01 August 2011

Interview: with Author Jennifer Sommersby

Title: Sleight (AVRA-K, #1)
Publisher: Accendo Press, 328 Pages (March 23rd 2011)

Synopsis: Her mom is dead.
Ghosts follow her around.
Her best friend is an elephant.

And she’s about to meet the biggest game changer of all: a boy. With a secret.

When circus-dwelling Gemma Flannery learns she will be attending public school for the first time in her seventeen years, little does she know that fitting in with her 12th-grade classmates will be the least of her concerns. A pro at hiding her knack for seeing the dead (“shades”), Gemma is grieving the recent suicide of her mentally ill mother, a process eased by the introduction of her first real love interest, the charming and painfully handsome Henry Dmitri, who is harboring his own collection of dangerous secrets. Together, they will be presented with a frightening challenge: to assume their roles as heirs to a 3000-year-old magical text, the AVRAKEDAVRA, a book the über-rich, sleight-of-being master Lucian Dmitri would do anything to get his hands on. As each terrifying layer in her new reality melts away, Gemma unearths truths that her quiet, nomadic life with the Cinzio Traveling Players is not at all what she’d always cherished. Gemma and Henry must rely on each other to stop Lucian’s diabolical plotting that will bring the world to its tired, scab-riddled knees, and are sent on the flight of their young lives, to save themselves, their families, and the world from the darkest kind of destruction.

Let the chase begin.

How did you come up with the idea for Sleight?

It was a combination of events. I’d written the short story for it, called Dreaming of Elsinore or something weird like that where my main character was a 13-year-old girl named Frankie who lived with a circus and had a pet frog named Hamlet. A lot of the key elements that are now in Sleight were present in that short story, but it was not at all paranormal or fantastical. The original story happened over a single stormy day in which a tragic circus accident results in Frankie losing a treasured family member. Then in 2008 I had a young magician come over to the house for my son’s birthday party, and Jonathan started telling me about this phenomenal sleight-of-hand artist named Ricky Jay. We got to talking about the history of magic and I was fascinated. After Jonathan left, I went online and began investigating this Ricky Jay fellow and found a lengthy profile about him in the New Yorker. The more I read about him, the shorter my breath grew. I knew I was onto something. Although Mr. Jay seems like a really good guy, a true success in his own right, I began to see a different version of him as a rich, powerful, and devastatingly charming magician/businessman. That’s when Lucian Dmitri was born. Hours more research revealed the true history of the word avrakedavra, and I knew I had something special.

Can you tell us a bit about your process of writing from concept to finished book?

I am a very slow writer. I tend to write everything longhand, on a notepad or in a journal, all the while keeping a separate notebook of ideas, thoughts, problems, and questions I need to ask myself and the characters. Depending on how much demand there is on my time, I will transcribe in batches of 10-20 handwritten pages into a Word document, although Sleight was completely finished before it made it onto the computer. With Stratagem: Book 2, I’ve been trying to plug pages in as I go along, just so I don’t lose them. (I’m sort of an airhead.) Once I get the first draft down on paper, and what is essentially the second draft onto the computer, I start from the beginning and read it through. Once I fix the blaring problems, I send it out to other readers, a few in my chosen demographic (teenagers) and adults. With Sleight, I had two editorial hands working on it, and they made a huge difference. I rewrote at least five times from start to finish, tweaking constantly. I am a terrible perfectionist, so it takes me forever to slap something into the shape I want it. Then it’s time to copy edit, a minimum of three passes (I think Sleight had closer to a million). As a copy editor, I have a rep to protect, but I can’t catch everything. I had some great help from several sources. For Stratagem, I have five beta readers and three critique partners lined up, and will be working with a professional editor (she’s a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle and has a really big brain), so it will be interesting to see how she chews it up and spits it back out. I am very methodical about how I do all of this. Hence, I am definitely the tortoise, and not the hare.

More people are choosing to go the self-published route. Any words of wisdom you’d like to give to the masses? Anything you wish you would have known?

I think the whole concept of self-publishing is very empowering, and because it is so accessible, everyone and their dog is now writing a book, for better and for worse. The one piece of advice I constantly go back to is hire a copy editor, not because I want to drum up business for myself but because stupid errors are making us all look like amateurs. I often see on social media outlets, whether it be Kindle Boards, Facebook, or Twitter, that writers are so consumed with sharing their word counts and marketing efforts for the day that they are really glossing over what they should be concerned with, and that is producing a quality product. Readers are not always forgiving. I’ve mentioned this before, but I saw a comment on the Kindle Facebook page a few weeks ago where a reader said she wouldn’t buy any more self-published or indie books because the errors and typos drove her crazy. That’s sad. We can all do better. We have to do better.

I never wanted to self-publish. Of course, once I did, I met this amazing group of really cool people, so it’s been a win-win. With that said, I wish I’d known prior to setting out on this miraculous journey was how much bloody work it was going to be. The amount of time I spend marketing and networking is unreal. If you’re going the indie/self-pub route, be prepared. Be very prepared. I equate it to having a kid: people tell you your life is going to change and that kids are a lot of work, but you really have no idea until you jump in with both feet.

I tend to ask this question a lot, because I think its fun and interesting, so I’ll ask you this one, too. Can you share with us your favorite line or two from Sleight?

I actually can’t give you my favorite line, because it will give away too much. BUT, I asked around, and this is a popular one: “Not even your dreams are safe, my sweet daughter. Not even your dreams!” (Lucian)

I sort of like this one as it is a fine example of how cheeky Gemma can be (she’s talking to Henry—they’re getting acquainted in the lunchroom at school): “Well, it was an amazing thing, you know, the many ways our chef found to prepare lion meat."

Of your main characters in the book, if each had to describe the other, what would they say?

Gemma would say nice stuff about Henry. I mean, duh, he’s the Object of Her Affection. She’d tell you he’s very sweet, thoughtful, and of course, handsome as hell, but she might tell you that there is a darker side to him. Or she might not. She’s very secretive, that girl. And she’s not the super-excited, “OMG, he’s dreamy” type. I think if you were to ask her about Henry, she’d blush and smile, and then maybe change the subject.

About Ash, she’d say he’s a moody pain in the ass with a misguided rebellious stripe to him, but she still loves him. She can’t help it. About Junie, she’d roll her eyes and giggle. Junie is nothing but an adorable ball of fun, constantly smiling, and more than a little hyper. Gemma adores her Auntie Marlene—steadfast, caring, and endlessly compassionate; her Uncle Ted—hard-working, a bit crusty around the edges, and definitely tortured; and Uncle Irwin—strong, tenacious, and wise.

Can you tell us five random things about two of the characters in your book that we might not know from reading their story?

Uncle Ted:

1. He used to work in a lumber mill alongside his father.

2. He and Marlene’s son, Jonah, was an “oops” baby.

3. After Alicia died, her parents came to visit him at his parents’ house. He had a strange but touching encounter with Alicia’s mother, Eléne, at the cemetery, in which Eléne “spoke” to her dead daughter and delivered messages from her to Ted.

4. He was Lucian Dmitri’s most promising student.

5. He has squirreled away enough money from the circus to put Gemma through university. She just doesn’t know it yet.


1. She has a heart-shaped stork bite birthmark at the base of her neck.

2. She has saved the programs from every opening night show from every venue they’ve performed at since she started traveling with the circus.

3. When she started playing the violin at age five, she tried to talk Marlene into letting her learn guitar instead. Marlene said no because violin would help Gemma win a university scholarship someday, and audiences would go crazy over a pee-wee violinist.

4. She’s never had a cavity.

5. When she was nine, she went crabbing with Ted and Irwin at the Oregon Coast during a brief summer hiatus. When her uncles weren’t looking, she dumped the cooler of crabs off the edge of the dock and set all of the Dungeness crabs free.

What book or books have you recently read and loved, or anything you’re looking forward to that are must reads?

I’m pretty finicky with the books I read for pleasure. It takes a lot for me to fall head over heels for something. I think the last book I read that I would give a solid five stars to was Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle. I friggin’ loved it. Oh, I did just read a Walter Mosley title called When the Thrill Is Gone, which was fantastic—I’d never read his work before, and I don’t ordinarily read the detective/PI-type dramas, but this was great. Hannah Moskowitz’s Invincible Summer was delightful. She is a serious talent. I write reviews for Best Damn Creative Writing Blog and will be starting with a new magazine next month, and on my Want List are some recent and/or upcoming titles, including Lions of Kandahar by Rusty Bradley and Kevin Maurer (nonfiction), Long Gone by Alafair Burke, Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott, Fathermucker by Greg Olear, Everything We Ever Wanted by Sara Shepard, and a new title by one of my favorite authors ever, The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (Little Children, Election). You’ll notice there are no YA titles in my list…sorry, guys. You probably already know everything that’s coming out because I get my YA recommendations from my readers and blogger friends!

So, Jenn…what’s next for you? Anything you can tell us about what you’re working on now?

I’m working on Book 2, called Stratagem, and outlining for Book 3. I want to have this series wrapped up in 2012 as I have a few other projects that are starting to get sort of pissy for my attention.

Thanks so much for dropping in today, Jenn. It was great to have you here and I hope you’ll come by again for another visit. Maybe next time we could chat with someone from Sleight

That would be awesome, Lisa. Thank you so much for having me. Always delightful to talk with you. And just like our emails, this has been an epic post!

Find Jenn Online:

Blog | Twitter | Facebook

Be sure to check back tomorrow for my review of Sleight!

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1 comment:

  1. What a great interview! I can't believe the author writes first drafts longhand. Impressive (I, on the other hand, am too lazy to write this way). And I didn't know this was a self-pub! Good for her! That's a hard choice but the book sounds awesome and the cover's well designed. Can't wait to read it!

    Mary @ Book Swarm


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Hi, I’m Lisa and I'm a proud bibliophile.

I enjoy reading and reviewing a variety of different books within the Young Adult, "New Adult" & Adult genres/categories. If you have any questions or if you are an author or publisher and would be interested in promoting a book, please feel free email. You can find my email under the "mail" button or under the contact link at the top of the page.

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