Friday, April 11, 2014

Feature Friday: Elizabeth Fama

ELIZABETH FAMA is the YA author most recently of Plus One, an alternate-history thriller set in contemporary Chicago. Her other books include Monstrous Beauty, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and an Odyssey honor winner, and Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a society of Midland Authors honor book, and a nominee for five state awards. A graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in biology and an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics, she lives with (and cannot live without) her boisterous, creative family in Chicago.

Interview:

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

Elizabeth:
I love Barbara Kingsolver's advice: "Learn as much as you can about the world itself. That means not just writing courses, [but] other courses. Probably I would say learn about science. There are very few fiction writers who know about biology, physics, environmental chemistry, and there’s a great need for science in the literary world."

And then I'd add that you should read challenging adult prose and poetry, so that you get a feel for how to use beautiful language unconventionally.

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

Elizabeth:
In the young-adult realm, I think Megan Whalen Turner's Thief  series is my favorite, and it's because she trusts her readers to be smart. Nothing--absolutely nothing--is "explicated," as my editor would say. Turner shows subtle interactions between characters and knows you'll understand.

A.L.:
Where did you get the idea for Plus One?

Elizabeth:
I got the idea for Plus One when I drove my daughter to see a friend after surgery at 10 PM. The roads were clear, the street lights were timed, and we got to the hospital in twelve minutes instead of the thirty-five it would have taken during the day. As I waited for her in the car, on a dark, quiet street in front of Northwestern Memorial, I thought, "Why do we all try to live at the same time during the day? Why don't we spread the resources around the clock?" And then I started thinking, "What if we had to live at night? What health consequences would there be? Who would decide which shifts we were assigned to? What would it mean for rights and liberties?"

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

Elizabeth:
The only snags were the usual: paralyzing fear that what I'm writing isn't going to resonate with any readers. I got over it the way I always do--by realizing that for the moment, I was the only reader who mattered.

A.L.:
Which one of the characters in Plus One is your favorite and why?

Elizabeth:
Sol is unlike anyone I've ever met before. She's passionately devoted to the people she loves, to the point of recklessness. It was both tumultuous and freeing to write in her voice.

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

Elizabeth:
I've had a long journey as an author. I majored in Biology in college, intending to go to medical school. Then I switched gears and went to graduate school in economics, where I got an MBA and PhD. I secretly started dabbling in writing picture books and then a middle-grade novel (when I should have been writing my dissertation). I quickly knew that I loved writing, but I had no training--I wasn't even well-read, because of all the science and math courses I took in school. I also have a big family (four kids), and "writing in my spare time" was barely possible when they were young. So you can see that I feel like I'm both an aged veteran and a newbie! I've been practicing for two decades, learning and growing slowly, which is why I only have three books out so far--fewer than some hotshot twenty-somethings.

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

Elizabeth:
Plus One is a standalone, but I wrote a short story on Tor.com called "Noma Girl" that's a prequel companion piece. After I finish promoting Plus One, I'll go back to two projects: I'm slowly researching a young-adult historical fiction novel, and I'm writing a YA realistic contemporary about four boys and a dead body. No love interest this time!

A.L.:
Do you find it annoying that your husband's books sell better than yours?

Elizabeth:
Haha! My husband's finance textbook is still doing amazingly well in terms of royalties, a dozen years later. But each of my advances for Monstrous Beauty and Plus One did finally match his. (Now to try to earn out, which he did in his first year!)

A.L.:
When did you start playing tennis?

Elizabeth:
I started when I was about nine years old. My mom was clever: she signed me up for a summer tennis camp, and when I hated the first day, she told me "I've already paid for the first week ahead of time, just finish the week." I knew I could stick out a few days more. At the end of the week I didn't hate it anymore, I was ambivalent. "Let's try one more week, then," she suggested. In week-long increments, I grew quite fond of it! Tennis is a sport that only starts to reward you after you acquire some basic skills. I think she understood that.

A.L.:
Did you choose to write YA because you have young adult children or for a different reason?  (Obviously, we'd like to know what that reason is).

Elizabeth:
I do love it that my work is being pitched to teens, because I think books can change how you think when you're young. That said, the difference between YA and adult fiction is a lot more fluid lately. Adults are starting to realize that they enjoy the plot drive that they find in some YA literature. It's rare to find books for teens that are navel-gazing or pretentious. Kids wont' stand for it.

The Giveaway:
A hardcover from book depository (INT).

Plus One: Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story.





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