Hello, hello, hello!
I am very excited to be participating in the YA Reads 2016 Debut Authors Bash! Today is the first of two stops on my blog for the bash and I am hosting debut author Michele Bacon–her book is called Life Before–for an interview. Find out more about Michele, her book, and enter the giveaway!
Alexandra: Can you give us an elevator pitch for LIFE BEFORE?
Michele: Life Before is about Xander Fife, a 17-year-old who’s been keeping secrets from (nearly) everyone he knows. He is excited for college, where he can ignore the ugly secrets of his past and invent a new life for himself. When his mom is murdered on graduation day, however, Xander’s secrets are thrust into public discourse and he goes on the run.
A: Would you ever up and leave with a small bit of cash and a knife like Xander does in LIFE BEFORE?
M: Most stories contain a kernel of truth, and for this story, my greatest childhood fear provided the kernel. As a child, I was terrified that my father would kill my mother. I thought a lot about running away. I had recurring dreams about magical ballet shoes that helped me fly away from home. I always had an escape plan in place, but I never executed any of them.
These days, I can imagine fleeing only in reaction to natural disasters. I live in the Ring of Fire, so we, naturally, have plans for several scenarios.
A: Michele I want to hug you & move you away from the Ring of Fire!
A: LIFE BEFORE is one of those realistic fiction books–what I commonly refer to as the Ellen Hopkins & Christa Desir books. It tells a story that isn’t always a happy one and has subject matter that people usually don’t want to address in main stream culture, an abusive father. Why do you think it’s important to tell Xander’s story?
M: I think it’s important to tell stories about hard truths. If you say the words “domestic violence” in a room full of people, their postures and facial expressions will change immediately. Stories about abuse or rape or addiction make people uncomfortable. That’s why it’s important, and why Christa’s and Ellen’s work is important.
Xander’s story is important because 10 million Americans under age 18 are exposed to domestic violence every year.
Many of them—many of us child survivors—try to hide the abuse. Abuse should not bring shame to the victim. Teens all over the world are living in abusive situations—at home, at school, in intimate relationships—and it shouldn’t be a secret. In the beginning, I couldn’t get Xander’s story out of my head. I invented him to see how my life could have played out. Xander’s abuse wasn’t his fault. My childhood abuse wasn’t my fault. Your abuse isn’t your fault. It doesn’t define who you are.
A: Having read LIFE BEFORE already, I can say that you do an amazing job representing this tough subject and I very much hope that you continue to write more stories on this subject so that teens can find solace, a helping hand, or just a shoulder to cry on in your books.
A: I was actually a small part of the team that helped to shape Xander’s story–I intern for Michele’s Skyhorse editor Nicole Frail–so I got to see first hand how this story developed and changed into what it is today. Are there any aspects of LIFE BEFORE in particular that were shocking to you as they may have changed from initial drafting to editing?
M: The most shocking aspect of the editing process was a discovery in our last round of edits: a dog vanished mid-manuscript. During the last two years, six early readers, my agent, my editor, some Skyhorse readers, another editor, and YOU read it. No one caught it.
During the final pass—a few days before it went to print—I realized there was an important conversation about a dog that belongs to a secondary character (Curt). Late in the book, we get very close to Curt—into his life and into his house—but there is never any dog. We had to decide whether to write the dog into later scenes (so, so difficult at that stage) or rejigger the conversation to remove the dog. The dog is gone. (Sorry, pup. RIP) I’m grateful to have caught that mistake before publication.
A: OH MY GOD I CAN’T BELIEVE I MISSED THE DISAPPEARING DOG!!!!!!
A: Tell us a bit about your writing process.
M: Most mornings, I drop my youngest daughter at play school, walk home, make a giant pot of tea, sit on the sofa, turn off my wifi, and work for two solid hours. I aim for 1000 words a day when writing and 2,500 words a day while editing. I’ll write slowly, steadily, until all my girls are school-aged. I hope I can write more then.
A: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
M: I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to be an author. Books were magical to me, and I always loved writing. I wrote a play in elementary school, and I really disliked watching my classmates perform it, so dramaturgy was out. I wrote my first novel in middle school, and kept writing until my early twenties. When I started working full time, I threw myself into other roles—business writer, lobbyist, consultant, fundraiser—but all I ever really wanted to be was an author. When my first daughter was born, I threw myself into that full time. When she turned two, I started writing novels again during her naps. I’m grateful to be writing again. I feel like I’m right where I belong.
A: Which authors do you look up to or who are the ones who inspire you the most?
M: Many authors inspire me on a professional level, but I’ll stick to YA authors to answer this one.
- I enjoy Gayle Forman’s work; I thought If I Stay was flawless.
- Courtney Summers keeps writing about uncomfortable topics. Her work makes me cringe in the most appropriate way.
- Jeff Zentner, my fellow debut author, wrote The Serpent King, which inspires me to be more thoughtful with words and more honest in my storytelling. I feel the same way about Lauren Myracle’s Shine.
- Jandy Nelson’s characters are so rich and well-crafted that I often wonder exactly how much of the story she’s keeping from me.
- Meg Wolitzer’s YA novel, Belzhar, inspired me to dig deeper in crafting characters. I am sometimes scared to make my characters too flawed, but this proves I don’t have to.
A: All of these authors I’ve either read or they’re on my TBR list, she says as she casually moves them to the very top of the list.
A: What advice would you give aspiring writers and/or what advice would you give to a pre-LIFE BEFORE self?
M: If I could talk to Six Years Ago Michele, I would tell her to take her time with writing. Plot and synopsize every manuscript writing 70,000 words. Hire a good development editor to review it; that will save a lot of time and heartache.
A: What are you working on next? (If you’re allowed to talk about it, that is.)
M: I can’t get into too much detail at present, but I am editing two manuscripts right now: an adult book about grief and a young adult book about ambition.
A: I hope we get to see these new stories in the near future!
This or That:
A: Contemporary or sci-fi/fantasy?
M: Contemporary, 85 percent of the time
A: Plotting or pantsing?
M: Plotting. (Full disclosure: I pantsed my way through Life Before. Perhaps that explains the vanishing dog. All my upcoming work is plotted, which makes a measurable difference.)
A: Drafting or editing?
M: Editing. My favorite aspect of creating a book is incorporating early readers’ comments into the draft. It’s the one time I feel like we’re a true team.
A: Good or evil?
M: Every good story has both.
A: Star Wars or Star Trek?
M: Star Wars. My middle name is Lea, and for a time, I delighted in people mispronouncing it Leia.
A: Yesssssssssssssssss. (I love Star Wars.)
A: Bacon or eggs?
M: Eggs: sunny-side up, on toast if possible.
A: Chocolate or candy?
M: Chocolate, 100 percent of the time. Läderach milk chocolate with hazelnuts is divine, but if I’m at the grocery store, Dove milk chocolate will do.
About Life Before:
Published by Sky Pony Press on June 7th 2016
Seventeen years is a long time to keep secrets, so Xander Fife is very good at it: everyone believes he has a normal family. If he can just get through this summer, he’ll start his real life in college with a clean slate–no risk, no drama, no fear.Xander’s summer plans include pick-up soccer, regular hijinks with friends, an epic road trip, and—quite possibly— the company of his ideal girlfriend, the amazing Gretchen Taylor.
Instead of kicking off what had promised to be an amazing summer, however, graduation day brings terror. His family’s secrets are thrust out into the open, forcing Xander to confront his greatest fear. Or run from it.
Armed with a fake ID, cash, and a knife, Xander skips town and assumes a new identity. In danger hundreds of miles from home, one thing is clear: Xander’s real life is already in progress and just getting through it isn’t enough.
Signed hardcover, snacks, playing cards, and lip balm, open international!
About Michele Bacon:
Michele Bacon writes contemporary fiction for adults and young adults. Most of her stories begin as ideas scrawled on random scraps of paper, stuffed into pockets or joining her computer-bag detritus. Life Before is her debut novel. Michele lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and three small children.
As I said in the interview, in LIFE BEFORE Michele gives us a real tough issues type of story that is just fantastic and raw. If you’re a fan of authors like Ellen Hopkins and Christa Desir, I highly recommend you pick up LIFE BEFORE when it releases!