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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Monstrous Beauty Blog Tour: Interview

Hello everyone! Today I have a great interview with the lovely author Elizabeth Fama!

"Fierce, seductive mermaid Syrenka falls in love with Ezra, a young naturalist. When she abandons her life underwater for a chance at happiness on land, she is unaware that this decision comes with horrific and deadly consequences.
Almost one hundred forty years later, seventeen-year-old Hester meets a mysterious stranger named Ezra and feels overwhelmingly, inexplicably drawn to him. For generations, love has resulted in death for the women in her family. Is it an undiagnosed genetic defect . . . or a curse? With Ezra’s help, Hester investigates her family’s strange, sad history. The answers she seeks are waiting in the graveyard, the crypt, and at the bottom of the ocean—but powerful forces will do anything to keep her from uncovering her connection to Syrenka and to the tragedy of so long ago."

 Buy the book:

Why do you write for teens?

This is a great question that I've never been able to address well, even when my dad asks me. The closest I can get is a two-part answer: First, I think young-adult literature is one of the most honest forms of writing there is. There is very little room for pretentiousness, which some (though by no means all) adult literature has. Teens want to be told a good story, and they won't sit around watching the author gaze at his navel. At the same time, they recognize and appreciate when form and function are fused--that is, when the language is beautiful and tight, and it contributes to the feeling of being transported. Second, I think that young people absorb books in their core. I remember in my own life that books changed me. As an author, I want to be part of that.

Which characters did you find the hardest/easiest to write?

Surprisingly, old Pastor McKee was the easiest to write. Every time he opened his mouth he said something delightful--not just because of his Scottish accent--and seemingly of his own accord. I grew to love how patient and affectionate he was with Hester, but how fallible as a human being. Most wonderful of all was how self-deprecating he was: it takes many, many years on this earth for a person to understand his flaws as fully as McKee does.

The hardest characters to write were the smaller parts--people who held important clues in the story, but got very little "screen time." I had to try to build fully-formed characters, people who had lived their lives, to make them feel real to me. I think I was more successful with some than with others: I understood Eleanor and Olaf Ontstaan well enough to write an entire book about them. Mrs. Atwood in the church and Ms. Lopes in the library were harder for me to grasp.

How much research goes into your writing?

I am an incorrigible researcher. I can't stop myself, perhaps because of my academic background. In this book, the historical sections gave me an excuse to agonize over language. It's important to me that characters in 1872 speak using only the vocabulary and idioms that were available then. There's also a touch of formality to their speech, which I tried to absorb by reading old documents (Ben Franklin's letters are a bit too old, but have the lovely cadence and spark of humor I was searching for). I also ended up researching technology: for instance, I spent an entire day determining whether window screening existed in 1873 (answer: it existed, extrapolated from the metal mesh used to manufacture flour sieves, but it was not yet patented).

Is there anything different you wish to change in your book?

I haven't been able to resist scouring reviews on goodreads, and I see a few patterns in what readers stumble over: some people have trouble warming up to Hester, or they feel much more passionately about the historical sections than the contemporary ones. Some are frustrated that they're given clues before Hester, and have to watch her catch up as she unravels the mystery. I'm trained to perk my ears up when I hear the same criticism more than once, so I've thought long and hard about whether I'd write any of it differently knowing what I know now. In the end, I don't think I would make changes. I wrote the characters, story, and pacing that pleased me, and I feel deeply comfortable with my choices. That said, I wish I'd had more pages to explore Noo'kas, the sea hag, who has a much richer, more wounded character in my head than she does on paper. For that reason, my son and I co-wrote, and he illustrated, a graphic novella that tells about her earlier years, and gives more information about her relationship to and with Syrenka. I understand it will be posted on the MacTeen site soon!

What books are you looking forward to reading this fall?

Oh, you've hit on a sore spot! I've finished so few of the books that are on my 2012 to-be-read pile. I've been editing my own work, reading manuscripts for friends, and when I have time to read for pleasure, I've used it to research my next novel (which meanslots of non-fiction about the Renaissance). Here's what I'd like to read this fall, in a perfect world: The Diviners, Ask the Passengers, The Brides of Rollrock Island, Seraphina, Raven Boys, Finnikin of the Rock (so that I can read Froi of the Exiles). I also want to read the books of my Fierce Reads tour mates: Cinder (which I've already started, hoping to move on to Scarlet), 52 Reasons to Hate my Father, Enclave (so that I can read Outpost), and Hold Me Closer Necromancer (so that I can read Necromancing the Stone). There are dozens of titles from past years that I need to catch up on someday, too: heavier fare like Raw Blue, and lighter treats like Anna and the French Kiss. And I've always read middle-grade books alongside YA; I won't even bother you with that's hopeless.

Before I leave, I want to say thank you so much for having me, Savy. You asked questions I wasn't prepared for, which made me think hard (and that's fun)!

Thanks so much for being here today Ms. Fama!

Check out a sneak peak of the Audio Book:

Check out the author:

Elizabeth Fama is part of our Fall 2012 Fierce Reads campaign and she will be going on a multi-city and multi-author tour in September. Details can be found here:
We’ve also got a new Fall Fierce Reads trailer which MB is included in:
A chapter excerpt of MB can be read on our Fierce Reads Fan Page:
A free Fall 2012 Fierce Reads chapter sampler for e-readers will be available for download tomorrow, which includes MB:

Check out the blog tour:

Monstrous Beauty Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday 9/4              9/5       9/6             9/7                   9/10            9/11                     www.carinabooks.blogspot.comWednesday 9/12     9/13         

Happy Reading!


  1. I don't think I could hack it as a writer - I'd become obsessed with the reviews and the criticism and would want to cater to readers' demands and that would just not work. I like that even after reading some criticism she's still comfortable with the choices she made for the story and would make them all over again:)

    Also, I loved Pastor McKee as well!

  2. What a great interview! I loved this book and I love that you wouldn't change things, but that you listen. I think that is true in ANY creative endeavor. We learn, but move on. I'm going to have to be on the look out for that graphic novel.

  3. Melissa and Jenny: I need to give credit where it's due. A big part of the comfort I have with my choices comes from working with the exceptional editorial staff at FSG. I felt like every character, every motivation, every scene, every question of continuity, every word had been pored over not just by my editor's eye (the fabulous Beth Potter), but by nearly everyone in the office. There were 23 months between the sale of the manuscript and the release of the finished book, and much of that time was spent combing through the manuscript and galley. It was an amazing (and reassuring) writing experience!


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