Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BIR2012: Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard - Interview

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****About the book****
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Published Date: July 2012
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: YA
The Story: There's something strange and deadly loose in Philadelphia. . . .

Eleanor Fitt has a lot to worry about.

Her brother has gone missing, her family has fallen on hard times, and her mother is determined to marry her off to any rich young man who walks by. But this is nothing compared to what she's just read in the newspaper:

The Dead are rising in Philadelphia.

And then, in a frightening attack, a zombie delivers a letter to Eleanor . . . from her brother.

Whoever is controlling the Dead army has taken her brother as well. If Eleanor is going to find him, she'll have to venture into the lab of the notorious Spirit-Hunters, who protect the city from supernatural forces. But as Eleanor spends more time with the Spirit-Hunters, including the maddeningly stubborn yet handsome Daniel, the situation becomes dire. And now, not only is her reputation on the line, but her very life may hang in the balance.


BCM: Tell us a little about SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY and how you came to write this story.
SD: SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY is the story of Eleanor Fitt, a high society 16-year-old in 1876 Philadelphia. When her brother is kidnapped by a necromancer and his army of walking dead, the only people who can help her are a ragtag team of ghost-fighters known as the Spirit-Hunters.

The first spark for this book came from a dream! I dreamt my brother was missing and that I would do anything to get him back--even join a team of misfits. This dream haunted me for days until I finally sat down with it and started fleshing it out. At that time, I knew I wanted to write a new novel--the ones I had written before were so bad, and I had lost interest in salvaging them. I wanted something new that excited me, and when this idea showed up, I knew it was The One.

BCM:  As a writer myself, I know writing can be very personal and sharing the story with someone for the first time can be extremely difficult. Who was the first person to read a draft of SS&D? Did you have critique partners? How did you stumble upon them? (Feel free to skip or elaborate on any part of this question)

SD: The first person to ever read my work was my husband. :) He insisted on it, really, and...well, at that time, I had no one else! I didn't know any writers, I lived in the middle of farmland Germany, and I was still totally oblivious to the vast (and amazing) community of writers online.

After about six months of this, though, I realized that I needed actual writers to read my work. My husband tried so hard, but English isn't his native language and he's not much a reader--the mechanics and structure of storytelling aren't in his blood. I was scared OUT OF MY MIND at the thought of sharing SS&D with someone else--what if they hated it? What if I couldn't handle the criticism? What if, what, what it? Fortunately, I reached out to a very sweet, very helpful, and very supportive fellow writer on YALitChat. We worked together on our various mss, and eventually I sought out another CP (not to replace my first, who is amazing, but rather to read my entire novel at once instead of in chapters. I needed feedback to the story as a whole). My new CP had some valuable, mind-blowing suggestions, but she also made it clear she thought I was ready to start querying--so I did! And the rest is history.

Since then, I've taken on 3+ more CPs. I don't send everything to all of them, and they don't always call on me to read. People are too busy to always read when I need them, and sometimes I need different types of feedback--and each of my wonderful CPs offers something different.

BCM:  You mentioned that the idea to write SS&D came from a dream you had. How has the book changed from that original dream or idea? Is there anything significant that has changed from the first draft to the final draft that you can share with us?

SD: The original dream was set in modern day and I was the heroine...not Eleanor. ;) But there was a lab and handsome--but antagonistic--inventor. And there was a kick-butt Chinese girl and an austere, but capable African American in charge. I knew I wanted a different setting, though--something historical that would add heaps of conflict and something in the US. And of course, what better time for exciting laboratories and rich conflict than the 19th century? After some digging, I discovered the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 Philadelphia, and I just knew that was where the story needed to happen!

BCM:  How are your characters most like you? How do you differ?

SD: Eleanor is a lot like me in her snark--but she's far more likely to voice her opinion. She's also far more likely to dive into the middle of things and think about what a bad idea that was after she's almost been killed. Eleanor has a lot of what I want in myself--bravery and loyalty--and a lot of things I don't want too. ;) I like being thoughtful instead of impulsive.

Interestingly enough, I think I am more like Daniel than any other character in the series. He thinks before he acts, he's moody (moodier than me, I think...though my husband would likely disagree), and he feels a strong sense of atoning for past mistakes. I certainly don't have the seedy past Daniel has (not even close!), but I do feel that making up for my bad, cruel, even misguided decisions is something that drives me every day. I always want to be a better person...and I always want to improve as a writer and write better books!

BCM:  If there was one about the setting/time from SS&D that you wish were still around today, what would it be and why?

SD: The Centennial Exhibition! I think it's so tragic that it was dismantled after it ended. Some buildings were moved, but most were taken apart and forgotten. Only Memorial Hall now remains--and it's now home to a fantastic children's museum. I went to visit for research, and a fabulous man who knew all about the Exhibition's history guided me through the Hall and behind the scenes. Then, in the basement, there's a whole area devoted to the Exhibition and you can see just how rich and exciting it was back then. It was like the Disney World of 1876, and people came from all OVER the world to see it. Millions of people visited each month, and it was the first time that many Americans ever saw people from outside the US. In fact, it was the first time ever that anyone had met or seen someone from Japan! Crazy, huh? But amazing too!

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