14 October 2008

Interview with Megan Kelley Hall, author of Sisters of Misery

Haven't read Sisters of Misery? Well after you take your anti-crazy pills go read the prologue and first chapter on Megan's MySpace and you guys better appreciate this interview. It took forever to do because MySpace hates us. That's right. Worried about government conspiracies? Forget them, worry about the MySpace conspiracy, they want to drive us insane by saying they sent the message and then, guess what? (You're right again.) THEY DON'T! After sending the questions or answers 20 times each, that's when they'll actually send it. So I want everyone to delete Tom of your friends list right now. Megan and I already did, now it's your turn.

FYI, if after her answer there is something in parentheses, it's what I'm saying in response to her answers oh and the elevator pitch is her, not mine. I'm not that talented of a writer. On to the interview. Away!

Okay, so here’s my elevator pitch for SISTERS OF MISERY: A Modern Day Witch Hunt is Ignited When “Mean Girls” Meets “Practical Magic”. What happens when a hazing prank goes terribly wrong and a young teenage girl goes missing? The debut suspense novel, SISTERS OF MISERY, brings us inside a small, seaside town near Salem, where Maddie Crane, the teen protagonist investigating her eccentric cousin’s disappearance, ignites the wrath of the Sisters of Misery – a powerful high school clique, whose activities mirror the witch hunts of the seventeenth century. Hawthorne is a town filled with secrets and the supernatural. Stories hidden for decades come to light after Cordelia’s tragic disappearance. Cordelia’s mother, Rebecca, descends into madness while internal struggles amongst Maddie’s family members are all consequences of the supernatural “gifts” that they possess. Maddie Crane must choose between the allure and power of the Sisters of Misery and her loyalty to her beloved cousin and her own family. Fans of Alice Hoffman, Jodi Picoult and Stephenie Meyer will be haunted by this story of three generations of women and their struggles against each other and a town ruled by fear.

How long ago did you get the idea and start writing Sisters of Misery?

A few years. It was originally an adult novel called MISERY ISLAND. I got some interest from agents, but was never offered representation until I turned it to a YA novel. Then there was quite a bit of interest from agents and editors alike.

What was the inspiration behind the story?

I live right next to Salem, Massachusetts and I’ve always wanted to write something that captured the essence of the gothic undertones of growing up in a place that had such a dark history. Plus, I wanted to show how people really haven’t changed all that much—that persecution and ostracism are still alive and well in today’s society.
The book actually grew out of a recent local legend. There’s a stone wall in a neighboring town that supposedly was the site of a car crash not too long ago. Three kids were killed in the car crash and some say that if you shine your headlights on the wall at a certain time of night, you can see their faces in the wall. I’ve never actually seen it, but I decided to build my book around that haunting image.

Do you believe in the paranormal?

I kind of believe in ghosts and aliens. And I do believe that certain people have extrasensory perception. But that's the extent of my supernatural beliefs. And, no matter how many times my husband tries to convince me, I DO NOT believe in Bigfoot.

Are you or anyone you know interested in New Age?

Growing up next to Salem, MA, it's hard not to be interested in New Age things. I've used tarot cards and crystals and herbs for healing properties. But I've never been involved in witchcraft or "wicca". I have had my tarot cards and palm read by a witch, but that's about it.

Is Misery Island based on a real place?

Misery Island is a actually a real island. Actually there are a group of islands off the coast of Salem that are called the Misery Islands. The main one that I used in the story is called Great Misery. The smaller islands are called Cat, Tinker, Bakers and Eagle--to name a few. Hawthorne is a fictional town I created by mixing together a bunch of towns located on Boston's North Shore near Salem.

(I am so going there on my road trip!)

How long did it take for you to get Sisters of Misery published?

It definitely wasn't an overnight success story. My personal path to publication is unique. I started out writing for magazines like Glamour, Elle, American Baby, Boston Magazine, MetroSports and Working Mother (to name a few), but never had a published novel or an agent. At 32, I had a series of strokes that eventually lead to open heart surgery. During that nine hour procedure I “technically” died for 96 minutes-as in, my heart was stopped and all brain activity quieted while they performed the surgery. Even after the surgery (which was only second in severity to a heart transplant) was successful, the doctors couldn’t guarantee what, when or how my brain would recover. I could have easily slipped into a coma, become paralyzed, suffered amnesia-the horrific scenarios were endless. Thankfully, I came back in the same mental state I was in prior to surgery. In my recovery stages, I was extremely limited in what I could and couldn’t do. Since I had a full sternotomy and needed to heal, I wasn’t allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds and my mobility was restricted because of the intense pain. And yet, I remained determined to fulfill my dream of becoming a published author. I used my four month recovery period to work on the manuscript I’d been fiddling around with for years. Within a year, I had an agent at a top NY literary agency and a two-book deal with Kensington Books. My book, SISTERS OF MISERY, is the cornerstone of Kensington’s new YA division.

What can you tell me about The Lost Sister?

There is definitely going to be some payback for some of the terrible things done by the Sisters of Misery. Tarot cards are going to play a role in the same way that rune stones started did in SISTERS. Kate is definitely going to get some of what she deserves!

(Whoo hoo, Death to Kate! Uhh... I mean severe bodily harm to Kate!)

How many books are planned for the series?

Right now, The Lost Sister is the last book in the series. It's really up to my editor, agent, publisher and film agent. I'll let you know as soon as I hear.

(It better not be the last book. Let's all write in begging for more.)

Were any of your characters inspired by people you know?

Everyone wants to know who Kate is! The truth is that there wasn't one Kate. There were many "Kates." I took the meanest parts of the most obnoxious girls I knew growing up and put them together to make one really horrible girl. Even though I never witnessed all of the things that happened in the book, I've either seen or heard about watered down versions of all the bullying that I wrote about. I needed to make it really over the top for the suspense factor.

Do you have a favorite character to write?

My favorite character is, of course, Cordelia. She is caring, brilliant, loyal, outspoken, eccentric, free-spirited, beautiful, independent and mysterious. She's just the coolest. I also can relate to Maddie, because at that age, I found myself trying to go with the flow as opposed to standing up for myself and going against my friends. I tried to avoid controversy as much as possible. But, like many readers, I am frustrated with Maddie's actions and her lack of courage to stand up to Kate and the rest of the Sisters. Yet, she grew up in a world where "fitting in" was expected and encouraged--even by her own mother!! I think that growing up, I fell somewhere in between Cordelia and Maddie. I aspired to be Cordelia, but I think my personality was a little closer to Maddie. Kind of low-key and not very confrontational. Despite the fact that Cordelia was a bit "wild," she's a great example for girls in that she stands up for what she believes in and she refuses to be bullied. There are so many cruel things that girls do to each other. It's important to know that you don't have to go along with peer pressure or bullying and that you will be happier with yourself in the long run (and respected by others) if you stand up for what you believe in.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? What was the first thing you wrote?

Yes, I've always dreamed of being a writer. I think the first thing I ever wrote was a really long poem called The Rainbow Colored Shell. I wrote it in the third or fourth grade and it was about a princess that fell into a crystal lake while she was trying to grab this amazingly beautiful rainbow colored shell. She drowned and was discovered by her true love only after she was transformed into a mermaid and had this beautiful rainbow-colored shell in her hair. I guess I had a tendency to write kind of dark and gothic things even at a young age.

Are there any things you need to do before you can write, like listen to music?

Throughout the whole process of writing SISTERS OF MISERY, I listened to Dido, Sarah McLachlan and Natalie Merchant. Their songs really influenced the tone of the book. Before I sit down to write, I like to escape down to the beach at the bottom of my hill and look for sea glass. It's a great way to clear my mind and I often get some of my best ideas during those walks.

What do you do to get through writer’s block?

I’m not one of those people that can fight through writer’s block and just write to get something onto the page. I let thing percolate in my mind until things come out in an explosion. The only problem is that it could be in the middle of the night when all of the words are trying to get out and I need to let them. I just channel my days of all-nighters that I spent in college finishing term papers the day before they were due. Some things never change.

Do have to make an outline or does it all just come to you as you go?

Sometimes I can outline, but mostly I'm a "fly by the seat of my pants" writer. I figure that if I can surprise myself with the ending, then the reader will definitely be surprised.

(I think her way works. I definitely didn't guess anything right)

What’s the first book you remember reading?

I Packed My Trunk To Go To Squantum. I could recite it verbatim when I was four or five. I don't even think it's in print now.
It went something like:
I packed my trunk to go to Squantum
and in it I packed:
An apple big and red,
A book to take to bed,
A car that goes beep beep
A doll that will sleep...."

I don't remember the rest :)

(I think the only thing I could quote verbatim when I was five was... well dang. Now I can't remember it. Hold on I got it, "Listen to them. The children of the night. What music they make.)

What were your favorite books as a teen and now? Favorite authors?

I’ve always loved suspense novels, especially as a teen. So many YA suspense novelists like Lois Duncan, Christopher Pike and Stephen King inspired my writing. In college, I devoured any short stories with a gothic element. Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, William Faulkner. Today I love Jodi Picoult, Alice Hoffman and Thomas H. Cook, to name just a few.

What are you some books you’d recommend?

The Secret History is my all-time favorite book. If I could only go back and read it again for the first time!!

Would you like it if Sisters of Misery became a movie or would you rather it always be just a book?

I'd love to see Sisters of Misery as a television series or movie. It would work well as a series as a sort of cross between Twin Peaks and Gossip Girls. And it would be great in Hollywood because there are tons of wonderful parts for actresses (couldn't you see Julianne Moore as an amazing Rebecca?). Plus, I'd have to insist that Johnny Depp produce, direct or at least have a special appearance in the production. :)

(Johnny Depp... He could be an extra. Oooh he could play a teacher, Jack Sparrow style. Oh I'm sorry, Captain Jack Sparrow)

Check out Megan's site by clicking this, the "Interview with..." at the top, or go to www.megankelleyhall.com


Rory Wilson said...

the more i read the more i cant WAIT to read this book. i think its cool she grew up near Salem, ive always wanted to go there!