with the (usually white) reporters? What dynamics are there?

You’ve said that this is your most personal book. How are you and Josie similar? Different? Do any of the other characters share parts of you? 

My friend picked up the book the other day and said, “I really feel like Josie is you.” It’s kind of embarrassing because it’s so personal. Josie and I both struggle with anxiety and fatphobia. When I was her age, I also wanted to leave my town, and I also was a teen journalist. Neither of us went to prom! We’re both into film and journalism. We both have rather interesting relationships with sisters. Her really horrible experiences in middle school were based on mine. There are many similarities.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’m as shy as she is. I had great friends in high school while she didn’t. I think she’s really great at establishing trust and soothing people, while I find it pretty difficult to be comforting. While she’s into film, I don’t think she actually wants to make them, whereas I do. My parents also never would’ve let me go on this adventure that she gets to experience!

I think all of my characters have some part of me, even if it’s just the ugly parts. I also relate a lot to Alice as a big sister. Even though she and Josie don’t really get along, I understand how hard it is to try to get along when you feel so different from your younger sibling. The awkward ways she tries to comfort and support Alice definitely stem from my interactions with my own sister.

The book also looks at “problematic faves” – have you personally had to reckon with any problematic faves of your own?

Yes, I think that’s something we all have to deal with! The problematic faves mentioned in the book were drawn from my own. I really love Hitchcock, but it’s also hard to forget how he treated his female leads, and I try to remind myself of that when I watch his work. I also love many movies Harvey Weinstein and Scott Rudin have produced. I think it feels more and more impossible to only watch work by “good” people when producers like Weinstein and Rudin really worked on everything. I don’t believe in separating the art from the artist, though I try to think really hard about who worked on films and how that influenced the way we not only see the movie in a cultural sense, but how the cast and crew were treated.

So far, your books have tackled the #MeToo movement and life as an HIV-positive teen. What other social issues (for lack of a better term) are you hoping to include in future YA novels?

I’m honestly not really sure yet! There are “big” issues I feel I can center books around, and then issues I try to sneak in, if that makes sense. Off the Record tackles #MeToo but also things like fatphobia and mental health. I really want to write about colorism, but I’m not sure if I could center an entire plot around that. Stay tuned!

How do you balance writing and school? Like Josie, do you struggle with people not taking you seriously because of your age, despite your talent?

I want to give a positive answer and say that I just schedule myself to death. But the truth is, even with my schedules, it can be really overwhelming at times. It’s finals season right now and I’ve definitely had a hard time balancing book stuff and college. That being said, it’s definitely more manageable when you aren’t releasing a book around midterms or finals!

I think some people in the actual industry might take me less seriously, but people I interact with daily tend to be a lot more impressed. I always forget how impressive my accomplishments are until I speak to one of my mom’s friends or let one of my professors in on my secret. They’re always so excited for me!

Normally, though, I don’t really tell any of my professors or classmates about my books. I don’t want it to color their perception of me. When my professor who doesn’t know about my books tells me that I’m really talented, it means so much, and I know it’s not just because they’re impressed by my writing.

Credit: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Who would be your dream person to profile? An actor, musician, artist, etc?

My dream person would probably be Stella Meghie. She’s a Black director from Canada who has made films like Everything Everything, Jean of the Joneses, and The Photograph. Right now she’s working on a biopic of Whitney Houston! She’s gotten so much amazing work since her debut film, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen for Black women in this field, and I love that she’s able to work in both the independent and studio worlds. I’d mostly want to talk to her for selfish reasons.

Pandemic question: What’s the one thing you just can’t live without these days?

The podcast WhoWeekly. I very eagerly anticipate it every week!

Thanks for joining us, Camryn! Off the Record and Full Disclosure are out now, make sure you pick them up from your favorite bookstore!

Off the Record
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829993 | Knopf BFYR
Ever since seventeen-year-old Josie Wright can remember, writing has been her identity, the thing that grounds her when everything else is a garbage fire. So when she wins a contest to write a celebrity profile for Deep Focus magazine, she’s equal parts excited and scared, but also ready. She’s got this. Soon Josie is jetting off on a multi-city tour, rubbing elbows with sparkly celebrities, frenetic handlers, stone-faced producers, and eccentric stylists. She even finds herself catching feelings for the subject of her profile, dazzling young newcomer Marius Canet. Josie’s world is expanding so rapidly, she doesn’t know whether she’s flying or falling. But when a young actress lets her in on a terrible secret, the answer is clear: she’s in over her head. One woman’s account leads to another and another. Josie wants to expose the man responsible, but she’s reluctant to speak up, unsure if this is her story to tell. What if she lets down the women who have entrusted her with their stories? What if this ends her writing career before it even begins? There are so many reasons not to go ahead, but if Josie doesn’t step up, who will?

Also by Camryn Garrett:

Full Disclosure
By Camryn Garrett
320 Pages | Ages 14+ | Hardcover
ISBN 9781984829955 | Knopf BFYR
Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real–shy kisses escalating into much more–she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.

Camryn Garrett: website | twitter | instagram