This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Val Muller will be awarding a $10 Amazon/BN GC and a download code for The Girl Who Flew Away, a download code for The Scarred Letter, a print copy (US only) of The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and an ebook of Corgi Capers: Deceit on Dorset Drive, to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Click on the tour banner to see the other stops on the tour.
Thanks for stopping by, Val. Why do you write juvenile fiction? What draws you to it?
A publisher told me that I must have either graduated from high school or be surrounded by teenagers all day since my characters act modern and realistic. As a high school teacher, I see teenagers every day, and as a writer, I observe them—their goals, their problems, their milestones.
For me, knowing that young adults are my primary audience means that I have a chance to influence them in their formative years. Books have had a significant impact on me, as growing up I would often ask myself what my favorite character might tell me in a given situation. I realize I have that same opportunity. In The Girl Who Flew Away, I wanted to address the heroin epidemic that seems to be overtaking many in this nation, examining it in terms of how it affects the families of the victims. I also wanted to show readers that while our pasts necessarily have an impact on us, they alone do not write our future.
I know it’s cheesy, but Doc Brown’s quote from Back to the Future III has always stayed with me: “Your future hasn’t been written yet… so make it a good one.” Through my novels, I hope to inspire and provide hope.
What books were your favorite as a youth and why?
I must have read every book in the Fear Street series. I always loved horror because it forced me to think beyond the limits of everyday life. In America, we tend to believe we are immune from so much, but all it takes is one major earthquake, one wildfire, one hurricane, to make us realize otherwise. The horror books forced me to think about ways my ordinary life might be turned upside down.
On a similar note, I loved Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. In it, a boy is the sole survivor of a small plane crash. It’s a survival story, and what I liked was its ability to strip down the character to his bare essentials. Situations that push us like that show our true character. I’m reminded of a time in grad school when, leaving an evening class, a large fawn charged me and a friend in the parking lot. At least, we thought it was charging us. And we thought it was a huge dog. We were alone, and there was nowhere to run with only a few cars left in the parking lot. We had no time to think, only to act. By the time the “dog” passed us (and we realized it was a deer, and much more terrified than we were as it searched for its missing mother), we had let our instincts take over. I found myself standing with my backpack raised above my head ready to strike down if attacked. My friend found herself standing behind me, her hands on my shoulders using me as a shield. After the adrenaline wore off, we laughed about it. But it made me realize I am stronger than I thought. And that’s what we take away from books: characters are challenged to their breaking points and come back stronger.
I read voraciously as a kid, everything from The Witch of Blackbird Pond to The Lord of the Rings. Anything in which characters are tested beyond the ordinary.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I always wanted to be a writer. As a kid, I forced my younger sister to be in my “club” (which had various iterations, such as “The Totally Tubular Two’s Treehouse Club.”) Our required meeting activities involved writing and sharing stories. My sister was a good sport—I could tell she had no interest in writing stories. Perhaps she channeled her irritation at me into her stories themselves. In every one of them, nearly every character died in the end…including bears, girls, flowers, anything! And she was only in grade school.
Several teachers in elementary school encouraged my writing, including my first grade teacher (probably my most influential teacher even though she passed away early in the school year), who had me read a poem I wrote to the fifth grade class, and several other teachers whose end-of-year notes to me involved plans to look for my work in books and magazines in the future.
What would you write in a letter to your teen self?
Although I’d be tempted to answer all of my problems and explain what is important and what is not, what I should have freaked out about and what I should have left alone, I would say instead simply this:
It’s all a process. The human condition is such that wisdom and happiness only comes as the result of struggle and pain. If some deus ex machina came and gave us all the answers, we would be empty inside. The closest thing we have to The Answer is stories—stories in books, on television, stories we tell our children. We can use these stories to shape our understanding of our own journeys, but there is no replacement for the wisdom of experience. It’s the paradox captured in Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” We are human. We are flawed. Things are sweetest when we have known loss or know it is coming. We can only appreciate wisdom when we earn it through experience and the suffering that is part of it.
What candy do you give out at Halloween?
Funny story. I do buy a bag of candy at Halloween, but it’s for myself. I live in the middle of nowhere, and (as I was informed by kids in my neighborhood), it’s “too much like a hike” to trick-or-treat in my neighborhood. In four years, we had only one trick-or-treater, and that was the neighbors, coming back and seeing our jack-o-lantern lit the first year we moved in. It was a “pity visit,” and their daughter left with the entire bag of candy. All the kids get dropped off at the development a few miles down the road, where houses are much closer together and candy bags get filled much more easily. As for the candy I’m buying myself this year, probably Kit Kats.
What book is on your nightstand currently?
Dante’s Inferno. I have never read the entire thing, and I thought it was time. It’s such a cornerstone of our literature and culture, even if indirectly, that I thought I’d kick it off my bucket list. Ever since I was left for days without power after Hurricane Isabel (during which time I had countless hours to ponder), I have wanted to write something in a classical tradition, such as the Inferno or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I have several ideas, but I haven’t quite had the time to digest my life experiences yet.
Favorite TV show from your childhood?
Excuse the geekiness, but it was Star Trek: The Next Generation. My family and I made it part of our weekly ritual during which we broke practically every household rule: we got to eat pizza and soda (soda was not generally allowed in our house) on TV trays while sitting on the couch.
My favorite thing about Star Trek: TNG is that it helped me question my own humanity. Here were humans from the future, light years from home, and yet they were confronted with the same questions we ask ourselves today. What makes us human? What is our purpose? What are the essentials that make us human?
The scariest scene from the show, which I still fear today and which likely inspired my darker works, such as The Man with the Crystal Ankh, is when the crew of the starship is not getting REM sleep. As a result, everyone is flipping out. The ship’s doctor at one point hallucinates, and in her vision, a room full of shrouded corpses on exam tables actually sit up in unison. Completely terrifying.
What four literary characters would you most like to have over for dinner?
Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter. She is an inspiration to me (and the reason I wrote The Scarred Letter as a way to bring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tale to the modern teen reader).
Aragorn from Lord of the Rings. I was always fascinated with the pressure he dealt with. Although I’d much rather talk to Gandalf (the wizard), I would probably end up geeking out and not be able to say anything at all if he were there.
Odysseus for sure. Who else would be able to give me first-hand accounts of mythological creatures and struggles?
I don’t know if this counts as literary, but The Doctor from Doctor Who. I would convince him to let me be his (or her, now!) companion for a little while. What a way to travel through space and time! If The Doctor doesn’t count, then Piscine from The Life of Pi. He is all about stories, and I would love to hear some of his.
Create an ice cream flavor. What’s it called?
It’s called “Snow Melter.” It’s dark chocolate with fudge swirled in along with pieces of marshmallow-soaked chocolate poke cake and mini dark chocolate chips. I know, I know.
It’s based on an actual experience I had: there was a snowstorm that started just before rush hour. As a teacher, I was home safe and sound (because schools had been dismissed), but my husband was stuck in the city. Rather than taking the commuter bus home (which we both knew would be a disaster, and it was: the bus returned home at 4 a.m. the next day!), I decided I would pick him up from the metro station. I grew up in New England and knew how to drive in snow, so I was not worried. But Virginia drivers do not know how to deal with even a few flakes. It ended up taking me from 2 in the afternoon until 11:45 at night to go less than 30 miles to pick him up. Other commuters were in the same situation waiting for rides, and they had planted themselves in the lobby of a hotel like urban refugees. I had not eaten dinner, so after running to the bathroom of the lobby, the first thing I did was raid the hotel convenience store, which featured an ice cream pint not dissimilar to what I described above. I am not an emotional person, but I did consume that entire pint as my husband drove us home—and it was therapeutic. (I blogged about the experience: http://www.valmuller.com/2012/01/07/the-great-snow-nightmare-part-1, if you want to know more).
Sarah Durante awakens to find herself haunted by the spirit of her high school’s late custodian. After the death of his granddaughter, Custodian Carlton Gray is not at peace. He suspects a sanguisuga is involved—an ancient force that prolongs its own life by consuming the spirits of others. Now, the sanguisuga needs another life to feed its rotten existence, and Carlton wants to spare others from the suffering his granddaughter endured. That’s where Sarah comes in. Carlton helps her understand that she comes from a lineage of ancestors with the ability to communicate with the dead. As Sarah hones her skill through music, she discovers that the bloodlines of Hollow Oak run deep. The sanguisuga is someone close, and only she has the power to stop it.
Already in trouble for a speeding ticket, Ali insists that Steffie say nothing about Madison’s disappearance. Even when Madison’s mother comes looking for her. Even when the police question them.
Some secrets are hard to hide, though—especially with Madison’s life on the line. As she struggles between coming clean or going along with her manipulative sister’s plan, Steffie begins to question if she or anyone else is really who she thought they were. After all, the Steffie she used to know would never lie about being the last person to see Madison alive—nor would she abandon a friend in the woods: alone, cold, injured, or even worse.
But when Steffie learns an even deeper secret about her own past, a missing person seems like the least of her worries…
Excerpt from The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
She picked up the instrument and set it onto her shoulder. A calmness passed into her, as if the violin exuded energy—as if it had a soul. The varnish had faded and dulled. Its life force did not come from its appearance. She brought the bow to the strings, which was still rosined and ready to play. Dragging the bow across the four strings, she found the instrument perfectly in tune.
Sarah took a deep breath and imagined the song, the way the notes melted into each other in nostalgic slides, the way her spirit seemed to pour from her soul that day.
And then it was happening again.
She had started playing without realizing it. Warm, resonant notes poured from the instrument and spilled into the room. They were stronger, and much more powerful, than those she was used to. This instrument was different than the factory-made one her parents had bought for her. Rosemary’s violin was singing to the world from its very soul. And it was happening just as before. Sarah’s energy flowed from her body, causing her to lose consciousness and gain perspective all at once. She rode the air on a lofty run of eighth notes. She echoed off the ceiling with a rich and resonant vibrato. She flew past the guests, who had all quieted to listen to her music; flew past the table of cold cuts and appetizers and up the darkened staircase, where she resonated against the walls and found her way into the guest room. There, she crept along a whole note and slid into the closet.
As the song repeated, she twirled around in the closet, spinning in a torrent of passionate notes. She searched through the notebooks and books on the floor and on the shelves, searched for an open notebook, for something she could read, something that might make her feel tied to the place. Otherwise, she might spin out of control and evaporate out the window and into the sky. She found her anchor on the floor in the darkest corner of the closet, a large parchment—maybe a poster. The notes spun around her in a dizzying way as she tried to stay still enough to read what was on the paper. It was a difficult task; now, with every beat her body downstairs tried to reclaim its energy.
About the Author: Teacher, writer, and editor, Val Muller grew up in haunted New England but now lives in the warmer climes of Virginia, where she lives with her husband. She is owned by two rambunctious corgis and a toddler. The corgis have their own page and book series at www.CorgiCapers.com.
Val’s young adult works include The Scarred Letter, The Man with the Crystal Ankh, and The Girl Who Flew Away and feature her observations as a high school teacher as well as her own haunted New England past. She blogs weekly at www.ValMuller.com.
The Girl Who Flew Away:
Free preview + discount code: http://barkingrainpress.org/girl-who-flew-away/
The Man with the Crystal Ankh:
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