We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who wished for “a million bucks” and awakened the next morning to the sight of a squillion deer grazing on his front lawn. As someone who happily wished her own husband into existence at the magic pool in Bath in 1994, I’m a firm believer in the idea the granters of wishes are a pretty literal bunch; if you don’t frame your desire accurately and precisely, any smidge of ambiguity will be seized upon with gusto. It also goes without saying that teenagers—such as those who populate Suzy Vadori’s debut YA novel, The Fountain—aren’t likely to think through all the ramifications of a wish made hastily in the heat of anger, frustration or disappointment.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Once upon a long ago time, young adults (previously known as teenagers) could be found with their noses stuck in Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, The Hobbit, Phyllis A. Whitney and Mary Stewart. Today they’re more likely to be immersed in the darker fare of vampires, zombies and dystopian societies. What’s your personal take on this shift in themes and will the pendulum ever swing back?
A: Well, there’s a huge gap in reading level between books like Nancy Drew and The Hobbit – and I read both as a youth. This gap leaves young readers in the lurch that are looking for reading that challenges their intellect, yet has age-appropriate content.
I think what the Young Adult (YA) books of the past ten years have done is introduced a whole new set of adult-sized challenges to teens in a way that they can relate to more easily than stories of the past. Today’s YA is written from a teen’s point of view, and allows readers to experience a broad range of emotions that they may or may not have already experienced in their short lives.
The YA genre is definitely here to stay, though I don’t think the theme of the novels is important and will change with the tides of teen whims. Vampires, zombies, dystopian, mermaids and trolls… the characters and settings will change to keep it fresh.
Today’s teens expect more sophistication than the formulaic stories that Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys afford, but they might not be ready for the beauty of The Hobbit’s prose.
Whatever the subject of today’s YA books, there are certain things present that appeal to teens. And what’s really cool is that a YA novel done well appeals to all ages. These are elements that we all find intriguing.
- Pace: The pace of today’s YA never lets up. While this may say something about today’s teens and their attention spans, I think it’s exciting that the written word has found a way to compete with, and even mimic the other media that teens have available to them now.
- Challenge: This is something that both Nancy Drew and The Hobbit got right. Teens need to face adult challenges to capture the imagination of youths, and help them explore challenges beyond their years in a safe setting.
- Emotion: Books are a safe place to explore new emotions and consequences. This is what drives much of my writing. If you come away feeling something, I’ve succeeded.
Q: What attracted you to writing for the YA market and how does it differ from writing for adults?
A: I’ve been starting novels since I was around 10, and I always wanted to finish one. But writing isn’t just about the process for me. I wanted to write something that would get read – something that would affect people.
I wrote many outlines over the years. But everything I came up with that I thought people would want to read was either drawing on something way too personal, or was a little too racy to fit with my persona as an executive (my day job) and more importantly, my role as a mom.
It wasn’t until YA emerged as a genre on its own that I became inspired to finally pursue writing in a serious way. Young Adult books explore raw emotion at the root of how it’s experienced – in ‘firsts’. First love, first loss, first time for taking major risks. These themes will never go out of fashion, regardless of the setting.
Q: When you were the age of your target readership, what did you want to pursue as a career?
A: My dad offered to buy me the car of my choice if I became a doctor. I found out that orthodontists didn’t need to do residency, so I negotiated the same deal for that, to which he agreed. I’ve always needed a lot of sleep – I knew that I wouldn’t survive working night shifts in a hospital residency.
Later, I found out I could enter the business world with only a 4 year university degree, and that’s what I did, hitting the ground running when I graduated at 21. Even when I could afford the fancy car, I never bought it.
I never looked back, but I continued to write as a hobby. When I took maternity leave with my third child, I finally realized I had the time to make my dream a reality. The Fountain Series was born.
Q: Who or what had the most influence on the choices you made as you segued into adulthood?
A: Am I an adult yet? I suppose I am. There have been many influences in my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. I think the fact that I moved a lot as a kid was the biggest influence. I was often the new kid, and had to make my way in new situations. I know that it shaped me into who I am, and made me ready to face any challenge. It was fun to channel some of that experience into Ava in The Fountain. Ava is the new kid at St. Augustus and has to make new friends and new ways… which makes her vulnerable in ways I think all teens can relate to.
Q: Tell us the inspiration behind The Fountain.
A: The setting for The Fountain was defined when I was a tween. I’d always wanted to write a boarding school novel. I just love the parent-less setting, with dorms and kids being able to sneak around at night unsupervised (disclaimer: I never went to boarding school, but this is the magical setting I’ve always imagined)
The story for The Fountain invaded my imagination when I became a mom. I love my children more than I ever thought was possible, but parenting today is interesting, to say the least. We are raising a generation that has been given every privilege that we parents can afford.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d give anything I could to my kids, but I started to wonder whether that was smart. We think we’re doing the right thing, but are we? What kind of lesson is it to get what we want without having to work for it? And The Fountain was born. A well-intentioned school founder leaves behind a legacy of a fountain that grants students the desire that they wish the most. The Fountain has unlimited power, and has the power to alter anything. What would a world that is designed to help the students actually look like, and what are the consequences?
Q: Do you ever make wishes yourself by tossing a coin into a well or a pool? If so, what’s your best tip for “smart” wishing?
A: Of course. General ones, anyway – ones for well-being of those I love. I’d rather work for the harder things in life than have them happen overnight.
Q: What governed your choice to develop this book as a series versus a stand-alone title?
A: The series format is very popular in Young Adult. No sooner had I released The Fountain than readers were asking for the next installment. I can’t wait to give them more in this world with The West Woods.
Q: Congratulations on The Fountain being nominated for an Aurora Award in 2016. How did this come about and what was your reaction when you received the news?
A: I was actually travelling in China on business when it was announced that The Fountain had been short listed for Best Young Adult Novel with the Prix Auroras. I found out in the wee hours of the morning, and raced outside to the foggy streets to take a selfie with a copy of The Fountain to share with the world. I was amazed that The Fountain got such terrific support from the amazing readers and writers who form the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association – most of whom aren’t in my demographic, but loved it nonetheless. It was an honor to be shortlisted by such a prestigious group. I hope they love The West Woods just as much.
Q: You teach at schools about themes of friendship, rivalry and love. What is the intersection of these timeless topics with the plot of The Fountain?
A: Oooo, it’s my favorite to talk about these things. Teens can sometimes experience all three in a short period of time with the same person, and that can be… well, confusing. Part of what I love most about writing is making readers feel something. And I know I’ve done it right when I get feedback from readers.
I love going to classrooms and teaching kids how to apply the feelings that they experience every day to their stories. Teachers are always amazed at what the kids are able to share through their writing during a session.
Rivalry is the most misunderstood of the three themes, and I think the ones that youth struggle with the most. Some in the book industry will dismiss this as “mean girl” stories, but it’s so much more than that. The story is never about what happens to the characters – it’s about how the characters react to their situation and grow as a result. Resilience is an important theme in many young adult books, and mine are no exception. I love teaching about it because every single class I teach is completely different.
Q: Book 2—The West Woods—will be coming out in September (2017). How and where does it take the students of St. Augustus?
A: The number one question I got from readers of The Fountain was, what is with Courtney? (She’s the girl who makes life impossible for Ava and gets wished away.) And she’s truly awful. But… there’s a really good reason that she was the way she appeared – a magical reason – shaped by her own encounter with the fountain at St. Augustus.
So, I was compelled to write The West Woods – which takes place the year before The Fountain, and is Courtney’s story about how she went from being a regular girl to being, well… the terrible friend readers meet in The Fountain.
It was really fun to vindicate Courtney in The West Woods, presenting a side that readers didn’t get to see of her. With Courtney as the protagonist, it’s easy to see how she made the choices she made when she met Ava.
Of course, it’s also full of the mystery and romance that are the hallmarks of The Fountain Series.
Q: Is it imperative that readers read your books chronologically or is there enough in Book 2 for them to understand the characters and dynamics from Book 1?
A: Both books were written so that they could be read as stand-alone books, and because Book 2 is a prequel, they really could be read in either order. However, Book 3 will pick up where Ava and Ethan left off in Book 1, and bring the whole series together, so it will make more sense if it’s read last.
Q: There’s no question that the publishing industry—like any other industry—has changed to accommodate a fluctuating economy. What has it been like for you to work with a small press?
A: Working with Evil Alter Ego Press has been the best decision I’ve made. Because they are small, they’ve treated The Fountain Series as if it were their own. My editor (based in New York), has challenged me and made the series better than I could have ever done on my own. Because the press is small and growing, I get to be involved in adapting and shaping the press to the changing publishing environment. I also get the chance to use my business and marketing knowledge to full advantage. In a world where self-publish and traditional publishing are changing daily, working with a small press has been a really great experience and I am grateful that they believed in my vision for the series.
Q: What are you doing to market/promote your work, and which strategies have been the most effective for you?
A: Being out in my community has gained so much traction for The Fountain Series. It’s fun, too. I’ve had an amazing 18 months meeting new readers at conferences, young writer’s events, schools and signings. I am so thankful for all the readers who love The Fountain and are waiting for The West Woods to come out.
As The Fountain Series grows, we’re focusing more on growing online reach, in addition to continuing to be active in my community. The response from book bloggers to the series has been really positive, and they are excited to help spread the word about the upcoming launch of The West Woods. I am truly grateful for the work that bloggers and reviewers do. Thank you all so much.
Q: There’s suddenly a knock on the door from Hollywood. Would The Fountain lend itself to a movie or a television series?
A: The Fountain Series would make a terrific movie or TV series and I’m actively looking for a home for it.
The layers of St. Augustus’ magic and the generations of students who have used it to change the world around them provides endless material for an ongoing series. I look forward to see where this leads.
Q: Authors often “cast” their characters in their heads while they’re writing so they can picture them moving through the various scenes. Was this the case with you?
A: Each of my characters is such a blend of complex layers, they’d be impossible to cast to just one person. It definitely keeps me on my toes to keep track of everything that makes them up, but that’s part of the fun.
Q: As an executive, mother of three and a writer, how do you make the time for your craft?
A: I couldn’t do it without the support of my incredible husband and wonderful kids who have all made sacrifices to help me find the time I need to make this dream a reality. I mostly write evenings and early weekend mornings. I carry the stories around in my head while I go about my day to day, so that when I do get those moments to write, everything is fully formed and the words come quickly.
Q: Planner or pantser?
A: Quilter! I start with an outline, but then write in sections as they come to me, and depending on my mood – not necessarily together. Then I take the sections and quilt them back together, creating a wonderful mess that eventually sorts itself into a complex mystery. The operations professional in me knows that this isn’t efficient, but I’m always happy with the result.
Q: You also travel a lot for business and for leisure. How does travel impact your writing and your perspective?
A: Writing fantasy is centered on building believable worlds. Exploring different countries gives me lots of ideas and inspiration that I draw on. I try to take note whenever I visit somewhere new about the kinds of things I notice first. Are the traffic lights different? Are there people around, or are the streets empty? What sounds are different from North America. Those are things I add to a character’s first experiences somewhere new.
Q: Any new trips on the horizon?
A: We’ve been talking about taking our kids to Europe. They all speak French as well as English, so they’ve been bugging us to take them to France.
Q: Dream destination on your “wish list?”
Q: You’re on the board for When Words Collide—a festival for readers and writers. What do you think the role of conventions and festivals have for authors and aspiring authors?
A: Writing is largely a solitary profession, but the writing community plays a vital role in supporting and growing writers careers. The publishing industry is changing daily, and collectively, writers who share information and work together to stay ahead of the curve are the ones who are going to make it.
I am so grateful to all the writers I’ve met and everything they’ve shared with me about their own experiences and careers have helped me immeasurably with building my readership. Giving back to the author community in any way I can is an absolute pleasure for me. I particularly love helping new writers get started.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I think readers would be surprised to know that I love math. I’m an Operations professional in my day job, and while that is very different from writing, my love of math and puzzles helps build tricky, layered mystery within my books.
Q: Oldest, weirdest or most nostalgic thing in your closet?
A: Fuzzy onesie pajamas. Great for when it gets down to -40 degrees Celsius here in Canada, but otherwise way too hot.
Q: Where can readers learn more about you?
A: I’m the only Suzy Vadori on the interweb, so Google away to find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I love hearing from readers, so feel free to drop me a line.