Thanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Brigid. I greatly admired your new novel Letters to the Lost (Bloomsbury).
Where are you based and how are you involved in the YA lit community?
I live near Annapolis, Maryland, which is pretty close to Washington, DC. I’m an active member of the YA community, both online and in person, and I’ve met so many amazing authors, booksellers, and book bloggers since Storm was first published in 2012.
I’m the author of the Elementals Series, published by Allen & Unwin in Australia. This series follows the four Merrick brothers, four orphaned guys who can secretly control the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.
How is your new novel Letters to the Lost different from your earlier books?
Letters to the Lost is my first contemporary YA novel, while the Elementals books have a paranormal element. Despite the change, all of my books always follow complex relationships between people, so I’ve been told that my paranormal novels read like contemporaries with special powers thrown in the mix.
Why have you chosen the names Juliet and Declan Murphy for your major characters?
I just love the names. Sometimes I struggle to find the perfect names for my characters, but these two came to me right off the bat.
How important is letter writing to them? (Is it important to you also?)
Letter writing is very important to Juliet, because she would write letters to her mom while she was alive, and she continues the tradition by leaving letters on her mother’s gravestone. I don’t write many physical letters myself, but I love writing to people. My closest friend and I almost exclusively communicate by email and text message!
Rev, Declan’s friend, is an intriguing character. Why does he have a ‘rock solid’ faith even after his father’s abuse?
I love Rev! I don’t want to give too much away about his story or his motivations because his book, More Than We Can Tell, will be out March 2018, but his faith is very important to him, and he struggles with whether his faith is appropriate, considering what he went through with his father.
I was interested in the idea that one photo could aspire to telling a whole story. What role does photography play in the story?
Photography plays a huge role in the story, especially since Juliet’s mother was a photojournalist, and at one point, Juliet wanted to follow in her own footsteps. I was partially inspired by how we’ve all grown so dependent on social media, and how we’ve started judging people based on the limited amount we see—which is also what those people have chosen to share. People are so much deeper than just what a photograph reveals. And that works in all ways: both positive and negative.
You give a strong portrayal of mothers (even though they are very different from each other). How did you flesh out these women?
Thank you! I find people fascinating, and I try to flesh out all of my characters. As a mother myself, I wanted to show how mothers (and fathers) aren’t infallible, and we’re all just doing the best we can. Sometimes the best we can isn’t the “best” at all, but life is messy and complicated and we’re all just trying to get through it. One of the most profound moments of young adulthood is realizing that the adults around you are just as capable of screw-ups as teenagers are, and realizing that maturity isn’t about not messing up, it’s about messing up and how we move on from it.
Your adult mentors such as Mrs Hillard and Frank are powerful. What are their roles?
A lot of YA novels operate in a vacuum where there’s little adult involvement (which is fine!) but it was important for me to show that adults can be allies, and that it’s okay to seek input and advice from adults as well as teen peers.
Your characters with bad reputations are treated worse than other people. Could you comment on this?
In many ways, society has turned to public shaming again and again, especially thanks to social media. Certain people always seem to be fair game, especially if they’re deemed to deserve it. At our core, we’re all people. No one is intrinsically good or bad.
Declan believes in fate but also free will. How is that possible?
I actually think this is more of a debate he has with himself throughout the book, whether everything is fated or whether he has the ability to pull himself off the path he seems destined to travel.
Have any responses from your readers particularly resonated with you?
Yes! It means so much that readers seem to be loving Juliet and Declan and their stories. I’m particularly excited by how many people have been asking for Rev’s story, so I’m glad it’s already written.
I recently finished reading An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, and I absolutely loved it. Also The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick. I’m really eager to read Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, which releases next week, because I absolutely loved Openly Straight, and this is the sequel.
All the best with Letters to the Lost, Brigid, and thanks very much.