When Gloria sets out to spend the summer before her senior year at a camp for gifted and talented students, she doesn’t know quite what to expect. Fresh from the heartache of losing her grandmother and missing her best friend, Gloria resolves to make the best of her new circumstances. But some things are proving to be more challenging than she expected. Like the series of mysterious clues left by a certain Professor X before he even shows up to teach his class, Secrets of the Written Word. Or the very sweet, but very conservative, roommate whose coal-industry family champions mountaintop removal. Not to mention the obnoxious Mason, who dresses like the Mad Hatter and immediately gets on Gloria’s nerves — but somehow won’t escape her thoughts. Beautifully told by debut author Sarah Combs, this honest and touching story of growing up is imbued with the serene atmosphere of Kentucky’s natural landscape.
What an accomplished first novel! I think Combs really makes the best of the YA genre and the first person narrative. This book explores how young people specifically can deal with: political disagreements with friends, crushing on someone you hate, honestly questioning the integrity of an authority figure, losing your #1 role model, growing out of the future you once dreamed for yourself, and so much more. It is also a rare and wonderful shout-out to my home state of Kentucky. Endorsed 100%!
Liz from Books Inc. Berkeley
A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut.
On the eve of Princess Sophia's wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls. A mysterious illness plagues the royal family, threatening the lives of the throne's heirs, and a courtier's wolfish hunger for the king's favors sets a devious plot in motion. Here in the palace at Skyggehavn, things are seldom as they seem -- and when a single errant prick of a needle sets off a series of events that will alter the course of history, the fates of seamstress Ava Bingen and mute nursemaid Midi Sorte become irrevocably intertwined with that of mad Queen Isabel. As they navigate a tangled web of palace intrigue, power-lust, and deception, Ava and Midi must carve out their own survival any way they can.
Gnarly is the word that comes to mind. This book combines the most horrific aspect of fairytales, the most disgusting bits of 16th century European royal court life, and the most disturbing details of being female to create something that is - in my opinion - spectacular. I would have devoured this book as a teenager, but there is some graphic violence. And yet... I love this book and consider it my favorite work of fiction I have read this year. And the ending is happy enough...
Liz from Books Inc. Berkeley
By the time I was ten, I had already written numerous songs, a poem for Parker Stevenson ("If there were a Miss America for men, You would surely win"), two autobiographies (All About Me and My Life in Indiana: I Will Never Be Happy Again), a Christmas story, several picture books (which I illustrated myself) featuring the Doodle Bugs from Outer Space, a play about Laura Ingalls Wilder's sister entitled Blindness Strikes Mary, a series of prison mysteries, a collection of short stories featuring me as the main character (an internationally famous rock star detective), and a partially finished novel about Vietnam. I was also an excellent speller from a very early age. In 2000, I started writing full-time, and I haven't stopped... I've written eight books, and when I'm not working on the ninth, I'm contributing to my web magazine, Germ, thinking up new books, and dabbling in TV. I am always writing.
"The Fault in Our Stars" meets "Eleanor and Park" in this exhilarating and heart-wrenching love story about a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die.
Soon to be a major motion picture starring Elle Fanning
Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the "natural wonders" of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself--a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink.
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.
- What/who was your biggest inspiration for All the Bright Places?
I wrote All the Bright Places the summer of 2013, following the death of my beloved literary agent of fifteen years. The last time I saw him, I was nearing the end of a series of books I’d begun writing in 2008 and was feeling depleted and ready—creatively— for something new and different. He told me, “Kid, whatever you write next, write it with all your heart. Write it no matter what. Write it because you can’t imagine writing anything else.” Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and later I lost him. The experience was life changing. I’d always wanted to write about it—I just wasn’t convinced I would ever be able to. But that summer of 2013, I thought again about this boy and that experience, and I knew in my heart that it was the story I wanted to write.
- All the Bright Places covers some pretty heavy topics. Was there ever a time where you struggled with finding the right words or had to take a break from writing?
The fact that this story was personal and inspired by something that happened in my life made it at once easier and harder to write. I wrote the first draft in about six weeks, so the words came quickly. I never took a break from the writing, even though I wrote through tears more than once. At night I would regroup and catch my breath, and the next morning I would go right back to it.
- Theodore is obsessed with finding death and Violet longs to escape it; what’s your personal viewpoint on the topic of death?
I’ve lost so many people in my life— my father, my beloved grandparents, cousins, friends, mentors, cats, and, most recently, my mom, who was my very best friend. So much loss. But through it, I try to focus on something Violet realizes in the book: it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave. Every person I’ve lost has left me so much, and I like to think I carry them with me. I’ve also learned the importance of wandering the world, making it lovely, and leaving something behind.
- Which dead author would you most want to meet? What would you ask him/her?
I would love to have a writers workshop with Flannery O’Connor because she was the most brilliant, evocative, economical, darkly funny writer and because she is the writer—other than my own mother—I most admire. But it would also be interesting to meet those Brontë sisters. I’d like to sit around the hearth with them and ask dishy personal questions about failed love affairs and their addict brother and life on the moors.
- Your other books are targeted toward an adult audience, what was it like writing YA?
Even though I love reading YA, this is the first young adult novel I’ve written. I began my career writing adult nonfiction—back-to-back books about historic and tragic Arctic expeditions. I’ve also written a memoir and four historical novels for adults about a girl named Velva Jean Hart. The Velva Jean books have a strong YA following, and my memoir takes place during my high school years, but now that I’m officially writing for young adults, I am the happiest I’ve ever been creatively. So much of what’s being produced in YA literature is brilliant and daring and fantastically imaginative, and I can honestly say it’s where I feel most at home. I’m at work on my second YA novel now!
- If your book were made into a film, who would you like to see cast?
Funny you should ask that… when I was writing the book, I always pictured Elle Fanning as Violet. And now she’s attached to play Violet in the upcoming movie version! Finch hasn’t been cast yet, but Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, X-Men, Skins) will always be Finch to me.
- If you weren’t an author, what would be your ideal career?
International rock star detective. It’s what I’ve wanted to be ever since I was little.
- Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a bit of both, but I find it really depends on the book. The work has a way of dictating how it wants to be written.
- Coffee or tea?
Tea, especially ginger or mint.
- Favorite TV show? Movie? Band?
Supernatural. Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights. And ABBA.
And don't forget, Jennifer Niven will be at Books Inc. Palo Alto on January 8th to answer the rest of your questions!
Chris Scotton’s The Secret Wisdom of the Earth takes you to Kentucky where Kevin’s mother seeks refuge after tragedy. Sitting on the steps of his grandfather’s porch, Kevin listens to the talk of old men sipping sour mash whiskey. If Kevin could, though, he’d add a little heat to their glasses – Kevin has a small problem setting fires. So I did that for him.
2 oz. Michter’s Sour Mash Whiskey
.25 oz. Simple Syrup
3 Dashes Bittermen’s Hellfire Habanero Shrub Bitters
Add all over one large piece of ice in an old-fashioned glass. Stir. No garnish.
San Francisco resident Katie Coyle grew up in Fair Haven, New Jersey, and has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in One Story, the Southeast Review, Cobalt, and Critical Quarterly. This is her first novel.
Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple never believed in the evangelical Church of America, unlike her recently devout parents. But when Vivian returns home the night after the supposed "Rapture," all that's left of her parents are two holes in the roof. Suddenly, she doesn't know who or what to believe. With her best friend Harp and a mysterious ally, Peter, Vivian embarks on a desperate cross-country roadtrip through a paranoid and panic-stricken America to find answers. Because at the end of the world, Vivan Apple isn't looking for a savior. She's looking for the truth.
1. What was your inspiration for writing Vivian Apple at the End of the World?
I was really fascinated by Harold Camping’s Rapture/Apocalypse prediction in 2011, and had read an article about a family split along similar lines as Vivian’s—the parents were devout believers, and the teenage children were very much not. That tension was extremely interesting to me. I was also looking to write something about a girl taking control of her own destiny, which is pretty much the only thing I ever read. The two threads seemed to work together, and lo, Vivian Apple was born.
2. Vivian’s parents are devout believers. What kind of religious upbringing did you have?
I was raised Catholic but am not Catholic anymore.
3. Following the apocalypse (or rapture) Vivian comes home to find her parents gone and holes in the roof of her house. Would you react in the same way Vivian does? If not, how would you react?
I think I’m a lot more prone to pure panic than Vivian is. She essentially goes into a state of shock, but is all-business by the time she comes out of it. If the people I loved disappeared in a Rapture-like event, I would probably do a lot more screaming and running around in circles.
4. How much research did you end up doing for Vivian Apple?
Not a whole lot! I did some very cursory reading on cults when I first started exploring the idea of the story (and specifically the powerful religion Vivian’s parents belong to), and I read Lawrence Wright’s excellent book Going Clear, about Scientology, during revision.
5. Are there specific genres or authors you tend to avoid reading while you’re working on something new? Are there any authors or novels that have inspired your writing?
I tend to avoid the specific genre I’m writing in—I’d read (and loved) a ton of YA dystopias before starting Vivian Apple, but once I was working on it I stayed away, just for the sake of keeping my own vision clear. Vivian Apple doesn’t have any direct literary inspiration, but there are of course many writers who have helped me hone in on the kind of writer I want to be. Some of my favorites are J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Aimee Bender.
6. If your book were turned into a movie, who would you like to see cast?
This is my very favorite question! I love the young actress Hailee Steinfeld, who appeared in the Coen Brothers’ True Grit a few years ago—she has a very natural intelligence and toughness that I think would serve Vivian well. Harry Styles from One Direction should play Peter, because they are both very dreamy. When I was writing the novel, I couldn’t stop picturing Amy Poehler as Vivian’s beloved teacher Wambaugh—I think she’d be great in that role, and I also like to imagine that we’d start a lifelong friendship on set.
7. If you weren’t an author, what would be your ideal career?
I would be a Hollywood casting agent. See above answer for my credentials.
8. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I plot extensively when I’m writing something novel-length, because my brain is usually very scattered and if I don’t tell myself that today I am writing this particular scene in which these particular things happen, everything tends to go off the rails. But I do like to play it a little looser with short fiction—I tend to start with a general premise and then watch it come together in a weird, haphazard way. The first method is more effective, but the second’s a little more fun.
9. Coffee or tea?
10. Favorite movie? TV show? Band?
The Philadelphia Story. Doctor Who. The Monkees. (I contain multitudes.)
Head to Books Inc. Opera Plaza on January 6th and meet Katie in person to ask her all the questions we didn't answer here!
And you should, too!