Friday, October 4, 2013

Feature Friday: Sonia Gensler

Sonia Gensler is the author of The Revenant (Knopf ‘11) and The Dark Between (Knopf '13). She grew up in a small Tennessee town and spent her early adulthood collecting impractical degrees from various Midwestern universities. A former high school English teacher, Sonia now writes full time in Oklahoma and spends her summers in England.

Interview:
A.L.:
What piece of advice would you give to a budding author?

Sonia:
It seems so simple, but my best advice is to read widely and voraciously. Once you decide on the genre for your story, read all the best novels in that same genre because you need to understand the market in order to find your place within it. Once you've read until your eyes are nearly bleeding (ha!), ask yourself if there's a story you'd love to read that you haven't yet found on a shelf. That's the story you need to write.

A.L.:
What's your favorite book and why?

Sonia:
If I had to pick just one, I'd say Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, simply because it has so profoundly influenced my fascination with the 19th century, with governesses and other early female educators, and with anything remotely Gothic.

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for The Dark Between?

Sonia:
I can pinpoint the inspiration to Deborah Blum's Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death, the true story of a group of 19th century scholars who attempted to study paranormal phenomena in an unbiased, scientific manner. From the first chapter I was hooked on the turbulence they experienced during their quest for truth, and I knew their lives would have made great fodder for a film or cable series. As you might imagine, however, my writer brain was more interested in what life might have been like for their teenaged children, especially if one of these teens was hiding a paranormal ability of her own. So I took a few liberties with the timeline, created my own teen protagonists, and voila! THE DARK BETWEEN was born.

A.L.:
Did you hit any snags while writing The Dark Between?  What were they and how did you fix them?

Sonia:
I hit a snag with a certain plotline, initially because I envisioned an edgy twist that wasn't really organic to the overall story arc. I tried a different approach, and that bombed out even worse. When I finally thought of a viable alternative, I made an 8 page, single-spaced outline of the changes and sent that to my editor. I didn't want to waste any more time! She had a few questions and suggestions, but ultimately that option worked out quite well.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in The Dark Between is your favorite and why?

Sonia:
I love Kate's fiesty independence and Asher's mix of arrogance and vulnerability, but Elsie is closest to my heart. Her desperate need for a boy's love reminds me of myself as a teen. I wish she would focus more on her creative passions. 

A.L.:
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an author?

Sonia:
I've wanted to be an author since I was little, but I lost my courage in early adulthood. I thought a decent critical essay was about the best I could manage. Teaching changed that. I encountered passionate writers in my classroom -- kids so brave that they taught me to conquer my fear and work harder for my dream. I finished my first novel while I was teaching. That book was a great learning experience, but it wasn't publishable. So I decided to take a couple of years off from teaching to write the book that would sell. My second book got me an agent, but we couldn't get a deal for it. It was my third book -- the one I wrote with passion and desperation -- that sold to Knopf. The Revenant came out in June 2011, about 5 years after I left teaching.

A.L.:
What are you working on now?  Sequel?  Something new?

Sonia:
I'm working on a contemporary story featuring younger characters. It's a tale of friendship, creativity, and betrayal. (And there just might be some spookiness thrown in for good measure.) I also would love to write more about Kate, Asher, and Elsie -- they certainly have more adventures ahead of them -- but it remains to be seen whether or not this will happen.

A.L.:
What draws you to the dark, ghostly, and gothic?

Sonia:
It started back in college when I took a Gothic literature course. I fell in love with the themes and iconography of Gothic—crumbling castles, dark forests, brooding heroes (& villains) with dark secrets, maidens in distress, etc. Ghosts came later . . . probably when I saw The Others and realized their amazing story potential. To me, ghosts are all about loss and longing. I love the idea of an emotion or intention so strong that it survives bodily death, lingering as a residue and perhaps even interacting with the living.

A.L.:
What is your favorite story from your high school-soap operas with friends days?

Sonia:
I think it might be when my friends and I were sharing a particularly boisterous round of stories in the library--laughing until we were about to pee our pants--and our mean old math teacher came in to check on our "independent work." We immediately hushed up and tried to look busy and studious. When the teacher asked my friend D a serious question (she was in a "no nonsense" mood and we were quaking in our seats), D opened her mouth to answer but exploded with laughter instead. She laughed right in Mrs. B's face! It was so shocking that the teacher stalked out without really chastising us. I'll never forget that. It was as if the joy of our stories had triumphed over her grumpy nature.

A.L.:
What's your favorite place to visit in England?

Sonia:
I can't pick one place! I love my summer home base of Oxford. I adore Cambridge, the setting of The Dark Between. But Wales, London, the Cotswolds, and the Peak District also rank high on my list of favorite places.

The Giveaway:
Sonia is giving away a signed finished copy of THE DARK BETWEEN + swag (bookmarks, postcards, Dark Between tote bag, etc.)

The Dark Between:  A supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and séances are all the rage—even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.

Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave—or risk joining the spirit world themselves.



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How to Enter:
Enter the giveaway using Rafflecopter. Hit the arrow buttons, follow the prompts, and hit the enter buttons when you're done. (You may have to log in using Facebook to do this). There will be one winner (selected by Rafflecopter). I will contact the winner via email. This contest is open to US entrants only. 


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