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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Author Interview with Dianne K Salerni on The Inquisitor's Mark

I am thrilled to have the incredible Dianne K. Salerni on my blog today on the release of The Inquisitor's Mark, the second book in her Eight Day series from Harper Collins! Not only have I learned a ton of craft from Dianne on her blog, but I've gobbled up each book she's published. I was especially excited when I heard of The Eighth Day series because I have an 11-year-old son and I'm always looking for good MG books that aren't all farts and/or super creepy. I reviewed (and loved) the first book here.

It's rare that I read a book in the middle of a series and like it even more than the first one. Too often the middle books drag or I feel like they're simply getting us to the next book and don't have their own story. Not so with The Inquisitor's Mark. Dianne nailed it. This is my favorite book of hers yet. My favorite characters from book one are back (Jax, the Donovans, and Mrs. Crandall) along with a new cast of people, these ones unfortunately related to Jax and part of the Duluc clan. The Inquisitor's Mark is full of fast-paced adventure, humor, real dilemmas, and new bits of magic that fit seamlessly into the Eighth Day world (<3<3<3 the brownie holes, and no, I won't explain what they are, you'll have to read the book!). I gobbled this book in two sittings and recommend it to everyone-especially if you enjoy Arthurian Legends. (But read The Eighth Day first.)

From Goodreads:
After the all-out Eighth Day war in Mexico, Jax, Riley, and Evangeline have gone into hiding. There are still rogue Transitioners and evil Kin lords who want to use Riley, a descendant of King Arthur, and Evangeline, a powerful wizard with bloodlines to Merlin, to get control over the Eighth Day.
So when Finn Ambrose, a mysterious stranger, contacts Jax claiming to be his uncle, Jax’s defenses go up—especially when Finn tells Jax that he’s holding Jax’s best friend, Billy, hostage. To rescue Billy and keep Riley and Evangeline out of the fray, Jax sneaks off to New York City on his own. But once there, he discovers a surprising truth: Finn is his uncle and Jax is closely related to the Dulacs—a notoriously corrupt and dangerous Transitioner clan who have been dying to get their hands on Riley and Evangeline. And family or not, these people will stop at nothing to get what they want.

With suspense, action, and intrigue lurking around every corner, this fast-paced fantasy series will be a welcome addition for fans of Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.

1. Did you know that there’s a bookstore called Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Kansas? Wouldn’t that be a fun place to go for a book signing? Can you tell us about your favorite experience at a book signing?
That would be a great place to sign Eighth Day books! I’ve seen the name come up on Twitter while searching for my book title, and my sister does live in Kansas – but nowhere near Wichita, I’m afraid.
My favorite book signing experiences have been ones where kids showed up who’d already read The Eighth Day. (This has happened twice.) What was awesome about these events was that while other attendees asked me general questions about writing and my books, these kids had very specific questions regarding their favorite characters, their favorite parts of the story – and they grilled me for information about the second book, The Inquisitor’s Mark.

2. I imagine that would be wonderful. Kids ask the best questions and definitely put my on my toes. When you wrote your first draft of The Eighth Day, you wrote it as a YA novel and then changed in to MG. Can you tell us how you knew that Jax’s story fit better in a MG world?
As soon as my agent said, “This is really a MG story,” I knew it was true. Part of me had felt all along that I should be writing a MG story, but because my prior two books were YA, I thought I was “branded.” (I now think branding is nonsense.) One of the reasons I knew my agent was correct was the reaction my 5th grade students had to the premise. They knew that I had written about a séance fraud (We Hear the Dead) and a peculiar cemetery (The Caged Graves) and they were interested to hear about those books. But from the moment they learned I was writing a book about a secret day of the week, they pestered me relentlessly to read it to them – which I couldn’t do, since there were inappropriate bits.
I probably wasn’t off the phone with my agent ten minutes before I went diving into the document to slash those inappropriate bits and start making other changes to ready this story for the right audience. (And yes, I did read the revised version to my students, to their delight.)

3. It's great that your class could be a part of your writing. I like that their names are in the acknowledgements. You’ve talked a great deal on your blog about your writing process. As a fellow pantser, I’ve appreciated your insight into your personal process and how your writing style had to change for writing a series. Could you tell us the hardest and the best part about having to write more from an outline?
I’m scratching my head over the “best” part. I’m not sure I’ve found one.
I wouldn’t say I’m a pantster as much as a dot-to-dotter. I know the beginning, the end, and a few high points/events in between when I start writing. Getting from each dot to the next dot is the actual adventure – and the pantstering part. As for this series, what I’ve done so far is try to write up an “outline” for my editor that is really only the “dots” prettied up so that I look like I know what I’m doing.
Unfortunately, this strategy has (so far) failed me for the outline I must write to propose the optioned fourth and fifth books of the series. I am stuck on something important that’s needed for a potential Book 4, and while I would usually “discover” it during the writing of the first draft, I can’t do that here, and it’s worrying me greatly.  I have to figure it out before writing. That’s the hardest part.

4. I'm confident that you'll be able to figure it out first, and soon. You recently began writing full-time and moved away from teaching fifth grade. Now that you have more writing time, do you find it a challenge to be as focused as you were when doing both jobs? What do you miss most about the classroom and what are you mostly grateful for about being able to write full-time?
What I’m most grateful for is that I left a stressful situation where I could no longer teach the way my heart told me was right and where my expertise was no longer valued by The Powers That Be.
That and the fact that I can sleep in late, then work all day in my pajamas.
I miss the interaction and connection with the kids most of all. I see my old students when I attend school events for my own daughters, and there’s always a pang of regret.
Focus is something I struggled with for the first several months. Also, I didn’t understand that I was suffering from the stress of a life change – even though that life change was basically a good thing. Change is still change, and it’s stressful.
I’ve gotten better at viewing my workday as a fluid schedule, just like my classroom was. In 25 years, I never fell into a pattern of  “It’s 10:17 on Monday so we must be doing Spelling.” We spent each day doing whatever needed to be done, rather than adhere to a strict schedule. It’s the same with writing. One day might be devoted to promotional activities; another might be divided between drafting and research or critiquing. I do what needs to be done.
The biggest problem is knocking off at a reasonable hour. In teaching, I never had a problem deciding not to grade a stack of papers because I was tired. Writing full-time, I often push past exhaustion when I shouldn’t.

5. In book 2, The Inquisitor’s Mark, you use a dual POV to tell your story. We still hear from somewhat defiant and adventuresome Jax, but the new voice is Dorian, a member of the corrupt Dulac clan living in luxury in NYC. I’m currently writing a manuscript with a dual POV. Any advice you could share on writing distinct characters and keeping your readers clear on whose POV they’re reading? On a side note, Dorian was my favorite character. I hope he plays a role in book 3!
When writing dual POV, you need to keep in mind whose perspective each event should best be told from – that is, which one provides the more interesting narrative. I know some authors alternate regularly. I don’t.  In the Eighth Day series, Jax gets POV in the majority of the chapters, while a secondary character (which is different in each book) chimes in irregularly whenever it’s appropriate.
I got some grief from beta readers over the chapter where Jax meets his nefarious relatives because I wrote it from Dorian’s POV. The beta readers felt that Jax should get POV for such a momentous occasion, but I knew they were wrong. (Sorry, beta readers.)  Writing from Dorian’s perspective was the right thing to do because – in this instance – my MC Jax was the outsider, the stranger. I felt it was more important to describe this meeting from the POV of someone who knew all the family’s terrible secrets and who was unsure how he felt about dragging his long-lost cousin into the mess. Plus, when Dorian met Jax, he saw this tough, brave kid worth looking up to. Jax doesn’t think of himself as tough or brave (compared to Riley), so it was important for readers to see him through Dorian’s eyes.
I taught my 5th grade students analogies, and so it was very rewarding when one of them told me, “Jax is to Dorian what Riley is for Jax.”
My advice: Don’t go for the easy when switching POV. Go for the most interesting.
And yes, we will see Dorian again in Book 3!

6. This answer was precisely what I needed. I had added some scenes so I could go "back and forth" more evenly, but the story was dragging. And I completely agree on Dorian being the POV when Jax met her relatives. It was perfect. As someone who is part of a big, close-knit family, the theme of the family ties was a strong one for me—most particularly as I followed Dorian’s story. I learned so much more about Grunsday and what is possible for Kin and Transitioners, alike. What was your favorite new element to develop in book 2?
Oh, it was definitely Jax’ s estranged family!  Jax is simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by them. One minute, they’re like the family he longs for – the aunt who wants to feed him and wash his clothes, the uncle whose smile is just like his late father’s, the embarrassing grandmother who wants to pinch his cheeks … and the next minute, they’re trying to talk him into betraying his best friends. The Ambroses are not all bad, but they’re not the good guys by a long shot!

7. If you could be a Transitioner what mark would you bear?
I need Riley’s voice of command, because my children don’t do their chores the way they are supposed to.

8. I could use that one too. Nice choice. Anything else you would like to share with us?
Just that this book was a lot of fun to write – for all the reasons above, plus the chance to bring back Jax’s friend Billy and give him a bigger role to play. (AND that thing Jax does in Central Park with Riley, which was simultaneously thrilling and awful to write.)

Fast five:
Last thing you drank
Vodka martini. Drinking it now, in fact.
Last thing you ate
Artichoke hearts straight out of the can.
Last thing you listened to
I Just Wanna Run by The Downtown Fiction
Last book you read
Jackaby by William Ritter
Last movie you saw
Stardust with Claire Danes, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro (yes, an old one but really, really fun)

I LOVE Stardust. It's so fun to have you on the blog. I hope you have a wonderful release day!
Where to find Dianne: website, twitter, Facebook
Where to find The Inquisitor's Mark: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N
DIANNE K. SALERNI is the author of The Eighth Day fantasy series (HarperCollins) and YA historical novels, The Caged Graves (Clarion/HMH) and We Hear the Dead (Sourcebooks). Dianne was a public school teacher for 25 years before leaving the profession to spend more time hanging around creepy cemeteries and climbing 2000 year-old pyramids in the name of book research.

I'm lucky to be interviewing 2 incredible authors today. To read my interview with Sara B. Larson on Ignite, the the second book in her YA series, click here.