Thursday, September 29, 2011

Her Story: Elizabeth Miles

One look at the cover of Elizabeth Miles' YA novel FURY and you know it's no ordinary read. It's the story of two teenagers who bring the wrath of three mysterious Furies down on their heads, and the first in what sounds like a delicious trilogy. After listening to Elizabeth speak at an event, I knew I wanted her on the blog to talk about getting readers to embrace challenging characters; how she, a reporter, came to write fiction; and her idyllic life in Maine.


How did you come to writing? Did you start writing shortly after emerging from the womb or did you come to it later in life?

I have always written. Short stories and journal entries as a child, essays and news stories as an older student, creative non-fiction and alternative journalism as a young adult. I always knew that reading, writing, and words would shape my profession. BUT, I didn’t always expect to become a fiction writer. FURY contains the first words of fiction I’d written since I was a kid. 

Were you influenced to begin writing by any writers/books in particular?

Well, this opportunity wouldn’t have come to me without the prodding and influence of Lauren Oliver (author of Before I Fall, Delirium, and Liesl and Po and a childhood friend of mine). When she co-founded Paper Lantern Lit, a literary development company that collaborates with authors to turn sparks of ideas into full-blown books, she encouraged me to get involved. So it’s safe to say I would never have entered this world if it wasn’t for her.

Whose works do you most enjoy reading?

So many - Stephen King, Henry James, Lydia Davis, Anne Carson, Dave Eggers. Plus too many YA authors to list here.

Tell us about your book.

FURY is the first book in a young-adult trilogy. It is a paranormal thriller with elements of horror, contemporary realism, and mythology. It tells the interwoven stories of Emily Winters and Chase Singer, two high school juniors who make typical teenage mistakes (hooking up with the wrong guy, bullying). However, their punishment is atypical - they draw the (unfortunate) attention of the Furies, three mysterious young women who, like the Furies of ancient mythology, are obsessed with vengeance. The Furies show up to make Em and Chase pay. 

How the heck did you come up with the central idea/plot?

I’ve always been interested in fables, myth, and folklore. I also have a longstanding love-hate relationship with the horror genre - I’m easily freaked out, and I kind of enjoy that heart-pounding, goosebumps-raising feeling.  I’ve always loved teenage drama - 90210, Gossip Girl, The OC, whatever. AND some, ah, personal experiences made me start asking myself if what goes around really does come around...These ideas laid the foundation for some productive and fruitful brainstorming with the folks at Paper Lantern Lit, and later with Simon Pulse.

I feel that FURY and The TAKER are kindred spirits in that both have main/major characters who are not “irreproachable.” (I love your term, btw.) They have done things that are wrong, bad or could be considered poor choices, but this flaw in their character is central to the book. Why did you choose these character/this theme for FURY, or conversely, why do you think the themes of FURY resonate with you? 

I am drawn to flawed characters - I think they are more real and more enjoyable to read about. In this story, specifically, the characters HAD to make mistakes - those transgressions are the catalyst for the rest of the plot. So it was kind of a given that I would have characters that were, on some level, difficult to like.

This has been a real struggle for some readers, however. It’s hard to root AGAINST the Furies (even though you might want to - their sense of justice is disproportionate and anyway, should THEY have the power to decide others’ fates?) when the supposed “good guys” are doing bad things.

But isn’t that interesting? Gray areas? No black or white, right or wrong? Or at least, no OBVIOUS categorizations? I think so.

Plus, with regard to Em in particular, I know it’s terrible that she hooks up with her best friend’s boyfriend. I’ve been in the best friend position of that situation, years ago. It sucks. But it happens. And she learns from it, and grows. Sometimes you make really bad choices, especially when you’re 16 years old. Luckily, we don’t all have the Furies to reckon with when we make those types of decisions.

Lastly, I think it’s interesting to point out that ancient myths and Greek dramas were full of multifaceted characters whose intricacies made their tragedies richer.  
           
At what point in the writing process did you think you might give up on it? Were you most inspired? What kept you going through the long dark nights?

I was lucky to fall in love while writing the first book. This was a challenge (the dark stuff was slightly less accessible at times, as was finding the motivation to write when all I wanted to do was lie in bed and make googly eyes at this new and exciting fellow!) and a relief (said fellow, Keagan, is a ball of optimism who deals with my deadline meltdowns gracefully) and an inspiration (helping to color the arc of the series’ love affair, boosting my confidence).  He continues to be a source of joy, generally and in my writing life. He’s a carpenter and recently made me a beautiful desk out of walnut wood!

What have you read lately that you love and think everyone on the planet should read?
Honestly - and I’m not just trying to earn brownie points here - I am REALLY enjoying your book. It’s so gripping, I love the time period it takes place, and the characterizations are quite intriguing. Kudos!

What is the most surprisingly thing you’ve learned about yourself since getting published? The most unexpected?

I can do this. I can deal with public criticism and public accolades and a lot of talking to strangers ABOUT MYSELF (as opposed to about THEMSELVES, which is what I’m used to as a journalist) - without melting into the floor and completely dying.  I mean, I’m still learning. But I’m getting there. 

Elizabeth Miles grew up in Chappaqua, New York, not far from New York City. She graduated from Boston University in 2004, and has worked ever since as a journalist for alternative newsweeklies. Today, she lives in Portland, Maine. She loves pizza; she lives with a carpenter and two cats; she can often be found running around on stage while scantily clad; and a cold winter night in Maine is one of the creepiest and most beautiful things she can think of. Fury is Elizabeth’s first novel.

3 comments:

  1. Congrats, Elizabeth, on getting your first novel published. How exciting to also have fallen in love during the process of penning it. :)

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  2. Great interview! Elizabeth Miles is an inspiration.

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  3. The setting of this book sets the over all tone or mood. It is freezing cold, and snowy. That is exactly how this story leaves you feeling, cold and empty inside. You have Emily who is best friends with Gabby. But what kind of friend flirts with your boyfriend? Emily does. She is sure that she and Zach are made for each other. First reason to hate a character in this book. Emily is selfish and so full of herself. Then we have Chase who is not financially in the same league as the rest of his friends.

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