One of the coolest things about Twitter, and something that compensates for its vampiric ability to devour time, is meeting new authors. I met Alana in my earlier days on there and downloaded her book during a promo. The first thing that struck me, and this is something I have later learned is THE key factor for self-pub books, was the awesome cover. The Charm is perfectly pitched: a teen modern sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy mash-up.
The story is taken from the perspective of Olivia Hart, an average insecure sixteen year old in a US High school. Olivia is struggling after her relationship with the school bad-boy, and moreso as her older brother has left for college. So far, so Degrasi Junior High, until Olivia is sat in the canteen with her friends and sees her ex getting angry... and lightning bolts arcing out of his head.
There is a glut of paranormal romance in the YA market at the moment, jolted along by the runaway success of Twilight and Vampire Diaries. To an old Marvel fan like me it was refreshing to see one that is essentially a superhero story, agreeably with a Percy Jackson-esque mythical bent. As Olivia discovers weirder and weirder events, she finds that strange powers are coming to fore in both herself and her friends... The Gifted.
The emergence of powers and the effects they have on the characters and their relationships is setting the series up well to run and run. There is a continual cinematic feel to the book, and for me to get all interested in a US high school novel is an achievement Alana should be proud of!
I interviewed Alana about her first novel, The Charm, not long after the release of her second in the series. So, without further ado, let's quiz Alana...
Me: The high school setting of your book, The Charm, suited the YA genre of the book perfectly. It's difficult to avoid stereotypes in such a well-used setting, though. How do you go about designing your characters to do that?
Alana: I’ve heard people say that you should write what you know, and so I allowed my personal life to inspire the dynamic characters in the Olivia Hart and the Gifted Program series. Many of the situations are based (loosely) on people and events in my life. For example, in high school, my ex-boyfriend brought flowers to a girl in the same class as me, just to make me jealous (it didn’t work!). I dream of the day that I am on the Ellen DeGeneres show with my high school friends and readers get to see real live versions of my characters. ;-)
To answer the next questions on the tip of your tongue, I didn't have super powers when I was in high school, but who wouldn't want to add special abilities when you are rewriting history?
Me: Olivia is a wonderful and complex main character. I think we all put part of ourselves in our creations. How much of you is in Olivia- or indeed any of the characters?
Interesting timing for your question! The Retreat, book #2 in the series was launched a week ago, and I received a review on the Amazon page from a reader who wasn't a family member or friend. He wrote, "Alana Siegel is a girl at heart, and enjoys writing the joys and challenges of enduring love, and friendship."
For a minute, I was stunned. How did this random reader know me so well? Then, I was unbelievably happy because I realised Olivia had translated my passions perfectly. I am a self-professed Tween Queen.
Me: I'm just completing a series of fantasy novels and have tied up my story arcs. Is your series a pre-determined length or have you left it open/flexible?
Alana: I always hoped to write a trilogy or a series. I love to get lost in an adventure with old friends. My outline maps out Olivia's path, however, there are still open ended questions about her relationships and journeys. I love feedback from readers and will incorporate their ideas into my writing.
The Retreat added 2 new characters - Great Aunt Evelyn who is a 97 year old woman with spunk and Luca Hale who knows a thing or two about charming. I am toying with an idea for book 3; perhaps having the book begin by questioning Aunt Ev's innocence and building up a Team Justin vs. Team Luca rivalry for Olivia's affection.
Me: The boom in e-publishing has created a whole new generation of writers putting their stuff out there. What advice could you give to those starting out on the path to self-pub?
The publishing industry is changing for the better. Great books can now be read by the masses without getting tangled up in the politics of the publishing industry. With websites to post book reviews, the end users (the readers) are now the final judges of a book, instead of the large publishing houses.
Joining twitter, I was able to contact thousands of authors (like yourself!), and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were welcoming and willing to help. They retweeted my novel to their followers, shared my story on their blog, and passed along helpful tips and advice. Goodreads is also a fantastic place to connect with fellow readers and writers.
If you turn writing into a hobby instead of a job, you will find instant gratification. Enjoy the journey, and never give up.
Me: My preconception of New York comes from superhero comics and cop shows. What's it like living and working there?
Haha! Growing up in New York was great. It is truly the city that never sleeps, and Manhattan was my playground when I went to New York University. This past June, my fiance and I moved to San Francisco. I miss the skyscrapers, but my lifestyle is definitely more relaxed! I insist you take a trip to both cities!
If only! Thanks very much to Alana for a fun interview, and good luck in the cool city of San Francisco. Here are the links to her books and web-sites. Hope you get chance to look in.