Thursday, July 7, 2011

Bookanista Feature: Interview with Aimée Carter, author of THE GODDESS TEST

Today, it's my great joy to be talking with Aimée Carter, author of THE GODDESS TEST! I first "met" Aimée on Twitter--and she was gracious enough to ignore my nerd-spazzing and do an interview here! Not only that, but...she's giving away a signed copy of THE GODDESS TEST--just read through to the bottom of the interview to find out how you can enter!

We can read all about your life from your bio in the jacket flap of your book. So, what's a completely random fact about you that most people don't know?

Strangely enough, there is no bio in THE GODDESS TEST. There was an oops, and the first editions don't have any sort of bio or author photo in them (though the second printing will!). Does that count as a random fact? No? Hmm. In that case, I'm an extremely picky eater. Really, taste buds of a five-year-old over here. I don't think I've ever ordered an entree straight off an adult menu without some kind of modification, and I have a tendency to order off the kids' menu whenever a restaurant lets me.

As a kid, what was your favorite book? Have your tastes changed since growing up?

As a kid, my favorite book was probably Black Beauty or Matilda. My tastes haven't changed too much, though I tend to be a more selective reader than I used to be. I still troll the middle grade section though, trying to dodge the kids and parents who give me funny looks. There's a certain kind of voice that most MG writers have that I really connect with, and a lot of my favorites - Harry Potter, the Percy Jackson series, etc. - tend to be from that section of the bookstore.

Your academic background is in film. Did that have any influence on your writing?

A massive amount. I fully believe the screenwriting classes I took at university are the reason I'm published. They taught me how to craft a proper story, about making every scene, character, and line on a page count, how to really grab a reader's attention, how to include conflict in every part - they were by far the best (and most useful) classes I took. I highly, highly recommend every commercial novelist take a screenwriting course, if only to learn about in-depth story construction. They are two very different formats, of course, but they're both all about telling stories, and I can't rave enough about how much I learned and how much my storytelling improved.

It's the inevitable question: what inspired THE GODDESS TEST?

-I've been asked this so many times that I'm tempted to say it all came to me in a dream, but really, the truth is much more boring. I've always loved mythology, from the moment I first read D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths as a little kid trolling the grown-up kids section of the bookstore (sensing a pattern?). The first time I read about the myth of Hades and Persephone, I was fascinated about his side of the story. Being kidnapped must've been awful for Persephone, but why did Hades do it? Was he really so lonely to risk the wrath of his brother Zeus and sister Demeter?

From there, that question sat in the back of my mind for years. I started writing original works around fourteen or fifteen - I wrote fan fiction before then - and that was one of the first stories I came back to. I couldn't make it work though, so I set it aside and, over the years, continued to develop it. Eventually I decided that the protagonist wasn't Persephone after all - that Persephone, who was such a strong woman in mythology, could have left Hades, paving the way for a new girl. The only question was, who was that new girl, and why would she ever want to be with the gloomy and moody God of the Underworld?

Many years later, while I was taking those screenwriting courses, I began to think about that story again, and it occurred to me that maybe she wasn't doing it for herself or for Hades. Maybe she was doing it for someone else she loved, to keep Hades from taking them into the Underworld. And at that point, Kate's mother, who is dying of cancer, popped into my head. I immediately began to outline it, and first chance I got, I started to draft it.

One of the great things about THE GODDESS TEST is the background in mythology. What made you decide to write about mythology?

It wasn't a conscious decision, really. I didn't pick through a book of mythology, searching for a myth to redo. That story had been been in the back of my mind for so long, working itself out, that when all of the pieces fell into place, I had to write it. It's very much a sequel of sorts to that myth - Persephone has left Hades (now called Henry), and he must find a replacement Queen before time runs out, or he'll fade and someone else will take his place. Only problem is, someone's killing off the candidate, and the protagonist, Kate, is his last chance.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process--particularly the timeline--of writing THE GODDESS TEST?

I got the idea sometime in the early 90's, as a little kid questioning why the God of the Underworld would have to steal a girl to be his Queen. Everything snapped into place in 2007, and I outlined it many, many times, trying to find exactly the right way to put the story together. In the summer of 2008, I was supposed to be a production assistant on the set of a movie called Youth In Revolt, which was filming in Ann Arbor. However, I had my wisdom teeth taken out a week or two before everything was set to start, and the dentist had to break my jaw in two places in order to complete the surgery. Not fun, let me tell you. I looked like a chipmunk for ages. While that lost me the chance to be a PA, it did free up my summer to write the story that I'd been obsessing over - and that's exactly what I did.

I write fairly quickly, so by early July, I was done with the first draft. I edited it, edited again, edited a third and a fourth and a fifth time, and finally in August (I know, I know, don't make my mistakes - wait longer!) I queried agents. I don't know how I got so lucky, but my agent, Rosemary Stimola, signed me a few weeks later. During the submission process, I got a lot of "almost, but not quites", which were heartbreaking. I rewrote significant chunk of the story, including adding a prologue at an editor's suggestion, and finally almost a year after being signed, I received an offer from Harlequin Teen. At that point, however, I was so dissatisfied with the draft that after I received the editorial letter, I completely tore the book to shreds, rewriting a massive amount of it. So counting that, it took me over a year to really get it into anything close to resembling the story you read on the page now.

If your reader could only take away one emotion, theme, or idea from THE GODDESS TEST, what would you want it to be?

Interesting question! I've never thought about that. If I had to narrow it down to one thing...maybe that life goes on. For Kate, going through her mother's death; for Henry, who's lost the love of his life. Even the Greek gods in general, who in Kate's world have been reduced to mythology, but still continue to exist despite it all. There's still life after tragedy, no matter how difficult it might be to face.

What's the most surprising thing you've learned since becoming a writer?

That the rejection doesn't stop with getting an agent, getting a publisher, or even when the book comes out. It's hard - a lot harder than most of the writers out there today make it look, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Beyond the typical--never give up, believe in yourself--what would be the single best advice you'd like to give another writer?

For a commercial novelist, take a screenwriting course, definitely. And in lieu of that, pick up a book on screenwriting (The Screenwriter's Bible is one, but there are a ton of terrific options at your local bookstore) and read it cover to cover. For writers in general, nothing beats butt in chair. Don't let anything get between you and your writing time.

What do you think are your strongest and weakest points in writing?

Strongest - plotting, I'd say. And I think I've grown a ton since I wrote THE GODDESS TEST as well. The stuff I'm working on now won't be seen for at least a year and a half though, so we'll see!

Weakest - I'm not a master wordsmith. I'll never write literary fiction or the books that win all of the awards. I also have to really work at description. Some writers are truly incredible with the way they can paint a picture with their words, and I could never in a million years do that.

Thank you for stopping by, Aimée! And thank you for offering the readers here a signed copy of your book! To enter, just leave a comment to this post letting Aimée know why you're excited to  read her book. I'll pick one random winner next week to get a signed copy of her book, THE GODDESS TEST!

Additional contest information:
  • Open to US addresses only (sorry!)
  • Entrants must be 13 years old or older
  • Only one entry per person
  • Comment to this post to enter
  • Leave an email address if it's not linked with your profile already
  • Contest closes on July 14th

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