I’m thrilled to have Gwenda Bond on the blog today! Her first book, Blackwood, was out on the 4th from Angry Robot’s brand new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry,and has been enjoying wonderful reviews. The busy new writer was kind enough to answer a few questions, so please give her a warm welcome!
Gwenda, your first novel, Blackwood, just came out! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your journey?
I have. I was that obnoxious kid who declared I wanted to write books before I even really knew how to read—or write, obviously. I would make cursive swirls on paper and ask my mom to decode any words I’d accidentally made. Anyway, I took a bit of a detour post-college and wrote screenplays for several years before I realized that books were where my writer’s heart truly was and YA books specifically. And it took more years to figure out how to write a novel and a few more to sell one.
Will you tell us a little bit about Blackwood?
Happily! Blackwood is a modern take on the Lost Colony of Roanoke, set on Roanoke Island. When there’s a mass disappearance of 114 people in the present day—the same number as the original colonists—two smart, unlikely 17-year-olds must work together to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, if there’s any hope of saving the missing people and themselves.
What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I’m not sure I can write any other kind of novel, though I guess I should follow the never say never rule. It was really the flood of fantastic YA in the early to mid-2000s that woke me up to the fact it was what I should be writing. So, even though YA wasn’t nearly as robust when I was a teen and I mostly read adult books then—big exceptions for Francesca Lia Block and Christopher Pike aside—I instantly connected with the emerging new breed of YA. When I decided to go to grad school, I only looked at the Vermont College program in writing for children and YA, and while the community and mentorship there were hugely beneficial, I also think becoming more widely read in the field of children’s literature was invaluable.
Honestly, when I started trying to write novels, they were all YA. I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that would work better as an adult book. The immediacy of action and emotion in YA really appeal to me, and that time of life is so rich with possibility. Also, the way all the books rub up against each other. It’s much more of a genre melting pot, with everyone able to steal and use what they want in a freer way, because ultimately the books are marketed into the same category regardless of genre. Especially in comparison to the restrictions marketing can slap on books that are hybrids or departures outside YA, it feels more open to writers trying new things.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
This is always such a hard one for me, because I have trouble stepping back and teasing out actual influences from the things I love. I’m a very wide reader, but also a wide consumer of other media—TV, movies, music—and I suspect it all has an influence, in one way or another. Many of my favorite writers are also friends, which I’ll always feel lucky for, and so conversations with them are also hugely influential on the way I think about my work and also a great source of discussions about what we’re reading as well as what we’re writing. Total cop-out answer? Probably. But I’m never happy naming names unless I’m recommending books. I always kick myself for forgetting someone.
What was one of your favorite books as a child?
Oh, there were so many. But since I already mentioned him once in this interview, I’m going to single out an actual YA book I read and reread when I was a teen (not a child, so cheating, but): Christopher Pike’s Remember Me. It was—with the caveat I haven’t read it in a lot of years—a book about a girl who’s murdered at the beginning of the novel trying to find her killer, while running from a shadowy dark force, and meanwhile falling in love and uncovering great family secrets. I have no idea how it would hold up, going back to it, but the character’s voice was absolutely compelling to me back then. Pike’s books were an addictive mix of cracktastically amazing high stakes drama and teenagers who felt more true to life than many fictional teens did back then. (I should say that Lizzie Skurnick did a brilliantly snarky piece about Remember Me for her Fine Lines Jezebel column, but I still want to do an epic reread of it. Though I’m semi-afraid to now. Still, Christopher Pike forever. I inhaled those books as a teen.)
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Switching gears completely, I guess it would have to be Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces. At least, that’s what I’m going with today. It’s a beautiful mix of poetry and illustration, prose and politics, which I also first discovered in high school. One of my favorite books, I go back to it every couple of years to marvel anew. It’s one of a kind.
What makes you set a book aside in frustration?
I get a lot of books for possible review in the mail (as I’m sure you do), and so often it’s no fault of the book itself. I can’t remember the last time I started a book and got beyond the first chapter and couldn’t finish it or was truly disappointed by it. What makes me set a book aside in that first chapter is usually that it just isn’t clicking—the voice or subject matter isn’t my kind of thing, the character isn’t engaging me. It’s just not for me as a reader.
What are you reading now?
I’ve been on a romance reading binge, which tends to be my go-to during stressful times (like a first book release!). Mostly, I’ve been reading Sherry Thomas, who I just discovered recently. I also loved Ilona Andrews’ latest, Gunmetal Magic, as I do all her books. And I just finished Leigh Bardugo’s Smoke and Bone, which was great, and Tiffany Trent’s The Unnaturalists, ditto.
Is there someone (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fangirl in you if you were to meet them in person?
I have been extremely lucky in that I seem to meet the authors who become my heroes before I read their books and would be hopelessly intimidated by them and so unable to make conversation. However, I’ll admit to being somewhat in awe of Karen Joy Fowler after reading Sarah Canary for the first time. If she wasn’t so approachable and hilarious, I might have embarrassed myself terribly.
I don’t know if there’s anyone else. I’m not that impressed by celebrity, so probably not. Usually I get more impressed to meet someone with a really interesting job—you worked on the Curiosity for NASA? I’m probably going to turn into a little bit of a fangirl.
When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
On twitter, of course. Or marathoning television shows, or reading. I should be less of a hermit. Resolution! (Resolution that will never be kept.)
Quick! What’s something that makes you laugh out loud?
Ridiculous uses of scare quotes around every day items! One-day “sale”, for instance. Though, I should probably say, I am remarkably easy to make laugh out loud.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I don’t think so. Blackwood’s out now (!) and I would love to hear from readers, who can always find me via my website or at twitter. You can find out about the events I’m doing at my site, too. My next book will be The Woken Gods, out next year from Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot. So don’t be a stranger.
Thanks so much for the interview!
More about Gwenda Bond:
Gwenda Bond is a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly and regularly reviews for Locus. Her nonfiction work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among others, and she guest-edited a special YA issue for Subterranean Online. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. Readers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet may know her as everyone’s Dear Aunt Gwenda.
She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie: Hemingway the Cat, Polydactyl, LLC; Miss Emma the Dog-Girl, CPA; and Puck the Puppy, INC. This is her first novel.
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.
Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
Purchase Blackwood: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound