Last week, I reviewed Gwenda Bond’s debut novel, Blackwood (review here), and I thought that it would be a nice follow-up to get to know a little more about the woman behind the story, the mind that made the novel run. Happily, she agreed to be interviewed by me, and the answers she gave to my questions were quite interesting! So let’s get right down to it, and learn more about the talented Gwenda!
1) I’m sure you get this all the time, but what was it that made you want write about such a well-known American mystery? What about that legend drew you to it?
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Lost Colony, and unsolved mysteries and legends. My husband and I have a bookcase or two’s worth of nonfiction titles about the unexplained (Blackwood’s prologue is a hat tip to those kind of books) and oddities of history, and so on. The Lost Colony is something that’s been rattling around in the back of my mind since I was a kid in history class and first heard about it, but I can’t really say what sparked the idea for the book. I know when I got it (on a road trip, when we saw a sign for Roanoke), but I don’t know why then. I think as writers we just fill our heads with everything and wait to see what bubbles up to the top out of our fascinations and interests.
2) Would you like to see more books that approach local legends as you did with Blackwood, adding a supernatural twist and making them resonate with the modern world?
I’ve come to realize that if there’s any pattern in the kind of story I’m attracted to as a writer, it’s somehow mixing and then exploring the clash between the past and present. I’m personally not interested in writing historical fiction (though I have the utmost admiration for people who pull it off), so I tend to bring some part of the past to now in one way or another and see what happens as a result. I do love reading stories where inspiration is drawn from legends or history or myths and am always down with a supernatural twist.
3) Miranda had a nice geekish streak to her, and it was really fun to see that in her character. What are your geeky interests?
Ah! So many! I’m a complete nerd, though in somewhat different ways than Miranda. Our tastes overlap in places, but others are purely hers. As I’ve already mentioned, I love anything esoteric; when I was Miranda’s age, my favorite section of the bookstore (besides fiction) was probably Sociology, because it was where all the weird, random books were. So books about cryptozoology or the history of circus freak shows or bizarre old (or new) scientific beliefs or wacky explorers, but I also read a ton of fiction. And I watch a lot of television; probably too much, except I get prickly when people are disdainful of TV.
4) What about guilty pleasures? Everyone’s got a good guilty pleasure!
I don’t really feel guilty about anything I enjoy, so this is tough. Well, maybe America’s Next Top Model. Not guilty, per se, but I recognize it’s probably not the 100 percent best use of my time and yet I can’t. stop. watching. No matter how bad it gets.
5) (SPOILER ALERT) One thing that thrilled me while I was reading Blackwood is that you didn’t decide to kill off Sidekick. So many books and movies will throw in an animal companion solely for the purpose of tugging at your heartstrings when they die. Does it bother you when this occurs in media? Or do you see it in a different light?
Yes, and I do have thought on this in a larger sense and specific to Blackwood. Sidekick is the only character in the book based on my real life; he was inspired by our beloved golden retriever George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values, who passed away several years ago. So Sidekick is my way of memorializing George and giving him immortality, in a sense. There is NO WAY I would have killed him off. And, like you, I am often bothered by stories that use animal deaths in a manipulative way. It can be a dealbreaker, particularly if not done well. And I just don’t like reading stories with animal deaths (and I realize there’s a disconnect in that I have zero problem reading stories where murders of humans happen; it’s just different emotionally for me), so it has to be necessary to the story for me to not want to throw the book across the room. I don’t want to give too specific an example, because that’d be spoilery, but I will say one of the best stories I’ve read that features animal suffering is Katherine Applegate’s middle grade novel The One and Only Ivan. You will cry, but the emotion is earned by an ultimately hopeful story that deals with the exploitation of animals in an honest way.
6) Of course, I have to ask the question that every authors gets asked a million and one times in their career: what was it that really made you decide that writing was the path in life that you wanted to take? Did the writing bug bite you at an early age, or did it develop over time?
I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid—before I could even read, I would cart around books and make up stories that went along with the pictures and do my best to make letters by randomly drawings swirls on paper. I took a detour after college and wrote scripts for a few years, before I had this epiphany that brought me back to my first love, books. And there were all these wonderful YA novels coming out (this was in the early to mid-2000s) and I felt like I finally understood what kind of stories I wanted to tell.
7) Do you think you’ll stick with YA novels instead of novels for an older age group?
I’d never say never to writing for adults or, for that matter, for younger children, but so far the stories I’ve wanted to tell have been firmly YA. It’s what I’ve been drawn to, and there’s so much freedom in YA to mix and match genres. It’s a fun and exciting literary landscape to be in right now. But, that said, if I had the right idea, I’d follow it wherever it was best suited. I’d love to have a strong middle grade story idea, but it hasn’t happened yet. I do believe that YA is for everyone, and not just teens.
8) Similar to the above question, what was it about writing for a YA audience that attracted you more than writing for an older audience?
Honestly, it really is just my natural voice—at least so far. But it has been amazing talking to teens who have read the book. I do think the reading experiences you have at those ages can be more profound and exciting, in many ways, than the ones you have as an adult, and that’s very appealing for a writer. And teen readers are so smart and take-no-b.s., and also open and enthusiastic about the things that resonate with them.
9) What kind of books do you enjoy reading in your spare time?
Everything! I read a fair amount of YA (and still review it for Locus), but also adult fantasy, mystery, (so-called) literary fiction, and romances. Nonfiction I now mostly read as research or to spark ideas. The bulk of my reading is fiction.
10) I see from your bio that you live in Kentucky? Having never been there myself, I have to ask: what do you like about living there? Would you choose Kentucky over any other place in the world to live, or is there somewhere else that you’d love to settle down in?
Well, I’m from Kentucky. I grew up in a very small town—one stoplight, which was 20 minutes from my house—and when I was there, all I wanted was to get away. I dreamed of having been born in a big city (and I do love big cities). And I’ve traveled quite a bit. But when I got older, I appreciated growing up where I did. Yes, there are problematic things about Kentucky, but—like the rest of the south—I also think that it is a far more complex place than impressions and depictions that come from outside make it out to be. I live now in a mid-sized city, Lexington, with my husband, also an author and from small-town Kentucky, and it’s a very progressive town with a lot of exciting things happening. We have a vibrant literary culture. Kentucky in general, I think, really values storytelling and writing, and there are many wonderful writers from here and fabulous bookstores. The cost of living is low; we have a great old house that we’d never have been able to afford in a bigger city, with a yard our two dogs can run around in. Our families are not that far away. That’s not to say we’ll never move or split our time between here and elsewhere, but we do have deep roots in Kentucky and are happy here.
11) What’s your own take on the idea of immortality? Is it something that you think we’ll eventually reach, or is it a pie-in-the-sky dream?
Interesting question. I don’t think we’ll ever reach it, at least not in a physical sense. I’m not current enough on the science to know how feasible it is that our consciousnesses could ever be preserved in some way electronically. But it seems to violate a fundamental law of nature, where the great constant is death. And I’m not sure I think we should want to. Would I like an extended life span or cures for debilitating conditions or slowed-down aging? Who wouldn’t? But immortality seems like it would ruin living in some ways. I side with Phillips on this one.
12) Lastly, can you give us any tantalizing tidbits about your next novel? I know I, at least, am looking forward to seeing what you’ll come out with next!
Yay, so lovely to hear it! My next book will be The Woken Gods, probably out next summer or fall (not quite sure) from Strange Chemistry. It’s an urban fantasy set in a near future where the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world, ten years earlier. The story takes place in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society headquartered in the Library of Congress and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity. A 17-year-old girl, Kyra Locke, gets pulled into political intrigue between all of the above. I’m excited about it, though also nervous, because as you can probably tell it’s a bit different than Blackwood.
Thank you once again forallowing me to interview you!
I’ve got to say, I think I’ll be all over that book when it’s released. Really, she’s hitting all the right buttons with me when it comes to that synopsis, and after reading Blackwood, I’m more than willing to give The Woken Gods a chance. (Especially seeing as how I mentioned on another blog recently that one thing I want to see more of in genre fiction is stuff where ancient gods awake and interact with the modern world. The timing on this couldn’t be better!)