The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop is a chance for authors around the world to tell you what they’re working on.  I was tagged by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, author of A Tiger in the Kitchen, and the editor of (and contributor to) the upcoming Singapore Noir.  You can read her TNBTBH entry about the new book here.  Thank you, Cheryl!  Read her books!

What is your working title of your book (or story)?

Coming out in late February 2013 is The Different Girl, my first novel for younger readers.  It’s the story of four orphan girls who live on a tiny island in the South Pacific with two adult guardians.  One day another girl washes up on the island, a survivor of a shipwreck.  What follows is a collision of two very different closed communities, in which both sides begin to learn how much they never knew about their world.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Originally The Different Girl was going to be a libretto for an opera a composer friend was going to write. There was something very musical in the way the voices of the four girls interacted with their guardians, and with the natural world of the island.  I think of myself as much a playwright as a novelist, and there’s something about creating a world through dialogue that allows you a lot of fascinating room to work through omission, to conjure larger truths out of what isn’t said.  That idea became a central element of the story’s narrator, Veronika, whose limited – if growing – perspective defines a lot of the main issues at play.  More than anything the book came out of that experience of being young, and just beginning to see the complications that lurk behind the life you’ve taken for granted.

What genre does your book fall under?

Science fiction, though that aspect floats around the edge of the story.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

For the two guardian characters, Robbert and Irene, I guess I’d think of people like David Strathairn and Marion Cotillard or Michelle Yeoh.  For the younger characters, I would leave that (and everything else) to the filmmakers.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Four otherwise identical girls who spend their days in sync with two adult guardians, tasked to learn – but when May, the lone survivor of a recent shipwreck, arrives on the island, an unsettling mirror is held up to the life the girls have never before questioned.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m represented by Markus Hoffman at Regal Literary, and The Different Girl is being published by Dutton/Penguin, edited by Julie Strauss-Gabel.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote the first two chapters and then got sidetracked into another project, not coming back to the book for another five years.  Once I got back into it, the book came fairly quickly, in maybe three months.  Then I did maybe four revised drafts of the manuscript over the next year.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

All sorts of books, really, mixed between straight science fiction like The Diamond Age or Clans of the Alphane Moon, and more simply speculative books like Lord of the Flies.  From a completely different angle, the book has a little bit of Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – though perhaps that’s mainly to say that while in many ways The Different Girl functions as a mystery, I wouldn’t call it a puzzle with any kind of puzzled-out solution.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The books started very clearly with the voice of the narrator, Veronika, one of the four girls on the island.  Simply who she was and what she knew, how she’d been raised, determined all sorts of formal elements that run through the whole book and provide its occasionally unsettling mood.  Some of that’s just a question of a simple vocabulary and a kind of trusting naivite, some is her growing awareness of what secrets might be hidden beneath the familiar world she knows.  So a great deal of what made the book was the interplay between that voice and a circumstance where that voice, that person, could have lived.  That said, there are a lot of ideas in play through the story, less insistently perhaps, but underlying the action: questions about science and anti-science fear, about climate change, about education, about fundamentalism.  None of these are what the book’s about – certainly they’re not in the conceptual field of any of the girls – but they inform many of the questions that remain at the book’s end.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

While the book is being sold as a title for younger readers, I didn’t set out to write for that audience – that’s just how the book ended up, because of who was telling the story and how that character thought.  I don’t see the book as limited to any audience, but hope it speaks to a range of readers in a range of ways.  I know that when I was a younger reader, I read all kinds of books that were out of my age group, just like as an adult I’ve read a lot of great books published for younger readers.  The catagories are useful for sorting and selling books, and can be important with regard to content, but I think most people who are into books become omnivores, and more than happy to forage.  Which is perhaps a nicer way of putting it than “hungry readers are like truffle pigs, snorfling ravenously after that special taste that makes them go bonkers.”

Also, I got a chance to talk to YA author Sara Ryan recently, after she’d read an advance copy of The Differnt Girl, and she posted our back-and-forth at

Thank you! Here’s where I point this in the direction of some other writers …

Speaking of Sara Ryan, check out this Portland-based author of two novels, the newly re-issued (!) Empress of the World and The Rules for Hearts, as well as an upcoming graphic novel.  She’s also a honcho librarian – very cool.

I met Lisa Graff at a Penguin event for teachers and librarians in the greater-New York area, and then again at ALA in Seattle this last month.  Lisa’s new novel is A Tangle of Knots, and it’s a whirlwind-clever book with a touch of fantasy, a touch of fable, and screwball comic timing.  And that’s not even mentioning the cake recipes …

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